A Series of Fortunate Coincidences – The Loughton Boys from a Curator’s Perspective

A Series of Fortunate Coincidences – The Loughton Boys from a Curator’s Perspective

Ellis Spicer, University of Kent

I often call where I am today helping with curating the exhibition ‘a series of fortunate coincidences’, because that’s really how it manifested. References in the Martin Gilbert book on the Boys from Windermere and after to Loughton, reflections in interviews with survivors who were there all happened by chance rather than design and led me down this path. I was doing my PhD on Holocaust survivor communities in Britain at the University of Kent, I grew up in Epping Forest and went to King Harold School, I used to be an Epping Forest Youth Councillor and volunteer at the museum. I wasn’t expecting all of those spheres of my life to come together in a series of fortunate (or what I’ve come to think of as amazing) coincidences.

And at an event in the Houses of Parliament in 2018 for the Epping Forest Youth Council, which I was part of 2009-2011, I ran into Tony O’Connor, one of the museum’s staff members and shared my fascinating discovery about the history of Holocaust survivors in the UK and the history of the Epping Forest District. His reaction was gobsmacked, he mentioned how the museum were looking to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and this could be a perfect way to showcase a little-known aspect of our area’s history.

The process happened fairly quickly and an exhibition was due to open in May 2020 at Epping Forest District Museum. Research was compiled, ideas exchanged and excitement was high. But then Covid happened. And in many ways we reflect on that disruption with an air of gratitude despite all of the horrors unfolding in the world during the pandemic. So many more avenues we could explore, so many more exciting projects to do the exhibition justice and tell such an important story the best way we could.

The research process for an exhibition has been very similar to the research process for my PhD. I started out knowing what I wanted to research and the individuals/groups I needed to reach out to, and I started there with interviews with three of the four surviving Loughton boys living in the UK: Ben Helfgott, Harry Spiro and Janek Goldberger. From there, I delved into the archives of the ’45 Aid Society Journal and the Central British Fund and expanded my networks for information, looking at archived oral history and testimony for those Loughton boys no longer with us and objects from the Jewish Museum and Imperial War Museum to potentially loan.

The biggest learning curve for this former King Harold student under the tutelage of Mr Rumsey turned PhD student at Kent turned curator is the designing stage. I have learned so much more about how to communicate research, how to engage with people and how to make things look appealing. We academics often lose sight of the everyday in our research, and this exhibition has connected me back to the day-to-day life of the stories I’m privileged to tell.

It’s always been important to me to never stop learning, and this exhibition reflects this next step for me in order to meet that goal. I credit my connection to the District, it’s schools, teachers, the museum and passionate local individuals for bringing me to this point. I want to end with the many fascinating stories of our local history waiting to be discovered, and to urge all of the passionate historians out there to capture these stories and record them where possible.

The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District is open now at Epping Forest District Museum. For more information on the opening hours of the museum and how we are managing our covid safe environment please visit https://www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/museum/

Learning about The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District

The museum reopened on the 17 May 2021 with a special exhibition on The Boys, the young survivors of the Holocaust who came to stay at Holmehurst, a house on the borders of Loughton and Buckhurst Hill from December 1945 to January 1947.

These young people were Polish Jews and had survived the Holocaust.  Most of them were the only member of their family to survive.

This subject is challenging to teach but is also an important piece of local history.  If we focus on the stories of these young people before and after the Holocaust – what their lives were like before the war, and they went on to achieve – there are many important lessons to engage pupils.

One useful resource is the book After the War by Tom Palmer, focussing on the arrival of the Boys in Windermere, in the Lake District, to begin their recovery before they were transferred in small groups to other hostels such as Loughton.  Tom worked with the Lake District Holocaust Project and UCL Centre for Holocaust Education to research and write this story and create learning resources.  The story is a powerful and sensitive introduction to this topic.  We are fortunate that Tom has offered to write a short story to accompany our exhibition; His Name is Ben will explore the story of Ben Helfgott, one of the Boys who came to Loughton and went on to become an Olympic weightlifter.

We have also worked with the Jewish Music Institute and Essex Music Services to create a resource for a music lesson, exploring a traditional Jewish song.  This aims to engage pupils with Jewish life and culture in Poland before the Second World War, providing a context for thinking about the families the young people came from, and what their childhood was like, before the war changed everything.

We hope that these will become part of a permanent resource, alongside a new Holocaust Memorial planned for the district, and help young people learn about this important piece of history, and its relevance to the local area.

History Days at the museum

We are looking forward to running our new series of history days for schools once the museum reopens! These days focus on learning about history through fun, hands-on activities. Children love exploring the museum, some of which is housed in a fascinating sixteenth century Tudor house, and they often get special access to historic local objects which are not currently on public display during their visit.

The history days are based on topics from the National Curriculum, and each one comprises of three exciting sessions…

Pupils might be Discovering the toys local girl Ellen Buxton played with 100 years ago, using images from her beautiful diary and real old toys from the museum’s collection; or getting hands-on with ancient artefacts to investigate how life changed during the Stone Age.

They could be Exploring behind the scenes in the museum, with a chance to see some of our Roman treasures which are not on public display; or finding out about life in Victorian times using local artefacts from the museum’s stores.

And they might be Creating a clay pot inspired by techniques used in the Neolithic period; or creating a print in the style of local artist Walter Spradbery, to take home.

Whatever they are learning about, the children can expect a warm welcome at the museum and a stimulating and memorable day. We can’t wait to welcome schools back!

If you would like to book a history day for your school group, please contact Catherine Hammond on 07548 145669 or email chammond@eppingforestdc.gov.uk.

Topic Boxes: Making a classroom museum and developing writing skills

The museum has a range of boxes for hire relating to many different history topics.  Schools have found many different creative ways to use them.  One popular idea is to create a class museum.  Pupils can choose an object to research then write a label on it – but to really develop their skills at writing and presenting information for different audiences, they can also learn the techniques we use when writing labels in the museum.

We start off by doing a lot of research on an object first.  Pupils can start by reading the information on their object in the topic box resource pack.  Information from this might lead them to do further research in books or on the internet.  At this point it will be useful to discuss which websites might provide the most reliable information for research – another museum’s website is likely to have good information on objects.

Now comes the hard bit.  After all that work work, pupils must decide what are the most important things visitors to your class museum should know about their object.  They can’t fit all the information on to their label as that would be too much for a visitor to read.  Remember, visitors will be looking round the museum at lots of objects, so they aren’t likely to read or remember more than one or two facts about each one.

However, this is also the fun bit – pupils are now the expert on the object, so they can decide what they think the most important thing visitors should know about their object. It might be an historical piece of information, a quirky fact, something funny or amazing – you really want to grab visitors’ attention, so they are encouraged to find out more for themselves. Can you think of another good way of grabbing a visitor’s attention?  You can ask a question on the label (see what I did there?!) This will encourage the visitor to talk or think about their object.

We usually try and write no more than 50 words on a label, so pupils can try making that their word limit.  Other important things to include are the title or name of the object, the date it was made and / or used but if you don’t know this you can say so. 

Now think about the design of your label.  You want people to be able to read it easily, when typing them we use a big font size – about 16 points for a title and 14 points for the information about it.  We might use a different colour for the title or make it bold.  There are lots of different font styles you can choose, but we usually go for something plain and simple like Arial or Century Gothic as these are easy for people to read.  If you are handwriting them, then neat and clear writing will work just as well.

If this sounds a bit boring, then you can have a lot more fun getting creative with a poster design for your classroom exhibition.  More on that, with some top tips from the museum’s exhibition design expert in a future blog!

Find out more about the boxes available to hire https://www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/museum/learning/schools/

Jill Barklem

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

Did you know that Jill Barklem, author of the popular Brambly Hedge children’s books, was from Epping? She grew up surrounded by the gently rolling patchwork of fields and forest we are so lucky to have in the District. Jill loved this countryside and enjoyed nature watching.

While Jill was at Loughton High School, now the site of Roding Valley, she developed a serious eye condition and was advised not to take part in games lessons to avoid this getting worse. Instead, she spent her time in the school art studio, allowing Jill to focus her efforts on honing her artistic talent.

Jill went on to study at St Martin’s School of Art in London. Each day she travelled there and back on a packed Central Line train, passing the time by imagining what the small animals of the fields and hedgerows around Epping might be doing while away from watchful human eyes. Something Jill didn’t imagine on these long commutes was that she would one day turn these fantasies into books, and become a celebrated children’s author. Jill said later, “I did not have a very clear idea of my future but assumed I would earn my living by illustrating other people’s books. I certainly never imagined that one day I would write my own.”

After getting married, Jill put pen to paper and started work on her first story about a resourceful family of mice and their animal friends, and the Tales of Brambly Hedge were born. Each book took Jill up to two years to craft, and was filled with extraordinarily detailed illustrations which have an enduring appeal to this day. Jill was fastidious in her research, even trying out recipes at home to check the food featuring in her stories!

Jill’s stories have sold millions of copies, and in 1996 were made into a television series featuring the voices of Jim Broadbent and June Whitfield. Jill died in 2017, but her stories continue to be enjoyed around the world today.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2021

This Image is courtesy of the Fox Family

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) takes place each year on 27 January. We remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi Persecution and in genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

The museum will be hosting a special exhibition The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District from 8 May to 4 September 2021.  This will tell the incredible story of the young Holocaust survivors, young men between the ages of 16 and 21, who came to stay at Holmehurst, a house on the borders of Buckhurst Hill and Loughton from December 1945 to January 1947 as part of their recovery.  We think up to 30 young men came to Holmehurst, and they became known as the Loughton Boys. 

The Loughton boys were part of the first group of around 300 young survivors who were brought to Britain after the war.  A total of 715 children eventually came to Britain.  They are collectively known as ‘The Boys’ as, despite the mix of genders and ages in the group, the majority were teenage boys.

You can find out more about them and their incredible personal stories of recovery in the new education resource packs available on our website, which include profiles of each boy.

HMD is for everyone. Each year across the UK, thousands of people come together to learn more about the past and take action to create a safer future. We know they learn more, empathise more and do more.

If you would like to take part in Holocaust Memorial Day, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s website has suggested activities you can do at home to mark the day.

The Holocaust threatened the fabric of civilisation, and genocide must still be resisted every day. Our world often feels fragile and vulnerable and we cannot be complacent. Even in the UK, prejudice and the language of hatred must be challenged by us all.

Where’s Wally? Spooky Museum Search – find Wally in Epping Forest District Museum!

Where’s Wally? Spooky Museum Search – find Wally in Epping Forest District Museum!

This Halloween, Wally, the world’s favourite children’s book character – wearing a red-and-white striped shirt and black-rimmed specs – will be travelling the country, appearing in museums, including Epping Forest District Museum in Waltham Abbey. Families will be able to join the search for Wally at Epping Forest District Museum as part of the Where’s Wally? Spooky Museum Search, organised by Walker Books and Kids in Museums, to celebrate the release of the new book, Where’s Wally? Spooky Spotlight Search.

Over 75 museums around the UK have signed up to run the promotion,which is perfectly timed for Halloween. The activity will run in participating museums from 9th October – 1st November 2020 and will be tailored within each museum to comply with their social distancing measures. Additional online activities will be available for those families choosing not to visit museums in person.

Families will be able to visit their local participating museum to hunt for Wally amongst their collections, as well as spell out a spooky phrase with letters hidden alongside mini Wally standees, and receive a special “I found Wally!” bookmark on completion of the search, as well as the chance to enter the Where’s Wally? and Kids in Museums grand prize draw competition to win an ArtFund Family Membership and a bundle of Where’s Wally? goodies.

Walker will provide participating museums with an array of supporting print and digital materials including mini standees, activity sheets, posters, bookmarks, pin badges for staff and social media assets.

Alison Bowyer, Executive Director of Kids in Museums, said:

“We’re thrilled to be working with Walker Books again this year. The last few months have been a challenging time for the heritage sector so we are pleased to support even more museums to hold a fun and safe activity this October. We hope to encourage families back into heritage sites and help them enjoy all the rich experiences on offer.”

For more information on the Where’s Wally? Spooky Museum Search at Epping Forest District Museum, call 01992 716882 or email museum@eppingforestdc.gov.uk

For fun online activities, visit https://wally.walker.co.uk/

Download your activity pack here too:

Family Craft Activity Packs

We are sorry we can’t run our family activities at the museum this summer. 

We hope you will enjoy getting creative at home with our activity packs.

There will be a simple template, plus a few craft materials to get you started then see what else you can find at home to finish your craft.

We would love to see what you’ve done – share your photos on the museum’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/efdmuseum/

There will be a different pack available to buy at the museum each week but we will have all the packs available to pick up anytime.

Price just £1 per pack.

Week 1: Saturday 1 to Friday 7 August

  • Make a mini mammoth

Week 2: Saturday 8 to Friday 14 August

  • Roman mosaic

Week 3: Saturday 15 to Friday 21 August

  • Anglo Saxon Helmet

Week 4: Saturday 22 to Friday 28 August

  • Tudor Shield

Week 5: Saturday 29 to Friday 4 September

  • Spiral Snake

Behind the Scenes – Meet Francesca Pellegrino

FranHello, my name is Francesca Pellegrino and I am the Heritage and Venue Team Manager. I have been with the museum for just over 6 years now. I started on a temporary contract for 3 years as the Audience Development Officer, then I got a role as the Commercial Activities Officer before getting my current role in June 2019.

The job role I’m currently in consists of managing the staff within the Heritage and Venues team as well as overseeing the projects and budgets for the team.

 

I do enjoy working with the Heritage and Venues team but also the wider Community, Culture and Wellbeing service. As a result I’d certainly recommend this team as its very creative and supportive. The role and work we do is very varied and no matter what your role is you get a chance to get involved in lots of different types of work.

This can be everything from collections work, exhibitions, marketing and customer services.

I do enjoy visiting other museums and culture/heritage sites in my spare time but once you work for a museum you can’t help but look for ideas at these places even when you are not at work!

Following my GCSEs, I decided to do A-Levels in English, Art, Religious Studies and French. I followed this by going to college for one year to do an Art Foundation and then finally went to University to do a History of Art degree which took 3 years.

My favourite object in the museum…well this is a tough one as I have many! I love art so I do really love all the pieces by Walter Spradbery we have in the collection.

1996.49.3 Sunet on the Somme

Behind the Scenes – Meet Charlotte Hay-Campbell

Hello, mCharlottey name is Charlotte Hay-Campbell and I am the education assistant. I have been based at the museum since November, and I work in schools and at the museum to educate children about different aspects of history.

My role involves facilitating a variety of workshops that give children the chance to gain more knowledge about the past. I am also developing an exciting new range of whole day museum visits with education officer Catherine Hammond. This involves researching, planning and delivering new sessions around a topic. Two of the new days will be “Local Legends,” which tells the story of some fascinating and important local people through the ages; and the ever-popular topic of toys from the past.

The staff at the museum work as a team, and so I assist with occasional events like Museum Takeover Day and Holocaust Memorial Day. I help to deliver other projects like Arts Award, and I also get the opportunity to be involved in planning and putting together new exhibitions. I have also been developing some content for the museum’s social media forums.

Each day in this role is different and the work is very interesting. I have lived in this area for most of my life, and I really enjoy being able to learn more about the people and places that have shaped Epping Forest District, and to learn from and share this heritage with our local community.

The people in the teams I work with are really supportive, creative and adaptable, with a great range of talents and skills, and we all benefit from each other’s skills and experience.

The qualifications/experience I have are:

  • After GCSEs and A Levels I completed a three-year degree, and then did a further teaching qualification which took another year.
  • I have experience from teaching in schools and working for another museum’s education department.