Gunnersbury Park Museum 1980-81

by Ann Balfour Paul (Curator, Gunnersbury Park Museum)

Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 2 (1981)

Over the last year at Gunnersbury Park Museum we nave established a regular programme of exhibitions and related activities. This has helped considerably towards almost doubling the Museum’s highest attendance figures, attracting visitors locally but also from much further afield.

April began with an exhibition on Puppetry In London – past and present, organised in conjunction with Wolf and Carolyn Manthey, puppeteers of Isleworth. They are seeking to re-establish a tradition of puppetry which once existed in this area of West London, initiated by H W Whanslaw, the Grand Old Man of Twentieth Century Puppetry. Demonstration shows and lectures were held to cover a range of themes in puppetry.

Following on from puppetry we held an exhibition on Waterways of West London (July-August). We were greatly helped with this by Elizabeth Wood, a member of the Brentford and Chiswick Local History Society. The exhibition illustrated the use of the river and canals locally, their changing social and economic functions and the potential they still possess for commercial and recreational usage. It was arranged to coincide with the Inland Waterway’s Association’s Annual Festival, on the River Lea in east London. (The IWA work hard to develop and promote the commercial and leisure facilities of our waterways). Associated with the exhibition were a number of activities: lectures, walks, boat trips, even a waterways dance, choreographed by Hounslow Council’s Dancer in Residence.

On Sundays throughout the summer the newly formed group West London Craftsmen demonstrated a series of different crafts. These culminated in an autumn exhibition which will become an annual event. The aim of the group is to bring together and present a wide ranging selection of good craft work from this area.

Running parallel during part of the crafts exhibition was Who Was Who At Strand on the Green, a small exhibition arranged by members of the Strand on the Green Association, researched mainly by Mrs Kathleen Judges of the Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society. We were able to use the large Committee Room, formerly the Rothschild Library, for this exhibition and for many of the activities mentioned above. We now have an arrangement to use this much needed space more frequently. Members of the Old Chiswick Protection Society are now planning an exhibition for next year on Old Chiswick, especially along the Mall.

Over Christmas we held an exhibition of the Museum’s Toys, Games and Dolls, and a selection of our Recent Acquisitions, mostly gifts from local residents. These have included old as well as contemporary material, among them domestic, trades and crafts, laundries, costume, topography, commemorative material and ephemera. Archival material included papers from the late Cllr Eric Kenward’s collection of local interest. For many years Eric Kenward researched, recorded and campaigned for the improvement of life locally. He was always a great supporter in promoting the work of the Museum.

Following its showing at The Grange Museum in  Brent, we held an exhibition on Twyford Abbey – The Story of a House (January-February). This was arranged by Valerie Bott, Keeper of the Grange, with help from Brother Cornelius of the Abbey. He had made a large model of the Abbey showing the phases of building from a medieval structure to the present day nursing home. It formed the centre piece of the exhibition. It was hoped that visitors would apply this method of research to discover the fascinating history of their own homes and other pIaces.

We displayed a selection of our topographical prints and drawings with maps in March, prior to mounting our current exhibition Circus Posters 1800-1980. The exhibition of posters from the collection of George Speaight, historian and performer from Kew, coincides with the publication of his book A History of the Circus.

The most famous of all the early comic horse acts in the circus has an interesting local connection. It was inspired by the true story of a tailor who hired a horse so as to ride to Brentford to vote for John Wilkes, the radical politician, in the Middlesex election of 1768. The misadventures of this tailor, who was quite incapable of managing his horse, became the joke of London and were the subject of some popular prints displayed in the exhibition. Philip Astley introduced this act into his first programme in 1768 and it was copied, under various names, by circuses all over the world until almost the end of the nineteenth century.

Forthcoming exhibitions include Acting Now (June) by local amateur drama groups, Sikh and Punjabi Arts (Mid-July to early September), West London Craftsmen (September-October). The latter will coincide with further crafts demonstrations.

The following paragraphs give details of some of the other activities of the Museum:

Two musical boxes, two flutes and part of a large collection of Oriental armorial porcelain have been expertly restored. The Museum Handyman has continued to treat other objects for basic conservation. The flutes will be used in a concert of Georgian Music in England performed by Concert Royal in the Temple at Gunnersbury Park. This follows on from a weekend of musical demonstrations in the Museum (May).

Stephen Bird, formerly Assistant to the Curator, left us in July to take up a post as Senior Keeper and Keeper of Local History at the Roman Baths Museum, Bath. He completed the new archaeology displays just before leaving. Stephen has been replaced by Phil Philo, a graduate from Leicester University. Miss Linda Marley became our part-time Clerical Officer in July. She is also a professional piano teacher.

We always welcome volunteer workers at the Museum. This helps us greatly to cope with our workload and shortage of staff but also gives students and other members of the public a chance to see what museum work is all about! The staff at the Museum have had most of the year taken up with the following types of jobs: acquiring new acquisitions, cataloguing, research, recording information of local interest, providing special facilities for students, (school and adult groups, lecturing to outside groups, lending exhibits to schools and libraries, participating in local events and planning major changes to the Museum’s Entrance Hall.

The first stage of the reorganisation of the Entrance Hall has begun with the erection of a glazed screen and showcase across the main door. The walls and ceiling are to be painted in a new colour scheme. A purpose-built sales/information desk and information panels on Gunnersbury, the Museum and its collection, will follow later in the year.

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