A great morning of tea, volunteers, history lovers, archaeology, planning and, strangely, London buses!
I can’t wait for Tuesday 8th October, which will be day 1 of my new mini project. I am a lucky girl because all my favourite things are coming together: Bromley Museum; Museum of London; old things; Romans; history and hands on archaeology.
I have volunteered at Bromley Museum (my local love – see my previous post) for the past year, turning my hand to a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It was back in March when I first met Adam Corsini from the Museum of London Archaeological Archive when he came to Bromley Museum to run an outreach project. I was not involved in the project, I was on the periphery each Wednesday when the Museum of London team first came to Bromley. They seemed very professional with a sense of calm purpose, I observed them leading school classes in and out, working with special needs groups and the local archaeological society. They were repacking finds from a Roman Villa down the road from the Museum in Keston. I saw bits of pots, plastic bags, labels and maps but never had a chance to see for myself what was involved. I was desperate to get stuck in, but didn’t want to appear over keen and risk scaring them off!
My chance came when the Museum of London team set up shop in the middle of ‘The Glades’ shopping centre in Bromley high street. It was quite a sight and an approach that made me rethink how we interact with museums and their objects. This novel idea was a way of engaging shoppers, teaching them a bit about their local Roman ancestors, a bit about the Museum of London and a bit about Bromley Museum. But most importantly giving them a chance to place their hands on 2,000 year old Roman pottery, touching history, sensing time and forgetting for a moment this 21st century world of bright lights, coffee shops and shopping trips.
I take my daughter swimming ridiculously early on a Saturday morning so we were first in line to have a go ourselves. I weakly used my daughter as an excuse to sit down before they had even set up for the day. It was rather surreal, as with Disney Store music in the back ground, we talked about Roman cooking methods and burning pots, wrote a few numbers on a label and repackaged a bit of Roman pot. It was over too soon, a brief moment of connection with something strange and unknown. We had become micro volunteers for the Museum of London. We walked away with big smiles on our faces, a lovely badge and the knowledge we had done something a little bit unusual and a little bit special.
I should have known I was hooked from packing one small piece of pot, but little did I know a few short months later I would find myself a fully fledged volunteer for the Museum of London, spending 9 weeks in their archive fully immersing myself in the Roman world, not just pots but bones, glass and metal. By the end of my time at Mortimer Wheeler House, where the archive is based, I had repacked hundreds of bags and been on an emotionally surprising trip. I had met some lovely people and learnt so much, I got to go on my first dig and understand more about the process of revealing the history buried beneath our feet.
But sadly all good things must come to and end….. The summer holidays beckoned and before I knew it I was back to Bromley Museum caught up in family activities and toy exhibitions. So when an email came through about the possibility of the Museum of London coming to do another project at Bromley I jumped at the chance to be involved. Who knew where this project would take me?
To begin with it has taken me to a drab and dreary September morning outside Bromley Museum. I met with Adam and a new recruit from the Museum of London, another volunteer joins us and we are ready to take small steps towards understanding our past. We talk dates and details, site codes and packaging. The curator gives us a tour of the store, we open a couple of boxes, where will we begin?
But this project is a little bit different from my previous work with the Museum of London and a little bit special. We are being given a little bit of freedom to direct and steer, to tackle problems and grasp opportunities. In our previous work with the Museum of London we were babies, it was all new, there was much hand holding and re-assurance. Now we are toddlers (!) we get the chance to take our first steps unaided, to practice our skills, grow in confidence, and to look to the future. We are not alone, help is still there but it is measured and in the background. And you know what? I can’t wait!
I want to learn more about my Roman neighbours, I want to help Bromley Museum create space in their store, and understand more about their collection. I want to help the Museum of London, provide collections that are in good condition, easy to find and research. I want to get to know my fellow volunteers share some hard work and good fun too.
The volunteer co-ordinator at Bromley Museum is joining us on this project. He brings with him the expertise of the Orpington District Archaeology Society too. Always full of good cheer and enthusiasm, he brings with him a little surprise for use on this dreary day. An ice cream tub full of London Buses! A great start to our meeting, we have a little play with them. They are due to go into the next Bromley Museum exhibition. What a great omen for our project.
These fun little buses, all the same but all different. To me they are like the pots and flints we will be handling in future weeks. Enticing, fun, begging to be picked up and enjoyed. More importantly, their owner has cared for them and looked after them so future generations can appreciate and share them. That is what we must do. Take these boxes of Roman remains and make sure they are around for the history lovers, researchers and enthusiasts of the future.
There is work to be done and I can’t wait to get started. I will endeavour once again (sorry neglected family!) to blog each week, let you know what we have found, where we are heading. I hope you will come with me for the ride, once you open up a few boxes you never know what you might find………..