Following on from my previous blog, most of the local authority museums I have looked at in the East Midlands seem to have established their services for schools from the 1930s, often in conjunction with the Local Educational Authority (LEA) and in the form of objects for loan. That in Derbyshire, for instance, was set up by the Education Committee in 1936 as a three year experiment with a grant from the Carnegie UK Trustees for the purchase of exhibits, consisting of ‘material which would not normally be available in a classroom but had hitherto only been seen in public museums and art galleries’.*
The experiment was a great success, offering by the end of the three years over 500 artefacts, 100 framed reproductions of paintings and a library of gramophone records used by 80 local schools, which could exchange loans up to three times a term. Apart from a short closure in September 1939, the service continued throughout the Second World War and was also used up to 1946 by military hospitals in the area and the Army Education Corps.
The early exhibits for loan consisted of ‘things easily obtained…’ – natural history material, for example, and contemporary crafts such as pottery – ‘based on the requirements of the school curriculum, with particular emphasis on local material of all kinds’. These were displayed in small glazed oak cases ‘in the belief that the specimens needed some form of protection from inquisitive or mischevious fingers’, but by 1957 most specimens were ‘freely available for the child or teacher to handle, to examine, and to arrange in a manner most suited to the purpose’, only fragile or rare items being presented in cases.
The service was described as ‘a pioneering scheme in its particular sphere’, attracting visitors from Australia, Israel, Cuba, Mexico, Trinidad and Uganda, as well as within Britain. The list of members of the Museums Advisory Committee in 1957 also suggests a widening educational remit embracing adults as well as children, including such organisations as Nottingham University, the Dervyshire Rural Community Council, the Arts Council, the Derbyshire Federations of Women’s Institutes and Townswomen’s Guilds, as well as teachers’ and parents’ associations and the School Broadcasting Council.
* Derbyshire County Council, Derbyshire Education Committee Museums Service 1936 – 1957 (1957)
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