Animating the archives
Working creatively with communities in Cambridgeshire to explore the extraordinary collection of objects and stories displayed in the Addenbrooke’s Museum
Addenbrooke’s was established thanks to a gift of £4,676 Dr John Addenbrooke left in his Will to “hire and fit up, purchase or erect a small, physical hospital in the town of Cambridge for poor people’. Originally housing just 20 beds when it opened in 1766, today’s hospital has over 1,000.
As part of their 250th birthday celebrations, the hospital has now opened a new museum. In the main corridor of the hospital, it houses a collection of just some of the extraordinary objects and stories stored in the archive.
I have been the Archivist at Addenbrooke’s for nearly 13 years and care for a vast amount of paper material, artefacts and instruments relating to the history and running of Addenbrooke’s Hospital and its other associated organisations. I have wanted to be able to get the material in a public area for several years and the creation of this new museum, coinciding with the 250th anniversary of the hospital, has allowed this to happen. Working with CCI will give me the opportunity to bring to light some of these objects and stories that have been ‘hidden’ for so long and to use them with the help of CCI, to illustrate the past of the hospital. I am also looking forward to seeing how each project might bring new material to add to the museum.
Hilary Ritchie, Hospital Archivist
CCI visual artist theatre-maker Sally Todd is working with people of all ages during 2016/17 to animate the museum, inviting different groups to play creatively with ideas and provocations inspired by the collection. Our initial workshops with the children of St Philips Primary School in 2016 (see below) proved invaluable research for her:
I’ve been gaining more insight into the museum archive and beginning to appreciate how many hidden stories of distinct voices and lives there are within the collection. I’ve been particularly struck by how the patients case notes from the 1890’s powerfully evoke an individual and place in time; how nursing has evolved as a profession and through the horrors of war; and the emerging theme of art and healing in the convalescing soldiers’ WW1 sketch book – a document so full of humour and pathos.
I’m looking forward to working more closely with these stories that conjure lives lived in Cambridgeshire long ago.
Other groups involved include two supported by the Carers Trust Cambridgeshire – young carers in the county and people living with dementia and their carers – and a class of children from Queen Edith’s Primary School. Each project has a different creative focus – poetry, story-making and sculpture - and Sally is joined by poet Jane Monson, fellow theatre-maker Steve Tiplady and sculptor Jenny Goater to support these.
I will remember how thirsty the children are for more art. I always try to get it in to lessons but this project brought back to me the need to keep things creative, the different ways that can hook the children in and engage them. I really noticed that for all of them.
It was really important that they had the chance to come to the hospital. I could see how they kept reaching back and bringing knowledge from their first trip to the museum at the hospital into everything they did with you afterwards. I learned a lot about the history of Addenbroooke’s too.
Tasha Bowen, Queen Edith’s Primary School
Posts below share a flavour of these projects. Two exhibitions of work created during these workshops are being curated for the hospital - the first is now installed and details are here. Importantly archivist Hilary Ritchie will also select some elements to be preserved as permanent contributions to the archive.