I attended the Reap the Rewards event at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming at Murton Park. It was a day that I had been looking forward to, as the field of rural collections isn’t something I have a specialist background in or feel particularly confident working with.
Yorkshire Museum of Farming and Murton Park
The day began with a tour of Murton Park’s enviable site. It is set in around sixteen acres, which gives them the space to have been able to build a Roman fort, Viking village and prehistoric settlement, as well as providing a home for a variety of livestock and an impressive collection of agricultural machinery. It is popular with schools and certainly the groups of small Vikings we encountered from time to time seemed to be enjoying themselves.
It really showed how valuable experiencing things first-hand can be, especially for children. Gathering around the fire in the Viking longhouse, or grinding corn in the village, brings the past to life in a way static displays simply aren’t able to.
Although most of us don’t have the luxury of Murton Park’s space and facilities, the curator, Mike Tyler, explained that several period rooms and a display of vintage washing machines have proved popular with visitors of all ages, often provoking conversation and discussion between the generations. This illustrates how it can often be possible to make the collection more relatable through fairly small and simple changes.
Rural Museums Network
In the afternoon we discussed a range of issues, including the pros and cons of recruiting volunteers, space and storage constraints and the problems involved in keeping rural collections relevant in a rapidly changing world. It was interesting to hear everyone’s ideas and opinions and to hear how other sites had attempted to solve or deal with these subjects.
The afternoon session also included an introduction to the Rural Museums Network from the RMN host, David Walker. Before attending this event, I wasn’t really aware of the network. I had vaguely heard of it, but no more than that. I now feel that I have more of an understanding of what the RMN is and what it does. It is good to know that there is such a rich resource of knowledge and experience out there to draw on if needed.
I found the day both valuable and enjoyable. It is always good to visit other sites and to meet people from different organisations, and it has certainly given me plenty to think about and some ideas for the future of our collection.
North Lincolnshire Museum Service
One of our sites, Normanby Hall, has an associated Farming Museum, which is being rebranded next year to become the Rural Life Museum. The Farming Museum has traditionally suffered from a lack of visitor numbers by comparison with the rest of the park. Part of the reason for this is thought to be that it simply doesn’t have the widespread interest or appeal of other areas, such as the Hall itself. After the session at Murton Park, I am more confident about tackling the task of trying to boost visitor numbers to the Farming Museum and of trying to make the experience of those visitors as enjoyable and relevant as possible.
I am a Collections Assistant at North Lincolnshire Museum. I mainly work with the archaeology, but I am currently responsible for the Social History collection while a colleague is on maternity leave.