Boris Johnson's New Job - A River & Rowing Museum Tour Guide

By David Prudames | 02 March 2004
Shows a screen shot of a webpage from the Collections Acess Project. At the top of the image there is a graphic rendering of a stretch of the modern-day River Thames, with a bridge over it, a church beside it and some sailing boats on it. Below this there is a photograph of a hand holding a flint axe, above which is the caption: "Object 1: Flint Hand Axe".

Photo: part funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project aims to make the museum's entire collection of rare objects accessible to the public online. Courtesy River and Rowing Museum, Henley.

Conservative MP Boris Johnson and five-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave have become virtual tour guides at the River and Rowing Museum as part of a £320,000 project.

The Collections Access Project, launched last week by the Henley-on-Thames based museum, has involved the digitisation of around 13,000 objects and aims to educate and inspire visitors of all ages.

Accessible within the museum and online, the interactive project takes visitors through the history of Henley, the sport of rowing and the River Thames itself.

For the more adventurous there is a chance to explore the collection in the company of Britain’s greatest Olympian, Sir Steve Redgrave, or the MP for Henley-on-Thames, Boris Johnson.

Shows a photo of Boris Johnson, blonde and wearing a grey suit, touching the tip of a sword. He appears to be exclaiming ooh!

Photo: one of the Boris Johnson's favourite exhibits is this Bronze Age sword, which was found in the Thames near Henley. Courtesy River and Rowing Museum, Henley.

Michael Rowe, Collections Manager at the River and Rowing Museum told the 24 Hour Museum why the well-known editor of The Spectator and former host of tv quiz show Have I got News For You, got involved in the project.

"He is our local MP and he is always keen to do things in the constituency," said Michael. "But, clearly, he is someone who is able to get national recognition and we were very pleased that he was happy to do it."

Both Boris and Steve have picked out a range of artefacts that particularly appeal to them. While the former offers the benefit of his thoughts on Bronze Age metalwork, Brakspear's beer and Pither's sausages, Sir Steve has gone for a rowing coach's megaphone and one of the oars used by team-mate Matthew Pinsent when the pair won gold at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

However, the point, as Michael Rowe explained, is to try and harness the power of a familiar face and get people enthused by the museum’s collection.

"People are interested in people that they know and if we can use them as a trigger to get people’s attention then they will become interested in the objects," added Michael.

Shows a photograph of a section of a lion's jaw bone and a tooth from about 200,000 years ago.

Photo: a section of a lion's jaw bone and tooth, which is about 200,000 years old. It was excavated at Dix Pit in Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire and is loan at the museum from the ARC Mammoth Project. Courtesy River and Rowing Museum, Henley.

"People like to interact with other people and you certainly get a flavour of the different personalities involved."

From prehistoric axes to oars used in Olympic victories, the museum’s entire collection has been recorded, photographed and uploaded alongside detailed descriptions, dates and other significant data.

The idea behind the project, which has taken 18 months to complete, was to overcome the difficulty faced by all museums of maintaining a growing collection without having the space to display all of it.

"We are a relatively new museum but even so we have a high proportion of objects in store," said Michael. "It’s just a physical impossibility to get them all on display, so that was a major part of this project."

Shows a photograph of five-time Olympic gold medallist, Sir Steve Redgrave standing against a backdrop of a tree and bush holding a large, red loud hailer into which he is speaking.

Photo: one of the objects picked out by Sir Steve Redgrave was this Bullhorn, or megaphone, which is used by rowing coaches to shout out orders. Courtesy River and Rowing Museum, Henley.

As well as a virtual guide to artefacts, photographs and paintings, the technology also offers interactive timelines and games with the emphasis on education.

The project has been made possible by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and private benefactors, as well as the painstaking work of museum volunteers.

"For many years museums have been trying to find ways of displaying their entire collections in an interactive and thought provoking way," added the museum’s Chief Executive, Paul Mainds.

"Thanks to Heritage Lottery Funding, private benefactors and with the help of volunteers, the CAP development has enabled the museum to offer this wealth of information to a much wider audience – anyone with access to the Internet can visit us and learn from the unique objects within our collection."

Click on this link to take a look at the online version of the project for yourself.

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