Starting in summer 2013 and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, we’ve been helping the local community explore Gawthorpe Hall, through oral history, photography and the creative arts, in a project called Portraits of the Past. We wanted to capture what the Hall means to the community that surrounds it. Focussing on the heritage of this magnificent 17th century house in Padiham, Lancashire, we looked to encourage local people to engage with its magnificent collections and learn about the fascinating stories of the people who would have lived, worked and used the Hall and its grounds.
To achieve this we’ve organised a series of events and activities and the most recent was on the 4th April, when a group of people interested in exploring their family history joined us for a day. It started with exploring Gawthorpe Hall and the history of the Shuttleworths and then they researched their own ancestry and finally explored the mysteries of creativity!
We started the day at Gawthorpe Hall where Rachael Pollitt de Duran, the Museum Manager, gave us a guided tour along with lots of information about the family that had lived there, the Kay-Shuttleworths.
Some members of the group had not been inside Gawthorpe Hall before and found the building and its history fascinating. In the Long Gallery it was hard work for everyone to obey the instruction not to touch the amazing wallpaper, thank goodness there’s a small sample to touch!
Once the tour was completed we headed down to the kitchen where the Lancashire County Council Community Heritage Team gave a presentation on how to begin tracing your own ancestors, using the Shuttleworth family as an example. Lots more was discovered about the family during the presentation, not least some of the more interesting first names. The group was particularly taken with Ughtred!
The team guided the group through the various online sources available for research as well as providing useful tips for getting the most out of searches. Everyone was very pleased to learn that the websites Ancestry and Find My Past are available to use for free through Lancashire Libraries, where you can book up to two hours computer time a day. You can find out more about the online resources available from the county here. As Fiona from the team said, “they’ve paid so you don’t have to”.
Next everyone headed over to Padiham Town Hall, which also contains Padiham Library. We stopped for lunch, although in fact, the discussions about Gawthorpe Hall and family history continued throughout. After everyone was refreshed the group split into two.
Group One worked with the Community Heritage Team in the library’s computer suite getting to grips with researching via online resources. Group Two worked with artist Cath Ford to discover creative ways to display their family trees, photographs and mementos. Although many of the group were not experienced computer users, the thought of doing ‘art’ seemed much more frightening that using the computers! That didn’t last long though. Cath is very experienced at working with people who think they can’t be creative. It didn’t take her long to get them all experimenting with frames, craft paper, old magazines and other materials to create backdrops for some of the family history artifacts they had collected. Marriage certificates, discharge papers, medals, stamps, maps, adverts and of course photographs were added to flat and box frames to create very thoughtful and personal pieces of art. With the added bonus of being able to put on display some of these wonderful mementos. Nobody finished completely, mainly because they were leaving space for items they had at home, but they left with their frames and a bucket load of materials and ideas.
Halfway through the afternoon Group One and Two swapped over and the feedback was that each had enjoyed both activities. Cath and the Community Heritage Team made a good number of creative and computer converts!
The final event of the Portraits of the Past project will take place at Gawthorpe Hall on April 26th between 1-4pm. Find out more on our website, but to whet your appetite…
Take a walk through the grounds with storyteller Steve Fairclough; discover the joys of letterpress printing with Print for Love of Wood; explore the strange delights of The Palace of Curiosities and meet Betsy the Victorian scullery maid!