It’s with trepidation, uncertainty and excitement that we begin our residency at Mansfield Museum. There is so much to explore. We begin by giving each other little challenges to inspire us as we look around the museum.
Ria goes off at a pace, exploring the museum as a child would, with wonder- ‘look at this Hannah!’ getting her head as close to the speaker as she can to hear some oral history about Mansfield’s shoe factory. I am meticulous. I don’t want to miss anything, and as a result it takes me two hours just to look at the Mansfield at work section. I am rather amused by the Mansfield Brewery information, there is an advert playing with Jeremy Clarkson starring ‘The perfect head on the perfect body’. I raise an eyebrow. I find out that the workers were given a daily beer allowance at work until 2002. I am rather taken by the odd campaign starring Ronald Reagan ‘He may be the president of the most powerful nation on earth…but he’s never had a pint of Mansfield’. I imagine that there are some good stories associated with the brewery, especially with beer on offer at work.
I find the shoe factory inspiring too, I wonder how many shoes the museum has, about stepping into someone else’s shoes, could we ask the audience to do this literally? The Royce brothers who ran the shoe factory knew all the names of the workers and their families until they were overloaded and passed this responsibility onto their sister. She knew every single one and had great relationships with them, so much so that they called the workers Miss Royce’s Angels. The shoe company also won the inter factory swimming challenge in both 1920 and 21. I start imagining a character in swimming costume, cap and high heels telling the story of the great win.
One of my challenges is to find something that makes me want to sing and dance and I’m drawn to the space seeds that local children have planted. I write this.
‘The way they stretch upwards, the way their arms and legs will reach out and grow tall, bending towards the light. A kind of dance, perhaps a dance they learnt up there in space- star troopers dancing their budding shoots till dawn. Dancing through the night while no-ones here. I’d like to dance with them, I’d like to grow large and spread my funky limbs to the sky. Green and new. A outer space boogie’.
Another of Ria’s challenges is for me to find someone who is Mansfield Born and bred. I find out about William Edward Bailey who gifted his natural history collection to the council, some of which is still in the museum today, again I write as if I was William.
‘I love science, nature, just getting out in it. Last night I went to Edwinstowe, I waited till it got dark, took my lantern and searched for moths. I want to see them flapping through the air, making their way through the sky. I’m gathering, glimpsing, collecting. My collection will be the best, it won’t be hidden away in a drawer but displayed to the world, perhaps a museum, a moth museum’.
So much of the museum starts to come to life for me, the animals whisper, the tins beg to be opened, and the irons tell me their woe. It’s like a light bulb has gone on and the objects no longer sit there inert for me to stare at but they speak out, they tell stories. I must remember this when I visit museums in future. Jodie, the museums development officer tell me that new stuff comes into the museum every day, they have started to be strict about what they take. They get all sorts from stuffed animals to things people have dug up in their garden. Apparently a man called up who was painting his flat he said he could see Jesus on his wall, he wanted Jodie to come around and have a look. She declined. They have a room full of photos upstairs that were rescued when the Chad (local paper) was throwing them in a skip! The museum got a call about this travesty and drove round and rescued them in the boot of a car. Now the chad comes to them when they want old photographs. There are thousands and I have no idea how to go about looking at them.
I asked Ria to find an object that she could imagine coming to life. She imagines the tea set to be children and the smoking pipes head teachers trying to keep them in check, stern and strict. She sees the mayor’s hat box full of self-importance and the pretty box next to it, posh. The mayor hat box keeps trying to talk to the posh one but she’s not interested, and she writes this about the hoover;
‘I’m so tired, I don’t remember how I’m supposed to work, my pipes all disintegrated. Oh my I can’t even suck up a cup of tea anymore. As soon as the lights go down I collapse down and rest my weary tin head. I used to shine and sparkle, now I’m tatty and I don’t mind really, I’ve done my time, cleaning all the factories making the floor smooth and shiny for the workers to start again, tapping the tins and painting them all pretty. We all worked together, cogs in the machine as it were’
Now we are allowed upstairs, into the stores, as much again, shelves upon shelves of items, some wrapped carefully in paper to keep them safe, to keep them in one moment in time, to stop them aging further. It’s cold, the items like it colder and the rocks like it freezing. We can’t help but imagine ghosts roaming these shelves at night, maybe trying on the outfits and putting them back carefully, softly, gently so no-one will know. Can we take our audience up here?