Museums

Three Cheers for Volunteers!

on Thursday, 14 January 2016. Posted in Museums

Just before Christmas I was invited to an afternoon at Chippenham Museum to celebrate the contribution volunteers have made to the Museum over the past year.

Volunteers from Chippenham Museum give a warm welcome to Yelde Hall

I listened with great interest and a growing sense of wonder as Curator Melissa Barnett thanked all those who had given their time for free, speaking about all the work that had gone on throughout the year and the projects and events volunteers had been involved in.

A well-earned break for volunteers at Chippenham Museum

Working with a small team of paid staff, the efforts of the volunteers are vital in creating an active and bustling community based Museum. They have a group of around 75 people who give their time to help in all areas, both front of house and behind the scenes. Amongst other things volunteers welcome visitors on the reception desk, carry out educational activities and workshops, answer enquiries, research and document the collections and work on special events. They also provide an important link with the local community, ensuring that the Museum provides what people in the town want.

As I reflected on the afternoon, it struck me that Chippenham isn’t the only museum in Wiltshire with a vibrant and hard-working group of volunteers. Having recently started working as Museum Officer for Wiltshire Council, I’ve been busy visiting many of the museums across the county and meeting the people who run them. Time and time again I’ve been mightily impressed by the levels of dedication, enthusiasm and expertise shown by the volunteers I’ve come across, including those here at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

An Autumn Tour

on Friday, 16 October 2015. Posted in Museums

Now that summer fades away and crisp/wet autumn arrives, one would expect the museum staff in Wiltshire to take advantage of the impending winter months and retreat into their archives until spring. However, there is still much to see and visit throughout the county – indeed an intrepid traveller could embark on a grand circular tour this weekend, starting at Royal Wootton Bassett, then heading south west towards Trowbridge, due south to Mere and return via Market Lavington.

The museum at Royal Wootton Bassett is an iconic site in the town. Half-timbered, supported on fifteen pillars and dating from 1690, the former town hall was a gift from Lawrence Hyde, MP, (later the Earl of Rochester) to the citizens and incorporated a store room and a lock up or Blind House for drunks and other undesirables, used before local police stations contained their own cells. The building has seen many uses, including a school and a courtroom. After extensive restoration in 1889 the town library was based in the town hall and since 1971 it has housed the museum.

Currently, the museum is marking the closure of the Wootton Bassett railway station back in 1965 with an exhibition and marvellous scale model depicting the station in the 1960’s. Visit the slide show telling the story of the station and its various buildings and its early links with Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Look at railway life through the eyes of a signalman and discover the impact of the Swindon rail works on Wootton Bassett.

Royal Wootton Bassett Museum is open every Wednesday and Saturday (10-12).

Travelling across the county we reach the administrative centre of Trowbridge and its wonderful museum which is situated in The Shires Shopping Centre. The museum collection covers Trowbridge and outlying villages and contains a multitude of artefacts relating to the history of the town including its past industries and notable townspeople, one of which was Sir Isaac Pitman, developer of phonetic shorthand. Trowbridge Museum is located on the second floor of Salters Mill, the town’s last working woollen mill which closed in 1982. The cloth industry was a huge factor in the town’s development and in 1820 the place was nicknamed the ‘Manchester of the West’ with over twenty cloth-producing factories - the museum possesses one of only five Spinning Jennies left in the world.

Malmesbury Fire Pump

on Saturday, 08 August 2015. Posted in Museums

Last year we posted a blog about work we did to conserve Malmesbury’s historic fire pump for display. The pump is one of the largest items the museum owns and arranging a space suitable for it to be displayed in was not straight forward for the museum. For this reason the fire pump had to go back into storage whilst a display area was arranged for it. But recently I have been able to go back and help with putting the item on display.

The pump belongs to the Athelstan museum in Malmesbury but is too large to fit in their own store so it has been kept in a commercial storage facility in an old aircraft hangar. I met the curator at the storage site along with two members of the modern fire brigade who had volunteered to help move the object. It was interesting to hear their opinion on this piece of historic fire fighting equipment. In particular I learnt that that although I had been calling it a fire engine it should in fact be called a fire appliance or pump. Apparently the modern fire service does not use the term fire engine at all. In the case of the appliance I had worked on it should not be called an engine as it does not have any sort of engine or motor. Its pump was powered by people pushing its handles up and down.

Wiltshire’s Story in 100 Objects

on Monday, 27 July 2015. Posted in Museums

Don’t forget to visit this wonderful touring exhibition inspired by the British Museum and telling the story of Wiltshire in 100 objects. Supported by the Arts Council England and managed by Wiltshire Museum, Devizes, the project showcases the varied nature of objects held throughout Wiltshire by its museums. These museums range from military collections, industrial sites, art galleries, heritage centres and small village museums as well as national collections.

The 100 objects are diverse and each gives an insight into the rich history of Wiltshire. They have been classified amongst ten major themes...

Lacock Cup and Magna Carta

on Monday, 23 March 2015. Posted in Museums

I thought I would use this blog to update you on a couple of the exhibitions currently taking place in museums across the county.

Salisbury Museum

Salisbury Museum are currently showing ‘Secular to Sacred – The Story of the Lacock Cup’

Running until May 4th this exhibition showcases the stunning 15th century silver cup from the church of St Cyriac, Lacock. The cup was recently jointly acquired by The British Museum and The Wiltshire Museum, Devizes and Salisbury is the first venue to display it on this current tour.

The cup has a fascinating dual history, having been used both as a feasting cup and a holy chalice. The cup was in use at Lacock for over 400 years and was loaned to the British Museum in 1963, but continued to return to Lacock for use at religious festivals until about thirty years ago.

Alongside the Lacock cup the exhibition in Salisbury includes other church vessels from surrounding parishes including Wylye, Fisherton, Odstock, Nunton and Bodenham.

http://www.salisburymuseum.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/secular-sacred-story-lacock-cup

This exhibition will be followed later in May by a major exhibition ‘Turner’s Wessex’, the first ever exhibition devoted to J M W Turner’s drawings and paintings of Salisbury Cathedral, the city and its surroundings.

Trowbridge Museum

Trowbridge Museum's brand new Magna Carta exhibition ‘Game of Barons’ runs until 25th July 2015. From medieval weaponry to Lego castles, the exhibition will educate and entertain visitors of all ages. The middle ages are explored through heraldry and pageantry as well as displays about daily life, food, warfare, the troubled reigns of Henry II and Richard the Lionheart and much more. 

Collecting Cultures – Creative Wiltshire and Swindon

on Friday, 21 November 2014. Posted in Archives, Art, Museums

https://creativewiltshire.wordpress.com/

We are used to looking at a wonderfully rich source of materials in our Local Studies Libraries, Archives and Museums, but how many of you have ever wondered  how those books, photographs, newspapers, archive collections and museum objects got there? Some material of course has been collected over many years, some of it gifted and others purchased; while for Archive services material is often deposited but still owned by the depositor. When material comes up for sale, usually at auction, a decision whether to attempt to buy an object or an archive collection is made on case by case basis (with the help of grants from various bodies raised at short notice). Now this can work well, but as you might imagine this is a reactive process rather than proactive; consequently gaps in our collections can emerge. This means that the heritage for future generations is incomplete and does not tell the full story of our communities past and present.


In Wiltshire and Swindon we have been thinking about this problem and looking at how libraries, archives , museums and art galleries can work together to identify and fill significant gaps in our collections; thinking about what we should collect, what do local  communities think is important to their heritage, what would we leave for future generations? In particular we have been looking at the heritage of our local creative industries, something that is part of our everyday lives now and has been for past generations, but not always given the full attention it deserves. Now, with the aid of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we are able to take a strategic approach to collecting materials for our creative industry and, importantly, we have a significant fund to purchase items.

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