Category Archives: My Museum

My Museum – Vicky Geddes

My Museum shares the experiences of our staff, volunteers and interns of working at Saffron Walden Museum. Vicky volunteered at the museum for 10 weeks over the summer of 2016.

“I volunteered at the museum once a week, from early July to September, to get work experience, as I’d love to work in heritage once I finish my degree. I was limited for time at the museum this summer as I have to return to university, but I hope I will be able to return to the museum at some point in the future.

I volunteered with Leah Mellors, the Collections Officer (Human History), working with the social history collection at the museum. My work involved going through boxes of objects and cataloguing them onto the database, then packing them correctly into their boxes and storing them in the social history store. While at the museum I worked through dozens of boxes and catalogued over 70 items onto the database! This process helps to give museum staff a more accurate idea of what is kept in storage and makes sure that objects are being properly cared for.

I am currently studying history at undergraduate level and I have a real love of social history and getting to grips with how people lived in the past. I found my work at the museum fascinating because I was able to interact first-hand with objects that people actually used in the past; for example, I catalogued a ‘grisset pan’, which is a kind of bowl used to melt animal fat to create candles in a technique dating back to medieval times. History in general fascinates and excites me, and being able to hold items in my hands brings history to life in a truly unique way.

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1920s metal toaster

As part of the project I worked on, I searched for interesting items that have been hiding in the museum stores so that more people can get an idea of how many fascinating objects are sitting behind closed doors. Some of my favourite items include a rare metal toaster dating from the 1920s and a toy sewing machine from the 1950s. As well as cataloguing them, I picked some of the most interesting objects, researched them, wrote a short history of them and photographed them: these will then be uploaded into the ‘collections’ section of the website.

My experience at the museum was absolutely fascinating, as I never knew what I would discover with every box I delved into. I’ve learnt about things I had never heard of before and actually got to handle them. So much is hiding behind the doors of the museum stores and I hope that once I finish my degree I can return to the museum to see what else I discover.”

My Museum: Jill Knight

Museum shares the experiences of our staff, volunteers and interns of working at Saffron Walden Museum. Jill has various roles in the museum, including Welcome Desk Volunteer, Collections Volunteer and Museum Assistant.

“I’ve been involved with Saffron Walden Museum since December 2014, when I arrived as a volunteer to work on the Welcome Desk. This turned out to be a very providential move: as I discovered the diverse delights of all the wonderful artefacts that form the museum’s collections and learned how the museum ticks, I began to take on more roles and responsibilities.

After a few months I started to help Leah Mellors, Collections Officer (Human History), with documentation of the social history collections. I began by working on documents relating to World War I, entering their details on a database, and it was so interesting to handle letters and paperwork relating to the experiences of people in and around Saffron Walden during the war. These included documents about recruitment, army orders, ration books, and even handwritten telegrams relating to the Battle of Jutland! It was like an ongoing history lesson every week! Having finished the World War I documents, I am now helping to catalogue various items relating to music and drama in Saffron Walden during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for a little light relief!

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Malaysian stick insects

A few months ago, I was offered the opportunity to become a Casual Museum Assistant at the museum, which involves opening, closing and stewarding the museum at weekends, helping to prepare for activities and events and assisting the curatorial staff. In this role, I have assisted Sarah Kenyon, Natural History Officer, on a number of occasions, and have found myself doing various jobs, including checking and re-focusing the microscope in the Natural History display area, cleaning out the Malaysian stick insects, dealing with dehumidifiers and unwrapping a buzzard in the Natural History Store. Working at the museum is certainly never dull!

One of my favourite parts of working at the museum is speaking to visitors at the Welcome Desk. Many of them have remarked to me that there are so many different things to see here and so much to discover. Lots of our visitors return regularly and bring their families. This is truly a fascinating and very popular family museum!”

My Museum: Emma Bastin

My Museum shares the experiences of our staff, volunteers and interns of working at Saffron Walden Museum. Emma is a Collections Volunteer, working with our social history collections.

“I’m a fairly new volunteer at the museum – I’ve only been coming in since May – but in that time I’ve had a great exposure in the workings of a local museum and the great collections that Saffron Walden Museum has.

I am a collections volunteer and I work with Leah, Collections Officer (Human History). I come in once a week and spend the day cataloguing social history objects that the museum keeps in its stores.  I am currently working through one of the museum’s stores, writing descriptions of each item for the museum database, and re-organising the way items are stored.  This is mainly re-packing in acid free tissue paper, labelling the item correctly and storing it in a cardboard box.  Each box is labelled and linked back to the database, so we know exactly where we can find each item, be it Renaissance armour, a copper tap or a Victorian lawnmower.80210-A

I’ve always loved learning about history and the museum gives me a great opportunity to encounter and handle historical objects, from the banal (a selection of nails) to the wonderful (a World War I periscope for looking over the top of the trenches).  I remain impressed by the sheer variety of the objects that have been donated, loaned or bought over the last 181 years.

Leah has also asked me to choose and write about the Object of the Month for September, which I am currently working on.  I think the item I have chosen is brilliant – not least because I had no idea what it was when I first saw it! To find out more, check the blog or come and have a look in the Great Hall in September.”

My Museum: Dorian Knight

My Museum shares the experiences of our staff, volunteers and interns of working at Saffron Walden Museum. Dorian is our Archaeology Collections Intern, working with us for 3 months.

“I came to Saffron Walden Museum following my MA in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester and a curatorial traineeship in decorative art. However, I have always been fascinated by archaeology and the tangible and sensory link it provides to the ancient human past. The internship at Saffron Walden has allowed me to explore that interest.Dorian Knight

Over the past 3 months I have been searching through the archaeological archive, and finding collections and objects that are eligible for deaccessioning (the process of removing objects from the museum’s collection). I have researched and documented the provenance of these items, deciding on the best course of action for what those objects can be used for if they are not to stay in the Saffron Walden Museum’s permanent collection. This may include using the objects as part of educational resources and handling collections. Another alternative is to consider transfer of these objects to other museums where they may be more relevant. All these collections have been packed and stored in acid free tissue so they are safe and ready to be sent to their new homes.

I have really enjoyed my time at Saffron Walden Museum. Not only have I had the opportunity to handle and research some really amazing archaeology collections, but I have also an opportunity to develop my skills in other areas that I believe will benefit me greatly in the future. For example, I have curated July’s Object of the Month, an Iron Age vessel that has been heavily reconstructed by a museum conservator using cork. For me the beauty of this object lies as much in its careful restoration as it does in the original form. I have also gained insights into how archaeology fits into the museum’s education programme. This required familiarisation with the national curriculum and consideration of how archaeology collections can be creatively used to ensure their future enjoyment and appreciation.”

My Museum: Nicola Lawson

My Museum shares the experiences of our staff, volunteers and interns of working at Saffron Walden Museum. Nicola is our Social History Collections Review Intern, working with us for three months.

“I applied for the Collections Review (Social History) internship at Saffron Walden Museum because it seemed like a great opportunity to take the next step in my museum career. I started out volunteering in museums and then went on to do an MA in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. When I applied for the internship, I had just finished the MA and gone back to volunteering in museums to gain additional experience while job searching. The internship allowed me to take on more responsibility and work more closely with collections than I had been able to do before. I have always loved social history and the personal stories of some of the objects I have discovered here have been a particular highlight – the other day in the store I found a fragment of the Berlin Wall!

Fragment of the Berlin Wall, Museum No.1996-20Over the last ten weeks, I have been working my way through the Inorganics store, documenting objects and making sure that there is a searchable electronic record of them on the museum database. I have also been repacking them in boxes using acid-free tissue paper to ensure they don’t get damaged while they are in the store.

Nicola Lawson

I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to get involved in other projects during my internship, such as the museum’s Uttlesford Community of Collectors outreach project, where local collectors display their own collections. I also curated June’s Object of the Month exhibition, for which I chose and researched the object, then decided how to display it. I chose a Braille writer, because I had never seen one before and the idea of researching how it worked and the history of Braille really appealed to me.

Working on these diverse projects has allowed me to develop my skills in collections management and care, and exhibition research and text writing. It has also been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The skills I have gained have helped me to secure a two year contract working as a Graduate Trainee Curator at the Beacon Museum in Whitehaven, Cumbria, which is an exciting new opportunity for me! But I’ll miss the staff (and the collections!) at Saffron Walden Museum!”