By Ann-Marie Peckham
Heritage Open Day (Sunday 15th September 2013) saw the Shine a Light team opening up the Superstore at Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse to the first ever public tours.
Our tours, which ran twice every hour (from 11am – 4pm) gave visitors the chance to look around the store, see inside some of the packed crates and view a wide range of objects including the ‘Norwich Snap Dragons’, an eclectic selection of furniture (including a gout stool!), 19th century fire ladders and a 20th century Archimedes screw. The half hour tours were very much a ‘taster’ session, letting the public see our working environment now and informing them on the future look and function of the store planned for March 2014.
With the success of this day (nearly all of our 10 ‘taster’ tours were full!) I thought it would be interesting to let you know about other stored collections around the country that are open to the public.
But first a little background on UK Collections and the role of Collections stores….
Collecting within UK museums increased during mid-late 20th century. This was indirectly due to changes within social and economic welfare and the increasing pace of technological development at this time. The rise of consumerism also meant that traditional skills and trades had either changed or become obsolete and people were looking to ‘upgrade’ to ‘latest must-have’ items quicker than ever before. This meant that there were a lot of items from households and businesses that were being discarded. At the same time, people still had a keen interest to learn about the world around them and to preserve the past while it was still in living memory (which became even easier to do with useful technologies such as video, audio, and photography). This resulted in many museums seeing an increase in donated items which could not always be displayed. Seeing as most museums generally display around 10% of all their collections (due to restrictions on available display space or the quality of the objects) there are usually roughly 90% in storage which are now known as Stored Collections.*
This 90% is not sitting idle. Usually these items will be used by curators to learn more about their collections, as part of handling collections by education & learning departments or external researchers. However, more recently there has been an increase in opening stored collections to the public, which have allowed projects like ‘Shine a Light’ to exist.
However, there are many Collections stores across the country which house treasures of regional and national significance. Here are just a few that are worth a visit….
National Museums Collections Centre, Granton, Edinburgh
Where else could we keep our collection of 1.2 million insects?
The National Museums Collection Centre at Granton, Edinburgh, provides a home for many of the objects and specimens that are not currently on display in our museums. In fact, our collections are so extensive, only a small proportion can ever be shown at once.
From Moby the whale to dinosaur bones, from motorbikes to traction engines – the material gathered here is as diverse as it is vast.
National Collections Centre, Nantgarw, Wales
Come and take a closer look at the National Collections
For a very different kind of visit, the National Collections Centre in Nantgarw stores thousands of fascinating objects that are not on display. The Collections Centre is not open to the general public, but we offer exclusive access to groups.
Reading Museum, Reading, England
Reserve Collections – Find out more
Reading Museum cares for over 400,000 objects. Some objects are too fragile for permanent display or are of mainly research interest. Objects in our reserve collections can be viewed by appointment. We also make collections accessible through tours, temporary exhibitions, loan boxes, loans to other museums and online resources.
National Museums of Ireland, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
While the National Museum of Ireland does not offer Stored Collections tours they do offer a tour of their Conservation Studio. So if you have ‘Ever wondered how a two hundred year old silk stocking survived, or wanted to see the latest archaeological find before it goes on display, the Museum Conservators invite you to see their work as it happens in the Conservation Studio’.
Tours of the Conservation Studio are free of charge and take place once a month.
For more information on how the Museums Association (the largest and oldest Museums Association representing museums and galleries) and their work with stored collections please go to:
*Information in this paragraph was obtained from ‘Collections for the people: Museum’s Stored Collections as a Public Resource’ by Institute of Archaeology, University College London.