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.
Although the project team has yet to issue tender documents for the construction work, we have already seen some physical progress. Various walls in Webster’s have been opened up for assessment by the structural engineer and telephone and electricity engineers have also been in too.
The various modifications, over more than a hundred years, that were revealed as the plaster came off have been something of an attraction in themselves. As the Webster’s premises have been closed to enable this work, the heritage centre was unable to play its usual part in the town’s carnival and well dressing activities two weeks ago.
However Sally and Nicole did host a walk for a group of U3A members from Liverpool, which took them around the town and all the well dressing locations. Our hilly terrain was too much of a challenge for some of them but all thoroughly enjoyed learning about the history and techniques of this Derbyshire tradition. This month the volunteers and members learnt more about the project and the work still being done on the collection at a briefing update in the Memorial Hall, hosted by our chairman and the two consultants.
This was very informative and well attended although, personally, I thought there could have been more at the open briefing immediately afterwards. The two new trustees which I hinted at before, Michelle Laverick and Jo Higton Metcalf, have now been introduced and have attended their first board meeting at the project office. Like me, Michelle is fairly new to the town but Jo’s family has been here for many generations. They obviously bring welcome skills to the team, as Michelle’s background is in IT and Jo’s in education, but I can well imagine they will find plenty of other things thrown at them over the course of the project – including the odd turn with us in the shop.
by Sue Cooper
With the impending building work looming, we have been looking for alternative premises. With the kind support of the owner, we have therefore moved our retail and information operations to the empty shop previously known as Granny Smith on the corner of Coldwell Street and North End (Thank you Caroline).
What a fun week it was – cleaning, painting and shifting furniture and stock – all with the great support of other volunteers. Sue Cooper Whilst not quite as central as Webster’s the new shop is highly visible and we hope we can generate more visitors than before owing to its place on the route from the station. Opening hours are still 10.30am to 4.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays but will soon be increased.
After their research tours around the country our trustees are delighted to have appointed. Headland Design to carry out the exhibition and interior design for the new heritage centre. Headland is a highly experienced interpretive design and heritage practice based just outside Chester. They have worked on a wide range of projects throughout the UK including Saddleworth Museum and the People’s History Museum in Manchester which both really caught the eyes of the trustees.
April means it’s time to send out renewal forms to members along with notification of this year’s annual general meeting, which will be held on May 30 at a venue yet to be decided. The game-changing award from Heritage Lottery Fund will obviously be a major feature in Joanna’s report as chair but the accounts for 2016 may not be quite as exciting. The Wirksworth Book Festival and the Big Book Day were as great a success as we expected and the “two-pub” book quiz did turn out to be trouble-free. All enjoyed the weekends very much and I can’t help thinking that Wirksworth needs more events like this for town residents – and visitors – to share.
Wow, we have only gone and done it! We have received confirmation that Wirksworth Heritage Centre has been successful in its bid to Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for redevelopment of our St John’s Street building into a new modern heritage centre and focal hub for the community. This is fantastic news and a just reward for all the work put in over more than two years by trustees, consultants and volunteers to enable this to happen. This will really focus our minds on applications to other grant funders to raise the balance of our match-funding requirement which must be in place before we can go ahead..
As a result we will soon be evicted from the shop at Webster’s as we get the builders in. While it is closed we plan to have a stall at the monthly Farmers’ Market to continue our sales shop and keep everyone up-to-date on the project’s progress. However, it would be good to have a stronger presence in the town if we could find some smallish premises where we could be open each week.
The announcement also means it now seems like old news that Our T’Owd Man Rocks event at the Town Hall on 19th November turned out to be a great success, so much so that many attendees clamoured for another similar one each year. Facsimile created a great atmosphere and got everyone dancing but the night wasn’t without its moments, however, as the Town Hall cooker wasn’t working. A lot of innovative thinking came into place at very short notice and thanks go to EVR railway for steaming in to provide the hot food.
We also did very well at the Wirksworth Christmas Market on the 27th thanks to a good turnout of both visitors and of volunteers manning Webster’s and our street stall down the road. We hope the revitalised Traders’ Association can continue to develop this event in future years.
It looks like we will all be having a Merry Christmas. What a great end to the year.
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.
At the beginning of September the Wirksworth Heritage Centre trustees and volunteers had a bus excursion to the National Civil War Museum in Newark. Their director gave us a guided tour and lots of background information on their project. Despite having once lived near Newark, I knew very little of the civil war other than the town’s battered castle and most of our volunteers were in the same position. As well as being a very informative lesson on the wars we all came away with ideas for our own project and many said they would go back to the museum again.
The dust has settled on our HLF lottery bid application so we are now engaged in the serious business of fund-raising for our share of the project cost.
At the Wirksworth Festival trail weekend we were operating a café in the courtyard behind Webster’s and we started slowly during Saturday morning’s bad weather. However, we ended up running out of cakes on Sunday afternoon, so a great event for the town was also a good step on the campaign for us.
We hope to raise a good proportion of our required funds from the auction on 27th October of the old Heritage Centre premises at the Silk Mill in Crown Yard. We will be sorry to see such a lovely building go out of our control but we are sure someone will turn it into a lovely home. The auction does mean that the volunteer team is busy working to a deadline packing up the collection for storage with Derby Museums.
Our dance event at Wirksworth Town Hall on 19th November has been titled T’Owd Man Rocks and tickets are £12 each from TraidLinks and the heritage centre. As I have mentioned before, the Derbyshire band Facsimile is playing and we expect the night to do really well for us. In conjunction with the dance we are running a Funding Our Future raffle in which the top prize is a diesel-train driving experience. Everyone is busy selling the tickets but, if I could, I think I would have bought all of them myself and had a go at something I’ve thought of previously as a “man thing”!