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.
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.
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!
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.
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.