Agenda item

Ancient House Museum Report

To receive a report from Oliver Bone, Curator of Ancient House Museum.


Dr Robin Hanley, Assistant Head of Museums for Norfolk Museums Service (NMS), explained that all NMS museums closed to visitors on 19 March 2020 as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic with the majority of staff working remotely since this time. Most normal activities and services, including general visits and school visits, had been severely impacted. Many NMS staff had been involved in key duties relating to the Norfolk County Council’s COVID-19 emergency work including helping to coordinate volunteer activities and managing the distribution of food and medicine to residents who needed support.


During the lockdown period NMS staff had developed a broad range of digital resources to support audiences remotely which had included a significant expansion of social media activity. Resources had also been developed for those in digital poverty or without ready access to digital content.


From the 4 July Government announced that museums could legally reopen with suitable COVID-19 security measures in place and three NMS sites, which included Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse, reopened to the general public on 3 August. All visits had to be pre-booked using timed tickets available from the Art Tickets website and to accommodate social distancing, site visitor capacity had been reduced to approximately 30%.


The layout of Ancient House, with a succession of smaller rooms over two floors, made the re-opening of this site to the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic more difficult, due to the requirements for social distancing. Planning was currently taking place for the limited resumption of carefully controlled on-site activities for schools and young people when it was safe to do so. The NMS had remained ever vigilant in terms of the changing guidance and had continued to be flexible in terms of responding to any new government requirements introduced over time, such as the wearing of face coverings.


Councillor Clarke thanked Dr Hanley, and the NMS staff for all of the hard work that had gone on behind the scenes to make it possible to re-open museums in line with current Government guidelines and in doing so had reassured the public and visitors that Norfolk Museums would be a safe and secure environment in which to visit.


The Curator of Kings Lynn and Thetford Museums, Oliver Bone, presented the Ancient House Museum report to Members that covered the period from December 2019 to August 2020.


Ancient House remained closed and they were looking at how it can be opened safely for school groups and young people’s groups with still some work to be done and hope that over the winter period would have some resumption to work towards reopening safely in line with Government guidelines.


It was hoped that the Studio Ceramics exhibition, (the last exhibition at the museum prior to lockdown) would be replaced with the Thetford Treasure exhibition which would be a loan from the British Museum of a selection from the late Roman hoard of inscribed and decorated silver spoons and gold jewellery items. A request had been put into the British Museum and a response awaited.  Ancient House benefited from high security display cases in the changing exhibition room which facilitated these types of significant loans from national collections.


Two exhibition projects commissioned through the Brecks River and Fen Edge landscape project had been planned for the future. This was a National Lottery funded 5 years scheme and Ancient House were creating exhibitions around Vikings and riverside heritage, two separate strands with associated activities.


Ancient House would like to host permanent displays on the Duleep Singh story. There was a unique aspect of the museum foundation that connected with the Royal family of the Punjab with Prince Frederick Duleep Singh the son of the Maharajah. This would compliment the proposed new display at Thetford Guildhall where there were plans for a Duleep Singh room with a display of paintings. The Museums Service were looking forward to working with Thetford Town Council on this project.


Focus for all staff had been on increasing the digital presence of the museum and it had been used to provide visuals and stories and a mechanism to share information. Staff had developed the Ancient House You Tube channel which had included 59 short films. Other activities included watch along events and online talks that had reached an international audience. They had worked with Dr David Waterhouse on the How to Dig up a Tyrannosaurus which was a popular family activity. Information on the increase in numbers on Twitter and Facebook would be circulated to members after the meeting.


Although the Museum’s textile groups had to be put on hold the Museum staff had been making fortnightly phone calls to members to stay connected. The Friends of the Museum continued to support wherever possible and the Friends committee had agreed to extend membership into 2021.


The Museum had an excellent new trainee in Sami Yussuf who had been contributing to the increase museum’s digital information with creating short films and providing much needed technical support.


Oliver thanked the Woodmansterne Art Conservation Awards scheme which had funded the conservation of the Cornell Fison civic portrait. This had been conserved and connected to the water fountain in the marketplace which was a donation from the Fison family.


Ancient House had succeeded in raising funds for the purchase of the David Osborne postcard collection of over 1000 postcards showing Thetford views from the 1870s to the present day. Oliver presented a small selection of some of the postcards and wanted to thank the Arts Council England/V and A purchase grant funds, and Breckland Council through the match funding programme, The Friends of Thetford Museum, the Lady Hind Trust and Thetford Town Council for their support on this project.


The Chair asked Oliver to provide contact details of all of the sponsors in order that a letter of thanks could be sent on behalf of the committee to thank them for their contributions to acquire this important collection.

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