With the Museum 4 Watton opening in Norfolk this month, I speak to project member Katy Hughes about what visitors can discover – and why Norfolk is so special.
Hi Kate, what’s your role at the Museum for Watton?
I am a project member and I run the social media and the children’s activities.
What are the reasons Watton needs a museum?
In the past, Watton has been described as a town on the edge. It’s a town that needs some love and some civic pride and the museum will help to provide that.
About five years ago, Roman remains were found when some new houses were being built. It made the initial trustees of the museum project realise the history in the town and locally. The project grew from there and we’re now in Wayland Hall, which is one of the oldest buildings in Watton.
The housing company was also persuaded to create a replica, which we have on display here in the museum.
What’s the oldest artifact on display at Museum 4 Watton?
We have 500,000 years worth of history in this area. We have a stone hand axe, which dates back that far and was found locally. It is really quite special. Then we have tapestries that were created for the Millennium celebrations.
Watton also had a RAF base, while there were American servicemen here during the Second World War. We have artifacts relating to them being here, but it’s not just a military museum. We have civilian items as well.
We have coins and we have court baron books, which I absolutely adore. They are the old court books, recording what happened in the town. Some of them date back to the 16-1700s. They’re being digitised and translated at the moment. Some of them are available so that visitors can see them in the cabinets and and then use the computers to leaf through the pages. As a result of these books, historians have moved the date of the Fire of Watton by two years. There’s real primary history coming from it.
What have you discovered while working on the Museum 4 Watton that has most surprised you?
If you take that small radius of three to four miles, you can make a connection for 500,000 years.
The hand axe proves that people were in Watton then. Then you had bison and mammoths after that, because tusks and teeth were found locally. And Iceni coins have been discovered here. There’s evidence of an Iceni queen dating 100 years before Boudicca. It means that when children are learning about Boudicca and her rebellion, there’s a connection here.
There’s a Roman fort on a big prehistoric earth works just a few miles away as well, so you know this was an important area, because they wouldn’t have built a fort here otherwise.
It’s that depth and breadth of history that’s not known about and not celebrated. Watton could quite easily not be on the map, but when you look at it, it deserves to be. It deserves more recognition than it has at the moment – we are right in that heart of Norfolk. We’re not difficult to get to from Kings Lynn or from Norwich and yet it’s a little town.
It’s that depth and breadth of history that’s not known about and not celebrated.
Hopefully the museum will change that and boost the number of visitors coming to see what it has. More importantly it will have lots of people like me, who haven’t lived here very long. It will be nice for those people to learn more about the town and how much history is here. When people have more of an idea where they come from, they’ll get more of an idea of where we want to be.
So, you’re not local? Where are you from?
No, I’m not from Norfolk! My father was in the military, so I don’t have a ‘from’. I’ve been in Norfolk since 2010.
What is it you love about Norfolk?
I love the fact that there are so many different things to do and different places to go. You’ve got the Brecks, you’ve got the coast and you’ve got countryside. You’ve got rural and urban environments. It’s all doable and get-to-able.
I love the fact that there are so many different things to do and different places to go
In terms of Watton, there is community. People do things. We have carnival, we have the museum opening, we have a town crier. It’s having that community spirit, which has been lost in big swathes of the country, that makes Norfolk different.
Will you have visiting collections at Museum 4 Watton?
We will indeed. Our first is from Ashill Archives Group. They’ve got a wonderful exhibition up in our central cabinet at the moment. When that goes, we’re going to be having an RAF 100 exhibition in that cabinet because this year is the 100th anniversary of the RAF.
We’re also going to run a series of talks once everything’s up and running.
We’re going to have a monthly children’s club on Saturdays too. The first one’s probably going to be at the beginning of April. We’re hoping to engage local children in Watton with the history that’s here.
What will that look like?
The first one they will be having a really good look around the collection and finding out about their favourite items. I’m sure they’ll find something that I’m not 100% certain about!
Then we’re going to give them access to handle exhibits. There are some wonderful things they can get their hands on and get close to. We’ve got an RAF uniform jacket they can try on, so we’ll be doing things like that for the first one.
As the months go by, we’ll focus on pre-history and then gradually move forward in time, getting a picture of the Cold War period and then, after that, we’ll look at different things. We’re going to try to do a broad sweep.
So children can expect to get hands-on?
Definitely. We’re going to be making some pots and designing some postcards, things like that. Activities will be centred around the times we’re looking at.
The aim is to try to get a little bit of hands on, a little bit of history and a bit of storytelling, so we can engage them in a way that’s inclusive.
The aim is to try to get a little bit of hands on
We’re initially looking at primary ages. But we need to make sure that the ones at the lower end are getting something out of it, while the older age bracket enjoy it too. I’ve got 12 sessions mapped out and more beyond that, which are in skeleton format.
We need to know what they like first. If they particularly like a certain way of doing things we can adapt the sessions and work towards that.
How many people work for Museum 4 Watton?
We’re all here on a volunteer basis, from our trustees down. There are five trustees and beyond that there are several volunteer project team members. Then we have a wonderful, ever-expanding team of volunteers.
They open and man the museum from Wednesday to Saturday, from 10am to 4pm, from February half-term to October half-term. After that, we’ll go down to Saturday mornings and one other day. We need to work out which day is going to be our most popular for the winter.
We’re hoping to stay open for local visitors over the winter. Often museums close when the tourists go home, but that’s quite often when you need some inside activity.
How can people support Museum 4 Watton?
It’s free entry, but donations are more than welcome. We are also looking for volunteers. And if people have things from Watton that they would like to consider for loan or donation, we are more than happy to consider it. Chris, our chairman is always happy to speak to someone if they’ve got something interesting that’s from Watton.
It’s a very exciting time.
Museum 4 Watton is open 10-4, Wednesday-Saturday.
Free entry. www.museumforwatton.org.uk