Our new display…

We are introducing a new display area in the Wee Museum of Memory which will focus on a particular theme each month. The themes, and objects to support them, will be selected by different members of staff or volunteer to reflect their personal interests in the topic or the objects themselves.

Theme of the Month Display.

This month’s theme was chosen by one of our volunteers Hayley, who has been helping Naomi with the collections, in particular the Queen Edinburgh Project. Hayley is studying history at the University of Stirling and has been voluteering with us for some months. The objects that Hayley has selected all relate to youth organisations such as Guiding and the Boys’ Brigade. She was herelf involved with Guiding for many years, from Rainbows, to Brownies, Guides, and then as a Young Leader with a Rainbow group.

We have quite a lot of material culture related to these organisations in the our collections which has been donated over the years, including: uniforms, hats, belts, badges, books, and programmes.

Hayley has chosen a Brownie Uniform from the 1970s which shows a yellow cross-over tie with a white metal trefoil badge. The girl who wore this uniform was in the Imps and was a sixer. She was also awarded quite a few merit or proficiency badges. The Girl Guide

uniform is older – from the early 1960s – with the traditional pale blue triangular scarf folded into a neck tie and pinned with a white metal trefoil badge. The donor also gained a few proficiency badges including laundress, child nurse, and cook.

Merit or proficiency badges were a key element of youth organisations and we have a board with all the badges that were awarded to May, one of our regular visitors. May was at boarding school in Dollar and was in 1st Dollar B. Company. She was in the Nightingale patrol, and gained seventeen proficiency badges, including fitness, gymnast, cyclist, hiker, country dancer, reader, cook and needlewoman. These badges sum up well what we learned about May in later years: she was a very active lady who had trained as a physio, she liked cooking and was an excellent needlewoman who also knitted and crocheted – she taught some of us how to do both, although we never managed to reach her level of skill.

May’s Girl Guide Badge collection.

Hayley also selected a few objects about the Boys’ Brigade from our collection – notably a Pill Box hat which many will associate with the BBs – a leather belt with a yellow metal buckle, and an arm band with some metal proficiency badges including: Leadership, Physical, Adventure, and Interests. The selection of badges we have here is from the later twentieth century, possibly the 1980s.

Boy’s Brigade Pill Box hat, badges and belt.

Many key youth organisations started in the late nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries and are still going today. They have had to adapt and evolve over the years, responding to changes in social habits and preferences. The display that Hayley has chosen reflects some of the changes in uniforms between the 1960s and 1980s, but also highlights that offering opportunities and developing skills for young people is still important for all of these organisations. The display demonstrates our ethos at the Wee Museum of Memory: to reflect lived experiences and living memories of social history through the twentieth century, for all ages, young and old.

Pop in and share your memories…perhaps you remember or took part in The Gang Show which was a yearly event at the King’s Theatre?

Oh dear me…it’s a sair fecht!

Cooking, cleaning, shopping, working, looking after bairns and auld folks, blethering with neighbours, paying the electric and gas, rent and insurance…it was all in a day’s (or week’s) work for our mums and grannies. One of the corners of our wee museum that gets a lot of attention is the one packed full of the paraphernalia of housework. From packets of Fairy Snow and Persil to blocks of Carbolic or Sunlight soap, our visitors recognise and remember a lot of the objects on display and can immediately recall seeing many of them being used on a regular basis.

Do you remember your mum or granny wearing this kind of pinny?

Wash day blues

Although we don’t have any copper boilers for washing, or early twin tubs, we do have a lot of other objects that were regularly used either in the local steamie or the outside wash-house before most households had access to washing machines. We have lots of wash-boards (although it is surprising how many visitors still want to donate them) which were used every wash-day – possibly at the big Belfast sink which was a feature of most tenement flats or single ends. We often use a selection of twentieth-century boards in our reminiscence sessions to spark a debate about the perceived merits of the glass ones over the Zinc or galvanised steel ones – we don’t have any all wooden ones which are even older. It is not quite clear if one was better than the other, but perhaps a compromise was the Duplex variety which combines both glass and steel. Of course the other use for washboards that some visitors demonstrate is as a musical instrument – often associated with the skiffle music of Lonnie Donegan.

Washing and cleaning materials, including a Duplex washboard.

Of course using a washboard required the use of solid soap blocks. We have a variety of soap blocks which are still recognisable – some have never been used; others have had a bit of use. Familiar brands such as: Lifebuoy, Knight’s Family Soap, Nubolic, Fairy, Wright’s Coal Tar, and of course, Carbolic and Sunlight. Many of these hardened blocks have retained their distinctive aroma and picking them up and sniffing can evoke memories of wash days – but also bath nights when the soap was also used to wash children!

Some younger visitors wonder what Orlando Jones Cold Water Starch or Colman’s Azure Blue were used for. Starch was recommended for ‘imparting a creamy colour to laces, muslins, frillings, and curtains…’, and once applied to the material would be ironed, resulting in a stiffened texture. Azure Blue – or perhaps more commonly Reckitt’s Blue Bag – was added to white washes to cancel any yellowness which developed on older white textiles.

Persil and Fairy Snow soap powders; Orlando Starch
and the familiar round canister of Vim.

We do have packets of Persil – ‘For your whitest white wash’ – and Fairy Snow washing powders for use in machines. Fortunately we also have a copy of ‘The Persil Plan for Home Washing’ booklet, which is full of handy hints about how to plan a weekly wash with or without a washing machine! Mrs Holiday of the Persil Home Washing Bureau can also be contacted for further advice…

She wis down on her knees scrubbing…

Washing the family’s clothes was a weekly chore but there was also the house and stair, close or step to maintain. Scrubbing the dirt with a bucket of water and a handbrush was how it was done. Cleaning was done using abrasives such as Chemico Household Cleaner. Vim or Ajax, and Flash powder – ‘The Cleaner for Every Task’ – came in later. Cardinal (green or red) tile polish were quite familiar brands for many households and were used for polishing the tiles at the doorstep. Silvo, or more often Brasso, was used to polish the brasses on the front door – shiny letterboxes and bell-pulls would stop any criticism from nosey neighbours. It was also the responsibility of all those living in a stair to clean and maintain common areas – the ‘It’s Your Turn’ card would be passed round each flat to remind them to sweep and clean the common stair.

Taking turns at cleaning the common stair card and weekly thrift box.

Beaters and sweepers…

Thrashing the carpets and rugs was another regular feature of keeping the house clean. Rugs would be thrown over the washing line and beaten as hard as possible with cane beaters. These beaters come in a variety of shapes and sizes (again despite visitors claiming not to have noticed any, we do have quite a number on display). The beating of rugs was sometimes allocated to children as a task that they could do without causing too much damage. Of course, the beaters also had another less pleasant application: some visitors recall them being used as a form of painful, corporal punishment.

A selection of our carpet beaters – sometimes used for corporal punishment.

The cane carpet beaters were then replaced by carpet sweepers – familiar to many by the brand name – Ewebank. These were developed in the late nineteenth century – the oldest version we have is made of wood. The more modern red Ewebank Major still works and was regularly used in the unit by one of our older volunteers. With electricity, the introduction of vacuum cleaners to households was a major social and culture change. Many were made by Hoover – ‘It beats as it sweeps, as it cleans’ – and the Junior models are recognised by many visitors who describe emptying the bags and patching frayed holes in the fabric of the bags with parcel tape, making them last as long as possible rather than replacing them with a new one. Heavy and cumbersome they may appear now, but they were a labour saving device that were much appreciated by many.

Some examples of carpet sweepers and early Hoovers.

Housework was hard, physical work – many visitors comment on how heavy many of the appliances or tools are and how strong their mums and grannies must have been. There was no need to go to the gym when there was housework to do, they say. It was hard work indeed, and many labour-saving devices have made our lives easier, but being reminded just how much ‘work’ our mums and grannies had to do should make us appreciate them even more.

School corner…from Cuisinaire rods to calculators.

Here in the Wee Museum we have objects donated from all aspects of our lives, from home and work life to technology and toys. Throughout the museum, tucked away in a corner or on a shelf, there will be something, often a small thing, that resonates immediately, and sometimes quite emotionally, with a visitor. All our memories are stored but are not always present in our mind – they seem hidden and not brought out regularly as we rush through the passing years, leaving the twentieth century behind. But then a picture on a box, the feel of a pram as it bounces on its springs, or the sound of the typewriter ping, reminds people of their favourite toy or biscuit, pushing their babies and messages down the street or learning to type at work.

School Corner.

Our school corner is a wee tableau of memory; a snapshot of changing teaching equipment and methods between the 1950s and 1980s. From writing out sums (simple additions and subtractions) in a jotter – pre-decimal – to working out calculations for trigonometry using slide rules. Just at the side of course, the teacher figure stands, well-equipped with gown, mortar board and a tawse or leather belt for the administration of corporal punishment. Physical punishing in schools was made illegal in Scotland in 1987, although it had stopped in most public schools before then. Many leather tawses were manufactured in Lochgelly, Fife, and some visitors refer to the straps as Lochgellies. It is interesting, and not a little disconcerting, to note that quite a few visitors can recount their memories of getting the strap – describing the thwack of the belt on the teacher’s desk, and the pain as they held out their two hands for the required number of strokes. Hands were held out together, palms up, one under the other, which was more painful than a single hand. Another form of punishment was the use of blackboard dusters which were thrown with painful accuracy at the heads of pupils. Experiences of being disciplined, perhaps because it was painful, embarrassing, a bit shocking, deserved or undeserved, have left acute and vivid memories with visitors who often describe them in detail.

On display, and we have more than one set in the collection, is a box of Cuisinaire rods. This was a system of learning to count in decimals using different coloured wooden blocks for each number up to 10. The idea was developed by a Belgium teacher, Georges Cuisinaire, in the 1950s. Cuisinaire felt that some students found traditional methods of teaching arithmetic difficult but using a system that was both visual and physical enabled some pupils to understand how numbers were connected by addition and subtraction. The system was not universally used in Scotland but was used in some schoolds in the 1960s and 70s. Again it is surprising how often visitors will exclaim excitedly ‘Oh I remember using those in primary school! Hadn’t thought about them for years…’. Tactile and colourful, seeing and feeling the rods prompt very immediate and powerful memories. These little blocks of wood can take people back to being aged 5 or so, first year in school, a time of change and new experiences.

Slide rule, jotter and Cuisinaire rods.

Scots mathematician John Napier’s work on logarithms (Napier’s bones) in the seventeenth century provided the basis for Englishman, Reverend William Oughtred to develop the instrument known as the slide rule. A basic slide rule helped solve complex problems as it was ‘relatively’ easy to use and was not expensive. It continued to be used to teach mathematics in schools, and by scientists and engineers, into the 1950s and 1960s as the use of computers was still very limited. An alternative to using the slide rule in school (I would question the use of the term ‘relatively’ as it proved beyond my ability) many people also remember Logarithm tables – probably the four figure version. These slim paper-covered booklets were helpful when required to do calculations involving large numbers, by using the log and then the antilog. It is a strange but little known fact that I can still remember the log for pi or 3.14 is 0.873, which is not been something I use much these days. Both systems of calculating mathematics might seem complicated for today’s generation but school day memories are jogged when visitors see them on display and can prompt an attempted explanation – especially if there are grandparents and grandchildren in the group. Cheap, handheld, calculators contributed to the decline in use of slide rules and log tables in schools and the workplace, although perhaps because they were solidly made we have several examples of slide rules in our collection.

Warwick Set of Mathematical Instruments. slide rule and jotter.

Maths class was something that not everyone enjoyed but it did at least involve extra equipment to help with drawing perfect triangles or circles or part circles. The set square, protractor, and compasses were needed to help show angles in geometry – acute, obtuse or right – or radius, diameter and circumference – that’s of course when 3.14 or pi comes into play – multiply the diameter by 3.14 to get the circumference. The geometry set that we have is The Warwick Set of Mathematical Instruments – A Complete Geometry Set, in a little tin box. Maybe you remember something similar?

If you would like to see our school corner pop in to The Wee Museum of Memory and share your own memories…

What will we do when we run out of space…?

When we opened up as a pop-up in Ocean Terminal we did not anticipate that we would have so many objects and memories donated by our visitors. At that time our policy was never to say no and to try to accept all donations ranging from the smallest bible which required a magnifying glass to read the print to a wardrobe and cabinet made by a local joiner; a 1950s kitchen cabinet to an empty cardboard box of Smarties; an early 1940s television to an Amstrad Notebook, as well as numerous early mobile phones. Lots of Singer sewing machines: treadle versions, hand and electric ones, as well as paper sewing patterns. Vacuum cleaners: Hoovers of all shapes, sizes and eras. Washboards: we’ve got glass ones and galvanised steel ones, and some that are a combination of the two. Typewriters, telephones, irons (flat, steam, coal, gas, paraffin and electric), kettles, teasmades, rolling pins, biscuit tins, iron shoe lasts aplenty (single and multiple ones), as well as stone hot water bottles of various sizes. Silver Cross carriage-built prams, dolls’ prams, and push-along and sit-on horses (as well as rocking ones). Boxes of Meccano, board games, desks with school books and jotters, and shelves of Ladybird early reader books. Guide and Brownie uniforms, BB and Scout uniforms, as well as canvas rucksacks and camping gear. Wedding dresses from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Cameras galore, from Box Brownies and Kodak Instamatics to cine and video cameras. Think of any one thing from your life, from childhood to adult age, and it’s likely we will have it somewhere!

The Wee Museum of Memory

We started off in a unit on the ground floor of OT, then progressed up a level; we’re now in a much larger space on the second floor – and even here we do not have enough space to store and display our donations. Moving to an even bigger space seemed unlikely, but when Debenhams closed we came up with a cunning wheeze that we could move into it…a lunch time chat which had us all laughing! All the more disbelievingly when OT then actually approached us about running it as a community hub space…and so now we have The Wee Hub as well as The Wee Museum

Some of our collection on display in The Wee Hub

The longer-term objective to have The Wee Museum of Memory recognised as an accredited museum means, that we have had to review how we accept and record donations; as well as how we store and look after them. This means that we have to make sure our improved records are kept up-to-date with information not only about the donor but with photographs, and descriptions about the appearance and condition of the object. Donations have to be quarantined before they are processed in order to ensure that they do not introduce any infestations (such as moths – always a major concern for collections with textiles) or bookworm, which could spread to the rest of the displays. The next stage is recording where it will be stored or displayed (or loaned). Some donations have been moved back into storage to improve the displays in the public space and to make it easier for visitors to appreciate the objects when they are visiting the museum – we now also have an audio tour which includes descriptions and recordings of personal reminiscences which can be accessed via a Smartphone or using one of our MP3 players. And as we are a ‘hands-on’ space, a lot of our collection is handled by visitors – or borrowed by other groups for reminiscence. This means we have to record any change in condition – breakages or deterioration.

The Wee Museum of Memory collection processing and storage space.
It was a kitchen!

These procedures are all necessary so that we can achieve the required Spectrum standard for museum collections. The processing of ‘donation to display’ now takes much longer and it also means that individual donations have to be considered more carefully. Should we take another shoe last, stone hot water bottle, iron or camera? Can we find space for more sewing machines, prams and record players? Are boxes of miscellaneous objects going to be accepted?

More displays of our collections
in The Wee Hub

Without our donations we would not have any collections to display. Visitors have created this museum, but we now need to consider changes in policy going forwards. What do we do with donations in the future? How can we process and store them? This is a dilemma faced by virtually all museums. At the moment we are in the fortunate position of having the Wee Hub as extra space for displaying some of the collection. However this will not be permanent so there is no doubt that we will need to consider how and what we can realistically manage in the future… otherwise we might just burst at the seams!

We appreciate receiving donations very much, but what we love most are the memories that go with the donations – what made it special to your life, your family, your home. As we review our donations and collections, the importance of memories will continue be at the heart of our policies.

Wee Museum of Memory – focus on collections…

This month’s blog will focus on a selection of objects from our collections and how we are starting to collate and catalogue data.

Collections management system

Since the end of last year we have been working on developing and updating our policies and procedures in order that The Wee Museum of Memory can apply for accredited museum status. One of the most crucial areas that needed work was the collections management system (SMS). The photos that have been donated have been entered into an online searchable archive for a number of years. However, although the majority of our objects donated by members of the public often have some personal or family information, we have not previously used any formal collections management system for our physical objects and materials.

Our online photo archive – hosted by Edinburgh Collected.

We lacked the courage to attempt anything for the huge amount of social history objects and ephemera that comprise our displays – the task was way too daunting! However, we are very fortunate to be able to employ two new members of staff – Louise and Naomi – to update our administrative systems, research the objects and start inputting data into an online archive that will be searchable once it has gone live. The data input is being done by Louise and Naomi supported by a small team, some of whom are working remotely.

Our online collections catalogue – hosted by eHive (currently not live).

Forms, forms, forms…

The data that is entered onto the eHive catalogue includes descriptions, dates, object types, and images, as well as using the Social History and Industrial Classification (SHIC) system which means objects will be indexed under: Community life, Domestic and family life, Personal and Working life.

New donation forms.

Upgraded donation forms have been introduced and we have a safety procedure for new objects which are quarantined before they are processed. This is to minimise the potential spread of moths, bookworm or foxing or any other form of infestation. Louise is improving our storage system as well … the opening and dressing of The Wee Hub downstairs has enabled us to free up storage space in the Wee Museum.

Collections storage system…

QRs and virtual tours …

One of the reasons that the collections needed to be managed more effectively is so that the objects, their history, and any associated personal history (sometimes as a recorded reminiscence) can be accessed by visitors more easily – including those who may not be able to visit in person. Barry, our IT expert, has introduced QR codes for some of the collection as well as creating our first virtual tour. Using the wonders of modern technology, visitors can be guided by his dulcet tones, interspersed with recordings of stories and memories from past visitors and regulars.

Visitors can now take a virtual tour of the Wee Museum of Memory.
Or they can find out more using QR codes…

Focus on…tea and coffee

We have so many interesting and varied objects which may be quite ordinary but are sometimes unique; bring their own personal stories or might connect with the lives of many visitors. The personal, as well as the social, history available using our CMS might be a potential research resource for particular objects or themes, particularly once the collection is available on-line.

Let’s look at some objects more closely. Here are some of our mid 20th-century tea and coffee utensils…

Goblin teasmade – 1970s.

Making its first appearance in the 19th century, the ‘alarm that makes tea’ reached its peak in the 1960s and 1970s and many were produced under the Goblin trademark. The example we have is typical of the time and style and may be very familiar to visitors.

Insulated ceramic teapot, 1950s.

This 1950s’ insulated teapot, made of ceramic with a chrome cover, was part of a wedding gift given to the donors. It came with an insulated water jug. It was donated to us by the couple who wanted it to be displayed so that other people could see it and share its memory.

Traditional aluminium teapot, 1950s.

This example of a small aluminium teapot with clear handle and Bakelite button on the lid, is evocative of many a family’s memories. Was the tea made with tea leaves, and how strong did your granny make it? This teapot was made in Stratford upon Avon; the products were known as Sona ware and were made by N C Joseph during the 20th century. With a small spout and a raised decorative trim round the middle, and stained with tea inside, this is nice example of a well-used teapot.

1970s Russell Hobbs coffee percolator

The Russell Hobbs coffee percolator from the 1970s conjures up memories of the plop plop gurgling sound, as it sat in the corner brewing fresh hot coffee to be served in the special small coffee cups which would be produced from the back of the cupboard at Christmas and New Year – or at least that’s my personal memory. Made of stainless steel, with a wooden handle and button on the lid, this style of coffee maker is still in vogue today but for many visitors – and staff – it reminds them of their own childhoods.

1970s coffee pot made by Picquot.

Picquot ware was made from a magnesium-aluminium alloy, called ‘Magnaillium’ in Nottingham between 1947 and 1980. The handle was made of sycamore wood and the tea and coffee pots were cast in one piece. Although this is listed as a coffee pot it might also have been used as a hot water pot along with a teapot. Perhaps you remember this type of coffee pot or maybe you got some Picquot ware as a wedding present?

These are a few of our favourite things…

We put out a sweetie jar for visitors to leave their comments about their favourite objects in The Wee Museum of Memory and have had lots of interesting comments from people of all ages.

Wee Museum of Memory favourite object sweetie jar.

The Viewmaster has been described as having great 3D images. The Creamola Foam tin was named by a few people and someone even noticed their favourite Smiths Crisps packets.

Creamola Foam and Smiths Crisps packet.

The beauty and the hairdressing displays were also popular, in particular the heater rollers were a favourite with someone. The Daktari Album was the choice of a couple of visitors and brought back many memories for one in particular. The Cuisenaire counting rods reminded a visitor that they demonstrated how to use them to a school inspector when they were at Wardie Primary.

Dolls, the dolls’ house, toys and more dolls, and even more toys, as well as the reading sofa and balloons, are well-liked – and played with – by quite a few of our younger visitors. As are the old-fashioned Hoovers, typewriters and phones, which regularly receive hands-on investigation. One of our visitors was on the design team for the Viscount phone between 1979-1982 so this was his favourite in the collections.

One of our typewriters and a Viscount phone.

Changes in technology seem to intrique visitors – from early Hoovers and washing boards to rotary dial phones – and one noted that they found the Macintosh Classic interesting to compare with the newer IMacs. Perhaps because the screen is so small?

Macintosh Classic computer.

It’s always a pleasure to get this kind of feedback; it shows that our visitors respond to our collections and find objects in the our Wee Museum that they find interesting or remember. A couple of visitors loved everything …what more can we say to that?

Thank you to all our visitors who have supported us during 2021.