From Muck and Muddle to Museum
The Flintham Museum, Nottinghamshire, looks at rural life through the eyes of a village shopkeeper. Shopping before supermarkets is a fascinating subject in its own right. But, the story of how a chance conversation developed into a community project which led to the opening of the museum is equally interesting.
The village shop at Flintham, Nottinghamshire, closed in 1982, ending about 150 years of retailing on the same site. The last shopkeeper, Muriel White, continued to live on the premises, but lived out of sight behind the closed shop. She was 75 when she retired, single, with poor vision and growing mobility problems. Trevor and Sue Clayton, who lived in the village, began to keep a neighbourly eye on her. By 1989, Muriel had been registered as a blind person and Sue was popping in and out every day to make sure that she was alright.
Just before Christmas 1989, Muriel was rushed to hospital. The Claytons followed with her nightclothes and found Muriel unconscious, already tucked up in a hospital bed. Convinced that this would be the last time she saw Muriel, Sue passed on the latest village news. The Borough Council had awarded a grant of £50 so that photographs of the village could be taken to record local life at the start of a new decade. Little did Sue know that her off-the-cuff chat would be the start of a project which in 2006 is still unfolding and developing. However, back to 1989 and the hospital ward.
Christmas day came and went, as did Boxing day. The Claytons went to see Muriel on 27 December and found her sitting up in bed. "Now look here", she said in the direct way she had, "if I don't come home, no-one will know that my father was a keen photographer". Muriel may have been unconscious when first admitted to hospital, but she had understood what Sue had told her about photographing the village. Trevor, a professional photographer, was interested in Muriel's father, Fred White, and the type of photographs he had taken. Within minutes it became clear that somewhere, in outbuildings behind the closed shop, Fred's glass plate negatives were stored. Within a few more minutes Muriel had an incentive to get better and come back to Flintham so that Trevor could look at the negatives and describe their contents.
Opening a door
So, in January 1990, Sue and her friend, Penny Gallon, began the search for the glass plate negatives in one of the outbuildings behind the closed shop. They opened a door which had not been opened for some forty years. Ahead of them was a rickety wooden ladder which they climbed. They stepped from the ladder on to an uneven surface and almost immediately dust began to swirl. The only light was through a small, dirty pane of glass so the dust made the dimly lit room seem even darker. The friends tentatively moved further into the tiny room and as they did so, they began to hear and feel things breaking beneath their feet. Perhaps they were the very negatives they had come to find. They stopped and began opening box lids within their reach.
Their first comments were, 'why are there documents about the village school dating back to the 1890s sitting in boxes in this outbuilding?' More boxes were opened to reveal details about the Home Guard in the Second World War, agendas for Rural District Council meetings at Bingham and magazines from the 1930s about bee keeping. It was clear that locating any glass plate negatives was not going to be straight forward. By now, both women were dirty and beginning to sneeze so they abandoned their search, climbed down the wooden ladder and reported their findings to Muriel.
To find out how the search progressed, please come back later.