Last week I was invited to present a series of awards to some of the outstanding volunteers at the Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre to coincide with national volunteers’ week.
As I walked towards the stationary steam engines I came across Dave Ballantyne and a row of gentlemen seated in their boiler suits enjoying their picnic lunches in the sun. Over our heads the beautiful sound of the Goodwood spitfire’s Merlin engine reverberated in the lee of the downs. As I looked up, Dave said: “We often see that here.”
As you walk around the museum you often hear the enthusiastic voices of volunteers before discovering them at their work. The museum is beautifully kept, constantly improving and changing thanks to this dedicated group of people. One of the latest projects is the restoration of the West Sussex County Council steam road roller and the museum is seeking to raise £2000 to finish the job.
The awards were being given in recognition of outstanding dedication and commitment. I met up with the volunteers at the Fairmile Cafe. The director of the museum, Leanne Clements, paid tribute to the diversity of volunteers and thanked them for all that they do.
One of the volunteers receiving an award was Peter Edgeler who, together with his fellow members of the photo group, is creating an important visual archive of the museum’s life and history. Recording history is important to our understanding of not only the past but our present and future too.
Another of the award winners was Tony Turley. He was keen to show me the tools and trades history society displays.
I asked Tony how his fascination with tools began. He replied: “Twenty years ago I returned home with a box of tools I bought at auction. Cleaning and restoring them gave me a real sense of satisfaction and my interest began.”
Tony’s knowledge and enthusiasm for tools is infectious. I am fascinated by how often collecting objects leads to a rich path of learning and understanding.
The tools at Amberley Museum are displayed in and behind a series of glazed, bow front windows, each representing a different trade. These include carpentry, leatherworking, and agricultural tools. Tony explained: “The Worshipful Company of Carpenters gave us a grant and we designed and constructed the building ourselves. When I was visiting London I saw these bow windows which had been made by their students to be marked. I asked if I could have them rather than break them up and they had five delivered to Amberley with the doors. By constructing a corridor of shop fronts it has allowed us to have the tools on display even when it’s not manned.”
The Worshipful Company of Carpenters and the Tools and Trades Association has blessed the museum which now has an additional display space and a workshop.
Tony reflects that he commonly hears visitors saying ‘I used to have one of these’ prompting family stories and memories.
I can empathise. Objects are vital to our understanding of history as individuals and as a nation and Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre brings our social, economic and industrial history to life in a unique and exciting way.
Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre welcomes volunteers of all ages and if you would like to join in go to www.amberleymuseum.co.uk/volunteering or telephone Catherine Hawkins on 01798 831370.
Rupert Toovey is a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington - www.tooveys.com - and a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Chichester.