Hidden away for decades, they lined the corridors and staircases of the former Doncaster Grammar Schools, closed down many years ago.
But for younger Doncaster residents, they will soon be part of the borough’s newest cultural landmark, the new Danum Gallery, Library and Museum, a £14million project which was approved by councillors in 2018.
This week, the Free Press joined Doncaster couple Rachel and David Cook on a tour around the building site which this summer will open as the museum. Rachel was invited for the guided trip after nominating the winning name which was voted by our readers to be the best name for the museum.
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Rachel, a compliance manager for a health comany, and David, a car dealership manager, became the first members of the public for a generation to see the distinctive bricks now lining some of the museum corridors. The bricks are part of the former girls’ school frontage that has been included in the design of the building, inside a glass outer wall.
Entering the new building from the back, through what is eventually due to be a sensory garden, they walked in through a giant door designed to allow former railway engines to be brought into the new building. The first space in the couple’s tour was the rail heritage room.
Railway tracks are visible in the floor, and when the museum opens, they are intended to hold two steam engines, expected to be loaned to the venue. The same room will also house railway memorabilia from the Hall Cross Collection.
Walking through the room takes the visitor past a space that wil house the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infrantry museum, and then into the former corridors of the girls’ school, leading to what will be the front of the building, a glass wall.
At present the glass is coated in a special protective sticky layer, to prevent stratching during contruction. Behind that glass is the familiar frontage of the school, currently encased in scaffolding as work is carried out to restore it to its former apprearance. The suggestions at one stage was that the domes at the top of the frontage would be made of glass. Now they will be green-tinted zinc, to look like the original copper.
At present, is it is difficult to see the iconic building’s frontage through the glass. But project manager Peter Wilson said when the scheme is complete, the protective coating will be removed from the glass and the school will be illuminated from the inside, making it clearly visible from outside on the street.
Climbing the old school stairs, described by Mr Wilson as ‘heritage’, leads to two currently empty rooms, which will be the café kitchen and its social room, in the heart of the old building. Council bosses are in the process of looking for an operator to run the food operation. On the floor above, also still in the old building, will be an education room for school parties.
The new building
In the new section of the building, most of the rooms look identical at this stage of construction. But Rachel and David were shown a large room which will be the main space for the museum’s collection.
Mr Wilson said it is set up to allow an easy rotation of exhibits, so that visitors should be able to return each month and see different items from the museum’s collection. Other rooms on the second floor include the children’s ilbrary, with a view overlooking the railway engines, and business units which will be used by small businesses.
Moving up the the third floor, which contains the art gallery, the couple arrived at what they think will be the most exciting feature – the touring exhibition space.
This is designed to provide the security expected for major touring exhibitions, something which the current museum hasn’t been able to provide. Mr Wilson describes it as GIS exihibition space – space that can provide exhibitions with the support of the Government Indemnity Scheme in terms of insuring them.
“Doncaster has never been able to have international exhibitions of high value artefacts, because we didn’t have a space to insure them to GIS standards,” he said. “This is where we will have that now. We have a very prestigious exhibition lined up for when we open, but we can’t say what it is yet.”
It is the type of space that is needed for things like the recent Da Vinci drawings exhibitions that were held in galleries up and down the country last year.
“If we were to be able to persuade the Louvre to loan the Mona Lisa, this is where it would be,” said Mr Wilson. “It is about putting Doncaster on the heritage map.” Sadly, there are no plans to bring the Mona Lisa to Doncaster, he added.
The couple were also shown the roof of the building, currently being fitted with solar panels. It has a view right across the borough’s skyline, but will not be available to the public.
The previous buildings
Matt Cridge, acting head of library and heritage services, joined the couple on the tour.
He said part of the old museum on Chequer Road, which closed this month, will remain as a working space for the museums service, and for archives, as well as some storage.
“We want people to have easy access to the archives,” he said.
There is no decision so far on how the currently library building on Waterdale will be used in the future.
Rachel, aged 39, and David, aged 44, from Lakeside, said they were impressed with the building.
Rachel said she looked forward to bringing her children, two-year old Siena, and Anya, aged 13, when it opens.
“I think it’s absolutely fantastic,” said Rachel. “It really does cater for everyone. I’m looking forward to seeing the library and the GIS exhibition space. I really do think it’s a brilliant addition for Doncaster.
“I think our children will love it, because I think it will have facilities for both of them. Both love reading, so I think they will be there using the library.”
David added: “For me, the art gallery is my favourite aspect. I can’t wait to see some of the touring exhibitions arriving here. Personally, I would love to see an Andy Warhol exhibition there one day, as I’m a big fan of his work.”
Doncaster Council is on the lookout for a catering partner for the cafe in the new museum building.An event is being organised for interested businesses on Tuesday 18 February at the council’s Civic Office. Email [email protected] to register an interest in attending.