Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry

The following is extracted from the brochure above, which was produced for the first opening of the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in 1960. The photos are of Sir Alfred and Lady Herbert, our grandmother.

Alfred Herbert was born on 5th September 1866, the son of a Leicestershire farmer. After attending Stoneygate School in Leicester, he was apprenticed to Jessop and Sons after which he came to Coventry to take up the position of works manager in a firm of jobbing and general engineers, Coles & Matthews, in The Butts.

A year later the partnership was dissolved and the business was offered to Alfred, who was 22 years of age at the time. He went into partnership with an old school-friend, WS Hubbard and with their fathers' supplying the necessary capital, formed the firm of Herbert and Hubbard.

Hubbard was a clever mechanic with considerable inventive genius, so they decided to make machine tools, the first of which was a very ingenious machine for picking, sorting and storing pills. Machine tools suitable for use in the rapidly expanding bicycle industry were produced and quickly added to the firm's growing reputation. After two or three years Herbert and Hubbard dissolved their partnership and in 1894 a small company, Alfred Herbert Ltd was formed in which Alfred Herbert held the majority of shares. The new firm rapidly forged ahead with the production of machine tools of all kinds; agencies were taken on and foreign branches established all over the world.

Soon after the outbreak of the First World War, Alfred Herbert was appointed Deputy Director and then Controller of Machine Tools at the Ministry of Munitions, for which service he was awarded a knighthood.

During his lifetime Sir Alfred Herbert developed from very small beginnings, the largest machine tool works in the world.

Not that he is only remembered as one of the greatest industrialists of his day; he was also great in another sphere, as benefactor to his adopted city of Coventry.

Among his many gifts to the city were £2000 in 1934 to equip a ward in the Warwickshire and Coventry Hospital for wounded soldiers, two acres of land in The Butts for a park and playground; Lady Herbert's Homes and Garden as a memorial to Lady Florence Herbert in the centre of the city, Town Thorns Manor, which he gave to Coventry as a childrens' home, £10,000 to the hospital and the loan of a like sum free of interest; a covenant with the Cathedral Reconstruction Committee whereby it received £25,000 over seven years; and £200,000 for the provision of the Art Gallery and Museum which is being opened today. This latter sum, with the accumulation of interest, has meant a contribution of nearly £275,000 to the cost of the buildings.

In addition to his public gifts, his private gifts were also many; such as the £25,000 he disbursed amongst his employees to celebrate his 90th birthday.

His death on 2nd May 1957 brought to a close a life of immense achievement and generosity. He was a natural leader of men and carried to the present age the Victorian virtues of thrift and industry.

He will long be remembered not only for his public gifts for which the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum will stand as a most fitting monument, but also for the unfailing courtesy and kindness he extended to all those who worked for him.

The world lost one of its greatest engineering geniuses, Coventry lost a true and loyal friend and Alfred Herbert Ltd its founder and father.'

The Herbert website records Sir Alfred's contribution thus:

The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum is named after Sir Alfred Herbert, a local industrialist who founded Alfred Herbert Limited, at one time the world's largest machine toolmaking company.

In 1938, Sir Alfred donated £100,000 to the City of Coventry to pay for the construction of an Art Gallery and Museum. Building work started in 1939 on a site on the other side of Bayley Lane from the present building.

At the start of World War II only the basement had been completed and work was stopped.

By the end of World War II the city centre lay in ruins, and work on the gallery was put on hold, although the basement was converted to a temporary art gallery in 1949.

In 1952 new plans were drawn up and on 20th May 1954 Sir Alfred was able to lay the foundation stone of the new building. He also donated a further £100,000 to the scheme.

In 1956 the plans were revised to include a room for science and natural history collections. This was because of a bequest from Alderman JI Bates which gave an additional £34,500 to the scheme. This room was called The Bates Room in his honour.

Sadly Sir Alfred did not live to see the Art Gallery and Museum opened as he died on 5th June 1957 aged 90.

On 9th March 1960 Lady Herbert, his third wife, declared the Art Gallery and Museum open

Click here for some recent photos of the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum after its reopening in October 2008

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