Some mysteries we need help with

We have been a bit quiet recently as lots of our volunteers are busy researching stories and we are starting to get results back in. There are some really great stories coming in and it is clear that Essex women have been contributing to life in the county in a positive way for a long time!

One of the challenges we are facing is the low visibility of some of these women. We get tantalising glimpses of stories but because womens’ history hasn’t always been recorded and celebrated the project is coming across a number of ‘dead ends’.

We’ll be launching some appeals for help over the next few weeks to see if we can get more information to help us tell these stories.

Mrs Wilson in 1918 Image Courtsey of the Essex Police Museum

One thing that is puzzling me at the moment came from the transcripts a team of volunteers have completed of Alice Wilson’s Notebook from the Essex Police Museum. Alice was a patrol women working in Romford in 1918 and much of her notebook describes her dealing with domestic things such as ‘had a complaint about children knocking in doors in London Road’.

 

Two pages stand out a little and I can’t work out whether there are one or two stories here or whether Alice was being economical with space in her notebook and the two are mixed up!

‘Alice Roberts (Roberto?) will be sent to (Balsal ?) Heath as had a bad injury single Hospital  to X ray’

Where was Alice sent?

‘Police was asked by N.C.O to take notice of any girl wearing WAAC uniform without badge on front. Also badge on armbit. They are (unliked?)’

What does the comment about WAAC uniform mean?

Does anyone have an idea where Alice was sent?

What was the story behind women wearing WAAC uniforms without badges? Why were police asked to look out for them?

Any ideas or further information would be great to have!

Please email pippa.smith@essex.gov.uk or leave a comment below if you can help

Meeting the Exhibition Team

Today’s blog is written by Jo Gillam, one of the volunteers who has joined the project to help us create an exhibition. Jo advises museums on learning and access and she has her own blog – but today she is acting as guest blogger for Snapping the Stiletto.

 

On 13th July, one half of the exhibitions team for Snapping the Stiletto met for the first time in beautiful former Georgian mansion, Hollytrees Museum in Colchester. Seven volunteers from across Essex gathered with Project Manager, Pippa Smith and Interpretation Trainer, Stewart Alexander (@storylinestew). We were there to learn and discuss how to turn new research on local women who were active outside the home over the last century, into a meaningful, influential, accessible exhibition.

Hollytrees Museum Colchester

Pippa was a welcoming presence throughout the day. She was on hand to answer questions about the project such as timeframes and the different ways team members would be involved. Pippa stressed that it was the team’s exhibition with her role being to co-ordinate, organise, and “to act as a filter”.

Stewart guided us through good practice when writing interpretive text, giving us exercises involving the personal objects we’d all been asked to bring. I studied heritage interpretation post-degree and have a little experience of producing displays, so it was good to re-visit the theories of practitioners like Tilden. The group considered the use of intangibles and universal concepts, that people remember stories not facts, ways in which we might decide which stories or parts of them to tell, and how to get to the nub of a message. It was agreed that we should try to create pictures in the minds of readers, rather than simply writing summaries of facts, and to try to make emotional connections. Everyone was given practical writing guidelines which covered details such as word counts and sentence length. Towards the end of the day, we practised some of our learning using information on Southend worthy, Adelaide Hawken.

The third, important element of the day was the chance to get to know fellow volunteers. Apart from all being female, we were a varied group whose diverse ages, backgrounds, knowledge, skills and experiences should result in a team of many strengths. I’m certainly looking forward to working with such interesting women and building relationships with the remaining team members who will be getting together on 4th August.

Apart from meeting new people and finding out more about the structure of the exhibition project, what key point did I take away from the day? For me, it was that the messages we choose should meaningfully express the essence of what we wish to say and when combined should make complete stories. If the team can come up with clear messages of this nature, we’ll have a good basis for an excellent exhibition of stories audiences will leave caring about.

Jo Gillam @1accessforall

(Thanks to Hannah Salisbury for the photographs)

National Democracy Week

It’s been a while since we blogged as we have been busy moving the project forward by recruiting teams to help us create a travelling exhibition, and to come up with ideas for events to celebrate 100 years of change for Essex women. The first team is recruited and we will be kicking off with a couple of training session but there is still time to sign up to be part of the engagement team if you are interested.

We’ve also been working with our partner museums and meeting them to find out what stories volunteers are starting to uncover and it’s great to see examples of women’s stories coming to the forefront – watch this space!

Our Project Manager has been busy putting together a travelling stand and its first outing is this week in the atrium at County hall in Chelmsford. July 2nd sees the start of the inaugural National Democracy Week and the 100 year anniversary of some women getting the vote is going to be in sharp focus so we’ve been invited to help the council celebrate.

Pippa will be on the stand to chat to people on Wednesday 4th so if you live or work locally and would like to find out more then do come along and meet her between 11 and 3. The stand will be there all week and we’re the taking it to an event to celebrate the birthday of Emmeline Pankhurst on July 15th at an EqualiTea.

 

Focus on…Epping Forest District Museum

It has been an exciting time for Epping Forest District museum as they reopened this year with improved facilities and displays and an extension into the building next door which gives them more exhibition space and an activity room. The improvements were funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The museum is based in Waltham Abbey in a Tudor building which is now far more accessible to all thanks to the recent improvements. It tells the story of the Epping Forest district through its collections of art, archaeology, photographs, social history and documents and has over 50 000 object in its collection. You can get a flavour of the range of its collections by visiting a new gallery- the core gallery- which has a ‘cabinet of curiosities’. This gallery also lets visitors see what is happening behind the scenes and allow a peek into the art and costume stores.

The museum is keen to uncover the untold stories of the roles played by women at work over the last 100 years. They are looking for volunteers to help them research material both in the collection at the Museum in Waltham Abbey and in the community across the district. You could contribute to this by researching stories online, visiting libraries in the district or by visiting the Essex record Office to give the museum ideas of what stories might be hiding, untold, in their collection.

 

National Volunteers’ week

June 1st to 7th is Volunteers’ week – a time to say thank you for the fantastic contribution volunteers make across the country. We’ve talked about our volunteers before but can’t miss this chance to celebrate the work they have been doing – and have signed up to do- again.

We launched our volunteering programme in International Woman’s Day (March 8th) using the Volunteer Makers platform. Through this we have recruited 113 volunteers who are supporting our 12 partner museums with research, by transcribing oral histories, decoding 100-year-old handwriting in a police notebook and sharing information across social media.

 

Some volunteers have enjoyed the fact that they can fit volunteering around busy lives and have taken up challenges that means they can work from home when they get a minute (and every minute adds up). Others find that they enjoy being part of a team and there is a very active group in Southend working with the Museum service there.

The research stage of the project is going well – although we’d really like to find out more about the women who worked in various engineering firms across Essex- can you help?

There are also opportunities to visit various libraries and record offices to explore what information they hold– we can help with travel expenses so don’t let that put you off. Braintree museum would love more help in researching Katherine Mina Courtauld and Redbridge Museum would like volunteers to look through the newspaper archive at the Heritage centre for stories of local suffragettes.

The next stage is to start to put all of this research together so we can tell the stories of strong Essex women over the last 100 years. Volunteers are signing up to help design an exhibition, to work on an engagement programme and to help take these stories out to events across the county. There are still spaces on these teams if you’d like to sign up.

We are lucky that we have an experienced museum curator who has volunteered her time to support the project (thank you Becky!) but you don’t need any experience of working in museums, exploring archives or designing exhibitions to get involved as we will provide any training and support you need. You just need enthusiasm and an interest in celebrating the lives and achievement of strong Essex women over the last 100 years.

Finally- THANK YOU to all of you who have taken part so far

Uncovering the Past at Essex Record Office

One of our key partners in this project is the Essex Record Office who are helping us with advice, research and training.

The ERO holds archives that take up nearly eight miles of shelves and the items they care for include parish registers, diaries, letters, court records, wartime records, manorial records and school records. It’s also home to the Essex Sound and Video Archive.

To mark 100 years since the Representation of the People Act the ERO blog has celebrated Essex women such as suffrage campaigners, WWI Nurse Kate Luard  and Matron of Black Notley Hospital Mary Ellen Ruck.

Josephine Culling

Several of our volunteer challenges suggest that you could visit the ERO to look for more information about a particular person such as Katherine Mina Courtuald and Josephine Culling.

Other challenges ask people to look for stories of women working in engineering at different companies such as Ford, Paxman, Bentalls and Marconi and the ERO holds many different company newsletters which could be a great starting point for this.

 

 

If you have never visited a Record Office before it may feel a bit daunting but staff are there to help and you can find a useful guide here.

The Record Office looks after unique, irreplaceable historic material so there are a few key things to remember as these are all to minimise the risk of damage.

It is worth being aware before you visit that they ask-

  • Please bring as little as possible into the Searchroom
  • store your bags in the locker room (free to use and located next to the Searchroom)
  • Please use a pencil rather than a pen
  • You can use laptops and tablets, but cases must be left in the locker room
  • They provide transparent wallets for holding notes and small items

It’s a good idea to bring a warm layer to wear as the searchroom is kept cool (22°C) to help preserve documents (a good place to visit in a heatwave!)

If you’d like a tour of the searchroom there is one coming up on May 30th and you can book here

Just be warned- Record Offices are full of fascinating documents- I’ve lost hours in them!

Focus on… The Museum of Power

 

The Museum of Power, housed in a former water pumping station is based at Langford (about a mile from Maldon). It houses a varied collection of industrial history ranging from an overhead machine shop to a petrol powered iron.

The museum runs a range of event days and has the ‘Lilleshall’ triple expansion steam pump which is now back in steam.

They also have a thriving education programme and are keen to enthuse young people with a love of science and engineering.

 

 

Current exhibitions include ‘Women in Engineering’ and the museum has items in its collection from a whole range of Essex engineering companies and wants to uncover stories of the women who worked at these firms. They are particularly keen to find out more about female workers at Ford of Dunton, Paxman of Colchester and Bentalls of Heybridge and you can sign up to volunteer and help the museum with their research.

 

The museum is looking for untold stories about the roles of women who worked at the Museum of Power or within the associated Essex & Suffolk Water Treatment Plant at Langford nr Maldon to build their ‘family history’ and find out their impact on the water industry and local/national social history.  They would love to find families to invite to a ‘family of the Museum’ party so that they can share the untold stories and memories.