Sudbury Hall NT

Sudbury Hall NT Blog

A volunteer’s perspective

We’ve got a guest blogger today! Liz, one of our Collections Volunteers, has very kindly written today’s post. Following on from my post last week about the variety of volunteers we have, I thought it would be nice to hear directly from one of our volunteers about what they get up to while volunteering with our collections! Here’s what Liz has got to say…


I’m letting Rose have a break from blogging (not from cataloguing), to tell you a little about why I volunteer. Basically I became a volunteer at Sudbury after being interviewed for a Marketing Internship, which resulted in me being offered the chance to volunteer with the museum collection. I didn’t realise that the opportunity was there for me to work with the collections if I was to volunteer with the Trust, which is why I came at things a little back-to-front.

As Rose said in her last post, I’m helping with different collection based jobs in order to gain some additional experience to help me get a job in the heritage sector and to help out the team in the process. Here at Sudbury I’ve had the chance to see, well, the good, the bad and the unusual in the collection – at least for me.

The Good

I’ve had the chance to work with experts who have been brought in to help review an aspect of the museum collection. Through this I’ve seen some of the beautiful items of clothing housed in the museum’s stores, that won’t necessarily make it out onto display. I’ve seen intricate Victorian wedding dresses and simple maid’s aprons, as well as coming across shoes, handbags and accessories. I know it seems a little ‘girly’, but the quality of these outfits and the care that went into making them is astounding.

The Bad

It may seem silly, especially helping out at the Museum of Childhood, but I have a phobia of mannequins. My friends, when I told them I was to help look over and check a collection of marionettes for damage, laughed as they know how scared they make me (I have been known to leave a room, or at least take a wide berth). I however managed it – though I probably should say I took notes and didn’t touch them but its all about baby steps right? I may even go as far as to say there were a couple of ‘cute’ ones in the collection, but some did freak me out a little.

A rabbit marionette from the play ‘Hansel and Gretel’


A jester marionette



































The Unusual

Most of my time volunteering is spent helping Rose with the collections database. Doing this means I’m not always ‘hands on’ with the collection but it does mean I get the chance to see what objects are in the collection. I’ve come across dolls of different shapes and sizes, not to mention a great deal of finely-detailed doll’s clothing and doll’s house furnishings. I’ve seen teddy bears, building blocks and model railway sets, not to mention toy cars, tea sets and lantern slides. I’ve seen objects that I remember playing with and I’ve seen objects that have been well loved. Suffice it to say this collection is big, and to try and pick out any unusual objects is causing me a bit of difficulty. That said, I did come across a stereoscope and slides not so long ago, which made me stop and wonder what one was (I discovered it was used to see 3D images).

A late 19th century stereoscope


19th Century stereoscope slides


























Hidden volunteers

Everyone knows that the National Trust is reliant on the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who act as room guides in all our properties across the country. What a lot of people don’t realise is that the National Trust is also supported by a great many additional volunteers who help us with a vast miscellany of tasks, from helping in the gardens, assisting with education activities and serving customers in the shops and tea rooms, to lending a hand with the care, conservation and documentation of our precious collections!

As an example of this, I thought I’d show you the range of volunteers we have just within our Collections Team here at Sudbury Hall and Museum of Childhood.

First of all we have Liz. Liz has recently graduated from her post-graduate qualification inArtGalleryand Museum Studies and is now searching for a collections-based job within the museums and heritage sector. Liz is working on our collections database, Collections Management System, helping with the transfer from our previous collections database, Modes for Windows. She is editing each record, ensuring that the information has transferred across correctly. Her work than feeds into the National Trust Collections website, which updates with the corrections she has made, ensuring that you (‘the public’) can see all the information about our wonderful collection. Liz has also helped us out with other collections activities such as undertaking condition checks on a collection of marionettes, handling and moving some of our objects in and out of storage, scanning photographs from our collection, and assisting when we have an expert in to undertake a peer review of an aspect of our collection. Volunteering with a historic collection is an excellent way of gaining valuable work experience, practical skills and knowledge while searching for that all important first collections job.













Next we have Chris. Chris is also a recent graduate. He has also been seeking employment within the heritage sector. Chris is not afraid to get stuck into anything, and has been helping out in shop and hall, as well as helping us in the Collections Department. Within Collections, Chris has been working on making ‘flip books’ for the museum containing additional information about all of the objects that we have on display. With limited space on display case labels, these are a valuable way to provide extra information for our most engaged visitors, ensuring that they get the most out of their visit to the museum. Of the back of his volunteering, Chris now has a part-time job at Derby Museum and Art Gallery, but he still finds time to come back and volunteer with us from time-to-time!

Chris dressed up as Sir Joseph Wright as part of his work at Derby Museum and Art Gallery!


We also have a small team of photography volunteers. This team grows and shrinks over time, but at present we have two dedicated photographers; Sue and Steve. Sue and Steve are contributing to the improvement of our collections database by photographing the objects in our collection that do not already have a photo, or which only have a photo of poor quality (prior to the easy availability of digital cameras, photography was a much more protracted and expensive process, which has led to some of the deficiencies in our photographs of objects). You can also appreciate their photographic efforts as the photos also appear on our National Trust Collections website (,-Derbyshire-%28Accredited-Museum%29/1)! Sue and Steve work up in the attics of the Hall, where our collection is stored, so that they can easily access the objects that need to be photographed. We have set up lighting and a photography cube as a portable ‘studio’ for them.













Finally, we have Brian. Brian is in charge of updating the collections database for the Hall’s collections (while the rest of us work on the (much larger!) museum collection. Brian is retired, and has been working with the collection for many, many years. He has even been awarded an MBE for his services to volunteering! As well as volunteering with us, Brian also volunteers as a room guide in the Hall, and volunteers with the National Trust collections at Norbury Manor and Calke Abbey. I think that MBE is well deserved!













So, for anyone out there who has been put off from volunteering for the National Trust by the prospect of standing in one room for hours on end, do get in touch with your local properties and find out what volunteering opportunities they have on offer. Whether it’s gardening, working with children or caring for precious collections that rocks your world, there’s bound to be a role out there that is perfect for you!



The Photography Collection – Is a picture worth a thousand words?

As we work through the online catalogue, the objects are ordered alphabetically by the original number they were each given.  These past few weeks we have reached records that have a number beginning with a ‘P’ and that means; photographs! As we edit each record, and try to fill in as much information as we can it gets a person thinking; how much can an unidentified photograph tell us? And is a picture indeed worth a thousand words?

Photography as the process we would recognise today, really stems from the 1820’s when images began to be captured and fixed in various ways to make them last. In the 1840’s William Fox Talbot had refined the ‘calotype’ process which fixed an image as a negative.  In fact his 1835 print of the Oriel window at fellow National Trust property Lacock Abbey is the oldest known negative in existence. Photographs during this period were all monochrome, or black and white, and it continued to dominate even once colour film became available, most likely due to its lower cost.

So what about the photographs in the Museum of Childhood’s collection? Much of what we have fits into the ‘portraiture’ category. Where families and individuals were keen to have an image made of themselves taken in a studio setting, Most of them have been part of the collection since before the National Trust took over their care, and very few give any clues as to who their subjects are. Or even explain the composition for the photographs. Why for example was this little boy posing with a violin? Is it even his own, or just a handy photographers prop?

Child holding Violin

Photograph of a child holding a violin














Was it hoped that this little boy was going to show some sporting prowess, could this have been the young Fred Perry!?


Boy with tennis rachet

Boy with tennis rachet











Some photographs give just a glimpse that allows us to understand them a little better and can open up a door to a whole world we didn’t know existed. These perfectly typical images of school children at the turn of the 20th century are revealed, thanks to some very faint writing at the bottom of one, to be of the ‘Railway Servants Orphanage,Derby’


Gym class at the Railway Servants Orphanage

Gym class at the Railway Servants Orphanage









A little further research reveals that the orphanage was founded in 1875 to care for the children of railway men killed on duty. Who could have imagined that such a place existed, or needed to in an era when we think only of railways as the finest form of transport?


Railway Servants Orphanage

Railway Servants Orphanage











Perhaps photographs do offer us a thousand words, but those words are up to us the viewer to interpret. It can be frustrating not to know the names of the people, and what their story was, but that is part of what is also wonderful about working with collections. We can gain just as much enjoyment from guessing at the answers to the questions these pictures raise, as knowing them outright. The photograph is just the title of the story; the rest of it is up to us.



Hello Dolly!

This week it’s all about dolls. Here in the Documentation Department we have been editing away at the collection records, and we are in the middle of a large collection of ‘Peggy Nisbet’ dolls. These are all costume dolls, dressed as various historical figures, popular characters and famous people. In the collection here at the National Trust Museum of Childhood we have a wonderful selection of everything from Queen Victoria to Mary Poppins.

Just one of the sets of dolls in the collection is ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’. Here is the beautiful Jane Seymour, said to have been Henry’s true love, because he chose to be buried with her when he died.

Those pessamists amongst you might point out that he didn’t have much choice, with two wives still living, two buried unceremoniously with no heads, and one buried abroad!

Another doll that has featured highly in our week is the eponymous Sindy! This weekend sees Sudbury Hall and the Museum of Childhood open up again on Saturday the 16th for the season. We have been helping Sue, one of the Collections Assistants’, put together a Sindy doll’s house ready for one of the displays.  Here are a few pictures of Rose (and Sue) putting the finishing touches onto the roof terrace :

Do you remember wanting one of these as a child, or even better being lucky enough to have owned one?

Is is a space ship, is it a plane …?

… no it’s the Sindy staircase of course!











And as a little nod to it being Valentine’s Day, even the collections online website is feeling all loved up today :




A new start and some fresh faces



Welcome to the Sudbury Hall & National Trust Museum of Childhood blog in its new incarnation. Our names are Rose and Laura and we will be two of the people contributing to this blog about Sudbury, and all who sail in her!

First of all we should probably say what we do. We are both ‘Documentation Assistants’ and are working here for a year in the Museum side of the property. We do pretty much what it says on the tin … we assist in the documentation of the Museum collection. This mainly involves making sure that everything we know about each item in the collection is available on the electronic database ‘CMS’ (Collections Management System), and can also be viewed by the public online on the National Trust Collections website.

We are going to be spending the next 9 months or so checking each record for every item we have, and making sure that what you can see online is accurate and up to date. This should mean a lot of fun discoveries as we get to rummage through, albeit electronically, the whole collection, item by item.

So, we hope you will read our posts and find out more about the collection here at the National Trust Museum of Childhood, and enjoy some of the things we will get to share with you.

Laura and Rose


Rose using two computers

Rose at her computers

Laura using two computers

Laura at her computers


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