Heritage Bulletin blog

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Archives and Museums: the merging of Heritage roles?

Once upon a time the role of an archivist was very clear, to preserve records for future generations to access. However more recently as I stated in the blog who are we?

“There appear[s] to be a move away from the traditional archivist protector of records and preserver of history with a set of core skills which stood them apart from the museum curator. In their place stands the postmodern archivist who is all things to all men, a heritage professional, throwing open the doors of the archive, engaging with the community and letting go of their control.”

With access becoming more important archivists have to find different ways to show off their collections. In the past this may have been allowing museum professionals to take part of the collection and display them. However it appears that in some cases the archivist must take on the role of the curator and interpret information form their collections making them user friendly and telling a story to the public. I am sure Jenkinson is turning in his grave but as I have said before it is now time for us to move away from the traditional theory and look to a new way of thinking.

One way of providing access to different audiences is to create an exhibition on a particular theme. Currently Royal Voluntary Service’s Compassion in Crisis exhibition is running at Wiltshire Museum until 24th June. The exhibition has taken the theme of WVS/WRVS/Royal Voluntary Services role in times of crisis using objects, photographs, documents, uniform, posters, cartoons and text. The story starts in 1938 and finishes in the modern day. Even though the exhibition tells you a story there are still hallmarks of the traditional archivist as this exhibit doesn’t always interpret the archival information allowing you to come up with your own view on the title Compassion in Crisis. If you would like to know more about the theme you can listen to Coloured Thread on SoundCloud.

Thus while Royal Voluntary Services Archive & Heritage team have strayed into the world of Museums and the world of the post-modern archivist there is still an element of the traditional archivist in their which demonstrates the two roles of archivists and museum professional are still separate and have different elements to them which make them unique. However don’t take my word for it why not interprets this for yourself by visiting Compassion in Crisis.

The Exhibition at Wiltshire Museum will run till 24th June, we hope you will take the opportunity to get a rare glimpse at some of the objects, uniform and records preserved by the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection. If you have children we also have an exciting trail to follow round the exhibit and the chance to build a model emergency cooker.

If you would like to know more about the history of Royal Voluntary Service or WVS in Devizes during World War II there are lectures from Matthew McMurray and David Dawson on 6th and 20th June.


Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 00:00 Monday, 21 May 2018.

Labels: Museum, Archive , Compassion in crisis, Heritage

Compassion in Crisis – A museum exhibition about 80 years of voluntary service

It may surprise you to learn that for three days last week the Archivist, Deputy Archivist and Archives Business Manager were setting up a new exhibition at Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. The Archive team have been planning this since the middle of last year writing content, selecting objects and preparing resources. Finally it is already in place ready to be seen by the public, this is a taste of what to expect from Compassion in Crisis.

 In 1938 Lady Reading started to mobilise an army of women who would be essential in winning the Second World War. By 1941 this was over 1,000,000 who were often referred to as ‘the women in green’ because of their uniform and they were known for offering tea and comfort to all who needed it in a time of crisis. At the end of the war dangers to civilians didn’t just fade away and a new threat of nuclear war was ever on people’s minds.

The exhibition looks at the emerging role of WVS inemergencies during the war and how this developed in the post-war world. Part of the exhibition explores the One-in-Five scheme which aimed to educate one in every five women on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Women also joined the Food Flying Squads part of the Civil Defence Welfare Section. These women didn’t just have training exercises they also provided relief to those affected by floods in 1953. There were also other skills and services providedby WVS during the war which did not become obsolete in the post war era.

Dutch and Belgium refugees as well as evacuees had been helped by WVS; with the war, revolution and natural disaster in other nations fresh waves of refugees arrived in Britain in 1950s to 1980s. WVS or WRVS by the time Vietnamese, Ugandan Asian and Kosovan refugees arrived were always ready to comfort those in need and give them a safe place to stay. Compassion in Crisis looks at how WVS/WRVS showed compassion to refugees and gave them comfort intheir time of crisis. It also reflects on how voluntary service and what itmeans to be a volunteer has changed as we have moved into the twenty first century.

The Exhibition at Wiltshire Museum will run from the 7th May to 24th June, we hope you will take the opportunity to get a rare glimpse at some of the objects, uniform and records preserved by the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection. If you have children we also have an exciting trail to follow round the exhibit and the chance to build a model emergency cooker. 

If you would like to know more about the history of Royal Voluntary Service or WVS in Devizes during World War II there are lectures from Matthew McMurray and David Dawson on 6th and 20th June.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 07 May 2018.

Labels: WVS, WRVS , Royal Voluntary Service, Museum, Archive, Heritage

A Coloured Thread



This week the Heritage Bulletin Blog comes to you in the form of our first podcast.  Have a listen to Matthew McMurray talking about his inspiration for the archive's upcoming (2018) museum exhibition and journey to get there.



For those who can't listen to the podcast, which I modestly recommend, the transcript is below.

This last week I have been putting together my first ever museum exhibition plan and it’s fascinating how the approach of museums differs from that of archives. I had merrily sat down with the idea that I was going to come up with a story, nice and ordered and linear and then write some beautiful text and add some nice pictures; What my colleague rather inelegantly called the ‘book on the wall’ approach. This though, to misquote Mr Punch is ‘not the way to do it’!

Some research later and some sage advice from those with more experience than my none in museum exhibition design and I was trepidatiously ready to begin.

The key, apparently, with any museum exhibition is to start from the objects, let them tell your story. Hmmm I thought to myself as I visualised the towers of several million pieces of paper in our strong rooms and rather fewer objects and felt despondent.

While as an archivist I love nothing more than reading reams of text (preferably with footnotes) apparently not everyone else does, Horror I thought.

Visual impact is unsurprisingly the order of the day, with interactive displays for different levels of understanding from children to adults, short and sweet descriptions (in 25-30 words) and constant repetition. As a lover of detail, as someone who prefers to use ten words when one will do, and also someone who makes every effort to use the English language in all its glory, how was I going to inculcate my audience to the amazing work of the Royal Voluntary Service with so few words.

The answer was a single thread. Most great enterprises come from a small idea, and as a colleague said rather poetically in an e-mail today, quoting the 14th century proverb ‘Great oaks from little acorns grow’.

Much like a tin of Ronseal paint, Royal Voluntary Service has always done what it says on the tin, provided ‘Voluntary Service’. Our founder Lady Reading, whose portrait stares down and scrutinises my every action here in the archive, was the epitome of that ideal which she championed all her life with a zeal most could never hope to match. I have read volumes of her speeches, letters and writing and I find myself repeating her grand eloquent style frequently, in-fact this podcast is becoming a good example. But my point here is that a single bright thread came into my mind and I pulled at it.

In her 1970 treatise entitled simply ‘Voluntary Service’ she said

“Voluntary Service is a coloured thread in the fabric of a Nation and without that thread the fabric is neither as beautiful nor as strong as it should be”


That single coloured thread is literally going to run through my exhibition joining disparate activities and ideas into a story of voluntary service over 80 years; joining objects from wartime uniforms to models of Atlantic longboats and medals denoting a thousand years of service beyond self.

That single thread now has a lot to answer for and the ideas are coming thick and fast.


Posted by Matthew McMurray - Royal Voluntary Service Archivst at 09:00 Monday, 16 October 2017.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Podcast, Museum, Heritage Bulletin Blog, Coloured thread