Busy, busy

Such a lot has been going on!

Tuesday 12th we hosted the SHARE Museums East Volunteer Coordinators’ Forum to share some of our learning about managing volunteers from the rest of the region.

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Llanfyllin Workhouse, north Wales. Well worth a visit!

Monday 18th we visited Llanfyllin Workhouse in north Wales for the meeting of the Workhouse Network and had a fabulous day learning from each other, including discussion of workhouse escape rooms and the role of workhouse sites in contemporary issues such as poverty, mental health and welfare. We learnt about the National Trust’s contemporary performance piece called Dangerous or Otherwise, created by The Workhouse, The Bare Project and Newark Emmaus Trust. It brought together contemporary stories of homelessness into the empty infirmary building at Southwell in new and interesting ways. See their website for more details:


Pebbles used as part of the Dangerous or Otherwise performance installation at The Workhouse, Southwell

On Tuesday 19th we celebrated our fabulous volunteers and their wonderful contribution to the museum with the Great Gressenhall Trail. Unwitting volunteers were invited to take part in a school holiday trail with a difference. Once they had traipsed all over the building finding out about the different contributions they make to the museum they were awarded with an “I’m a GREAT Gressenhall volunteer” badge as a prize and we enjoyed a wonderful lunch put on by the café.

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Photograph of Loddon and Clavering Union Workhouse.

On Wednesday 20th I entertained 30 members of the Loddon and District Local history Group with a Voices form the Workhouse talk. They were especially interested to hear about the history of their local workhouse – Loddon and Clavering. Like Gressenhall it started as a House of Industry. Riots broke out and inmates tried to set fire to the building when it became a Union workhouse in 1836. In the 20th century it became a home for those with severe learning difficulties and didn’t close until the early 1990s. It has now been converted into luxury flats, but we are lucky enough to have been donated a range of furniture and records of life in the institution from the union period onwards right into the 20th century when it was known as Hales Hospital. One of the stars of this donation is an oil painting of the union workhouse painted by the porter and now on display in the Board Room at Gressenhall.

And we have still been working on the Collections Gallery too! Working together with Dave Savage over the last week and a half we have installed new objects and added plinths to others. We have also completed our count up of labels and extra graphics – 185 in total!


Welcoming Lucy!

Another busy week.

We welcomed Lucy Burrows to the collections team on Monday. Lucy will be working on our textile collections with us. Firstly auditing, re-packing and improving our documentation. She will then be moving on to think about how we can use these items more effectively including in display and digital outputs. Lucy is a Ph.D. student in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia. As part of her course Lucy has to spend three months in a professional internship developing non-academic skills and experiencing life outside the lab. She has already got busy with the collections – photographing and working on documentation.

On Tuesday we attended the Bradenham Retirement Club (don’t worry we aren’t retiring quite yet!) to deliver an outreach talk on Voices from the Workhouse. It was very well received – with many people commenting on the real lives and stories that are told in the new displays. Everyone enjoyed exploring the replica Lorina sampler too. Even better they served cake after the event!

We’ve also been busy continuing to plan the object labels for the new Collections Gallery – 158 graphics so far (we are still counting!). Now we are nearing the end of the collections management marathon which has been recording all the locations (and correcting all the previous mistakes) we can start to think about writing the object labels. This means our visitors will be able to see (for the first time) what is in each case and understand some of the wonderful stories the objects can tell.

Like the story of Freddie Beckerton:

He was born in 1908 and while he was not totally blind, he was registered and had very poor sight. Mr Beckerton used to take items for sale, which included the most basic things like salt and pepper, in the suitcases when he sold items on-foot. He also sold items from a box on a tricycle marked ‘F Beckerton Grocer’. His suitcases and contents were donated to the museum in 2012.


We haven’t previously been able to tell his story so it will be lovely to put his collection out on display with a label so people can read all about his life.

Conservation and display progress

These week we have made good progress with a number of conservation issues. We have been working together with the Conservation Department to make sure everything is safe – for our visitors and for our objects. We have been able to convince ourselves that the perry corks are not going to pop off (!) and that the pink liquid inside a bottle isn’t anything dangerous. We have also stuck together a witch’s bottle that had broken and repaired a model gypsy caravan. Checking the condition of objects as they are installed is an important step. We can make sure that they are in good enough condition to go on display – and also that the way we are displaying them is suitable and won’t damage them. We were rather worried about some of the boards from the board games we are displaying. Having looked at them with Dave Harvey, our conservator, we are re-assured that they will be ok, and that the mounts we have found provide them with plenty of support – no saggy board games for us. The Ivory Castle game is one of my favourites. Produced by Gibbs Dentifrice it was given away in the 1930s to encourage children to clean their teeth properly!

We have also met with display to discuss some rather special mounts. Some of the objects in the gallery need a little more support – either to ensure they are not damaged and/or to make them look better. One object that needs particular care is a horse gag. We have used this several times in object handling and it is an intriguing thing. This metal and leather instrument looks like a rather uninspiring item when just laid on the bottom of the case. To help our visitors understand what it is and how it was used we are planning to mount it as if it were being used to hold a horse’s mouth open. This will not only help visitors understand what the object is, but will also be useful if we use it for handling again.

Village At War

Work has been progressing nicely this week.

The grocer’s section in work is now looking lovely thanks to a large shelving unit built on site by Dave. This has enabled Lauren to install lots of small objects and make them look wonderful! There are also some price labels in here – prizes for any smarty pants who can tell us whether we have the prices correct or not!!

We have also managed to install the World War Two plan chest just in time for Village at War (including temporary object labels). This is based on the World War One case which has been moved back up from the farm. It contains different types of object on six different themes – Air Raids, Private Charlie Card, Women at War, Toys and Games, Dig for Victory and Prisoners of War. Charlie Card never came back from the front and the drawer dedicated to him contains his medals and certificates which his family kept in pristine condition before donating them to the museum in 2015. You might recognise the game in the Toys and Games drawer – this unusual air raiding board game has been used during Village at War before. It is very rare – even the Imperial War Museum don’t have one.

Updating on the computer continues – thanks to volunteers for identifying and correcting the mistakes I have made (you know who you are!) and to Lauren for updating 102 objects from the Freddie Beckerton travelling salesman collection in one afternoon.

All join in…

This week we have installed the new interactives into the gallery. Jan has worked on some new books. These are for families to read together. In each book are a number of challenges related to the story. These are designed to help our visitors really look at the objects in the cases. We’ll see how these go. Hopefully we can add and change books so that repeat visitors have new books to explore every time they come back.

We have also been continuing to work on recording the locations of objects in the gallery. This takes time but is really important to get it right.

We have also been working on the next workhouse network meeting in September. This is called “Was the workhouse so bad” and different workhouse sites are coming together in Llanfylllin in Wales to discuss how workhouse sites can tackle contemporary issues of poverty, welfare and mental health. We’ll hear about different projects and get lots of time to network and explore the topics.

Locations, labels and interactives

We are now onto Phase 2 of Collections Gallery installation. It looks like nothing much has changed in the last few weeks but we are still working steadily behind the scenes.

The majority of the objects have now been installed. We are working on updating our computer records to ensure they are all accurate. This isn’t a simple business. For every object we need to enter it’s unique accession number, edit the computer record, add the new location and revise the old locations. In some cases we need to make new records (where previously a group of 6 objects were given a single number we need to sub-number them – making a total of 6 records for 6 objects) and photograph objects. We then need to group the records per case and save and print records for each case.

Once we have done all this (and there are over 2000 objects in the new gallery) we will then move on to write the new object labels for the cases. Every single case will have a label that tells our visitors what is inside the case. This was a major point from evaluation of the gallery previously – people wanted to know what they were looking at. So we will be writing labels for each of 4 shelves in each of the 34 cases (making a total of 136 labels!).

As well as all of this computer work we have also been discussing the interactives for the gallery and very soon we will be installing new explorer cards for families to use. We hope these will help families to look closely at the objects and really engage with them.


Woss in my doctor’s bag….?!

Last week was a busy week in the Collections Gallery. We were working on large objects and plan chests.

We now have large objects installed on the  plinth at the temporary exhibition end of the gallery. This will enable us to plan what graphics will go behind these objects. We also moved plan chests around the gallery and the World War One one up from the farm. They are heavy and awkward. Many thanks to Barry, Dave Savage, Josh and Dave Harvey who all helped.

We have now re-installed the World War One case in the Collections Gallery and we have objects in the top of the unions case (this contains a range of items relating to George Edwards the famous Norfolk agricultural labourer – turned MP and trade unionist) and the health case (which includes a range of objects that were commonly found in a doctor’s bag – how many do you recognise in the picture – some of them might make you shudder!).

We are now moving on to updating their locations so in the future we (or someone else) can find all the objects in the cases. This had never been completed during the last re-display and took us over 3 years working with volunteers to audit the gallery before we de-installed. We are not making that mistake again!

We also measured and Dave made a large number of new wooden plinths for objects so they look their best in the cases. We hope to install these before the summer holidays. Next week we will be hanging objects and fixing them to the sides and backs of the cases.

Wonderful week

This week’s blog comes from Jessie Hammond, from The Nicholas Hamond Academy, Swaffham, who spent last week with us on her work experience. Thanks for a wonderful week Jessie.

Hello, I’m Jessie-Kate Hammond and I’m currently at Gressenhall for my work experience placement. I chose Gressenhall as I thought it would be highly educational and very helpful towards my history GCSE.

On Monday at Gressenhall I was placed with the collections department. At the moment the department are focusing on the Collections Gallery and arranging amazing displays. I was working on the hobbies section which was very interesting. I had many tasks throughout the day, but two of which were my favourite. I was given lots of old fishing objects most of which were donated to the museum in the 1980’s/90’s, And I had to display them. They were very delicate items, and very fastinating. I also displayed an old pair of rugby boots, ice skates, a very old brown leather football, and various other balls from range of different sports. After displaying the objects I had to choose a selection of different fishing rods and hooks to be displayed. All of them were lovely but five caught my eye. They are now arranged beautifully in the display.

In the afternoon, I was asked to help build some old toys to go in the toys collection in the gallery. I had to build some very fiddly Bayko! I was given the instructions and was left to it! I loved it! I built the train station, to go alongside the shop and farm house Megan already made. The Bayko display is coming along nicely and I’m very glad I contributed to it.

On Tuesday at Gressenhall, I was working with the Events team, Miriam, Lara and Jane. The events team had a very busy week preparing for the Story Festival on Sunday which was focusing on Alice in Wonderland. My first job was to pin many posters up in the Learning Centre so the children had indication of the characters and what role they have in the story. My next task with the events team was creating decorations for the set of Alice in Wonderland. Miriam printed out various templates of petals and I created huge origami paper flowers, to represent the white flowers in the Queen of Heart’s castle. They are yet to be spray painted red ready for the day. Then in my last hour or so, I helped then research famous quotes from each main character to be displayed around the museum and farm for the children to find during the day.

On Wednesday at Gressenhall I was working at the farm across the road from the museum. I loved this because I got mucky and very into it! My first job down on the farm was to muck out the chickens! I had to get into their home and scrape everything out, and replace it with new straw bedding for them. I then helped a volunteer wash the Suffolk Punch horses’ mats that are placed under them in their stables. After lunch I then walked over the beautiful Suffolk Punch horse, called Jimbo so I could groom him ready for his cart rides later on in the afternoon. I brushed his mane and tail then I brushed him and shined him! They are so lovely and I enjoyed working with them! I then helped Richard and the volunteer to tack up the horses ready for the carts. Soon after I was on the carts listening to the information about the Suffolk Punches and helping the public on and off the carts and making sure they were safe. On the cart rides I learnt that.

  • There are only 500 Suffolk punch horses left in the UK
  • There are only 80 breeding males left
  • The 4 horses are called, Jimbo (the youngest, 11 years old.) Reggie (12 years old) Bowler (15 years old) and Trojan (the oldest, 17 years old). Trojan can’t do cart rides anymore due to his old age and arthritis.
  • They are very hard working horses and will become very ill if they aren’t worked often, they don’t like standing still.
  • They have very short and stubby legs, But they are very strong and can pull double their weight
  • They weigh a TON!

I then un-tacked the horses and washed them off as they were extremely sweaty! After having a stroke of the pigs, I fed the huge black pigs and I was told the female pig could be pregnant which was lovely! I also fed the ducks and the baby chicks which was nice too.

After having the Thursday off as I wasn’t feeling very well, the Friday definitely cheered me up! I was with the Learning Team. They are the people who design schemes and ways to engage children into wanting to read, learn about history and much more. These past few weeks they have been doing something called Once Upon a Time. This was a learning day for reception kids. It involved Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and the wicked witch from Snow White! The idea was the museum were opening up a new exhibit with old fairy-tale items such as the golden eggs, the red cape, Thumbelina’s walnut bed, the glass slipper etc., And the wicked witch had stolen them as the curator didn’t invite her to the opening of it!

So all the tasks were based around the disappearance of the objects. First off the children had to go down to the farm to help Cinderella clean the cottage otherwise she couldn’t attend the ball! They engaged in singing activities and also helped the Ugly Sister Esmerelda do some gardening too and got a tractor ride around the farm! Next the children had lunch then went on an adventure with Jack to find the golden egg, and have a story time! Throughout this they did things like, going on the park and they made the children imagine it was the castle and they had to run away from the giant. It was done very fantastically! They then went with the wicked witch to make a potion to make all the objects come back. Once all the children had finished their activities they all went back to the chapel for the conclusion, which the actors/learning team did brilliantly! To see they had defeated the wicked witch, had all the objects returned and they went off home back to school! The Learning Team were fantastic and it was great fun getting to work with the children.

Overall my stay at Gressenhall has been a wonderful experience and has taught me various life skills, which weren’t only very beneficial to me but very fun to do as well! It was excellent!

I was very grateful for the opportunity to work here! Thank you all very much, you were such a great group of people to work with!



Child’s play

This week I have mostly been playing with toys. Finalising the layouts on our toy section has been a lot of fun! It has also really inspired lots of our visitors who have encountered us in the galleries this week and who have shared stories of their favourite toys and asked lots of questions about what is on display. One of the toys have been busy constructing is called Bayko. This is an English building model construction toy that was invented by Charles Plimpton, an early plastics engineer and entrepreneur in Liverpool. First marketed in Britain it was soon exported throughout the British Commonwealth and became a worldwide brand between 1934 and 1967. The name derived from Bakelite, one of the world’s first commercial plastics that was originally used to manufacture many of the parts. Bayko was one of the world’s earliest plastic toys to be marketed.

Our Bayko sets were donated to the museum in 2015. They had been used and played with by 6 children during the 1950s. Each Christmas they were given another set which enabled them to build bigger and better models. One of the now grown-up children recently re-found the sets and enjoyed playing with them during his treatment for cancer. It has been a challenge to get to grips with this unusual construction toy that uses steel rods and interconnecting bricks to create realistic looking architectural models. Pop along to the curatorial office if you fancy a go yourself.

Lauren has been working hard on our school themed cabinets which are now looking fantastic. They include the COMMIT NO NUISANCE sign which was such a favourite of our visitors in the school room, but which was suffering from being on open display. It is good to see it back out where visitors can see it, but where it is protected inside a case.

Our volunteers are continuing to clean objects as we get them out of store and make sure they look wonderful before we put them in the gallery.

Apart from playing around we have also now installed the majority of the large vinyls in the Collections Gallery. Over 80% of the objects are installed and next week we are looking forward moving plan chests and large objects back into the gallery.

Slowly but surely…

Work has slowed down a little bit. Two reasons – we are now working with the gallery open and we are down to just two of us.

Nevertheless we have made really good progress this week. We are trying to balance our Collections Gallery work with our day jobs which means we are spending about half the week actually in the gallery.

This week we managed to make progress with the colours theme – which is now looking fuller and has a beautiful vinyl panel. A young visitor at the weekend enjoyed standing in front of the case and singing the rainbow song whilst pointing to all the colours in the case – so we know that this new type of theme is really working and helping our visitors to engage with the collections in new ways.

We also added vinyls to the models section which now works really well – telling the story of several of the models in the cases, including a Norfolk County Council library van which was given as a retirement gift to Wendy Ward who had driven a similar van in the 1950s.

We’ve also added the animals vinyl and we are working through the cases making lists of extra objects where needed and new mounts and conservation work required. it is slow work – but needed to make sure the cases and objects look as good as possible. We’ll get there in the end even if it feels pretty arduous in all this heat at the moment. In the meantime every time you go into the gallery you should see something new to explore.