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Museums that impress: York Castle Museum

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 19 May 2015, 10:40

If I have time on my hands in a town I've not visited for a while I might wander by the war memorial. During these centenary years you might even find a museum: a local exhibition on a regional division or local battalion, or a house that was used as a hospital. Until 2019 York Castle Museum have the exhibtion:

1914: When the World Changed Forever

York Castle Museum has ample space to spread its narrative. It offers visitors carefully chosen narratives that a visitor might follow. I wonder if from the start they could be invited to think about a great grandparent or great uncle who may have served in the war. We are invited to think in turn about Alice, Thomas, John, Albert and John; the bookkeeper, the mechanic, woodman, shop assistant and a doctor. 

Who will you follow?

Fig. 1 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

My grandfather, Jack Wilson, was two weeks short of his 18th birthday when war was declared in August 1914. He'd already been working for four years as office boy then brewer's clerk for the North Eastern Brewery, Consett, Co. Durham.

Fig.2. Studio Portrait of Private John Arthur Wilson, DLI (before transfer to the Machine Gun Corps) This picture was used by the Consette Gazette in 1917 when Corporal Wilson of the MCG was awarded the Military Medal. 

My grandfather joined up a few months after his 19th birthday; a few of them from the office went along from the office.  Jack's kid brother joined the RFC shortly after, lying about his age as he wasn't even 17. 

Can you think of someone from your family, or from your family history who joined up? Or who would have had a story such of those above? Do you know if someone from your street joined up? A typical street during the Great War would have seen most men, some far younger, some far older joining up and lying about their age. It can be a shock to discover just how many from the local school lost their lives.

The York Castle exhibition uses objects that would have been familiar to the typical recruit. For example, an eye-test as part of the medical. 

Fig. 3 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

My grandfather Jack, age 18 did this test in the recruiting office, Consett in November 1915. He repeated it at the Hotel Cecil at the beginning of 1918 as part of his transfer to the Royal Flying Corps over three years later. I took him for an eye test in 1989 when sadly he could even see the first letter and age 93 it was suggested that he didn't drive any more. Whilst you could lie about your age, many 15 year olds got it, you couldn't fake your height. In 1914 you had to be 5ft 6in, though this soon dropped to 5ft 1in. To join the Guards you had to be 6ft ... unless you were the Prince of Wales. Edward was 5ft 6in ... he looks diminutive and childlike by far taller, and fall older looking men. 

 Fig. 4 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

On 22nd October 1917 my grandfather buried the 42 year old Henry Gartenfeld. 'He shouldn't have been there. A married man with three kiddies.' That's how my grandfather talked about it. 'It didn't matter about me, not being a married man.'  The reality is that older men not only joined for patriotic reasons: they joined because they thought it a better alternative, than say working in the cotton mills or down a mine. 

Fig. 5 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

Here the exhibit in the York Castle Museum talks about the bible. Jack Wilson, who was transferred from the DLI to the 'Suicide Squad' the just forming Machine Gun Corps, prized matches about everything else. He swapped his cigarettes for matches whenever he could. He never smoked. One reason he lived to be 96 then. He didn't drink much either, though worked in the brewery business for the better part of fifty years. He wasn't a Quaker, but many were. 

Fig. 6 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

I recognised this clasp knife because my grandfather had his and still used it 75 years after it was issued. I have it somewhere. A little oil and it is what I take sailing with me. As well as photos, a watch, a paybook, his Vicker's Machine Gun manual, and his RAF Log Book and medals he had a couple of harmonicas from the war. 

Fig. 7 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

My grandfather would play a few tunes when we were little; he was quite good. He could also do tricks with coins. These, and many other minor skills, such as repairing watches, he picked him in the trenches or out on reserve where for the bulk of the time you were looking for something to relieve the boredom. He often spoke of finding smashed up cars they would fix, or taking bits on one occasion from a plane that had come down near to their pill-box.

Fig. 8 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

Were these the standard issue? Great for a swap according to my late grandfather John Arthur Wilson MM. We're asked to consider where each of our feature characters have got to by the end of 1914. A map of Western Europe pinpoints them. 

 Fig. 9 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

If you haven't caught any of the episodes yet it is worth listening to BBC Radio 4's drama serial 'Homefront.' It's back from the 25th May. 

The choices have been carefully made for this exhibition. It is intimate. My ticket gives me entry for a full 12 months. Unfortunately I live 261 miles away at the other end of England. All the more reason to make these notes and to have all these pictures to remind me what I saw. 

Fig. 10 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

Some of the most harrowing stories I heard from my grandfather were of the soldiers who took a long time to die. Dick Piper, a machine gunner like my grandfather, took a piece of shrapnel in the belly on the 21st October and died the following day. There was nothing to do for him other than put on dressings and make him comfortable by wedging bricks against his feet so that he could keep his legs pressed into his stomach. My grandfather described it as very matter of fact to wait until the body stiffened up before dragging it out and 'burying' it under rumble. 75 years later he marked the spot with a Commemoration Poppy. Imagine that. Returning to the very spot, where, on that occasion, two of his mates had died. 

Fig. 11 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

On the edge of Houthulst Forest in late 1917 - he returned to pillboxes north of Poelcapelle repeatedly in October, November and December, my grandfather took a prisoner - this German soldier got lost in the early morning fog and simply wandered into the pillbox they'd taken from the Germans a few weeks earlier. He was with the MGC crew for the entire day showing off photograph, a Mausser Pistol that was taken off him and looking at the odd looking currency. 

What have you discovered? 

Fig. 12 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum 

Every story you hear of the First World War fascinates. Everyone who took part, whether the volunteered or were conscripted, is a story where someone who last all that was familiar and near to them behind. 1/7th were killed. 

Fig. 13 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum 

At the very end of 1917, have survived all of Third Ypres, my grandfather's papers came through to transfer to the Royal Flying Corps. It was 27th December. The officers wished him well, and gave him pictures of themselves. The company Sergeant gave him a Webley Revolver, just like this one. Saying he'ed have to buy one otherwise once he joined the RFC. He had this gun until there was a weapon's amnesty in Britain and being a law-abiding man he handed it in.

 Fig. 14 Kodak Box Brownie 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum 

As a flight cadet my grandfather had several months of training to get through. He started with military training at RAF Hastings, then to Bristol to learn aeronautics billeted in Haig's alma mater, Clifton College. on to Uxbridge for bomb training and finally up to Scotland for flight training He bought a Kodak camera though and made a visual record of his RAF training between June 1918 and November 1918.

Fig. 15. Flight Cadet John Arthur Wilson MM. RAF Crail, September 1919, age 23. 

He stayed on with the RAF until February 1919 to help demob. Very sadly, in June 1919, his kid brother, who had joined the RFC as a 17 year old and at 19 only was a Flight Sergeant, crashed his bomber over Belgium delivering mail. 

We come to the end of the exhibition and are asked to think about our featured characters and what happened after the war. 

 Fig. 16 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

My grandfather was lucky. He had survived unwounded. He returned to the job he had started as a boy of 14. He'd been away for over 3 1/2 years. Money put aside to him by work colleagues bought him a motorbike. Things weren't to run smoothly though, recently married and with a one year old he was made redundant in 1932 when the North Eastern Brewery was sold to Vaux. He had 22 years service if you include the war years. He joined Scottish & Newcastle Brewery the following year and put in nearly 30 years with them. His war never ended. Growing up I was the grandchild who listened to his stories. How I envisaged these stories changed as my knowledge of the war grew.

FIg. 17 John Arthur Wilson MM meeting Belgian dignitaries with his only daughter, during the 75th anniversary commemoration of Third Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele in July 1992 at the Menin Gate.

Jack attended the 75th anniversary of Third Ypres, Passchendaele in 1992 - one of five veterans that year. He also attended events marking the formation of the Machine Gun Corps and the formation of the RAF.

Fig.18 Memorial to the fallen of the York Law Society

At the end of the York Castle exhibition on the First World War visitors are invited chalk up a thought or memory on a series of large black boards. And finally we pass through an ante-room which features a couple of memorials to the fallen. These are made all the more heartbreaking when you think they could be your brother, son or father, where this 100 years ago. I find such memorials in schools harrowing.

Fig. 19 Lewes War Memorial Pinned.

The above shows where those commemorated on the memorial lived. In some houses both a father and son were lost. In several streets every other door had a son, husband, father or brother a fatality. School parties walking passed these houses are left in tears. Imagine how many of your friends you lost.

My grandfather said of those who joined the DLI in November 1915 within him only he returned. Whilst 18 months in the Machine Gun Corps appeared 'suicidal' with his transfer to train with the Royal Flying Corps he was given 11 months grace and the war ended. His training had been delayed by influenza on the ground, then dreadful weather which delayed his training. My grandfather always regretted not getting back to the Western Front to 'have a go at the Hun.'

 

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Design Museum

H818 Activity 3.1. Task: Selecting a topic and title

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 Feb 2014, 16:10

Fig.1. Listening to a memorable and evocative 'visitor audio tour' on Alcatraz. Away from the bussle of people, by a nature reserve for nesting ganets. 

1) Theme and Format. Presentation of a multimedia model, QStream, for use before, during and after a trip that might be to a museum, historic property or battlefield.

2) With the centenary of the First World War upon us I would like to find ways to enhance the visitor experience, perhaps for those with a GCSE or A’Level, or an undergraduate interest rather than for the general public. Ideally there would be options to select a level of interest and previous understanding.

3) For this audience Secondary or Tertiary audiences will be of most interest. Perhaps even promoting an MA course for graduate Historians?

4) I have had an interest in QStream for a couple of years and developed a proposal for its use with patients with chronic illness. This is an alternative, though equally valid use for the platform. My only variation on this would be to include an audio component, and/or to track visitors so that content might be tailor to and for them.

5) How an App that spaces learning over a period of weeks and months can support the experience of visiting a museum, historic property or battlefield.

How an App is able to create a personalised experience for a visitor to a museum, historic property or battlefield that enhances the learning experience without ditracting from the artefacts or the place itself, in other words, in compliments and augments the experience created by the visitor on their trip.

6) Already familiar with QStream (aka Spaced-Ed) I checked on latest papers and developments. I searched ‘museum’, ‘augmented’ and ‘elearning’ and from a selection of around 12 papers have thus far read, in depth, two of these as well as a couple of commercial conference presentations of a museum platform.  Based on this the idea is shifting towards headphones tracked in a space feeding a bespoke sound landscape and commentary based on where a person is and their observed and apparent behaviour. One platform avoided the need for any input by the user, though for my purposes GCSE (Key Stage X), A’leve (Key Stage Y) or Undergraduate, even Graduate is considered necessary so that you compliment the person’s necessary learning experience.

7) My literature research approach can always be refined, having completed H809 Research-based practices in online learning I feel compotent to conduct a thorough search.

8) One gltich was to in error delete a folder in RefWorks rather than create a bibliography. There was no back button to undo. I make look at purchasing a commercial referencing tool such as EndNote. Having always felt that online learning was a process I felt the need to have a subject specialism too, for this reason I am taking a Masters degree in British First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. This is a very different experience. A monthly day of lectures/tutorial, a reading list with books to find from a regional university library, and an online platform that makes the OU VLE look like Whisley to Bham’s assorted allotments under the railway bridge! But you do get to meet fellow students and librarians.

9) Audio, without visuals, felse like harcking back to audioguides of the 1980s and 1990s, yet today, with GPS and other sophisticated tracking devices a visitor experience can be situated, to the spot, personalised to the individual, and still be evocative through ‘paininting pictures’ in the mind without ditracting from artefacts museum curators have so carefully chosen. A recent experience visiting Alcatraz, for all its Disneyfication and complimentary wildlife sanctuary cum Native American protest camp, included what I would describe as a BBC Radio 4 docudrama that was intelligent, moving an engaging - a blend of officer, prisoner and officer family oral memoir and soundscape. However, it did rely on the visitor being in the right spot when the audio was played so that very quickly, taking my own route around the island, I found the content in my head at odds, in an interesting way, with what I was looking at: ganets nesting on an old basketball yard (making it akin to a visit to the Farnes Islands or the Bass Rock, also an old prison) while in the distance mulitmillion dollar multi-hull yachts raced the America’s cup.

On Reflection

The experience of Alcatraz would be extended if I had this audio-tour still to listen to repeatedly, to read as a transcript and then to find links for my own research. Having circumvented the regular tour I nearly found myself embarking with the headphones still plugged in ... I'm like the characters in 'Jurassic Park', I soon tire of someone else's plot and create my own journey.  It gave new meaning to the 'birdman' of Alcatraz, for example. And I can see why Clint Eastwood would never have made it to land ... you'd be washed out into the Pacific.

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How can the gallery or museum visit be personalised and augmented to make first impressions last?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 2 May 2014, 14:25

Fig.1. Miro - Barcelona

A lifelong love in art galleries yet I still feel unmoved (most of the time) by galleries and museums, possibly because I expect the gentle, guiding voice of my late mother at my shoulder (artist, art historian, Mum).

What could be a more personalised visit than to have someone who knows you so well point things out, guide you to things that will interest or irritate, then offer an insight - invariably linked to 'what do you do next?' i.e. look, learn then apply.

I take heart from the exceptions, only two visits I can think of though:

'In Flanders Fields' - you need a day to yourself to take this in. The most shocking moment entering a funnel like fixture, looking around then twisting your head up to see sets of photographs of mutilated combatants. It put your physically in a demanding postion to view them. Then the multi-media displays, not just actors giving accounts, but the ultimate before and after shots of places using satelitte images and old aerial photos.

'Alcatraz' - on many levels the visit irritated me, partly the Disneyfication and advance booking, then the many layers of the islands as bird sanctuary, prison and Native American conquest. What impressed though was the brilliant audio guide - BBC at its very best might be the way to describe it. Very carefully and sensitively juxtapositioning of interviews with former inmates, guards, and family members of guards/governor which between them created a sense or atmosphere of the place like some kind of hideous monastic retreat.

So how do we 'recreate' battlefields" We have the 750th of the Battle of Lewes here in East Sussex next year, as well as us all having five or more years of the run up to, the war and aftermath of 1914-1918.

The opportunity exists to use smart devices to give visitors and pilgrims an enhanced, personalised and lasting memory of these places - but how?

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Information Overload or Cognitive Overload which is the problem?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 Feb 2014, 07:59

Fig.1 Exhibit A. Vital to any museum. A place to crash, reflect, nod off ... then pick yourself up to do some more.

This is going to read like an excuse to visit yet more museums.

As I reach the end of my Open University learning journey my final task is to write an EMA in which I propose a piece of research on e-learning. My inclination, with 12 days to go, is to look at the use of mobile devices in museums and how the visit experience can be enhanced by personalising the physical journey. It appears the the two problems to deal with are information overload and cognitive overload. There is too much of everything. Whilst I will always applaud serendipity there needs to be a balance between the stuff that you want to stick and the stuff that can be ignored or discarded.

Too many museum visits earlier this week has me wishing I had electric wheels and a pair of Google Glass that could take it in and edit.

  • Museum of Contemporary Art - Barcelona
  • Picasso Museum - Barcelona
  • National Museum of Catalonia - Barcelona
  • Joan Miro Foundation - Barcelona

As I prepare this assignment I plant to queue to get into the Bowie at V&A and try Google WebLab at the Science Museum and possibly the RA and Design Museums too. At least I'm within an hour of London.

My interest is, as I take teenagers to these things, to wish I could get them to that artefact or story about the artifacts creations, or the artist/creative that it will so intrigue them that they are inspired to put some heart into their art or DT.

Two years ago my late mother took her granddaughters around the RA when the Van Gogh exhibition was on. My daughter was treated to my mother, gentle and informed, guiding her then 14 year old granddaughter from quite specific letters, paintings and sketches - pointing things out, talking about technique and the thinking behind it. This was as personalised and as intimate as it gets.

I can understand how Picasso, showing interest and talent, must have been guided by his father who taught art at undergraduate level.

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Museums and galleries - what can you recommend?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 18 Nov 2013, 14:58

Fig.1. Lawrence Lek at the Design Museum, Shad Thames, London.

Seen it once, then again with my 14 year old son - and for a third time with my 16 year old daughter next week. Potentially with other members of our extended family and friends too. I should have bought a season ticket.

The Design Museum is unique - I spent time with EVERY exhibit. I need a couple of hours every day over ten days. That's how much it resonates with me - the stories, the process, the end result.

There are three galleries:

FIRST FLOOR

Fig.2. Jessica Ennis takes the stairs to the first floor seven at a time

Innovation in Sport - design with a bias towards the Olympics and Paralympics, with Formal 1, Le Mans, hand-gliding, surfind and a few other sports too. Sixteen sports people silhouettes on the walls in the stairwell - how do you physically match up to Jessica Ennis, Messi, Phelps or Sharapova?

SECOND FLOOR

Fig. 3. A 3d rendering of a crystal whose shape is formed by your presence and movement (courtesy of a Konex device and a laser)

Digital Memory - a dozen designers, architects and conceptual artists play with Swarovski crystal to express what memory is. Most mind blowing, all beautifully displayed with headsets explaining what is going on in the artist's words and other interactive screens - and 'augmented' content from wif-fi and 3g.

SECOND FLOOR - SECOND GALLERY

Fig. 4. Yuri Suzuki at the Design Museum

Designers in Residence - six young innovators set a brief, there journey of discovery, experiment and creation lovingly recreated with video, artefacts, audio and displays - and a take-away booklet.

With half-term upon us where do you recommend taking children, young adults and their friends? How does this change if you are their grandparent or parent of a friend? Can you cater for them all? What might it cost?

The cost of getting into the Tower of London made my jaw-drop - £23 for an adult? £55 for a family ticket!! I think I'll leave it for another 1000 years.

The Wellcome Foundation 'Super Human' exhibition and other galleries are free (and lunch is great too).

The Design Museum was £11 for an adult, £7 for a student

Where in the world do you go? We all have our favourites.

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