The Gulbenkian Prize is celebrating working people's history. Courtesy Big Pit.
A big cheer has gone up for working people’s heritage with the announcement of the finalists for the Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year 2005.
The four museums now contending for the £100,000 prize do not, however, tally with the results of the 24 Hour Museum readers’ poll, which found Hebridean Taigh Chearsabhagh at the top.
Instead, the judges picked Big Pit, National Mining Museum of Wales; Coventry Transport Museum; Time & Tide, Museum of Great Yarmouth Life; and Locomotion: The National Railway Museum at Shildon. The first two re-opened in 2004 after massive refurbishment, while Time & Tide was brand new and Locomotion took over from a far smaller museum.
“In telling the stories of working people up and down the land,” said Sir Richard Sykes, Chair of the Gulbenkian judges, “the Gulbenkian finalists have helped us understand our own histories.”
Children get into the spirit of times past at Locomotion. Courtesy Locomotion.
The judges made their decision after visiting the ten museums on the shortlist for the prize, which was dominated by institutions that focus on the history of ordinary people. Those who lived in back-to-back housing, worked on a damp coalface or at a historic wagon works were just some of the museums’ subjects.
“Museums that tell these stories well have created a new audience of museum-goers,” said Sir Richard, “and have turned the stereotype of an exclusive, quiet and intimidating experience on its head.”
Locomotion is a fine example of overturning expectations, housing more than 70 rail vehicles in an impressive new eco-building that has so far drawn well over three times the visitor numbers projected.
Locomotion's popularity speaks volumes about community consultation, partnerships with local authorities and the way the museum celebrates the railway town’s history; of which local people are so proud.
The new museum frontage and redevelopment has boosted visitor numbers. Courtesy Coventry Transport Museum.
“Few words can describe how delighted and proud everyone involved in the partnership venture truly is,” said George Muirhead, Locomotion Museum Manager.
“We would like to thank the public who have shown overwhelming support for us through comments submitted to the Gulbenkian website and we would urge them to continue to do so in the run up to the final decision.”
Another thing the finalists have in common is that they are all multi-million pound developments in areas of regeneration. Liz Forgan, Chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said she was “extremely pleased” that HLF support was instrumental in realising each project.
Both Time & Tide in Great Yarmouth and Coventry Transport Museum have given their environments a welcome pick-me-up. The former is situated in a former herring curing factory, within an area of deprivation.
Apparently, you can still smell the herrings at Time & Tide. Courtesy Time & Tide.
“Following the opening of Time & Tide we are re-setting the course for heritage in Great Yarmouth,” said Rachel Kirk, Area Museums Officer. “This announcement testifies to the credibility of Yarmouth’s heritage, the work that has been done to represent it and the hugely positive and enthusiastic manner in which it has been received – we couldn’t be happier.”
The museum, a product of ten years of community consultation, brings to life Yarmouth’s maritime heritage, its herring curing industry and recalls the lives of those who made that history. In doing so, it provides the dislocated and divided local community with a sense of place in history and a communal identity.
Coventry Transport Museum, equally, has an emphasis on social history and vehicles that were built in the city, once the home of the British motor industry. The fresh new museum frontage sits comfortably in the revived surroundings of Millennium Square and is drawing in the crowds with renewed vigour.
Coventry Transport Museum is looking to a bright future. Courtesy Coventry Transport Museum.
Richard Noble OBE, who broke the World Land Speed Record in 1984 in Thrust2, commented: “Both Thrust 2 and its successor Thrust SSC are wonderfully cared for and displayed by the museum. I have always believed it to be a jewel, representing Coventry’s transport and motor engineering heritage and now also the city’s regeneration. I will be rooting for it to win.”
Big Pit at the World Heritage Site in Blaenafon, Wales, goes one step further in telling the people’s history – the people to whom the museum is devoted are the capable guides. Ex-miners take visitors 300 feet down into a real coalmine, to experience the conditions for themselves.
"We are very excited at this excellent news,” said Peter Walker, Keeper and Manager of Big Pit. “Big Pit is representative of everybody involved in the coal industry in Wales and getting as far as the final of this important competition is a tribute to all those people.”
One of the special things about Big Pit is that ex-miners are guides. Courtesy Big Pit.
"The redevelopment of Big Pit ensured that our future as the National Mining Museum is secure. Reaching the final four in this competition has been a wonderful way for us to celebrate the success of 2004, and the excellent start to the 2005 season."
Alan Pugh, the Welsh Assembly Culture Minister, also had some words of encouragement: “Speaking as a coalminer's son, I am very proud of the hard work and dedication of all the staff at Big Pit and I offer them my warmest congratulations."
All seven judges will now visit the finalist museums and the winner of the prize will be announced during May, Museums and Galleries Month.
For more information on the Gulbenkian Prize, see the website