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.

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.


Together to the Workhouse Door

Phew – what an interesting week (and I am not talking about politics!!)

Exciting times here at Gressenhall as we welcomed Sinfonia Viva, a giant purple stage and lots of school children and a community choir to perform “Together to the Workhouse Door” on Wednesday evening and during Thursday. Although at times it seemed as if the stage was going to take flight we managed to find ballast for it and the weather stayed, mainly, fine. The project has been a new adventure for Gressenhall and one which has been very well received. It has been exciting to explore new ways to work as a museum.

The clock is back. Having been silenced for the last few months whilst work went on to place a protective case around it the clock is now back up and running. It even made an atmospheric appearance in Thursday’s performance ringing twelve o-clock dolefully as the young boy was sent to the dungeon. With the assistance of Barry, site technician. and our clock specialist Colin Walton we look forward to many more years of timekeeping.

The first results from the sterling work of our wonderful research volunteers are online. They have been cataloguing volumes of correspondence between the workhouse and the Poor Law Board in London ready for publication on the web. The first volume has now been completed and is ready for the public to view free of charge. Check out a workhouse inspection report here:


Work in the Collections Gallery is continuing with more objects put in this week. We are working towards getting as much finished by the Summer Holidays as possible.

Collections Gallery is OPEN!

It has been wonderful to see visitors enjoying the new space and the Rural Lives temporary exhibition.

We have already had lots of interesting comments on our Rural Lives responses board, which is encouraging. Come and write a memory, thought or comment or even have your photo taken in front of our Selfie Corner.

This morning we have tried out the vinyl graphics on the glass in the Collections gallery – successfully installing the brick wall in front of our mummified cat. This “marmite” object – which people either love or hate, is now hidden behind the brick wall, just like the cat was originally bricked up in a Norfolk cottage wall. Visitors can choose to look through the cut out bricks to see the cat if they dare! Come and take a look.

Many more vinyl panels will be going up over the next few weeks to help explain the objects in the cases to our visitors. Last week we also installed our large case end graphics which showcase our photograph collection.

Lauren and I will continue to work on the gallery after half term – but sadly today is Josh’s last day. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank him for all his hard work and positive attitude over the last 2 years. His positive attitude has been a real benefit to the project – always smiling – always finding a way to make things work –  even getting multiple contractors to get along and get the job done last year in a very complex installation of the workhouse galleries. On his last morning we are still working him hard, adjusting the lighting in the gallery so visitors can see the exhibits and where they are going. We will all miss you Josh!

Work in progress


Rachel and the Learning Team have been working hard on ideas for interactives for the Collections Gallery. These will be very flexible and will include trails, handling objects, toys and dressing up. Maddy, our UEA placement student, has also been working on interactive books for families to enjoy together which encourage our visitors to be inspired by the books to go and look for objects in the gallery. We have ordered some items and they have started arriving so we were all excited to try on the animals and occupations dress up kits.


This afternoon we have been working on the installation of costume into the gallery. We know these items will be popular with our visitors and we have a bay dedicated to costume at the clock end entrance to the gallery to draw visitors in. The first rotation of items (we have to change costume on display regularly to prevent it from fading) is an ATS uniform which belonged to a lady called Pip. This donation was one of the first Lauren dealt with when she first started in her curatorial role at Gressenhall. It has never been on display before so it is great we can get it out to give visitors a chance to see it. The second mannequin will feature the popular Scout’s uniform. This belonged to Alex Yates – son of Bridget, the founding curator of the museum. Both outfits will eventually be accompanied by photographs of their owners wearing them.

Apart from the costume we have also continued to clean more objects, now there is room in the library for them. Thanks so much to our Collections volunteers who must be sick of cleaning by now! Without you we wouldn’t have been able to transform the gallery so quickly – we are all really grateful for the long hours of gentle brushing and vacuuming you have done. Every object in the new gallery (over 2000 of them) will have been cleaned and assessed before it has gone into the new displays – a gargantuan task!).

We only have a week left before the Collections Gallery re-opens so we are making the most of it and trying to get as far ahead as possible. Even so the visitors will very much see work in progress – an ideal opportunity to see a gallery in evolution. We hope they will enjoy seeing how much work goes into new displays.


3d design

Installing objects and 3d design

We have begun to work on the final positions of some objects in the Collections gallery cases. Whilst we are still cleaning objects to go into the cases, some of them now contain all of their objects. This means we can begin fiddling around with them to work out their final positions and think about how to position them for visual appeal and safety for the objects. Various types of mounts will need to be made – plastazote wedges, wooden and acrylic blocks and specialised “bespoke” mounts. We have been working with conservation and our technician, Dave, to find the best solutions for each case and each object. Some of the results are shown in the photos. The wooden mounts now need to be painted – watch your emails for a task volunteering opportunity in the near future!

Long Shop visit

Today trustees, staff and volunteers from The Long Shop Museum in Leiston visited. They are at the beginning of developing their own HLF application so they came to see what we had done and what they could learn from it. They also gave us some really useful feedback on our new displays.


What a difference a week makes…


Collections Gallery – Objects

We were handed back the Collections Gallery on Tuesday 2nd May and by Friday 5th there were objects on the tops of every case and objects inside the majority of cases. And they look fantastic. The new lighting is working well and we are really pleased that the objects finally look like we value them and the stories they tell. We got all of the cleaned objects out of the library and have managed to find others in the stores to move into the library ready for cleaning and putting straight into their cases. It has been a busy, and exciting, few days seeing things coming together.

Collections Gallery – Graphics

We have also been working on graphics – looking at the first draft and sending back revisions. There will be two phases of graphics – the first set are mostly going on the fronts of the cases as sticky vinyls stuck onto the back of the glass and include introductions to the themes we have used inside the cases and photographs from the collections. This also includes the large introductory graphic for the clock end of the gallery and graphics for the ends of the cases. The second set of images we hope to get made after May Half term will include any graphics inside the cases – mostly object labels and a few reproductions of paper objects from the collections to hang and place on the backs of the cases.

Rural Lives – interactive/reflection space

We have also installed the reflection space in the Rural Lives exhibition – complete with pegs and washing lines for visitors to write and peg up their feedback and thoughts. We hope this exhibition will be challenging and thought provoking for our visitors.


Many thanks to all of you for your help and support whilst the Collections Team are super busy moving objects around and finalising installation.

Building a wall to break down barriers

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The Voices from the Workhouse project has redeveloped our wonderful building to tell the stories of the workhouse through objects, documents, sculptures and projections. Upstairs, the Collections Gallery is undergoing a fantastic transformation to showcase yet more objects from Norfolk’s rural past.

Alongside both these elements we’ve been running an extensive learning and engagement program to raise awareness of the museum’s new look and to encourage visitors to share their creative responses to the stories and objects on display. Some of these activities and projects have taken place here at the museum, and others have reached out into the local community. Some did both!

One such project was called ‘Brick By Brick’, inspired by the beautiful red bricks of the workhouse. What secrets do the walls hold? What could they tell us?

Lots of groups of different ages and abilities got involved. Participants were treated to a short talk and/or a tour of the workhouse which stimulated discussion on themes like rural isolation, poverty and institutions. It was easy to make connections to contemporary issues about how we look after the poor today.

After the talk and discussion, there were two activities. Firstly, the group placed wooden figures on a workhouse map. The cute little figures were extremely appealing to all ages, and the large-sized map made a very striking visual prop.

Locating and relocating the workhouse figures according to status, age and gender naturally provoked a lot of discussion relating to the issue of ‘difference’ in its many forms.

Then, each participant made and decorated a hollow ‘brick’ in whatever way they chose that made it meaningful to them. Inside each brick they were invited to put words, a picture or an object to represent their secret, wish or dream.

The ‘Brick wall’ was displayed, as promised to participants, at GFW during October half term 2016 in conjunction with another Learning & Engagement project and the GFW Collaborate exhibition, encouraging all those who contributed to visit the museum.

In April 2017 an additional Brick By Brick outreach session went to HMP Wayland, where prisoners in the PDU and PIPE units engaged fully with the idea of walls holding secrets! One of the prisoners wrote up the session and his final comments demonstrate how the message of the project had been successfully conveyed to participants:

When staff at Gressenhall workhouse museum present this talk they ask the group participating to make cardboard bricks – and then to decorate them in a way that tells their story. With the increasing numbers of cardboard bricks the museum is continuing to pass on the whispered stories of people’s lives. So yes, the walls can talk, as we heard in this session and the story continues to grow proving that we are more than a ‘Brick in the Wall’”.

‘Brick By Brick’ was just one of many community learning & engagement projects at Gressenhall. Watch out for our partnership making phonecase tweets with Mind later this year!!

Bring back the workhouse?

Workhouse Network

We had a really successful Workhouse Network meeting here on Tuesday 25th. The Workhouse Network is a group of workhouse museum sites that are all interested in workhouse history, together with academics, archivists and family history researchers. We were catching up with each other’s news, but also planning our Autumn Meeting which will take place on Monday 18th September at Llanfyllin Workhouse in Wales. The Autumn Meeting will be entitled “Bring back the workhouse? And will look at how workhouse sites are tackling modern issues of poverty and welfare. We are also looking at more long term plans for a joint conference on “health, wealth and welfare” next year and a research project looking at creating a touring temporary exhibition about out relief – help given outside of the workhouse.

This cartoon is called ‘Interior of an English workhouse under the new poor law act’.
It shows inmates with shaved heads picking oakum and beating hemp.

Collections Gallery

We were allowed back into the collections gallery last week and with the help of some brave souls (huge thank you to Helen and Steve Bainbridge, Sue Marsh, Terry Brown and Heather Ryder) we managed to clean all the interior shelves and the inside of the glass. We also worked on the installation of the Rural Lives temporary exhibition (almost all the images are up now) and put together all the flat pack furniture. The space is really coming together and is ready for us to start installing objects this week.

HLF monitoring meeting

We also had a meeting with representatives from the Heritage Lottery Fund. As well as being very impressed with the Collections Gallery progress, it also gave us an opportunity to review progress with the Activity Plan. It is hard to believe we only have one more year of this project!!

Rural Lives

We’re making progress in the Collections Gallery!

Although the gallery isn’t quite ready for objects to go back in the Curatorial team have taken the opportunity to start some jobs in there. Case tops have been made and will be fitted in the next couple of days. Next job is to clean the cases, Josh has made a start on cleaning the metal shelves! We will then put some plastazote in the cases to line the shelves.


Rural Lives

We’ve also started to install our temporary exhibition, Rural Lives, which features photographs of Norfolk people from the past and today.




Deciphering difficult handwriting

This week we held the first informal meeting of our volunteer research team. This team are working their way through 23 volumes of correspondence between the workhouse here at Gressenhall and the Poor Law Board (and its successors) in London. Every letter has been scanned or photographed by The National Archive in Kew where they are safely kept. The volunteers are now looking at each letter and cataloguing it. In time the catalogue and images of the letters will be published on the National Archives website so that they can be used by researchers and family historians without them needing to visit Kew. Very worthwhile and fascinating work. Many thanks to our wonderful research volunteers for their painstaking work deciphering often very difficult handwriting.

Lighting almost complete

Last week the electricians were busy putting new track lighting into the Collections Gallery. This is now complete. Whilst there are not a large number of spotlights on the track yet, what this does is gives us the flexibility to add additional lights later when budget allows. For now we have sufficient to light up the room so visitors can find their way about and not so much that the light damages the collections.

The installation of this last bit of lighting means that we now have three options for lighting – 1) no lights, 2) track lights (for normal opening), 3) central lighting focus (for activities in the central family area which need a bit more light).

There are a few problems with the case lighting which are being sorted this week, ready for installation to start next week.


Since the beginning of the project we have hired a number containers to store collections temporarily whilst everything was being moved around. Last week the collections team made a Herculean effort to remove all the objects from these containers and find permanent homes for them – mostly in the Norfolk Collections Centre. This is great as it means they can be properly cared for. The environmental conditions in the containers are far from perfect for long term storage so we are really pleased to get the collections out of them. This has now been completed with the help of Wayne from the Norfolk Collections Centre.

This week we hope to install Rural Lives – our temporary exhibition for 2017 on Friday – so hopefully we will be able to open that very soon.