The Museum of You and Me and Everyone

So you’re at a museum, some particularly narrow remit drives the collection and the narrative within, perhaps it’s the Icelandic Phallogical Museum  focusing on the Penis (The Author is far to sensible and adult to laugh at penis…. instead he giggled) or it’s the Vent Haven Museum of Ventriloquy, wherever it is, you’re there for one or a number of reasons. Perhaps that particularly narrow subject of specialism is a shared area between yourself and the collector/curator, perhaps curiosity has bloomed and it’s attractive petals have caught your attention or (and this is a genuine reason written in a visitors book I once inspected) “It’s raining and my wife is shopping – it’s alright for something small like this. Also it’s free, that’s always nice!” – I won’t presume to know your reasons, dear reader, for visiting certain sites, collections, exhibitions, stately homes, ruins etc etc over others, it’s not fair of me to do that.

I’m here because I have been moved to write about something that’s been sitting in the corner of my mental study. Whilst the desk is piled high with “Accessibility Audits” and great texts offering examples of how we limit access to shared Heritage (one project) and equally piled high with a vast array of sweet biscuits, all with labels attached such as “Byzantine Empire” and “Georgian England” (Equally another project #historyandbiscuits) – The Author has accidentally made a note in a book, just a throw away one. It was “Our Story” that was the original one, followed by that being scribbled out and ultimately the phrase “The Museum of Human Interest and Memory” – Sounds like some obnoxious Art Instillation…. It isn’t. It’s a potentially silly idea but equally one that has actually kept me awake with ideas.

I offer this up to you, dear readers, the missions statement or perhaps Manifesto of “The Museum of Human Interest and Memory” – The Museum of Human Interest and Memory is a non physical but equally entirely physical Museum, featuring a collection of incredible social and historical importance that has a direct relationship with the heritage of EVERYONE and equally a single person all at once. The Museum of Human Interest and Memory is a repository for public access and private contemplation. The Museum of Human Interest and Memory is a remarkable collection of agreement and conflict, comparison and contrast. All in all, it’s about people and their own heritage.

What is the Author talking about? Has he purchased a steel shipping container, painted the words Museum of Human Interest and Memory on the side? Is he now charging an entry fee? (Unless you have a Blue Peter Badge, which affords free entry to all museums apparently… The BBC equivalent of being a Freemason) – No, it’s far more simplistic actually, the above Mission Statement is simply for the amusement of the Author, who takes pride in tweaking the nose of the pompous and frosty y-front wearing Old Guard. It’s quite simple really…

Whilst wandering around on Twitter, the Author (@magpiememoria) found it necessary to complain about the lack of biscuits in his office. Noting that the rich tea fingers seemed appropriate for a house made notable by it’s chief former occupant, Oliver Cromwell, the great puritanical folk devil. Thus began the great #historyandbiscuits conversation, seeking to connect key eras in History to a biscuit and offering up why one is representative of the other (That is another blog….) – One of the responses elicited came from Twitter User @DemonArcher1 who sent a reply that ultimately changed the course of idea for the Author (The Author is so up himself he talks in the third person….) and ultimately planting the seed that is now growing as I write.

“The Barmouth Biscuit… from the 70s… because it reminds me of family holidays & nostalgia.” In these few words, spoken in to the ever increasingly dangerous sphere of Twitter, sang to something deep in the heart, soul and mind of The Author. One forgets all to readily, that History and Heritage isn’t always about Crowns and Gowns, it’s about people, individuals, families, tribes and it builds up from there. Heritage is not something to be kept in a Museum, not in it’s most organic instance and equally it is unfair to judge what is “Prestigious” – You’ve probably noticed the recurring theme about bring heritage to people, linking people with their shared past. Well, here we have a perfect example which could sadly be lost to pomposity.

The Author was forced to Google a Barmouth Biscuit as, despite his almost unsurpassed knowledge of 21st Century Biscuits, this particular one had missed him. I am pleased to announce that is is a thin, circular crisp biscuit, I am however saddened to note that it is no longer available. A french version exists, but purists on the Internet have denounced it as inferior. Is this not a note for the list of reasons it should be preserved in a Museum? The Original as it were, now copied and it’s memory and purity threatened, surely this would go some way to having it’s place in a glass lidded, slanted cabinet, made sacred…

Actually, I know the last sentence of the previous was written to be a tad humorous (Yes, Dear Reader, it was a joke, I promise to make them clearer in future… perhaps a different font.) it is the purity of the memory, the link that is created by @DemonArcher1 to memories he obviously holds dear, or returns to. A biscuit is a biscuit to you and I, but to him? It is perhaps wet canvas overhead, in the Lake District, perhaps it is jokes still uttered though the subject and context are long since lost but for some reason they still make the familial audience laugh, perhaps it’s none of this. Perhaps there is a story not told, perhaps it should never be told, but a story untold is still a story. We forget that, i feel, sometimes. We forget that the ice skates in the Museum in Ely, belonged to someone, they glided across ice, carrying a person who carried with them emotions, memories, experiences, and would go on to have many more.

We can share Heritage, from our surnames to our location of birth, and all of those Meta-Concepts, but equally we must preserve our particular and personal heritage – it is the realm of photograph albums, whispered stories, drunken arguments and silent tears in the dark. Do these things not deserve their own Museum?

Below are two items for the collection, submitted by M W Routledge on the 24th November 2017 – Accession Number – 1 and 2

  1. One Yellow Ticket Stub – Typical of the ones provided by low denomination gambling machines in Seaside Arcades, popular throughout the latter part of the 20th Century and in to the 21st. – Donation Narrative reads “Obtained by throwing a large number of two pence coins in to a machine in an Arcade on the seafront in Cromer, Norfolk. This time was spent with *Name Redacted* and much amusement was had.”
  2. One .33 spent Blank Firing Cartridge. – Typical of examples used in Historical Re-enactment. Donation Narrative reads “Fired from a replica Naval Pistol, the first shot fired by the Named Depositor, on a field in England, unremembered with good friends.”

I wonder, if any of that will mean anything to any of you reading this? It offers a slightly odd, but never the less important and potent, snap shot in to the life and legacy and the heritage, of an individual – perhaps you sat next to The Author in that Arcade, or you heard the pop of his gun going off, in Kent.

The Museum of Human Interest and Memory is accepting donations to it’s collection – why? Because the risk of loss is too high that they may be left behind, and that’s not right.

“Cry Bloody Murder” or Our fascination with death, darkness and disturbing things.

When did we become fascinated with death? It’s a very broad question and i’ll be very clear here and now, I am not trying to answer it. I just had that question in my mind during researching this post and I felt compelled to put it at the very front of this narrative. Death has, in my knowledge and experience, always fascinated us. Either as a stalking terror, a medical curiosity or indeed as a malleable material for fictional frivolity and such titivating activities. It has become, in many ways now, an industry. Not Undertakers or Coffin Makers, no that is the inevitable industry of death and it’s associated rituals. No this is an industry associated with Heritage, and within that you potentially find a two fold unpleasant taste in the collective mouth. Financial gain from “Selling Heritage” and equally making money from death.

I was in the process of discussing a potential run of “Haunted Tours” of a property not far from my home base, when I accidentally touched a nerve. I’ll never ever forget the sudden change in the face of a fairly placid and kind man. His eyes darkened and within minutes the enthusiasm for my project was replaced by opposition and hurt. I had asked a question and it was one with answers far too close to the surface. I had asked the client if anything particularly gory or horrid had happened within the building and apparently something had. Something that, unlike The Ripper, H H Holmes and the such, was not a dim and distant memory or story. I realised then that I had accidentally walked into something that was best left, out of respect, untouched. It took a younger me, a naive me, a moment to retract and smooth the surface back down and walk away, it’s taken a slightly older, more world wise me to consider what happened and what we must learn from it. Some of the dead, are not buried deeply, either in soil or time.

It’s the “Industry of Blood” as it were, to which I turn my previously mentioned slightly older eye. Jack the Ripper, ghoulish spectre of late 19th Century Whitechapel and much further beyond, is probably the best example of an enduring case of the “Industry of Blood” – Is it his mysterious and unsolved identity that keeps people interested? Or is it the juxtaposition he enjoys, with his barbaric actions, in relation to a rather rose tinted view of the Victorian age? It is, admittedly both and more. (As for “The Good Old Days” I cannot recommend enough the book “The Good Old Days – Crime, Murder and Mayhem in Victorian London” by Gilda O’Neill) With accepted images of the prim and proper, the class divide being more about clothing and cheek between society ladies and naughty impish chimney sweeps. Lets not forget Margaret Thatcher and he call to return to Victorian Values! With that in mind, we find a sense of shock and horror in the acts of a mysterious figure who pop culture has dressed in top hat, frock coat and cloak. How could this have happened? How could it have gone unnoticed and unstopped? How could someone do such things to women? We do so love having our expectations challenged and our sensibilities taunted.

A friend of the Author, yes he has one, lives and works in London. Upon questioning her concerning the plethora of Ripper Tours, and if she had embarked on one, she responded that she had indeed done several. Upon asking why, the answer was “Because I love Jack the Ripper’s story and I like being scared – there is just something about about walking down the same streets he did, gives me chills” (With thanks to Jessica Harris Edwards – Who blogs at This single quote probably best illustrates why I’m writing this piece. “Walking down the same streets he did” – It is in that which we find tangible history. Jessica nor I are, as far as I know, related to any of Jack’s victims, nor to Him (That is a well educated guess but who knows….) yet we feel a deep link to such subjects and people, it is our shared heritage. Be it from an academic viewpoint, considering the sociological context in which this could happen, the changes in viewpoint towards “working women” and their plight, or as Jessica says “the mystery” – The fact that an oft maligned school of research, called “Ripperologists”, has grown around him and his evil actions, surely proves his lasting influence on the subconscious. Don’t worry, I’m not going to now claim I know who he was. I am going to use him a little more though, with statistics, to prove my theory.

Jack the Ripper Tours, The Original Terror Tour, which was established in 1982, promises visits to more murder sites, expert guides and all of this 7 nights a week, for the exceptionally good sum of £10, is one of many such tours. To break this down; there is enough interest in such a subject that they feel comfortable running their tour 7 nights a week, (The Author only runs his Ghost Tour once a week!) and their digital footprint is of excellent quality – you can’t get along for 35 years without a constant stream of interest, because interest translates to income. Having never been on one of these tours, it isn’t fair for the Author to offer a review and equally one wouldn’t on here, it’s just not cricket. TripAdvisor etc are the homes of, one would hope, honest reviews. I am simply using their longevity as an example of the hunger for such subjects.

Jack the Ripper, it is easy to imagine with his mystery and influence on pop-culture, is a fairly acceptable and removed from “living memory” perhaps making the subject slightly more acceptable to the palette. However, when is too soon? I mentioned earlier that something was touched upon in a conversation, something cemented in living memory, which caused a change in the conversation and the relationship between myself and a client. I won’t go into details but less than two decades had apparently passed between my conversation and the incident. One would guess, in a small town, where perhaps family connected and indeed friends, may still live, that it will be many years before it becomes something of note for a tour guide. After all, thankfully, we don’t have tours associated with Fred and Rose West or indeed the Moors Murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. We still have a period of respect, a period of understanding, perhaps connected with the idea of living memory. A century from now? I don’t know. We are fascinated with morbid and shocking things, but we don’t tend to cope if the air still smells of the sorrow.

What can we learn about Heritage and our engagement with it from the above ideas though? Well beyond the Ripper Tours, through Old Whitechapel, we have museums and attractions which focus either in part, or entirely on unpleasant subjects including torture, villainy and repulsive ideas and actions. Perhaps it is Moyse’s Hall, mentioned in an earlier post, with their Gibbet cage and Human Leather bound book, or it’s the London Dungeons, one of London’s Must See Attractions according to their marketing, filled with rooms dedicated to the horrors experienced throughout history. With a courteous mention to Madame Tussauds and the wax figures of villains of yore, it becomes apparent that our fascination with those who reveal the hidden horrors of humanity, their limits which don’t match our own, will forever interest us. With all things, we can take this initial contact with an interested party and move it on to a further interest – Be it Jack leading us into the streets of London, where in which we find those long lost relatives and bigger ideas and issues associated with the Victorian Age, or perhaps information about our homes, our towns and villages, where we grew or where we moved to. Perhaps some good can come from the horrors of years gone by, perhaps they didn’t die in vain.