The Teaching Museum

Norfolk Museums Service Traineeship

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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:


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Women Leading The Field

Each month we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees. Today we see Jen Hooker, Business Development trainee at Norwich Castle.

The start of a new year is often the time to look ahead to what is coming up, break bad habits, make resolutions and initiate change (easier said than done). However, it only feels natural to begin this blog entry with a reflection of my time spent as the business development trainee in 2016 and to follow in the footsteps of my fellow trainee cohort who have all written beautifully about what our traineeship programme has exposed us to in terms of experience across the museum sector. Hence the picture of the horse below which you might wonder how it is relevant – we had the privilege of visiting the newly opened National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art in November as part of the 6th annual SHARE conference.


When I arrived on my first day back in April, there was an exciting sense of the unexpected – the journey that I was about to take and the doors of opportunity that it would open along the way. The one thing that I didn’t expect was the amount of responsibility and experience that would be gifted to myself over the next 12 months. Not a single day has gone by since starting my role where I haven’t left work thinking, ‘wow I love what I do’ and appreciate the role that museums play in educating and engaging audiences. Working in a museum beats my old office job any day, and having the chance to work in an environment that both opens up collections and displays exhibitions to people in Norfolk is something that I once dreamt of.

Speaking of exhibitions and what I really wanted to write my blog on is Olive Edis. For those of you who stil haven’t visited our Fishermen & Kings exhibition at Norwich Castle (tut), you’ve got until the 22nd January – naturally plugging and promoting exhibitions and events has been a key part of my job role over the last 9 months. There are many reasons why I wish to focus my blog on the incredible woman and it only seems right to talk about something that got me excited from day one when I heard that a photography exhibition was coming to Norwich Castle. If I was to say just one thing about the work of Olive Edis, it would be the following quote made by herself in the New York Evening World in 1920:

“I believe a photograph should represent truthfully the subject at his or her most attractive moment. I have never yet found a human being who did have such a moment”

For those familiar with her work, it can be argued that there is not one photograph that doesn’t show that ‘moment’ in the exhibition. A wonderfully curated exhibition that highlights and informs of the areas in which Olive succeeded so well; famous sitters, studio techniques, fisherfolk, influential women and the First World War. For those unfamiliar with who Olive was and what she photographed – much like myself before I met with Alistair (curator) and Liz (project assistant) to learn more – the quote offers a hook and teaser for what is to be expected and what is confirmed when you see her photographs.



Olive saw photography as a career and not a hobby and that is one of the things that I admire about her most. She knew that in order to make it, she would have to be focused and a modern business woman. Olive was gifted her first camera in 1900 by her cousin Caroline Murray and the early signs that she was going to succeed are evidenced by the fact that she won a gold medal for her colour photos that she entered into a Royal Photographic Society competition in 1913. A trailblazer who established a career in a traditionally male dominated field when it was unusual for women to even have a profession, she was at the centre of many important events in the early 20th century; including the Suffragette movement and World War One. Often one can talk of heroes or role models, and I hadn’t really considered myself to have a heroine, however I now realise that it was because I was yet to discover Olive Edis. Having studied photography at university, it is a practice that I have a specialist knowledge and passion for, and so discovering a woman who not only contributed in changing the attitudes towards photography as a career practice but also had such a talent and ability to capture the soul of a human being within a single frame presents no reason why she should not be a figure to look up to.


Even her self-portraits reflect her ability to capture her subject at ease – controlling the set-up but without being the intimidating artist. Perhaps it is most evident in her local fisherfolk images, where the phrase twinkle in the eye becomes true. Edis gave the fisherfolk their own identity, each has a name; Charlie Grice, Belcher Johnson and Latter Day Cox are just a few to name. Olive presents the fishermen of Cromer and Sheringham in the same way as the kings and royalty, a bold statement in which her style implies no distinction between status, wealth and education.

One thing that emerges from the work of Olive Edis, is how willing her subjects were to let her into their homes and environment to photograph. Even during the days of the First World War in which she risked her own safety by travelling to Europe to document the action on the front line.

2Her photographs of the hospitals and army auxillary camps present a feeling of her being welcomed in – allowed in to see the damage and wreckage that had been caused by the war. Where her photographs reflect the catastrophe caused by the war, Olive is very much a part of it; not a snooper, hiding behind the scenes trying to capture a snapshot, but the photographer documenting the war and of course she was the only official female war photographer. She even worked with a broken camera at the first canteen she visited, the gaping hole from the smashed focusing screen didn’t stop her photographing – a true testament to her self-confidence and ambition.


The power that a museum collection has to tell stories like that of Olive Edis’ is something that is truly amazing, especially knowing that the Fishermen & Kings exhibition will raise the profile of Olive Edis and see her name become more recognisable. Our collection holds over 2000 images made up of prints, glass plate negatives and auto chromes from Edis’ studios and having made these more accessible through digitisation, an exhibition, a publication, re-displays (Cromer Museum) and a travelling exhibition, it highlights the potential for audiences to be educated and inspired, at present and in the future. I will leave you with one departing thought in that I hope that our local lady, Olive Edis will be a heroine for others too and that her courage, motivation and talent will inspire us to give it our best shot at making it in the world, whether doing our dream job or not.


(Black & white print of Olive Edis by Cyril Nunn, 1953-4. This is the last photo of her taken before her death)






Bugs, Skulls & toilets!?

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.

Wow! The first four months of the Teaching Museum traineeship have absolutely whizzed by! (And yes, as you will soon discover, I am the only male on this year’s traineeship!). It really only feels like yesterday when the 2016 trainees sat down for our first day’s induction, and for me, hopping straight on a train afterwards to head for Derby to attend the NatSCA (Natural Sciences Collections Association) conference. This was also the first official meeting with my supervisor, Senior Curator of Natural History for NMS, David Waterhouse. I can’t remember what I first found more daunting as I arrived, either meeting my new boss, or having to socialise (in a pub) with some of the most highly regarded Natural History curators in the UK! But once I arrived, I found them to be very approachable (albeit with a curious fascination with collecting animal dung!). It was a great event, both in learning valuable information that would help me over the next year, but also having an early chance to network with some major players in the museum sector.

Me, auditioning for a role in 'The Fly 3'

Me, auditioning for a role in ‘The Fly 3’


My fellow 2016 trainees and me

               My fellow 2016 trainees and me

During the month of June, I was involved in two public events held at Norwich Castle by the Natural History section. The first of these was to celebrate Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s 90th anniversary, which involved curating a temporary display of different objects related to naturalists during the 1920s, the same time as the founding of the trust. One of the star objects in our display was a 1926 nature diary by former keeper of Natural History here at the Castle/East Anglian nature TV celebrity, Ted Ellis. When Ted applied for the position of ‘Natural History Assistant’ at the Castle in 1928 (at the age of 19), he brought along a selection of his nature dairies to the job interview as proof of his love of nature, and it worked! So it is very likely that 1926 copy we had on display was used by Ted at that interview! It was great to be able to explain this to our visitors.For me, that is the very essence of what working in a museum and having a passion for history is all about. Being able to connect objects with people, and discovering a story that can be amazing, sad or funny, or even all three at the same time.


The Natural History display cases for Norfolk Wildlife Trust 90th anniversary event

The Natural History display cases for Norfolk Wildlife Trust 90th anniversary event

The second public event was a ‘How the Horse Became’ handling session, to coincide with British Art Show 8’s ‘History Train’ event, which saw heavy-horses delivering the artwork to the Castle. Our display centred on the evolution of the Horse, from its relatively unknown evolutionary links to Hippos, how they are able to generate such speed, right up to why Horse-chestnuts gained their name. My favourite part of this display was the real Hippopotamus skull, and the excitement on visitor’s faces when asked if they could identify which animal it was.

A large part of me deciding to try and forge a career in the museum sector was down to the memories I developed from visits to museums when I was a child (especially Ancient House Museum in Thetford). It was amazing to see how excited our younger visitors became when faced with the huge Hippo. I truly hope that memories were formed that day which will inspire a future generation of museum goers, or even future museum professionals!

The Hippopotamus skull used in our ‘How the Horse Became’ event at Norwich Castle

                          The Hippopotamus skull used in our ‘How the Horse Became’ event at Norwich Castle


To sum up my first third of the traineeship in a paragraph is a difficult task. The ‘Understanding Museums’ training really did open my eyes to how many different factors come in to play when dealing with museum work. Even though it didn’t really feel like I was being schooled at any time, my knowledge of how museums work has expanded on a huge magnitude. My days are so varied, which makes the time absolutely fly by. I’ve been well and truly adopted into the Natural History section, and feel that any idea I have, great or small, is always considered and never muted. I could have written all day about the different experiences I have had over the last few months.

I’m sure that when I come to write my next blog entry, my museum knowledge will have stepped up another level.

And, if it all goes wrong, I could cut out another career path with a certain skill I’ve recently acquired… (See photo below)

Me, cleaning a Victorian toilet-bowl at Gressenhall

Me, cleaning a Victorian toilet-bowl at Gressenhall


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Next Steps….

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.  Today we see Meg, Learning Trainee at Time and Tide and Cromer Museum



Hello! My name is Meg Barclay and I am the learning trainee based at Great Yarmouth and Cromer Museum. Starting in April 2015 seems like only a few weeks ago, and yet here I am having just started a new job as Learning Officer for the Discover Downham Heritage Centre (Downham Market), and I thought I would take the opportunity to summarise my experiences and mention some highlights along the way!

I remember walking in on the first day of my traineeship to be told we had a school coming in to do a Romans event and that I would observe a particular character with the view of delivering this session in the future. I was also in charge of moving children around the museum and giving 5 minute warnings to delivering staff. From this moment on my traineeship has been a whirlwind of adrenaline, set up, delivery, planning, promoting, resourcing, marketing, taking school bookings, administration, clear up, hoovering grated cheese ground into the carpet… and all manner of other tasks which would be too numerous to mention.


School session at Cromer Museum


Measuring Time and Tide’s fishing net – can you predict how big it is?










A large part of what I do is dressing up in different costumed characters, and I have been everything from a Pirate, Victorian Time Traveller, Roman Lady, Ida Flower the famous Great Yarmouth Explorer, Fisher girl, Iron Age women, Alice in Wonderland… the list goes on!

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One of my many faces – Boudica facing the Romans

I have been able to deliver such a variety of sessions, including object handling, characterised, craft, drama based, outdoor and indoor, and in a variety of settings and spaces. With record-breaking numbers of children visiting Time and Tide Museum in November and December 2015 (c1,400 and 1,200 respectively, despite the Christmas holiday happening over this period) it was no wonder that my Christmas was mainly filled with sleeping! There were many occasions when I would have to learn a session the night before and deliver it the next day without having watched anyone else deliver it first. But although tiring, it was thrilling to be able to get to the point where I was able to work in this way as a ‘proper’ museum learning professional and just get on and do it; being able to trust in the skills and abilities that I have learnt along the way.




Lady Livia – drama based object handling session

And a big part of my traineeship is just how much I have learnt. Having very little experience working in museums (except from volunteering on my gap year before uni) this traineeship really did provide a wonderful environment to immerse myself in museum learning. I have real responsibilities in a public facing role where delivery and learning opportunities come down to you and how well you ‘perform’ on the day. The educational experience of the children in front of you really does depend on how you deliver, your energy and enthusiasm, pacing, and your character. With lots of support from the team here in Great Yarmouth I have been able to develop my delivery style, and learn behaviour management techniques, for such occasions as, say, when faced with large groups of unruly boys initially not wanting to be in a museum!




Object handling – Cromer Museum

I have also been involved in planning and redeveloping multiple new learning events for both Time and Tide Museum and Cromer Museum Primary learning offer. These events titled Ship Wrecked, Explorers, Saxons vs Vikings, Stone to Iron and Pirates! have really helped me to gain a deep understanding of the nature of museum education and the importance of lighting, sound, set dressing and costumed character interpretation. It has also provided me with an invaluable opportunity to learn about the process of planning and piloting new sessions to schools, including sourcing resources and authentic historic characters, as well as gaining evaluation and feedback from teachers, and ensuring that their pupils have an experience that they could not do themselves back at school. Trips to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has helped solidify my understanding of different approaches to museum learning (with quite varying sized budgets!) and attending their CPD day for their recent exhibition Against Captains Orders done in conjunction with Punch Drunk was a particular eye opener for just how immersive and drama-led museum learning based within collections and museum spaces can be. It was great to meet the team there and have a go in the exhibition! (If anyone got the chance to see it over the summer you’ll know just how amazing it was!)


Me with young people from the youth arts network Creative Collisions, during the Great Yarmouth Arts Festival


If that wasn’t enough, I have also had the opportunity of working on the youth engagement programme at Time and Tide Museum. Due to illness the youth engagement officer has been away, so I was heavily involved in the Creative Collisions Crafting Histories project funded by HLF Young Roots. This project explores the heritage crafts of Great Yarmouth through a series of 3 month artist residencies and I have been involved in the advertisement of the residencies, recruiting and working with artists, organising workshops and liaising with teachers and young people. This has been a fantastic opportunity to practically work through an HLF bid and gain experience working with young people recruiting and selecting the artists, whilst at the same time developing my own professional judgement. Again the team here have been really helpful and supportive in guiding me through the process and showing me how to support and enable the young people in their selection of artists. By the end of my traineeship I will have worked on 2 and ½ residencies!


Incidentally, through an advert for the Crafting Histories artist residencies, I was contacted by a media agent to speak with one of his journalists who was working on an upcoming piece for the Museum Practice section of the Museums Association website about museums working with artists in different ways. This was very exciting, not only to be able to gain experience liaising with journalists, but also to be able to contribute to national advice on museum practices, as well as seeing myself quoted on the MA website!


Exploring Time and Tide Museum


Medieval Madness summer programme at Norwich Castle

Alongside my experiences at Time and Tide and Cromer Museum, I have sort out experiences and opportunities with colleagues in different museums across the service. I spent two weeks working for Norwich Castle on their Medieval Madness programme over the summer developing my informal learning experiences and seeing how bigger museums with larger visitor numbers develop and maintain their audiences through a variety of hands-on, themed activities. I also supported the summer school for looked after children held at Norwich Castle which I really enjoyed and had so much fun during it! It was great to be able to develop a relationship with each child across the week and see just how much they learned. It was also a very valuable experience as we were tasked with creating our own learning resource to be used at lunch time once the children had finished eating. Mine involved the children solving various Anglo-Saxon Riddles or Runes (I composed these myself) which were clues to identifying various objects in the Anglo Saxon Gallery. Following on from this, I regularly support the Castle’s Monthly Museum Club for looked after children.


Museums at Night!



I have also secured opportunities in other museums across the Norfolk Museum Service to work with and experience their different youth engagement offers and teenage history clubs. This has provided me with fantastic insight into how such clubs and programs can engage a ‘hard to reach’ age group and involve them in Museum activities. I have gained considerable understanding of how the Arts Award can be used in conjunction with museums, and in addition I was fortunate enough to win a place (generously funded by NADFAS) on a Kids in Museums workshop titled Children and Young People as Tour Guides. The latter was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about Kids in Museums and gain so much understanding of ways in which you can structure a programme that will engage young people over a period of time which enables them to have ownership of their local museum.


Ancient House Teenage History Club


Thetford Christmas Lights Switch On – Ancient House Museum


Attending Kids in Museums workshop


All this, plus the weekly development training we have as part of the traineeship where we received training from an industry expert on numerous different aspects of the museum industry, has made for a very full on traineeshp.  But I have had such a fabulous experience and gained so much from it. And before I close I must thank the learning team in Great Yarmouth for all their amazing help and support along the way. I couldn’t have done it all without them!


Moving giant pre-historic puppets through Great Yarmouth high street!


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Voice from a Workhouse

Each week we take a look at what’s been going on with Norfolk’s Teaching Museum Trainees.  Today we see Lawrence, trainee within the Collections Team at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.

I shall start by echoing my fellow trainees sentiments in stating that these past few months in my role as the collections management trainee have been exciting, stimulating, educational and above all rewarding. It’s difficult to express how quickly it feels time is disappearing as I try to take in more and more information and develop my skills in the museum sector. To that end I shall continue by giving a brief glimpse into my working world at Gressenhall.

One of the first tasks I was involved in was moving this workhouse coffin to conservation.

My major task since starting here towards the end of April has been to find and digitise archived photographs charting the history of Gressenhall for the Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Voices from the Workhouse’ project. This process has been hugely rewarding for me as I have found out so much about the Workhouse’s history, including things I would never have expected (Christmas dinner for inmates every year bar one), but also it was a great introduction to the collections here.

Staff from the workhouse in the 1920s

Now that the digitisation is largely finished I have recently been focussing on auditing both the Collections Gallery and Engineering Gallery, both of which are second phase stages of the Voices project. Auditing these galleries has allowed me to get more hands on with a diverse collection of objects, get to grips with the cataloguing system and put to work some of the skills I have attained from our weekly training sessions.

The largest item to be digitised by far is this map of the Mitford and Launditch hundred.

The training sessions have been a real highlight of the traineeship so far, I’ve learnt practical new skills which will be useful not only this year but also in my future career, they have given a taste of many different aspects of the museum and wider heritage world and have opened my eyes to just what it takes to be a successful museum service in an ever changing cultural climate.

Change is very much apparent at Gressenhall, it is currently quite empty which is a rare chance to see the fabric of the building, but more and more artefacts are making their way in ready for the ‘Voices’ opening next March. To that end we’ll be testing aspects of the project this summer so if you fancy a sneak peak, there aren’t many places more enjoyable to spend a sunny day. Don’t forget to wish our old mannequins goodbye when you next visit. See you at Gressenhall soon.

My very best attempt at being a mannequin.