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Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Third Anniversary of Closure of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery

 It is now three years since Apsley House closed because of Covid restrictions, but failed to reopen when restrictions were lifted. A decision had been made by Swindon Borough Council to close the building for good, put the art and museum collections into storage until the art pavilion in the Cultural Quarter had been built. The plans for the museum collections were vague. We were not happy with this arrangement because many of us would never have seen Swindon Museum and Art Gallery reopened in our lifetime. An interim solution was suggested at Lydiard House, where it was proposed three breakfast rooms could house small exhibitions. This was followed by the idea of converting the first floor of the Civic Offices into a museum and art gallery; this seemed like an excellent idea, although previous calculations in 2019 had put a figure of over a million pounds to carry out the conversion. In 2019 it was decided Apsley House would be the best option for SM&AG, with a proposed £400k to be spent on improvements to the building. This money has not been spent, and remains available for the conversion of the first floor of the Civic Offices into a museum and art gallery. Dates for work to begin on the building slide, the latest estimate is the end of the year for the work to be complete, and the building open to the public.

We are marking the third anniversary of the closure of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery outside Apsley House at 1pm this Friday 17 March with cake. Please come along if you can, we will be there until 2pm.

Sale of Apsley House Agreed

 On Monday, Swindon Borough Council announced their preferred buyer for Apsley House, the former home of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. I think many people were relieved that the building is to be sold to Arthur Dallimer, a developer who reached out to the community to seek approval for his plans to sympathetically develop Apsley House and retain it as a business within Old Town. A link to the Swindon Advertiser article can be found here:

There are two posts on this, one from the start of the process when Arthur contacted the Friends to ask if we were in support of the plans, the link to that piece can be found here. I also wrote a letter of support which can be read here

Above is an artist's impression of the plans, including removal of the cladding over the windows of the gallery to allow light into what will become a 90 seater restaurant. This development could be completed by summer 2024 which is also good news.

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Making the Museum of Making: our February talk

 We were very pleased to welcome Eilish Clohessy-Dennis, Curator of Making at Derby Museums to talk to us about the transformation of the former Silk Mill in Derby into a vibrant, popular museum which was shortlisted in 2022 for Museum of the Year. Derby also has a Museum and Art Gallery and Pickford's House, a museum in the former home of Enlightenment architect Joseph Pickford.

Eilish gave us a reminder of how long ago the silk mill, seen above, was up and running; in 1717 the mill was planned by John Lumb, adjacent to the river Derwent, it opened in 1721, making it possibly the first factory. As you can imagine, there are many depictions of the Silk Mill, here's a very old one below:

 After John Lumb's death, the Wilson family bought the mill. In 1900 the mill was sold and became a chemical producer of snowfire and fly paper. In 1910, the adjacent mill was burnt down and the Silk Mill was virtually destroyed. It was rebuilt with three floors, and became Derby industrial museum in 1974 with an emphasis on Rolls Royce and their railway heritage. By 2011, it was decided a rethink was needed and the building was temporarily shut, it was decided to run it as a trust.

Regarded as the birthplace of the factory system, when people were asked what they would like to see in the museum, things mentioned were the railway hub, Rolls Royce cars, aeroengines, St.Pancras station ironwork, Lara Croft and Toyota cars. Here's a photo of one of the boards which captures some of the ideas people in derby had about what they wanted to see in their museum:

In addition to asking people what they wanted in their museum,  workshops were held where people came and made things. As Eilish said ' Involve me and I learn' is a powerful mantra. In the slide below, you can see how people were inspired by the makers of the past, made by the makers of today and they intend to empower the makers of the future
In the museum they have 80000 objects, and wanted to involve people in the displays, so asked for help in how they should be displayed. For example displaying in groups accordiong to what they are made of
Here are some of the 1500 volunteers who processed the collections:
This is the vibrant looking exterior of the Museum of Making at dusk
Below are examples of some of the things made in Derby, you can identify most of them; there are 300 individual bricks, and of course we had at least one brick factory in Swindon. They also made Qualcast mowers
It took 2 years, including Covid before the necessary alterations had been made and they could move in. September 2021 was the proper opening with a festival of making
It must have been very exciting to be shortlisted as Arts Council Museum of the Year last year.
Derby seems like a really interesting place, well worth a visit to see all three museums.
If you would like to see the recording of the talk, it's here
Thank you once again to Eilish Clohessy-Dennis for the fabulous background to The Museum of Making in Derby.

Thursday, 16 February 2023

Update on the Opening of SM&AG in the Civic Offices

It is almost 3 years since Swindon Museum and Art Gallery closed, firstly because of Covid, and then because a decision was made to not reopen Apsley House, but wait until an Art Pavilion was built in the Cultural Quarter. In the meantime, the council decided to convert the first floor of the Civic Offices into a museum and art gallery, which we are looking forward to being able to visit. 

However, last week, Councillor Matty Courtliff, Cabinet Member for Culture, Heritage, Leisure and Town Centre Experience, gave a cabinet report to the Scrutiny Committee last week, which can be read here. He said that the launch of the new galleries in the Civic Offices was likely to be later in 2023.

In today's Swindon Advertiser, this information was shared with their readership, including an exchange with Councillor Marina Strinkovsky who asked for clarification about reasons for closing of Apsley House permanently.

Monday, 6 February 2023

Pictish Stones

 Our January talk was by deputy chair, Dr Barbara Swann who gave an illustrated talk about Pictish Stones; these carved stones, found in the north east of Scotland are remarkable in their depiction of life 300-900AD and show great skill in stone carving.

Here's one of my favourite stones:

It appears to combine someone riding a horse, some animals and some of the symbols which appear on many of the carvings. The stone has been shaped and a border has been carved around it. Barbara gave us lots of information on the Picts:
A great map showing where to find some of the 350 Pictish stones in Scotland
These symbols appear in many of the carvings, and once you look them up, there are many more, with their apparent meanings here
The Vanora Stone seen below is found on Vanora's Mound, more details here
A couple more photos of stones, this one has a duck and fish carved into it:
Below, the Dupplin Cross is a carved, monumental Pictish stone, which dates from around 800 AD. It was first recorded by Thomas Pennant in 1769, on a hillside in Strathearn, a little to the north (and on the opposite bank of the river Earn from) Forteviot and Dunning.
And finally more information about the stones; what is so fascinating about them is that any of us can make interpretations of what we think they mean, and why they were carved. We don't necessarily know why The Picts carved these stones depicting their life, but we can make suggestions.

If you'd like to see the recording of the talk, it's here.

Sunday, 5 February 2023

Talks for 2023

 I'm pleased to say we have almost booked our speakers for this years talks' programme, with thanks to all those who have agreed to share their knowledge and expertise with us via Zoom.

We have had our January talk on Pictish Stones given by our deputy chair, Dr Barbara Swann. A video of this talk will appear on our website soon. You will find quite a few videos of our talks on the website, although not everyone agrees to be videoed for a variety of reasons.

These are the rest of the talks planned for this year, more details about each talk will appear on our website:

22 Feb The Making of the Museum of Making with Eilish Clohessy-Dennis, below is a photo of the Silk Mill in Derby where the Museum of Making is housed.

29 March British Heritage in Antarctica with Camilla Johns

26 April Architecture of Lydiard House with Michael Gray

24 May Chippenham Museum Collection of Prints with Mark Golder

28 June The Ken Stradling Collection with Cleo Saunders

26 July Ideally a talk about Sonia Boyce's work tbc

23 August 40 years as an artist with Anne Desmet

27 September St Barbe Museum women artist's ex with Dr Gill Clarke

25 October Operation Nightingale with Richard Osgood

29 November The Modern Story of an Ancient Monument; Stonehenge with Dr Susan Greanery

6 December Christmas meal

We are planning to run some trips, details coming soon via email. 

Friday, 3 February 2023

Committee Lunch at the Red Lion, Avebury

Once a year, we try and arrange a Friends' committee lunch, traditionally at the Red Lion in Avebury; this hasn't happened for the past couple of years because of Covid, but this year we met, and invited two special guests, former committee members who have had a long association with the Friends, Ray Ward and Paul Ricketts. They were invited because it seemed like a nice idea; we haven't seen them for almost 3 years, and also we wanted to see what they had in mind for our Pearl Anniversary celebrations on 6 July.

There were some very interesting conversations around what the format of the event would be, where it would be held and what we would do. It would also be great if we could have as many people who were there at the beginning of the Friends organisation as possible in 1993; Paul said he coincidentally arrived at Apsley House while the opening speeches were taking place, but he didn't join until later.

If you have any ideas for how we might celebrate the 30 years of the Friends, and where, please let me know. I had intended to take photos of those at the meal, but sadly forgot, and the previous week had taken photos of the wallpaper in the front bar, so two of those will have to do!!