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.

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/

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.

You Wear it Well – volunteer blogs

Hear from some of our volunteers about their latest project, helping with the You Wear It Well exhibition and why they want to be a volunteer!

helenName: Helen

What is the current exhibition you are working on about?

The costume exhibition is called ‘You Wear it Well’. It tells the story of the museum’s costume collection and how we care for it.

Which has been your favourite costume you’ve worked on so far and why?

The 1914 wedding dress, it has swing to its structure and style.

 

 

What are you working on at the moment and going to work on next?

I have been working on condition checking and preparing for the exhibition. I have also been steaming the costume ready for photography and display. The next steps will including searching for ephemera related to the exhibition.

Why have you chosen to volunteer at Epping Forest District Museum?

I have an interest in history and museums in general. Also, a local resident in Waltham Abbey.

You Wear it Well – volunteer blogs

Hear from some of our volunteers about their latest project, helping with the You Wear It Well exhibition and why they want to be a volunteer!

MichaelaName: Michaela

What is the current exhibition you are working on about?

‘Wear it well’ – costume exhibition, deals with various aspects of the history of clothes from early 20th century up until the present day. This exhibition also explains how to look after the costume collection and what damages could occur.

Which has been your favourite costume you’ve worked on so far and why?

One of them would be an evening dress with floral decorations, a light blue one from the 1950s. It has a lovely ballroom feel, it’s in great condition, and as I love that time period, it is one of my favourites of this exhibition.

What are you working on at the moment and going to work on next?

I have been measuring and condition checking the costumes we chose for the exhibition, also I have started steaming them and will continue to do this.

Why have you chosen to volunteer at Epping Forest District Museum?

I have always been interested in history (any field) and have visited various museums since I was a child. As I don’t live far away and have a keen interest in behind the museum scenes, Epping Forest District Museum was an easy choice. I have learned a lot and have met lovely people.

You Wear it Well – volunteer blogs

Hear from some of our volunteers about their latest project, helping with the You Wear It Well exhibition and why they want to be a volunteer!

JoanName: Joan

What is the current exhibition you are working on about?

‘You wear it well’ exhibition is the new display for 2020. It involves fashion and accessories portraying the museums costume collection.

Which has been your favourite costume you’ve worked on so far and why?

A long black velvet evening coat, its timeless! It is elegant in good condition and the coat can be worn and suited over any dress.

 

 

What are you working on at the moment and going to work on next?

At the moment we are working on conditioning reports for the exhibition, such as accessories. Next, we have plans for laying out the Perspex exhibition cubes.

Why have you chosen to volunteer at Epping Forest District Museum?

I have a love of history, its interesting to learn low artefacts are cared for through conversation. Meeting new friends, in the last two years I have enjoyed working on the costume.

Being an apprentice at Epping Forest District Museum

Melis 1`Hi there, my name is Melis and I am a business admin and customer service apprentice at Epping Forest District Council. My first 6-month placement was here at Epping Forest District Museum.

My journey started off with leaving Harlow college with a distinction in music, and not knowing my next step to success. I had no interest in going to university or carry on being in education. My initial plan was to carry on doing music, but my route changed after having the suggestion of joining the council as an apprentice by my own mother.

I applied not knowing anything about the council at all, and within a few weeks, I had received an email to inform me that I will be interviewed but with a pre-training week taking place beforehand.

During my pre-training week, I met other apprentices to be, who were part of my age group, I wasn’t expecting this at all. I had learnt more about the departments in the council and a few skills on how to undergo an interview. All of this really helped me with succeeding in securing my apprenticeship placement at the council.

My interview had taken place right after that week and I believe that was the best interview I had ever experienced. This was because I felt more comfortable knowing that I had practiced this time. Whereas with my part time jobs in the past, I hadn’t prepared for an interview before and my interviews were based on how well I worked in a team activity rather than having a discussion in a one-to one meeting.

Melis 3My interviewer had asked which placement I’d be interested to work in first, and straight away I wanted to work at the museum as I had an interest in history and really liked working with children.

On induction day, we were presented to our managers and I was so delighted to meet my manager knowing that I had got the placement I wanted, I was very grateful. The next day, I had toured round the museum and Hemnall street and all my colleagues had introduced themselves to me and made me feel welcome.

 

I have been doing a variety of things at my first placement. I focused on a schedule that I’d be doing from Monday to Friday. On Mondays and Tuesdays, I’d be working with a colleague on marketing tasks, which would include marketing theory and updating contact lists for upcoming events. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I would be helping the volunteers with the museum collection which was a great experience because, I had the opportunity to hold old items even from the Victorian period. I’d add new collections onto a spreadsheet, move boxes around to see what needs to be put on display and sometimes clean these items in a specific way as these were really old and delicate things to take care of.

On Friday mornings I’d sit on reception, deal with customers face to face as well as over the phone. I learnt how to use the till and learnt more about the shop stock which was interesting.

Aside from these specific projects I’d also deal with customers over the phone whilst being in the office and help with a number of activities and events that took place. For example: Toddler Tuesdays which is once a month and Museum Movers which is a movement class for those over 55. It was great to participate in these activities because not only was it fun but, I’d meet new customers all the time and they were very friendly.

I do not know where my next placement will be, but I am excited as there are so many opportunities coming my way. My apprenticeship lasts for 2 years meaning I get to work in four placements in total. Even if I am not keen on one placement, I will remain optimistic because firstly, it will give me the benefit of learning new skills, and secondly, it will help me decide which areas I would like to work in when I apply for a job at the council in two years’ time.

I have had a lovely experience here and I will really miss the Museum and staff and the volunteers, and surely will visit again soon!

 

 

You Wear It Well – volunteer blogs

Hear from some of our volunteers about their latest project, helping with the You Wear It Well exhibition and why they want to be a volunteer!

Carolyn 1Name: Carolyn

What is the current exhibition you are working on about?

The exhibition showcases the best (and worst) of our costume collection. An example would be ‘cradle to grave’ which shows christening gowns and wedding outfits. Our ‘gladrags’ section displays the best of our party and evening wear.

Which has been your favourite costume you’ve worked on so far and why?

The black Victorian mourning cape because it is beautifully made and is still in excellent condition. There is delicate decorative beading and was made by a company ‘by appointment to the Queen.’ The purple long evening dress associated with the long black velvet coat makes this an elegant outfit for a night out.

What are you working on at the moment and going to work on next?

We have been researching the garments selected for the display although we have no information of the origins of some. We have checked the condition of the garments prior to display. Next will be padding the mannequins so costumes can fit.

Why have you chosen to volunteer at Epping Forest District Museum?

I have chosen to volunteer at Epping Forest District Museum because, it is local to me and I have always been interested in history, especially the Neolithic period, but I have been fascinated by learning about other areas such as the costume and art collections.

 

 

 

Takeover Day 2019

On Wednesday 20 November, year 8 students from King Harold Business & Enterprise Academy, took over the running of the museum as part of Takeover Day.

Visitors took part in a tour, activities and a trail all devised and led by the students, and were in charge of our Twitter and Facebook accounts for the day.

Three students were even interviewed live on BBC Essex radio – something they only found out about an hour before going on air.

Lilly live on air with Richard Smith from BBC Essex

The 10 pupils worked with staff, in a series of preparations days, to learn more about the day to day running of the museum; they were given a behind the scenes tour, handled objects from the collections, created posters and content for their tours.

Climate change

They themed their take over around climate change, linking it to the current Ice Age exhibition; this period was a natural form of climate change, comparing it to now as more manmade through global warming.

One gallery had been declared a ‘no go zone’ to represent how, through climate change, parts of the world will disappear and be submerged in the oceans. Another gallery was filled with one week’s worth of rubbish to show how much waste each household has and to encourage visitors to recycle as much as they can.

Jack, Rhiannon, Rhianna and Archie with Woolly and a small forest of handmade trees

One activity the year 8s run was to make little trees from cork, a cocktail stick, beads and ripped paper. Each tree represented a real endangered tree and was given a label with details of where the tree currently survives and why it is under threat of extinction. This small forest of trees will be on display until the beginning of December.

A word from the students

We asked the pupils what they did as part of Takeover Day, what they enjoyed and what they learnt that surprised them about working in a museum – here are their answers:

Mark: I did the tours [and enjoyed] all of it.

Rhianna: I was posting on social media updating Twitter and Facebook for the public and update our #takeoverday . I enjoyed making captions and doing the social media.

Mark and Dmithry giving their tour to the headteacher and deputy head of King Harold Academy

Obinna: I did a tour, [and enjoyed] doing tours and being on the radio.

Dmithry: I did the tours with Mark, [enjoyed] all of it and [learnt that working in a museum] is really fun.

Joni: I took part in the tree activity. I enjoyed making trees and helping others make them. I was surprised that I was going to be on the radio.

Louie: I advertised outside, I had a go at a tour, I spoke to the chairman and helped people make trees. [I enjoyed] speaking to the chairman 1 on 1 (I found that really exciting). I’m quite good at advertising and drawing people in.

Lilly: We learnt about climate change and we done tour and other jobs that people who work here do. [I enjoyed] everything. I learnt a lot about climate change and how people work in the museum.

Rhiannon: I was posting on social media updating Twitter and Facebook about our takeover day. I enjoyed making the different captions for our tweets and taking the pictures, I also enjoyed spotting our woolly mammoth. I learnt how much work, effort and time goes into the takeover day.

Archie: I made trees, helped with snakes and ladders and made a poster. [I enjoyed] making trees. [I learnt working in a museum] is easy.

Takeover Day

Takeover Day is a national celebration (created by Kids in Museums) of young people’s contributions to museums, galleries, arts organisations, archives and heritage sites. It’s a day on which they work alongside staff and volunteers to participate in the life of the organisation or venue.

To find more, visit https://kidsinmuseums.org.uk/takeoverday/