The Teaching Museum

Norfolk Museums Service Traineeship

Leave a comment

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


Leave a comment

Sharing a Passion: Ted Ellis

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

Today we see John Holdaway, trainee with the Natural History section.

Back in the summer of 2016, I was kindly asked by Time & Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth, to present a talk as part of their excellent Friday talks programme. I was given the date of 3rd March 2017, which at the time seemed a long way off, but as I write this, it’s only a few weeks away!

Deciding on a subject to talk about was a hard choice. Over the past 10 months, I’ve had the privilege to work with a collection that holds over a million objects, ranging in ages from decades to well over 100 million years old. But narrowing it down to one single object to talk about for 60 minutes felt a hugely daunting task. After pondering on choices for a while, I stumbled upon the idea of not actually presenting a talk on an object, but instead, on a person. And a hugely influential figure, personality and visionary within the history of the Natural History department here at Norfolk Museums Service, was Ted Ellis.

Ted was employed by Norwich Castle Museum as ‘Natural History Assistant’ in 1928 at the age of 19, and presented at his interview a collection of his own ‘Nature Notebooks’ that he had kept from a young age. These had captured, in amazing detail, what he had observed on his many nature walks around Great Yarmouth and many other parts of Norfolk. We are very lucky to have many of these notebooks in the collection. Some of the colourful drawings of birds, wildlife and botany are truly wonderful, and show a young man with a real passion for nature, doing what he loved.

Ted Ellis in is natural habitat

Ted Ellis in his natural habitat


One of Ted's many 'Nature Notebooks'

One of Ted’s many ‘Nature Notebooks’


One of Ted's many 'Nature Notebooks'

Amazing detail of Ted’s ‘Nature Notebooks’

In time, Ted became ‘Keeper of Natural History’, and one of his many lasting legacies here at Norwich Castle Museum, is of course, the ‘Ted Ellis Norfolk Room’. In America during the 1930s, old-style cases which contained row-upon-row of taxidermy were starting to be replaced by a new type of 3D vista, where nature that would usually occur together in the wild, was depicted in a natural-looking setting. Ted was the driving force behind designing and building Norwich Castle’s very-own set of dioramas, regarded at the time as the best in the world, and still well-respected to this day due to their attention to detail and accuracy.

Each scene depicts a different part of Norfolk, and contains birds, botany and landscapes unique to that area. Being a Breckland boy living in Norwich, it always warms my heart seeing the Stone Curlews, meres, gorse, sandy heaths, endless skies, and the belts of twisted Scots Pines that the Breckland landscape is so famous for.

The Breckland landscape in the Ted Ellis Norfolk Room at Norwich Castle Museum

The Breckland landscape in the Ted Ellis Norfolk Room at Norwich Castle Museum


A young Ted Ellis, and me

A young Ted Ellis, and me

Although Ted entered the professional museum world under the instruction and guidance of late Victorian and Edwardian curators, he was part of the new breed of museum professionals, tasked with evolving the museum world from their Victorian ‘curiosity’ obsessions, towards museums representing their local communities.

In this way, I can relate this to my own introduction into the world of museums. I spent 15 years working in the logistics sector, a role I never really enjoyed. I’d always had a passion for history and heritage, and to take the big jump into the museum world was never money or job-security motivated, it was purely down to wanting to share my passion with as many people as I could, and to make new memories, just as my trips to museums as a child did for me. Obviously, the heritage sector is ever changing, and through my traineeship, I have been able to draw on the experience and knowledge on some of the most forward-thinking and experienced characters within the sector. It is nearly time for me to push on with what I have learnt and to make my own mark, just as Ted Ellis did during his time at the museum. He learnt from the best at the time, and used that to springboard his own ideas. A testament to his passion and skill is that his work, including the dioramas, are still admired over 80 years since their creation.

Ted was a man who wanted to share his passion with as many people as possible, and I’ve also been able to do that over the last 10 months. And long may it continue, wherever my next chapter may take me.

If you’d like to hear more about Ted’s time at Norwich Castle Museum, see details about my talk through this link:

Leave a comment

Corset’s been Extraordinary…

Each month we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.  Today we see Louise Turner, trainee with the Costume and Textiles Department.

Unbelievably, we are now in the eighth month of our traineeships, and as next year’s positions are advertised, I think we are all feeling both reflective and conscious of making the most of our remaining time.  So a good juncture for a blog post.

I feel so lucky to have been given this opportunity and value everyday for its diversity, uniqueness, and privilege.  Choosing my best bits has therefore been tricky, so here are just a few of the highlights of my role…

I’ll start with the most obvious, working with the fantastic Costume and Textiles (C&T) collection.  I was recently asked to choose a favourite object and found the task almost impossible.  The department looks after some, what might be termed, ‘star’ items.  A bodice worn by Marie Antoinette, Queen Victoria’s stockings, exquisitely embroidered medieval church textiles, and male costume worn to the Coronation of George IV, can all be found in the C&T stores.  But the more everyday objects have just as fascinating and poignant stories to tell.  A set of 3 samplers, which may have the appearance of typical works of memorial from the early 1800s, but which are actually a painstaking exercise in remembrance and tell the tale of a girl who in a period of only 7 years, and by the age of 20, had lost her mother, uncle, and father, is just one example.  The library is also a treasure trove of resources, including a large collection of vintage Vogues.

Male costume worn to the Coronation of George IV in 1821.

Male costume worn to the Coronation of George IV in 1821

As the Costume and Textile collection is in the main a stored collection, a large part of the work of the department and my role is to facilitate access to objects in ways other than display.  Monthly Talking Textile events, themed object handling sessions, are always a sell-out and it’s really rewarding to enable people to learn about, and look in detail at, items from the collection and to see them so engaged by them.  I will be leading an underwear themed session, entitled ‘Brief Encounters’ (we love a pun), in February.  Tours of the stores are also a valuable way to increase awareness of the collection and I will never get bored with showing visitors around the C&T store rooms (which are a museum geek’s dream in terms of their organisation).

The C&T main store

The C&T main store

I have also been fortunate enough that my time here has fallen at the same time as a redisplay of the costume in the Arts of Living Gallery in the Castle.  As part of my involvement with this, I was lucky enough to spend some time with our Textile Conservator as she mounted the costume ready for display.  It’s amazing how much time, work and skill goes into what’s happening underneath the clothing to get that all important silhouette.

But it’s not all glamour.  I have also been dressed in lowly Medieval garb (replica, she adds quickly) whilst working with the Castle learning team, removed spiders from blunder traps as part of pest management, and donned a Tyvek suit for the annual Gressenhall Superstore deep clean.  And I have loved it all.  Which brings me onto our trainee development programme.  As much as I enjoy working with the C&T department, I really look forward to our weekly training sessions.  From the demystification of Archaeology and Natural History, to discovering the many wonders of Norfolk’s independent museums and the poignancy of becoming Dementia friendly, the breadth and worth of the programme is vast.  Having the support and friendship of the other trainees and being able to chat about what you’ve been up to that week is also incredibly valuable.  Similarly, everyone throughout Norfolk Museums Service, whether those I work with on a daily basis, including our wonderful team of volunteers, or members of staff from across the diverse departments, have been encouraging and generous with their time and knowledge.

Me, deep cleaning at Gressenhall

Me, deep cleaning at Gressenhall

There are some exciting projects coming up in the next few months so there is still much to look forward to, including our Fashion and Passion event where the C&T department take over the Castle for the day.  But I’d just like to finish with a note of encouragement to anyone who may be considering applying for the trainee programme.  The Teaching Museum scheme is everything you think it will be, hope it might be, and everything you hadn’t even considered.

Me (centre, front) and some of my fellow trainees

Me (centre, front) and some of my fellow trainees



Leave a comment

Moving on

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.  Today we see Joe,  trainee at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum. 

There are mixed emotions as I write what will be my final post on my last day as a trainee at the Regimental Museum. After working with Kate and the brilliant volunteers (Ray, Dolly, Elesha, Dickie, Patricia, Alison, Beryl, Dick, Sheila, Margaret and Glenis) for 11 months, I will be starting my new post in Museum Development tomorrow.

On the one hand, I will miss Kate and all of the volunteers here. I will miss the fantastic projects, exhibitions and the wonderful collection. It has been a privilege to work in this office, and it is what I have wanted to do for many years. Military History will remain my real passion, and it is with a heavy heart that I leave it all behind. On the other hand, I count myself as extremely lucky to have secured a post for the future, working with SHARE Museums East with a great bunch of people (and just down the corridor from the Regimental Office!) I am now faced with exciting new opportunities and challenges.

Military History has always been my passion, and I will be sad to leave it behind

Military History has always been my passion, and I will be sad to leave it behind

In my final few months I have helped to complete a full term-list for our Casualty Book project. The book lists 15,000 Norfolk soldiers who were wounded during the First World War.  Our long-term project has been to codify these entries, researching correct names for wounds, hospitals and camps, and working out acronyms, before launching an online crowd-sourcing platform. I am happy to say that, as I write this, the next phase of the project is in motion. This work, which has been difficult at times, will hopefully enlighten thousands of people across the world, and become a unique source of research for First World War hospitals and wounds. Personally, if we can help even one researcher find out more about a relative, I’d say it has been worth it.

Just 1 of 400 pages of our Regimental 'Casualty Book'

Just 1 of 400 pages of our Regimental ‘Casualty Book’

In early March I also helped to take down the Memorial Cottages exhibition at the Museum of Norwich: This was another emotional moment. Seeing the complete cycle of a temporary exhibition – from research to launch to take-down has been a fantastic experience (and a great learning curve). I will never forget the exhibition and its impact on those involved.

Exhibition space - before

Exhibition space - after

Memorial Cottages exhibition space – before and after

The First World War Blog is also up to date. Writing it has been a brilliant way to learn more about the Regiment and our collection. I have learned a great deal, and hope that they provide an interesting read; Working alongside other enthusiasts, and sharing what we have has been a real highlight of the year.

For me, the defining memory of the past 11 months at the Regimental Museum has been ‘the people’. This of course includes staff and volunteers, but also those that are no longer with us; the Norfolk man who kept a diary, the young Officer who wrote letters home, the disabled men who lived in a memorial cottage. Indeed, working with this unique collection has taught me a great deal about human spirit, and in-turn, myself and others. I am keen that the true stories of the First World War – not just those that are easy or simple to tell – should be the legacy of the centenary. To be a part of this, however small, has been an absolute privilege, and I will be truly sad to go…

And it's goodbye from me

Cleaning my desk is just different gravy…

1 Comment

Reminiscing on a job well done.

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.  Today we see Joe,  trainee at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum

Returning to work after the Christmas break felt odd. Something wasn’t quite right. It was the first time in three months that I wasn’t wholly consumed by the newly-launched Norfolk Regiment memorial cottages exhibition. I was no longer working to a strict deadline or dashing between the Museum of Norwich and the Regimental Museum. I could, for the first time in three months, choose what I wanted to work on for the day. Of course there is still a great deal to do before the display comes down in March, but I can now slowly begin to appreciate my first exhibition.


Images from the display including my personal favourite; a merge of two photographs taken at the same place (a 1928 snap by a Press photographer and a 2015 mobile phone image by myself).

For me, it was a completely immersive experience which tested a number of skills. Organising text, images and captions was a particular strong point, as was communicating with designers. I enjoyed our relationship throughout and believe we worked well. Refining large chunks of research was much harder, and cutting out text was extremely frustrating at times. Working with people across the service was exciting, and seeing my vision slowly develop was a highlight of the project.

Speaking with cottage residents past and present at our exhibition launch in November

Speaking with cottage residents past and present at our exhibition launch in November.

On November 30th we held a launch event. Past and present cottage residents attended alongside local dignitaries. It was a privilege to see so many people sharing memories and ideas without prompt or introduction, many of whom had helped with my research. The definite highlight was reuniting two old friends, Doreen Lemmon and Mabel Hewitt, who had not seen one another for over 60 years. Both had lived at the memorial cottages as children. That moment will live long in the memory and emphasised the real power of museums in the community.


Mabel and Doreen, reunited after over 60 years. Doreen’s childhood memories are also recorded as part of the display.

Borrowing the work of artist Paddy Hartley for the exhibition was another success. Hartley’s mannequins, made from First World War uniform and manipulated to signify operations such as skin grafting, are extremely powerful and emotive pieces. His art has been influenced by the work of Dr Harrold Gillies, a facial reconstructive surgeon who treated thousands of Great War soldiers including Robert Liddle, who later lived at the Norwich cottages. They have real resonance with the display and compliment the subject matter very well.

Norman Eric Wallace II by Paddy Hartley. At the Museum of Norwich as part of the temporary exhibition

Norman Eric Wallace II by Paddy Hartley. At the Museum of Norwich as part of the temporary exhibition

We were also privileged to invite Hartley for a guest lecture. He delivered a fascinating talk at the Norwich University of the Arts theatre, and was knowledgeable, interesting and passionate.

Although January now marks a quieter period for me, I know I will miss the buzz of an exhibition. I will miss working with staff at the Museum of Norwich, the service-wide design team, artists like Paddy Hartley, the National Army Museum (where Hartley’s works are kept), Norwich University of the Arts, journalists from the EDP and reporters from Mustard TV,  as well as everybody who assisted the research with memories and photographs. In truth, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.


Me 7

Happy and tired after months of work. I would not have changed any of it for the world.