Archive for February, 2015

HLF confirms a grant of £790,300 to the Ellsmere Port Boat Museum

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

The £790,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is supported by match funding of over £50,000 from the Wolfson Foundation.

The HLF support will fund three key initiatives getting underway early in 2015 as part of the museum’s ‘Window on the World’ project. The first strand will see new exhibitions and interactive displays created, including hands on activities for visitors of all ages, on the currently derelict historic slipway which occupies a unique position overlooking the River Mersey Estuary and Manchester Ship Canal.

Nationally important boats

The other elements of the project will see the restoration of two of the most nationally important boats in the museum’s collection – Mossdale and George. Each will be used to inspire new audiences about the history of wide boats and their role in the industrial development of the North West region.

The preservation of Mossdale has been made possible by the grant from the Wolfson Foundation.

Mossdale, the last remaining all-wooden ‘Mersey flat’, it to be preserved, displayed and interpreted at the museum. George, a rare-surviving horse-drawn ‘short boat’ will be fully restored back to working order and will return to her original role as a working wide boat.  Rather than carrying cargoes, George will offer a varied programme of activities and unique learning opportunities as part of a community outreach and education project on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and at the Museum during the winter months.

Through these working boats, the project will celebrate the lives of the many ordinary people upon whose efforts the Industrial Revolution was built and encourage people of all ages to engage with their waterways heritage and the rich industrial history of the North West.

Telling the story

The National Waterways Museum project’s vision is to tell the story of Ellesmere Port as a ‘Window on the World’ – a once thriving port which was an important transhipment facility between canal craft and seagoing ships. Ellesmere Port provided a link from the 2,000 miles of inland waterways to the River Mersey estuary and the world markets beyond. The town’s prime location enabled its transformation into an industrial powerhouse, which played a pivotal role in the industrialization of the North West.

This great news follows the recent announcements of Heritage Lottery Fund support for the Gloucester Waterways Museum (£994,000) and towards restoration of locks on the Grantham Canal (£830,500).

Rich industrial history

Sara Hilton, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North West, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players we’ve been able to fund a number of projects exploring the North West’s waterways. We’re delighted to help secure the future of two of Ellesmere Port’s nationally important historic vessels and provide a fascinating gateway into their heritage and importance to the region’s rich industrial history.”

Canal & River Trust, Chief Executive Richard Parry, said: “I am delighted that our partners at the Heritage Lottery Fund continue to recognise the importance and historic significance of the UK’s canal network.  Today’s announcement will see over £2.6m HLF committed investment into the 2,000 mile network – helping to bring it to life for more and more people.  As a relatively new charity, we are particularly delighted with the support being given by the Wolfson Foundation – a significant funder of museums and galleries in the UK – and look forward to a successful partnership with them.

Pete Brown reviews The Paranakan Museum – a Cultural Kaleidoscope

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

The Paranakan Museum in Singapore is part of the Asian Civilizations Museum, managed by the National Heritage Board. In the Malay language, Paranakan means “child of” or “born” and is used to describe people of diverse ethnicity. The collections are exhibited in a handsome 1912 building that used to house the Tao Tan Chinese School.

Through a series of themed displays – Food and Feasting, Weddings, Public Life, Religion, Language and Fashion – the museum tells the story of the Paranakan peoples who settled in Singapore as a result of trading activity. The majority were Straits Chinese, but there were also Chitty Melaka (also known as Paranakan Indians) descended from Hindu merchants and local women, and Jawi Paranakans (the elite British-Malayan community in the 1800s).

The exhibits cover many aspects of Paranakan life, revealing their artistry, craftsmanship, entrepreneurship and society. The building is a pleasure too, with generous proportions and lots of natural light. To complement the interpretation for adults, there is a children’s ‘treasure trail’ that uses humour to stimulate questioning and discovery. Almost an entire floor is dedicated to weddings, reflecting the importance of marriage to the Paranakans. The remainder of this floor is set aside for temporary exhibitions. When I visited, the exhibition was a selection of batik altar cloths, many combining traditional Chinese symbols with European and South Asian influences.

The suggested route around the museum begins with a short and useful introductory video in a gallery called ‘Origins’. The gallery is walled with poster-sized photographs of Paranakans of all ages, each accompanied by a brief personal view of what it means to be Paranakan. This, together with the domestic scale of the building, sets the scene for an intimate journey through Paranakan culture.

The furniture, jewellery and other collections on display range from everyday objects to rare and precious heirlooms. Many are hand made and incredibly intricate, such as a stunning multi-coloured beadwork tablecloth decorated with flowers, birds and butterflies, created with over a million hand-stitched coloured glass beads. There is no shortage of objects, but the collections on display are given room to ‘breathe’ which makes them easy to appreciate as individual pieces. The Visitor Guide claims that the museum “showcases the world’s finest and most comprehensive collection of Paranakan art and objects”, and I have no reason to doubt it.

The museum offers curator- and volunteer-led guided tours as well as an inventive public programme. This includes accompanied visits for people with dementia who are from a Paranakan background, organised in partnership with mental health professionals. Trained guides use the displays to encourage a fresh discovery of once familiar objects, sharing thoughts and feelings with no pressure to remember or get the answer right.

A highlight of my visit, as I tagged along with one of the regular tours, was when the volunteer guide encouraged older Paranakans in the party to contribute their memories and experiences to his interpretation of the displays. Hearing their stories brought the exhibits to life for me in a way no label can.