What sums up the Museum of Cambridge for me? The answer is people.
I began volunteering at the beginning of 2018 when the museum was closed for a deep clean, and immediately felt at home in the MoC community, whose members are unfailingly friendly, interesting and supportive. Covid restrictions apart, I have both front-facing and behind-the scenes roles, doing sessions at the entrance counter and also as part of a regular Collections group which focuses on care and documentation of the objects, exhibitions, cleaning and tidying or other odd tasks as they crop up.
It’s a pleasure to welcome visitors of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities to the museum, to help with enquiries and learn things from them too. One visitor named Enid was delighted to discover her important namesake at MoC! Sometimes I ask children about their favourite object or challenge them to find the museum’s ancient hot cross bun. And often visitors have memories and ideas sparked by things they have seen in the displays and want to share their stories, so I have had some lovely conversations at Front of House.
The Collections group gives a privileged insight into this wonderful building and its fabulous contents. Which brings me to the other group of people: the ordinary folk of the past, who would never have dreamed of curating their everyday lives, but whose stories as revealed by their belongings are fascinating nonetheless – the simple families of artisans and tradespeople; former inn visitors and servants; local characters and benefactors. How delightful to think of a Medieval carved sun panel (one of my favourite objects) being reused as a cottage shelf, or a tiny bride and groom from a Georgian wedding cake lovingly preserved for two centuries. It is good to know that alongside hard work and sometimes rough living conditions the lives of ordinary people had room for decorative objects and enjoyable pastimes too – even if anxiety about witches and possible ill fortune meant keeping your talismans in good order! This might account for the mummified rat now preserved in the store …
Whether plaiting a straw hat to protect a horse from the sun or recycling a bit of door – complete with keyhole – into a stair tread, it is glimpses of these practical and busy past lives that are so captivating and worthy of record. Long may they last.
This post was written by Diana T, a volunteer at the Museum of Cambridge.