Skills for the Future

Skills for the Future is a UK-wide programme which funds work-based training in a range of skills that are needed to look after buildings, landscapes, habitats, species, animals, museum collections, and promotethe use of new technology in heritage settings.

The aim of this blog is to showcase the faces behind our project at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse so that we can all share our experiences of what is more than just a very worthwhile cause but a project that is providing genuine skills to sustain people in long term employment.

In partnership with the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket, we have been awarded over £1,100,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Skills for the Future programme to deliver a training project between 2011 and 2015.

At Gressenhall we have a number of formal apprenticeships as well as a number internships of varying length, including a Visitor Services trainee who is covering all aspects to our visitors’ experience, from the Front of House duties to improving our social media coverage. Other placements will focus on areas such as heritage gardening, woodland and heritage land management, rural collections management and interpretation, and managing historic buildings.

We currently have people working on the vast garden spaces at the museum and on our historic steam engines, as well as a heritage farming apprentice, farrier apprentice and a library and archive trainee, with the prospect of more trainees to come.

Our long term aim is to enhance the heritage sector, one that is currently under threat in the economic difficulties we are all facing, by providing sustainable training and good service practice. We are also looking to promote and demonstrate the value of heritage skills to modern life, skills that are too precious to lose and without which such places like Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse would be unable to continue.


Moving on

As my traineeship draws its final curtains, I’m left with the feeling of ‘what’s next, where do I go from here?’ A year ago I wouldn’t have had an answer I know that for certain. Over the last year I’ve grown up and matured as well as learned a craft, which has been hard work but rewarding to learn. IMG_0202

As I look through to the future, I know now that I can go forth with a sense of hope that I’m in a better position for my chosen field of work which I’ve decided is boilersmithing. One thing I’ve come to realise about life is you cannot sit around hoping things will get better. The power of a dream is an illusion till you take action upon opportunity. The true strength of a person is in his power to seek change by the effection of actions rather than just words.


Putting my skills into action, now I’ve finished at Gressenhall I will be moving on to become a Trainee Boilersmith and Fitter for North Norfolk Railways.


Robert Andrews

Heritage Engineering Trainee

Another Farewell

Hi everyone- Rebecca here, with another farewell blog post. I’ll be finishing my Heritage Learning traineeship in two weeks, which has come around far too quickly. I’ll be spending my last bit of time here delivering school sessions to Reception/Key Stage 1 children (ages 4-7) and doing some training at Norwich Castle which will be lovely.

Since my last blog post we’ve had the very exciting news that the museum has been awarded £1.47million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to redevelop our workhouse exhibitions. We found out not long before Christmas, and as soon as the New Year came around the collections team were busy clearing all of our workhouse spaces, ready for the contractors who are now here. This is a great achievement for the museum and will look fabulous once finished, but it did present a bit of a challenge for the education department. We run sessions for Key Stage 2 and 3 which use the workhouse, so we had to do some thinking on our feet to alter sessions that had been booked in before we found out we’d been successful.

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Exciting changes are afoot

At the end of January I took groups of Year 9s on an outside tour of the workhouse buildings, looking into some of the changes that were made as a result of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, which changed the site from a house of industry to a workhouse. Preparing for this session was really interesting as I hadn’t noticed some of the changes myself (such as the remnants of a dividing wall between the casuals’ ward and the unmarried mothers’ ward). We also looked at historical documents relating to people who were once in Gressenhall workhouse, and compared them to documents about people living outside the workhouse at the time. This allowed pupils to gain a better insight into what it was like to live in poverty in Victorian times, and possibly to re-evaluate their opinion of the workhouse.


The only remnants of the dividing wall- see if you can locate it next time you visit

Recently it was half-term, which for me meant an opportunity to catch up on some DIY! I constructed a ‘mobile market’ which will be used for Key Stage 1 children to be able to role-play in our Village Row shop. A larger bulk of my time, though, was spent making progress with our 1950s-themed dolls’ house (which will be used, funnily enough, in our 1950s room for a 1950s-themed session). In my last blog I showed you some of the furniture we have for the house, and now I have finally had time to do the wallpapering. This proved just as difficult as actual wallpapering due to the tiny tiny measurements! One centimetre out and I had to start again… But I got there in the end. Some finishing accessories (such as an ironing board and pictures to go on the walls) arrived today; I will be laying (paper) flooring next week and our Live Interpretation Officer, Rachel, will be making some soft furnishings- then it will finally be ready to be used! I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished product, but I hope you’ll agree that it’s already looking pretty good.

doll house

An ongoing labour of love

In previous blogs both Tabitha and I have mentioned that we’ve been taking part in a Foundation Course in Museum Learning run by GEM. The course lasted from October-December and saw us visiting various museums in London to meet their learning departments and see what sorts of education offers they have. The course was invaluable in terms of practical tips, getting a better understanding of museum theory, and making contact with other people in the sector. I would never have been able to go on the course without this traineeship so I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

At the end of the course we were asked to write an assignment, for which I evaluated our new Neolithic school event which I mentioned in my last blog. I, along with the rest of Gressenhall’s learning team, delivered the event to just over 1,000 children between September and November. My assignment looked at the effect of the new Key Stage 2 History curriculum, which features prehistory and does not feature the Victorians- previously a staple of Gressenhall’s education offer. Here we are very lucky to have a prehistory gallery and lots of outdoor space, so thankfully we have been able to adapt well to these changes in the curriculum and our Neolithic event is of a really high quality (if I do say so myself). For other museums who don’t have this luxury, the changes have been very concerning. But equally, sites that focus on prehistory have seen school visits increase massively. For more info see this BBC News article:

As of yet I don’t know what I’ll be moving on to when I finish here, but I do know that my traineeship has given me masses of training and practical experience that will be useful wherever I go. I’ve had an amazing time here and would like to thank Rachel, Katie, Jan and Anna for welcoming me into their team, as well as everyone else at Gressenhall (including visitors) who make this such a special place to work… And of course, to the HLF for creating the Skills for the Future programme!

Rebecca Hunt

Heritage Learning Trainee

A Gardener’s Goodbye

Hi everyone this is my final blog as a Trainee Heritage Gardener at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. I am leaving and going straight into a job which is great. Through doing this traineeship I have gained the necessary skills to be more employable which has lead to me having a choice of two jobs. So I am now joining a tree surgeon and am going to gain a level 2 NVQ in trees and timber and gain some tree related qualifications. I really enjoyed working in the woods at Holkham and learning about trees and shrubs throughout my traineeship that I think I will learn a lot from this new experience.

Making handmade plant supports was one of many new skills learned on training days.

Making handmade plant supports was one of many new skills learned on training days.

My future goals are to continue to learn and train as I am still young. And to start my own business as a professional horticulturist/arboriculturist in a couple of years and work in people’s gardens.

The garden in the summer after our hard work, with the plant supports in their new home

The garden in the summer after our hard work, with the plant supports in their new home

It’s been a great twelve months, which I am very happy to have been given the opportunity to do.

The team posing with our newly made plant supports

The team posing with our newly made plant supports

Sonny Brown

Heritage Gardening Trainee

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!

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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!


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#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.

Coming to an end at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

Hi, my name’s Sonny and I am a Heritage Gardening Trainee at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, as some of you may know from my previous blog. I’ve been here since February 20th 2014 so now coming up to the last 3 months of my traineeship, which has gone by pretty quickly.

I spend two days a week at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse where me and Sam have been working really hard on the farmhouse garden, and the garden has been flowering and flowering and flowering which is great to see.


I’ve been at Holkham on placement for the second half of my traineeship, which I have really enjoyed. I have had lots of opportunities in the woodland, crosscutting wood and also got to fell some trees, which were all great fun. I also went on a tree marking and pruning course at Holkham where I learned about continuous cover forestry and why it’s so important to manage our woodland for the future prosperity of the Woodland. I’ve also been working in the walled garden where we got to work on the vegetable garden. I also got the opportunity to pick fresh vegetables from the garden, wash and prep them for Lord and Lady Coke and for hunting parties at the weekend.

I have done several more courses since my last blog from chipper and brush cutter training to hedge laying courses at Gressenhall, which were a great learning experience.


It’s been a good 9 months and I have gained many of the skills and qualifications I will need to get a job in the heritage garden setting when I finish my traineeship in February.

Sonny Brown
Heritage Gardening Trainee

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

Lady Mary’s secret weapon for a porcelain complexion

This week’s blog comes from Sophie Towne and explores another exciting object found in the Collections Centre:

You are a refined and well-mannered lady quietly sewing by the fireside contemplating the latest family scandal, but you find your face is turning a rather un-dignified shade of pink because of the heat of the fire. So what do you need? A fire screen of course!

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We have many fire screens within Norfolk Museums Service and several excellent examples live at the Norfolk Museums Collection Centre. These objects are the quintessential showcase piece for domestic history. They are beautiful objects and it’s not hard to imagine the gentle lady of the house reclining in front of the fire with the screen to protect her delicate skin.
These objects are at once practical and decorative. They range from simple wicker screens to sumptuous embroidered spectacles. They sit proudly but quietly in every country house. So when you watch Downton Abbey next week take a moment to observe the surroundings of Lady Mary and Lord Grantham, I guarantee you’ll see a fire screen silently surveying the drama.
It is easy to picture a young lady taking an afternoon nap in the bedroom scene from Strangers’ Hall seen in the postcard below. Here the fire screen provides decoration but is also functional. In fact, we have this exact fire screen at The Norfolk Museums Collection Centre.


The screen is a cross stitched image of a finely dressed gentleman relaxing during a hunt, his rifle is propped against the bank and he and his dog share a moment of calm. The screen is mounted on an adjustable mahogany stand and it is positioned to face the viewer of the postcard. It is the cherry on top of an ornate room.

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We also have the fireplace seen in the postcard of Strangers’ Hall so we can almost recreate part of the postcard here at The Norfolk Museums Collection Centre. Even this useful object is embellished with floral and foliage motifs intertwined with ribbons swirling across the metal.


Although the bed dominates the room, the fireplace and fire screen are essential and important requirements for the space. They may not be as big a showstopper as the elaborate bed but Lady Mary couldn’t live without the fireplace or the fire screen.

Sophie Towne

Collections Management Trainee