by Sue Cooper
I have been watching each week for the hoardings going up around Webster’s but each time I have been somewhat disappointed. However it appears that behind the scenes things are still progressing and I shouldn’t have too much longer to wait.
This week is the start of Wirksworth Festival and, in the absence of the builders, we have decided to provide refreshments in the courtyard to keep the flag flying in the absence of an artist inside Webster’s. The courtyard would have been a great venue for an outdoor sculpture if we could only have been sure earlier that it would be available.
Down at the shop we have introduced a number of new lines such as pens, keyrings and mugs to try and tempt the many visitors we expect over this weekend’s Art and Architectural Trail and the rest of the festival’s two week span of events. Speaking of the shop, a few extra volunteers have joined us over the last few weeks although we would still like a few more. This means that we are now opening on some Thursdays as well as the usual Friday and Saturday (all 10.30am to 4.30pm).
Thursday seems to be a good day for catching visitors arriving in the town on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway. A great many arrived over the bank holiday weekend when they were running their final steam-hauled sessions and my husband went along to relive his train-spotting days from when he was in short pants.
This is going to be my last month writing this column. I have just checked and it is fifteen months since I started and though I was quite daunted at the beginning I have really enjoyed my time with it. From next month it will be under the byline of Michelle Laverick who, I am sure, will do a great job and, as a trustee, give a new perspective.
By Sue Cooper
There is not much showing above the waterline but things are definitely happening. The Project Manager has confirmed that the building tenders are in and the best one has been selected so it shouldn’t be too long now before they get started. We have also received some enormous signboards from Heritage Lottery Fund for fixing to the hoardings that the builders will erect around the Webster’s building.
The trustees continue to be busy. Our new trustee Michelle has moved our website to a new platform (it could be platform 9 ¾ for all I know about such matters) so that it can be better developed and extended in the future to include online sales. The organisation also now has an Instagram account because, apparently, everyone must now have one.
Sally and Jo, our other new trustee, have been busy scheduling the work required on developing the various activities we are going to offer both before and after reopening next year. On the volunteering front, I was sadly unable to join the two groups working on research and archiving but my colleagues are now well entrenched on the programme. Lorna, another of our volunteers, has also been working on the Artists in Museums programme run by Museum Development East Midlands. As its name suggests, this involves a six-month course learning how best to work with artists to add an extra dimension for visitors to the centre.
With Wirksworth’s extensive band of artists and artistic activities that is an obvious fit for our future plans. In addition, we are contemplating the Wirksworth Festival which is now only a month away on 9th September. We haven’t been able to host an artist this year but we are hoping that we can get involved by doing something in the courtyard if it is not occupied by a builder’s skip. I guess the pace will only get quicker from here onwards.
by Sue Cooper
We have now pretty much cleared the furniture and other non-museum items from Webster’s, with some sent to Bamford’s salerooms in Derby and the remainder sold at Wirksworth’s very first ‘Antiques in the Street’ event last weekend. This went really well for its first year and will hopefully become a regular thing in Wirksworth’s calendar. It enabled us to sell quite a few unusual items from the barn including very old flat irons and a 1943 soldier’s greatcoat but also some items we couldn’t identify. Sadly, the greatcoat included the maker’s name but not that of its owner so we cannot be sure it belonged to Mr Webster.
Things are hotting up a bit for the volunteers. At the end of June, Ruth McKew from our interpretation consultants, Headland, held a morning briefing and training session at Derby Museum’s World Cultures Gallery concentrating on the researching and text writing that will be required before we open again next year. Quite a few of us were very keen to get involved and there were more who couldn’t attend because of holidays though they should get another chance later.
On top of that, the volunteers are signing up for a series of training courses at Derbyshire Records Office, in Matlock, on issues like care of the collection and proper archiving procedures. One of the problems this should help with is that old documents can be very difficult to read as letters were formed differently in the past and words used at the time are often unfamiliar. We should all be very knowledgeable when we are back working with the public in the new centre. It is not only the volunteers who have starred this month. Lucy, our collections manager, has been filmed for a future interlude piece for Bargain Hunt. It will feature the long history of Marsden’s and showing photographs of their items in our collection. Sadly we don’t know when the programme will be shown but the producers must be pleased that we will now be watching each week.
by Sue Cooper
One thing we often say in the heritage centre is that much of Wirksworth’s heritage is beyond the museum, in the town and its community. I have thought of that quite a bit this month.
David, one of our volunteers, has been involved in drawing up a new architecture trail walk picking out the town’s significant buildings and this is now an official printed leaflet to accompany the Wirksworth mini guide.
Both are available from the centre and many of the town’s retail and catering outlets.
Volunteers Nicole and Diane have recently been helping Sally in extending the range of walks we offer to schools throughout the area. Wirksworth Junior School last month spent a morning learning about the mines and tunnels under their feet. After dressing up as lead miners and acting out the famous mining tale of Stafford’s Dream, they optimistically jumped up and down together in the Market Place to be sure they weren’t about to fall through to the depths below.
We were sad to hear that Raymond Doxey had unexpectedly died after living all his 75 years on The Dale. Some months ago, he had told us of his adventures as a boy playing in the tunnel which carried trucks loaded with stone from the quarry at the top of the town 1,200 metres to the railway at the bottom. The Doxey name has featured round Wirksworth for 500 years and it had been my intention to talk to him properly about life in Wirksworth from WW2 onwards. As happens all too often, I left this too late and I have promised myself that we must record as many other such stories as we possibly can.
The auction of the Silk Mill, October 27, is now almost upon us, and so we are continuing to pack up all the contents with only a little still to do.
Finally, the tickets for the T’Owd Man Rocks dance on November 19 are selling well! They are still available from Traid Links and the heritage centre. Don’t forget too your tickets for our big raffle which will be drawn on the night.
by Sue Cooper
The financial report for the carnival/bank holiday weekend is now in and it was clearly a huge success for Wirksworth Heritage Centre. We had nearly 500 visitors who bought refreshments and other goods, which really swelled our coffers. This was very encouraging to all those who worked so hard over the three days.
Work is continuing on the collection, which is still housed in the old Silk Mill building. Our band of volunteers have all undergone training on the skills necessary for cataloguing, labelling and packing, conservation and environmental control of all the different kinds of items held there. This work looks set to go on for some time yet as there is so much history within the mill walls.
My own role, beyond staffing Webster’s, is entering details of items onto the standard museums database system, which gives me the opportunity to learn a lot more about the collection. Among the artefacts are those reflecting Wirksworth’s key role in the production of red tape for the civil service during the Victorian era. It always seems strange to me to think that Wirksworth’s mills churned out enough tape for the whole of the British Empire. Further work on the provenance of many items will soon be required as their source is unknown and many photographs are undated or of unidentified persons.
Visitor numbers in the town are increasing now we are in midsummer and we are opening Webster’s on Sundays in addition to the existing Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. A series of town walks is soon to be launched too, to show off the history around the town’s streets and ginnells. Perhaps I should call them jitties, as many of the local people seem to call them. Next month the trustees will be making their pitch to the Heritage Lottery Fund for funds to enable the redevelopment to go ahead, but we still need to raise money from other sources too. More on that, perhaps, next time!