The Teaching Museum

Norfolk Museums Service Traineeship

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The Marvellous Captain Manby


by Andy Bowen, Costume & Textiles Trainee

Some time ago I was offered the opportunity to take part in the lunchtime talks programme at Time and Tide in Great Yarmouth, and when asked to come up with a subject for my talk there was only ever really one choice. It would be fair to say that my traineeship has been fairly Nelson-centric (that tends to happen when you work on a major summer exhibition called Nelson & Norfolk), but for this talk I decided to focus on one of Norfolk’s lesser known maritime figures.


‘Portrait of Captain George William Manby (1765-1854)’ by John Philip Davis

I first heard of Captain George William Manby a few years ago when he was featured in the BBC series Shipwrecks: Britain’s Sunken History presented by Dr Sam Willis. On 18th February 1807, Manby witnessed the scene as the naval gun brig Snipe ran aground just off the coast of Great Yarmouth. The stricken ship was less than 100 yards from shore, but the crashing waves near the ship made it impossible for boats from shore to reach the desperate crew. 67 lives were lost that day, and Manby resolved to come up with a device that would help to provide assistance to crews of wrecked ships in future.


The ‘Manby Mortar’

The result of Manby’s efforts was the ‘Manby Mortar’: a line-throwing device which would allow a light rope to be fired over the rigging of the stricken ship. The smaller line could then be used by the crew of the stranded vessel to haul across heavier lines, which could then be used as a means of evacuating survivors by either boat or harness. On the night of 12th February 1808, almost a year after Manby witnessed the tragedy of the Snipe, his apparatus was used to rescue 7 seamen from the brig Elizabeth just off the coast of Great Yarmouth.


The ‘Manby Mortar’ in action

The mortar was just one of Manby’s inventions, with his other ideas ranging from an unsinkable boat to the first pressurised fire extinguisher. His life outside of his many inventions was also far from dull, with Manby surviving at least two attempts on his life and meeting with royalty on several occasions. Ultimately he never achieved the recognition he felt he deserved. In retirement, Manby moved into his basement and converted his house into a museum of Nelson memorabilia. When Manby died on 18th November 1854, he was found alone in the chair in his living room looking out at the sea which had inspired his greatest invention.

To find out more about Captain Manby, come along to my talk at Time and Tide, Great Yarmouth on Friday 3rd November 2017 at 11.30. £3 entry (talk only) or £1.95 for Norfolk Museums Pass holders. Booking essential. Click here for further details.


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From Nelson’s hat to Queen Victoria’s slippers, this is no ordinary job


Helping run a pop-up museum in Brampton as part of the ’12 Towers Festival’

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.

Today we see Andy Bowen, trainee with the Costume & Textiles section.

As I write this blog, I’m just over two months into my traineeship and still being surprised by the things I see from day to day. The Costume & Textile collection at the Norwich Castle Study Centre contains all manner of objects ranging from parkas to pie frills!

Beechey Hat (Twitter)

Nelson’s Nile Hat

My favourite object was also one of the first I got to see close-up. We are extremely fortunate to have the hat that was worn by Admiral Lord Nelson during the Battle of the Nile in 1798, and that featured in the portrait of Nelson painted by William Beechey in 1801. Right at the start of my traineeship I was able to see the hat uncased and up close, and it was at that point that I knew for certain that this would be unlike any other job I’d had before.


The hat – along with the Beechey portrait of Nelson in which it features – will be included in Norwich Castle’s summer exhibition Nelson & Norfolk which is open between 29th July and 1st October 2017. I’ve been really privileged to be able to join the Costume & Textiles team in the build up to such an exciting exhibition, and we really can’t wait to showcase the amazing Nelson objects we have in our collections as well as some really exciting loan items.

The largest object in the exhibition – in fact the largest object in our collections – is the battle ensign of the French warship Le Généreux. Measuring 16 metres long and 8.3 metres high, this huge French flag was captured by a British naval squadron led by Nelson in February 1800 when they forced the surrender of the French ship. Captain Sir Edward Berry – a Norfolk man – was in command of Nelson’s flagship HMS Foudroyant, and sent the flag to Norwich as a gift in thanks for the freedom of the city he had received the previous year. The flag itself needs to be seen to be believed, and the only place to really grasp the full scale of this magnificent object will be at Norwich Castle this summer.

High res Le Genereux (722 of 1519)

The ensign of Le Généreux in St Andrew’s Hall, October 2016

My contributions to the exhibition have ranged from setting up and sourcing content for the exhibition blog through to having the opportunity to visit the National Archives at Kew in order to find out more about what happened to Le Génereux after she was captured in 1800. I have also worked with the Display and Learning teams on designing the interactive elements of Nelson & Norfolk.



Queen Victoria’s slippers

Alongside Nelson & Norfolk there is still the everyday business of a Costume and Textiles department to keep us (even more) busy. I have assisted with the preparation and delivery of Talking Textiles sessions, which involve members of the public coming in to the Norwich Castle Study Centre to look at specially selected items from our collections. I also respond to enquiries from researchers eager to know more about the objects we look after: one enquiry in particular related to a pair of Queen Victoria’s slippers!


As well as my fantastic day job, I also get to attend museum skills training with my fellow trainees once a week. These sessions have included introductions to collections management and conservation, and practical sessions on object photography. We’ve also been learning about the history of museums in a programme of Understanding Museums sessions which included visiting the amazing 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum near Diss, which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in military history.



Trainees with staff from 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum

Over the next few months I will be continuing with my work supporting Nelson & Norfolk, including assisting with the installation of over 150 objects including a flag the size of a tennis court. I’ll also be assisting our volunteers with recording and cataloguing recently donated items, and coming up with improved ways of arranging our library and resource area. All I can say is that if the remaining 10 months of this traineeship are anything like the first 2, it’s going to be a fantastic year!

‘Nelson & Norfolk’ is open at the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery from 29th July-1st October. For more information visit