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!!


Bringing the washing machines back to life!

Our engineering volunteers have been busy over the past few months. Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse has been awarded funding by the Arts Council England PRISM fund to restore two washing machines in the laundry. This has paid for cleaning materials, new belts and bespoke parts to be made.


The washing machines in the laundry date from 1950 and 1953 and are amongst the first automatic washing machines in Europe. Automatic washing machines are now the norm, but in the 1950s this was revolutionary technology that overhauled institutional and domestic laundry practices.


The washing machines clearly demonstrate this revolutionary technology by having a clock face on the front of the machine with hands which would turn to the different cycles in the wash; 1st wash, 2nd wash, boil, 1st rinse, 2nd rinse, 3rd rinse, breakdown. Using a boil wash was normal then but now we are encouraged to wash at 15°C.

These washing machines had not been used since the building was a County Care Home, which closed in 1975. Our engineering volunteers have done a brilliant job carefully restoring them and getting them working. So when the new workhouse displays open this summer keep your eyes peeled for the cleaned up machines and join us on an event day to see them running.



History of the Binder

In this addition of my blog I will be talking about the binder and knotting mechanism. The binder is a later improved version of the reaper. The reaper was an implement that just cut the crop, rather than combining it with the processes of cutting and tying it into sheaves.

Picture 1 - Binder

The binder was invented in 1872 by Charles Withington. The binder cuts the cereal crop a couple of inches of the floor and ties the cut crop into sheaves. These sheaves are then ‘stooked’ in the field, resembling tipis, by the farm labourers who are following behind the machine. The stooks were then left to ripen out in the field before they were carted in.

Picture 2 - Carting Corn

The original binders used wire to tie the sheaves, but this gave various problems during operation and also when it came to harvest, so, William Deering then invented a binder that used a twine knotter that was invented by John Appleby.

The knotter is a bit like the sowing machine: the machine pushes a needle in and pulls loops in nanoseconds as it passes by. In the same way, the knotter on the binder loops the twine around the cut crop onto the knotter beak, which then opens and grabs the twine as a knife cuts it to length. The beak then turns to tie the knot and releases once it has done its rotation. This all happens in the space of a second. Below is a picture of the knot the knotter mechanism produces.

Picture 3 - Tied knot

The knotter mechanism revolutionised agriculture and the same mechanism is still used today. There have been variations on the knotter, for example, August Claas adapted the knotter with a limited floating beak. It was then patented in 1921 and is still used in their bailers to this present day. Below is a picture of the CLAAS logo on one of their combines. You can see the knotter needle and beak is used as part of the company branding.

Picture 4 - Claas Logo

Ben Preston – Heritage Farming Apprentice

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


Gressenhall is to have bees again!

Gressenhall is to have bees again! An update from Daniel Johnson, Landscape Heritage Management trainee.
We have begun cleaning up the old WBC hive that was set up in the wildflower meadow at the top of the farm. ‘WBC’ stands for William Broughton Carr; the man responsible for the design of this traditional hive first constructed in 1890. A modern hive complete with a colony of bees belonging to Venetia Rist, a local beekeeper living in Gressenhall village will soon be inserted into the WBC structure following its renovation.
We are at the first stage in the clean up process- deep freezing the outer frames or ‘lifts’, along with the drawers or ‘supers’ as they are known, and the old foundation frames onto which the worker bees graft their wax cells and store their honey.
Temperatures in the freezer will drop to -32°c. Once the extreme cold has killed off any woodworm and other bugs or grubs the hive will be treated to a pressure wash and gentle sanding before being finished in a resplendent white paint (bee-friendly, of course!).
Honey Bees have had a difficult time of late with many colonies collapsing or in serious decline. It may be some time before we are fortunate enough to be producing much honey here at Gressenhall, but the presence of the bees and a traditional, functioning hive in a historical setting will be a welcome site this summer.

Training a Young Horse

As I’m sure you are all aware, on the farm we have 5 Suffolk Punch horses. They vary in age from 14 to 6 and this age difference aids us in bringing on our younger horses to match the abilities of the old horses, and eventually allows them take over, when the elder ones become too old to work. To start this process off we introduce the youngest horse to the eldest horse and put them in a field together. The hope is that the older horse teaches the younger horse manners, and puts them in line.

Currently, our youngest horse, Jimbo (who is 6) is going through a rigorous winter training program to bring him up to a set standard for when we re-open for the new season. It is important that this training is done over winter for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it is much safer to train a young horse when there are a limited number of people around- it minimises the risk to others and to the horse. Secondly, due to the nature of the work we wish for him to be able to complete on the farm, it is logical to train him when the work needs doing. Jobs such as ploughing, harrowing and sowing fields are the vast majority of his life as a working horse, and these jobs need to be completed during the winter months. Also, we are able to increase his fitness much quicker due to the fact we have more time to spend working with him when the site is closed.

Jimbo arrived at the farm and was then ‘broken in’; to include pulling a sledge with a load behind him. Therefore, our training with him this winter hasn’t required us to start from the beginning. Due to the fact we knew Jimbo was capable of working alone and pulling objects, the next logical step was to introduce him to another horse and get him working as a pair. Our choice was Bowler to begin with as Bowler’s enthusiasm for work would mean he would pull the load forward without aid from Jim. This would allow Jim to get used to the situation and encourage him to get on with the job.


This is a photo I took of the first time that Jim worked in a pair. Bowler is on the left of the image and Jim on the right. They are pulling the horse drawn cultivator. This was a sensible piece of machinery to begin with as it is ground based (therefore gives some resistance and allows the driver to have a way of stopping the horses) however since the land had recently been cultivated, the soil was already soft and therefore not too hard work for the unfit, green, horse. Jimbo did extremely well on this task and was praised through oral encouragement and given a small extra feed to finish off his day.

The next stage was to see how well he dealt with being driven. This task was more complicated than the cultivator as the hitch cart has no breaks. There is a certain amount of calculated risk involved in this step. You shouldn’t complete it too early as the horse may become frightened and bolt, but it isn’t wise to keep playing it safe with land based machinery otherwise the horse would never learn other tasks. Once again Jimbo was very well behaved, and Bowler made sure the hitch cart kept moving, even when Jimbo did not want to go. There were a few occasions in which he became spooked at unusual objects along the side of the track but due to the skill of the driver, with words of encouragement, and the enthusiasm of the paired horse, Jimbo became used to the task very quickly and settled down.

At this point in his training we placed Jimbo with other horses and repeated the hitch cart process. He went beautifully with Trojan (our eldest horse) and very well with Reggie (who is 8), however, being the cheeky horse that he is, he used the fact he was strapped together next to Reggie as an opportunity to give his mate the occasional nibble. Other than the nibbles, Reggie and Jimbo worked brilliantly as a pair and we have driven them around the track continuously for weeks since their first encounter.
It is important that work on the farm is completed over the winter months in order for it to be seen at its best when the site re-opens. Due to this, the fields need to be prepared and sown. We attempted to use the seed drill with just Reggie and Bowler pulling it, however, it was very hard work for both horses and staff, therefore, the following day we decided to insert Jimbo into the mix to make the going easier for the horses and allowing the work to be completed faster. This was the hardest task yet for him, as working in a triplet involves much more teamwork and turning corners is rather exciting!

Corners are difficult, even for the more experienced horses because, the horse on the inside of the turn must slow their pace down to a minimum and the horse to the far side of the turn must increase their pace to a rapid walk, or even a jog.

The ground was very sticky underfoot and we placed Jimbo on the outside (if something were to go wrong it would be easier to remove him from the other two, and it would be less claustrophobic for him). Due to the fact we were using the Smithe drill there were 3 people required to operate and control the situation. The driver, who would have ultimate control of the situation (who was experienced in training and working horses), a leader (a person who led and guided Jim around the corners and encouraged him forwards), and a person in charge of the machine (keeping the seeds topped up and making sure it didn’t clog up).


Jimbo was slow to start and inexperienced around the corners but despite the occasional spook he was an absolute star!


We were all very proud of him, and he received a large amount of praise (and the odd secret cuddle!) at the end of the day.

The next steps with Jimbo for the rest of the winter consist of repeating all tasks. This will ensure he knows his job and is happy in all situations. We are all very proud of his progress and we are hoping that by the time the open season begins we will have him thoroughly initiated into the strong workforce of horses down on the farm!


Danielle Chatten
Heritage Farming Apprentice

Ghosts, The Stoat and The Triceratops

The last few months working as the Heritage Learning Trainee at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse have provided me with a great number of exciting, useful and colourful experiences.


The Skills for the Future programme has provided me with the opportunity to enrol in a number of educational courses and to attend numerous training days. I am working towards a PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) qualification and a Forest School qualification. Both of these courses are helping me to gain a better understanding of different educational practices and philosophies.



I have delivered sessions to visiting school pupils and engaged in live interpretation, to bring the educational ideas to life.

I have spent time at other museum sites such as Time and Tide, The Castle Museum, Denny Abbey, Kings Lynn Museum, The Museum of East Anglian Life, Dragon Hall, Strangers Hall and observed aspects of their formal and informal learning programmes. I have attended training days organised by Share Museums East on Preparing for the new Primary Curriculum and an Introduction to Museums course. Other training days I have attended include Hedge laying, Windmill restoration and ploughing with horses.




Working with Gressenhall’s Learning Department I have gained further insight into the structuring of both public and school events. Using the whole of our diverse site to create events, which captivate students and visitors through the choice of setting as well as the content being delivered.


There have been lots of exciting events, which I have been involved in; I played The Hatter at our Alice at Gressenhall themed Family day, The Butler at the Victorian Mystery day at Kings Lynn Town Hall,  I taught coin striking at the Medieval event. Alongside my fellow trainee Miriam I helped to organise our Halloween event, Ghostly Gressenhall.  This was a successful event and it was wonderful to see the Workhouse transformed into a place of candlelight and shadows. Our costumed visitors were entertained with games, art activities, ghostly tales from Neil Scarlett and a beautiful shadow puppet show from Ripstop Theatre.



Next to come there are our Victorian Christmas events for schools. These are followed by an event for the public, Victorian Family Christmas on the 15th of December, for which I am designing a photographic emporium for our visitors to dress up and pose for a portrait in.

My traineeship continues to swing between the serious and the surreal and it has been very enjoyable.

Thank you to everyone I have met for your support and advice.

Gawain Godwin

Heritage Learning Trainee

All change at Gressenhall Farm

Over the past month there has been a lot of change down at Gressenhall Farm as two new Landscape Management Trainees, Lee and Daniel, have joined us. Their start date signaled my movement into the final 6 months of my traineeship which has also seen me beginning my third and final  placement. I have chosen to spend 3 days a week with the National Trust Ranger team at Felbrigg Hall and Sheringham Park in North Norfolk.

Even though I have only been with the National Trust team just over a month it has already given me a great insight into how their organisation works and the complexities of running such a big site! I have been involved with lots of different projects and types of work, no two days are the same which is great as each time I turn up there is something new to do. The work varies from fencing and tree work to renovating an old saw mill!

One of the biggest ongoing jobs at Felbrigg over the last few weeks has been the mowing of all of their grasslands in order to keep their growth down and control the weeds that have grown up in the fields. There are many areas that need mowing and so I have been able to lend a hand in sharing some of the work. It is very different to mowing your lawn! I have been using a multi-directional Rytek mower that is pulled by a tractor which tackle heavy vegetation and allows you to cut in areas that normal toppers and mowers would not be able to get to.

View from the National Trust Tractor

View from the National Trust Tractor

Rytek Mower

Rytek Mower

As with any conservation organisation  they rely on their volunteers to help look after various sites and undertake work that would otherwise never get done, one such group maintains the National Trust site at West Runton. They meet once a week and repair anything that has broken and deal with scrub clearance and the mowing of the sites fens. It was a fantastic opportunity to work with them last week, even though it was incredibly windy so close to the coast! The work they do is so visible in making a difference to the area and I look forward to working them in the future.

View from the top of the West Runton site

View from the top of the West Runton site

With autumn closing in, the Landscape Management team has decided to practice our heritage woodland skills. After digging out an array of two man saws and axes we have been spending time felling trees in a traditional (pre-chainsaw) way. The technique of felling a tree has not changed since the days of axes and saws and so we were able to put the knowledge that we already had about tree felling and crosscutting into practice with these traditional tools. (As can be seen from the photos below).

Creating the gob

Creating the gob

The finished gob

The finished gob

Making the felling cut

Making the felling cut

We are going to continue using these tools and traditional methods in order for us to hone our skills and increase our knowledge about them as we believe that they should not be lost. It was great fun and we are looking forward to getting back into centenary wood soon!

See you on Apple Day!

Tom, Heritage Landscape Management Trainee.

The ‘British Driving Society Level 2 Harness Horse Groom’s Diploma, Working with Horses in Agriculture and Land Based Activities’ and other events of the last few weeks

On Monday 15th July Ben and I went down to Swingletree Farm, near Diss, to have a horse and cart road driving assessment day. The day involved about 6 hours of road driving between us both and we each drove two pairs of horses.  The first pair was two 17hh grey coach horses and the second, 14hh Connemara ponies. The day was great fun and a very enlightening experience; we both learnt a lot and gained considerable driving knowledge. The purpose was for the assessors at the farm to judge our skills base and inform Richard Dalton how long they believed it would take us to pass the road driving test.  This test and future road driving experience will be completed after the main summer season at Gressenhall, as during the next six weeks, both Ben and myself are going to be extremely busy. Despite our full schedule we will still be taking the time to fill in our evidence forms for our qualification, proving that we have undertaken certain horse based activities (such as grooming), a set number of times to deem us experienced enough to be awarded with our diplomas at the end of our 18 month apprenticeship. 


Dani at Swingletree Farm


Ben and I have also recently completed our Brushcutter course, which was a full day of taking apart the machinery, looking at its engine, learning how to replace its parts and then experiencing the correct and safest way to use it on our site. On top of this we have also swapped around our rotas in order to have one of us working every Sunday of the summer holidays so that we can offer a better and more satisfying visitor experience over the weekend.

I love the driving aspect of my job.  Getting to drive the horses around our farm track with passengers riding behind is brilliant, and it’s something I have always enjoyed about this museum.  My mum was having a dig through old photo albums recently and found this photo of me when I was 7 years old, standing by one of the previous Suffolk Punch’s and with Richard Dalton driving. It’s a small world! Underneath this photo there is a shot taken of me now in the same place, just look how different it is!


Dani and Richard in 1999


Dani and Richard in 2013

Our time is very busy and yet extremely satisfying here at the museum, and now we have been here for almost 3 months it’s great to be able to start seeing changes in and around the farm, the horses fitness has improved, the crops have grown (and so have the weeds!) and the amount of people on site has increased.  These changes are fantastic to watch and be a part of, and they make working here that much more enjoyable!

Dani Chatten

Skills for the Future Heritage Farming Apprentice.