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), provided members with a Covid-19 update on the situation across all NMS sites.


A number of the COVID-secure and infection control procedures implemented across NMS sites remained in place with a focus on keeping staff and visitors safe by minimising the risk of transmission of both COVID and other seasonal infections. Hand sanitisers were still being provided throughout and enhanced cleaning arrangements remained in place whilst a focus remained on providing well ventilated spaces throughout.


CO2 monitors, provided by Norfolk County Council (NCC), were operating in a number of key spaces, across NMS where there was more limited natural/mechanical ventilation, supplemented by air purifiers where necessary whilst continuing to maintain existing ventilation arrangements to maximise fresh air flow. The CO2 monitors, monitored locally by staff, had proved an effective means of monitoring air flow providing room alerts to highlight peaks with set procedures in place to counteract the peaks for example, opening doors and windows and reducing the number of visitors into the spaces. This efficient means of monitoring continued to ensure minimal risk of transmitting COVID and enabled maximum use of facilities whenever possible.


The Curator of Kings Lynn and Thetford Museums, Oliver Bone presented the report on activities at the Ancient House, Museum of Thetford Life covering the period from August 2022 to January 2023.  Building works at the former King’s Head public house, a listed building next door to the Ancient House, had caused some disruption to the Museum’s operation since work had begun in late autumn 2020. The King’s Head still remained covered in scaffolding following the involvement of Breckland Council and the Health and Safety Executive. It was understood that work was now about to start again, this time on the conversion of the listed building into three houses. Planning permission and Listed Building consent for the revised development had been granted in 2022. A site meeting with the developer, builder, architect, and officers from NMS, Norse and Breckland Council took place on 31 January 2023 to plan the next steps of the build.


The Viking exhibition continued to be well received by visitors specifically attending the museum for that reason. The Museum staff had worked with the Breck Fen Edge & Rivers Landscape Partnership and Dr Richard Hoggett to curate the exhibition which had also involved members of the Teenage History Group in choosing artefacts and themes for display. The Ancient House was part of the Lottery-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 Ancient House was receiving funding as a partner organisation to produce exhibitions and activities in 2022 and 2023 on the themes of Vikings and Riverside Heritage.


Following agreement at the June 2022 Area Museums Committee and the Joint Museums committee in July 2022, the team at the Ancient House had continued to work on developing a bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund to create new displays at the Museum to make more of the unusual connections between the Museum and the Maharajah Duleep Singh and his family and planned to submit the funding application during 2023.


Ancient House continued to offer a varied programme of school workshops at the Museum to enhance pupils’ learning with excellent support and work from the Learning Officer, Melissa Hawker. Ancient House continued to offer digital support and Zoom based sessions where requested.


The Chairman asked if digital attendance was captured and included within the stats data. Dr Hanley confirmed that there remained a demand for digital learning and the attendance was captured through the NCC stats team and included in attendance figures.


The Ancient House continued to offer after school clubs for primary age and teenagers, in fact the first young people who had started attending the Mini Museum Club had now progressed through to join the Teenage History Club which indicated that the Museum had the dedication to continue to provide interesting, fun and challenging subjects for the children and young people to learn in a hands-on exciting environment.


Social media continued to play an active presence with the Museum and was a great way to share information and local history with all ages. The Ancient House remained committed to Twitter and Facebook and hoped to use Instagram at some point in the future when they had the capacity to do so.


In August Ancient House staff had worked with BFER funded Tales from the River project, and a film maker on a week-long summer club working with young people to learn new skills. All parties had worked together to create a short film on how the river had been used for fun in past years. The week had been fun, family friendly and interesting, discovering new material and creating animations, film footage and content. The film could be seen at the following link:


As part of the Thetford Christmas Lights event, the Teenage History Club had staged a fictional historically themed murder mystery event which was part of the Kids in Museums Takeover Day initiative, when museums, galleries, historic homes and heritage sites across England were taken over by children and young people. Supported by Arts Council England funding this project supported several young people with varied needs to participate and deliver activities to the public and helped to promote confidence in young people by giving presentations and talking directly to adults to share their knowledge.


The Museum had supported the Heritage Open Days campaign in September 2022 with both a Tudor and Viking open day with lots of visitors enjoying the events. Volunteer artist-in-residence, Dan Morgan had created 3D representations of heraldic beasts linked to the Tudors and was on hand to explain their significance to visitors.


On 20 October 2022, representatives of Ancient House’s Teenage History Club had presented a paper at the Queer Heritage & Collections Network Symposium held at the university of Leicester. Their Paper, entitled ‘Queering the Vikings’, explored gendering Viking remains in archaeological digs explaining the process of disentangling gender and current thinking in biological anthropology and osteoarchaeology and also went on to explain that clothing and accessories were not enough to determine gender. The presentation had received excellent reviews and work was currently underway to film a version of this presentation for circulating to a wider audience as part of the Kick the Dust project evaluation. The presentation can be viewed at the following link:


For Black History Month in October Ancient House had hosted a touring exhibition about the history of the African American Abolitionist lecturers who toured Norfolk during the 19th century and played a key role in raising awareness of the horrors of slavery and shared their experience in slavery in America.


Volunteers at the Museum had returned and some were back helping with the scanning and documentation of the postcard collection. The Friends of the Museum remained strong with a good active group and keen committee.


The Ancient House continued to host a paid traineeship, provided through the NMS teaching Museum programme, funded through Arts Council England. The current trainee, Katie Crowson had been involved in many aspects of museum work and recently gave a talk about Norfolk’s Victorian arctic explorer, Samuel Gurney Cresswell.


Conservator colleagues from NMS undertake regular pest management checks at the museum and fortunately there were no current pest problems at Ancient House, and this would continue to be regularly monitored.


Councillor Ward complimented Mr Bone for his report which he said had been very  informative and interesting and said that the photographs had complimented the narrative very well, giving good insight on his motivating update.


Members of the Committee noted the report.

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