It is 20 years since The Harley Gallery officially opened on 4th July 1994.

A grade one museum facility, The Harley Gallery was constructed within the ruins of the Welbeck Estate gasworks. It took over 3 years for a team of master craftsman to complete the building works.

Intended to give The Harley Foundation a public face, The Harley Gallery was designed by Leo Godlewski as a craft object in its own right. The site was a horrible mess of waste stone and the blackened ruins of the 5th Duke of Portland’s gasworks. Could we really transform this chaos into a beautiful gallery? It needed an act of faith: scared but undaunted, we took the necessary leap and began building in September 1990. The term “steep learning curve” seemed to have been invented just for us; as the opening date approached, anxiety and complications grew: would the air conditioning work? Did security systems work? Did the lighting work? Could we install the first exhibitions? Somehow, with a brilliant team of helpers willing everything to come together, on the morning of 4th July 1994, we welcomed our guests of honour, the ribbon was cut, speeches were given, and 120 people sat down to lunch in the main room. We were on our way…

Derek Adlam, Advisor, The Harley Foundation.

Behind-the-scenes tours seem to be the in thing and a behind-the-scenes tour prior to the opening of The Harley Gallery in 1994 would have revealed frantic activity. The building work was running hopelessly late – but the opening date had been set. The builders were literally moving out as Derek Adlam was installing the Treasury display – but of course the snags continued.

It was all hands to the pump.  At 2am on the morning of the opening I was at the Gallery, hand filing the escutcheans of the mortice locks to the treasury alcove doors so that the doors could actually be locked to secure their valuable cargo. As I moved out with  file in hand, Derek Adlam moved in to arrange the displays.  At one point there was a horrendous clang as a carelessly opened door nearly severed the lighting from the ceiling. Unusually for him, Derek became quite tetchy!

But eventually all was installed, dawn broke and the event passed seamlessly.  The tale of Lady Anne Bentinck, Lord Gowrie and the lift engineer should, I think, be left for the celebration of our thirtieth year of opening.

Robin Brown, Trustee, The Harley Foundation.

To find out more about The Harley Foundation’s current building project, see exhibition The Harley Gallery Presents, on show until the 10th August 2014.