Burgh House appeals for Hampstead’s coronovirus stories

Mark Francis new general manager of Burgh House

Mark Francis new general manager of Burgh House - Credit: Nigel Sutton

The Hampstead musem wants to preserve local thoughts and experiences of life under lockdown as a “snapshot of history for future generations”

Burgh House is appealing for Hampstead residents’ coronovirus stories so they can save them for the museum.

Director Mark Francis said we are living through a remarkable moment in history which people will look back on and wonder about. “Our curator Amber Turner is asking people to send them as a bit of social commentary. It feels incredibly strange to live through this now, but in 50 years time it’s one of those things that will go down in history as an exceptional time. It would be lovely to record some thoughts and memories of what it was like to live through it.”

Despite Hampstead’s reputation as a celebrity hotspot he wants “everyday people’s stories - not A listers”. “Send us an email, write us a letter, draw a picture or knit something. We are collecting a snapshot of human history for the future so the next generation can look back and know what it felt like. It’s a fresh and lovely way to keep our collection alive if we can find those Hampstead stories - we shouldn’t underestimate how creative and resilient people are.”

Living alone in Burgh House it’s been easy for him to practice social distancing. Like many of us he’s taken to DIY to fill the time - painting the listed property’s historic panelling, cleaning out a dumb waiter, jet washing the paving and regrounting the toilets.

“For us this is devastating. All our money comes from weddings and event hire - in the coming months we would have had at least two weddings a week. But we are adamant we are going to survive. We are being frugal. My core staff are working from home trying to plan, and I am doing lots of jobs around the building to save money I would have spent on getting someone in. We never really close so it’s hard to do this kind of maintenance - giving the building a bit of TLC so we are in good shape when we reopen.”

He has repainted the panelling in Farrow & Ball greys and buff colours based on palettes from the 1720s.

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“The dumb waiter is from the 1920s and goes from what would have been the kitchen to the front hall which was likely used as a breakfast room. It was full of cobwebs so I got in there gave it a clean and an oil and got it working.”

Burgh House was inhabited until the 1930s but fell into disrepair under the ownership of Camden Council. It was rescued following a community campaign led by Peggy Jay and the Ham&High.

“They formed a charity the Burgh House Trust and kept it open free to the public. This is the first time it’s ever had to shut. It’s unprecedented.”

Francis sees Burgh House as “a museum and community space”

“It’s a place where we celebrate what makes Hampstead special, not necessarily local history and dates, but more the people who have lived here - the people behind the objects who are of interest.”

He is concerned that many of Burgh House’s users are elderly and possibly isolated.

“You can’t put a price on what we have here we provide a space for social interaction, concerts, bridge clubs scrabble clubs. A lot of people are really lonely and we are a space they can come, feel safe and not completely alone.”

He also fears for the livelihood of the musicians and artists who use the House and plans to offer a heavily subsidised rentals when they reopen so they can put on a concert or exhibition to recoup money lost during lockdown.

“It’s nice for us to stay connected through these stories. We will endure. The community is going to need us more than ever after all this is over.”

Send your coronovirus stories to info@burghhouse.org.uk or by post to Burgh House, New End Square NW3 1LT.