New museum plans

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This article by Michael Day was first published in the 1989 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Societe logo.jpg

The Background

In 1981, the States purchased La Longue Cas erne, an eighteenth-century warehouse in the Ordnance Yard, on the formal recommendation of the Jersey Heritage Trust. The aim was to provide much needed additional display space for the collections of the Societe and accommodation for material from the La Cotte excavations.

During the last decade, no subject has been of consistently greater concern to the Societe and the Heritage Trust than this building and the new museum of which it would form a part. Various episodes of the story have at times evoked hope, despair, frustration and elation in the many people who have played a part in its unfolding. However, every impediment to its progress has now been removed and in March, 1989, contracts were signed with A C Mauger and Son and work commenced on site.

The plan showing the Pier Road facade

Mission for the project

The new museum has many aims. First, it must house the archaeological, historical and art collections of the Societe and States of Jersey which together constitute the material inheritance and culture of successive generations of island people stretching back as far as the inhabitants of La Cotte 100,000 years or more ago. Secondly, it must present these collections, or at least a selection from them, in such a way that they will have meaning and relevance for the casual first-time visitor and for learned members of the Societe alike. The new museum will be educative but it must also give pleasure and enjoyment to its users and provide a focus for cultural and historical activities in the island. Though drawing heavily on the collections and resources of the Societe, this will be a museum for everyone.

These are ambitious goals, some of them perhaps ultimately unachievable, but we have nevertheless a primary duty to attempt to reach them. The constraints are several and not least among them is the nature of the site.

Creating the physical framework

It was early agreed that the preservation of La Longue Caserne would be a central part of the architect's brief. This, the position of 9 Pier Road and the public streets and ways around the site would determine the size of the new building. And, inevitably, the huge scope of the collections and the demands for display, exhibition and storage space, public areas, offices, visitor facilities and education areas have led to compromise. The Architect, John Douglas Smith, was therefore given what might at best be described as a challenging brief.

Looking first at the elevations, the task was to conceive a link building between La Longue Caserne and No 9. Early designs were contemporary in style. However, after much work had been put into developing this concept and a planning permit issued, a change of Island Development Committee in 1985 brought about a reconsideration of previously-held views and required a completely new design based on a tightly-defined planning brief.

This new design applied a much more traditional approach, seeking to create a smooth stylistic transition across the Ordnance Yard elevation from the rugged vernacular of La Longue Caserne to the simple restrained classicism of 9 Pier Road. La Longue Caserne is retained and a new elevation to Pier Road will preserve the domestic vernacular scale and style of the existing buildings. This design received its planning permit in 1986 and is the one which will be built.

The Weighbridge frontage

Inside the new building

The new building has three main floors, interconnected by stairs and lift, and each floor links in with La Longue Caserne and the corresponding floor of No 9. This will provide access to the whole complex for disabled visitors.

Visitors will approach the museum by way of a redesigned garden on the Weighbridge side and through the main door, which will be in a position between the existing cider barn and Jersey kitchen. The entrance will give immediate access to three areas - a cafeteria, a book and gift shop and the reception desk. The first two functions will have incidental but important roles to play, not only in serving visitors but also in defining a style for the museum and attracting people to use the complex on a regular basis to eat and shop.

Beyond the reception desk a spacious open area will introduce the themes of the museum and enable visitors to orientate themselves. From here, there will be access to a temporary exhibition gallery in La Longue Caserne, an audio-visual theatre which will introduce the museum and the history of the island, and the stairway and lift with access to the treadmill display and the rest of the building. The main entrance concourse will also feature a major display on La Cotte de Saint Brelade which will be specially designed to go up through to the floor above where it will also form an integral part of the displays.

The Challenge of The Story of Jersey

The floor above is referred to as the Upper Ground Floor and it is on the same level as the existing museum entrance on Pier Road. It will be given over almost exclusively to a series of themed interlinked displays called The Story of Jersey. This will be the most exciting challenge of the whole project - to interpret the collections within the context of the island's history from its geological formation to the present day in such a way that it works on a first-sight level but is also sufficiently layered to reward more concentrated and extended study.

The extension

Art and education

The top floor of the new complex will contain an art gallery presenting a permanent display of the art collections. This gallery will be one of the great attractions of the new development. Always until now, the Barreau Gallery has had to double as the venue for temporary exhibitions as well as the permanent collection. With a separate temporary exhibitions gallery on the lower ground floor, the art gallery can be designed to present works from the permanent collections in a series of ways to portray the rich variety of artistic achievement in the island. The top floor will also contain a new lecture room which will be used by schools, for lunchtime and evening lectures, meetings and presentations. It will have a separate access via a staircase leading to Caledonia Steps and can therefore be used independently of the rest of the museum, if necessary, for security purposes.

==The design issues There are the public parts of the new building. Their design has been placed in the hands of the award-winning museum design practice - Colin Milnes Associates of Coventry. The design challenge is to produce a unique solution for this particular project which will embrace the highest standards of museum design while reflecting the special qualities which define the island and its collections.

Making the building work

The new museum will also contain a number of other functions, some to improve facilities for visitors and others to assist the operation of the Museums Service. Apart from the cafeteria and shop, there will be two sets of lavatories with disabled facilities and a nursing mothers room with an additional first aid role. The reception desk will be large enough to answer all enquiries properly and there will be an area set aside for researchers to have access to the collections catalogues through the computer network system. The building will have a full heating/cooling system and central heating will be extended into 9 Pier Road for the first time. It will also be protected by a sophisticated security and fire alarm system.

On the operational side, there will be increased office space to relieve the very difficult conditions which staff currently endure and a new studio for the Museum Designer. Additional storage space will include a special environmentally-controlled store for the La Cotte collection and other sensitive material, and a high security area for particularly valuable items. A new workshop will free the space currently used for that purpose in the basement of No 7 and there will be a loading bay within the building so that sensitive items can be transported without having to be taken outside. A new flat for the resident curator will be situated at the north-eastern corner of the complex.

9 Pier Road

Back to the beginning for 9 Pier Road

The result of all this will be to free 9 Pier Road of its museum displays, for which as a building it is so unsuitable. This in turn gives us the exciting opportunity to present the house fully furnished, decorated and equipped as it would have been in the mid-19th century. It is without question one of the finest examples of domestic architecture in Saint Helier and this approach will enable us at last to do it full justice. Entrance into the house from the new building will either be at lower ground floor level or on the second floor and visitors will therefore be able to work their way up or down through it.

The house will be presented in its entirety set in a single period - probably the late 1860s since this is the last time it appears to have been inhabited consistently before its presentation to the Societe. The aim will be to interpret the building, its history and that of the people who lived there and, from there, to address wider issues of the social history of 19th-century Saint Helier. The interpretive approach will be people-centred and will contrast strongly with methods adopted in the new building. It should prove to be both a great attraction for ordinary visitors and an important educational resource for children.

The final element in this organisational jigsaw will be to devote the existing public entrance from Pier Road entirely to the membership of the Societe to give access to the current Lillie Langtry room which will be joined with the rest of No 7.


Meeting the challenge

This project presents all of us with the most exciting challenge: to create a museum which will do full justice to the collections in our care and to the heritage of the island, and which will work for everybody. Very many people have been involved in its conception, planning and political progress so far. Many more will contribute to the realisation of these plans during the next few years. The project has now the full and complete support of the Executive Committee of the Societe, the Heritage Trust and the States of Jersey who have assured its funding. The new museum will open in March 1992 and the restoration of 9 Pier Road should be completed the following year. We hope that we will be able to create a museum of which the whole island may be justifiably proud.

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