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.

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.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!!