Archive for February, 2014

Update from our last NWFED & MA event @People’s History Museum Manchester

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

We had a fantastic response to our 7th February networking event on Museums Change Lives with almost 50 people attending the afternoon. Students for the networking event came not just from the University of Manchester but from Nottingham, Leicester and Huddersfield.

The Coal Room at the People’s History Museum was buzzing with the lively conversations and the energy of the professionals and the students. There was a common understanding and a committment that the only way forward is to  use  museums and culture to connect with communities and to raise awareness on important issues of either local or national significance and that this commitment is not always a matter of huge resources and funding for specific programmes. It is often about the attitude!

The mix of students with museums and heritage professionals was particularly invigorating for the Museums Change Lives workshop. It was fantastic to hear how much we have shifted our perceptions  from  the traditional approach to museum collections and programmes to thinking of who do we may want to engage with and the issues we may want to raise. The students provided some particularly interesting examples of different types of work, from archival research into the history of the mines, to public interepretation of science at MOSI and the humanisation of science and how in different ways we all strive to connect with new audiences and sparkle the imagination of generations to come.

Maurice Davies described the workshop as the best and most successful he ever run and this is all due to everyone’s enthusiasm and participation of all of you from the North. There is also something to be said about the NWFED being the right network where you can actually move away from the official approach of your organisation and express your own ideas and discuss challenges to your work.

Above all the event was a great opportunity to demonstrate what can actually be achieved when there is a will to collaborate and make things happen. Working with the MA and Elizabeth Driver from the University of Manchester gave us the opportunity to broaden the conversation and reach out for the young aspiring museums and art professionals.  We were able in the last part of the afternoon to discuss the students’ future aspirations and to suggest simple practical ways in which they can promote themselves at interviews and relevant work applications.

We look forward to working with the students and the MA in planning future events. If you have ideas and suggestions for events please email us at

Warrington Museum’s new Cabinet of Curiosities.

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

January 25th saw the long awaited public opening of Warrington Museum’s Cabinet of Curiosities Gallery. The Museum began working on the CofC project back in 2007 when we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the opening of this building. It was a key moment to raise the profile of one of the earliest public museums in the country and crucially to refocus it for the 21st Century.

 This exciting project is all thanks to a grant of £672, 500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to turn Warrington Museum’s Gallery 7 (the old Bird Room) into an exciting new space to showcase some of the bizarre and wonderful items in the Museum’s collections and involve local people in creating the new displays.

 Behind the scenes the museum team were busy making the final selection of objects for the new displays to create the atmosphere of a traditional Cabinet of Curiosities

 Over 80 colourful birds and other taxidermy items have been primped and preened by specialist natural history conservators ready for their starring role. They are displayed alongside old favourites such as the Woolston seal and more exotic creatures like the giant anteater in a new interpretation of the old gallery’s menagerie. 

 There is a Victorian curator’s study display including one of the museum’s oldest pieces of taxidermy, Mr Edelsten’s dog, who is resplendent on his velvet cushion whilst Warrington’s rugby league fans will be pleased to know that the museum’s wolf has made a welcome come back just in time for the new season.

 A large cabinet showcases an array of amazing Victorian cased taxidermy dioramas which haven’t been seen for many years………….and one interloper, a recreation of a Dodo. This extinct bird was recreated as a tribute to famous Warrington author. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, (better known as Lewis Carroll,) who visited an early Museum exhibition in Warrington Market Place in 1840. His curiosity was undoubtedly aroused by many of the specimens of Warrington’s Natural History Society on show. Perhaps they even inspired many of the author’s fantastic creatures such as the fearsome Jabberwock or Alice’s meeting with the legendary Dodo?

 As well as natural history specimens the gallery features a fascinating mix of items from the museum’s collections such as the Woolston gibbet iron, sculpture, ceramics including the elaborate Meissen parrot vase and a piece specially created for the gallery by leading contemporary artist Polly Morgan.  The purpose designed Cabinet of Curiosity cupboards and drawers feature a range of curious and exciting specimens to inspire and excite visitors.

The rare 17th century musical instrument called a virginal has been restored and features in its own display case.  A repertoire of music from the period has been played on it and is available as a sound-bite in the new gallery together with new compositions created by young local musicians taking part in an associated community project. A series of films featuring items in the collections have been commissioned from the Creative Remedies group based at the Pyramid Arts Centre and are shown as part of a series of film presentations.  Last but not least, the room’s original purpose as a School of Art in the 1870’s is highlighted through the work of past students including Ossie Clarke.

 The honorary curators have been working hard all year on projects relating to the collections and other aspects of the museum’s work.  The results are shown in the large central cabinet, alongside items from the collections which have inspired them.  The projects are very varied and include textiles, items from J T Clarke’s hardware shop, objects inspired by the Maori collections, women’s history related material and projects in the local community as well as botanical specimens and reflections on the links between the collections and the natural world.


For more updates see the museum website  and follow the museum’s reporter Meadow Pipit at

The old Bird Room in was a dark and cramped space with a false ceiling, outdated display cases and lots of wasted space in the middle of the room around a hidden light well which had been cut into the floor when alterations were made to the library below in the 1930s. All of this hid one of the best spaces in the original museum dating from 1857 and the stage once used by the School of Art.

Why is it called the Cabinet of Curiosities Gallery?

One of Warrington Museum’s unique assets which visitors and heritage experts value is its links to an earlier time before the internet and globalisation when individuals collected quirky treasures which linked them to ancient times, remote cultures and the wonders of the natural world. Wealthier individuals kept their treasures hidden from view in ornate cabinets only allowing a privileged few to see behind the doors or inside the secret drawers.

 Warrington Museum’s new Cabinet of Curiosities will respect this tradition but also reflects an alternative definition of a Cabinet of Curiosities as a Wunderkammer or chamber of wonders rather than the merely bizarre.

 What did the work entail?

  • From August-December 2012 Gallery 7 and two rooms on the floor below were emptied and thousands of objects packed up, relocated and logged onto the Museum’s computer database.
  • By January 2013 all the old display cases had been ripped out uncovering the original purplish-red cover of the original room which has been used as the basis for the colour scheme of the new gallery.
  • In February the large structure concealing the light well was demolished and new sturdy iron beams inserted into the store room below. The large hole in the room was floored over and the false ceiling was partially opened up.
  • Now work could begin on opening up the lantern light which hadn’t been seen since the mid 1960s. A gigantic scaffolding tower was built inside the room. Even more scaffolding was built around the structure outside on the roof….then it snowed and rained …and unfortunately more repair work was needed so this tricky part of the scheme took longer than planned and completion of the construction phase was delayed until October 2013.
  • From August Museum staff began to unpack items from their temporary stores and also created a new display called a Walk Down Memory Lane  in Gallery 5 which takes a nostalgic look at objects from daily life in Warrington from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilees.


Update from Elizabeth Driver on the WW1 Networking Meeting, 20th January at the Imperial War Museum North

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

2014 sees the start of the First World War Centenary, which will be marked across the globe over the next 4 years with the museum and heritage sector leading the commemorations. The Centenary Partnership has been set up by the Imperial War Museum Group as a networking facility for cultural organisations wishing to take part in the occasion.

Membership to the partnership http:// gives an organisation access to a number of resources to use in preparing their own tributes to the centenary, and opportunities to participate in national and international programmes. The partnership intends to highlight three main periods of remembrance, beginning in 2014 by observing the start of the First World War. In 2016 the focus will shift to remembering the battle of the Somme, ending in 2018 by considering the legacy of the war.  Throughout this time a number of digital applications will be launched that allow members of the public to actively take part in World War One research and engage with the themes of the commemorations more broadly.

Looking to the North West a number of organisations have big plans for their involvement with the Centenary. This year IWM North opens a yearlong exhibition called ‘From Street to Trench: A War that Shaped a Region’. The show will observe how the First World War affected North West communities, from recruitment and conscription to life at home and the impact on local people since the war ended. Whilst the themes explored here are being covered by the national programmes, the scope is decidedly local and relevant to the regional audience. This is an approach shared by the majority of projects in the North West. Both the Museum of Liverpool and Stockport Heritage Services will take a personal approach, looking at the specific stories and experiences of local people during the war, whilst Bolton Museum will focus on the 1916 zeppelin raid of the town for their exhibition.

The Cumbria Museum Consortium is planning a large scale project that will involve the whole region. A touring exhibition exploring the lives of local people during World War One will be accompanied by a learning package, an arts award pilot and a number of open days that Cumbrian museums and schools can get involved with. The project will also be using social media platforms such as twitter and a Cumbrian World War One blog, both to promote their events and as a medium for institutions to connect with each other. The use of a social media as a means of collaboration is recommended by the Partnership, who want the Centenary’s online presence to unite the North West’s institutions. 

 Dunham Massey in Cheshire is the figure head of the National Trust’s First World War commemoration programme. Using information gathered from archive and original collections, the team have recreated the Stamford Hospital, a project which involved moving the contents of four of the grandest Edwardian rooms in the hall.  The project will use the experiences of the soldiers, nurses and family who lived in the house during this time to give a personal insight into life during World War One.

The outcome of observing the experience of war on such a local level will hopefully be the increased engagement of communities, both in terms of their regional history and awareness of the cultural and heritage organisations that serve them. One of the aims of the Partnership is to encourage public participation across the network. Organisations should encourage visitors to seek out more information on the centenary by attending other exhibitions or events, and a collective approach to the commemorations is the most effective way of achieving this. A major issue that has been raised amongst museums in the North West is the lack of artefacts for exhibition. Whilst many organisations have strong textual or aural resources they are finding it difficult to secure objects to support their narratives. As a result museums will need to focus on collaborating with similar institutions to ensure that the region is well represented in the Centenary programme. The role of the Partnership, in facilitating these relationships, will therefore be of great benefit over the next four years.