Our week with Elmbridge Museum

Work experience student James

Work experience student James

Hello, my name is James and I am a year 12 student studying History, Maths and Economics at Hinchley Wood Sixth Form. I recently worked at the Elmbridge Museum from the 24th through to the 27th of July 2023 as a part of my work experience, learning about both the ins and outs of how the museum operates and the fascinating history of the local area.

In the 4 days in which I was at the museum, my eyes were opened to the reality of the complex process of running a museum in all of its different sectors. The members of the team at the museum, Ellie, Amy, Sue and Jodie, were all beyond helpful and kind in showing me one of the many career paths in which history can take me down and I look forward to potentially pursuing such a path in the future. Overall, the entire experience was an incredible insight into the historical world and I would thoroughly recommend it to everyone as a unique way to explore the local borough in its historical entirety.

25 August 2023
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Work experience student Seb

Work experience student Seb

Hi! My name is Seb, I spent a week of work experience with the team at the Elmbridge Museum in order to gain an insight into the various roles that work together to run a museum service, but also to learn about local history, both ancient and contemporary.

I study philosophy, English language and literature, and classics at Esher College, so I was particularly interested in the wide range of Roman artefacts that the museum had in their collection, an interest which was considerately catered to. I’m also very interested in potentially working in a museum in the future, so this experience was perfect for me, as it allowed me to investigate all aspects of a museum career in much greater depth than I had previously experienced, along with the opportunity to ask questions.

Elmbridge Museum kindly offered a packed and all-encompassing schedule which allowed me to do this, so I am very thankful. I got to share this experience with James, another student, which gave me the opportunity to learn more about history, as we were interested in different topics and time periods.

Day 1

To begin with, Ellie took us on a brief tour of the Museum side of the Civic Centre, taking a glance at the exhibition on display in the lobby, ‘Drawing Esher’ in which we found out about how the museum works, in terms of splitting its exhibits across multiple sites in the local area, including Dittons Library, Cobham Library, Walton Library, Xcel Leisure Complex and of course, the Civic Centre itself. This method was fascinating as it is a very unique take on exhibitions as a whole as it allows people to experience local history wherever they go, regardless of the type of building they are in.

After talking about the structure of the museum and filling out the necessary paperwork, we took a lovely lunch break in the centre’s canteen before departing by car to one of the museum’s storerooms. Upon arriving at the storeroom we first entered a room containing all sorts of items delicately placed in boxes or on display for visitors to admire. Exploring the storerooms allowed me to perceive the extensive lengths that the staff go to to preserve the precious artefacts as well as how impressive the artefacts in themselves are. Going through the next 3 rooms of the building, we once more saw how organised the team were when looking at the amazing paintings on display and room of clothing from past locals of all backgrounds. Finally we concluded the visit by looking towards the Numismatics section and getting a first hand viewing and inspection of several coins dating from the period of the Roman empire of emperors such as Constantine I, through to the Victorian era to finish off the day on a captivating note.

Below you can see some example of the objects we explored in the store.

The Weybridge Salmon

This salmon was caught by professional fisherman George Keene in the Thames at Weybridge on 9th March 1861, weighing 23.5 lb and measuring 40 inches in length. Salmon had not been found in the Thames for 40 years and so the specimen was inspected by various experts including Mr G. A. Boulanger of the Natural History Museum. It was suspected that the fish had been thrown into the river by a tradesman. The salmon was presented to Weybridge Museum in 1911, making it one of the very first acquisitions.

14.1911/1 The Weybridge Salmon

14.1911/3 A Famous Fish at Weybridge article

4th Century Roman Coin

This example is one of a small number of ancient coins in the museum’s collection. It depicts what is thought to be a city gate topped by a star which symbolises that the emperor has brought safety to his people. On the reverse is the bust of Constantine who ruled the Roman Empire from 306 to 337 AD. This coin was found locally in 1937 and given to the museum in the 1960s.

L.399.1968 Constantine coin

Ethel Harting watercolours

This is an example of one of 170 botanical watercolours painted by the Museum’s Natural History Curator, Ethel Harting, in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Ethel painted a variety of plants including woodland and water flowers, each painting showing her botanical knowledge and expertise. She visited many homes and gardens in Weybridge to locate her specimens, including Clinton House Conservatory, Holme Chase and Oatlands Park Hotel. People also sent her flowers to record such as the Canterbury Bells said to be from the Queen’s garden at Windsor. This particular example shows nasturtiums painted at Abbeylands.

Image of Nasturtiums by Ethel Harting

The collection’s variety was unlike anything I had seen before, containing costume, documents, taxidermy and many other artefacts, all based around Elmbridge’s history.

Day 2

Oatlands Park Hotel egg cup

This is one of the objects we chose for our exhibition. It is a Victorian china egg cup from Oatlands Park Hotel and shows how domestic habits have changed over the years.

Starting day 2, we attended a meeting with the museum team in order to understand the inner workings and decision making process of the museum, which proved to be very interesting.

47.1993 Bacon dish drainer plate

This glazed plate is for draining bacon and dates to the first half of the 20th century.

Next up, we delved into the intricate process of exhibition developing with Amy, who is the Exhibitions and Interpretation Officer. We had a chance to learn how the exhibitions are created and put into place, as well as going out to look at a couple first hand. We also got the chance to brainstorm our own hypothetical exhibition, and we got to use the database to find some possible items we could exhibit. This task showed me how much creativity was involved in the role, but also how good problem-solving skills were required, as you need to evenly space the topics across the different exhibition locations to ensure there was always something for everyone on display, and that it doesn’t get too repetitive.

In the afternoon, Amy drove us out towards a few other locations in which exhibits resided, including both the Dittons Library and Cobham Library where we took a look at the ‘Back to School’ and ‘Cobham Brewery’ displays (respectively). This gave real life examples of how well-crafted the exhibition process was as they related perfectly to the locations in which they were in, showing clear passion and care for the work and local history via the museum team. In addition to admiring the artefacts on display, Amy also took the time to thoroughly explain the intricacies of the inner workings of displays, telling us about the devices placed around the containers that create a perfect environment to protect the items within and provide an easier experience for the museum staff to monitor the condition of the items.

Discover an exhibition near you

Back to School This exhibition explores the history of schools in Elmbridge using a range of objects from the museum's collection including photographs, books, samplers and paintings. It also features oral histories by local people reflecting on their memories of their schooldays.

Find out more in the online exhibition
Cobham Brewery This exhibition was produced in collaboration with local historian David Taylor. It highlights the history of the brewery from its foundation in the 1700s and the role it played in supplying pubs in Elmbridge and beyond. There are a variety of objects on display including flagons, tankards, bottles and postcards from David Taylor's personal collection.

Visit the display at Cobham Library
Drawing Esher The Drawing Esher exhibition at the Civic Centre showcases work by Robert Taylor Pritchett, a Victorian artist who moved to Esher in the 1860s.

See more examples of Pritchett's work in the online exhibition

Day 3

Museum pest trap

An example of a museum pest trap

Beginning day 3, museum volunteer Marilyn gave us a detailed walkthrough of some of the many tasks that she and the other volunteers work on, and explained the process of researching specific regions in the borough via an extensive catalogue of books. After that, she gave us some time to take a look through several documents sourced from both WW1 and WW2 which were donated by an unknown source yet proved to be exceptionally intriguing for showcasing both letters sent from a WW1 soldier and many air raid reports from the Blitz.

Next up, we joined a few of the museum’s volunteers for lunch which gave me the brilliant experience of being able to talk with some of the volunteers about both their own time with the museum and local history as well as their personal lives which was both lovely and incredibly fascinating.

Finishing off day 3, the Collections Officer, Sue, gave us a whistle-stop tour of her job, detailing the preservation methods for objects and things to consider when keeping them safe, such as the potential critters that can come and cause harm to certain artefacts, regardless of their size. After this, Sue showed us how to use EMu, the museum database, which staff can use to gain a much more precise field of view of all of the artefacts so that they are easier to locate and manage for exhibitions and general usage.

Day 4

22.1949/1 Roman flue tile

A Roman flue tile from Chatley Farm bath house

At the dawn of the final day, we began with Jodie, the Learning and Outreach Officer, giving an enthralling showcase of the learning programme that the museum uses to teach younger children about the wonders of local history. We began by looking in the bunker at some of the era themed boxes in order to gain an insight into how the museum captures the attention of young minds through carefully examining some fragments of roman bath houses sourced from nearby in the borough.

We typed up feedback sheets from a children’s workshop Jodie had run, and then got to reflect on what the participants had said and thought up some ideas about how to improve the session if we ran it again, which gave us a good insight into the work she does daily.

To conclude our last day, we joined in a demonstration of what a storerooms emergency would look like which consisted of a very creative display of potential water damage to a box full of artefacts and what to do in a time of disaster, which showed me how coordinated the team was at all times and reassured me about the safety of the precious collections. Finally, the team brought in some delicious cakes and biscuits for us to eat which was an extremely kind gesture and a perfect way to finish off a very exciting week of work experience!

The environment was very welcoming, and I was asked to contribute to group discussions. I am very thankful for the chance to do work experience at Elmbridge Museum, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in a similar career.

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