Hi, my name is Steven and I’m a Heritage Management MA student at the Ironbridge Institute, currently working with Birmingham Conservation Trust on Birmingham’s latest, eagerly anticipated heritage attraction, the Newman Brothers Coffin Works. Within this blog I hope to bring to light what I have been up to over the first few weeks of the placement and hopefully inspire others to take up the mantle and get involved in this exciting new project.
The Newman Brothers Coffin Works was a project that I was immediately interested in from the offset. I studied History for my undergraduate degree, focusing predominately on early modern/modern history and it is here where I began to develop a particular interest in social history, which has subsequently led to me developing a strong interest in industrial heritage and the interpretation of industrial heritage as my MA has progressed. With this in mind it is relatively easy to understand why I was excited regarding the prospect of being involved with the Newman Brothers project, with its time-capsule contents, and its extensive collection of human stories spanning a period of over 100 years, which will undoubtedly serve to vividly highlight the industrial processes and lives of both its workers and owners to the public following its completion.
In addition to obtaining a placement that related to my own individual interests I was also keen to gain a placement that would enable to me obtain a hands-on experience within the field whilst also providing me with the opportunity to acquire a number of practical skills, which would hopefully serve to be invaluable in aiding me to acquire a role in the field following the completion of my studies and this placement thus far has certainly provided me with the opportunity to do just that. As an aspiring heritage professional being apart of Birmingham’s latest heritage attraction is also a fantastic thing to be able to say to prospective employers!
Anyway that’s enough about me. The past few weeks I have been fortunate enough to work alongside Sarah Hayes the Collections and Exhibitions Manager at the Newman Brothers Coffin Works who has been a joy to work with throughout I must say, with her zealous, pro-active approach and her willingness to lend her advice both willingly and freely, I hope to meet many people of a similar ilk as my career develops! In the past few weeks I have assisted Sarah with both the collections and research aspects of the Coffin Works project. Including documentation of the collection, labelling, packing as well as creating entry records on the collections management database. The first few days were spent learning how to care for and manage collections through attending a collections care and object-handling training course with Nazia Ali (Curator of Science and Industry atBirmingham Think Tank).
This proved very insightful and led to a greater understanding of how to and how not to care for different objects within a museum’s collection as well as enabling me to understand how different environments and conditions can have a detrimental impact upon certain items. In addition to this time was also spent with Sarah getting to grips with how to complete condition reports for the objects within the core collection as well as learning how to add these to object-specific records on the collections database (Adlib). The past few weeks have been spent sourcing through the core collection of the Newman Brothers completing object description forms, assigning each item with a unique accession number, clearly describing the given item, as well as detailing its condition and photographing it. Once this has been completed it is then listed in both the accession folder and on the collections management database.
Working with the collection has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I have been fortunate enough to stumble across an array of fascinating objects throughout the past few weeks ranging from 1900 sales ledgers, to personal notes from various workers and customers to 1950′s Christmas cards and Newspaper extracts. All of which provide a unique insight into the factory and the everyday lives of its workers and owners.
In the coming weeks I will continue to document the collection as well as undertake object marking and labeling training so that I am able to mark and label the items in a safe and correct manner in preparation for their shipping. I will also be undertaking any other tasks that Sarah throws my way.