Mummified Cat

For the redevelopment of the Collection Gallery we are putting back on display our ‘marmite’ object. When we asked visitors for feedback on the gallery the most talked about object was this cat. For good and bad. One visitor said it was even worse than the stuffed sheep. It even sparked debate with one visitor telling everyone else to leave the poor cat alone!

Mummified Cats are occasionally found concealed within the walls and roofs of old cottages. It is thought that cats were placed in buildings as foundation sacrifices.

This cat was found in 1983 during renovation work of a fifteenth century house at Thetford under the threshold of one of the doors. This location suggests that it was buried as protection for the building. The builders refused to continue work until the cat was replaced!


Interesting, cool, amazing and awesome!

Word cloud of visitor surveys for new workhouse galleries at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.

This is a word cloud of how our visitors described our new workhouse galleries when they visited last year. We love that they thought the displays were interesting, cool, amazing and awesome!

The survey results  also told us that:

Visitors learnt ‘How recently it was used for elderly care, as tend to think workhouses were Victorian’

‘We have learnt a lot about the life and times in the workhouse – well done’

‘All of the displays combine to bring the building and its history to life in a most imaginative and informative way.’

‘There’s such a vast improvement all round. It’s much nicer for children and families alike.’

‘[I was surprised by the] number of people who left the workhouse with a trade and a future.’

‘[It gave me] reflection space – [and made me consider that the] problem of how to look after the poor is still a very modern issue.’

‘Imagining what it would have been like and the people and how our lives have changes. What they were thinking and feeling.’

We love to know what you think about our new galleries. We are open Mon- Fri next week for February half term and then everyday from the 5th March to 29th October 2017.


Fun for all

This afternoon we had fun testing our new tablet tool with our Front of House staff. We shaved heads, rolled marbles and dressed dolls. We also all learnt something more about the workhouse. As one person put it “I came out into the courtyard feeling like I really learnt more about this place and understood what it was like to live here in the past”.

We hope our visitors feel the same when they get a chance to use them for the first time this Spring.



New year, new Collections Gallery

img_20170125_134941770_hdrTo paraphrase a traditional January sentiment, it’s ‘new year, new Collections Gallery’ here at Gressenhall, and plans and renovations are in full swing.

As a masters student at UEA, I’ve been on placement in the Museum since November, working with the Learning and Collections teams to think about new ways of making the extensive collections accessible and interesting for every visitor to the Collections Gallery. For me personally, this has meant helping to pack up, clean, store, and even photograph the objects, in preparation for an exciting redesign of the space and its displays. From bricks to dolls, animal traps to taxidermy sheep, I’ve been able to see first-hand the expansiveness of the collection here and the work that goes into preserving, conserving and interpreting the history of the Workhouse and Norfolk’s rural heritage. For me, even being born and raised in the county, this has been an incredibly eye-opening experience. In researching the background to specific objects and wider themes of rural life, I’ve found out so much about the history and culture of Norfolk that was almost entirely new to me.

Perhaps I can place some of the blame on being city-bred, but swathes of the county’s crafts, traditions and trades, as represented by the Museum’s eclectic collections, are only now coming into focus. Through the biographies of individuals like George Edwards, whose path from crow-scarer to MP touches upon so many elements of Norfolk life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, I’ve been intrigued by linking objects to stories and finding new ways of engaging with everything from unionisation to Primitive Methodism. Edwards’ account of his father’s 1885 imprisonment for taking five turnips from his master’s land to feed the family, of leading horses as a young man and having his feet trodden on time and again, or of his mother working sixteen hour days at her loom, bring new resonance to the hardships (and comic interludes) of his time. Whether a suitcase owned by Edwards himself, general assorted horseshoes, or century-old trade tools, the objects might resonate in any number of ways. One of my first tasks here was to select bricks for display from Costessey’s Brickyard, historically run by the Gunton family. This might not leap out to many beside the brick-enthusiast as a subject of fascination, but reading up on this little part of Norfolk history means that now I know – and notice – their decorative contributions to buildings in Norwich I’ve passed almost daily for two decades. I could talk forever about the intrigue behind these objects, and the richness of Norfolk’s rural history, but what the Collections Gallery hopes to do is allow people the space to find their own sparks of interest or recollection.

The items Gressenhall has are so much more than just things, and the history they represent is not consigned fixedly to the past, but carries on in the living traditions and memories of Norfolk residents today. That’s something that I will definitely take from my small role in the ongoing development here and something that, whether through research, roaming or reminiscence, I hope everyone will get to experience first-hand at the Museum.

Maddy Goodall (MA Cultural Heritage & Museum Studies)


Almost there…

Work has been progressing nicely with the new workhouse displays. We are into the last stages of installation – where we begin putting objects in cases and finishing graphics. It is all coming together really nicely. We are looking forward to welcoming visitors to see the new displays. We are especially pleased to be able to tell the real personal stories of people who lived and worked in the workhouse. Keep an eye out for these when you visit later in the year.

Workhouse Displays update

Fit out of the new Workhouse displays is progressing well. It looks like a building site at the moment (because that’s pretty much what it is!) but we’re starting to be able to see what the displays are really going to look like. There’s new glass walls, stages, plinths and label stands. There’s also a big hole in the floor (don’t worry it’s supposed to be there!)


Excitingly some of the graphic panels are being put up – we’ve been hard at work writing text and choosing images so it’s great to see some of them on the walls. What do you think?


We’re busy working on all of the audio visual elements of the new displays too. We’ve been writing scripts and finding the right people for the parts. Here’s a sneak peek of a new projection of photos from our collection.




Back to the ’50s

We know that our 1950s room is very popular with our visitors. Over the winter it has been given a makeover – but we hope that you’ll love it just as much or maybe even more!

The Fifties was a time of great change as Britain recovered from World War II. People wanted to enjoy a brighter, more comfortable lifestyle. More houses were built, rationing was lifted in 1954 and new technologies, like washing machines, were available. For the first time, lots of ordinary people were enjoying the benefits of electricity in their homes. We relied less on solid fuel for heating our homes and new cleaning products arrived in the shops: Tide, Surf and Daz were all launched in the 1950s. Household chores were much easier. People had more leisure time and enjoyed watching television, listening to records and reading magazines. Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 was the first major event to be broadcasted on television and rock ‘n’ roll was the big hit in music.

Katie, Learning Officer and Lauren, Assistant Curator have given our much loved 1950s room a makeover. It’s a space where you can explore, play and sit. This room now also gets used with our school groups to explore life within living memory. New wallpaper, some different furniture and objects have really brighten the space.



Behind the scenes in the workhouse displays

The Main Hall and Workhouse Displays are currently closed to visitors. But they are closed to staff too! We have formally signed over the spaces to our fit-out contractors Elmwood. They are installing walls, cases, graphic panels… it’s a big job in lots of galleries! Today we had a sneaky peak and took some photos for you to see.

Bringing the washing machines back to life!

Our engineering volunteers have been busy over the past few months. Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse has been awarded funding by the Arts Council England PRISM fund to restore two washing machines in the laundry. This has paid for cleaning materials, new belts and bespoke parts to be made.


The washing machines in the laundry date from 1950 and 1953 and are amongst the first automatic washing machines in Europe. Automatic washing machines are now the norm, but in the 1950s this was revolutionary technology that overhauled institutional and domestic laundry practices.


The washing machines clearly demonstrate this revolutionary technology by having a clock face on the front of the machine with hands which would turn to the different cycles in the wash; 1st wash, 2nd wash, boil, 1st rinse, 2nd rinse, 3rd rinse, breakdown. Using a boil wash was normal then but now we are encouraged to wash at 15°C.

These washing machines had not been used since the building was a County Care Home, which closed in 1975. Our engineering volunteers have done a brilliant job carefully restoring them and getting them working. So when the new workhouse displays open this summer keep your eyes peeled for the cleaned up machines and join us on an event day to see them running.