The Dorman long tower, built in the 1950s, on the former steelworks in Redcar was demolished yesterday after its listed status was rescinded by the new Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries. The 56 metre high tower had been used to store coal. It was saved from demolition last year when Historic England granted it Grade II listed status, as it was considered to be of national importance as “a rare surviving remnant of the coal, iron and steel industries”, as well a monument to Teesside’s industrial past. This was Dorries’ first intervention since becoming Culture Secretary last week and it is to be hoped that she does not intend to make a habit of it.
Next week, Dippy the dinosaur will finally arrive in Norwich. After being taken down from the ceiling of the Natural History Museum, the skeleton cast of the diplodocus was scheduled to begin an eight-stop tour taking in all four countries of the United Kingdom. Covid, however, forced a change in plans, but Norwich marks his final stop and you can see Dippy in the cathedral’s nave until 30 October. It is hoped that the display will spark conversations about science and religion and encourage people to think about the future of the planet. For more information - https://dippy.cathedral.org.uk/
It’s not the first time that Norwich Cathedral has engaged with a different visor experience. In 2019, a helter skelter was installed in the nave with the aim of getting visitors to engage with the building and better appreciate its renowned mediaeval roof bosses. For more on this story and what other cathedrals did that summer to engage differently with their visitors, check out: https://advisor.museumsandheritage.com/features/moonwalking-priests-will-2019-prove-a-landmark-year-for-visitor-engagement-with-cathedrals/
Works of art by the Dutch artist Jan van Huysum are travelling the country to some unusual venues as part of an innovative approach to promote ways in which art and culture can support well-being. A second aim is to reach audiences who have been disproportionately affected by the Covid pandemic. Each display, which explores one of six “Ways to Well-being”, namely Be Active, Care (for the planet), Connect, Give, Keep Learning and Take Notice, has already visited Cornwall and Norfolk. Next week, Huysum’s “Flowers in a Terracotta Vase” (1736-37) will be on display in Barnsley Market between 15 and 20 June.
If you missed the series of seminars about the history of gardens and landscape, supported by the History of Gardens and Landscapes Seminar Supporters Group, Birkbeck Garden History Group and the Gardens Trust this semester, the recordings are available as podcasts on the institute of Historical Research website (where you will also find many other fascinating podcasts) - https://www.history.ac.uk/search-podcasts Issues relating to the history, use of meaning of gardens the designed landscape and their importance today form the focus of the History of Gardens and Landscapes seminars, which are designed to create discussion across disciplines with speakers who are historians, gardeners, photographers, artists and more.
Last night I listened to a fascinating talk by Jane Masters of the New Lanark UNESCO World Heritage Site about this planned village created by Robert Owen and the importance of the landscape around it, as well as the external pressures affecting the site today and the need to balance preservation with economic development.
As an archivist, I was fascinated to learn that, for more than a century, Spanish families have kept certificates of birth, marriage, guardianship, citizenship and so forth in a collective document known as the “Libro de Familia”, which is essential for administrative procedures such as applying for an identity card, processing maternity leave or applying for unemployment benefits. But the family record book will now be replaced by an online file. From 1 May, every new-born baby will be registered online and all the facts relating to their identity and civil life will be recorded in the same document. The online file will have a personal code linking it to the individual’s national identity card and information will be uploaded automatically. Existing family record books will not be updated. Previously this involved a visit to the Civil Registry, so the new system will help to streamline processes and access to information. However, in many smaller towns, not all the Civil Registry offices have been sufficiently computerised to deal with the changes, so it could take a while for some individual documents to be issued. An interesting change, therefore, but one in which not all the consequences have been thought through in advance!
As a dog lover I was delighted to read that when Tower Bridge re-opens to visitors on 17 May, dogs will also be welcome. The bridge has endured its longest closure since it opened its doors to the public over 125 years ago. 17 May marks the first day of permitted re-opening under the government’s roadmap to easing lockdown. Pre-booking on line will be essential, but Tower Bridge aims to market itself as London’s only major dog-friendly attraction, which is sure-fire way to broaden its post-lockdown appeal.
The V&A museum is proposing the merger of a number of departments based on material specialisms in order to create cross-disciplinary teams organised around chronology or geography. Under the proposal around 20% of curatorial roles and 10% of conservation roles are at risk. This is a similar action to that proposed by the National Trust last year, which was decried by critics as ‘dumbing down’. Some current and former V&A staff have told of their fears of a ‘brain drain’ at the museum. Curatorial staff argue that they are already stretched with the turnaround that the museum has with exhibitions. Inevitably, director Tristan Hunt cited the Covid pandemic as ‘one of the most significant financial challenges in the V&A’s long history’ and hopes that the changes will save £10m per year. But no price can be put on the knowledge and expertise that will be lost if the changes go ahead.
In addition, the museum is planning to review National Art Library services with a view to merging the library, together with the V&A’s registry and archives, under the V&A Research Institute, to create a single, integrated research and information directorate. Consequently, the library will remain closed until December 2021. Given that these services have already been closed for the best part of a year this action hardly serves the needs of researchers and fails to meet the V&A’s mission aims to create a world class learning experience and to expand its international reach, reputation and impact.
News earlier this month that the Wallace Collection, London, was consulting on the closure of its library and archive to the public led to an outcry and online petition. A campaign to try and prevent the closure was launched by a group of archive professionals and trade unionists working with the Wallace Collection staff and the Public and Commercial Services trade union. The Wallace Collection’s library contains about 30,000 books and periodicals relating to the museum collection, some of which are not held by other art history libraries, whilst the archive includes the papers of the Wallace Collection’s founders and other records and is designated as a ‘Place of Deposit’ for public records under the 1958 Public Records Act. The closure plans, which were described by the campaign’s organisers as ‘short-sighted and ill thought out’, would have meant redundancies for two full time members of staff. The petition argued that Wallace Collection director, Xavier Bray, ‘wants to orientate the museum to income generation and does not view the library and archive as part of this’. Moreover, questions about archives that were donated on the condition that they were publicly available, and on how curatorial staff would manage the book and archive collections that require specialist skills, have not been answered.
By the close of consultation on 11 February, the petition had attracted almost 30,000 signatures. On 17 February it was announced that the library and archive of the Wallace Collection would remain open to the public following an internal consultation, although Bray warned that a difficult road lies ahead for the institution as it counts the cost of the pandemic.
A landmark project to transform the area between the Royal Albert Dock and Mann Island in Liverpool is planned to bring the waterfront back to life. The scheme, part of a 10-year masterplan to re-imagine the area, will see the expansion of the International Slavery Museum from its current occupation of the third floor of the Merseyside Maritime Museum into the adjacent Dock Traffic Office, which will be re-named the Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building. New exhibition spaces, community areas and shared facilities will create a seamless visitor experience between the two museums. Smaller buildings, including the Cooperage, Mermaid House, Pilotage Building, Piermaster’s House and Great Western Railway Building, will be redeveloped to create more commercial and cultural opportunities. National Museums Liverpool will launch the project in March with a competition to identify designers who will be part of the development.
A report just published by Museum Freelance - the organisation that represents freelancers and consultants working in the museum, gallery, archive and heritage sectors - outlines the ‘devastating impact’ of the Covid pandemic on freelancers. Nearly 80% of museum and heritage freelancers responding to the survey stated that their income fell between March and October. More than half of the respondents have had one or more projects or contracts cancelled, whilst many more have had projects or contracts postponed. However, less than half have been able to access the government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), with many having to find alternative sources of income, such as savings, borrowing or receiving a grant. Consequently, the pandemic has had a ‘detrimental impact’ on the mental health of freelancers, with many reporting feelings of stress, anxiety and isolation. As the report notes, freelancing has always been precarious, but the scale, severity and sustained nature of the issues being faced this year are extraordinary.
To access the full report:
My thoughts, views and musings about what's happening in the world of archives and records management, information and governance, heritage and culture