A Black Country lock museum will bolt its doors for the final time next week after 11th-hour talks to secure its future fell flat.
Campaigners who fought to save the building in Willenhall criticised Walsall Council, saying the cash-strapped authority sounded the death knell this year by withdrawing its £12,000 funding. A massive fall in the number of visitors to the museum, on New Road, has also been blamed for the closure.
When funding was withdrawn, site owners at the Black Country Living Museum said they wanted to shift the listed building, also known as Locksmith’s House, brick-by-brick to their Dudley base. But bosses at Walsall Council opposed the plan.
Despite the news, protesters said they remain optimistic. Plans are already in place to hold further talks with the Black Country Living Museum early next year, in the hope that they will provide the vital funding that could see its doors re-open.
For the last few months, the museum has been open to the public on Wednesdays only because of the ever-spiralling lack of interest.
Willenhall North councillor Ian Shires said he was angry at the closure.
“It’s a very sad time for Willenhall, and for Walsall. We have been desperately trying to find ways to keep it open ever since funding was withdrawn, but to no avail. This venue is as important to Willenhall and Walsall as the Leather Museum is. But nothing has been done to preserve it,” he said. “There is a lot of strong feeling here that the Lock Museum should be on the map. It makes me so angry that it is closed.
“Further talks in the New Year with site owners at the Black Country Living Museum show us that, although the doors are closed, it might not be that way in the long term. Some good has come out of this; a Friends of the Lock Museum Group has been set up, and they are actively working to save it.”Fellow Willenhall councillor Sean Coughlan, who also fought to save the venue, said: “The decision to stop funding the Lock Museum was a massive blow to the people of Willenhall.”
Between 3,000 and 4,000 people visit the Lock Museum each year, a figure that is dwarfed by the neighbouring Leather Museum which averages 25,000. Nearby Walsall History Museum attracts about 14,000.
Talks between campaigners and site owners Black Country Living Museum are expected to take place in mid-January. If the talks fail, bosses say the historic house, which dates from the 1840s, could be sold or even demolished to make way for a new development.