Behind the Scenes – Meet Tony O’Connor

Anthony O’Connor

TonyHi, I’m Anthony O’Connor and I am one of the two Museum, Heritage & Culture specialists in the team. I have worked at the Epping Forest District Museum for 20 years. Before that I worked for 19 years in other museums and as an archaeologist working on excavations in the UK and abroad.

Our role is to be an expert for all matters relating to Museum, Culture and Heritage, contribute to the direction for the work of the service and provide technical and professional advice and support, with a specific focus on service sustainability, fundraising, project management and digital development. I also advise and contribute on service development reflecting national, regional and local agendas. To lead on exhibition concept and development, planning and content, collections access and development. You’ve got to be responsible for identifying and securing external funding; producing and coordinating major funding applications to ensure the long-term sustainability of the service

My time at the museum has involved some major step change projects for the service and my own role has changed and developed over time as well. When working at the museum our roles within our department are very varied and we are always learning new skills introducing new ways of working to provide a great public service.

Overall It has been a fantastic experience to work with a knowledgeable, supportive and creative team to develop the service, share and make accessible the wonderful heritage, collections and stories that we hold in the district. As a result, I would very much recommend it.

Archaeology and history are in my blood and so in my spare time I spend a lot of time catching up on new research. Therefore, I love to travel and discover new places. This also means, I am a bit of a foodie and so like to check out new restaurants and recipes to try.

My qualifications consist of:

  • a BA Hons in Ancient History and Archaeology; the course took 3 years.
  • I am also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (FSA) based on the work I have undertaken over the years

2007.17 Harold Coin head

My favourite item at the museum is the silver penny of King Harold Godwinson, a reminder of Waltham Abbey’s links to the king who died at the battle of Hastings in 1066 and who was later buried at the church.

Art and craft activities

Week 10: Code breaking – half term activity

Code Wheel 1Codes are used to send secret messages – if only you and the person who needs the information know the key to crack the code your secret will be safe!  We were going to make code wheels at the museum during half term as one of our activities to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Coded messages were very important during the Second World War to keep information safe from the enemy.  See if you can find out about the work of the code breakers at Bletchley Park who intercepted the German Enigma machine and managed to crack the German codes.

Code Wheel 2Code wheels are a simple way of making secret messages.  Use the wheel to write your message out, working out which letter to use in place of the one in each word.  If the person receiving the message has the same code wheel, they will be able to work out what it says.

Print the Code Wheel Scanned template on paper or card.  Cut both circles out, not forgetting the little notches in the top part to show the letters.  Make a small hole through the middle of each circle – a pencil will be fine for this.  Attach the two circles together with a split pin if you have one, but if not just push some string through and tie a knot to hold the two bits together.

To crack the codes just move the top circle around so the code letter appears in the gap at the bottom – whichever letter then appears in the gap at the top is the real one that will help spell out the secret word.

See if you can crack the coded message below with your code wheel.

R W W D T X   L H E R V N   I D V N E D B N   Q Y V R Y Q

Now you can have a go at making your own messages, and see if you can think of other ways of making your code even harder to crack!

Art and craft activities

Week 9: Box Theatre

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This week we’ve come up with a simple fun way to make your own box theatre.   All you need is an old tissue box – preferably a flat rectangular one, but a small square box one could work too.  Cut two or three slits along the long sides – you could do them in the short sides too.  Cut an image out of a magazine or draw your own scene and push it through the hole at the front to make a backdrop.  You can add more shapes to create a 3D effect for your scenery.  Draw your characters or find some pictures in an old magazine and cut them out.  Stick them on stiff bits of card, or a lolly stick if you have some, then push them through the slits so you can move then around your scene.  Have fun creating lots of different shows with your characters and try making different scenes for different stories.

Art and craft activities

Week 8 Card Games

There are lots of fun games you can play with cards, but a memory game gives you the chance to be more creative and make a game that’s really personal.

To make your own memory game you just need to cut out an even number of pieces of card the same size – just bigger than a playing card is fine.  Make sure the back is the same – keep it plain – on all of them so there’s no way of telling the difference when they are face down.

On the other side of the card, you can stick a photo or draw a picture.  Try 10 cards for starters, so you need to make 5 pairs of cards.  If you are using photos you’ll need to print two of each.  If you are doing a drawing, you’ll need to do two the same – it doesn’t matter if your drawings aren’t identical, if they are of the same thing and as close as possible!  You can just draw round different shapes for something simple. We’ve tried making a Space themed game, inspired by our Man on the Moon exhibition which so many of you enjoyed.

To play the game, place all cards face down on a table.  Each player takes it in turn to turn over two cards.  If the cards match then you take the pair, if they don’t you turn them face down again.  The trick is to try and remember where the cards are so when you turn one over you can remember where its pair is if you’ve already seen it!  The winner is the one with most cards at the end.

Make the game harder by adding more cards, or trying different themes for your images like flowers, or your favourite animals.

Arts and crafts activities

Week 7 Press flowers

IMG_0075This is a lovely simple activity and you can do so many different things with the flowers once you have pressed them.  You can make cards, photo frames, bookmarks, all sorts of things by placing the pressed flowers on card and covering them with clear sticky plastic or putting them in a frame.  I once found a four-leaf clover pressed inside an old book. The book is over 100 years old, so it was very lucky to survive!

IMG_0077The easiest way to start is to choose a flower that’s naturally quite flat like a buttercup or a daisy.  Pick it fresh but make sure it is dry.  Place the flower between two sheets of paper or tissue, then place this between the pages of a thick heavy book – make sure you ask before using a book in case the pages go slightly wavy.  Put more heavy books on top to press it flat.  Change the paper every 3 or 4 days.  After 2 to 3 weeks the flower should be completely dry and flat.  You might want to use tweezers to lift it out of the book as it will be very delicate.

 

 

Cath, our Education Officer particularly wanted to try pressing the blossom that has brought so much cheer these past weeks, “I tried pressing them flat with my finger, and trimming any thicker bits out, before putting them between paper. I thought it would be fun to press them in gardening books as they are very heavy and I should remember where I’ve put them!”  Don’t forget to share what you’ve done with your flowers with us!

IMG_0110

VE Day 8 May 2020

The 8 May 2020 marks 75 years since VE Day, the end of the Second World War in Europe.  Over the years Epping Forest District Museum has marked many anniversaries connected with WW2 through special exhibitions.  These have explored the impact of the war on the district and the role local people played. From airfields and the defence of London, through bombing raids, evacuees, GIs, Land Girls and POWS, the war left an amazing legacy in our district.  Over the years many people have shared their stories of the war with us, and donated objects to the museum.  These form an legacy that helps us tell the story of this important part of the district’s history today.

Sadly, the exhibition we had planned for the 75th anniversary year, The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District has had to be postponed until next year.  We thought we’d take this opportunity to look back at some of the other exhibitions from previous years.

Poster Victory WW2 & Time for Tea

In 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of VE Day, the museum hosted the Victory exhibition, alongside Time for Tea.

In 2005 the museum received funding to record the memories of people who had lived through the war, and these featured in the special exhibition ‘Keep Smiling Through’. These memories now form an important part of the museum’s oral history collections.  The late Ray Sears, well known for his historical photograph collection of Waltham Abbey, recalled how he spent his time at school during the war sitting in the headmaster’s office, taking phone calls,

‘if the air raid warning ‘red’ comes through … you just used to say thank you and put the phone down …  you then dashed out to the playground and you had a whistle and you blew that whistle at the top of your voice … you had to make sure you had orderly lines of [children] running down there so they went into the shelters …we did that for, well I was there for what, near enough two years doing that.  You just sat in the shelter.’

Another fascinating story was that of Josef Kox, a German Prisoner of War who was transferred to England just before the war ended.  He was sent to a farm in Theydon Bois to work, then on to Hayes Hill Farm in Waltham Abbey where he met, and eventually married the farmer’s daughter, making his future life and home here.  You can still read about his experiences on the BBC People’s War website

https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/48/a7564548.shtml

Josef recalls, ‘At this late stage I would like to pay a tribute to the people of Waltham Abbey. Considering the war, six years of it… and people here suffered and everyone suffered. Everybody suffered in that war, didn’t matter where you were, or who you were, you suffered to some degree. So I was really surprised to find that people took to us, they were very tolerant and friendly and I will never forget that.’

 

In 2008 the special exhibition ‘Onwards and Upwards’ told the story of the Royal Naval submarine, HMS Sickle, that was sponsored by the people of Epping during WW2.  The commander, Lieut. J R Drummond, became known as the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo when one of the torpedoes fired from the submarine exploded under the casino.  Tragically, the submarine was itself lost with all hands on board on 18 June 1944.  A commemorative plaque for HMS Sickle and those who lost their lives has now been placed on the wall of St John’s Church in Epping.

 

Poster Make Do & Mend

In 2009 the museum’s collections were the inspiration for ‘Make Do and Mend’ a special exhibition in partnership with the Epping Forest District Council’s Arts Team, who worked with care home residents and young people on a project combining reminiscence and creativity.  Inspiration was taken from the Make Do and Mend campaign of WW2 to recreate new clothing from old materials.

 

 

 

 

The exhibitions themselves are now wonderful memories to share of the role the museum plays in bringing the district together to commemorate significant events and our part in them.  We very much look forward to welcoming you here again one day.

Creativity Challenge 2

Creativity Challenge

Over the next few weeks, we are having a go at some of the activities on the 2020 Creativity Challenge.  Join in with us in sharing your work and enjoy getting creative.

This week, our team and their families have been trying some of the activities from the second column.

20200423_113427We’ve had a go at making paper airplanes and can share one tip for making them fly further – add a bit of sellotape on top to hold the wings together!

 

 

 

IMG_0110Pressing flowers has also been a lovely, relaxing activity – both in choosing and preparing the flowers for pressing, then seeing how they are drying out and deciding how to use the finished flowers.

 

 

 

We’ve also been researching some local myths and legends.  Some of the greatest stories of our district are shrouded in myth such as the legend of the Holy Cross.  Around 1030 AD the Viking, Tovi the Proud, uncovered a mysterious holy cross on his estate in Somerset that had the power to cure those who touched it.  He wished to move it to another of his estates, but the team of oxen attached to the cart refused to move until Waltham was mentioned.  So the cross was brought there, which led to the founding of the church and Waltham Abbey becoming an important place of pilgrimage for many years.

See if you can have a go at writing a more creative story about this legend or find out about another one such as Iron Age Queen Boudicca and whether she came to Ambresbury Banks in Epping Forest to fight the Romans.  Or you could make up your own myth or legend about the district.  Even if we can’t prove these myths and legends are true, they are still a very important part of our culture and history.

Local Legends: Thomas and Constance Taylor

Local Legends: Thomas and Constance Taylor

We’ve come across some fascinating stories while researching our new school workshop, Local Legends, telling the stories of some important local people…

Part of the building that Epping Forest District Museum now occupies on Sun Street, Waltham Abbey was a house in Tudor times, built during the reign of King Henry VIII. Over the years many things have been found in the old house which give us clues about the people who have lived and worked here.

fireplace lintel initalsThe fabric of the building itself holds traces of the previous occupants. On the ground floor is a fireplace with a wooden lintel above. The letters ‘TCxT’ have been hammered into the lintel in iron nails.

TCT probably refers to Thomas and Constance Taylor, who records suggest were tenants in the house from 1675. At this time the house had just come into the ownership of James Dobson of Covent Garden, who was a leading member of the Company of Drapers in London.

The Taylor family appear to have lived at the house on Sun Street for over twenty years, until 1697. Baptism records from the Abbey Church, Waltham Abbey tell us that Thomas and Constance Taylor had six children christened there between 1671 and 1680; some of the children would have been born while the family lived at the house.

 

The family lived through uncertain times; there was a power struggle between Parliament and the monarchy, and there were many claims for the throne. Charles II, James II and William and Mary of Orange all ruled as monarchs over the two decades that the Taylor family lived in the house.

 

There is a small “x” driven into the lintel alongside the initials “TCT”. This may be a small cross. In the past, people believed in witches, and thought they could get into a house through the chimney, as well as through doors and windows. It was common to try and scare away witches using iron crosses., so these iron nails may have been driven into the lintel by the Taylor family in an attempt to keep witches – and bad luck – away.

 

Constance Taylor died in 1686, but the iron nails are still there above the fireplace today for visitors to the museum to see. Superstitions change over the years, but it seems that none of the subsequent tenants or owners of the building have wanted to take the nails out. Perhaps no one has liked to remove them, just in case they are helping to keep bad luck at bay?

Art and Craft activities

Week 6 Edit a photo of your favourite toy

Resources you will need

  • favourite toy
  • camera/phone

IMG_4817This week we are having a go at one of the activities from the 2020 Creativity Challenge.  You may have your own smartphone or see if someone in your family will help you use theirs.  There are lots of ways you can edit a photo on a phone, or whichever technology you like to use.  Cath, our Education Officer, had a lot of fun taking a photo of Silver, her old hobby horse.  “Silver got his name because my mum made him for me in 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee!  I had a go at trying out all the effects and decided on the Silvertone filter because it suited his name!  I played with exposure, contrast and shadows to make the texture of his fur stand out and chose Vignette at the end to make it look like an old photo.  What I really like about this image is that it hides all the fading and dusty marks, making Silver look as good again as he did 43 years go.  I’ll certainly have a go at a bit more photo editing in future.” Don’t forget to share the photos of your favourite toys with us too!