Hello from the New Heritage Learning Trainee

Hi everyone! My name is Rebecca and I’m the new Heritage Learning Trainee here at Gressenhall.

Before coming to Gressenhall I had trained as a teacher and was volunteering in museums as I knew I wanted to work in Heritage Education. I am very lucky to be given the opportunity both to gain specialist training and to be working on such a lovely site (I am quite glad that our office is in the museum rather than on the farm, as I don’t think I’d get any work done with the temptation of piglets, lambs, a foal and even a farm cat so close by!).

I have been at Gressenhall for a month now which has flown by. We have had school groups visiting almost every day since I started so I have been doing lots of observation and helping out with sessions such as Three Little Pigs, Billy Goats Gruff, Homes Long Ago, Home Front Heroes, Victorian Activity Days and Homes or Habitats- if you’re interested, you can find out more about our school sessions here: http://www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/Learning/Gressenhall/index.htm

I have been looking at the different ways the education team interpret the site, how sessions need to be tailored to different age groups, and how to get children interacting with the site and our collections. Of course, learning in a museum environment is quite different to learning in a classroom- I am beginning to develop an understanding of this and look forward to discovering more over the course of my traineeship.

Bertie the soldier telling children about his time at the Front

Bertie the soldier telling children about his time at the Front

Last week we piloted a new session for Key Stage 2 called Annie’s War, which centres on World War 1. It was very interesting from my perspective to see a session being run for the first time; what the challenges were and how everything was prepared. Thankfully everything went well and the feedback from schools was positive!

Hoeing the field for Olive the Land Girl with the help of one of our Suffolk Punch horses

Hoeing the field for Olive the Land Girl with the help of one of our Suffolk Punch horses

I have also been helping with Muddy Museum Café, Gressenhall’s weekly Early Years session where we read a story, then have play and arts & crafts related to the story. For example, last week we read ‘Portside Pirates’ before going off to the woods to hunt for treasure, make pirate sashes and bandanas, and finally decorate parrots to take home. Having trained as a secondary teacher it is a real pleasure to be able to work with little ones, especially as we see the same children each week- a rare occurrence in museum learning!

Currently I am preparing a fairytale trail for our Once Upon a Time Key Stage 1 event. This has involved sourcing and photographing lots of fairytale characters. I even had to ‘uglify’ a duckling- not something I ever thought I’d be doing as part of my job! Another unexpected task later this week will be getting to dress up as an Ugly Sister, again as part of Once Upon a Time- I’m so excited! (Oh no she isn’t!) (I really am)

The now Ugly Duckling ready to go out on our Fairytale Trail

The now Ugly Duckling ready to go out on our Fairytale Trail

The summer holidays are rapidly approaching, which means no school groups for a few weeks. This is a chance to catch up on planning and administration, as the team are busy delivering during term-time. The Events team will be putting on family learning activities throughout the holidays, which I am looking forward to seeing, and then we’ll be gearing up for the new academic year when I will hopefully be doing lots more delivery.

I’m having a great time learning from Jan, Katie, Rachel in the Education team and all the other staff at Gressenhall, and can’t wait to find out what other weird and wonderful things I’ll be doing in the name of museum learning!

Rebecca Hunt, Heritage Learning Trainee

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What’s in the Box?

At Gressenhall we have over 50,000 objects. From trinkets to tractors, each one of these objects has a past, a present and, if we do our job well, a future. To look after these objects we need to know what they are and where they are. Put simply this is ‘collections management’ but what does that really entail?

Imagine for a moment if you will standing in the queue at Argos. You’re after a kettle. You would like a colour to match your kitchen and you know that it needs to be small enough to fit under your taps.

Luckily, Argos have an extensive catalogue that you can flip through to find just the thing you are looking for. The description gives you its measurements, a photograph and the code you need to purchase it. Importantly, Argos also know where it is and how to get it to you.

The beauty of this shopping trip is that you have all that information at your fingertips. There is no need to march around on a busy Saturday afternoon with a tape measurer and colour chart in hand.

Now let’s head back to the museum. Collections are used in a variety of different ways; exhibitions, educational workshops, historical research, on the back of a postcard and sometimes even on the telly. Objects can have huge potential but only if they are accessible. So to make the most of collections we need their information at our fingertips. But with 50,000 objects where do we begin?

To know what’s what, each object has a unique identity number called an ‘accession number.’ This number begins with the letters of the museum it is from, followed by the year it entered the museum and then a number that denotes at what point it arrived. The accession number is very important as it links an object with all the information a museum holds about it.

Take this doll for example

Workhouse Doll

Workhouse Doll GRSRM : 1977.27.1

 

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This number is entered into a database. The database has lots of information about that doll such as:

• Name
• Number
• Location (building, room, shelf, box number)
• Provenance (Does it have a story behind it? How old is it? What was it used for? Is it unique?)
• How it arrived in the museum
• A detailed description including its measurements and the material it is made from
• Its condition (How long will it last? Does it need conserving? Can it be used for a handling activity?)

The database is incredibly important because it provides this information at the click of a button. You don’t need to rifle through the boxes or hunt for hours. It’s not purely for convenience. It means an object which may be fragile or very old need not be disturbed unless absolutely necessary.

What is exciting about this is that everyone has access. Using Norfolk Museums’ online service you can browse through the collections without ever leaving the sofa. Take a look and see!

http://www.culturalmodes.norfolk.gov.uk/projects/nmaspub5.asp

In order for that information to reach this stage it takes a surprising amount of leg work. This is where my traineeship begins. I’ve been involved in the audit of a social history collection and I’ve been building my skills along the way.

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What’s in the box? Checking the database is correct and documenting the object; taking its photo, writing a description, measuring it and updating its location. This can also include who donated the object and what do we know about its history. Ensuring all information associated with the object is recorded and accessible for a variety of users.

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Are all the objects present and correct? Ensuring all the objects in the box are labelled or marked with their correct accession number. We use methods that are conservation approved to do this. Different types of objects call for different methods but it should always be secure yet reversible, safe for the object, and discreet but visible.

Marked using the paraloid sandwich method

Marked using the paraloid sandwich method

Are the objects safe? If a box is packed poorly the objects can suffer from long term damage such as breakage or distortion. We need to ensure that the objects will not come into contact with one another and that the packing materials used will not cause any damage either. Materials such as acid free tissue paper are light weight and protective. Packing the objects well can also provide shock absorption to prevent damage from any movement and insulation from dramatic changes in temperature.

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Where is it? Once everything is safely stored in the box we label the box with a unique code and ensure that its location has been updated on the database. If we ever move an object from its normal location then we complete a ‘movement’ card that is left in place of the object. This movement is also entered onto the database as a temporary location.

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The whole process can take a considerable amount of time and may seem like over-egging the pudding but the benefits of a well managed collection are countless. Not only are the objects preserved for generations to come but they are accessible, inviting us to explore their potential.

 Undertaking box audits has been such good experience. I’ve learnt about the collection at Gressenhall and so much more. I have gained an understanding of the science in conservation and a new appreciation for data management. It’s also been a very thought provoking exercise in what objects mean to us and what we leave behind when we are gone.

 In opening the box my eyes have been opened. So next time I’m standing in a queue with a little blue pen in hand and hear “cashier number five please” I will not sigh, but smile and think of Gressenhall with all its boxes, full of stories.

 Etta Griffiths, Rural Collections Management Trainee

 

Greetings from the Land of Heritage Data Management

I’m Charlotte, and on the 31st March I became the new Skills for the Future Heritage Data Management Trainee (narrowly avoiding April Fool’s Day, which would, perhaps, have been an inauspicious beginning!).

Based at Gressenhall, my main role is to improve and update the documentation for all our lovely objects, documents and books at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. ‘That doesn’t sound very exciting!’ I hear you cry; well, I’m here to prove you wrong with a tiny snapshot of the many things I’ve been up to in the last few months.

I love museums, and if you’re reading this it’s a safe bet you do too, and whether you’re a ‘read everything in sight’ type of person or you prefer to ignore the labels and just marvel at the interesting items on display, we can’t create a display unless we know what we have. And that’s where people like me (and a special mention goes out here to the fantastic volunteers working alongside me in the library) beavering away on the computer on our database come in, making sure we have the correct details on all the things we are preserving for posterity. In order to create exhibitions, and to properly preserve the items themselves, it’s vital that we know what we have and where it’s kept. It’s not just an essential and useful activity either: unearthing an item from a box, examining it from all angles and updating the information is good fun.

Receipt from 1917

Receipt from 1917

Rear of 1917 receipt: ‘Dear Sir, I enclose a cheque for rates, I am sorry I have kept you waiting for I forgot about it’

Rear of 1917 receipt: ‘Dear Sir, I enclose a cheque for rates, I am sorry I have kept you waiting for I forgot about it’

Take, for example, this pair of receipts. From the basic pre-existing description we already have the historical context; they are evidence of local farms having to pay rates to the parish to support the poor. However, get them out of the box and look a little closer and a far more personal story emerges.

The handwritten notes on the reverse of each receipt reveal the more human side of things: a cheerful apology for lateness and a jokey congratulations for promptness. The past isn’t just facts; it’s full of people, and these tiny survivals of personal interactions remind us of this. If the records hadn’t needed updating, these notes on the reverse might never have been seen. Now, there is an image attached to the record digitally preserving the exchange between George Curson and J Riddell, farm owner and poor rate administrator.

Rear of receipt 1920s: ‘Dear Sir, I enclose a cheque for rates: and I am pleased to say I have not kept you waiting so long’ ‘Many thanks, you are quite a good boy this time, if you only keep it up’

Rear of 1920s receipt : ‘Dear Sir, I enclose a cheque for rates: and I am pleased to say I have not kept you waiting so long’ ‘Many thanks, you are quite a good boy this time, if you only keep it up’

 

Front of 1920s receipt for Poor Rates

Front of 1920s receipt for Poor Rates

It’s not just data management, it’s story discovery.

 

 

In addition to making myself useful within the museum, another key part of our role as trainees is learning, and to this end we’ve been on a variety of courses and trips to give us an insight into how the rest of the sector run their sites.

Recently we’ve been lucky enough to visit Beamish: The Living Museum of the North, for a stores tour and a good look around to see how a large living-history style site works. Like us, they have a working farm that showcases a lost way of life and historical farming methods, but unlike us they also have a town, a colliery, a railway station, a pit village and a stately home from various eras sprawled over 300 acres. From a records-keeping perspective the sheer scale of their site was staggering; in addition to the many unique objects carefully stored and preserved as you would expect in a museum, they also have hundreds of sundry items such as cutlery and crockery kept on hand to be used on an everyday basis by the costumed interpreters demonstrating northern life throughout the ages.

Last month the Skills for Future Trainees descended en masse on the Rural Museums Annual General Meeting. Not only was it a fascinating opportunity to hear what other museums in the sector were up to, discuss the challenges in the sector that we are all facing right now, and network with museum staff from around the UK, but we also got to tour the fantastic Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings.

They have a working Nineteenth Century windmill!

They have a working Nineteenth Century windmill!

This had an interesting link to Gressenhall; obviously the Workhouse itself is one of our best assets, but we use it to house other museum-style displays. At Avoncroft, the buildings are the main focus. We were given a tour by the wonderfully knowledgeable Hamish Wood and gained a great deal of insight into a very unusual museum collection.

All in all it has been a hectic first few months and looks to continue that way, squeezing in important records-keeping in amongst all the exciting learning activities I’m lucky enough to take part in. Gressenhall is a brilliant, inspirational place to work and I look forward to writing you another blog in a few months to let you know what else I’ve discovered as I continue to explore behind the scenes in the pursuit of records that need managing.

 

Here the fabulous Hamish Wood, Head of Projects and Interpretation at Avoncroft, is telling us all about this 1950’s pre-fabricated home. (I’m the one in the red, listening intently).

Here the fabulous Hamish Wood, Head of Projects and Interpretation at Avoncroft, is telling us all about this 1950’s pre-fabricated home. (I’m the one in the red, listening intently)

 

Charlotte Edwards