Guest post by Greer Parker
My name is Greer Parker and I have recently completed a Fashion Curation master’s degree at London College of Fashion. My placement at North Hertfordshire Museum was initially due to take place a year ago but had to be postponed due to Covid restrictions. The placement was funded by the Costume Society, allowing me to gain valuable hands-on experience of working with a museum collection, in this case shoes! My background is in historic dress research and production, so I have been able to bring my knowledge of historic dress to the project, whilst also getting the opportunity to work hands on with an historic shoe collection.
The North Hertfordshire Museum shoe collection is made up of men’s, women’s and children’s shoes from the 18th century to the present day. The aim of the project was to update and upload the historic shoe collection to the online collection system, meaning objects that are rarely seen in person are now easily accessible to a much wider audience. To do this, I have spent the last six weeks condition checking objects, measuring, photographing and updating digital files. I completed the project by curating a temporary display cabinet inside North Hertfordshire Museum, to show my findings. Here visitors can see a selection of the more unusual and aesthetically pleasing items form the collection. These range from the diamante studded shoes of the 1920s, shoes made in miniature for infants, to 18th century dance slippers with ‘gauche’ (left) and ‘droite’ (right) written inside, to ensure they were worn on the correct feet. The oldest shoes in the display are small red infants shoes from the 1790s, it is always intriguing to see something made so long ago, not to mention something made so precisely in a miniature size.
I have really enjoyed my time with the museum, gaining incredible experience of working with curators and a digital archiving system, along with the modern practice of blended working, both on site and from home.
In the future I would love to continue working with historic dress collections, clothing is such an emotive link with the past. Knowing an object had a life before entering the museum, that it was worn and used centuries ago, this provides a tangible link with the past and a visual representation of our social history.
You can start your search of the museum’s online database on the link below.
Guest Post by Mia Hoskins
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at North Herts Museum. In addition to gaining experience working as front of house, I got to see everything behind the scenes. I gained access to some amazing spaces such as the Archive, the Art Store and the Costume Store. The collections were extensive and fascinating. I received an in depth tour of the galleries and had several interesting discussions with the curators about how each display was carefully curated. I learned a lot about Digitisation and Data Entry, as well as being given the task of sorting through a collection of minutes describing youth groups/youth culture in the 60s and 70s. I also had the pleasure of organising and numbering a collection of stones painted by a local school during lockdown. A lot of the stones consisted of topical and inspirational messages advocating for BLM, LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality and celebrating the NHS. It was lovely to see children using their creativity to make a positive change during the pandemic. I was also able to work with a group of children in a hand print workshop which tied into the wonderful ‘Tiger Who Came To Tea’ exhibition. Working with the public has been very enjoyable. I would like to thank the whole team at North Herts Museum for being so welcoming and helpful and for giving me some exceptional careers advice. It’s thoroughly prepared me for my MA in Museum and Gallery Studies.
Good luck on the MA from all at North Herts!
Many of you may already have seen the new murals in the underpass of Hitchin Station and wondered about the different images shown and how the project came about. In early 2021 during the second national lockdown we were contacted by Groundwork East. They were looking to create a mural in the underpass of Hitchin Station as was part of Govia Thameslink Railway’s station improvement programme. After having a discussion with Groundwork, we agreed on the idea of creating large graphic panels to take advantage of our museum’s fantastic photographic collection.
The collection of photographs runs into many thousands and covers all kinds of subjects. Notably, we hold a lot of early examples: our earliest, which is included in the station display, dates from 1854. When Groundwork got in touch, we were coming to the end of our successful Frozen in Time exhibition. This was an exhibition of historic photographs of the district that had already involved a lot of sifting through different photographs and looking for inspiring exhibition material. This was a prime moment for another project using them.
Though Frozen in Time gave us a solid start for photo research, I had still only seen a small part of our overall collections. Though I knew we held photographs of the whole district, I thought it better to keep the Hitchin Station mural Hitchin focused. As I looked over some of our other photographs, star images began to emerge. Becca Huggins from Groundwork and I settled upon the idea of separating the images into themes. The final mural has 11 themes containing around 200 photographs. The themes are purposely varied to give a taste of local history. These include things like: Agriculture, “Captured Moments”, Football, Shops and War. Lovely photographs of the railway station and its staff (a must-have for such a project!) turned into a larger theme of transport as we also had so many amazing photos of local transport history.
A favourite theme of mine was the section showing momentous local moments. This section includes the oldest photo from our collection which I mentioned earlier. This features the building on the left, The Shambles, and the Corn Exchange (now Pitcher and Piano) on the right: a recognisable sight alongside a Hitchin of the past! The Shambles features on Samuel Lucas Snr’s Market Place painting. The photo is made even more interesting by the painting, which is on display in the museum. It also features on the mural as one of the few images that is not a photo! In the Lucas painting, you see different buildings on the right. These were demolished to make way for the Corn Exchange, with the owners of the Corn Exchange later demolishing the Shambles. The painting and the photo are just thirteen years apart!
Another striking photo showing a captured moment is one which shows the supporters of the MP Dr Hillier, gathered to cheer his 1910 election victory at the Hitchin Conservative Club which is bedecked in “Vote for Hillier” banners.
One notable part of our holdings, the football collection, features in its own theme panel. Hitchin was home to what is believed to be the world’s first museum of football. Founded in 1956, its almost 1,000 objects were donated to our museum in the 1970s.
One fascinating panel to gather together was Faces. We hold so many photographs of people. Some we know a lot about, others are complete unknowns to us. Our panel combines the image of, for example, Hitchin Suffragette Elizabeth Impey along with the picture of a sweet unidentified young child in a sun hat. We even managed to find some smiling Victorians!
The next time you travel by train do build in a few minutes to take a look at the History of Hitchin through our brilliant images!