Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Re-Modelling the Displays

Thanks to an award of nearly £40,000 from the DCMS/ Wolfson Foundation's Museum and Galleries Improvement Fund we are in the process of improving the Museum's displays of Air and Transport Models.

Steve Grafton Joinery are in the process of making new cases that are in keeping with the period style of the Museum, plus will enable visitors to clearly see all of the models on display. When finished these high quality cases will be in the Court Gallery on the ground floor and will be positioned to allow space for staff and volunteer guides to give introductory talks about the collections to visitors.

In the old model displays not all of the objects have a label. The new cases will include these to ensure visitors can easily find out information about everything on display.

I am currently  cataloguing, photographing, and researching the collection to ensure the information on the labels is up-to-date. At the same time, I am adding information and images to the relevant object records. This means, even if you cannot visit the Museum in person, you will still be able to see the models and access all the information about them via the online database.

The photos you can see below are some of the interesting models I am currently working with. On the  left is a wooden replica model of a troll cart from Great Yarmouth in England, in the middle a wooden model of a Chinese wheelbarrow used to transport people and goods, and on the right a Saami passenger reindeer sled.

Left to right: model troll cart PRM 1892.12.1, model wheelbarrow  PRM 1897.59.6, model reindeer sled PRM 1884.1.5 
© Pitt Rivers Museum
These three models entered the Museum collection at the end of the nineteenth century so all are definitely more than a hundred years old. During this time there have been many changes to transportation so even though I am English I had never heard of a Yarmouth troll cart. I was interested to discover this type of cart was specifically designed to fit through the narrow medieval streets, known as the Rows, of Great Yarmouth. Contained within the medieval walls of the city were 145 of these narrow Rows, many of which were destroyed when the city was bombed during World War Two. Most of the rows were only 90 to 150 centimetres wide so even the doors were made to open inwards so they didn't knock passers by and as you can imagine this space was too small for a regular horse and cart. The Yarmouth troll cart was twelve feet long and a maximum width of three feet six inches. With a short low back axle and wheels that ran under the body of the carriage they could be tipped on one end when not being used, consequently taking up very little space to store.

The earliest known wheelbarrows date back to Ancient China where they were used for carrying passengers as well as heavy loads. The wheel, as is the case in the model you can see above, was characteristically placed in the centre of the barrow. This design means the barrow takes the full weight of the load, the driver simply having to guide the vehicle. Whereas the European wheelbarrow with the wheel at the front splits the weight of the load between the vehicle and the driver. Consequently the Chinese wheelbarrow can carry a much heavier load, this successful design remained widely in use in China for short haul work well into the nineteen sixties.

The Saami people are indigenous to the Arctic regions incorporating parts of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. This style of sled is often called a ahkio or pulka and the shape of the design makes it both easy to pull and prevents it sinking in soft snow.  This remains a successful design that is often used by mountain rescue teams, although now more commonly a human or snowmobile towed sled than pulled by reindeer. The model shows the traditional reindeer harness, as well as the style of sled.

Keep an eye on this blog and I will let you know when these new displays are complete.

Zena McGreevy
Senior Assistant Curator

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