Ashby de la Zouch Museum Digital Engagement Projects

Ashby de la Zouch Museum Digital Engagement Projects Blog

New ideas for the New Year

A very merry Christmas to all our readers and visitors, actual and virtual.

The New Year is a time for new ideas and we have quite a few so we’re taking this opportunity to share some of them with you.

We want to increase visitor participation in and contribution to our Museum, to make it a livelier, less passive place where objects inspire or invoke stories, memories or ideas in the people who view them and, where possible, handle them.  We have lots of objects on display in our galleries but also lots more in our archives which are rarely, if ever, seen by visitors.  2013 is going to be the year when actual and online visitors have the opportunity to see more of what the Museum has to offer and get the chance to join in, take part and have fun!

A Treasure Chest of Thoughts and Memories

From January, visitors will be able to pick up one of our special treasure chest cards and use it to record whatever any of the objects in the galleries inspire them to write.  It could be a memory, it could be a thought about whoever might have used or touched the object in the past, it could be a poem or a fictional story.  The cards will be anonymous (unless visitors want to leave their names) and they will be available in a “treasure chest” in the main gallery for other visitors to read.  Some of them may later be displayed next to the object which inspired them.

Talking Objects

We are going to use objects in the current displays and in the archives to get people talking and record what they say on film.  The camera will be on the object and on the hands handling it so no need to be camera shy!  We want all sorts of people to handle and talk about the objects.  In some cases it may be people who have used the objects or who have expert knowledge about them but we also want to record the thoughts and ideas invoked in other people by these objects.  We’ll be contacting various community groups, schools and even professional groups in the town in the New Year to get this project started.  Look our for more news around the town and contact us direct if you would like to take part.  Once finished, the films, which will be short and to the point, will be available for visitors to view on our website or in the museum galleries through the use of smartphones.

Art in the Museum

We are delighted to be welcoming the Zouch Art Club to the Museum in the New Year.  They will be putting on an exhibition of their work which will run from early February to the end of March. During this period we are hoping to hold a special one day event called “Art in the Museum” when we will be asking members of the art club to come and work in the Museum itself, perhaps drawing and painting objects from the collections.  We hope that visitors will also be inspired to “have a go” and it may be possible to lay on some special workshops.  We are hoping that writers, poets and other artists, as well as painters and illustrators, will join in with this special day.

Diaries and Letters

Many of you (we hope) will have been reading the fascinating diary or log of the Ashby Girls Harvest Camp written in 1944 which we have been publishing in this blog over the past week.  People do sometimes find diaries and letters hidden away or passed on by family members or even former occupants of their house!  They have interesting and intriguing stories to tell and it would be great to share some of them.  We will be searching our archives for more diaries, logs and letters of interest and we hope that local people will bring in some of their own to show us and share with others.

Calling all Young People

This is an Arts Council funded project for up to 4 young people between the ages of 14 and 19 to work on a project at our Museum.  We want these young people to generate their own ideas for the project and we can offer them the chance to learn new skills in things like film making, special exhibitions, research and digital projects such as using augmented reality, QR codes designing computer games.

Anyone interested should email

There will be an initial meeting at the end of January and the project will run throughout February and March.

Well, that’s all for now.  A very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year to you all and we look forward to seeing you in 2013.  Enjoy the holidays!



Ashby Girls Harvest Camp 1944 Part 7 (final)

Sunday 19th August 1944  2 girls and 2 staff attended service at 8 and the majority went to the morning service at Church or Chapel.  The rain was worse than ever and a few more clothes were added to those still drying from Saturday.  At 3pm a discussion was arranged by Misses Batterley and Grindlay.  7  girls went to evening service.

Monday 20th August 1944 It was fine and windy in the morning but the fields were too wet for an early start.  The girls did as they liked in the morning and had hot lunch at 12.15.  20 cyclists again went to Mr Hewitt’s field off Nottingham Rd.  They finished the 9 acre field after 2 hours work when they crossed the town and joined the others in Mr Frank Hewitt’s field – all working for 4 hours.  High tea was at 6.30 followed by a social to which Mr Matthews brought 60 grammar school boys.  Games, refreshments.  About 12.45 staff in K. G. were disturbed by footsteps preceding a flash and explosion outside their window.  Grammar school was rung up on the spot but the phone was not answered.

Tuesday 21st August 1944 Girls were wakened at 6.20, mattresses emptied, blankets folded and stacked before prayers at 7.45.  There was rain in the wind but the girls were sent to Mr Hewitt’s field.  Within an hour they were back as a deluge had come on.  Fires and furnaces were lit in Junior cloakroom, 2 K.G. rooms D. Sc. room Den in order to dry clothes before girls could travel.  Hot drinks were served from Room 16.  Early Lunch.  Lorries were ordered for 2 and 2.30.  Erdington girls’ bus leaves at 3.20 and Stafford girls’ train leaves at 3.55.


Ashby Girls Harvest Camp 1944 Part 6

Thursday 16th August 1944 All went to Mr Hewitt’s farm again with Misses Betts and Sissons all day.  Misses Batterley and Morton were replaced in the afternoon by Misses Hawkins and Wright.  It was cooler and more pleasant for working.  In the evening 2 teams played “Tip and Run”.

Friday 17th August 1944 walkers went to the same field with Miss Horton.  Most went to Mr Frank Hewitt’s field near the Prisoners of War Hostel.  In the evening there were rounders matches between the girls of Ashby, Erdington and Stafford and the Grammar School boys, won by Erdington.  5 of the VIth were found reading at a late hour and to have been smoking.  The next morning their room was moved.

Saturday 18th August 1944 The morning was damp.  Party who went to Mr Hewitt were sent back.  He said conditions were unfit for girls clad as they were.  20 cyclists who went to Mr Hewitt’s Nottingham Road worked 30 minutes when a deluge came on and they had to return, soaked through.  No hot baths possible but hot drinks were provided at 11.  Sandwiches were eaten up in the dining room at 12.  As it was impossible to complete a whole day’s work as intended, the afternoon was free for rehearsing or shopping.  After tea, a scavenger hunt was arranged by Miss Batterley.  In the evening, each dormitory produced items for a concert which everyone enjoyed.


Ashby Girls Harvest Camp 1944 Part 5

Monday 13th August 1944 A very good day’s work in glorious sunshine – It was with great satisfaction that we watched most of our flax bundles being stooked.

The evening was rather hectic with packing up, collecting wages etc. Amidst it all the girls arranged a very enjoyable variety entertainment in the hall.  The whole visit to Ashby has been enjoyed immensely, with the exception only of the last week-end’s anxiety.  We were all very happy to learn that Pat was making headway and we do so hope she will soon be quite fit again.

Packing and goodbyes were responsible for a rather late night.

Tuesday  14th August 1944  An early rising – everyone lending a hand with the luggage and feverishly clearing up – loading the lorry, writing labels etc.

[Here the handwriting changes, indicating another teacher taking over]

20 girls arrive from Erdington with Miss Grindlay about 3 pm and 14 from Stafford with Miss Horton about 7.30pm. their luggage and bicycles having arrived previously by lorry.  By dinner time it had been found that the luggage of 2 Ashby girls who had arrived early had been put on the lorry taking the previous week’s kit back to Erdington.  In the evening, Miss Joynes took the 6 contacts to the cinema.  The others spent the evening stuffing mattresses and settling in.

Wednesday 15th August 1944 All except orderlies (in the charge of Miss Grindlay) went to Mr Hewitt’s farm off Nottingham Road with Misses Betts, Bursnall, Morton, Sissons all day.  More than glorious sunshine made the first day of work rather exhausting and everyone came back ready to drink gallons of tea.  Supper was early so that a party of 46 could go to the pictures to see “The Lamp Still Burns”.  A number of the Erdington girls went to call on their previous hostesses.  Several boys from the Grammar School camp came to play tennis.


Ashby Girls Harvest Camp 1944 Part 4

Thursday  10th August 1944 Work continues at the large field on Mr Hewitt’s farm, the cyclists nearly finish their field.  Not quite such a nice day – misty rain in the morning but it brightens as the day wears on.  The flax in this field is rather badly trampled down in parts as unfortunately some horses trampled it some weeks previously and this made it impossible to cut by machine; however the experiment had been tried and was successful only round the edge of the field.

During the morning, Mr Hewitt rode down to the field on his handsome grey mare and was quite pleased with the work being done.




One of the Ashby girls had a birthday tea and a party on the lawn afterwards – and later in the evening a camp fire was lighted and everyone joined in a grand variety of songs and rounds.






Friday  11th August 1944  Another fine day – The cyclists finished their field at Donisthorpe and returning to their luncheon spot hot and thirsty were horrified to find that alas the milk bottles had been emptied unbeknown to them!! However, it was a lucky thing that a few full ones were safely hidden away and with those, and the various contributions of lemonade, their parched tongues were refreshed.

There was another birthday tea – this time in honour of one of the Erdington girls, later a rounders match between Stafford and Kidderminster – the former winning by one rounder.

Saturday 12th August 1944 Glorious sunshine.  Everyone worked on the large field at Western Park Farm and did a good day’s work.

At least one girl was not too fond of the cows which were obviously very interested in us.





In the evening the girls enjoyed themselves thoroughly, country dancing in the hall.  Everyone went to bed happy having been told that the quarantine was over – no more gargles!

Sunday 12th August 1944 A peaceful sunny day spent in the garden.  In the morning some of the girls arranged a delightful morning service of well chosen hymns and prayers which was very pleasingly conducted.  Yet another birthday in the camp.  One of the Kidderminster girls had a tea and party on the lawn – egg and spoon races – donkeys tail etc causing great hilarity.

A party visited the castle and were very interested in the guide’s descriptions of original building and the historical events which were connected with it.


Ashby Girls Harvest Camp 1944 Part 3

Monday (Bank Holiday) 7th August 1944 was spent in the field but after a later uprising because of yesterday’s disturbances.  Temperatures all normal, and people’s spirits grew more cheerful in the open air.  Tomorrow is the end of camp’s first week, so we make the most of the day in the fields and are complimented graciously by a visitor with experience of the job.  The bus party has a change of occupation.  It works locally, travelling on Shanks’s pony and returns with appreciative words about gallons of coffee – tea – shared with Italian prisoners?

Tuesday 8th August 1944 Only half a day’s work, starting with the usual morning mists but breaking out later into hot sunshine.






The walkers finished their small field, but the cyclists continued to labour at their large one.  The usual games of tennis occupied the evening.

Wednesday 9th August 1944  A lovely morning and the walkers started to work in Mr Hewitt’s nine and a half acre field on Western Park Farm.







After a half hour walk to the field, the flax was located with the aid of directions from Italian soldiers hoeing a cabbage plantation.  Our party was greatly amused at the unanimous leaning on hoes as the directions (intelligible and otherwise) were given.







In the evening Stafford ran a “tip and run” cricket game in which most people played.


Continuing the diary of the Ashby Girls Harvest Camp 1944 Part 2

Friday 4th August 1944

Early mists and then a very fine day for an early assignment of work.  Some went by bus to work for Mr Stone at Snareston,  while the cyclists returned to Donisthorpe to a new field full of superior flax, – at any rate to us, though the farmer declared it was too tall.  Even the patches of “fat hen” ceased to irritate when you could look forward to cutting a fine avenue through the upstanding flax.  So pullers tugged and binders tied with a will, although by three o clock the heat began to oppress.  At Snareston feelings were mixed; the flax was good, but first some skimpy stooks left by a party of pervious workers had to be remade.  This was a tedious job.  On returning, we all drank tea – cups of it – and there were games outside in the evening.

Saturday 5th August 1944

A full day’s work was announced and a half day instead on Tuesday.  Weather still hot, sunburn and calamine lotion much in evidence, though an afternoon breeze made it easier to work.

One party in the early evening was shown the Town Parish Church silver and suitably impressed, others had a short cycle ride, danced and played games.

Sunday 6th August 1944

A day less peaceful than we had hoped.  After morning service, and an afternoon visit to the chapel at Staunton Harold, led by Miss Baker, the Medical Officer of Health paid us a visit.  We learnt that an Ashby girl was in hospital, and to obviate all risk of infection, though this was slight, next week’s campers would be told not to arrive.  We, meantime, should gargle and watch temperatures.  In one dormitory that night there were apprehensive glances while Miss Baker officially gargled, studied the thermometer.  Many were the insults hurled at permanganate of potash.  One ashen face aroused much concern in another room; it was found to be nothing more alarming than a coating of calamine lotion on sunburnt skin.  The staff retired that night more dead than alive after coping manfully with an unexpected situation.


Ashby Girls’ Grammar School Wartime Harvest Camp 1942 -1944 Part 1

This is the first instalment of several relating to this fascinating document found in the Ashby Museum archives:

Introduction: School Harvest Camps in the Second World War

During the Second World War, several million acres of grassland were converted to arable in order to meet the food supply needs of the nation.  This was happening at a time when the number of regular agricultural workers was declining due to men joining the armed forces.  One of the ways in which this crisis was addressed was the use of school children to help with the harvesting of peas, beans, corn and potatoes as well as with other agricultural tasks.  In some areas, children were released from school during term time to help with tasks such as the potato harvest but from 1940, right through until 1950, school harvest camps were held during the summer holidays.

Boys’ camps started in 1940 but camps for girls did not get underway until 1942.  At first it was doubted whether girls could be much use on farms other than for light tasks such as fruit picking but it was soon shown that this was not the case!  However, there were always far fewer girls’ harvest camps than those for boys.  One such camp took place at Ashby Girls’ Grammar School in August 1944 and we are lucky enough to have a log book written by some of the teachers at the time.

Many camps were held under canvas, although in the early years of the war, concerns about the danger of aerial bombardment led to the use of barns and huts.  In some places, local authorities were persuaded to authorise the use of school buildings and this was the case at Ashby where classrooms were converted into dormitories for the use of the girl campers.  A harvest camp for girls took place in Ashby in 1942, 1943 and 1944 and it was not just Ashby pupils who took part.   Girls arrived from Erdington, Kidderminster and Stafford.  Some of the Erdington girls had previously been evacuated to Ashby and whilst at the camp they took the opportunity to visit their former hosts and hostesses.

Harvest camps were supposed to be self-financing with children being paid by the farmers for their labour.  Earnings were used to cover the costs of food, fuel, domestic helpers, insurance premiums, cleaning materials and laundry and any surplus was split between the camp participants.  In this way, children could go home after a week or two weeks at the camp with a handy amount of pocket money but when the weather was bad enough to prevent work on the harvest, earnings might not be enough to cover the cost of running the camp.  Because of this, the Treasury was eventually persuaded, in 1942, to provide a block grant to allow County War Agricultural Executive Committees to guarantee a weekly minimum of thirty hours’ work for each boy attending a camp.  This was later extended to girls’ camps too, particularly as female modesty would apparently demand extra latrine screens and more sick-bay space since, as a lady member of the Schoolboy Harvest Camps Advisory Committee put it, ‘. . . casual illness is much more likely in girls in our experience’.

The organisation of the 1943 Ashby Girls’ Harvest Camp is laid out in the early pages of the log book:

General Arrangements

Meals                         in Dining Hall

Common Room      Biology lab for reading, letter writing, wireless etc.

Sleeping                    In the two K. G. rooms and large Hall

Cloakrooms            Girls in K G rooms use the junior school cloak rooms.  Hang outdoor clothes on stand by windows; towels and sponge bags near clock.  Choose a peg and keep it for the week. (no towels in bedrooms).  Use the inner part [of the washroom] for washing and lavatory.  If after dark, see that ventilator is shut because of blackout.

Girls in the large hall use the big cloak room for outdoor clothes and staff cloakroom (or later small cloakroom) for towels and sponge bags.  Choose a peg and keep it for the week.

Both staff and girls’ washing bowls and lavatories of the downstairs cloakrooms may be used.

Baths    Unfortunately water is turned off all evening but we hope to collect enough hot water for all girls in turn to have a hot bath in the zinc baths.  Each girl should empty her own bath, wipe it out and leave ready for the next girl.

General Order of the Day

7.0 a.m.                      Reveille – beds open for airing

7.45 to 8.30              Morning prayer (in Dining Hall) Breakfast

8.30 – 9                     Make beds. Tidy rooms.

9.0                               Report for work

5.0 or 6.0                  Quick wash and tea
Tea time to supper time, free time and baths.

7.0                                Supper

7.45 – 9                      Free time

9.0                               Prepare for bed

9.30                           Lights out (with short evening prayer in big Hall)


Notes made by various teachers appear throughout the book.  In 1942 they are very brief and a log was kept only for the first week.  The 1942 camp appears to have run for four weeks from 17th August to 12th September. In 1943 the log is more detailed and we will publish that later but first we will publish the 1944 log which is detailed and contains some pencil drawings.

Tuesday 1st August 1944

81 girls arrived at the school and those from Stafford and Kidderminster High School – 14 and 27 girls and their staff – were initiated into the mysteries of winding corridors and Ashby’s water supply by Miss Good and her colleagues.  Mattresses were filled [with straw] and beds made up in the dormitory converted classrooms.  Some of Erdington’s 19 renewed acquaintance with the geography room, familiar in evacuation days of 1939.  The arrival of the belated lorry was hailed with joy after tea; after collecting their bicycles and their belongings from it, it was almost 7.0. Dinner was followed by roll call and prayers.  And so to bed in good time for an early rise the next day.

Wednesday 2nd August 1944

By bus and cycle to Donisthorpe to one of Mr Gardener’s four acre fields.  A disheartening drizzle lasted until about 2 o clock.  Meanwhile, knee deep in some parts of the field, with wet sleeves and raincoats flapping damply round our knees, we learnt to distinguish flax from “dodder” weed and tried to tug with discernment at the former.  The farmer looked in and Miss Ilsley gave encouraging words, chiefly that the next field would be easier.  We had sandwiches at midday  and knocked off at 4pm.  After tea the sun came out and the girls played tennis.  Dinner, and bed at 9.0.

Thursday 3rd August 1944

Similar weather.  We “pulled” all morning beneath a watery sky.  The rain had beaten the plants and there were some bad patches where grovelling, bent double, seemed the only solution.  Remarks overheard today about pains in joints, or alternatively proud boasts from the hardy of no ill effects after toiling yesterday.  Evening sun brought out the cricketers; Stafford, a strong team led by Miss Wardle, challenged all comers at “tip and run”.  Miss Fleming had meantime coaxed (or coerced) the local cinema into reserving some seats at rather less than half price so thither went a party to see “Millions Like Us”.  Unfortunately, two who planned to feast on fish and chips were intercepted in the act.  More in sorrow than in anger, one remonstrated with Miss Kearsley – “I’ve been to Blackpool and I’ve had me chips and peas there every evening and I’m missing them.”

Mild excitement in the washrooms.  Six imprisoned on the ground floor and six unable to enter, all tugging ineffectually at the door.  After extracting the inmates, leg first, Miss Thomas climbed in at a window and operated effectively on the lock.


Voices from the past

The first extracts from the 1944 Harvest Camp Log have gone out on Facebook, together with some of the pencil drawings.  Have a look; they are lovely.  The diary or log entries are delightful and I can’t wait to post a lot more of them.  I will probably publish the whole thing in instalments on this site with links from Facebook.


On Tuesday we took possession of part of the archive of the Ashby Canal Association.  This included a whole run of their magazine or journal The Spout and a very interesting looking file of original documents from the Midland Railway Company who owned the canal from the middle of the 19th century.  One of their members is coming in to go through that file and list the contents which could be very interesting.

On Wednesday we welcomed back the Museum Studies students from Nottingham Trent University.  They worked hard in the morning stopping people in the streets of Ashby to ask them questions about whether they visited the Museum and if not why not etc.  Can’t wait to see the results.  I believe they completed about 80 survey questionnaires which was very good going!

A big thank you also to Mary and Lorna who came in to offer some expert advice on some of the costumes in our collection.  I know that their contribution was a big help to our archivist Mike.

The afternoon saw me in Northampton Museum and Gallery for our regular DEN meeting.  Northampton’s work on getting visually impaired visitors to handle and talk about objects in the collections has been made into some excellent films which you can see on YouTube: Talking collections  It got me thinking about ways in which we could bring some of our objects to life by getting visitors to handle and talk about them.  It would be lovely to try it with children and young people and perhaps some objects could be brought out to inspire some creative writing!

Two days at the beautiful Thoresby Park Gallery on a residential course with EMMS has left me feeling renewed and inspired! Look out for some new ideas and projects in the New Year.

Finally our “Friends of Ashby Museum” did a splendid job this morning with their Family Christmas Event.  The Museum was really buzzing when I called in this morning and the refreshments looked delicious.  A big thank you to all involved.


Mystery objects

Thursday 22nd November was a busy day.  It started with assembly at Willesley Primary School.  I went in dressed as 1940s housewife and two Year 4 children volunteered to be evacuees coming to live with me.  One had her gas mask and name label.  The other one had to pretend he had lost his name label and left his gas mask on the train!  Just then the air raid siren went off and that was the end of that little scene.

Next I showed some of the fantastic cartoon paintings of Ashby history created by local artist Di Lorriman.  for the Museum and demonstrated some of the sound files that go with them.  These were recorded for us by children at Manor House School and can be heard by using one of our audio devices (PenFriends).

I was surprised to see that some of the children knew some British Sign Language and they were able quite easily to work out what the row of children in one of our cartoons were spelling out – JUBILEE.

We then had a mystery objects quiz conducted in the style of “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” for maximum audience participation.  I also told them about our monthly Kids’ History Club and left some leaflets for them to take home.

As a result we had a few more children turn up to our Kids’ History Club today on the theme of Victorians.  As it was Ashby’s Christmas street market today, I dressed up as a Victorian lady and handed out Kids’ Club leaflets in the street which also brought in a few more customers.  We had dressing up, Victorian objects matching game and the usual children’s arts and crafts and everyone had a good time.

Our St Helen’s Archaeological Excavation film night was very successful with the room being packed out despite the bad weather.  Ken Hillier gave a short introductory talk on the origins of the Grammar School, and grammar schools in general and then the film was followed by questions and interesting discussions.  Anyone who missed the film can buy a copy from St Helen’s Church for £5.  The exhibition showing photographs of the excavation is now on and will run to the end of January.

One of our young volunteers has been working on a children’s activity based around our Victorian objects handling collection and this should be available soon on our website.  This coming week is also the week we welcome back the Nottingham Trent students who will be carrying out surveys in the main shopping streets on Wednesday morning to find out what people think about the Museum, why they have never visited, what they would like to see etc.  The results should be interesting and very useful.

We have started to advertise our offer to young people between the ages of 14 and 18 to take part in a funded project in the New Year.  We are looking for four young people to join the project and we want their ideas on what they would like to do.  It might be making a film, putting on an exhibition, carrying out a piece of research or designing a computer game but we are open to other ideas.  We want the ideas to come from them.  Anyone interested should contact Wendy on

Our November newsletter is now ready to go out this week.  In the past it has gone out to Museum volunteers and members of the Friends of Ashby Museum only but as a new idea it will be emailed to anyone who leaves their email address in the visitors’ comment book and a few hard copies will be available free of charge from the front desk.  If anyone reading this would like an email copy drop a message to

I am about to start work on the Ashby Harvest Camp Log (August/September 1944) mentioned in the last post so keep an eye out for that.  It will be announced on our Facebook page and tweeted on Twitter @Ashby_Museum.

Oh yes, and I nearly forgot to mention, we were runners up in the Leicestershire Excellence in Tourism Awards this week.  It’s the first time we have entered so it was nice to get as far as being a finalist.  Charnwood Museum won and they certainly do have a lovely museum.

Finally, we started with mystery objects and we’ll finish with them.  There are three in the cabinet in our reception.  Front of House staff can supply the answers but there also three QR codes on the cabinet which you can scan with your smart phone to get lots more information about the objects.  The nice thing about doing this is that your phone will save the link and you can read the information at your leisure when you get home if you don’t have time in the Museum.


About this Sponsor

Ashby Museum was established in 1982 in a small cottage in Lower Church Street. In 1991 it relocated to its present home in North Street, where it shares the old National School building with the town Library and Tourist Information Centre. In 2006-7, thanks to a major Heritage Lottery Fund Grant, a two storey extension was added. It is a Registered Charity and is run by a group of trustees supported by over 50 volunteer custodians. It won the Leicestershire Heritage Award for best temporary exhibitions in 1998, 2001 and 2003. In July 2007, the museum won Museum of the Year in Leicestershire. It works closely with the county Museum Service and other independent museums in the area, sharing expertise and artefacts.