Oh Happy Study Day!

Hello, Michael here again.

A day at the British Museum! What more could a Trainee want? Especially as the visit took us behind the scenes and introduced us to the mounting and storage methods used by the Collections Team for their vast trove of works on paper.

I have always been fascinated by drawing, painting and print-making. When I saw the British Museum had organised a Skills Sharing Day devoted to the care and presentation of these works, I was quick to book a place. I’m not usually a morning person, but on this occasion, I was very happy to be on the 6.18am train to London. I even arrived early in the fierce London heat, full of eager anticipation… and I wasn’t disappointed.

The morning was spent studying the different materials and methods used to mount and display works on paper. We learnt about conservation mount boards, their different types and weights and how The British Museum uses a French-made brand. We learnt about hinging and backboards, as well as melinex sheets to protect fragile surfaces. We also got to make two hinges from delicate Japanese paper, a V-hinge and a T-hinge, which hold and support the paper within the mount.

Box of Italian Renaissance drawings.

I have always been able to spot a British Museum mount for two reasons. The first is their elegant rounded corners and we were given a demonstration of their simple and effective corner cutter. The second is the distinctive stamped name and details that appear below the window aperture. Again, we were given an explanation of the manual typographic stamper, which requires a good eye, a steady hand and a brave heart to use. Following the practical work, we toured the hi-tech mounting room, containing huge computerised mount cutters, as well as traditional manual devices.

After lunch, we moved to The Prints and Drawings Study Room, an historic interior with a special atmosphere. Here we were shown several methods of storage used by the museum including conservation boxes, portfolios and folders. I was impressed by the way they had used a difficult Victorian space to accommodate a vast number of priceless works. Boxes marked Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens and Constable filled the old storage-shelved cupboards. Prints by Rembrandt, a drawing by Degas and the original print blocks engraved by Durer were all brought out for us to see. I knew I was in Heaven when I sat down to look through an original, hand-coloured copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake.


The day was full of fascinating insights into the way The British Museum operates and it was all delivered in a practical and helpful tone. It felt like one group of museum professionals helping others with sensible, down-to-earth advice, which is exactly what the day had been designed to be.

I felt very lucky to be a part of it.



Transformers Diversify – Making Change in Museums

Hello all.

This week I want to talk to you about an exciting adventure I have undertaken; the journey to transform museums and make change in the sector! Not sure what this means? Well, allow me to explain…..

Run by the Museums Association, the Transformers Programme is a workforce initiative for museum professionals who are taking a radical new approach to museum practice. As you can see from their website, Transformers is made of three strands, which museum staff from across the United Kingdom can apply for: Influence, Innovate and Diversify. I am going to focus on Diversify, as this is the strand that I have applied and successfully joined.

An important part to this programme is a publication that the Museums Association launched a short while ago called: Museums Change Lives. Through case studies, it explores the theory that museums are changing, becoming environments that improve well being, as well as inspire and stimulate us. With the many changes to society and politics, museums must respond, in order to accommodate new demands.

Transformers Diversify has Museums Change Lives at it’s heart. It teaches the people on the cohort the skills needed in order to make lasting change in the sector. Diversity is a key issue in society today and recent studies have shown that the various equality groups (ethnic minority, disability etc.) are misrepresented in the cultural sector. What we hope to achieve as Transformers is to pitch ideas for diversity, which change perceptions within museums and allow opportunities for all. Back at Ipswich Museum, I am in the middle of various work related to diversity and access in museums, so this seemed like the programme for me!

Opening Picture for Residential

To kick start Transformers, we all met for the first time on a two-day, residential trip in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. Here was a chance to familiarise ourselves with everyone, as well as some intense, but fully satisfying training. The content was well devised and the structure exceptionally organised and flexible, showing understanding to the needs of the cohort.

I rubbed shoulders with an eclectic mixed of museum individuals in terms of their job role and ideas for diversity. The atmosphere was lovely. We all shared our passion for museums, but equally our understanding for change.

Each one of us had an idea for change related to diversity, which we want to carry forward in our respective museums, with help from the Transformers programme. My particular idea is based on autism awareness and access in museums. It is a project I am taking a lead on here at Ipswich. For example, at Ipswich Museum we are currently piloting an Early Bird Hour for Autistic visitors, which happens on the first Friday of the month. I am sure I will talk to you more about this in future blog posts.

Early Bird Hour

These couple of days have been such a mesmerising experience that they will inform my future career in museums. I have learned valuable skills like influencing, leadership, active listening and challenging preconceptions. Effectively, these fantastic skills have formed a toolbox to engage my ideas of the present and also the future, to enact in my work and the work of my colleagues alike.

I hope that for the rest of my time here at Ipswich, Transformers will have a positive part to play in how I go about my Trainee role and the way I might influence the organisation.

Until next time folks!


“And so, being young and dipt in folly, I fell in love with melancholy”

Hello again!

Tim here with a confession to start off with… I have always been a big fan of most things that fall under the (rather vague) umbrella term of ‘Goth’. Just to clarify, I am not talking about Germanic invaders to the Roman Empire circa 3rd – 5th century AD*! Instead, the things that they lent their name to hundreds of years later: architecture, literature, music and fashion.

Visigoths*actually, I find this pretty interesting too!

Whilst I would never claim to be full-blown Goth, aspects of it make up a very large part of my interests. For example, I find it very hard to walk past a castle or cathedral – or indeed, the Scott Monument in Edinburgh – if it has a nice pointed arch or a flying buttress or two! I can’t really tell you why this is, but as someone once said: “beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul“.

The Scott Monument. I climbed to the top of this!
Having several like-minded friends, what became known as “The Gothic Jaunt” to London was conceived over two years ago. Ultimately, only two of us were able to make it, but it was a wonderful trip that took in St Dunstan’s in the East, Highgate Cemetery and – unexpectedly – Tate Modern.

St Dunstan in the East is one of those “hidden gems” that Time Out magazine alerted me to many years ago. It has gone through a lot, being severely damaged both in the Great Fire of London and the Blitz. Having been re-built/repaired multiple times, it was decided in 1967 to turn what remained of the church into a public garden, which opened in 1971. The steeple (designed by Christopher Wren, the needle spire supported by flying buttresses) and the outer walls remain, inside which is a lawn with a water feature and beautiful plants that range from blossoms to palm trees!

After a relaxing look round St Dunstan, we moved on to the famous Highgate Cemetery, which as you can see from the view of London above, is very high indeed! The plot opened in 1839, as part of a plan by Stephen Geary to create a grand, more dignified burial site than what was currently on offer. Originally the surrounding gardens were all landscaped, with little to no trees, leaving what must have been a stunning view of central London. These days, the entire area is overgrown with trees that were planted without human influence. A lot of the beautiful Victorian memorials have been disturbed by roots and overtaken by branches, causing my friend to describe it initially as a “hodgepodge”. Accurate, perhaps, but what a stunning hodgepodge it is.

There are too many phenomenal Victorian Gothic memorials, edifices, structures and mausoleums to talk of here. I would highly recommend taking a tour (the only way to see the West side), so you can learn all about the Egyptian Avenue, the Circle of Lebanon, the Mausoleum of Julius Beer and some of the famous people buried there (most recently George Michael, but out of respect he is not part of the tour). You must book ahead (far ahead) on a week day, but on weekends you can just turn up.

The East Cemetery was an extension created in 1860. Although it has a fair share of Victorian graves, obelisks and memorials, it lacks the grand Gothic structures of the West. You are far more likely to find famous people of the last century buried here: people as diverse as Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, Malcolm McLaran, Alan Sillitoe, Patrick Caulfield, Jeremy Beadle and George Elliot (to name but a few). As such, you are also likely to see much more modern grave designs, which was intriguing.

The She Guardian
The She Guardian

The final part of our trip was supposed to be a visit to an amazing statue by Dashi Namdakov, located at Marble arch as part of the Halcyon Gallery.  Sadly, the “She Guardian” has been sold and is no longer there! Fortunately for us, we had discovered that Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya was currently covering the south terrace of the Tate Modern with fog! We decided that this would be a suitably atmospheric end to the day and made our way there. The fog was rather wet, but yielded some great pictures!

I had originally intended to wear something much more strikingly “Gothic” in honour of our trip. Lamentably, it was SO hot that I decided – despite the vampyric authenticity – that I would rather dress-down than melt! Perhaps the next Gothic Jaunt to London should be planned for a colder month, for there is so much more still to see: Strawberry Hill, Severndroog Castle, Christ church Spitalfields, Burnhill Fields… Watch this space!

So, until next time, the bats have left the bell tower, the victims have been bled, red velvet lines the black box… Tim’s blog post you have read.


Moving on Up


Hello everyone! Mark reporting on behalf of all the Trainees.

It feels like a lifetime since I was last in the office. There is much to catch up on, but fortunately I have some time to tell you about our fantastic trip to Edinburgh, alongside what the other Trainees thought.


Here we are at Stansted airport. We had to get up bright and early in order to catch our flight. We arrived in Edinburgh safe and sound, excited for what was in store. Tim and I even bagged a selfie!

After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, it was time for the first event of the trip. Thanks to the efforts of our wonderful line manager, Lib (Museums Project Officer), we had the pleasure of meeting some Trainees from National Galleries of Scotland at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

The four of us were most impressed with their range of high tech equipment, which they kindly showed us. This included their digitising process for works on paper. It allows them to successively scan an image, which is then transferred immediately to their Mac computers. All in all, we were impressed, if not slightly envious, of their facilities! They also came from diverse and interesting backgrounds, just like the four of us, ranging from leaving school to being an ex- tree surgeon.

That marked the end of the day and, after a hearty dinner, it was time for some well-earned sleep ready for tomorrow.


The big day! We all had high spirits for the itinerary ahead, as well as some butterflies in our stomachs. Moving On Up was situated at the Royal College of Surgeons, a lovely venue with the recently, redeveloped Surgeon’s Hall Museums. The day was jam-packed with keynotes, breakouts and participatory sessions. It was chaired by Hilary Carty, Freelance Consultant and Coach, and attended by experienced professionals with helpful advice. The room was mostly inhabited by those early on in their careers. Just like us, they all had their own story to tell. Our group found the speed mentoring sessions particularly helpful and constructive. We had mixed feelings about networking but nevertheless, did our best.

The conference ended with much enjoyment and happy feelings, but we were also shattered. The four of us went to bed that night, satisfied with our achievements.


Our trip sadly came to a conclusion. Here are a couple of pictures of the time we spent around the spectacle that is Edinburgh. We left this trip, enthused with fresh ideas. It was an amazing experience, which we won’t forget for a long time.

This is Mark signing off.

ps. I have been reliably informed it is National Apprenticeship Week! #NAW2017


Copped Hall in restoration

Often, I have heard it said that once you are working in heritage and museums, whenever you visit places of interest, you will view them with very different eyes to others.

Recently, I paid a visit to a very interesting heritage site and former neighbour of Rod Stewart, Copped Hall, in Epping. I found that as I wandered around, without even realising, I was consolidating our Trainee learning in this unfamiliar environment.

Restoration at the hall is currently underway to return the building and gardens to their former glory. Having stood high up overlooking the M25 for many years, with wind whistling through its shell, it was once possible to see through un-glazed windows from one side of the building to the other when driving past. Major structural renovations have been underway since 2001 and it is still pretty chilly there today, but much progress has been made by the Copped Hall Trust.

Outside, a large walled garden with glass houses can be found. Having been once handcrafted by talented blacksmiths, the gates are now heavily corroded, in need of TLC (tender loving conservation) and repairs to losses, especially on fine areas of detail.

Inside, the building is presented as it is – a work in progress.


By being invited into the building site as part of a guided tour, it is possible to gain an understanding of both the history of the Hall and the huge project that is underway to restore the spaces. In 1917, a fire caused much destruction. The building was beyond financial repair for relatives and was stripped of anything of value, including staircases!


Now, the challenge is to creatively tell the story of the hall. I loved how features, which would have been expensive to restore, were imaginatively (and much more cheaply!) recreated using design and interpretation, such as the ‘marble’ fireplace above. These extra touches to the bare rooms bring the space to life in a clever and simple way.

Travelling through the building works, I found myself agreeing with the guide that the site (although cold!) is in a very relaxed and approachable form in its current state. Sometimes, less is more and I noticed that it is possible to learn much about the history of the building just from reading the walls and using your imagination. Simple interpretation, placed on bare walls at various places of importance, make this even easier, aiding storytelling.


Furniture, objects and clothing on display at the site are currently a little more sacrificial than many conservators might like, but this gives a raw and authentic feeling. Even if they are not always original to the location, objects on display have a functional nature and illustrate life at the hall well.

The spaces are also brilliant for use for education and events. School groups regularly visit and there is an education programme in place. Volunteers and staff have been working hard to create event. The line up includes a pudding tasting evening (yum!), workshops, open gardens, concerts, theatre and archaeological digs.

Overall I found Copped Hall to be a fascinating place, and learnt much from my visit. It will be very interesting to see how it develops further in the future.

Oh, and if you happen upon the original front gates there is a £1000 reward!

See you soon, Esme.




Race you to the Roman Circus!

Hi Esme here,

Being new to Colchester, I wanted to learn more about the history of the town, especially as I get asked lots of interesting questions when working at Colchester Castle. I thought I’d find out what’s on offer and share it with you too. Walk this way!


The town has many arts and heritage sites, as you can see. The place I have chosen to show you on this occasion is the Roman Circus, which was discovered in 2004. Used for the dangerous sport of chariot racing, it is the only one of it’s kind discovered in Britain and I’m pretty excited that it’s on our doorstep!

On the walk from Colchester’s town centre to the Circus there are pieces of artwork, some representing artefacts that are on display in the Castle. The ship image on the right includes an oyster, a favourite Roman lunch.

The Roman Circus Centre is the hub for information about Roman chariot racing in Colchester. It has a café (which is always worth a mention!) and interesting models and displays showing what the Circus would have looked like. More information about the site can be found in the grounds of the Centre. You can even line up a diagram, which gives you an idea of the scale of the gates that horses and chariots were released from.

My turn! During training in design and museum display, we Trainees recently looked at the different ways stories can be presented. As a consequence, my eyes are now constantly scanning for informative and interactive displays. I found this to be an ingenious and simple way to help visitors travel back in time and visualise the buildings.


I was left wondering what it would be like to race a real Roman chariot? Would it be difficult to control the horses? What would the Circus sound like? If only I had two wheels and a few horses to answer those questions…


…I returned to Colchester Castle to have my questions answered. Here I am racing a chariot and trying to catch up with the driver in front. It’s difficult not to shout at the screen! The display is totally interactive and very fun! It’s great to be able to experience the Circus both in person and virtually. Hearing the roar of the crowds adds an extra dimension to understanding what Roman entertainment might have been like.

I hope you will all be encouraged to pay a visit to these sites and time travel back 2000 years too.

See you soon!


The end is nigh! Bye bye bye.

Aloha, Em here!

So this is a weird post to be writing and I’m filled with many emotions! It is my last as a Training Museum Trainee with Colchester + Ipswich Museums!

Over the past 12 months I’ve been involved in a ridiculous amount of exciting activities, from delivering sessions to Supplementary Schools to presenting at the Transforming People Conference at Colchester Castle, re-interpreting the Ipswich Museum Victorian Gallery to co-curating an exhibition for the Battle of the Somme, documenting Tudor objects and carrying out remedial conservation on Ipswich’s natural history collections, including Wool-I-Am the Mammoth!

I have learnt so much about museum essentials from our training programme e.g. how to design an accessible exhibition, the ways that pests can be controlled, what’s involved in Accreditation, how to research and document objects and very importantly how to handle objects correctly – LIFT FROM THE CARCASS!

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Along with the other first cohort of Trainees, I’ve also been lucky enough to go on some great trips to other museums, attend conferences, support fun events, oh and win awards!

Thank you to everyone at CIMS for making this such a fun, exciting and challenging adventure, filled with so many skills and experiences that I can take with me into my next realm of work. (Although you won’t get rid of us that easily – the Ipswich Trainees are staying on as Visitors Service staff, so you might get to see us for a few more months!)

Bye bye bye, Em 🙂