This first purpose-built museum in Greater London for over 40 years, dedicated to showcasing the work of the world-renowned artist, illustrator, humorist and social commentator William Heath Robinson (1872-1944), was declared officially open on 15 October at a ceremony attended by hundreds of people in Pinner Memorial Park, north-west London.
Leading the Opening Ceremony, Cynthia Wells, acting chairman of the West House and Heath Robinson Museum Trust, expressed her delight at the completion of this mammoth project that started 25 years ago and has delivered a spectacular addition to the national arts, cultural and educational landscape.
Summing up the project, Cynthia said: “The Museum has exceeded our expectations in every way. There are two galleries. The Heath Robinson Gallery is a permanent exhibition which takes the visitor on a journey through Heath Robinson’s life and artistic development. The Joan Brinsmead Gallery is designed to host special exhibitions and these will change every quarter. The first special exhibition is Heath Robinson at War, which runs until 8 January.”
One of the most striking aspects of the museum is the glass-fronted Activity Studio with its wonderful view of the Memorial Park and lake. The Studio will be used by children and families to have fun and do creative work inspired by the works of Heath Robinson under the guidance of the Museum’s Learning Officer. The Museum also has a shop where Heath Robinson prints, cards and other products can be purchased as a memento of the visit. In addition, the shop offers a selection of beautiful one-off items designed and handmade by local artisans under the name The Maker’s Art.
Cynthia concluded her speech: “Our thanks go to the National Lottery players for helping to fund this long-awaited project, and the many local Patrons, sponsors, supporters and volunteers who are central to the long-term success of the Museum.”
Joining Cynthia with congratulatory speeches were the Head of Lottery Fund London Stuart Hobley, the Mayor of Harrow Councillor Rekha Shah, Michael Rosen, Pinner-born writer, broadcaster and Professor of Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Peter Higginson, chairman of the William Heath Robinson Trust and a member of the Heath Robinson family.
In his speech, Michael Rosen commented: “When you look across his work, William Heath Robinson really did document an era. He showed how people were living and he showed the mentality of people by gently – and sometimes subversively – poking fun at it. He had a lovely mockery towards modernism but at the same time enjoying the architecture and the way people lived. It’s as powerful and important as looking at a history book or a novel or indeed looking at great paintings. It’s wonderful that there is a special place for Heath Robinson’s work. I am over the moon.”
To open the Museum, Students from the Heath Robinson Inventors’ Club at St Helen’s School in Northwood created a special contraption, designed to cut the ribbon in true Heath Robinson style. The machine was triggered by Michael Rosen and worked beautifully, first time!
Apart from the speeches and the opening ceremony, there was entertainment for all ages with the rousing Harrow Steel Band, colourful Morris dancing and story-telling from Pippa Reid and Paul Jackson. Children enjoyed a themed textile collage activity, sticking felt pieces on a large picture of the Aeronaut from William Heath Robinson’s “The Adventures of Uncle Lubin”.
Another highlight was live cartoon creation in the Activity Studio from one of the country’s leading cartoonists, Robert Duncan, who was also born and brought up in Pinner.
Following the ceremony, people started to queue for entry to the Museum itself, to buy the exclusive Golden Ticket commemorating the opening day. Over 400 people came through the doors that first afternoon, enjoying the artworks on display in the two galleries and exploring this brand new building with its stylish and distinctive architectural and lighting features.
For the next few weeks, the museum will only open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-4pm, while leaving time free for the building and facilities team to complete the final finishing touches. Thereafter the museum will open from Tuesdays to Sundays. The museum web site and social media feeds will always display opening times.
Situated in the beautiful Green Flag Pinner Memorial Park, the Heath Robinson Museum is only a short walk from Pinner’s historic high street and wide range of shops, cafes and restaurants. Head of Lottery Heritage Fund London Stuart Hobley’s final comment to the audience was a reference to A.A Milne’s quote “One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.” As Stuart said: “…. and just like this museum, no matter how many times you come back, you will always discover something new and surprising.”