In October, we shared a few of our team’s favourite things about Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, or as our Chief Executive, Keith Merrin, expressed it “a real love letter” from our team to the Museum.
We asked you about your favourite things and loved hearing your responses. From afternoon tea in the Pottery Gallery, to the Lowry painting of Girl in a Red Hat on a Promenade that one of our visitors says hello to on every visit – it has been fabulous to hear more about your love for the Museum and your memories of visits.
This week, some of the Friends of Sunderland Museum (FOSUMs) join us to share a few of their favourite things…
In the early 1990s I joined the Friends of Sunderland Museums because their monthly talks sounded interesting. It has enriched my life. I have met famous people, visited interesting places, and gained knowledge through talks and exhibition previews.
A particular happy memory is from November 2010. The BBC were doing a series of programmes Turn Back Time – The High Street, and selected 11 centres in the UK to set up a 1930s shop. They took over an empty sports shop in The Bridges and it was open to the public on a Saturday and Sunday. I volunteered to be a steward. The BBC provided the shop, its props and its actors, and asked the Museum to put on displays behind it. I remember there was a hessian sack of potatoes and a stack of logs or firewood. The actors replied to any questions in character and were very knowledgeable.
One of the Museum’s exhibits was a fireplace with a sofa in front, and a screen above on which were showing scenes from wartime. One man in a wheelchair told me he had been a youngster in Coventry at the time of the prolonged bombing there. The shelters were so full his family were only in the entry. The raid lasted 36 hours. I have memories of being in our air raid shelter for maybe two hours and have tried to imagine what it must have been like to be shut up in a shelter for 36 hours with little air, probably no food, and no toilet facilities, except perhaps a bucket.
There was also a glass cabinet showing Pyrex ware and this attracted great interest with people pointing out some they had got as wedding presents and still had.
Some of the Museum’s exhibitions also provide great memories. One of the curators travelled to St. James Palace to select items belonging to the Queen Mother for an exhibition. There was a particularly fine glass horse with not an air bubble in it. Another exhibition from the British Museum had a case about four meters long containing a medieval family tree when monarchs all wanted to prove they were descended from some ancient celebrity.
We also had a snake exhibition with talks by the snakes’ owner and we had the chance to hold a snake.
In the days before austerity cuts and lockdowns we regularly attended exhibition previews and I met Grayson Perry and Norman Cornish, among others.
Sunderland Museum has certainly given me many happy experiences.
I enjoy the special events at the Museum. The Indian artist Ranbir Kaur’s ‘Life in Colour’ is a joy to remember.
However, after seeing Leonardo’s A Life in Drawings, I wandered in to see the Lowry paintings and found the most wonderful pencil drawings of Washington’s elderly. Andrew Tift made them come to life on paper. Absolutely stunning.
Always something surprising and new to find in the Museum.
The Andrew Tift drawings are now available to revisit in an online exhibition from Arts Centre Washington
The Museum’s Lost Worlds Gallery is one of my favourites, giving the background to the Carboniferous and Permian geology of the North East and by sight and sound, re-creating the environments that used to exist in those eras. East Durham is world famous for its magnesian limestone geology and the Gallery focuses on its features such as the barrier reef, the reef fossils and the extraordinary cannonball limestone of Sunderland. In addition there is a beautiful display of minerals coming mainly from the Durham Dales.
The Lost Worlds gallery can be found on the first floor of the Museum.
I am always drawn to the Mining Exhibition in the Museum, even more so after this display board stopped me in my tracks some years ago. Our family had just learned that six generations ago an ancestor was killed in an explosion at Success Pit in Newbottle Colliery in 1815. The youngest of the 57 fatalities was his six-year-old son.
The display board features a quote from “Thomas Carr, pitman,” giving evidence to the 1842 Children’s Employment Commission when the conscience of the Victorians became troubled by the exploitation and often avoidable deaths of children as a result of the Industrial Revolution:
Lads six years old can keep doors well enough, and soon learn as well as an older person the ways of the pit. Parents could not keep their children if they were not allowed to go down.
This stark assessment caused us as a family to dig even deeper into our mining background and to appreciate the hardships that our ancestors faced with such bravery and resilience.
The Coal gallery can be found on the ground floor of the Museum.
This formidable huge brown jug, the sole occupant of a tall glass case, is the first object that meets the eye at the entrance to the fascinating array of ceramics in the Pottery Gallery.
Its size and plainness are intriguing. What was its origin? What purpose did it serve? It is said to have been made at Scott’s Pottery (1788-1887) based in Southwick, a very successful local pottery which made brown earthenware using local clay. It was, in fact, probably a competition piece.
But this does not satisfy the imaginative onlooker who blends fiction with fact seeing it as a mysterious hiding-place in a children’s story! Perhaps a giant vase on the hearth of an ancient mansion? And what if it is the great grandparent of the “little brown jug” in the old song?!
I like it.
The Sunderland Pottery gallery can be found on the ground floor of the Museum.
Following the recent announcement by the Government, the Museum will be closed from the evening of Wednesday 4th November.
Like us, you are probably missing the Museum already. Why not share a few of your favourite things with us on Facebook or Twitter?
We hope to welcome you back soon!