Agenda item

Ancient House Museum Report

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


The Curator of Kings Lynn and Thetford Museums, Oliver Bone presented the report on activities at Ancient House, Museum of Thetford Life covering the period from March to May 2022.


Despite the ending of legal Covid restrictions, a number of the Covid secure systems and procedures implemented across Norfolk Museums Service (NMS) sites during the pandemic remained in place with a focus on keeping staff and visitors safe through minimising any risk of transmission. The museum continued to provide hand sanitiser and directional sign posting. Pre-booking remained an option although it was not a requirement, the wearing of face coverings was optional, and the museum was well ventilated with staff following a good cleaning regime.


Building works at the former King’s Head public house, a listed building next door to the Ancient House continued to cause some disruption, it remained shrouded in scaffolding but there was light at the end of the tunnel as a new application for development had been proposed which seemed a better scheme than that which had previously been applied for and would have less of an effect on Ancient House. They continued to work with Breckland Council’s Historic Buildings Officer, Andrew Gayton to ensure that the proposed building works did not have an impact on Ancient House. The Chairman would add a consultee comment to the current planning application to voice the committee’s concerns on any impact of the proposed properties including the storage, placing and collection of waste bins for any new properties to ensure they did encroach in front of the museum and potentially block access.


The Museum had marked the 150th birth anniversary of Princess Catherine Duleep Singh with an exhibition featuring items on loan including a newly commissioned portrait of the Princess by leading contemporary artist Amandeep Singh, also known as Inkqusitive. Also on display were artefacts associated with Princess Catherine and pull up banners telling her story including her work championing rights for women and helping refugees escape from Nazi Germany. The TV programme, Antiques Road Trip had filmed at the Museum recently with an interview with Peter Bance the Sikh Historian to talk about Princess Catherine which would be broadcast in Autumn.


The current exhibition at Ancient House in the Changing Displays room was Thetford Treasure which featured items from the late Roman hoard of inscribed and decorated silver spoons and gold jewellery. Replicas had been made for permanent display in Thetford as a result of the Thetford Treasure Replica Appeal, led by the then Mayor of Thetford, Mike Edmond. There was also a lovely hoard of glass and pewter ware, a very rare collection, painstakingly pieced together by Debbie Harris.


The Ancient House is part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund-funded Brecks River and Fen Edge (BFER) landscape project. The Scheme won a £2m National Lottery Heritage Fund grant as part of the proposal for a £3.5m landscape conservation scheme. The project would be engaging local communities, schools and like-minded organisations to understand, reveal, celebrate and protect the lost heritage of the Brecks’ Fen Edge & Rivers over the next 5 years. The Ancient House Museum would receive funding as a partner organisation to produce exhibitions and activities in 2022 and 2023 on the themes of Vikings and Riverside Heritage. The project would also involve members of the Teenage History Club who would assist in choosing artefacts and themes for display.


The Museum had a long-standing ambition to do more towards the Duleep Singh story and make more of the unusual connections between the Maharajah Duleep Singh and his family and proposed to approach the National Lottery Heritage Fund to help make this possible by creating new displays at the Museum. The Chairman would write a letter of support for this proposal.


Councillor Jermy said that there was very little information at the Maharajah Duleep Singh statue at Butten Island in Thetford and that the proposal was very encouraging and could be an opportunity to expand the area surrounding the statue and make more of the area.


The Learning Officer, Melissa Hawker had worked closely with local teachers to develop new workshops and history units using an  innovative and flexible approach for schools which included developing a new history unit focusing on India, Empire and the Maharajah Duleep Singh with a programme of digital and on-site workshops and work in partnership with Thetford Town Council’s Guildhall project to support learning about Dr Minns, the first black mayor in Britain and Princess Sophia Duleep Singh.


Ancient House had supported local children to achieve The Platinum Jubilee Norfolk Challenge Awards. The awards had been developed in tribute to the late Duke of Edinburgh, whose own Award scheme had been so influential on the lives of generations of young people and recognised children and young people’s contribution to the Norfolk community as part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations and beyond. The Ancient House History Club completed the award over the last half term and their progress was featured in the Norfolk Platinum Jubilee newsletter (


Volunteers were returning to the Museum; they were currently arranging for IT equipment to be updated. An initial project for some volunteers would be the scanning and documentation of the recently acquired postcard collection working with the Assistant Curator of Lynn Museum, Dayna Woolbright.


The Ancient House had been hosting trainees since 2013, the current trainee was Katie Crowson, and it was hoped to bring Katie along to a committee meeting to gain experience and update the committee on projects she would be involved with.


The Ancient House continues to feature on Radio Norfolk and with a regular slot in the monthly About Thetford magazine.


The Ancient House team is working in partnership with Dr Priya Atwal from Oxford University as part of the Torch Knowledge Exchange programme from the History Faculty. They would be working to research the religious identity of the Maharajah Duleep Singh.


John Ward explained that the Torch Knowledge Exchange History Faculty provided a fellowship grant project to encourage collaborations between post PhD students and organisations like Norfolk Museums Service and provided the funding for projects.


Members of the Committee noted the report.

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