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!!


Workhouse Displays update

Fit out of the new Workhouse displays is progressing well. It looks like a building site at the moment (because that’s pretty much what it is!) but we’re starting to be able to see what the displays are really going to look like. There’s new glass walls, stages, plinths and label stands. There’s also a big hole in the floor (don’t worry it’s supposed to be there!)


Excitingly some of the graphic panels are being put up – we’ve been hard at work writing text and choosing images so it’s great to see some of them on the walls. What do you think?


We’re busy working on all of the audio visual elements of the new displays too. We’ve been writing scripts and finding the right people for the parts. Here’s a sneak peek of a new projection of photos from our collection.




Behind the scenes in the workhouse displays

The Main Hall and Workhouse Displays are currently closed to visitors. But they are closed to staff too! We have formally signed over the spaces to our fit-out contractors Elmwood. They are installing walls, cases, graphic panels… it’s a big job in lots of galleries! Today we had a sneaky peak and took some photos for you to see.

Ta ta from a terrific traineeship!

Hello all Tabitha here again! This is officially my last blog post before my traineeship comes to a close in March – boo hoo! – However I shall do my best to sum up events from my last blog, and hopefully what is still to come.

As I mentioned at the end of my last blog post, Ancient House was preparing for the big Thetford Lights On event on the 28th November. The museum opened its doors from 5pm until 9pm to welcome the whole town to an Edwardian Christmas! There were Edwardian fete style games, an RFC officer, a singing soldier, lavender bags to make, skittles, plus the chance for the public to handle museum objects. I was based in the kitchen making peppermint creams, which I think was popular for all ages! We also lit our open range and had a Christmas pudding and some mulled cider on the boil, where visitors could grind up spices to add to the mix.

1 edwardian xmas The house really did feel alive, plus we added decorations of holly branches and Edwardian Christmas cards really did get me in the mood for Christmas! However after a couple of hours in a long skirt and high neck blouse, constantly checking if the range needed feeding (and every now and again relighting it) I soon felt a real sense of how easy we have it nowadays! We didn’t have anything cooking in the range, but it still took constant effort to keep it going while at the same time trying to prepare sweets – a very simple recipe! I have full respect for anyone of the past who wore a skirt or restrictive clothes and did half the things we do today. I do strongly believe that to experience something is to really understand it, and the experience of an Edwardian kitchen will stay with me forever.

The final big event before Christmas was an Edwardian Murder Mystery by Ancient House Teenage History Club. The plan was for three groups with ‘detective notes’ to visit each room to hear the stories of the characters, which the teenagers played fantastically! After spending the term previously preparing for the event, including three weeks working with storyteller Dave Tong, they really did brilliantly and were even prompting questions from the audience without fault. The suspects were all asked to have a final round of questioning in the hall, before the audience made a ballot of who they thought the murderer was – with the majority choosing wrong! The mystery was named a success by everyone, so I think another will definitely be in future plans.

2 mystery aftermath

The glamorous aftermath of sorting costumes and props with Melissa!

Last but by no means least, 11th of December saw the 90th Birthday of Ancient House! That evening in the Carnegie Rooms in Thetford was a grand affair to celebrate the occasion and fundraise for a new redisplay in the museum to tell the story of Maharajah Duleep Singh and his family. The room was filled with cocktail dresses, suits and spicy smells from the fantastic three course meal provided by Punjab, the UK’s oldest North Indian restaurant. It really was a fantastic evening, and marked the start great ninetieth year to come for the museum and all involved – plus many years to come!

Lovely piece in the newspaper too, although didn’t realise I was going to be in it!

Lovely piece in the newspaper too, although didn’t realise I was going to be in it!

4 meal

Then all of a sudden it was 2015!
After a lovely Christmas and New Year the museum was back into the swing of things, and I was back into my traineeship with my first new experience being… the Strangers Hall deep clean!

5 strangers deep clean Before I started many people were saying comments such as ‘wrap up warm’, ‘wear layers’ and ‘don’t forget extra socks!’, but after a morning on training on Friday 9th and meeting the other members of staff and volunteers involved I was very excited – and not too cold! Although I could only give one day to the clean it really was great experience of how much work needs go into keeping a historic building up to date and as clean as possible. Despite the known problems all historic museums must have to constantly battle with, we completed more than I thought was possible in just one day. I was in Lady Paine’s bedroom which involved the four poster bed spread needing to be stripped and packed for freezing! The day really highlighted to me how much prior organisation and planning is essential to a feat like the deep clean. Everyone ensured there were the correct stations of tables and equipment set up, and people prepped for their rooms and working together. I hope it goes just as smoothly for the rest of the deep clean, good luck all involved!

As well as the deep clean I have been able to attend a Share Museums East training session last week at Mildenhall & District Museum. The day was focusing on Stone Age to Iron Age, broadening our ideas of activities and sessions on the topic. It was a great day, and as it is a topic being tackled by more and more schools I felt the day really expanded my knowledge of the era. It was also fantastic as always to exchange ideas for delivery through sharing and talking with other museum staff and volunteers – something I regard highly for any topic or subject.

6 session plan

                          Some ideas on big paper is always good!


7 museum selfie

#MuseumSelfie  Couldn’t help myself but chat to a friendly Roman about the great redisplays in the Mildenhall & District Museum currently underway!

So that’s a brief sum up of what’s happened so far since my last post here. However there is one other rather big feat that I am attempting for the first time with fantastic support and encouragement from Ancient House; A Sleepover in the Museum!

As part of the GEM Museum Learning course I am part of we were asked to produce a work based assignment, and I perhaps rather ambitiously decided to organise a unique experience of a Sleepover in the Museum – and it will be the first time this has happened! Out of work I am a Girlguiding UK leader in training, and have been involved in guiding all my life (I was taken on the first guide camp at the ripe age of a few months!). I feel that Girlguiding UK as a whole is a rather ‘untapped market’ as people in business might say, and the organisation could be part of a fantastic partnership with local museums and heritage sites. Therefore I have decided to target the exclusive offer only to Guide groups to try and bridge this gap, and also to draw on some of my out-of-work knowledge in Guiding.

8 sleepover ad

Please share this poster if you know any Guide leaders who might be interested!

Guides will be able to explore the museum after dark and discover the museum stores and cellar usually closed to the public. Activities also include a torch-lit tour, making your own ‘mini-museum’, handling real historical artefacts, meeting characters from when the house was new, and discovering the role of an Archaeologist and making an intriguing dessert called Palaeontologist Pudding!

Despite the fact that starting in late November to organise an event of this scale before mid-February, and be written into a case study appearing impossible at certain times, it is going successfully and I can’t lie that I am incredibly excited for when the evening comes next month. Part of deciding to organise such a large assignment was because of the experience I will gain from the administration side of creating this event, which is an area I wished to improve on and already feel more confident in certain areas of this. Moreover I feel incredibly privileged to be able and actually allowed to hold an event like this, and I can’t thank Oliver, Melissa, and all the Ancient House staff for being so helpful and supportive in this huge feat!

So that’s it, my ramblings have come to an end, and I have loved every single second of it! Despite trying not to sound too cliché, I can honestly say that the last year has been one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve done amazing things and met extraordinary people, and learnt an incredible amount about museums, learning, history, and – again cliché – myself. I will never forget the astounding opportunities I have been offered during my traineeship, as well as the freedom and trust to push myself into new things. I really will miss Ancient House, the Fenland Lives & Land Project, NMS and everyone I’ve had the privilege of meeting and learning from during my time. My mind is certain that the museum life is the life for me – who would have thought that of the little girl running around dressed as King Arthur thirteen years ago!

A highlight for me has to be Curator Oliver Bone giving a short talk at the 90th Birthday meal on the recipe for success in a museum. A main ingredient Oliver concluded with was love, which I completely understand. During my traineeship I really have met brilliant people and been part of amazing things, and these have come from love – peoples love for history, for wonderful objects, for constant curiosity, for learning, for friendship, and so many more things I could mention.
Thank you for everything, signing out!

Tabitha Runacres
Heritage Learning Trainee
Ancient House Museum, and the Fenland Lives & Land Project.

What is in the racking?

Picture 017 (2)

Over the last nine months I have done many things that makes the answer to the question ‘how was work today?’ sound very interesting. I have fork-lifted a mammoth tusk. I have frozen an Anglo Saxon manikin. I have cleaned a Bishop’s Throne and written a trail about dragons.

The weird and wonderful has become the everyday so perhaps I should spell out what I do here over in the Norfolk Collections Centre and why I think it is important. My job title is Collections Management trainee, and although you may think that it’s not hard to manage a load of inanimate objects, it is harder than it sounds.

The weird and wonderful normally appears at the beginning of the week when reaching up and lifting down some of the mystery pallets off the racking. In fact that is the most exciting time, when we are about to look at something new and are unsure of what we may find.


So far some of the delights have been our saint statues from various Norwich churches. We also have a Bishop’s Throne from Norwich Cathedral, we have beadle staffs from the processions of Norwich mayors, fire places, cookers, mangles, swords, various pieces of furniture, medieval chests and ‘Spike’ our funeral monument.

So we have our objects down from the racking, what is there to do next? Well we do a thorough check of each object, have a look at its unique number and see what sort of condition it is in. We then have a look at its record on our database. We will add detail to that record to make sure that it has a correct location and that we document any work we do on it such as cleaning. Perhaps most important though is taking a photo and adding that to the record, so if someone searches for it they know exactly what it looks like without having to forklift it down again.

Going through this process also means me and my colleague Sophie Towne get an in-depth knowledge of the objects we work on. What they are, where they have come from and what they might have been used for.

We then re-pack the objects so that they are nice and safe to go back up onto the racking. Now why do we do all of this? The reason is simple: access.

With every object we look at, clean, photograph and update on the database, our knowledge improves. This means we can then pass that knowledge onto the people who are interested, our visitors. The people who truly own the collection.

So far during this project we have been open on two event days at Gressenhall for tours of the store, which have been very popular. We have also run activities over October half-term, giving a new audience the chance to explore what we have behind the scenes. We are also currently planning to be open for February half-term.


Why do I like working here? Why do people want to come and look round the store? Both are easy questions to answer.

It’s ‘cause old stuff is interesting.

Josh Giles
Collections Management Trainee

More Ancient House adventures and Fenland fun!

Hello all again! I am back with more exciting endeavours in Thetford, the Fens and beyond. So with lots to get through let’s get straight in!
Last week at Ancient House was very busy week with two big events, the first being the opening of our Thetford and the Great War exhibition part two. It was held on 11th November and was officially opened by Thetford Mayor Sylvia Armes, after the Thetford Royal British Legion standard bearers walked down from the war memorial in the marketplace. It really was a pleasure to see the standards, and it was great to talk to Thetford people about their memories of the war and items in the exhibition.
The second event was the launch of local historian David Osborne’s book ‘A Small Fragment of the Great War’ which was a great success with books flying off the shelves. A great thank you to David for signing copies as well. The launch was also attended by relatives of Thetford soldiers who are explored in the book and in the exhibition, so it was great to hear their family wartime memories. As well as this, one of the items in the exhibition is David’s grandfather’s wartime diary – which officially he should never have made – that David transcribed as a boy. It really is fascinating and gives an amazing insight into a soldiers experience during the period, so come and see it if you’re in the area! Both events were part of the Thetford Remembers town project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and went very successfully with everyone enjoying the community atmosphere and remembering everyone’s connections to the Great War. Well done to all involved!

1 thetford and the great war book

There’s still some signed copies available!

2 Standard bearers

Standard bearers

On the learning side of things, we’ve got the next Mini-Museum club this Thursday, with this month’s theme of Christmas. That means Christmassy crafts and songs, including the 12 days of Christmas – already preparing my voice! As well as this, the Teenage History Club are well underway with their event for Kids in Museums Takeover Day this year; a Murder Mystery! It is set in 1916 and involves a blunt object and plenty of suspicion. The teenagers have spent the last three weeks with Storyteller Dave Tong to help perform their stories and really get into character. I’m positive it’s going to be fantastic with plenty of secrets and shock for all.

For the Fenland side of things, as part of my traineeship for the project I was able to apply for a small amount of funding to do an event during the October half term. This went through successfully and plans for the ‘Frightening Fens’ came together! The family drop-in event included a storyteller regaling visitors with spooky goings on, a Fen wise woman with strange remedies, and an artist making ‘dead hands’ out of various materials. Other activities were Fen museum object handling, make your own lantern, plus all the children received a wooden amulet on which they could draw their own lucky symbol for protection. By the end of the day lots of people were walking around with arms full of amulets, dead hands, lanterns plus huge grins! Before the half term the event was also featured in two local papers and ‘what’s on’ sections, which felt fantastic knowing that after composing my first ever press release, the writing training I had was a success! Families and visitors thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and the freelancers said they had a great day too – despite a last minute illness and slight panic from me, but it’s all a learning experience! Personally speaking, it was a great day, and brilliant practice to organise a whole event from start to finish.

Frightening Fens: I’m sure many of the glowstick-filled lamps were used for trick of treating later in the week!

Frightening Fens: I’m sure many of the glowstick-filled lamps were used for trick of treating later in the week!

Moreover, last week was the Fen Youth Film Fest consisting of two showings of short films created by young people with the Fenland Lives & Land Project. It took place in the grand Kings Lynn town hall, and with the afternoon showing being seen by two local school groups there were plenty of laughs all around. The films were inspired by different aspects and topics of the fens, ranging from drainage to folk tales. The evening showing included a special premiere of the film Cathead – a surreal comic adventure created by the Lynn Youth Forum. Their brief was to create a film inspired by an object in the museum, and the chosen object was a cat head prototype from one of Frederick Savage’s carousel gallopers. The film the Forum made is truly surreal, but completely creative and a great example of the work young people can do. Two of the film makers are also now studying media at college!4 film fest

Alongside my responsibilities at the Museum and for the project I’ve been able to take part in various other training sessions and experience. My most recent was helping with the collections at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, with an audit being undertaken over the winter months. I hadn’t been into the Superstores based on site before, and it was truly fascinating – I was also able to see some of the Ancient House collections that are stored there. The sheer variety and unique nature of objects in the Norfolk Museum Service was an eye-opener, and really gave me a behind the scenes look. One day was spent working with volunteers to record a shelf of leather horse harnesses, and move them to another section to make space for incoming collections from another NMS site. I have done some collections experience before but it was really great to get back into the world of collections care and recording. One very interesting object was a large rope labelled ‘rope for weighing bullock carcass’ – that is one thing I love about museum objects, you really do wonder about the stories behind them! I also was able to help with getting objects from the furniture and painting store ready to go into the freezer, which meant cleaning and wrapping each one individually and ensuring each was labelled. I had heard so much about putting objects into the freezer to get rid of nasty bugs, so it was great to be part of the process, and as it is continuing into the new year I’m sure I will be back to help out!

The glamorous attire of collections care!

The glamorous attire of collections care!

6 coop cleaning
7 wrapped objects

 A last minute obscure object from Jan!

A last minute obscure object from Jan!

Alongside all of these exciting ventures, I am also taking part in the GEM Foundation Course for Museum Learning which began in October. It consists of three two-day training sessions in London museums with nine other participants, plus an assigned mentor, a learning log to keep up to date with, and a work based assignment. For my assignment I have decided to attempt a pilot offer in January of a Girl Guide sleepover in the museum, combined with an Arts Award Discover level qualification, and present the process in a case study. I know it is a big feat but I really believe Girl Guiding UK is an untapped market, and being a Guide Leader in training and involved in Guiding all my life, it really is a key group that could easily do Arts Award if only given the chance. Also there really is something extraordinary about a Museum out of hours, and I trust this will be a key element of the offer. Hopefully we’ll be able to give some behind the scenes exploring and even a special look into our cellar!
So with Christmas fast approaching it’s time to really get into the spirit of things. I’m currently researching some Christmassy Edwardian food to have on our open range as part of the big Thetford Lights On event this Friday 28th, when the whole museum will be open from five to nine o’clock with 1914 Edwardian games, food, costumes, and of course Christmas cheer! Then before we know it, it will be January – I can’t believe how fast time is going – but I’m sure they’ll be even more exciting adventures next year!

Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New Year!!
Heritage Learning Trainee, Ancient House and Fenland Lives & Land Project.

Are weddings any different today, than those in Medieval times?

My job role in the last six months has changed significantly. I have gone from organising various events to researching the current wedding market. My focus in this blog is to look at the ‘traditional wedding’ through the ages, and explore the differences to the modern day wedding.

Medieval Weddings

During the middle ages, there was a rise in marriage laws. In 1076 The Council of Westminster enforced the law that meant a priest must bless a marriage therefore contracts and legal documents started to be drawn up, similar to today’s marriage contracts and licenses.

The finest silks with gold or silver embroidery would be worn, brightly colored fabrics were popular and men would wear their finest court attire. Jewelry, furs and elaborate belts adorned every noble body.

White is now the symbol of purity, and most wedding dresses made in this hue. In the middle ages this wasn’t so. Bride’s would wear blue most often, as blue was the symbol of purity. If her gown were not blue, she would wear something else blue, like a ribbon in her hair. This is where today’s tradition of “something blue” comes from.

Today’s tiered wedding cakes actually stemmed from the middle Ages. Guests would bring little cakes and stack them on top of one another. The bride and groom would then try to kiss over the top of the cakes without knocking them to the ground.

Guests included inhabitants of the residence, other nobles and distant relatives and unlike today, Invitations were not sent out.

The noble wedding was rarely one filled with love – It was an arranged marriage. Peasants were a little different however, as they would often marry for love.


Elizabethan Weddings

A lot of the customs from the middle ages were still upheld during Elizabethan times. Religion still played a major role in weddings, and a priest would normally conduct ceremonies in a church. The cost of the wedding fell to the bride’s father, however in small villages; neighbours may prepare food for the feast, sort of like a potluck dinner.

Flowers played a bigger part. The bridesmaids would be in charge of making bouquets for guests, and to make the wedding garland, which was rosemary and roses. The bride would carry her garland until after the ceremony, where she would then place it on her head.


Victorian Weddings

Queen Victoria is often given credit for making the white wedding gown popular since she herself wore white to her wedding; however there have been many royal and non-royal brides after her that did not wear white.

Flowers became more and more important in a wedding; the church or chapel would be decorated with them. Men would wear a flower in the lapel of their frock coat or morning coat. In the country, a bride would walk to the chapel on a carpet of flower blossoms.

Queen vic

Wartime weddings

Romance continued to flourish even during wartime. The possibility of separation and the dangers of war caused many young lovers to ‘throw caution to the wind’.
It was often a hurried affair and not done in the style and manner that was previously possible. Before 1939, most couples would have opted for a traditional style wedding with a chapel or church ceremony, accompanying bridesmaids and guests, and a reception to follow. However, with the outbreak of war, there was no time for elaborate plans, so weddings were organised with less formality.

Instead of the traditional wedding dress most bridal outfits were made up of utility clothes. They were of simple design and made with the least amount of material possible and, since they could be worn again, made effective use of the clothing coupons.

Although many weddings that took place during the war could not follow all traditions, they were however, a source of pride and celebration as friends and family united to provide all the essentials. Help was given with the outfits and other aspects of the organisation. Enthusiastic amateurs took the photos, and neighbours and relatives contributed precious food rations to the wedding breakfast and ingredients for the cake.


I think it is clear to see that not much has really changed from even has far back at medieval times. Trends may come and go but the principal that weddings are a chance for families and friends to celebrate a couple’s love seems to never alter.


Miriam Burroughs

Skills For The Future Public Events Trainee

Conference Capers

This year’s Museum Association Conference took place in the spectacular Cardiff Millennium Centre and was a whirlwind of talks, workshops, performance, lively discussion and hands on activity that  would be impossible to summarise here. Instead I’m going to share with you a few key moments that really resonated with me.

The theme was Museums Change Lives, a topic close to my heart as it’s a statement I really believe in and the reason I’m pursuing a career in this sector so doggedly: I want to work within a world that makes a positive difference.

When you hear the word ‘conference’, it probably conjures up images of sombre, suited delegates in serious discussion, but the MA offered something quite different. The passion of everyone for their sector shone throughout the event and the unique local character was embodied by a rousing poem written and performed at conference especially for us by the young person’s laureate for Wales, Martin Daws.

Mat Fraser- actor, activist and interesting human- gave a fantastic bespoke performance on the representations of disability in museums, complete with dancing and show tunes.

Image courtesy of Museums Association

Image courtesy of Museums Association

Discover more about his boundary-destroying, status quo-challenging work here:


Much more sedate, but equally inspiring, was a fascinating discussion of the museum as an imaginary space, which asked us all to reflect on what being a museum means to us. We were invited to virtually explore the wonderful Marco Polo Museum, which manages to be a museum without actually existing.

The age-old idea of Cabinets of Curiosity was revisited in a lively debate where delegates were asked to consider which objects we would include in a modern curiosity cabinet to represent museums today. Popular suggestions included a stuffed curator and an empty case to represent everything that museums can’t or don’t display.

The true power of a museum to make a difference was exemplified in a tearful plea from Antonio Vieira, director of the Museu da Mare, to save the museum that has bought together the warring populations of the slums through exhibiting their shared history. Despite their great work, they are threatened with closure as their building is shortly to be taken from them.


Image courtesy of Museums Association


By turns challenging, informative and emotional, this year’s Museum Association Conference was an experience that will stay with me. Thank you, Cardiff!


Charlotte Edwards

Heritage Data Management Trainee

Hello From Shine a Light

Hello we are Sophie Towne and Josh Giles the Skills for the Future Collections Management Trainees at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.

We are working on the Shine a Light project which is focussing on behind the scenes developing our stored collections. Over the next year we will be working hard to reorganise our stores to make them more accessible to staff, researchers and the public.

So a bit more about us…

I am Josh! I studied history and have always wanted a job working with museum collections. History has always been fascinating to me.  Objects from the most mundane to the most weird and wonderful excite me. So being here in the Norfolk Collections Centre seems like the perfect job…..

Fresh out of university I volunteered at Swaffham Museum and managed to work hands on with their collections. I then went on to work as part of the Visitor Services team here at Gressenhall which was a great experience. This role as part of the Skills for the Future project is my first paid job with collections and so far it has been very enjoyable if quite challenging.

I’m Sophie! The first few weeks at Gressenhall were a flurry of introductions, inductions and computer e-learning. I’ve already learnt loads in just a short space of time, like how to manoeuvre a gigantic silk press into a freezer and the best way to photograph a guillotine.

I have some experience of working with museums, however, I have never attempted anything quite on the scale of the Norfolk Collections Centre.

Our story so far…

The first week, we were confronted with this… row upon row of racking full of objects

The first week, we were confronted with this… row upon row of racking full of objects

Some of our favourite objects that we have found:

These are seven statues of Saints from the first row of racking.

These are seven statues of Saints from the first row of racking.

We have lots of support and training from other members of staff:


Dave Harvey from conservation teaching us about Pest Management


Fraser driving the forklift and Dave Savage in the cage helping with heavy objects








And we like to have a bit of fun:

Josh posing with saint statues for social media

This is Josh (above)  posing with the saints and our resident manikin for social media and Sophie having far too much fun with the strapping machine:


Most importantly we have been making the collections more accessible.

Here is our Mammoth tusk having its new case unveiled:


And I am sure you will be hearing more from us in the future.

Josh Giles and Sophie Towne

What’s in the Box?

At Gressenhall we have over 50,000 objects. From trinkets to tractors, each one of these objects has a past, a present and, if we do our job well, a future. To look after these objects we need to know what they are and where they are. Put simply this is ‘collections management’ but what does that really entail?

Imagine for a moment if you will standing in the queue at Argos. You’re after a kettle. You would like a colour to match your kitchen and you know that it needs to be small enough to fit under your taps.

Luckily, Argos have an extensive catalogue that you can flip through to find just the thing you are looking for. The description gives you its measurements, a photograph and the code you need to purchase it. Importantly, Argos also know where it is and how to get it to you.

The beauty of this shopping trip is that you have all that information at your fingertips. There is no need to march around on a busy Saturday afternoon with a tape measurer and colour chart in hand.

Now let’s head back to the museum. Collections are used in a variety of different ways; exhibitions, educational workshops, historical research, on the back of a postcard and sometimes even on the telly. Objects can have huge potential but only if they are accessible. So to make the most of collections we need their information at our fingertips. But with 50,000 objects where do we begin?

To know what’s what, each object has a unique identity number called an ‘accession number.’ This number begins with the letters of the museum it is from, followed by the year it entered the museum and then a number that denotes at what point it arrived. The accession number is very important as it links an object with all the information a museum holds about it.

Take this doll for example

Workhouse Doll

Workhouse Doll GRSRM : 1977.27.1


This number is entered into a database. The database has lots of information about that doll such as:

• Name
• Number
• Location (building, room, shelf, box number)
• Provenance (Does it have a story behind it? How old is it? What was it used for? Is it unique?)
• How it arrived in the museum
• A detailed description including its measurements and the material it is made from
• Its condition (How long will it last? Does it need conserving? Can it be used for a handling activity?)

The database is incredibly important because it provides this information at the click of a button. You don’t need to rifle through the boxes or hunt for hours. It’s not purely for convenience. It means an object which may be fragile or very old need not be disturbed unless absolutely necessary.

What is exciting about this is that everyone has access. Using Norfolk Museums’ online service you can browse through the collections without ever leaving the sofa. Take a look and see!

In order for that information to reach this stage it takes a surprising amount of leg work. This is where my traineeship begins. I’ve been involved in the audit of a social history collection and I’ve been building my skills along the way.


What’s in the box? Checking the database is correct and documenting the object; taking its photo, writing a description, measuring it and updating its location. This can also include who donated the object and what do we know about its history. Ensuring all information associated with the object is recorded and accessible for a variety of users.


Are all the objects present and correct? Ensuring all the objects in the box are labelled or marked with their correct accession number. We use methods that are conservation approved to do this. Different types of objects call for different methods but it should always be secure yet reversible, safe for the object, and discreet but visible.

Marked using the paraloid sandwich method

Marked using the paraloid sandwich method

Are the objects safe? If a box is packed poorly the objects can suffer from long term damage such as breakage or distortion. We need to ensure that the objects will not come into contact with one another and that the packing materials used will not cause any damage either. Materials such as acid free tissue paper are light weight and protective. Packing the objects well can also provide shock absorption to prevent damage from any movement and insulation from dramatic changes in temperature.


Where is it? Once everything is safely stored in the box we label the box with a unique code and ensure that its location has been updated on the database. If we ever move an object from its normal location then we complete a ‘movement’ card that is left in place of the object. This movement is also entered onto the database as a temporary location.


The whole process can take a considerable amount of time and may seem like over-egging the pudding but the benefits of a well managed collection are countless. Not only are the objects preserved for generations to come but they are accessible, inviting us to explore their potential.

 Undertaking box audits has been such good experience. I’ve learnt about the collection at Gressenhall and so much more. I have gained an understanding of the science in conservation and a new appreciation for data management. It’s also been a very thought provoking exercise in what objects mean to us and what we leave behind when we are gone.

 In opening the box my eyes have been opened. So next time I’m standing in a queue with a little blue pen in hand and hear “cashier number five please” I will not sigh, but smile and think of Gressenhall with all its boxes, full of stories.

 Etta Griffiths, Rural Collections Management Trainee