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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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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The Traineeship Draws to an End

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

A sad thing happened this morning, I got my first invite to a meeting that will happen after I’ve left the traineeship.  However this can be a good thing if it spurs me to head back to my job applications and to reflect more deeply on my time as a trainee.

Reading over my initial post on our trainee blog about my first three months I can safely say the variety of work I have been doing in the six months since then has been just as varied.

Since then I’ve been involved in more events hosting object handling session on Norfolk fossil finds and 1950s childhood toys. I’ve also been accessioning donations into the collection including Gurkha knives and Herring cookbooks. A more long term project I’ve been working on is the Google Art Project where I’ve been selecting objects to showcase on the Google Cultural Institute and then updating their records with high resolution images and additional commentary. As these objects will be available to people all around the world on this platform I’ve been adding in as much information about Great Yarmouth’s rich heritage as I can.


A MODES record I created for a fantastic new object we recently received as a donation.

Alongside this I have been doing hundreds of smaller tasks for the museum. I have recently been researching the reactions to the sinking of the Titanic in Great Yarmouth which lost two of its inhabitants in the disaster. I was also involved in commercialising some of our collections for our Christmas cards range, I searched the collections for some of our Victorian and WW1 Christmas cards, scanned them and digitally altered them to make the colours more vivid. I was very pleased to see the cards then being sold in our shop, both giving our collections more exposure and earning money for the Museum Service.


A Victorian Christmas card from our collection which was reproduced for our shop.

There have been some consistent themes however. I’ve worked on digitising and cataloguing the Brain Ollington photo negative collection since the early days of the traineeship and am proud to say, hundreds of digitised images later that we’ve finally completed the black and white realm of 1960s Norfolk and are moving into garishly colourful world of the 1970s. We are soon to have two teams up and running working on the project who I’ve been training and working with throughout.


Similarly our project to sort out and clean our store rooms has been an ongoing one, from cataloging our collection of bicycle lamps and ceramics at Gressenhall to re-arranging the archive to maximise space.

I’m sure the last three months will be just as eclectic and exciting as the first three so I’m looking to make the most of it.

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Working with the Gressenhall Collections

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

Over the past two months I have spent quite a bit of time at Gressenhall, in our superstore.

Firstly I was there as part of a deep clean of the store along with the other trainees. It was definitely a rewarding experience. Getting out of the office and doing work with very tangible, physical results was a nice break from office work. After suiting up in overalls and a breathing mask I started the week off by cleaning about an inch of bird droppings from an old sweet making machine. Seeing the object slowly appear from under it all made it all worth it.


As well as giving practical experience these few days also gave me an insight into conservation issues. For example we got to explore the interesting concept of what constitutes part of an object. While cleaning a loom it became clear that a large part of the stuff that was on it was not dirt accumulated during storage but detritus from its working life. Should this be removed or was it a valuable part of the object and its history? After talking to our conservation consultant we decided it would be best to remove the utterly atomised stuff encrusted on the gears and underside of the loom as it would provide a feast for any pests that came across it while at the same time retaining the recognisably woollen material threaded through the gears on the top of the machines which clearly illustrated how it worked back in the day.


Following this Meg and I got to catalogue a large collection of old swords, many of them dating back to the Napoleonic wars or even pre-revolutionary France. It was great fun to see the often beautifully decorated swords and sometimes brutal looking weaponry as we photographed, documented and re-packaged them.


The second reason that took me up to Gressenhall was a more long term project. As you might know a while ago Jo, Wayne and a group of volunteers began work on project to move all the objects in our store from the basement of Great Yarmouth Library to the superstore in Gressenhall. The reasons were twofold, first we were paying rent on the store and second it is less than 50m from the river, risking the collection every time the Yare threatened to burst its banks. After a great deal of work to get everything ready for the move, the last batch went over in my second week on the job as we carried dozens upon dozens of boxes full of bottles, guns and ceramics out to the lorry above.

The task now remains to update MODEs records of locations, inventory all the boxes and to re-arrange and re-box materials to maximise space. All sorts of interesting items have turned up from dolls of every culture and nationality, milk bottles from 1970s Yarmouth and metal Buddhas. There is a long way yet to go but it certainly feels like we have got a very interesting project ahead of us.

Gressenhall Collections

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A Sense of History – Making Museum Collections Accessible For All

Before I began to work in museums I could never have envisaged the labyrinthine storage rooms full of objects. Shelf after shelf of taxidermy birds, pharmaceutical bandages, fine art and everything else you can possible imagine. Not to mention row after row of furniture, ploughs, boats and other large objects!

In Great Yarmouth we have a few thousand objects that visitors can see every day but there are approximately 40,000 objects in the collection in addition to a huge maritime archive.

Secrets from the Stores Maritime Effect Project

Secrets from the Stores Maritime Effect Project

Making all of our collections accessible, even those in storage, is a huge priority for the museum. That is why I have spent much of the last six months at Great Yarmouth working on a rationalisation project. Rationalisation can be defined as ‘Improving public benefit by refining collections in line with the museum’s statement of purpose”.  I see it as the process of assessing and developing a collection to improve accessibility, documentation and collections care. At Great Yarmouth I have been working with approximately 15,000 objects to better document and move them by the end of the year.

On my first trip to the museum stores I was amazed at the breadth of objects housed there. The movement of these was a daunting task at the outset of the 8 months but we have made real progress.

The Learning Trainee Sam and I went to a recruitment fair at a local 6th form college and we now have a team of six very dedicated young volunteers. They have been trained in object handling, packing and cataloguing. Every week we systematically go through more boxes discovering more of our hidden collections.

Orla with Jimmy and JJ at Time and Tide Museum

Orla with Jimmy and JJ at Time and Tide Museum

These Secrets from the Stores have even inspired a youth engagement project. Tricia our Youth Engagement Officer brought the Maritime Effect group to visit last week. These ten young people each choose an object which inspired them and will be developing their own creative response. Armed with a photograph of their object and a cardboard box they are tasked with coming up with a piece of art, music, drama, anything they want to create!

Meanwhile our young collections management volunteers are also using the objects for inspiration and with my guidance they will be developing their own display for the museum.

At NMS we do strive to make our collections accessible to all but this isn’t always that simple. One of my most challenging and rewarding tasks this year has been to facilitate a visit to the museum for a deafblind gentleman. Jimmy came on his Summer holidays to Yarmouth with his communicator JJ and family. I developed a handling session and tour which told the story of Great Yarmouth and Time and Tide Museum through our collections.

A real sense of history! Some smoked herring to touch and smell

A real sense of history! Some smoked herring to touch and smell

Amongst the objects I choose to give Jimmy a sense of this history were a barnacle encrusted wine bottle from a shipwreck, a drill bit from the off shore industry and best of all a piece of smoked herring! JJ runs a charity enabling alternative access to the arts for the deafblind and you can learn more about this here.

For those who cannot travel to be at the Museum virtual access can be the next best thing. At the beginning of my traineeship I wrote object profiles for the Norfolk Museums Service’s collections website.

More recently I have worked with our Learning Officer John on his Stories From the Sea Project. This project is run with the National Maritime Museum Greenwich and is all about developing literacy skills in young people. John chose fifteen objects from the collection on the theme of Explorers and I provided him with the necessary information and organised a professional photographer to capture images. Next month these object images and profiles will be up on the website of RMG. This enables people from all over the world visiting the site of this national museum to learn more about museum collections in Great Yarmouth.

Working with the collections at Great Yarmouth and Cromer Museums is a real privilege and being able to make them accessible to the entire community is what really makes it all worthwhile!