About gressenhallfw

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse is a truly unique museum. Visit its 50-acre site and discover the: • Historic workhouse • Museum of life on the land • Traditional farm with rare breed animals • Beautiful, unspoilt grounds The museum is a great day out whether you want to learn about the lives of Norfolk people in the past or relax and have a good time with your friends and family. You’ll need a whole day to begin to discover all its wonders.

John Moray-Smith panel

Have you ever walked in to a pub and seen a scene like this? This panel portrays a traditional pub scene unlike we see now. It was created by the Norwich artist, John Moray-Smith in the middle of the twentieth century. This artist’s work appears on the outside of buildings and inside of pubs across Norwich and Norfolk. His work commemorates and celebrates trades and livelihoods from across the city and county.

Little is known about Moray-Smith’s life. Mysterious rumours circulated for years that he was an Italian gypsy who first came to England during the First World War as a Prisoner of War. Known for being eccentric, perhaps this story made sense, however thanks to research by the Norwich Society we now know that this is complete fabrication. Moray-Smith was born in Scotland and later lived in London where he met his wife. The family moved to Norwich in the early 1930s.

Moray-Smith was employed by Norwich brewery Morgan & Co. For twenty years he produced work to decorate the brewery’s pub. Morgan’s brewery was a large brewery based in Norwich and King’s Lynn and owned pubs all over the county. John and Walter Morgan bought Conisford Brewery from Charles and Henry Thompson in 1844. The company took over many other breweries and by 1904 they owned 600 pubs with 80% of them outside of Norwich. In 1961 the company went into liquidation and were taken over by Bullards and Steward and Patteson. Many other breweries suffered the same fate. Big breweries consolidated, lager which was brewed overseas became very popular and brewing in the county rapidly declined. Thankfully, there has been a resurgence of micro-breweries and Norfolk is once again a brewing county.

One of Morgan’s pubs was the Jolly Farmers in King’s Lynn. This panel is one of six which was on display in the pub. They were unveiled on the 25th February 1948 by Sir Robert Bignold, the managing director of the Brewery. Through Moray-Smith’s panels Morgan’s brewery created a theme for this pub and rather appropriately it was farming! The panels in the set portray threshing, harvesting, sheep shearing, a cattle market, a farmyard and this pub scene. In this pub scene we see musical instruments being played, beer drunk from mugs and a dog under the table. The only woman in the scene is behind the bar. The Jolly Farmers pub is now closed like many rural pubs which are closing or are at threat of closure. Now pubs in the county are being saved and run by their communities, hosting knit and knatter groups, running theatre performances and expanding their daytime offer to include coffee and cake.

Originally the panel would have been painted with bright colours, matching the happy scene it portrays. It is darker now and stained brown with tobacco from the many years it was in a smoky pub. Moray-Smith made his panels from wire and plaster. Despite their size and chunky finish these panels are delicate and expensive to conserve. It is wonderful to be able to display one of them within the ‘Beers and Brewing: Norfolk’s Rural Pubs’.

A version of this blog post appeared in the Eastern Daily Press.


Collections in the summer holidays

Happy Summer Holidays!

Early Birds

On Monday we held our second Early Birds morning for those with autism and their families. Thank you to everyone who helps to support these sessions – they are really valued by the families who use them and give them a safe setting in which to explore the displays. Lauren is now looking at how we can share some of the learning from these sessions with other sites. Beginning with our sister sites in the Western Area she is helping Thetford and King’s Lynn museums think about how they can adapt their offer for those with autism. She has also made contact with others across the council to advocate for our work and to find out what other services can offer.

Photographs in the collection

We have also been working on organising the historic photos in our collections. This will make it easier for us to find images when visitors and or enquirers want to see an original photograph. Work experience students started the process and we will continue working through the existing files in the next few weeks. The historic photos include some gems – like this one. It depicts Bertie and Harry Dack, sons of Bertie Wallace Dack, the Billingford blacksmith who served in the Army Veterinary Corps during World War One.  The postcard shows Bertie and Harry in army uniform. It was sent to their father whilst he was serving on the front line. The photograph is one of a large collection of images, printed ephemera and objects donated in 1984 by the Dack family. We recently had an enquiry from the Museum of Cambridge who would like to use the image in a display and small publication.

Once Upon a Time – working with Dereham library

We have already asked you all for help with our Once Upon a Time exhibition. This will be focussing on children’s books. At the moment we are asking everyone 3 questions:

  • What is your favourite children’s book?
  • Do any places at Gressenhall remind you of a book?
  • Do any displays objects at Gressenhall remind you of a book?

Please do post replies below.

We have also been working with Dereham Library to gather responses from their users using the  sheets above, displayed on a board in the library. We are really excited to be developing this relationship and look forward to working with staff and library users over the next few months to develop the exhibition.

Brewing in Norfolk

The Beers and Brewing exhibition explores pubs and brewing in the past and today. We’ve already written blog posts about the historic Steward and Patteson brewery and the modern Kings Arms Pub. This post is about the two modern breweries in the exhibition.

Beeston Brewery

Mark Riches started brewing at Beeston Brewery in November 2006. Today he runs three brews every week. He produces nine different beers that he supplies to pubs. He also bottle beers for selling in local shops and from the brewery direct to customers.

Norfolk Brewhouse

The Norfolk Brewhouse is an award-winning brewery based in North Norfolk run by Rachel and David Holliday since 2012. The brewery’s most well known beers are all named after Norfolk Dialect words for the hare – Moon Gazer, Dew Hopper and Stubble Stag. They also make a gluten free beer, lagers a charity ale Tobi’s Tipple which supports local cancer charity It’s On The Ball.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Both breweries use brewing water from their own wells. They also use local malting barley supplied by the Crisp Malting Group based in North Norfolk. Thankyou to both breweries for lending items to the Beers and Brewing exhibition.



Collections update

We have had a busy few weeks in collections.

Back Hall and Voices Galleries

The Back Hall has been a bit abandoned for the last few years as we have been concentrating on the Voices project. We are now looking at how we can smarten up this space. We have a limited budget but we are working on new graphics and barrier. This work won’t be carried out until the winter season when we are closed. We are beginning work by removing the large yellow plinth underneath the gallows plough next week.

We are also creating new A3 panels for the main galleries with many new stories discovered by our research team. These will enable us to have a library of different personal stories to swap over in the winter. One of these features John George. John is only the second inmate whom we have a photograph of (see above). He was a farm labourer in Scarning all his life. He died in Gressenhall workhouse in 1901 aged 89.


Lauren and I have been attempting to spend more time accessioning the long term backlog of items that have been donated to the museum. Most of these have been languishing in the office for a while and it is excellent to begin work on them. We assess everything that comes into the museum against our Collecting Policy – essentially all items must have a strong link to Norfolk and come with additional information about the people that made or used the item. It must not duplicate anything we already have (we have over 55, 000 objects in the collection!).

This week we have been working on a range of leaflets which advertise Norfolk products (see Miss Eagle’s price list above) or companies and some additional items from the Taylor’s seed merchants in King’s Lynn. These were additional donations when the Taylor family sold their long term home in 2016.

Work experience

Finally we have been working with a range of different work experience students. They have all had a chance to work with different parts of the museum and whilst they are with collections have helped to create the summer holiday trails and activities, worked on the Once Upon a Time exhibition for 2019 (see photograph) and catalogued some of the workhouse archives. Thanks to all of the students who have done a fantastic job, been really enthusiastic and had a go at everything we have asked them to do!

Contemporary Community pubs

This ‘Beers and Brewing: Norfolk’s Rural Pubs’ exhibition at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse explores the brewing industry and pubs in the county both in the past and today. I was very keen that this exhibition reflected the contemporary nature of pubs and brewing in Norfolk.

I was very pleased to connect with the manager at The Kings Arms pub in Shouldham. This was the first community run pub in West Norfolk. Like many pubs (28,000 pubs have closed since the 1970s) it was closed in 2012. The villagers rallied around to save it and set up a not for profit cooperative Shouldham Community Enterprises Limited. A huge fundraising campaign was successfully achieved with the community buying their pub in January 2014. The pub has now been open since September 2014 and expanded its community role. The pub is host to a Knit and Knatter group, Spanish classes and a volunteer run café. The pub has its own cricket and football team. The Kings Arms has been awarded CAMRA West Norfolk pub of the year in 2016, 2017 and 2018!

I was delighted that they chose to donate items to the museum collection which are on display in the exhibition.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Donations, Carleton and Volunteer Forum


A timely donation just before the Norfolk Show was this fabulous Royal Agricultural Society long service medal which was awarded to Mr James (Bertie George) Frost for 40 years’ service on Mr Kidner’s farm at Stoke Holy Cross. The medal was awarded at the 1951 Royal Norfolk Show! The medal was accompanied by an image of Bertie George and his family.


We have had 4 fabulous students from Carleton College, Minnesota with us for the last week. The have been working on evaluating the museum’s tablet tour and creating some 3d digital models of the workhouse dolls. Their last day is Friday 6th July so do come along to a lunchtime talk in the Learning Centre at 12.30 on Friday to hear all about what they have been getting up to.

Volunteer Forum

It was great to get back into the swing of the quarterly Volunteer Forum last week. More details in a separate email for volunteers – but it was lovely to share updates, hear about what you have all been getting up to and to start forward planning together. We talked about the Volunteer Summer Party (discussions ended with us planning a free volunteers’ family day in September with a bring your own picnic party at lunchtime), training and the development budget (requests for more health and safety training!) and discussed our favourite children’s books – part of a co-curation project where we will be working with a wide range of people to plan next year’s Once Upon a Time temporary exhibition.

Picture Norfolk

The Beers and Brewing: Norfolk’s Rural Pubs exhibition features some wonderful photographs sourced from Picture Norfolk.

Picture Norfolk is a wonderful online database created and run by Norfolk Library & Information Service. Picture Norfolk is features over 20,000 local photographs and includes images from Local Studies Libraries, Norfolk Museums Service, Norfolk Record Office and many private collections.

Bullard’s Anchor Brewery on Westwick Street in Norwich. Photograph from an album held by the Museum of Norwich and image supplied by Picture Norfolk.

Search www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk and see what you can find!

Library, printed ephemera and loans

Library and printed ephemera

Lauren and the collections volunteers have done amazing work getting the library up and running again. All the computers have been plugged back in and are working (!), the whole room has had a deep clean. This is exhausting work and always takes much longer than you think so we are really excited to welcome the Collections volunteers back on 3rd July when they will begin the project of auditing our printed ephemera collection. Printed ephemera is all the stuff printed onto paper – posters, booklets, leaflets, invitations and catalogues. Lauren has been working to label up and organise all the Filing Cabinets in preparation and we now have 18 cabinets bulging with items ready to be scanned and their locations checked on the computer.

Armistice loan

You may have heard that there will be a big Armistice exhibition at Norwich Castle this Autumn. We have been working with Regimental Curator Kate Thaxton to identify objects from our collection to be included. These range from sugar beet forks to medals and banners. The exhibition will cover a wide range of themes including the Women’s Land Army and agriculture so a wide range of objects are being collated from across the county collections. These will be collected together to be assessed by conservation before they can go on display later in the year.

Walk in the Woods

We have also started work on “In Touch with the Past” for the summer holiday activities. This will involve visitors choosing items from the collection to take on a walk in the woods before following a trail around site to identify different types of trees. It has been great to work with work experience placement students on this – and very rewarding for them to know that they are working on real tasks that will be useful for the museum.

Thank you very, very much!

Last week was Volunteers Week and I just wanted to take that opportunity to say “thank you” to all of our fantastic volunteers.

We now have over 120 volunteers at Gressenhall who last year contributed over 9875 hours from April 2017 to March 2018. This is more hours than ever before recorded.

Over the course of the 3 year Voices from the Workhouse project volunteers have generated £96, 600 match funding by contributing 644 skilled days.

WOW! Without you all Gressenhall would not be the same and I can only repeat – thank you so much for everything that you do for the museum.

On Wednesday last week we were lucky enough to accompany several volunteers to the SHARE Museums East Volunteers Awards. It was incredibly difficult to pick and choose which volunteers to nominate as we think you are all super special. However, choices had to be made. Details below of these amazing people and teams who were nominated for an award:

Helen Copperthwaite – We Couldn’t Do Without Award

Helen is a very long standing volunteer with the Gressenhall Farm team. Having been inspired by a Horse Experience Day at the museum Helen wanted to help contribute to the running of our traditional farm. Come rain or shine or even heavy snow Helen is a dedicated and committed volunteer. We simply could not operate the museum farm without her support.

Helen enthusiastically approaches every task she is asked to do and intuitively resolves problems before we are aware of them. She is a keen baker and promotes team wellbeing by regularly brining in fantastic homemade baked cakes.

Helen regularly attends external events, supporting staff members at ploughing matches, county shows and parades. Her calming presence and help at the Great British Art Show enabled six teams of horses to deliver artworks across the city of Norwich on a busy Saturday morning!

Helen’s knowledge and passion for the farm shine through everything she does when she supports the popular horse and cart rides, interprets the seasonal activities to visitors, or assists in delivery of the farm-based programme for schools.

She always acts as a true advocate for Gressenhall. Helen is happy to engage with even the most mundane or grim tasks – mucking out, grooming and feeding, and always recognises the importance of animal welfare.  Her helpful attitude and flexible approach ensures that she is a valued member of the team, who always goes the extra mile to provide a positive experience for visitors, fellow volunteers and staff alike.

Helen’s dedication to her volunteer role saw her complete a veterinary medicine course that qualifies her to administer medication to domestic livestock, further supporting the work of Gressenhall farm. The impact that Helen has at the museum, and the activities in which she engages, is best summed up by Helen herself, when interviewed by the Museums Association:

“I help to bring in the horses needed for work that day from the fields, feed and groom them, and harness them in whichever tack is needed.  I also feed the livestock and clean out their accommodation.  I talk to visitors about the horses and the work being done that day, and about Norfolk’s agricultural history.  As a retired special school teacher, I am used to dealing with people I have only just met and am happy to engage with children of all ages.  I have also found that my “teacher voice” can be used effectively with a Suffolk Punch that is considering biting me.  I go home exhausted and often filthy, but happy.”

Helen is instrumental to the running of the farm and we couldn’t imagine Gressenhall without her.

Landscape Management Team – Visitor Experience Award

The Landscape Conservation Team was created in 2013 to maintain and develop Centenary Wood, a small piece of young woodland, planted on the museum site in the 1980s. Their work now takes them across the 50acre site, ensuring that the landscape is appropriately managed and maintained to provide visitors with a good first impression of the museum.

The group also contains several volunteers who require additional support, and the team has impressed with its acceptance of the varied skill levels of members and welcoming attitude to all.

The Landscape conservation team are involved with a large number of projects and tasks around the museum site, including:

  • Assessing and identifying maintenance requirements for the woodland adventure playground to provide full safe access to all areas
  • Traditional hedgelaying on historical enclosure lines
  • Coppicing
  • Charcoal burning
  • Creation of Neolithic structures to supporting formal learning programme
  • Den building for informal activity provision
  • Wood turning tasks, for example the creation of new handles for the farm seed drill
  • Fence, boardwalk and gate renewals
  • Hedge trimming and path clearance
  • woods management
  • scything
  • storm damage clearance
  • farm equipment repairs
  • furniture preservation and repairs
  • apple picking

Their work is illustrated in this film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGcFDyiEQ8E

Although fully engaged in the practical activity in question, all team members are always ready and willing to engage with visitors, to talk about their work and share their extensive knowledge and experiences.

The Landscape Conservation team are always the first to step forward in emergencies or when extra pairs of hands are needed: for example, mopping up after a serious water leak or spreading bark chippings delivered just before a formal inspection.  Nothing is too much trouble, and they are always willing to lend support to whatever is needed at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.

The Landscape Conservation Team always carry out any project with enthusiasm and dedication, proactively identifying tasks and activities required.

They have shown an outstanding level of support and commitment to the museum, regularly volunteering to come in for extra hours to complete tasks before a deadline, often in adverse weather conditions including finishing the preparations for the playground inspection during the attack of the “Beast from the East”.

Their work consistently makes a significant difference to the productivity and efficiency of the museum, completing tasks in house that would otherwise require expensive external contractors. They do not shy away from unpopular or unglamorous tasks and go wherever they are needed to support visitors, staff and other volunteers, ensuring that everyone’s experience of Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse is truly positive.

Research Team – Digital Volunteering Award – HIGHLY COMMENDED WINNERS!

The Gressenhall Research Volunteers have developed and led a project to catalogue and freely publish online all the archival material available on the history of the Gressenhall workhouse. This involved working closely in partnership with The National Archives (TNA) and the Norfolk Record Office (NRO) to digitise, summarise, catalogue, edit and interpret documents. Over 2000 have been completed to date. The team has worked hard to be inclusive – ensuring all volunteers have had the peer support and training they require to carry out this meticulous work and make it accessible to visitors and researchers.

The team’s work is varied on this project has included:

  • Completion of the Living the Poor Life project (exploring the correspondence regarding Gressenhall Workhouse at TNA and piloting digital publication methods),
  • Leading the drive to use the archival material within new, refreshed workhouse interpretation
  • Carrying out digital research into the lives of over 100 inmates, staff members and Guardians to inform the successful HLF application
  • Continuing research to ensure academic rigour within the new workhouse galleries
  • Using family history tools online to track down descendants of key people interpreted within the displays and liaising, together with staff, to involve them in the interpretation of their ancestral stories
  • Enabling universal access to these archives through their publication online, and by public events and family history enquiries at the museum
  • Enabling and supporting all volunteers in the team with peer led training and the creation of digital instruction manuals, form templates and guidelines for cataloguers
  • Working on the structuring of the complex digital data and pilot project to publish NRO material

The team’s work has been instrumental:

  • For the museum:
    • Enabled digital interpretation tool to be created allowing access to digitised archives on site
    • Enabled complex and emotionally difficult work with descendants to be carried out with care and sensitivity. For example using online records, volunteers traced the family of a man who committed suicide after being turned away from the workhouse, giving us the opportunity to work with them closely on the telling of his story within the displays.
    • Volunteer team members offered digital training to external partners for the first time, working with heritage organisations from Wicklewood, Aylsham and Downham Market.
  • For our visitors:
    • Volunteers are creating the first ever freely available, complete workhouse archive online
    • Contributed to a public marketplace event encouraging visitors to research their own workhouse family history online
  • For our volunteers:
    • Inspired and provided the tools for international volunteers from Carleton College to use the digital archives and create new interpretation of the House of Industry period at the workhouse
    • Built the confidence of individual team members using digital tools for the first time

This year has seen an amazing range of achievements for our Gressenhall volunteers and the Awards were a lovely opportunity to thank just a few of the wonderful people we work with. However, thank you to all of you for your time and effort. In our eyes you are all winners.

Thanks once more for your effort, enthusiasm and support. Gressenhall wouldn’t be the same without you.