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.

Beermat collection

All of these beermats were collected by Richard Brownlow. During the 1950s to 70s his parents ran the Papermakers Arms in Swanton Morley.

Beermats weren’t just for putting your glass on! They were an important way of advertising different breweries, drinks, local businesses, snacks and cigarettes.

Have you ever seen a mat shaped like a packet of crisps? Or a lightbulb or bottle cap?

There is even a set of mats shaped as puzzle pieces.

There are lots more beermats on display in the Beers and Brewing : Norfolk’s Rural Pubs exhibition.



Beermats – coming to a pub near you!

Beermats advertising the ‘Beers and Brewing’ exhibition have been delivered to pubs around the county. Thankyou to our volunteers and staff who offered to take them to their ‘locals’ plus other pubs that they wanted to try! Let us know if you spot any.


The perfect combination of sandy soil and salty air means that North Norfolk has the perfect conditions for growing barley. This barley is made into malt for brewing beer, through a process called malting. Norfolk was home to hundreds of maltings and brewers.

These two items are on display in the exhibition Beers and Brewing, on loan from the Museum of Norwich.

Malt barrow. It is missing the front wheel. From the former Stag Maltings, St. Benedict’s Street, Norwich, which were demolished in March 1971. NWHCM : 1971.185.4


Watering can used for dampening the malt during fermentation. From the former Stag Maltings, St. Benedict’s Street, Norwich, which were demolished in March 1971. NWHCM : 1971.185.6

The process of malting took place in maltings or malthouses across the county. Traditionally, malt is germinated on the floor. This involves different cycles of wet, dry and heat to produce malt from the barley. Here are some photos from the museum collection which show this work.

Photograph of workers with malt ploughs at Great Ryburgh Maltings. GRSRM : CP.CP3079


Photograph of Edgar Hoggett with a malt plough at maltings in Narborough. GRSRM : 2012.32


Photograph of workers with malt shovels and forks at Wainford Maltings. GRSRM : CP.CP1471

Picturing Gressenhall

We have been working hard over the last few weeks.

Belfast MA Meeting

I flew to Belfast to attend a meeting of the Museums’ Association (MA) Representatives. The Museums’ Association is the national body that represents all types of museum at a strategic level. Their conference this year is in Belfast, so the meeting was a good opportunity to scout out the area but also to hear more about what is planned for the conference. I also got a chance to feed back thoughts and news from the East of England. Part of my role as rep is to be a bridge between museums and the Association – and it is always interesting, and often reassuring, to hear from other reps across the 4 nations represented by the MA. Despite the problems the museums sector faces there are still plenty of positive people making a real difference to people’s lives working in museums and that has to be a good thing!

Picturing Gressenhall

Over the next few months we are working on a project to record and celebrate the work of our volunteers. Our fantastic photographer Heather has started the process of photographing volunteers at work. Eventually these will all be displayed in the café conservatory – for now a sneak peek of one portrait is attached. Heather is also taking more “active” shots of volunteers at work. I think this will be a lovely way for the work of our volunteers to be more visible for our visitors and for us to say thank you for them for all their help and support.

Voices from the Workhouse

I gave an outreach talk to Lowesoft NHS Retirement Fellowship group this week – which was fascinating as many of the attendees had worked in Lotheringland Hospital – the former Oulton workhouse. They obviously appreciated hearing more about workhouse history – “I would like to congratulate you on a talk which brought the whole period of history alive…it obviously touches your feelings on humanity and the way life caused so much suffering for those who were unfortunate enough to fall on hard times, well done I admire your sincerity”

Case tops – Collections Gallery

We have also been shortlisting the final objects to be installed in the Collections Gallery – a few more items for the top of the cases. These include a Madonna and child and large PURE LARD stand from a bakery. The diversity of our collections never ceases to amaze! These items will be cleaned by our wonderful Collections Volunteers next week before being installed at the end of the week.

We have also done work for our May Half term object handling – which will be pub games! There will be a chance to handle games from the collection and then to play modern versions – who’s up for a round of shove ha-penny?


Megan, Curator


Bidwell’s Brewery

Norfolk has the ideal conditions for growing barley which led to hundreds of breweries in the county. The small market town of Thetford was home to one of the most important breweries in the East of England – Bidwell’s!

This family run business was based in a flint building on Old Market Street, now a Grade II listed building. The family were wealthy and held important positions within the town.

The Bidwell’s Brewery was founded in Thetford in 1710. The brewery grew rapidly throughout the Victorian period. In 1868 Bidwell’s ran, not only the brewery but also several pubs in Thetford and more across Norfolk. They also owned pubs in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. The estate was valued at £30,000 and continued to grow. By 1889 Bidwell’s was worth £68,000 and consisted of 55 pubs and malthouses plus other buildings and land in the town. In 1905 the business was sold outside of the Bidwell family to Eustace Quilter for £104,000. By now the brewery owned 105 hotels and pubs! The brewery was still known as Bidwell’s until 1924. It was sold to Bullard’s and brewing stopped.


This beer bottle (THEHM : 1979.71b) is on loan to the ‘Beers and Brewing: Norfolk’s Rural Pubs’ exhibition from the Ancient House Museum in Thetford.

Thankyou to the Norfolk Pubs and Thetfords Great websites which were invaluable when researching the Bidwell’s Brewery.

The Kings Head pub

One of the pubs featured in the ‘Beers and Brewing : Norfolk’s Rural pubs’ exhibition is the Kings Head in Shipdham.

The museum holds a collection of items from this pub. There had been a pub in the village since 1858. It was run by Frederick Chilvers from the 1960s to 1990s. His son donated some items from the pub to the museum. The pub is now closed and the building is now run as the Kings Café, which opened in 2012.

The items above all feature in the exhibition. Do you remember Smith’s crisps or beer sold in shillings? Beer was served in hand painted glass jars with a handle. Stoneware jars carried beer supplied by local breweries.

This book of tokens and bottle caps are also on display in the exhibition. The bottle caps were used while Emma Baker was landlady. Were these used when you bought a bottle of beer? With the 1 penny charge refunded when the bottle was returned? Do you know what the tokens were used for? – Let us know in the comments!

This till drawer is also from the pub, but does not feature in the exhibition.

For more information about the history of The Kings Head pub take a look at the Norfolk Pubs website.

Library, large working historic objects and Land Army…

We have been doing a lot of work in the library preparing for its full return! We now have three clearly zoned areas – one large public space for enquiries, a space for computer work and the store space at the back of the room. We have returned all the files to the filing cabinet so photos are easier to find now they are not in boxes. We are looking forward to meeting up with Collections Volunteers soon to plan their triumphant return!

I attended a launch of the new Guidelines for the Care of Larger and Working Historic Objects at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket. These have been created by ABTEM (Association of British Transport and Engineering Museums) and will be super useful for us – especially with regards the Panhard Levassor and our engineering exhibits. I think the guidelines will show we are doing the right thing – and give us a chance to check our processes and procedures. In the next few weeks I’ll be looking to organise a meeting for engineering and Team Panhard volunteers so we can begin this process – I am excited to work together on this.

Collaborate work is on-going and we are starting to get interesting updates from participants. One is working on a woven mixed media textile hanging with hop vines and a collection of old bottle tops.

Another is creating a Moray Smith style panel (like the one on display in our Beer and Brewing temporary exhibition) but featuring Gressenhall. I am intrigued to see how it will all work out. Do keep an eye on the blog for regular updates.:


This week I am attending a meeting of Museums Association regional reps in Belfast. This meeting is partly to help plan the 2018 MA Conference which is being held in Belfast. I just heard this week that as well as going to conference as a rep I have been accepted as a speaker on a session about interpreting and collecting difficult institutional histories along with other speakers from both Northern Ireland and Eire. This is an important opportunity to raise national awareness in our collection and the Voices project.

Now that the holidays are over we are also looking forward to catching up with some of the collections managements tasks still needed in the Collections Gallery (looking at the mesh objects and on top of the cases) and elsewhere in the museum. We are selecting and assessing new Women’s Land Army uniforms for the gallery and planning any conservation work required over the next few weeks.

Megan, Curator


Collections Update!

It has been a busy two weeks. Last week we hosted Rosie Etheridge from Jane Austen College for work experience. This is the first of a number of placements for this year. Work experience students spend time with learning, events, farm, front of house and curatorial teams. Thanks to everyone for looking after Rosie last week. She had a really nice time and her impression of the week has made a nice blog post:


Work experience really is important – for many young people it is their first experience of work can be a stressful and scary time. It can also set you up for a career – I did my work experience aged 15 at Gressenhall back in 1993!

I also had the pleasure of doing my last HLF funded outreach talk. I have been doing these for 3 years now! I delivered Voices from the Workhouse to over 40 members of the Martham History Group, including the descendants of Harriet Kettle. Despite the microphone breaking all went well. I am still taking bookings for this and a talk about Lorina Bulwer’s samplers – all good advertising for the museum.


On Friday 23rd March we held our Collaborate Inspiration Day. This year the theme of Beer and Brewing. We welcomed 19 different people to the museum to explore the theme and be inspired to create something for display in the museum in October half term. We have had a really wide range of ideas including a pub in miniature, bar stools made of beer cans and a series of photos of Norfolk pubs past and present. I really look forward to see how people get on. Regular updates will be posted on the Collaborate blog:


It is not too late to be involved – if you are interested in being inspired by your local get in touch! We are also looking for community groups to get involved – so do let me know if you think your group might be interested in an outreach session.

This week we have also continued work in the Collections Gallery – adjusting lighting, updating records with photos and beginning to research additional objects that can go on the top of the cases.

We have also created an bug themed escape style puzzle for In Touch With the Past for the Easter Holidays which has taken rather longer than originally expected. But the first visitors really enjoyed it this morning and so far everyone has escaped. Thanks to FOH for supporting us in this – and for trying it out several times to make sure we had it right!

Finally I met the Head of Art from Norwich School who was showing me some art work completed by Year 12 students inspired by Gressenhall:

I was really impressed by these and we are planning to show them on the big screen in the main hall as part of the May half term Create school holidays theme.



Twister, twizzler, Norfolk Wheel. In this blog post we explore this mysterious, traditional pub game.

A circular wooden board with an arrow would be placed on the ceiling of a pub. They were usually put in this location so that people cannot cheat. Everyone can see the game. It is a simpler version of the game of roulette. Roulette was played in rich people’s homes, clubs and casinos and twister was played in pubs. The rules of the game are a bit fuzzy. Essentially bets were placed on where the arrow would land once it was spun. Bets could have been placed on a round of drinks or a sack of potatoes, winning points or downing a pint as a forfeit.

These two twister boards are both in the Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse museum collection and are currently on display as part of the ‘Beers and Brewing: Norfolk’s Rural Pubs’ exhibition. The one on the left is smaller, and less decorated but still has its’ arrow. It came from The Kings Head pub in Shipdham. The one on the right is much brighter, with the design painted in yellow and white. It came from the Red Lion Pub in Banham. Both of these boards are only marked with numbers 1 – 12. The Alby Horseshoes Inn in Erpingham still has a wheel on their ceiling which is also marked with club, spade, heart and diamond as well as a wine glass, barrel of beer and a matchbox.


Many twister boards were removed from pubs in the 1970s due to a change in gambling laws. It is rare to find a twister in a pub today but we believe that there are wheels remaining in these Norfolk pubs (tell us if we’re wrong or if there are more!)

Wheel of Fortune, Alpington
The Feathers, Aylsham
Alby Horseshoes Inn, Erpingham
The Three Horseshoes, Warham


For more information about twister and other traditional pub games take a look at the ‘Played at the Pub’ book by Arthur Taylor, this article and blog post.

Work Experience at Gressenhall


This week I have been doing work experience at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. I have experienced an extensive array of jobs that people do at Gressenhall, these vary from working Front of House to being part of the Events Team that plan all the exciting events that go on at Gressenhall. It has been an exciting week that has showed me what it is like working in a museum in many different professions.

I have so many highlights, from getting to work in the shop, to handling exhibits and photographing them. One of my favourite days was Wednesday. I got to work with the learning team and dress as a Victorian character for a year 2 trip that was themed around ‘spring on the Farm’. I have met a great range of people here who have all been equally friendly and welcoming and have made this week a joy. It has been a rewarding and fun experience and I will certainly be returning for some of the upcoming events, especially the Apple Day I have heard so much about. I want to thank the team for having me and I hope to visit again soon!

Thank you, Rosie.

My day with the Event Team.