Museum Highlights 2013-14

Museum Highlights 2013-14

What has the Rye Museum achieved this past year?

Lots! Our Chairman, Jo Kirkham, described the main achievements in her report at our every-chair-taken AGM on 29th July, giving thanks to the many members and other supporters who made them possible; the full report will appear in the next issue of our Journal. What follows is a summary of the year’s highlights.

Over 26,000 visitors came to the Museum’s sites during the year ending in May, but with numbers up 27% in the ten months since the opening of the Women’s Tower, (rising to more than 30% for the four months since entry to the East Street site was made free)  we look set for new records this year! In addition we’ve won a Trip Advisor Certificate of Merit as an excellent attraction and our visitors’ books have been filling with heart-warming remarks. What have we done to deserve all this? Read on.

At the Ypres Tower

The Women’s Tower has been restored and a re-creation of the women’s prison created in 1837 opened to the public.

How did it happen?
Thanks to grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the WARR Partnership, Rother Community Fund,  the generosity of local citizens who supported the varied efforts to raise money– and our recent Vice-Chairman Peter Varley who closely supervised the scheme over the many months of work.

What’s to see?
A prison cell for women, presided over by a bossy matron, with an audio-visual story on a wall triggered on visitors’ entry . Find out what ‘crimes’ landed the women in the prison and how they had to spend their days. Have you seen the featured article titled Once a Prison, Now a Success Story about the launch?

All three floors of the Ypres Tower have been refurbished with new illustrated explanatory panels

New items (besides steward’s desk and display cases) include:

  • An iron cage with a skeleton in it, to tell the story of butcher John Breeds who murdered the wrong man and hung on Gibbet Marsh for 50 years. (Kids’ favourite.)
  • A Virtual Tour so the less mobile can visit all the displays — while seated on a chair (or a wheelchair).
  • Paintings and drawings by Joyce Hargreaves and John Stewart in the basement illustrating aspects of Medieval Warfare plus a long bow so visitors can test their strength.
  • A CCTV covering the whole site.

Director Shane Redmond has spent many hours dealing with these improvements. The Medieval Garden is maintained by Sue Manktelow and the Still Room in the Tower has been refreshed by Lin Saines. Three stalwart guides do most of the welcoming of the many visitors.

The Women and Children in Rye Project (WACOR) has involved the whole community

The HLF grant for capital works at the Tower required an active Education programme involving many workshops and activities for all ages, both at the two Museum sites and at the Tilling Green Community Centre. Workshop participants have learned Victorian photographic skills and a variety of crafts, there have been sessions on gardening, how to use Museum collections, family drama . . . . and products such as portraits and bunting made with sun printing of plants. Course offerings for 8-12 year olds in the coming month are listed on the Home Page.

There have also been Tea, Cakes and Memories sessions to share experience of life in Rye in earlier times such as the war years, and organised visits, e.g. to see and learn from new displays at the Imperial War Museum, and before the project ends in September there will be Governance training sessions on Data Protection, Health and Safety and First Aid.

A Grand Celebration Event is planned for 3rd September at Tilling Green Community Centre from 4:30 to 7:30 and a Project Book is being prepared, showing off all that has been done during the WACOR project. Our grateful thanks to a Rye Partnership team for arranging such a full and enjoyable programme involving the wider Rye community.

At East Street

A site ReFreshed and a bold move justified.

Recruiting enough volunteers to keep East Street as well as the Ypres Tower open every day is a huge undertaking and last year difficulties in doing this led to a bold move which has paid off! With the help of a ReFresh project for museums headed by, Heritage Learning Consultant Kate Measures, East Street now has a banner, better signage and other improvements, and an experiment to increase footfall by offering free admission has been a great success. You can read all about it here.

Our events venue

East Street is where we hold Museum talks and most of our activities such as craft fairs, coffee mornings, the Christmas Grotto, show-and-tell sessions, a secondhand bookstall . . . . You can read about these elsewhere on this site. Note that they couldn’t happen without willing volunteers!

Become a Volunteer!

Key roles include:

  • Being a steward at East Street during weekends and special weeks such as the Rye Festival fortnight.  That mostly means welcoming and talking to interesting visitors, both local and foreign — and you’ll discover it’s a good way to learn more about Rye and your museum too.
  • Belonging to the Muses. This is a group of volunteers who meet once a month  to plan the details of all Museum events, the dual purpose of which is to raise awareness of the Museum and of Rye’s rich history. Besides East Street events there is the annual Garden Party normally held in Rae Festing’s wonderful garden. Members (some of whom are also Directors) also serve on cleaning squads for both museums, decorate for special events such as the Christmas Grotto, help with publicity/ mounting displays/ stuffing envelopes/ serving refreshments — and washing up . . . . Meetings are short and fun
  • Helping with the Education programme. Volunteers led by Sheila Maddock help with children’s activities at the Museum, the provision of Loan Boxes to schools and with a large number of school and student visits. Groups as large as 70 come from France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Japan as well as local schools.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Our Curator, Linden Thomas, recently joined by Sarah Cooper, manages the day-to-day tasks of caring for and keeping proper records of our artefacts, documents and photos. Ensuring that both our sites meet stringent Arts Council requirements for accreditation is a huge task but we’ve passed with flying colours.

Each member of our Board of Directors takes on particular responsibilities — publicity, building maintenance, health and safety, family history research, the journal, the website, retail sales, the way ahead, education and so on — and pitches in wherever else they’re needed. For a list of directors and some of their responsibilities click here.

Coming Soon

  • The French Connection. – a special exhibition at East Street to be open each day during the fortnight of the Rye Festival. It will feature medieval and Tudor links with France. (Rye after all once belonged to France and monks from the Abbey of Fecamps built our church.) The documents and artefacts are on loan from the County Record Office, in the Keep, Falmerand were recently part of a special exhibition at the Hastings Museum. We will need volunteers to help us man the exhibition each day during the period September 12th – 28th.
  • The Medieval Conference, organised by the Museum and to be held at Rye College on 18th October.   This biennial event attracts participants from far and wide and boosts Rye in a number of ways.  This year’s theme is The Hazards of Life and Causes of Death in Medieval England. Click here for details.
  • Development of the Ypres Tower site? We await a decision by Rother District Council as to whether we can move forward with plans for housing the entire museum in one location.

First posted in News, Past Events on 7th August 2014
Last updated: 9th October 2014