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Tim Isaacs, curator, Cobbaton Combat Museum, Devon

Interview-based Research

Between 2018 and 2019, Toby Butler conducted interviews with staff and volunteers who were involved in founding over 40 museums. The interviews focus on the early development of the museums, but also cover many other topics. Fiona Candlin conducted follow-up interviews, and a series of new interviews at additional museums.

The museums where interviews were conducted are listed below. Each entry includes a description of the museum, description of the displays, interview summary, photographs, and a full interview transcript, all of which can be downloaded.

The interviews are linked to the broader aims and themes of the project. All the museums are independent and were established after 1960 and most of the interviews were held at museums that are devoted to the subject areas where there was significant growth – local history, war and conflict, and transport.

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The Abertillery and District Museum is run by the volunteers of the Abertillery and District Society, which was founded at an inaugural meeting in September 1964. The aim of the Society was to establish and maintain a museum and to promote history in the area. After a arranging a series of small temporary displays in shop windows the group succeeded in opening the Abertillery and District Museum on the ground floor of the local library in 1972. In 1996 the library required that the space be returned to them and after a period where the collections went into storage, the museum re-opened in 2001 on the ground floor of the Metropole, a redundant hotel.
The Adjutant General’s Corps Museum in Winchester displays collections relating to the Corps and its constituent antecedents (the AGC was established in 1992, combining the Royal Army Pay Corps, the Royal Army Educational Corps, the Women’s Royal Army Corps, Army Legal Corps, the Military Provost Staff Corps and the Royal Military Police).
Aldbourne Heritage Centre is concerned with the history and heritage of Aldbourne Village in Wiltshire; displays include the Aldbourne Cup, a pottery vessel dating from 1500BC; a collection of bells made in a local bell foundry and various aspects of farming, local industry and the social history of the village.
The Black Watch Regimental Museum is concerned with the history of the regiment and displays paintings, uniforms, medals, regimental silver, and weaponry. It occupies rooms within Balhousie Castle.
Blaenavon Community Museum is concerned with the history of Blaenavon and the cultural heritage of its community which developed around the coal and iron industry; the museum is housed in a listed Victorian Workmen’s Hall which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Blue Town Heritage Centre is devoted to various aspects of local history including the development of the docks, the Bluetown community, including social and maritime history. It shares a building with a working Music Hall and cinema.
Bo’ness Motor Museum is concerned with famous and classic cars, particularly models that feature in TV series; the collection of around 25 cars also features a wide range of posters, signs, memorabilia, toys, props and items used in film and TV production.
The British Commercial Vehicle Museum in Leyland, Lancashire grew up from a company collection and archive at British Leyland; over 35 years it has amassed a substantial collection of trucks, buses and other commercial vehicles, ranging from horse drawn vehicles to current diesel-electric hybrid lorries.
The House of Wisdom exhibition at the British Muslim Heritage Centre was established in 2019 in collaboration with curators from Manchester Museum. It focuses on Muslim contributions to science, culture, and history using a mixture of wall texts and a small selection of objects.
Brynmawr and District Museum focuses on the local history of the area covering various aspects of home, work and leisure life including schooling, church and chapel culture, youth activities, sport, medical care, police and public services, the Jewish community and crafts, furniture and local industries established by Quaker missions.
The Bubblecar Museum contains a collection of bubblecars and displays of objects from the 1960s, dioramas of rooms from the same period, and a collection of motorbikes. It is housed in a building next door to the owner's home.
The Charlestown Shipwreck and Heritage Centre displays a large private collection of over 8,000 artefacts from over 150 shipwrecks, mostly amassed by shipwreck divers and authors Richard and Bridget Larn; the centre is in Charlestown, Cornwall, a small harbour town mostly built in the 18th century which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Ebbw Vale Works Museum in South Wales is concerned with the history of Ebbw Vale Steel Works, once the largest steel mill in Europe.
The Flower Makers Museum in Hastings displays the equipment, inventory and stock of the Shirley Leaf and Petal Company that manufactures silk flowers and leaves for such things as shop displays, bridal dress decoration, confectionary, Christmas crackers and remembrance poppies.
Gairloch Heritage Museum interprets the local history of the parish of Gairloch (meaning ‘short loch’) on the shores of Wester Ross in the North West Highlands of Scotland; topics covered include pre-history, agriculture, iron working, religion, whisky, wool, fishing, Rudha Reidh Lighthouse (the old lantern is on display), peat, wartime naval history, transport, education, Gaelic and croft life.
Garvagh museum began as a school museum in a single room and gradually expanded into other buildings on the site, before moving into a dedicated building separate from the school. It became fully independent in 2010. Displays include local, social and military history, agriculture, sport, archaeology and geology.
The Glasgow Women’s Library is housed in a former public library building and opened in 1991. In addition to the library, the collections include posters, banners, badges, t-shirts, leaflets and printed material relating to women’s history.
Twinwood Airfield was an RAF training base in the 1940s and was used regularly by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra to fly to morale boosting concerts to US squadrons in the UK; many of the buildings including the control tower survived and they have been restored and converted to museum use with a wide range of 1940s focused displays.
A museum of railway history housed in a barber’s shop in Enniskillen, established after an unsuccessful attempt to set up a heritage steam railway line and heritage centre. Collections span several rooms and include posters, signs, ephemera, and two large scale model railways, as well as a recreation of a station office.
HorsePower is the Museum of the King’s Royal Hussars, a cavalry regiment of the British Army and is located at the Peninsular Barracks in Winchester; it covers the history of the regiment from 1715 to present day.
Horwich Heritage Centre is a local history centre in Horwich in Lancashire, on the edge of the West Pennine Moors and covers a range of industrial and social history of the town and the surrounding area.
Ingrow Loco (Museum and Workshop) was established by the Bahamas Locomotive Society, a volunteer society set up in 1967 to save and restore railway locamotives; the museum covers the history of the railways, railway enthusiasm and steam locomotive design and manufacture, and is situated in a large engine shed next to a station on a working heritage railway.
The Kent and Sharpshooters Yeomanry Museum is dedicated to displaying uniform, medals, weapons, armoured vehicles, models and memorabilia relating to the Kent and Yeomanry Sharpshooters Regiment.
King Edward Mine Museum interprets the history of Cornish mining on the site of a tin mine used by the Camborne School of Mines for training from 1897.
Laidhay Croft Museum is dedicated to various aspects of life connected to croft living and farming in Caithness (north Highlands, Scotland).
Little Chester Heritage Centre is housed in the aisle of a Victorian Church and covers the history and heritage of the Chester Green area, the oldest suburb in the City of Derby.
Metheringham Airfield Visitor Centre in Lincolnshire interprets the history of RAF Metheringham, a major Second World War bomber airfield; the museum consists of exhibitions in airfield buildings, a Dakota aeroplane, ancillary equipment and several memorials to airmen who died serving Bomber Command.
The Micro Museum in Ramsgate, Kent encompasses vintage computers, video gaming and micro-electronics, such as mobile phones, small electronic games and toys; an array of consoles and computers are working and visitors can play games and try programming on them.
The Museum of North Craven Life is concerned with the landscape, settlement farming and other aspects of life in the area around Settle in the Yorkshire Dales; it is situated in a large, 17th century town house which houses a café, shop and housing alongside the museum galleries.
The Museum of Rail Travel principally devoted to railway carriages through the ages, and is run by the Vintage Carriages Trust formed in 1965 by a group of volunteers interested in the preservation of wooden bodied carriages, and now has nine historic railway carriages, three small steam locomotives, a railbus and a large collection of railway signs, posters and magazines.
The Museum of Transport is housed in a huge tram depot on the edge of Manchester city centre. It opened in 1978. It has a large collection of buses and historic trams. Displays include information about the history of the bus service in the area.
The Museum of the Isles is concerned with the history of Clan Donald and the lordship of the Isles of north-west Scotland.
The National Waterways Museum (originally The Boat Museum) is devoted to the history of the canal and inland navigation and the lives of the people who worked on it, with a particular focus on working boats and skills and trades involved in building, maintaining and servicing the canal transport network.
The Nidderdale Museum in the Yorkshire Dales is concerned with life in the Nidderdale valley and includes a variety of interiors featuring objects donated or rescued from local buildings including a kitchen, pub ‘snug’, school, Victorian parlour, dairy, shoe makers, magistrates court and even a walk-through reconstruction of a mineral mine shaft.
The Peace Museum was first proposed by the group Give Peace a Chance, who were working to improve public awareness of the Peace campaign. After being offered office space in Bradford and staging temporary exhibitions, in 1997 they were offered a city centre space on a peppercorn rent and the museum opened in 1998. Collections include peace campaign posters and banners, and a display about the history of the peace movement in Bradford.
Perranzabuloe Museum is concerned with the history of the Parish of Parranzabuloe (meaning 'Perran in the sands'), one of the largest parishes in Cornwall.
Pewsey Heritage Centre is housed in a former Victorian foundry in the village of Pewsey, Wiltshire and houses a collection of items relating to life in the Vale of Pewsey over the last 200 years including domestic, social, commercial, industrial and agricultural history of the area.
Purfleet Heritage and Military Centre in Essex is situated next to the River Thames inside an enormous 18th century gunpowder magazine, built in 1759 to store and supply the navy and the army; the collection has grown to encompass a wide range of local history and military topics from 1760 to the present day.
RAF Ingham Heritage Centre is based at a now disused airfield that was constructed in 1941 and consisted of three grass runways, a control tower and various ancillary buildings, messes and accommodation for ground crew and the squadrons based there, which included three Polish squadrons. A memorial has been constructed, the buildings are undergoing restoration and a small exhibition on the project and the site is open to the public on Sunday mornings.
The Rifles Museum in Winchester is the regimental museum of The Rifles, the largest infantry regiment in the British Army formed from four regiments and established in 2007; the museum has a relatively modern focus, including recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Royal Irish Fusiliers Museum is housed in Sovereign House, the former Mayor's residence in Armagh. It is devoted to the history of the regiment until its amalgamation with the Rangers in 1968. Displays include uniforms, drums, weaponry and kit, with contextual information about Armagh and Northern Ireland.
The Scottish Vintage Bus Museum is home to 180 buses dating from the 1920s onwards on a large complex that includes workshops, storage sheds and an exhibition hall; most buses are owned by individuals who pay a subscription to store their buses at the museum and have access to the archives and workshop facilities.
The Shipwreck Museum in Hastings is run by the Nautical Museum Trust which owns major wreck sites in the area from 1690 to the 19th century; displays include objects, timbers and even human remains found at these wreck sites, along with smaller vessels incuding a barge from Rye and a medieval Thames barge.
The Siege Museum was developed to promote understanding of the Apprentice Boys organisation and the siege of Derry in 1689. It is housed in a dedicated building adjacent to the memorial hall, the headquarters of the organisation. Displays include descriptions of events leading up to the siege, objects from the Ulster Volunteer Force, and others from the two world wars.
Smethwick Heritage Centre is concerned with the social and industrial history of Smethwick (near Birmingham). The town boomed in the nineteenth Century, attracting a wide range of famous manufacturing industries. The Centre is located in a converted park-keeper's lodge.
The Suffolk Regiment Museum has an extensive collection of artefacts relating to the history of the regiment, which dates to 1685. The display includes weaponry, uniforms, soldiers' kit, and perhaps most notably a paper fan covered in diary entries by a soldier who was taken prisoner of war.
The museum is situated in the Bogside, one of the Catholic areas of Londonderry and in a housing estate where two of the victims of Bloody Sunday were killed.The display is chronological and moves from the civil rights protests of the 1950s through to Bloody Sunday and finishes with the end of the Saville Enquiry in 2010. There are numerous wall texts and reproduced images explaining the events and issues and large vitrines containing associated objects, most notably clothing worn by some of the victims of the day.
Ty Ebbw Fach Heritage Centre is located near the site of the Six Bells Colliery in Abertillery, Monmouthire and focuses on the history of the colliery and life in a mining town, the Six Bells Colliery disaster, an underground explosion that killed 45 miners, and the design and construction of the Guardian memorial to the disaster victims.
The Whitehead Railway Museum is run by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, formed in 1964. The museum site includes the extension line from Belfast, a platform, and associated buildings, including a replica signal box. Displays include locomotives, carriages, photographs, and maintenance and restoration workshops.