On this page we tell you about some of the things we have been doing at the museum. Using Twitter, you can follow the day-to-day life of the museum. We report on what's going on in the museum, what's being done for the future development of the museum, and of course keep you up to date about events, using the Twitter service. The stories below are more detailed reports on things that we have been doing at the museum.
The museum's exhibition on our home waterway, The Regent's Canal, has been refurbished and upgraded in a project that was completed in November 2015. The previous exhibition dated from the opening of the museum in 2015. The exhibition panels were in reasonable condition but the timber stands were deteriorating. The exhibition had been created in 1992 before the widespread use of computer-based exhibition design that is now the norm and were far less colourful and attractive than the new display that has replaced them.
The project included modifications and repairs to the timber cabinets, which were also painted. The modifications allowed slightly bigger panels to be shown in them, and they have been fitted with casters so that they are easier to move around when events are held on the first floor. A team of museum staff worked for some months on the design of a completely new exhibition about the history of the canal, and sourced new images and illustrations. London illustrator Jane Smith was commissioned to create maps and drawings where no photographs were available. The next exhibition makes use of all available space and is therefore larger than the previous one.
The museum has installed a digital screen or notice board in the front window that is now being used to advertise forthcoming events and other things to passers-by. Although we are in a quiet street, there is a flow of local residents and people visitoring or working in the offices on All Saints' Street and of course there are visitors to the museum itself who may not be aware of forthcoming special events. The screen is a high-brightness device so it can be easily read in sunshine. It is powered by an Android-based media player that is Internet connected so it is possible for us to edit the content of the screen remotely as well as from inside the museum. To fit the screen in the window we not only had to choose our screen carefully, we had to have a special backing board made for us by a carpenter, on which to mount the screen. It retains the possibility of taking the screen out for maintenance or to enable the window frame to be painted or cleaned.
Emma Smith worked as a canal boatwoman from 1943 to 1945 and is one of the very few so-called "idle women" still alive. The teasing nickname was due to the badge "IW" (Inland Waterways) that they wore. Now aged 91, Emma visit the museum on 5th November 2014 to take part in an interview for the BBC's political discussion programme The Andrew Marr show, which was broadcast on a special remembrance theme on Remebrance Sunday, 9th November 2014. (For those reading this from outside the UK, this is the annual day on which those who have lost their lives in war are specially honnoured throughout the UK).
Emma Smith did not go off to fight, but the work she did was vital to the war effort, transporting coal and steel and other traffic on the Grand Union Canal, to help keep industry going. The canal boatwomen left behind lives of relative comfort for the tiny cabins of canal boats and the hard, dirty and sometimes dangerous work in conditions that were primitive. They had to contend with doodlebugs in the sky and bed bugs in the cabins, dealt with by fumigation.
Emma was interviewed on the canal wharf by TV Presenter Sophie Raworth who also showed viewers around the narrowboat Coronis, which is a Grand Union Canal butty of a type used in the war years. After the interview, Emma had a look inside the cabin, which brought back memories that are still visivid of her wartime adventures. She wrote a book called Maidens Trip, that recalled her adventures and she admits to having enjoyed her two years on the canal.
We also took the opportunity to invite Emma to record an oral history interview, which she was glad to do. We had to turn our staff accommodation into a temporary recording room because the stairs to our Library where we have done other interviews were not an option. Emma is as sharp as a knife and gave us a recording of around 40 minutes telling our oral history team leader Jane all about her experiences.
The programme is typically watched by an audience of around two million viewers. Both the filmed interview and our oral history sound recording are a valuable record for future historians of a small, but dedicated band of young women who endured a lot for their country.
In partnership with he London Wildlife Trust, we now have two new planters at the rear of the building that replace an aged and decaying half-barrel. The plants in these barrels have been selected by the experts at the Camley Street Natural Park to be friendly to the local bee population. Good polinators are vital for the bees and the bees are pretty vital for us humans so we are glad not only to have smartened up the wharf but also to have done something for the bees. In the spring we expect the flowers to also be a colourful display!