Sunday, 23 October 2011

Arnold Mountford, Director of the City Museum Stoke on Trent 1922-1990


The recent article on Arnold Mountford bought back a number of fond memories of a local man who really put Stoke on the cultural map in terms of museum provision.

I was Vice Chairman of the City Museum for a brief period in 1986 and the whole story in the Sentinel particularly bought to mind a very enjoyable few days I spent in Arnold’s company in July 1986. I was a fellow delegate to the Association of Museums conference in Aberdeen. I shared the long train journey with Arnold. He was a font of great stories and a few still stick in my mind.

The article touched on his war record and I can recall a story he told me of accompanying Churchill on a Middle East conference during the war. Arnold was a young army officer and it must be have been a daunting experience. It might have been the Casablanca conference in 1943. Arnold had to keep the great man amused. His job was to show Churchill films every evening. A favourite of the Prime Minster was " Lady Hamilton" starring Vivienne Leigh and Laurence Oliver as Nelson. He played the film every evening and Churchill invaribaly sipping a brandy was word perfect in the film by the time the destroyer got to its destination. He also told me that Churchill breakfasted on white wine and chicken legs. It makes you think that we were lead to victory by a great eccentric.

Arnold’s great ally in developing the Museum was Alderman Horace Barks who I was a little in awe of. He is also in need of greater comment. Horace was a great wag and Arnold told me a story of him informing the Mexican Ambassador that his flies were open at the opening of a major exhibition involving a Mexican artist.
The article concentrated on the reopening of the City Museum after a major overhaul in May 1981 by Prince Charles. The then Lord Mayor Les Sillitoe was fussing over his speech of welcome and thought that he would mention the "muriels" outside the Museum. Arnold corrected him " The word is mural, Lord Mayor. The day of the great event arrived and the day was a great success. It was helped in a major part by the soon to happen Royal Wedding and the crowds outside Bethesda St were calling for " Lady Di". The atmosphere got too much for Les as they walked down the ramp to the cheering crowds plucked on the sleeve of the Prince and blurted out " Have you seen out Muriel?"

The other reason to celebrate Arnold is the great list of achivement including a seminal work on English Saltglaze- the standard text on the subject. He was well known and respected throughout the national museum movement as the conference in Aberdeen proved.

The article in the Sentinel pointed out that Arnold was a working class man who was dedicated to the Potteries.In a time when Directors of City Councils departments who seem to adopt a here today, gone tomorrow approach this is as refreshing as it is rare.