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!!


Interesting, cool, amazing and awesome!

Word cloud of visitor surveys for new workhouse galleries at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.

This is a word cloud of how our visitors described our new workhouse galleries when they visited last year. We love that they thought the displays were interesting, cool, amazing and awesome!

The survey results  also told us that:

Visitors learnt ‘How recently it was used for elderly care, as tend to think workhouses were Victorian’

‘We have learnt a lot about the life and times in the workhouse – well done’

‘All of the displays combine to bring the building and its history to life in a most imaginative and informative way.’

‘There’s such a vast improvement all round. It’s much nicer for children and families alike.’

‘[I was surprised by the] number of people who left the workhouse with a trade and a future.’

‘[It gave me] reflection space – [and made me consider that the] problem of how to look after the poor is still a very modern issue.’

‘Imagining what it would have been like and the people and how our lives have changes. What they were thinking and feeling.’

We love to know what you think about our new galleries. We are open Mon- Fri next week for February half term and then everyday from the 5th March to 29th October 2017.


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.

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

Porter’s Lodge: Then and Now

Having been Visitor Services Trainee at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse for over three months now, I have spent many days in our museum shop processing tickets and museum passes whether it’s an event day, ‘A Day With A Difference’ or an ordinary day. This also entails greeting visitors and informing them about the layout of the site. Not forgetting serving visitors wanting to pay for items selected from our vast array of gifts and workhouse paraphernalia, ranging from postcards to furry toy animals!

However on the quiet days, which are usually either rainy days or the day before an event, I usually have a spare minute to wonder what our museum shop was originally used for. It has always had the name of Porter’s Lodge. When Gressenhall was a Victorian workhouse, people would ring the bell or the knocker on the porter’s gate in order to gain admittance to the workhouse. The porter was always on duty to admit inmates or visitors to the site. I feel that nowadays, the Visitor Services Assistants in the shop are faced with a similar duty to that of the Porter those many years ago. All visitors, whether they are here for the day, simply using the café or meeting with a member of staff, enter the site via the Visitor Services Assistants in the shop. Here, we’re the first point of call for anyone entering the site. We greet people, process their tickets and allow their admission, as the porter did in Victorian times.

Serving visitors in the shop

Serving visitors in the shop

Once inmates had been admitted to the site, they were escorted to the Receiving or ‘Itch’ Ward where their clothes were removed and they were given a bath, a medical examination, and some workhouse clothes. Nowadays, we similarly give visitors their tickets and provide them with information regarding facilities and the layout of the site so they can have an efficient and enjoyable experience. Then and now, Porters Lodge has been a place where people have been admitted and sent on their way to discover the site and embark on the adventures that Gressenhall has in store for them. It has always been a passage through which newcomers have passed in order to discover the unknown and gain a new experience.

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I often consider what people’s thoughts were as they walked up to the wooden gates of the workhouse in Victorian times, and I’m sure that this is something that many visitors and members of staff have thought about. How did people feel once they’d knocked on the porter’s gate and were waiting for a response? Once they’d been admitted, what were their first impressions? Although these people were experiencing these thoughts and feelings centuries ago at a time when Gressenhall was strikingly different from how it is today, their experience is not as faraway from our current visitors’ experience as you might think. Today, what are visitor’s thoughts as they walk up the path to the shop? What impression do we give visitors as they walk into the shop and see us sitting behind the tills? What hopes do they have about the day they are about to experience at Gressenhall, similarly to people hoping for a better experience when they knocked at the porter’s gate long ago? Porter’s Lodge was and still is a place of first impressions. It is a place where people begin a new experience and begin to embark on a journey to new discoveries.

So this little building on the right hand side of the courtyard named Porters Lodge Gift Shop is not a building to be taken for granted. It is and always has been a place where newcomers have entered the site and gained first impressions of Gressenhall, hoping for a good experience. We know that throughout history, not all newcomers to Gressenhall did receive the beneficial experience they were hoping for when they first arrived at Porters Lodge. Some may have felt privileged to be receiving shelter, food and work, but others had a more unfortunate experience in store for them. But at least nowadays we know that we can meet visitors’ expectations of an enjoyable and memorable experience at Gressenhall.

Lydia Bartlett

Visitor Services Trainee

Final blog from the Library

This week has been scheduled to be my final blog before I complete my Skills for the Future, Library and Archive Trainee position and move on to more exciting things. I say more exciting things, but I really don’t expect whatever I do next will be as interesting, as rewarding or as much fun!

When people have been asking what I have been doing they assume that all I have been doing is sorting out books. Well, admittedly there has been some of that (and there is plenty more to be done), but I have been on some really interesting training visits and placements. I have been to the Millennium Library Heritage Centre and the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library, Norfolk Records Office, Kings College Cambridge, the Museum of London, The Royal Academy of Arts, the Museums and Heritage Show, the Weald and Downland Museum and more.  There isn’t actually the space here to explain all the things I have learnt, but one thing I would recommend (both as a Skills for the Future trainee, but also as a volunteer) is for all of us who work in Museums to utilise the training course provided by SHARE. The Understanding Museums course was excellent and helps you to network with others within museum and heritage organisations.

I am pleased to say that the Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Library and Resource Centre, as it is soon to become known, is well and truly open.  So far this year, over 500 visitors have been introduced to the library and resources; tracing relatives who lived in the Workhouse, undertaking personal research, researching their family histories and being introduced to ‘behind the scene activities’ of the museum. Local history groups and students at the University of East Anglia have attended sessions. Staff and volunteers have become more aware of recording their own contribution to the museum and an archive strategy to record museum activities has been put in place.

A leaflet promoting the Library and Resource Centre has been produced outlining the resources available and an Archive Policy has been developed with staff and volunteers to ensure that their valuable contribution to the history of the building and its current inhabitants is not lost.

There is not much more to say about this fabulous opportunity I have had other than to hope that the Library and Resource Centre continues to be used even more in the future, contact us via email at or telephone 01362 860563 to make an appointment to come and utilise the centre…as one visitor stated.

my day…was so incredibly worthwhile thanks to your effort and hard work on my behalf. I feel like I achieved what most people do in a week, owing to your brilliant knowledge of the collections and instinctive sense of what I needed.

Show Time

Since starting in May, I have been very busy down on the farm. Some of the jobs I have been involved in have been drilling fodder beet, hoeing potatoes, muck carting, horse and cart rides plus many more.

But, not all of the work takes place on the farm. Richard, Hannah, Dani and I all attended the Royal Norfolk Show representing Gressenhall on the Norfolk County Council stand. At the show we were promoting Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, but also showing and explaining to many different people what the Heritage Lottery Funded Skills for the Future programme was all about.


New Norfolk Horn Sheep

New Norfolk Horn Sheep

To the show we took four New Norfolk Horn Sheep. The sheep were used to demonstrate how shearing used to be done before we had modern equipment. The shearing unit we were using was a Wolseley one and it is about a hundred years old. As well as the mechanical hand powered shears, Richard also used hand shears. As you can see from the picture below Richard is shearing and I am turning the handle to power the handset.


Left to right, Modern handset, handset for the hand powered shearer, hand shears

Left to right, Modern handset, handset for the hand powered shearer, hand shears

In addition to the sheep we also took along some of the items we have down on the farm. These included such things as horse shoes and a pig restrainer. Also we took with us Gressenhall’s famous interactive milking simulator. This gave people a chance to feel what it is like to milk a cow. As you can see from the picture below we set out the items on some bales and chatted with the visitors to try and get them to guess what each item was.


As well as working on the farm and the general day to day tasks, my calendar is crammed full of other events, training and tasks. For example, just this week I have had my induction at Easton and Otley College ahead of me studying for my Level 2 Diploma in Mixed farming.

Finally I would just like to thank everyone for making me feel so welcome here at Gressenhall and look forward to lots of fun times during my traineeship and many more blog posts.

Ben Preston – Heritage Farming Apprentice.


As we begin to move away from spring we put down our chainsaws and billhooks and pick up our hammers and nails. Instead of hedgelaying and coppicing, the activities that Hannah and I are undertaking are more focused on building and creating. We have to stop such activities at the end of April so as not to disturb nesting birds or hedgerow inhabitants. It also gives the plants that we have cut back a chance to grow and rejuvenate. It means that we are now able undertake some essential site maintenance and construction!


As Hannah has already said, we had to opportunity to lead a group of Prince’s Trust trainees for two weeks which allowed them to get an insight and hands-on experience in a countryside management role. They helped us maintain and repair the river walk bridges and undertake various other site activities, but Aaron, one of the trainees, had the chance to stay on for an extra few days and he helped us to construct a much needed muck pen for the farm. This required us to dig fairly deep through some heavily compacted stony soil to set all the posts in to make them sturdy and level. And this was all done by hand! There were sore backs all round that day. It took us several days to construct but we are all very proud of our efforts and it is greatly appreciated by the farm team.


For the past few weeks we have had a good run of getting a lot of fencing installed around the site. The main area of work has been in the overflow car park fields where we have placed posts that will allow us to create a semi-permanent electric fence for when our Suffolk Punch horses are kept in there. In an adjacent field we have constructed a long length of stock proof fencing along a ditch so our sheep don’t go wandering into it. This was a good collaborative effort from Hannah and I, the two new farm apprentices and volunteers. We haven’t had any wandering sheep so far which must be a sign the fence is working.

Even though we have stopped any substantial vegetation removal there can still be essential trees that must be taken down. Such a tree was a particularly unhealthy Elder that was too dangerous to be left standing in the Woodland playground and so Hannah, Mike Crisp and I took it down safely and so removed it from being a problem. It has also helped us to top up the farmhouse’s wood store along with some more of our wind fallen Ash (with the aid of Mike’s handy log splitter!).


We have also had the opportunity to create things a bit more fun than just fences. During the May half term Hannah and I have been running Environmental Art sessions in the Museum courtyard. This has involved us collecting flint stones, sticks, leaves, sheep wool, horse hair and clay and helping children and adults make objects and art using all of these natural materials. This is has been a surprisingly successful activity and was great fun to run with some adults enjoying it more than their children.


It is not all glitz and glamour working here at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse; sometimes it requires us to get our hands dirty. After noticing some of the farmyard’s drains were backed up, myself and Ben (the new Skills for the Future Farm Apprentice) soon realised there was only one thing to do, and that was to roll our sleeves up and unclog the drains by hand. Even though it was an unpleasant job it still had to be done and now the drains are all flowing free.


Due to the arrival of some lovely new ducklings on the farm, Hannah, Ben and I decided to start building them a new house so that they can finally be put onto the grass and out in the open. As you can see from the photo, it is starting to take shape and they should be out in the farmyard any time soon.


Hopefully the weather will begin to improve and we can enjoy a summer full of sunshine!

Thomas Watson, Heritage Landscape Management Trainee


Four weeks ago I began my new role as a Heritage Learning Trainee working with the Learning department at Gressenhall, it has been exciting and extremely varied. There was glorious weather as I began my education about the museum, the people and animals working there, the people who visit, the building’s history and different interpretations of the site and its past.

The Learning department has been busy in these weeks and in the first days I was greeted by groups of Victorian urchins who arrived to pick stones from the sun baked fields.


Mike & Trojan explain the role Suffolk Horses and the Men who worked with them played in Victorian agriculture

Different groups of pupils visit to learn about and experience what life might have been like for them had they being living in or close to the Workhouse 150 years ago and for others the life of evacuees during World War Two. I have been observing these activities much of the time, learning how the staff use the site and role -play to communicate these stories, I have been putting on costume and helping to deliver some of these sessions.


In the potato field there’s hoeing and scruffling to be done

In more recent days the weather has not been so kind, but it adds to the immersive experience.


Storm clouds roll in as children hoe and Ben, Steve and Trojan make their way up and down the rows



Trojan doesn’t appreciate the hailstones

Animals in fairy tales generally come in threes, as I’ve discovered during the Three Little Pigs and Three Billy Goats Gruff days, where the structure of these stories is used as a starting point to exploring Gressenhall.



Out in the wild wood; the children build trolls that live under bridges and houses of straw and houses of sticks for pigs


There have also been activities for adults to become involved in and the Learning department has been creating Hell hath no fury: A Murder Mystery, for Museums at night, in the last weeks there has been script development, costume making, rehearsals and stacks of organisation from everyone at the museum. I had the role of prompt and audience guide for one of the groups of the enquiring public.


Rehearsal in the Chapel; Katie is overcome by Jan’s accusations

 All the hard work was worth it as it was a very successful two nights and great opportunity to see the museum in a different context.


The haunting atmosphere of the laundry surrounds Anna in her role as Mary the unmarried mother


Outside the Chapel at night

Thank you to everyone at Gressenhall for being welcoming and helpful, especially Jan, Katie, Rachel, Anna and Ruth (and for all the lifts out to the Workhouse) I look forward to the rest of my Skills for The Future experience.



Better than getting the bus: The Merc

 Gawain Godwin, Heritage Learning Trainee