Sunday 1 March 2015

A14 Coffee Morning and HBN in Conversation at the Norris Museum

I’d invited both my Friday business networks to visit the Norris Museum and find out why I thoroughly enjoyed volunteering and working there, inbetween the two meetings. Gilly Vose, the assistant curator (and my mentor during the setting up of my Mammoth Exhibition)  had laid on coffee, tea and biscuits (and some cake!) for the weary travellers who had to make their way down St Ives’ Broadway.

The select A14 Coffee Morning crew had sauntered down around 11ish. Refreshments in hand, their interest soon quickened when fellow volunteer Rodney Scarle, currently cataloguing the coin collection, came by to show off some 1000 year old silver pennies from Edward The Confessor and King Canute. Few of us were aware that there had actually been a Mint in Huntingdon, licenced to strike coins for several hundred years. And to be able to hold a four hundred year old Gold Noble was an experience too.

The HBNers (Huntingdonshire Business Network) began arriving around 12:30 and were in full conversation by 1pm. Curator Sarah Russell dropped by to give us a brief introduction to the Norris Museum. In her hands, one of the treasures, the book of Edmund Pettis’ Survey of St Ives in the 1740’s. Not only did it include the first detailed maps of the town and surrounding fields, it also acted as an early blog on events and people. The fine handwriting-covered pages were interspersed with maps and illustrations that spoke immediately across the centuries to some of us who lived and visited the town.

Museums are increasingly interested in the stories surrounding objects on display. Memories were ignited and stories relating to the past through to the present began to emerge from all of us. Not only we were gripped, Sarah stayed on as we crossed back and forth in time, with objects, memories and technologies. We learnt from Richard Wishart that many of the high-technology industries still active today in Huntingdon were stimulated by the initial settlement of the Edison Gramaphone production in the town. Plastics, composites and radio-communication grew and expanded over the century.

Chris Whipple also introduced us to a long stick like tool used in old vetinary practice, to clear potatoes jammed in cow’s throats. Brian Williamson reminisced on how now many property deeds are held electronically, whilst recalling the scent of parchment from his first days in legal training. Scent could actually be an important addition to future collections as different smells can elicit whole sets of memories.

Luana Mattay commented on how she noticed technological change in the speed and ease of communication to South Africa over different trips. Sarah picked up on this as a pointer to another important role that museums are becoming aware of – I call it “the Recording of Now”. Generally, we look back and artefacts suddenly gain value or historical importance. But it is equally important to remember that what is happening today will be an important historical legacy in the future. The challenge for museums is how to tackle this.

With a couple of centuries of memories in animated conversation, this Friday’s visit by my friends and colleagues to the Norris Museum made my day.

The Norris Museum is always worth a visit - and my Mammoth Exhibition runs to mid April, so do come and visit.