Interview: Wolverhampton Bantock House0September 4th, 2011Culture
Bantock House was built in 1730’s for Bantock family who made their money as a canal and railway agent after moving to Wolverhampton from Scotland. The house was left to Wolverhampton in 1938 but, as that was world time, it was used for the home guard until 1948. It wasn’t until 1999 that this Grade II listed building took it’s current, and most impressive, stance as a social history museum.
I was able to have a chat with three of curators:
Helen Steathan who has been working there for 12 years, Ross Young, 4 years and Stuart Williams 3 years . All were asked the questions jointly allowing each of the curators to bring their own take and flavour to the answers.
What is your biggest achievement?
Improving visitor numbers though the actions we’ve taken. [I asked for an expansion on this answer.] For example, 12 years ago, when we had our major refurbishment, we only brought the bottom floor back to its original state, leaving the second floor as it was. But the people told us they weren’t happy with that and expected and wanted more. We listened, and although it took us 6-8 years, we now have the second floor completely refurbished.
How many employees do you have?
7 permanent, 3 casual. We are very lucky as we have a lot of volunteers who are very passionate about the House. For example, Jo, one of our volunteers, Jo retired from nursing went back to university for a degree in Art History and is so passionate about volunteering here, she probably knows more about our Collection management than most!
We have always had the philosophy that all volunteers need to start Front of House. They have to know what it’s like to work with the customers and more importantly, listen to the customers. You can’t move into different areas unless you know the visitor collections and the displays. We find this works for us (a smaller museum) and would recommend it for others.
What is the most significant part of the museum (but you can’t choose the house!)?
Helen: Japannedware. [This is located in the bedroom on the second floor.] This speaks for itself. The period pieces were locally made and add to the social history that we want the house to represent. [This was the AskACurator question.]
Stuart (& Ross): The Nursery Room. It’s a family friendly room that speaks for the fact that children were brought up in this house (Baldwin Bantock had 8 daughters and 3 sons although one daughter passed away so usually the numbers are altered to 10 children).
Let’s talk about Kids in Museums (I had a copy of the manifesto with me).
We recently were awarded Mumsnet Gold award for Free Facility in Wolverhampton which we’re very proud of. The children are invited to be tactile. Whether that be with the carpet, or the objects or the worksheets and challenges we have for them to use throughout the house.
The worksheets were created by a work experience student that took the original worksheet that was based on rooms and converted it to fit the whole house. These broaden the experience for the children as instead of having to change the worksheet for each room, the challenge was condensed to just the one. The worksheets were piloted during a quiet week and again, feedback was listened to (some questions were found to be too challenging for certain age groups).
Can you tell me a bit about the Community Rooms?
The community room was originally a guest bedroom when Baldwin and Kitty lived in the house but we decided a place for the community to showcase their collection would work better. We are usually planning the room about a year in advance.
Recently, there has been some clever collaboration. For example, the You Got Mail exhibition was collaborated with Royal Mail.
Was the collaboration part of the exhibition originally or an after-thought?
It was decided after the exhibition topic decided.
And Finally, one sentence that sums up Bantock House?
Museum of social history of Wolverhampton that tells the story of the Bantock Family.
Bantock House is free to everyone and is open Tuesday – Sunday & Bank Holiday Mondays. They provide free BSL signed video guides for Deaf visitors.
It is an extremely Family-friendly venue, with a large park near by.