Monthly Archives: June 2010

Coventry Zoo

Not being a Coventry native, I was unaware (until 10 minutes ago anyway) that Coventry had a zoo.

The Virtual Museum Willenhall has an interesting copy of an original zoo guide which you can view online. The animals do look a little sad, and it reminds me of school trips to the Memphis Zoo when I was younger.

Somewhat more lighthearted is MACE ‘s 1973 film clip of the resident dolphins getting their teeth cleaned!

I’m personally not a big fan of zoos and, after reading this article, perhaps I didn’t miss much by coming to Coventry years after the zoo closed. Except, perhaps, this.

I think it’s been said on this blog before, but you never know what to expect from a day working at the Herbert!! It’s wonderful to learn more about the history of where I live now and I look forward to more random (but exciting) discoveries. I’ll keep you posted!


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Cabbage with peas – Kapusta z grochem

The current Your Coventry display

When I lived in Poland over ten years ago, a friend taught me the idiom Kapusta z grochem – it literally means cabbage with peas, a dish served during dinner on Christmas Eve, but it also means things are a bit of a mish mash.  Sometimes when you are working on lots of projects at once you do a bit of this and a bit of that and your days can feel like, well, kapusta z grochem.  I was thinking of this because I am working on two Polish projects at the minute, both very different, as different as cabbage and peas but equally interesting.  Read the rest of this entry


Today’s post has been written by Ludo Keston, Chief Executive of Coventry Heritage and Arts Trust.
Not a typical Monday morning at the Herbert! I’ve just been interviewed by the BBC’s Mark Lawson for a piece about us that will be broadcast on Front Row next Monday. It’s all about The Art Fund Prize and our being on the final list of 4 museums that are being considered from hundreds of nominations.
For a small museum like ours, the Art Fund Prize brings a level of press and public attention that we could never afford to buy, and we are already seeing the benefits of being named the best museum in Britain for families by the Guardian earlier in the year.

Jewish Family History

Last Sunday we hosted an event to explore Jewish Family History. The local Jewish community had invited David Jacobs from the Jewish Museum in London who had a rich set of starting points from his own book collection and from the Jewish Chronicle. There is clearly a fantastic local history project waiting to happen.

One small example was a directory from 1893, listing 6 people engaged in the watchmaking industry. A quick chat with a curator suggests that only one of these is known to us. This feels like a lovely example of community history – adding a new layer of detail to the Coventry’s existing story. Given watchmaking is a key part of our history gallery display, it would be great to find a way of making this knowledge available to our visitors.

So often the history of a minority community focuses on the biggest or oldest examples, such as the Chinese community in Liverpool or the London East-End Jews.  I think exploring the stories of these same groups in Coventry is often more representative of the wider UK experience – smaller communities without great buildings and long held links.   

I like the small histories.   They never seem to make it onto the History Channel, but they make the past ring true.

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What a talented bunch of Knitwits!!

Not many of us would wear something our Grans Knitted for us any more. I used to enjoy wearing creations that my mother used to knit for me and my sister (I distinctly remember a blue jumper with a grey dog on) but this stopped when knitting, and wearing knitted items, seemed to become distinctly ‘un-cool’. Fast forward to the noughties however and knitting is enjoying an unexpected revival and is now not only a widely enjoyed hobby, but also the inspiration for events and exhibitions gracing museums all around the UK.

The Herbert has a well established knitting club that runs on Thursday lunchtimes. ‘Knitwits’. This is an opportunity for staff to get together, have a chat and a cuppa, knit, craft and share creative expertise. Recently, some members of the knitting group joined in with a national initiative run by Innocent Smoothies. This involved knitting tiny winter hats for the smoothie bottles and for each one sold, money was donated to Age UK  (formally Help the Aged) to support older people in staying warm during those cold winter months. We have some very talented knitters in the group, knitting anything from gloves to children’s teddy bear outfits. We hope to use this blog to keep you updated on any future projects we become involved with.

 Museums are also hosting knitting events. Such is the revived popularity of the craft, BBC Radio Wales appealed for people to knit sections of a huge red scarf, displayed at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, in order to support the Welsh Rugby Team in the 2010 Six Nations Competition. There was 1.25 miles of scarf! A huge achievement.

 To celebrate ‘Worldwide Knit in Public Day’ the Herbert played host to the ‘Yarn Gatherings’ event to knit Lady Godiva a scarf. It was a successful event, and the museum provided the perfect setting for it. The Hunterian Museum in London was a host for a StitchandBitch London ‘Knit Crawl 2010’ event, also for Worldwide Knit in Public Day. Maybe museums provide the ultimate serene backdrop for an old favourite hobby!

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The Department for Random Requests….

Hi, I’m Jane Pudsey, Senior Conservator at the Herbert. Our team is responsible for the wellbeing of the collections, so between us we look after the environment, prepare and maintain objects on display, check incoming objects, and yes, we do some active conservation work as well. As we never know what may crop up, we keep a large selection of tools, materials and equipment, and are skilled at improvising – so much so that I’m thinking of rebranding us as ‘The Department for Random Requests’ (beeswax, table-cloths and ironing facilities this week).

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What’s it like to be a Keeper?

Hello, my name is Ali Wells and I am one of three Keepers of Collections at the Herbert. Together with the Senior Curator we curate the four collections held at the museum: archaeology, natural history, social & industrial history and visual arts.

Objects are at the core of all museums, and for me May meant working with many different types of objects.

I started the month by helping Dom with the take down of Fashion V Sport. Taking things down are always a lot easier than putting them up and the costumes mostly came off their mannequins with ease. The most difficult piece was a Prada outfit made from some kind of plasticated paper. We had to handle it so carefully as there was already wear around the zip and it had only been done up five or six times!

Part of the joy of having collections is being able to lend them out to other museums. For its summer exhibition on Rock ‘n’ Roll photographs, The Pump Rooms in Leamington wanted to display some objects from the 1950s and 60s. After looking through the collection, we will be lending them some Beatles and Rolling Stone magazine and this record player. Read the rest of this entry

Deaf Sport in Coventry video

Here it is – the fantastic result of Anne-Marie’s hard work!

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Whatever next…

Well despite the reputation of dusty old archives things are anything but dull at the History Centre. One aspect I really enjoy about my job is the variety. We are asked an eclectic range of questions every week from local people and visitors from all over the world. This week we have helped visitors researching a slaughterhouse in Foleshill, a Hobson aircraft carburettor used by the Italian Air Force, the history of various inns of Coventry, haunted properties and a parachutist, Viola Spencer, who sadly died after falling on to a roof during a jump in Coventry in 1910. 

We are often asked to find historical information and photographs for television companies at short notice which can mean any plans for the day going out the window. However I admit to being rather envious of my colleagues Rob and Jane who were recently involved with the filming of a new BBC 4 series at St. Mary’s Hall presented by historian Michael Wood. One of the city’s most important archives, the Coventry Leet Book, 1421-1555, was used during the filming of this programme, due to be broadcast in 2011.  Read the rest of this entry

Matters physical, thoughtful and sensory: part 2

Construction on In the Big Treetop begins!

View of the construction of In the Big Treetop

In the Big Treetop has just come a step closer with the delivery of 33 sheets of MDF.  Now our technician Steve has the huge task of converting the 1:25 scale model into a reality that can stand everything that hundreds of children can throw at it.

We’ve also made some progress on the theoretical questions.   I am currently exploring the tension between how the installation respects the visitor by offering a carefully designed aesthetic, and how it can honour the participants in the space by letting them shape it. 

One of the special things about the Herbert is the combination of Gallery, Museum, Archives and Media.  Having been up at 5am on the May bank holiday recording the dawn chorus, Daz, our sound engineer, had the brilliant idea of using the great quadraphonic sound system in the studio . . .   So at 3.30am on Sunday I will be trudging through a nature reserve with 4 mic stands, cables, two recorders . . .   Those birds better sing!

Wednesday’s update:  On Sunday, the birds sang, the bunnies lolloped, herons rose from the mist and terns flashed bright orange as they caught the dawn sun . . .

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