Behind the Scenes, 28 June 2017: New members of the team

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Largely thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund support the History Centre project is receiving, we have recently welcomed some new members of staff.

The roles they’ll be carrying out are quite varied and they all bring a range of skills and experience to the team. We thought you’d like to meet them and find out a little more about them.

Photograph of new Plymouth History Centre staff - June 2017
Back row from L-R: Lizzie Edwards, Stacey Turner and Nicoletta Lambertucci. Front row L-R: Rebecca Wickes, Stacey Anderson and Terah Walkup.

Lizzie Edwards: Lizzie has moved to Devon from London to join us as a Learning Development Officer (Schools). She previously worked at the British Museum as the Education Manager for the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre, where she managed a learning programme for schools and families using advanced digital technologies to engage these audiences with the Museum’s collection. Notable projects included creating a virtual reality Bronze Age experience – referenced in the DCMS’ Culture White Paper as an example of how technology can expand engagement with heritage – and developing a programme of ‘Virtual Visits’ for schools outside of London. Prior to working at the British Museum, Lizzie also worked at the National Maritime Museum, Museum of London and the Building Exploratory.

Stacey Turner: Stacey has really had to hit the ground running since she joined us a few weeks ago as our new Events and Audience Development Coordinator. She’s already helped finalise our fantastic Beryl Cook-themed summer event programme, plan our autumn/winter programme, organised two exhibition launches and worked at Local Studies Day, the Freedom Community Festival and the Contemporary Craft Festival. Stacey joins us with experience of developing and managing events at the National Marine Aquarium as well as a university in Australia.

Nicoletta Lambertucci: Nicoletta is a curator based in London and holds an MA in Philosophy and Art Theory from Goldsmiths College. She will be working with us as our Contemporary Art Curator, looking at how we can embed contemporary visual art and new commissions throughout the History Centre. Since 2011 she has worked at DRAF (David Roberts Art Foundation) – an independent contemporary art space in London. In 2016 she curated Tarantallegra at Hester, NYC and Mundus Muliebris at BASEMENT ROMA, Rome. In 2018 she will present a two-artist project at Meter, Copenhagen in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen. She is also a contributor for Cura Magazine.

Rebecca Wickes: Rebecca joined us in mid-April as our new Volunteer and Early Career Development Officer. This is a post we have never had before so we are very excited about the potential it has to enhance our service. Rebecca will be working with staff from all areas of the History Centre to develop our volunteer offer and to help recruit the volunteers we need. She has come to us from the National Trust where she previously coordinated over 300 volunteers. She also possesses substantial experience in commercial and marketing activities within a heritage setting.

Stacey Anderson: Our new Media Archivist has worked in a number of heritage organisations in the region including the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, Cornwall Record Office and the Courtney Library at the Royal Cornwall Museum. She was the founding Archivist for the South West Image Bank and, most recently, the Executive Archive Director for the South West Film and Television Archive. Stacey is a Registered Member of the Archives and Records Association (ARA), an active Committee Member of the Film Sound and Photography Section of the ARA and a member of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA). A passionate advocate for our region’s film and photographic heritage, Stacey leads the gallery team working on the History Centre’s ‘Media Lab’. She will also be helping to shape our digital preservation strategy which will ensure the long-term management of our media collections.

Terah Walkup: Our new Fine Art Curator (maternity cover) has previously worked as a research associate at the Art Institute of Chicago where she coordinated exhibitions and assisted with the re-installation and re-design of the museum’s ancient art collection. In Chicago, she also ran public museum programmes and gave popular lectures on the history of art. Terah brings a keen interest in the eighteenth century to her role so is really excited to be working with the History Centre’s wealth of paintings, prints and drawings. Since moving to the South West over a year ago, she has volunteered at cultural institutions in the area, including Exeter Cathedral and the RAMM, as well as learning the proper way to put jam and cream on a scone!


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, 18 January 2017: Collections on loan across the region and beyond

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Over the past few months we’ve used a lot of our blog posts to highlight the decant of the Museum and Art Gallery. Now that process is coming to an end we’ll be sharing information about some of the other work we’re doing as a result of the History Centre.

A big area of work for a number of our staff is our ‘Museum On Tour’ programme – the programme of exhibitions, events, partnership initiatives and community engagement projects we’re undertaking in offsite locations while our building is closed.

One element of this involves our collections, selected highlights from which either have or will be going on loan.

Photograph of a Plymouth Porcelain lion on display at Wheal Martyn, St AustellThese include items from our historically significant Plymouth Porcelain collection which can currently be seen in an exhibition called ‘Passion for Porcelain – Elegant Charm from China Clay’ at the Wheal Martyn Heritage Centre near St Austell.

The exhibition, which is on display until the summer focuses on the important role Cornwall played in the development of British porcelain. It also explores the ground-breaking discovery made by William Cookworthy in the 1700s in making true hard-paste porcelain. Devon-born Cookworthy was a chemist who had an apothecary on Notte Street, Plymouth. He went on to set up England’s first-ever porcelain factory in the Sutton Harbour area of the city.

finding-prehistory-at-princetown1Archaeological treasures from the Museum’s collections can also now be viewed in an exhibition called ‘Finding Prehistory’, on display at Dartmoor National Park’s award-winning visitor centre in Princetown.

The exhibition, which will remain on display until the end of 2018, includes stone tools, ceramic urns and flint implements from the Bronze Age and shines a light on the lives of the people who lived on Dartmoor thousands of years ago.

Other collections ‘On Tour’ include an Egyptian statuette of a seated goddess with the head of a lioness in ‘Animal Mummies Revealed’ at Liverpool’s World Museum until 26 February. The exhibition explores the background and practices associated with ancient Egyptian animal mummies, which were prepared in their millions as votive offerings to the gods.

‘Green Devon’ by Robert Polhill Bevan can be seen on display at the Museum of Somerset, Taunton from 25 March to 8 July. This popular painting is included in an exhibition about the Camden Town Group – an Edwardian artists’ collective that became famous for their realistic works of everyday life.

Photograph of a yellow Plymouth Porcelain butter tub from Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery's collectionsMore than 100 Plymouth Porcelain items will then go on display at Kingsbridge Museum from 27 March to 28 October in a new exhibition called ‘William Cookworthy: Pioneer of Porcelain’.

Loaning our collections to other venues while our building is closed is great for us in more ways than one. It’s providing access to some of our most important and best-loved objects and works of art. It’s also enabling us to develop and work in partnership with a range of different organisations – partnerships which we hope to continue in the future.

History Centre Heroes: Dawn French

Some of the best Christmas television in recent years has been provided by today’s History Centre Hero. Who can forget the Vicar Of Dibley Christmas specials – particularly the last one in 2006 when the character of Geraldine Granger finally fell in love and got married?

A photograph of Dawn French as Geraldine Granger in the Vicar of Dibley


Dawn French has had a long career as a nationally renowned comedian, mostly in TV but also in film and theatre, writing and performing sketch shows with Jennifer Saunders and other major comedians of the alternative comedy scene.

But her one role most likely to be discussed by future historians is that of Geraldine Granger in the BBC comedy sitcom ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ which ran from 1994-2007.  Two years after women were first allowed to become priests in the Church of England, this award winning series made her into a sort of patron saint for professional women.

It had a huge impact on getting them generally accepted in the last of the traditional professions, and if sexist attitudes at work continued, perhaps she at least made it easier for women to laugh it off; watching from the sofa Geraldine’s troubles with an array of characters in a fictional Oxfordshire village.

Dawn French was born in Holyhead in Wales in 1957.  Her parents were from Plymouth, and though they moved often as her father was in the RAF, she stayed in the city during term time at St Dunstan’s Abbey School (now merged with Plymouth College) on North Road West.

A photograph of comedienne Dawn French

When she was eighteen her talent for public speaking was spotted by local MP Michael Foot during a debating competition.  He nominated her for a scholarship to spend a year in the USA at an independent school in New York, a period she drew upon in her novel According to Yes (2015).

At the Central School of Speech and Drama in London she was training to be a drama teacher when she met Jennifer Saunders, a comedian with a similar mission to upset chauvinist stereotypes, and began to work on the double act that was so successful as ‘French and Saunders’ (1897-2007). This series of sketches and spoofs on popular culture was given one of the highest budgets in BBC history. Jennifer Saunders’ highly popular sitcom ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ was based on one of their sketches.


A photograph of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders

After publishing her autobiography Dear Fatty in 2007, Dawn French’s work has concentrated more on her own life experiences.  She has written two other novels, and recently toured with her first solo show, ‘Thirty Million Minutes’, when she described how she has spent ‘her whole life vigorously attempting to be a fully functioning female human.’  She now lives in Fowey, Cornwall, and in March 2015 became the first Chancellor of Falmouth University.

Her 2011 best-selling debut novel A Tiny Bit Marvellous is currently being turned into a series for ITV.

In the meantime, you can catch her in a very different role at the end of the festive period when her new four-part drama ‘Delicious’ premieres on Sky1 on 30 December.

A photograph of Dawn French in Sky1's 'Delicious'

Written by Rosemary Babichev.

History Centre Heroes: Trevor Francis

The first ever footballer in the UK, and almost in the world, worth a million pounds came from Plymouth.

In 1979, the year Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister; a 25 year old Trevor Francis joined Nottingham Forrest for a record one million pound transfer fee plus fifteen percent due to the Football League.

Photograph of Trevor Francis in 1979

On the day it was announced Francis posed for the press photo in suit and tie, while the manager who decided to offer this unheard of sum swaggered in a red leather jacket, playing down the deal by claiming he was just off to a gruelling duel on the squash courts.  It was the start of the great economic shifts of the 1980s, unleashing the power of money.

Now the value millions of people gave to football could be turned into cash, and a talented young player with experience in the first division was a key asset the top clubs competed for with increasingly extravagant prices, counting on making even more money from people’s desire to see their club win.

Francis was born in Plymouth in 1954, and attended Plymouth Public Secondary School for boys on Coburg Street, in a building now part of the university.  Playing locally in the junior league he showed such promise he was selected to join Birmingham City as an apprentice in 1969 aged only fifteen.

Two years later, he is said to have drawn ten thousand extra spectators to see him play with Birmingham against Bolton Wanderers.  They were not disappointed.  Only sixteen minutes into the match he scored his first goal, another mid-game, a third twelve minutes before the end, and an amazing fourth goal seven minutes after, injuring himself in the process.  He limped off the field to a standing ovation.  This was an extraordinary feat to have accomplished before his seventeenth birthday.

Photograph of Trevor Francis scoring a goal

He went on to help Birmingham move up into the first division in 1972, and played in FA cup semi finals in the same year and in 1975.  Always the fans’ darling, he was considered a maverick genius; fast thinking – his deft footwork famous for making goals out of nothing.

During the year before the record breaking transfer fee Francis had become an international player, beating Luxembourg in a qualifier for the World Cup and going on tour with the England team to South Africa. Unsurprisingly the top clubs in the UK now wanted him on side and would pay whatever needed.

Playing with Nottingham until 1981, he went on to Manchester City, Queens Park Rangers and finally Sheffield Wednesday.  He retired from professional football in 1994, but continued as a manager and worked for twenty-one years commentating on Sky TV.

Photograph of Trveor Francis 2014

Trevor Francis is remembered most in football for that magic figure.  The average house in 1979 cost just £18,000 – property speculation was to come later. He links Plymouth permanently with a landmark event in sporting history.

Written by Rosemary Babichev.

History Centre Heroes: James Joseph Judge

“Your books are as usual the best we have had. You are a genius at picking them out but then you are a genius at many things.”
Excerpt from a letter from Nancy Astor to James Joseph Judge, 1 January 1926

Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, James Joseph Judge (1869-1954), or JJJ to his friends, had a close personal friendship with the Astors. He is not as widely known as he deserves to be, but he certainly did a lot for Plymouth.

Judge came to Plymouth in the early 1900s. He was the editor of the Western Evening Herald newspaper until 1921, and assistant editor of the Western Independent until 1946.

Judge was also heavily involved in social work and was a tireless supporter of social causes. He was the founder of the Plymouth Civic Guild of Help, later the Plymouth Council of Social Service. He was also the ‘corner-stone’ of Nancy Astor’s Virginia House Settlement (VHS). Formally opened in December 1925 in a series of buildings on Looe Street near The Barbican, the VHS offered local people facilities for training, employment, entertainment and socialising.

There was a meeting room, gymnasium, billiard room, music room and a dance hall.  Smaller rooms hosted cooking, carpentry, dressmaking and singing classes. Writing classes were held in a library. Over 1,000 people were members and it was hugely popular with many clubs and societies including a mothers’ club, youth club, men’s club, soccer team and boxing club.

Judge also helped establish a number of day nurseries in the city, worked with people who had been crippled and those who had suffered from tuberculosis.

The Plymouth and West Devon Record Office holds the J. J. Judge papers. This archive is packed with documents linking him to Nancy Astor who affectionately referred to him as ‘Judie Judge‘. He was a regular visitor at Cliveden, the Astor family home. As a result, he became close to all Nancy’s family as well as some of her others friends including George Bernard Shaw and T. E. Lawrence.

A photograph of James Joseph Judge and Joyce Grenfell.
There are very few known photographs of James Joseph Judge. This image shows him with Nancy Astor’s niece, the actress and comedienne Joyce Grenfell. You can see an inscription from Joyce to him underneath the photo.

In the archive there are many letters thanking him for birthday and Christmas presents, encouraging him to visit or discussing different projects.

Many of Nancy’s letters are typewritten with extra messages or jokes scribbled at the bottom for him.

When he died at the age of 85 many of the Astor family paid tribute to him and the work he had done. He was described as a ‘saintly personality’ with an ‘inner goodness’ who had done much for Plymouth.

Nancy said that she found it hard to write about him and that he had provided her and her husband Waldorf with the guidance they had needed when they had first arrived in the city. “Plymouth has lost a great citizen,” she said, “and we of the Astor family have lost one of our most beloved members.”

History Centre Heroes: Samuel Phelps

Plymouth has a great reputation for theatre – but did you know this is something that dates back centuries?

Samuel Phelps was born on 13 February 1804 in Plymouth Dock (now Devonport) and initially worked in newspaper offices. Shortly after marrying in 1826 he accepted a theatrical post.

Dock-born Samuel Phelps had a long career in 1800s theatre, and enjoyed success as both an actor and a theatre manager.
Dock-born Samuel Phelps had a long career in 1800s theatre, and enjoyed success as both an actor and a theatre manager.

He spent a few years ‘cutting his teeth’ in provincial theatre. He then made his first London appearance on 28 August 1837. He played the character of Shylock in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice at the Haymarket Theatre. After a short season there, he spent six years performing at Covent Garden, the Haymarket and Drury Lane.

In May 1844 he became co-lessee of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. He took on the role of Theatrical Manager. A man called Thomas Greenwood dealt with the business side of things and Mary Amelia Warner became the leading lady.

Phelps would stay in his Theatrical Manager’s position for 20 years. During that time he raised Sadler’s Wells to an important position, revolutionised the production of Shakespeare’s plays and appeared in many varied roles himself.

Under his direction, 34 of Shakespeare’s plays were presented at the theatre. As a director it’s been said that his handling of Shakespearean plays had a great educational effect both on the public and on the players. He published an annotated edition of Shakespeare’s plays in two volumes from 1852–54.

An illustration of Samuel Phelps in the role of Macbeth on the Sadler's Well stage, 1850 © Ella Strong Denison Library, Scripps College.
An illustration of Samuel Phelps in the role of Macbeth on the Sadler’s Well stage, 1850 © Ella Strong Denison Library, Scripps College.

In 1861 Thomas Greenwood retired from the partnership and Phelps, unable to cope with the business management side of things on top of his existing commitments, retired the following year.

He continued to act regularly for the next 15 years however and achieved considerable success. His last appearance was in 1878 as Cardinal Wolsey in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII.

Phelps was described by one critic as ‘a sound and capable actor‘. He had a preference for tragedy but was most successful in comedic roles that called for dry humour.

This particular portrait from our permanent art collection captures him in the role of Hamlet. This famous tragedy was written at some point between 1599 and 1602 and is set in the Kingdom of Denmark. It’s Shakespeare’s longest play and is ranked among the most powerful and influential tragedies in English literature.

Samuel Phelps (1804-1878) as Hamlet, painted by Nicholas Joseph Crowley (1819–1857) © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage)
Samuel Phelps (1804-1878) as Hamlet, painted by Nicholas Joseph Crowley (1819–1857) c.1835-40 © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage)

Hamlet was Phelps’ most frequently played role. This portrait was painted by a Dublin-born artist called Nicholas Joseph Crowley. We believe he painted it at some point between 1835-40 – possibly just after Crowley arrived in London to work and fairly soon after Phelps undertook his first leading role as Shylock at the Haymarket.

Phelps passed away on 6 November 1878 in Essex at the age of 74. He left Plymouth to find the fame and fortune he was destined for. Despite this, we will always be able to lay claim to the fact that we were the birthplace of one of the 1800s’ most famous actors and theatre managers.

A plaque dedicated to Samuel Phelps to mark his former home at 8 Canonbury Square, London.
A plaque dedicated to Samuel Phelps to mark his former home at 8 Canonbury Square, London.