Meet some of our Volunteers
Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust and its Volunteers have an excellent relationship, and we would hope that the people who give their time to Volunteer at Ironbridge Gorge get as much out of their experience that we do.
Darby House Guide and Victorian School Ma’am
Giving history and information to help visitors at Rosehill and Dale House better understand what the houses are all about, and giving school children a taste of what life in a Victorian school was like.
I retired from teaching in December 2006 and at first enjoyed the novelty of being at home after nearly 30 years continually at the chalk face. After a few months I needed a challenge and responded to an article in The Ironbridge Quarterly which resulted in my becoming a volunteer guide in the Darby Houses. I have learned such a lot about the Darby family, the Quaker movement and the history of the houses. Last year I was able to immerse myself in the history of the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
I do find Dale House to be of particular interest and enjoy discussing its history, which isn’t immediately apparent, with visitors. During my two seasons I have learned to ‘read’ visitors – those who just want a quick look around on their own (though they always ask about the unfinished room) and those who want information sometimes detailed. I have now built up to volunteering several times each month, and enjoy it immensely.
Having applied unsuccessfully to become a employee at Blists Hill I joined the volunteer demonstrators in 2008. Again this was in direct response to The Ironbridge Quarterly when retired teachers were needed for the Victorian School. I understudied Chris Simmons for a few sessions then went solo. I had thought to be doing the occasional Wednesday but became hooked and now do as many Wednesdays as I can manage, throughout the year. Last Autumn I agreed to become an official ‘School Ma’am’ undertaking Taught Sessions with visiting school groups. I find this very satisfying entering the role play with gusto. There is something about the costume and the atmosphere of the large classroom. The groups of children who have taken part in sessions have all entered into the spirit really well, some even breathing a sigh of relief when they are allowed to become themselves again.
As a result of my experiences at Blists Hill I was invited to give an illustrated talk at a Primary School in Lincoln last year. My Granddaughter Hannah , then aged 5 and a Year 1 pupil there, was thrilled and loved calling me ‘Ma’am’. I was able to borrow a few costumes and some artefacts, and along with photos engaged the children in the experience. It was interesting to see how these young children responded to my character: all on best behaviour and very polite. I took the opportunity to publicise the Museums of course. Hannah has visited three times since then!!
Hannah loves to tell people that her Gran’ma is a Time Traveller: back to Victorian times on Wednesdays, and even further to the 1700s on other days. It is certainly the challenge I craved and a most enjoyable and satisfying way to spend my time.
Guide at the Blist’s Hill Blast Furnaces and Ironworks.
Giving history and information to help visitors to the museum understand the ironworks and Blast Furnaces features. Unfortunately the iron works can only be operated infrequently. I try to bring to life the buildings and the static machinery so that visitors see beyond the building and the equipment and begin to understand nineteenth century working life and conditions in what was an extremely important industry. When the foundry is casting as the foundry-men are concentrating on handling molten iron I am on hand to explain the processes visitors are seeing.
After working as an engineer in a variety of industries not far removed from the foundries and ironworking of the Ironbridge district I retired in 2009. I was a sea-going engineer in the Merchant Navy and subsequently worked in steel works, brick and concrete works and commissioned industrial boilers. For the last twenty-five I was involved in foundries, metal preparation and sawing of granite and roamed the world giving technical support to my company’s products.
On retiring I began studying local history and this year completed the oxford Advanced Diploma in Local History. At present I am doing an Open University Short Course in heritage studies.
One of my studies was into a catastrophic boiler explosion in Bilston in 1862; the only example of this type of boiler was at Blist’s Hill Ironworks. Peter, the engineer, allowed me to look around this and subsequently suggested that I might to act as guide. That was in spring 2010 and I have been acting as a volunteer guide since that time. At times quite large parties of visitors accompany me around the ironworks and blast furnaces and I hope that afterwards they have enjoyed the experience and have a better appreciation of our industrial heritage.
As a volunteer I find the atmosphere both enjoyable and relaxing.