Update – Just checking in…

A lot has been going on since I finished my Heritage Lottery Funded training – I’ve attended a few conferences, notably Paranumismatica training with Museum Development North West at Manchester Museum and The Un-Straight Museum with Homotopia at The Museum of Liverpool.

However, the exciting news is I have two new jobs – Collections Documentation Assistant at The Museum of Wigan Life and Explainer at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Juggling the two, as you can imagine, is going to make me super busy. I can not wait to get stuck in and really get using my curatorial skills (especially at Wigan) that the HLF and Stockport Museums have helped me perfect over the course of the Skills for the Future program.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank the curatorial team at Stockport for their ongoing guidance and support. I  hope they are aware that the opportunities and training they provided me with has been invaluable – making me confident in my skills, allowing me to build a career in the museums world. The past year has been awesome!

Make sure to continue following me on Twitter at @LF_StockMus (Update: @Ren_Field87)

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Find it Friday! – Week 43. – TOP THREE!

This is the last official Find it Friday for a while as on Monday my current contract will end and I will no longer be part of the HLF’s Skills for the Future program. However, I am staying on with the curatorial services and I shall also be working at another local museum on Fridays doing the same things – working on the stored Natural History collections. Improving the quality, the storage, the identification and documentation of these objects. Something to look forward to! Especially the new museum as I have never worked at this one before so I am very much looking forward to seeing their collection!

Ichthyosaur jaw in shot with an Ichthyosaur paddle and a small Mammoth tooth.

Ichthyosaur jaw in shot with an Ichthyosaur paddle and a small Mammoth tooth.

So perhaps this final Find it Friday should be about my favourite object in the collection here? Although, I have already used it, in week 12, which you can read HERE. Currently this object is on display at Stockport Story Museum, in the temporary exhibition ‘Saints and Sinners’ which, if you want to see you have until the 26th of October 2014 to do so.

Another favourite object of mine is a group of objects – the taxidermy. I have always loved bit of nature and animals but studying Geology it was very rare that I had to deal with dead animals. Yet my first real museum role after leaving university was working with taxidermy and with the quite large intake of natural history objects this year (from Vernon Park and the Schools Library Service) I have spent more time with these objects than not. Doing small conservation jobs here and there with some of the taxidermy has led me to thinking along the lines of looking into further training, sourcing taxidermy courses and weighing up some options.



Finally, by last favourite object would be the mineral collection collected by Miss Caroline Birley. I can not pick one mineral (whereas if I had to choose a favourite taxidermy piece, it would probably be the fox) because it is more the story and legacy of Birley and her connection to these objects that I appreciate. Caroline Birley was a local Geologist. She was born on Oxford Road, Manchester, November 16th 1851. From an early age she showed an interest in the field and started by collecting small rocks and stones that intrigued her.

By the age of 30 Caroline Birley had been an active Geologist for over 20 years, constantly collecting rock, mineral and fossil specimens for her private collection. In 1884 her collection became so large, as you can imagine, that she could no longer store it in her home and so, after moving to Seedley Terrace in Salford, she had to build a building in her garden with the sole purpose of holding her finds. In 1888 she named this building Seedley Museum and opened it to the public.

Towards the end of her life Caroline Birley began to curate her collection, she began to name, label and order the specimens she had collected throughout her entire life. On the 15th of February 1907, after suffering from influenza, Caroline Birley had a heart attack and died in Pendleton, Lancashire, she was 55.



In accordance to a will Birley made out in 1895 most of her mineralogical and geological collection was bequest to the Natural History Museum, London. The items that they didn’t want or need were then offered to Manchester Museum. The remaining pieces of her collection were then divided out between local museums by her brother, Francis Birley, including museums in Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Radcliffe and Warrington. And this is how some of that collection has ended up with us in Stockport.

You can read more about Birley HERE as she featured in week 18’s Find it Friday.

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Find it Friday! – Week 42.

This week is the penultimate Find it Friday as I shall be leaving the Curatorial Services in less than two weeks. Due to this I am frantically trying to get all the current projects I have on the go completed. One of these jobs was getting all the Natural History collection from the School’s Library Service completed, documented and stored – which I have more or less done! I am very excited to see how they ultimately get used within the redevelopment of Stockport Museum.

90% of this collection is taxidermy pieces mounted in individual perspex boxes which, as considered in an earlier blog post, makes these pieces ideal for this project. To have these objects in an area that is meant to encourage getting up close to and engaging with the objects, these boxes allow the taxidermy to be out of large cases, yet still be protected. Providing the visitor with the feeling of being in a more one-on-one situation with the object, getting much closer than has previously been allowed. Which is amazing as some of the specimens are wonderful…

Recently I visited the Museum of Liverpool and they had a case showing various taxidermy birds to help understand the identity of the Liver Bird, the symbol of the city of Liverpool. Each bird within the case was given a narrative, almost a personality, which amused me. Taxidermy is seen in various lights – from a macabre and cruel ‘sport’ to an essential educational / scientific exploration tool that is also important in the highlighting of such global issues as deforestation, global warming, extinction, urbanisation, pollution issues ect. But I had never really seen this approach taken before, the giving of attitudes to the objects made me warm to them instantly and I can now see how this has become a key tool in establishing an online presence for some museums.

Museums are giving their natural history specimens a voice on the internet, namely on Twitter, to allow them to give visitors an incentive to visit their institutions, themselves! From Sue the T-Rex (one of the largest and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex specimens ever found!!) at The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois to Glass Jar of Moles, at The Grant Museum of Zoology, University College London, which is the voice of many… moles… in a glass jar.

It’s an interesting concept to consider – would being invited to visit a museum by a 66 (ish) million year old dinosaur persuade you to do so? I’m not sure I could say that it wouldn’t me!

But the possibilities are endless; children can have their photo taken next to Sue and then their parents could Tweet the image to Sue herself! A reply would surely excite and astound a young, budding Alan Grant or Ellie Sattler, staying with them and hopefully providing a foundation to set a growing love for museums upon for years to come.

Unfortunately none of our taxidermy pieces have discovered Twitter yet, just the stores for now. Alongside the perspex boxes some larger specimens are not enclosed. A fox, badger, hare, two pheasants and a buzzard with its wings spread are all stand alone mounted pieces. Due to the time a redevelopment actually takes these collection objects might be in storage for a little while yet, so to ensure their safety I wrapped these pieces in Tyvek. This synthetic material ensures the objects are protected and dust is not allowed to accumulate that may attract pests. To make them accessible if they are required before display, I secured the Tyvek with velcro, of course, making sure to get it nowhere close to any fur or feathers.

Before and After.

Before and After.

Some conservation was required before any of this could take place, mainly on tails. 

The hare’s tail had come severely loose and was at risk of falling right off despite being tied to the hare with what appeared to be thick string. I used pins to attach the tail back to the body, securely and in the correct position. It took four to five small rail pins and one larger pin centrally to get a deeper hold inside the stuffing.

Although this sounds like a small job, it made a big difference to a collection object in otherwise perfect condition.

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Find it Friday! – Week 41.

We have a lot of frog, toad and newt models in the collection. A few of them were on display at Vernon Park and came back with the Natural History objects that I reintroduced into the collection a few months ago, which you can read about HERE. The others suggest they might have been used for educational sessions or displays due to being formally identified and in fair to poor condition. Along side this, it is probable a model showing the life cycle of a frog is very unlikely to have been used as a decorative piece!

The models are made of plaster and are hand painted. Some are dated underneath at 1952 but other than that, their provenance is unknown. Despite this they are wonderful collection items and I have chosen them for this weeks Find It Friday for this reason – I just really like them!

April 26th is Save the Frogs Day, find out more HERE.


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Find it Friday! – Week 40.

Another reference to the redevelopment of Stockport (Story) Museum – It is such a huge task which involves a thousand and one different jobs within the whole project that are at the moment, all under way. Most of the cases in the museum are being redesigned, changing what exactly they address to tell the story of Stockport. However, there are a few displays that will be staying, firm favourites and pieces that are just wonderful. One such case is this weeks Find it Friday.

‘English Rose’ kitchens were first designed by Constant Speed Airscrews (CSA) in the late 1940s. The company made aircraft parts during World War II but turned their engineering expertise to the domestic market after the war ended.  Their kitchens were scientifically designed to provide maximum convenience and economy of space whilst also being incredibly pleasing to the eye.

The 1950s saw the transition of the kitchen from a simple cooking space to a multi-functioning heart of the home. The ‘English Rose’ was one of the first, if not the first, styled modular kitchen available in Britain. It lead the way in modern ergonomic kitchen design and to this day still remains a highly sought after item on the vintage market. It is the epitome of classic mid-century design. This particular kitchen was removed from a house in Stockport in the early 1990s.

Some of the objects removed for cleaning.

Some of the objects removed for cleaning.

Earlier this week Janny and I took to cleaning this case. This was just to ensure that it was looking the best it possibly could for display. There is also a possibility that dust accumulation on collection items could attract pests, but a quick look at the pest traps located in this case suggested no such worries and they were empty.

All the items were removed from the case to begin with and the first job was to clean the actual ‘English Rose’ fitted kitchen. Thankfully, time has been kind to the kitchen and it was not as dirty as you might imagine, even though it is likely that this was its first proper clean since it was an actual functioning kitchen. With a bucket of warm soapy water we wiped down all the surfaces, cupboards, the fridge, the tumble dryer and we mopped the checker board lino floor. The kitchen was then left to dry while the other objects were cleaned.

Some of the objects from the kitchen were recipe books/manuals and boxes; paper and card objects that could not be wet and so they were just dusted. Even though the other objects were glass, plastic and pot in material they too could not be submerged. Not only due to the fact they are collection items but it is also important that they did not lose their identification information. Most of the objects had their museum numbers marked on their base or somewhere equally inconspicuous. Using water to clean these objects runs the risk of taking this information off the object, resulting it being untraceable and unable to be connected to its MODES record. This effectively makes the object useless – all information would be lost and its relevance to the collection would go unknown.

Before and After?

Before and After?

Once the kitchen was dry renaissance wax was applied to add a layer of protection and hopefully, a clean shine! Admittedly, in photographs the kitchen looks no different apart from the rearranged objects but in real life it is lovely!

Throughout the day many ideas came up that could help improve this case, rather than change it completely like others involved in the redevelopment, such as painting the walls blue, the introduction of a family portrait to the wall and the inclusion of further items from the collection to really make that 1950’s kitchen bustle come alive.

You can find out a little more about ‘English Rose’ kitchens by following this link to a video showing when a similar one to ours featured on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.


(Click the images for larger view.)

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Making Headway.

Getting a closer look.

Getting a closer look.

‘Making Headway’ is an exhibition coming to Hat Works. It will run from Saturday 24th May 2014 to Sunday 24th May 2015 and will showcase hats created by 13 up-and-coming milliners made especially for this exhibition and an accompanying catwalk show that is being held on the 17th May 2014. This will be the first time hats displayed in an exhibition at Hat Works – the only museum in the county dedicated to hatting – can be bought from their cases.

Not just any old hats though – the hats being created are ones that have been inspired by the collection here at the curatorial services. A blog is being kept HERE for the milliners to chart their experiences and progress and it addresses the importance of the work done before the events; “The programme has 3 elements: millinery masterclasses, building a sustainable brand and using museum collections as inspiration.”

Some of the Natural History collection used.

Some of the Natural History collection used.

The collections being used are not just hats held within Hat Works collection, but the whole collection. I have attended two of the workshops as curatorial support now and the collections chosen included natural history, WWI crafts, Victorian pin-up postcards and much more. And of course, some fabrics and hats!

Curatorial support is basically assisting the collections. So the movement of the objects to Hat Works from the curatorial services, which involves packing, their movements being documented in paper and digital form and the unpacking and display on location. Along side this, a constant presence is needed throughout the day to answer any questions concerning the collection objects and to handle the objects if anyone attending the masterclass wanted a closer look, underneath for example – we sat the hats on display heads but the milliners were very keen to view stitching and labels inside and so as curatorial it was our job to handle the collection objects in the correct manner to ensure their safety.

‘Making Headway’ is shaping up to be an amazing project and I am excited to see the final products. Katie S designed the logo that is being used to advertise the event so if you see one, be sure to pick it up.

Incase you missed it, to keep up to date with whats going on and exhibition and catwalk info, the Making Headway website can be found HERE.


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Meeting Foxes and Badgers at the library. AN UPDATE.

Unfortunately, in just over a month I will be leaving the curatorial services here in Stockport. This means that until that day I am going to be very busy with lots of ongoing projects (some huge and some not quite so huge) whilst still working on everyday tasks. I have this remaining time to complete my work so that I can make a noticeable difference to the projects that I will not be here to see through to completion, to help the rest of the curatorial team as much as possible.

Fox skeleton.

Fox skeleton.

One such job is documenting the taxidermy and natural history collection from the Schools Library Service. I mentioned in an earlier blog post HERE that due to their unfortunate closure the Schools Library Service were forced to redistribute their collection. As sad as this is, it couldn’t have come at a better time for us. With the redevelopment of Stockport Museum and the proposed idea of turning the top floor in to an interactive space not limited to Stockport’s story, these items are ideal to explore that idea.

The idea is to display the parts of the collection never previously displayed at this site before, such as Archaeology, Geology, Egyptology and Natural History – to expose more of the stored collection. Here at the curatorial services we already have some amazing pieces in these areas that would be perfect for this floor but the Library Service was just too good an opportunity to miss! A lot of the natural history pieces are mounted in perspex boxes which will allow visitors a closer look, giving the illusion they are more physically accessible without them being put at risk.

So now the items we were lucky enough to acquire are back here with us and they have to be introduced into our collection. Documentation is essential and a big part of what we do in curatorial as everything that we hold needs to be accounted for, tracked and cataloged to insure nothing is lost, stolen or damaged. Stringent and detailed documentation is also important as it makes literally everything easier – the collection is accessible to allow for objects to be identified and located for various reasons such as exhibitions, research or education, and even simpler tasks such as deciding whether to accept a donation can be helped by knowing exactly what you store and if it will be suited to your collection or if it will be a duplicate.

Space is important, and something that we are starting to lack fast. This is why it’s not really possible to take duplicates of objects, especially large ones, into the collection at this time. This was an issue that was also key in our choosing of what we took from the Schools Library Services collection. The objects we choose were ones lacking from our collection and in great condition. Some we chose were similar to objects already in our collection but ones we could definitely use for the redevelopment with a variety of options of how to display and interpret – such as the fox.

This means not all the objects photographed on the previous blog post mentioned were chosen, unfortunately.

Some larger ones not in perspex boxes waiting to be done.

Some larger taxidermy pieces not in perspex boxes waiting to be documented.

So, the documentation has to be compleated now. Rather than accessioning these objects they will be given an SC number as they will be part of the Support Collection. This means they are much more likely to be used for education sessions and to inspire activities, which is the goal of the interactive space. In fact, some of these items have already been used in this way – for school education outreach sessions and workshops to inspire milliners in their hat making.

Each object is given its own number alongside its E number (an entry number assigned to it when it was effectively donated). This number is then marked on the object  (in various ways depending on space and material), photographs are taken with a scale and it is found a location in the correct area of the stores. Following this, a MODES record for each object is created containing all the information about the object – its identification, a discription, how the collection aquired it, a condition check, its current locations, any previous locations (such as the ones used in the workshops) and its photograph, etc.



In the above mentioned previous blog post I also spoke of the removal of the Costume Case. With the hope that the room in which it sat could be used as an education space that would be a more enclosed area for the school groups visiting, its use would free up more space on the gallery floor for more displays. The lone case was just a glass front that attached to the wall using it as its back and sides as the room ceiling is slanted. It was completely ripped out freeing up the entire room which was then repainted before the education team moved in. 

.... after.

…. after.

Now, the room is a functioning education space and couldn’t look anymore different! It is brighter and encourages active, hands on learning and by all accounts, is a huge success.

Here are some more photographs of the natural history objects from the Schools Library Service I have already done. 55 have been documented out of an estimated 150.


Posted in Stockport Story Museum, Taxidermy | 1 Comment