Museum On Tour, 10 May 2017: Plymouth History Festival

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Hopefully many of you will be aware that the Plymouth History Festival began on Saturday (6 May).

This is the fifth year in a row that it’s taken place and I have been involved with helping to co-ordinate and promote it since it began.

The festival runs until 4 June. Many people might think this is the busiest time for me on the project – but the bulk of the work actually takes place between December and April.

Myself and other colleagues who are responsible for event programming usually meet in early October to decide the dates and any particular themes for the following year. We then announce these in the press and give the individuals, societies and organisations who want to be involved around 2-3 months to confirm their events with us. We also have to make sure we have our own events organised by the deadline!

Once all the information is in I have my first major task on my hands: editing everything into a consistent format, double checking dates, times, address and contact information, creating a diary of listings for each day and then using it all to build our website. I usually put this live by mid-February.

After this my next major task is to take this information, source around 40 different high resolution images to go with it, write the foreword, draft copy about the latest developments with the History Centre and then brief all of this in to a graphic designer so they can produce the festival brochure. This is a massively popular piece of print.

While the brochure is being designed I source the printer, book advertising space in as many of the local what’s on publications as the budget will allow, liaise with our distribution company and raise the relevant purchase orders. Then there’s the job of proof reading the brochure, running it past everyone involved, briefing any amends back to the graphic designer, proof reading it again, signing it off, getting the artwork to the printer, checking their proof to make sure everything is fine with the colours, pictures and fonts, and then finally approving it for print.

Once the brochures have been delivered our distribution company collects around half of them and gets to work dropping them off at a range of venues across Plymouth and the travel to work area. The other half are distributed through our own networks, at the events we attend throughout the month and by the festival event providers – all of whom have been brilliant about coming to the Museum to collect their copies this year.

By this point I will have also sent out information about the festival to local media, forwarded the artwork for any adverts we have booked to the relevant publications and planned a social media campaign. The History Festival has its own Facebook and Twitter feeds and in the run up to and during the festival I post and share regular updates. This year we have also produced a series of graphics for the Big Screen in Plymouth’s city centre – I’ve used them in this post. I’ve also been able to secure some of the large format poster sites in the city centre car parks so we have produced a series of posters for these, as well as for the library network and Tourist Information Centre.

I’ve been very proud of the History Festival since it began and as a Service we are hugely grateful to all those who take part. It is a mammoth amount of work – a fact that isn’t necessarily acknowledged the way it should be. Lots of my colleagues from the Arts and Heritage and Library Services are involved too and are running events at different times throughout the month. There is no separate team to deal with the management, coordination, promotion or facilitation of the festival – we are doing all of this on top of our ever-growing commitments to the History Centre.

This year’s festival began with a really successful Local Studies Day and there are nearly 100 different events on this year’s programme including exhibitions and displays, guided walks and tours, talks and presentations, music, film and performance, special events and family activities. There’s real variety on offer for all ages and interests and the range of subjects highlights the depth of Plymouth’s history.

Take a look at the festival website if you haven’t done so already and I hope you enjoy the events you attend. Plymouth History Festival will return in 2018 and we will announce the dates and details a little later in the year!

Museum On Tour, 4 May 2017: Ropewalks #6 – Writing Ropewalks

by Jon Nash, Scriptwriter

As a writer and theatre maker I’ve always been interested in story. The stories we hear, the stories we tell each other and ourselves. Stories help us make sense of the world around us and can bring us together to learn and think and feel.

So around a year ago I began a project of research into the history of the Barbican: its buildings and people, trades and events. As I collected the expected dates and timelines and names and records, I was looking for the smaller human stories that stood out against the backdrop of history with a capital H.

An historic photo of the Barbican, Plymouth from Plymouth City Council's (Arts and Heritage) Service's collections

In workshops with young people from the city I shared some of the stories I’d found and asked them which ones they felt were the most interesting to them. The ones that caught their attention had a few things in common:

  • They connected Plymouth to big important history in a way they hadn’t known or imagined
  • They showed how ordinary people lived often during extraordinary times and talked about people just like them
  • They were unexpected or surprising or funny or a bit dangerous or subversive

Over the weeks of research and development with our brilliant volunteer actors we talked and improvised a lot about these ideas and how, in something like a walk, we could bring them to life and surprise our audiences.

An historic photo of fishermen on the Barbican, Plymouth from Plymouth City Council's (Arts and Heritage) Service's collections

We began to take fragments of history, from the Bread Riots, to smuggling to Dutton’s shipwreck and looked for the human beings that could tell us those stories, what they might have to say about them that could surprise us. We’ve been pirates and fishwives and emigrants and customs officials and all sorts of characters. Which led to the questions: who is telling these tales on this walk? Why are the telling them and from whose point of view?

Among the historical quotes about Plymouth, one stood out. Count Magalotti (visiting from Italy) in the 17th century describes Plymouth as a city of ‘women and children’ as the men were often away fishing or sailing or at war. We wondered what stories the women of the Barbican might tell and how they might view the events we were interested in. We imagined them being there by the harbour side from the very beginning. They’re still there today if you look in the right places.

The initial focus of my research had been food and drink. Over time this isn’t really about menu options but something much more urgent. How do you survive? How have people who live on the Barbican survived? What would these women want us to know about how they lived their lives, even when the going got tough?

Photograph of Nancy Astor campaigning on the Barbican, Plymouth during her historic 1919 election campaign

Much of my work in writing the final show has been about finding these voices, listening to them and not minding too much when they argue or disagree or even stretch the truth a little. To create a trio of long-lived Barbican women who can bring these stories to us and make us feel as if were were really there.

I’m on to my second draft now and they still keep surprising me. I hope they’ll do the same for all those who come to see the final performances.

Buy your tickets for ‘Ropewalks’ here. Performances take place on selected dates during May, June and August.

Museum on Tour, 13 April 2017: Ropewalks #5 – Bringing heritage and performing arts together

by Victoria Lester, City Explainer

Once upon a time I was an historian, a published historian in fact who became a language assistant who then came back to the UK – back to Plymouth to become unemployed for two years!

But that was once upon a time.

I decided to do something I’d always wanted to do which was work in the performing arts. It hasn’t been easy. Starting down a new career path in my mid-twenties when my confidence was in the dustbin wasn’t something I ever thought I would have to do. Starting a career in an industry where your confidence can sometimes take a beating hasn’t necessarily made it easier – but it has made me more determined.

I enrolled in a BTEC in Performing Arts at City College to test my resolve and now here I am. It’s nearly four years since I decided to go down this route and without the help and support I’ve received from the Barbican Theatre I wouldn’t be here today.

Where’s here? I’m one of the devising actors on the ‘Ropewalks’ walking tours project, working with the Barbican Theatre and staff from the City Council’s Arts and Heritage Service/History Centre to help bring heritage and performing arts together.

A photograph of the Ropewalks team in a devising session at the Barbican Theatre, Plymouth

It’s been a fascinating experience, working with a large team of actors, directors, writers, costume designers, graphic designers, marketing officers, historical professionals and more to bring a series of theatrical walking tours that will bring the Barbican to life to the people of Plymouth.

I thought I knew the history of Plymouth. I’ve learnt that you can never really know the full history of a place or of a people. You can only know so much and there’s always something new to discover.

The 'Ropewalks' team taking part in a filming session at the Mayflower Museum, Plymouth

Over the last few months, as part of the research and development process we’ve visited the South West Film and Television Archive and the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre – a place I’d only ever heard of. Going there and hearing about the social history of Plymouth alongside the military was fascinating. We heard about:

  • the widows of the ropewalk: ladies whose husbands had been killed in the line of duty
  • The ever present rivalry between Plymouth and Portsmouth
  • the ladies who lived on board ship, and just why someone could be called ‘son of a gun’
  • how during the First World War the telegrams from sailors would often come long before official word of a battle having been fought

……….and so much more.

Back in the theatre we’ve been taking extracts from texts, history books and original sources, and considering potential scenarios, characters and pieces that scriptwriter Jon Nash has written. We adapted them and ‘threw them around’ to see what would stick. One thing we realised very early on was that an historical fact or object without a glimpse of the person behind it wasn’t engaging. Put a person behind it though and suddenly it was brought to life.

Victoria Lester in a devising session for the 'Ropewalks' project at the Barbican Theatre

Among the many things I’ll never forget us doing are:

  • six of us being on stage and throwing the history of the Barbican around the room, starting in the prehistoric we bounced the story between us all the way to the present day
  • Re-enacting aspects of the Bread Riots – a part of history I’d never heard of! Who doesn’t love a good riot?
  • Finding the often contrary voices and characters of the ladies of Plymouth and realising how you actually go about gutting a fish

It’s been a long journey with many a wander through the streets of the Barbican marvelling at the rich and colourful history of this city that deserves to be remembered.

Members of the 'Ropewalks' team in discussion at the Mayflower Museum, Plymouth

Plymouth is a city that we should be proud of and I am very proud to have been part of the team involved in a project which is combining so many strands to develop a lively new form of theatre that I firmly believe will create an immersive experience for everyone who comes to watch.

Museum On Tour, 23 March 2017: Ropewalks #4 – Creating an immersive experience

by Toluse Farley, City Explainer

7 years ago I was hospitalised. Although this sounds like a dramatic way to begin my post it’s important as it was a life event that would end up being the catalyst for my recent career path and my involvement in this project!

To help aid my recovery I decided to enroll in a course at City College. I was looking for something that would challenge me.

I went to an Open Day at the Goschen Centre and left later that day having signed up for a BTEC in Performing Arts. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but was determined to apply myself.

Through the course I was introduced to the Barbican Theatre. The experience has been invaluable. Without it I could not have progressed to the point I’m at now or developed the confidence to ‘put myself out there’!

Toluse Farley from Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery's City Explainers Team

Mark Laville from the Barbican Theatre gave a presentation to our entire year. He explained what they were about as a company and how they work to empower young performers to express themselves through the arts in a safe accessible environment. Moved by his passion and integrity I approached him about how I could get involved.

Some 14 months later here I am working on a project with the Barbican Theatre and the Arts and Heritage Service to help bring the stories of the Barbican to life through a series of theatrical walking tours.

I am one of the devising actors on the project and have thoroughly enjoyed the process. It’s given me a chance to work as part of a large team with fellow actors, directors, costume designers, graphic designers, historical professionals and more.

Learning about the history of Plymouth and the Barbican area has been really inspiring for devising the theatrical aspect of the tours.

A figurehead at the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre in Plymouth

One of the things we’ve done as part of our research and development process is to visit the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre where I learned many facts that I was previously unaware of.

Many of the things we heard about have had an impact not only locally but also worldwide, such as:

  • How a Plymouth-based engineer named Dummer was commissioned to build the Dock in Devon in 1691. It was the first stone clad dry dock to be built and has since been copied worldwide.
  • How Aggie Weston set up a sailor’s rest home on Fore Street, Devonport among the theatres, shops and department stores. It provided sailors coming off their ships an alternative to the pub and brothels and had facilities like restaurants, cafes, billiard rooms and cabins.
  • HMS Plymouth, a Frigate (warship) that served in the Falklands.
  • How Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse was amalgamated from three towns into one in 1914 as a result of the First World War
  • How the West Country has produced some of the greatest sailors we’ve known who have developed colonies, circumnavigated the globe, defeated the Spanish in the Armada and more.

A model of a warship at the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre in Plymouth

These are just the tip of the iceberg. What the visit confirmed for me is what a rich cultural heritage there is here in Plymouth. It deserves to be remembered and celebrated. I hope this project will help bring more awareness of this.

Since our visit to the Naval Heritage Centre we have spent many hours mulling over our research. It’s helped us to conjure up scenarios and characters drawn from the history of the area. Combined with the landmarks around the waterfront and the events we’ve learned of it’s a fantastic recipe for creating an immersive and entertaining experience.

Members of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery's City Explainers team on a research visit to the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre

I’m proud to be a part of a team that is developing this innovative form of theatre – and hope you’re all looking forward to something which commemorates Plymouth, from its humble beginnings through to its monumental achievements.

 

Museum On Tour, 15 March 2017: Plymouth After Dark #1

by Tony Davey, Learning Development Officer (Communities)

I’ve been busy with colleagues from our Programmes Team over the last few weeks planning ‘Plymouth After Dark’, a new exciting community project from the City Council’s Arts and Heritage Service.

Darts players in a Plymouth pub, 1950sThe project will spend the next four years examining, recording and documenting life in the city when the lights go down, from both an historic and contemporary viewpoint. We’ve been talking with a range of potential partners, from Public Health to Devon and Cornwall Police.

We’re currently developing a range of initiatives and events to suit all ages and all tastes. The project will culminate with a major exhibition in the new History Centre in 2021, as well as create a brand new permanent collection for the city.

Men playing dominoes in a Plymouth pub, 1950sWe’re officially launching the project with a series of events looking at ‘going out’ in Plymouth, whether that’s dancing the night away at an all-nighter, shaking your head to a live band performance or enjoying a quiet drink with friends at your local.

The first major event from the project will be ‘Sounds of the Sixties’ on Friday 12 May at the New Continental Hotel. The evening will be a chance to relive the sounds that shaped the decade, with a 2 hour set from one of the country’s leading tribute bands, The Revolvers.

Before getting on your dancing shoes, local historian Chris Robinson will present a brand new talk, ‘Going Out in 60s Plymouth’. We’ll also be bringing along our Photobooth for you to strike your best 60s pose in. There’ll be a free 60s inspired drink on entry, as well as 60s inspired nibbles on your table. It’s sure to be a fun filled night.

Sounds of the Sixties event flyer, March 2017

There is a serious side to the night as well – honestly! We’re really keen to collect people’s stories from their nights out in the city and we hope this event will help bring the memories flooding back. Myself and other colleagues will be on hand to talk to people and arrange suitable times for their memories to be recorded. People can also bring in any memorabilia they have for us to look at.

I’m very excited about the project as I believe it will provide lots of opportunities for many different people to participate, and put the spotlight on a part of peoples’ lives and the city’s heritage that isn’t always considered – after all we spend around a third of our lives in darkness…..

Museum On Tour, 9 March 2017: Ropewalks #3 – A fun object handling session

by Joe Woolley, Arts and Heritage Placement

As part of my traineeship at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery I was eager to be involved with as many interesting projects as possible. Luckily for me within the early stages of my traineeship I was offered the chance to be the administrator for the theatrical walking tours project!

The role I was assigned involves me liaising with all the different members of the project team to help organise meetings, collate media and keep everyone up to date with what’s going on with the project while also providing insight on the use of technology within the project.

Although I don’t come from a cultural or history-based background this role was perfect for me. It allows me to utilise my technological background while also helping me to gain valuable experience of administrating a group for the first time.

It’s been an honour to be involved in such a ground-breaking project. The experiences and knowledge I’ve gained from interacting with the other people working on the project as well as the staff from the Museum and Barbican Theatre have been brilliant.

As part of one of our regular weekly meetings we recently had an object handling session which was provided by my colleague Joanne Gray and myself.

Plymouth Museum handling session

This was a great opportunity to give the project members a chance to get their hands on some historical objects and to help inspire ideas.

The items that we had a chance to look at were mainly food and drink based objects with a strong link to Plymouth. They ranged from old records of recipes that were common in Plymouth’s past, to ships biscuits which are a long lasting food source that were once widely used on ships.

Photograph from Plymouth Museum's Rope Walks handling session

As well as being a great way to inspire ideas for the project the handling session was a chance for everyone in the group to discuss the historical context of the items and the functions they had. I love this photo of scriptwriter, Jon Nash below with a basket on his head!

The session was also of great benefit to me as it tested my knowledge of some of the items the Museum has in its handling collection and enabled me to engage with my peers in a really lively and interesting discussion.

Members of Plymouth Museum's Rope Walks team take part in an object handling session

Museum on Tour, 23 February 2017: Ropewalks #2 – A visit to the film and television archive

by Chiara Cabri, City Explainer

I am one of the team of people working on the realisation of the theatrical walking tour of the Barbican. My role is to capture the development of the project in a short film, helping to promote the people who are involved and the results of their hard work.

As a producer of sound and film, as well as an enthusiast of history and the arts, I was fascinated by the idea of a project that would unveil the rich heritage of Plymouth through entertainment. Being part of the team has exposed me to an amazing amount of knowledge about the past of the city where I’m living.

During one of the recent team meetings we had the chance to visit the South West Film and Television Archive.

Photograph of Plymouth Museum's city explainers at the South West Film and Television Archive

For those who aren’t familiar with it, the South West Film and Television Archive (SWFTA) is the largest regional film and television archive in the UK.

The archive was created when Television South West (TSW) closed at the end of 1993 and a great deal of SWFTA’s material is from TSW and its predecessor, Westward Television.

SWFTA’s core functions are preserving and making the material in its archive available. My role within this project will benefit from the archive, which contains invaluable footage of the Barbican in the past.

During the visit to SWFTA we were welcomed by Stacey Anderson, the Archive Director. She was kind enough to guide us around the building and give us an overview of the work that is carried out there.

Everyone on the team enjoyed the visit. A particular highlight was getting to see Gus Honeybun. I didn’t know who this funny puppet was, but it was a nice surprise for those who were born and raised in Plymouth and the local area.

Gus was the Westward Television and TSW mascot from 1961 to 1993. He’s a sort of a legend to a generation of people who tuned in at tea time on their birthdays to see if they were lucky enough to have their birthday cards read out, accompanied by a magic button or some bunny hops!

Photograph of Plymouth Museum's city explainers with Gus Honeybun

Some of SWFTA’s material dates back to the 1890s. It was fascinating to see how much history can be stored in a few rooms, and how much effort goes into the preservation and digitisation of the collections and old equipment.

The visit was particularly significant to me as the film maker for the walking tours project. Experiences like this visit have really cemented the project and boosted the enthusiasm of all those involved. I can’t wait to see what the team achieves and, eventually, be part of the audience.