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.
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
Set in the beautiful Oaklands Park, just outside of the city centre, Chelmsford Museum is currently undergoing big changes!
The modern extension on the building is still open for visitors, but the original Victorian house is closed while the team work hard to update the displays to include different objects and stories as well as adding in a much-needed café.
You can read more about their plans for the future here and there is currently a display about what’s happening in the Meadows Shopping Centre in Chelmsford City Centre.
As part of Snapping the Stiletto, Chelmsford Museum is looking for volunteers to research lives of women working at the Marconi factory. Built in 1912, it was the first purpose-built radio factory in the world. They are looking for people to give a couple of hours to research online or, if you have more time to spare, to go into Essex Record Office and do research there. For more information about these, and other opportunities, have a look at our volunteering pages.
One hundred years ago some women got the right to vote. How has life changed for women since this landmark change?
Snapping the Stiletto is working with museums, community groups and volunteers to uncover new stories taking the ‘Representation of the People Act’ (1918) as a starting point to explore 100 years of strong Essex Women.
The project is in its early days and Pippa (the Project Manager) is working with community groups and museums to look for these stories and to work out how to follow them up by exploring the various collections held in museums and the Essex Record Office. We’ll be inviting volunteers to help with this research and you’ll be able to find various ways to volunteer over the next couple of months as the project progresses.
So what stories are out there? What stories would people like us to tell? Who were the strong Essex women of the past 100 years who have contributed to this diverse county?
So far we are looking at telling the stories of little known suffragettes such as Grace Chappelow who lived in Hatfield Peverel and the key role of some of the women of the Courtauld family, with links to Braintree, in the campaign. The Combined Military Services Museum has some amazing stories of the undercover roles women have played in wartime. Elsewhere in the county groups have told us that they are interested in finding out more about ‘campaigning women’ such as Ada Cole, who founded ‘World Horse Welfare’ and Leah Manning, the MP for Epping in the 1940s who organised the evacuation of orphaned children during the Spanish civil war. A group in Harlow have told us of a National Front March that was turned away by a group of women and they’d like to find out more about this.
The Essex Police Museum and the Essex Fire Museum both have stories to uncover about the role women have played in these key services. Other stories that are emerging involve women in industry such as Marconi in Chelmsford and EKCO in Southend.
A worker at the EKCO factory in Southend. Image courtesy of Southend Museums
Community groups have suggested other leads we could follow and are interested in women who were invited to move to Essex to support the NHS and the key role women have played in forging new communities and integrating new cultures into the life of the county.
We’d like to know what potential stories interest you? What do you think museums might have in their collections (objects, documents, photographs) that could tell some new stories about strong Essex women over the past 100 years? We can’t promise that every story can be told- it will depend on what we can find in museum collections- but it would be great to know what you’d like the project to look at to help steer our research.