Blog Archives

Volunteers – Caldew School NCS Students Get Involved

On Saturday 28 November, the volunteer programme were delighted to welcome 22 pupils from Caldew School to complete a day of  ‘Social Action’ at Tullie House as the culmination of their National Citizen Scheme Award.DSCN1273

Nicky and John tell us about their day at Tullie and the work towards their award.

Last Saturday we completed our social action project at Tullie House Museum. As a group we developed and participated in three activities.  The focus of the day was thinking about visitors from the community with visual impairment.  This meant that one group created a sensory space in the garden, and another group researched and wrote scripts then recorded audio ‘labels’ for the Social History gallery. Finally the third and smallest group produced an NCS display, highlighting what the NCS programme involves and has to offer all young people.DSCN1287DSCN1276DSCN1302










To give you some background, the NCS stands the National Citizen Service award and is open for all 16-17 year olds across England and Wales. It is a journey through a series of phases with its ethos being based on:

  • Challenge
  • Responsibility
  • Inspiration
  • Social mix
  • Independency
  • Social action

All of us who complete the NCS journey are awarded with a certificate signed by David Cameron (prime minister). However the skills and knowledge that we gain on the route are extremely valuable to wherever our futures lead.

We are all year 12 pupils from Caldew School.  The start of the course saw us go to Lockerbie Manor, an outdoor pursuits centre where we did a range of activities designed to build up our confidence and communication skills.  Then over the Autumn half term we visited various places within Carlisle and improved our understanding of the local community.  We also took inspiration from the local organisations which eventually led us to taking part in a social action project at Tullie House Museum.

Davie, one of the students summed their wish to participate perfectly saying “I’m here to give something back to the community” a sentiment echoed by all the students.

John Sander the NCS Co-ordinator from Carlisle United had these further comments to make:

“I am thrilled that the group have chosen to work in partnership with the city’s leading tourist attraction. The confidence and inspiration they will gain as this project develops will not only have a big effect on their futures but it will be something that they will always remember. Hopefully their endeavours both in raising the funding and then working at the museum will also have a long, lasting and beneficial effect on the city and people of Carlisle”

John Sander added:

“For most of these sixth formers who attend Caldew School the NCS journey has been a life changing experience. This relatively new government initiative has improved their employability and allowed the young people to build friendships and memories on both the away and home residential experiences that will last for ever. The work at Tullie House is now the icing on the cake that allows all these students to graduate”

What Nicky and John didn’t mention in their text above is that they also carried out fundraising  that meant Tullie House was able to benefit from £200 worth of plants for the garden and further £600 for the museum.  It is my intention to see these funds used to continue the work you have started.

I was very pleased to host these students and enable them to complete their award.  In addition, they have made a real contribution to their museum and created superb resources for visitors to enjoy for years to come.  It was a privilege for me work with these students who gave up their Saturday and worked solidly throughout the day to achieve their aims – even in the rain!  Well done and thank you all!.


Claire – Volunteer Co-ordinator


Volunteers – Working with collections

Helping give access to collections

21115_1Collections Access is a new, exciting strand of volunteering projects working with collections.  These activities help the museum make better use of stored material and make them more available to greater numbers of people.

The Head of Collections and Programming Andrew Mackay tells us a little more about the background to the projects:

“Tullie House has outstanding collections – we know because we are regularly told by this by external experts. There is very little point in having such important collections if we do not share them, so Tullie House has made a commitment to making the collections more accessible and we are delighted that we are able to work together to develop a range of collections based projects with a dedicated team of volunteers.

The ideal arrangement sees projects being developed that benefit both the museum and our volunteers. The volunteer provides time, enthusiasm, knowledge and commitment in exchange for hopefully developing their own skills and understanding by working closely on the collections with specialist museum staff. The collections become more accessible (and therefore more usable) by being catalogued, photographed, better stored and researched.

An ongoing project is undertaking an inventory of all of the archaeology stored at Shaddon Mill. This essential work allows the museum to better understand what it has in store (which in turn can help with exhibitions, research and engagement activities) and it also provides key information which will help assess future storage requirements.

We are therefore very grateful to the volunteer workforce for being so committed to helping make our collections more accessible. Without this invaluable help the level of engagement activity we can deliver by using the collections at Tullie would be so much harder to achieve.” 

191015 (5)Over the last few months two further projects have begun.  The Costume Collections Audit is a project to condition check and ensure correct data for every single item in the costume store.  The team has also been involved in preparing the costume for the Pages From History exhibition opening on 14 November which we’re all excited to be sharing with visitors.

Secondly, the First World War project is bringing together documentation, images and research for the major Carlisle at War exhibition opening in autumn 2016.  We’ve already found some telling and often poignant images of many different people involved in the war effort, not just service personnel.  These images give me (and hopefully other non-specialists too) a different and locally-focused perspective on this tumultuous period of history.

Kirsty, a volunteer on both projects says:

“It’s given me a real insight in the work behind the scenes of the museum that you don’t get as a visitor.  It’s great experience too for helping me get a job in museums after my Masters degree.”

kirsty31115 (2)Not only is Kirsty benefiting from this experience but she is helping Tullie maintain the collections for future generations.

If you’ve been inspired and we’d be delighted to welcome you to the team .  If would like to get more involved with these projects or volunteering then please visit the volunteering page.  Here you can sign up to our mailing list that lets you know about all projects first, more information about our existing projects and how to join the team.  We’d love to welcome you.


Claire, Volunteer Co-ordinator

Volunteers – Exhibitions Summer Placement

After many registrations were received to be the Summer Exhibitions Placement volunteer, we were delighted that Vanessa decided to join us. Here are her reflections on her completed placement.

Me hard at work

Me hard at work

In August I moved back to Carlisle after recently graduating with a degree in History of Art. Keen to get some hands-on experience within a museum/art gallery environment, I applied for the Summer Placement internship advertised on the Tullie House website. Meeting with Amy, the Exhibitions Programming Manager, I was happy to learn that the placement was very flexible; it could fit around my other commitments and could even be suited to my own particular interests (being the art and costume departments in particular.) The placement began a few weeks later and took place over two days- one would be focused on costume research with the exhibitions team, and the other day would be spent carrying out the costume audit alongside a team of volunteers.

The costume research was mostly computer-based and enabled me to utilise the skills I gained during my degree in a practical way. It involved studying the phases and major developments in fashion over the past two hundred years, and then cross-referencing these with the items in the museum’s costume collection in order to create a shortlist of clothes, shoes and accessories that best demonstrated these developments for an upcoming exhibition.

I was able to work independently and continuously on the same project so I was able to really get stuck-in, meeting regularly with Amy and the exhibitions team to ensure that I was on the right track.

Inside the costume store

Inside the costume store


The costume audit, on the other hand, has exposed me to an entirely new set of skills that are invaluable to my CV, from handling museum items to creating new records on the internal database, not to mention getting to paw through wonderful items of clothing that at times date all the way back to the eighteenth century!

Sophie assessing the 1920s shoes

We are currently going through the costume store box by box, inspecting the contents, ensuring they are recorded properly and are packaged so that they will be preserved for years to come. This is an ongoing project and one that I have continued to be a part of, as each week I build upon my costume knowledge and gain experience in a range of everyday tasks involved working behind the scenes in an art gallery and museum.

1900 hat with full taxidermied bird

1900 hat with full taxidermied bird


Kirsty in the cotsume store

Kirsty in the costume store

I would certainly recommend the Summer Placement to anyone else that has graduated and is looking to gain practical experience within the arts sector, especially as Amy and her team were so accommodating in fitting me in, and there is so much scope for what you can get involved in depending on your interests.

You did an amazing job and you’re an asset to the team.  Thank you for all your hard work!  Claire

Volunteers – Archaeology Archives

The treasure trove store of over 7000 boxes of archaeological material has been the destination for our team of dedicated volunteers.07221506

Working alongside Tim, the curator of archaeology, the team are well underway with the huge task of creating a comprehensive inventory of this diverse material.

As well as displaying objects, Tullie House also stores for future reference and research finds from many of the excavations carried out in north Cumbria.  From boxes of animal bone and pottery sherds to the finest gold jewellery it all finds its way here, all providing the evidence for our unwritten past.07221508

Managing this volume of material is a big job and one that one archaeology curator cannot carry out alone, so this is why we are so grateful to the hardy team of volunteers who give up their time to assist with this task.  It could not be done without them.

I went down the store to meet up with the team to see their progress, and they showed me some of their favourite finds so far.

This “amazing find!”… “It’s so complete and readily identifiable as Mercury”.


Figure of Mercury in copper alloy, Roman


Brass coin, Roman

Brass coin of Trajan, 1st century AD

This coin is great condition, as you can see from its packaging it was found during the excavation of Annetwell Street during the redevelopment of Tullie House.

Roman lamp

Roman lamp

An almost complete Roman iron lamp from the Millennium excavations, again close to Tullie House.  Found from the area where the steps from the underpass come up in front of Carlisle Castle.

Tim, curator of archaeology

Tim, curator of archaeology

And Tim, with a relatively modern (19th century?) teaspoon proving that it doesn’t have to be 1000s of years old to be significant to archaeologists!.

Thank you Pam, Diana, Kath, Siriol, Chloe and Sally for all your hard work on this collection!

Get involved

Volunteer flyerIf you’ve been inspired and would like to get involved or find out more please visit our website.  I look forward to hearing from you.


Claire, Volunteer Co-ordinator

Behind the Scenes: A Case Study

This month before opening time, like the shoe maker’s elves, our Museum Assistants have been continuing our Spring clean of the cases across our main galleries. Yes, this has involved more vacuuming, but it has been a fabulous opportunity to see some of the objects we walk past daily up close, and seeing them from the other side of the glass. Eloise has written another blog to let you know what’s involved behind the scenes, taking care of our collections.


A lady sits under the jasmine


A cow and dog decorated candle holder, because why not?!

The Williamson Collection of eighteenth century porcelain, on display in Old Tullie House, has been the most challenging cleaning task yet. Porcelain is of course very delicate, and so all items should be carried gently, with as little pressure on the object as possible; one hand underneath and the other on the side (purple nitrile gloves of course!). Lids, separate sections and saucers are also removed and carried separately. Faced with some of the more intricate ones, it becomes impossible to know exactly where to grab hold. Every centimetre seems to be covered in filigree and tiny flowers.

Cleaning the Williamson Collection

Cleaning the Williamson Collection

We clean these with a delicate soft bristled paintbrush, just to take the surface dust off, but it is so difficult to imagine the task of the poor scullery maids, when faced with a whole dinner service to wash, plus the table decorations. This is probably why it is rare to find pieces in good condition.

With this task, it was invaluable to have the help of our Curator of Fine and Decorative Art, Melanie; since she has handled these objects before. Moving porcelain can involve a certain amount of pot luck (terrible pun there!) When removing lids, or lifting objects there are all sorts of hidden dangers- wobbly bases, broken edges, and above all, old glue which has begun to come apart. I experience the constant terror that a valuable vase I am picking up is going to come apart in my hands. But by having someone who knows what to expect, it helps to prevent accidental breakages, although there is still an aura of danger about the whole process!

It is definitely worth it however. Once the glass shelves have been cleaned, the newly dusted collection is shown off to its best advantage and looks shiny and new.

Notice the iron in the goat's mouth, that tells us the man is a tailor!

Notice the iron in the goat’s mouth, that tells us the man is a tailor!

The tailor and his wife with their goats

The tailor and his wife with their goats

We also got to see some of the designs on the reverse of the ceramics, which are not seen in the cabinets. Some of the expressions on the faces of the figurines are really funny; grimacing dancers, herd boys and shepherdesses with cheeky expressions. There are also some bizarre objects, including the pineapple-shaped pot pourri holders, covered in phlox flowers, and the tailor and his wife riding goats!

Dessert service showing intricate designs of exotic fruit

Dessert service showing intricate designs of exotic fruit

The dessert services are exquisitely painted. Dessert is actually from the French ‘desservir’ which refers to the clearing of the table. Rather than an elaborate pudding, as is normal today, this portion of the meal is all about showing off the elaborate tableware of the host. Light fruits, sweets and other delicacies would be served, but the focus is on the expression of wealth. As a result, many of the plates are gilded, with glorious designs of fruit, flowers and exotic birds of paradise.

Gilded frames in Old Tullie House

Gilded frames in Old Tullie House

Another tricky task this month involves a degree of ladder gymnastics, as we tackle the gilded frames down the tiled staircase. It somehow doesn’t feel natural to be on a split level ladder leaning over the stairs, in spite of all the ladder training. The frames have similar challenges to the porcelain; cracks and loose pieces as well as elaborate mouldings, only this time, we have to move around them, rather than move them to us.

Gilding is also a hard task master, it is very delicate and shows up any finger marks if you don’t wear the correct gloves. Wearing the gloves combined with the soft brush, makes it feels a bit like dusting for prints in a forensics lab.

Certainly an exercise to keep us on our toes this time! But all in a days work at the museum.

Behind the Scenes: This is how we roll!

Eloise and some of our other Museum Assistants have been assisting our Curator of Fine and Decorative Art this week with some tasks in the costume and textiles stores. She gives us an insight into what goes into looking after our textile collection.

It definitely seems this week that everything to do with museum collections care comes in rolls.

Rolls of bubble wrap, acid free tissue, plastic, wadding, melanex, tyvex and calico all have a part to play in taking care of our collection, and in preserving vulnerable materials.

These have all been out this week, as we spend time in the costume and art stores. The costume store is definitely my favourite; a wonder-house of items, revealing the prized fashions and fabrics of women over the last 200 years. Some necessary jobs this week have been making calico dust covers for the dress rails, and a re-visit with the hoover for a general clean.

There are some great fabrics to admire whilst we do this, including a Victorian girl’s dress covered in tiny horses, and an outrageously bright rainbow puffa jacket from the 1980’s.


In the afternoon, we progress to shoes; specifically modern plastic shoes from the 1960’s-90’s. You might own a few fabulous pairs yourself! Unfortunately, plastics are rapidly becoming the new watchword in museum collections, as the amount of plastic items increase. Some plastics begin to degrade quickly, and the rubbers and synthetics in shoes and clothes are especially vulnerable.

We decide to do an emergency shoe triage, and move some of the plastic items into three quarantines; shoes to watch, shoes which are showing signs of decay and shoes which are beginning to disintegrate. These we put in well-ventilated boxes in a separate location.


The second day in the costume store is all about rolls, as we re-package a couple of quilts and some tapestry hangings. quilt

The first quilt we repack was made for a local school headmaster by the pupils using the Suffolk puff technique, and is from the 1930’s.

Tquilt2his second quilt has a wonderful cross-section of fabric patterns dating from the early 1800’s and beautiful crewel work embroidery, but has unfortunately suffered slightly from folding, and has developed wrinkles in the patchwork.

Rolling is a very effective way of storing flat fabric items, preventing creasing, and wear from folding, and in creating a protected environment for the fabric. So we now store large textile items such as quilts and tapestries rolled, like this …


White gloves on again, and we begin the careful process of wrapping the fabrics in rolled layers of melanex, acid free tissue paper, calico and wadding around large plastic tubes. It takes some practice to roll these straight, but it is worth doing right. As we roll, the quilts are constantly smoothed, to try and ease out wrinkles and creases.

The tapestries are fragile, and we have to re-locate them from a different store. At the same time, we bring back mannequins for a new display to go up in the museum in a few weeks. One of the dresses planned has a 22 inch waist, but is still so small that it needs one of our smallest available mannequins. The return journey loosely resembles the three wise men; as we carry our odd collection of items. I am holding the tapestry gingerly in front of me like an offering, because the hessian is so fragile, and the mannequins in their black bags attract some funny looks from passers-by!

We also spend time making loose covers for some of the larger sculptures in the art stores. One of the bronze statuettes; George and the Dragon by Paul Bocquillon, c. 1870-1880 has just gone into a new display opposite the reception desk, and needed a delicate clean using a museum vacuum and a soft, dry paintbrush to take off the dust.

From the small details to the bigger conservation jobs, collections care is a curious combination of monitoring, storing and cleaning; long term maintenance and short term projects are all part and parcel. Keeping the museum rolling!

Behind the scenes – A dusty task!

Tullie House has a wonderful collection of just about everything, and with spring just around the corner we have been doing a ‘Deep Clean’ in the stores. Our Museum Assistants have been helping out the curators, going through the stores armed with our vacuum cleaners to make sure everything is dust free and ready for duty.


Eloise, one of our Museum Assistants has written a guest blog to let us know what a ‘Deep Clean’ involves!

The start of the week began in Archaeology, gently brushing down stone altars and carvings, some of which are around two thousand years old, telling the stories of the Roman occupation of Cumbria. There are some unusual faces and carved figures, but an especially elaborate one is a wonderful large tombstone sitting on the bottom shelf. With a representation of a girl in a very fashionable dress, it tells a slightly sad story of a child just three years old when she died.
Over the next two days, face- masks on, we progress through the many boxes of iron work, bronze, wood, leather and pottery. Museum work isn’t always very glamorous! But we do feel a sense of achievement as we make good progress.

Round the corner later in the week we find something too large to box; a curious large leather artefact, looking like two riding saddles sewn together. We ask Curator Tim. Apparently it is a medieval pack for a mule that fell into a midden or pond, and was never recovered by its owner. This was found during the excavations for Debenhams in Carlisle several hundred years later.

Simultaneously, part of the team is busy in Natural History; re-shelving a variety of birds, beetles and other animals. Having just got a new shelving unit, it’s a great opportunity to re-pack some of the insects. Our collection is an important archive of nearly two hundred years of Cumbrian wildlife, and environment.

By Wednesday we switch to Social History. After two hours I forget to be surprised anymore at what comes off the shelves. We vacuum everything from a toy Ghostbusters tower, to vintage lampshades, keys, stained glass windows, medical equipment, and a Victorian toilet so willow-patterned that you can hardly tell it was a toilet at all! Ironically at one point we find ourselves vacuuming a vacuum cleaner.
On Thursday, the collection of glass plate photography is a real workout! Lifting the shoebox sized boxes of plates out and back into the racks is an exercise in weight training.

Friday is the final day, and we begin to look forward to the weekend! But we head back to Archaeology to finish off, getting to grips with the final touches.

All in all, a busy week and a tiring one, but none of us could say it’s been boring! It’s been an excellent opportunity to get a closer look at some of our collections. It takes all sorts of jobs to keep the museum going behind the scenes, but all the same, I might give vacuuming the house a miss this weekend!

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