Telling Stories Without Words: Thwaite Watermill

On Saturday 27th June 2015 I went to Thwaite Watermill near Leeds for the Summer Leeds Steampunk Market (the Steampunk Markets are held every few months at a variety of historical and industrial sites around Leeds). The markets are inspiring not just for what I can spot on the stalls, but also for the sites they’re held at, and this event was no exception. Since starting work on my house renovations, I’ve become more fascinated than ever by how different living history and social history museums plan their displays.

Living Room Tableau, left view
Living Room Tableau, left view
Living Room Tableau, right view
Living Room Tableau, right view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not having visited the museum before, I can’t swear to how the rooms have been set up in the past, but on my visit, the living room was shown off in mid 20th century, not too badly-off style. There’s a recordplayer in the background in the lefthand view and quite a few treasured items on display, but the ironing board is set up in there as well, so presumably a family member is planning to do some housework. Looking more closely at the dining table, as well as to the left of the fireplace, we pick up more clues.

Newspapers on the dining table
Newspapers on the dining table
Newspapers by fireplace
Newspapers by fireplace

The newspaper headlines all announce the outbreak of war, and while a family might not normally but the Daily Mirror and the Daily Telegraph as well as the Yorkshire Post visitors can get an idea of how the news was reported by each as well as reading the stories in the Children’s Newspaper.

 

Let’s just imagine that on this day at the beginning of September 1939, different family members rushed out to spend more money than they would usually spare in their anxiety to know all about the conflict that the country had just been thrown into.

Another interesting clue as to this family’s affluence, or otherwise is the crockery. While there are obvious sets on the table, it’s not a single complete set. The dinner plates don’t match the tea service, and the butter dish is of another design again. (I think I have a very similar set of knives and forks in my dresser drawers as well).

Elsewhere in the house, I encountered a coat stand with an Air Raid Patrol Warden’s coat, hat, satchel and gas mask box, a 1940s kitchen (with a scullery/laundry room that seemed to be set up as in earlier times), and the mill manager’s office (with a very fine desk on which there was a mechanical letter opener that looks very similar to one I’m currently trying to restore and also an embossing stamp similar to one of those Dad has on display in his study).

Mill manager's desk
Mill manager’s desk

Next month I’m off to York to visit the National Railway Museum, and also the Castle Museum, both of which I hope will inspire me further in the best ways to show off my antiques and junk shop finds in context while retaining the usefulness of my rooms.

What displays inspire other people? Do you have your own favourite living history or social history museums to recommend to me?

There’s a lot of overlap between the two, but I see social history as focussing more on the displays and living history on what can be done by costumed volunteers or re-enactors in the context of the collections.

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