Monthly Archives: May 2010

All Stitched Up at the Hunterian Museum – a Museums at Night event review

Writer Mel Jones wrote this enthusiastic review of a Museums at Night event, and kindly agreed to let me publish it here.

A photo of a couple knitting in a room with skeletons

Stitch and Bitch in the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons

As a newcomer to London, there is such a vast array of things to see and do in the city that sometimes it’s hard to know where to start! For Museums at Night, I headed to the Hunterian Museum’s “All Stitched Up!” event, combining the talents London’s Stitch’n’Bitch craft group with surgical training.

The Hunterian Museum holds the collection of 18th century surgeon and anatomist John Hunt. Made up of over 3,500 specimens, with items ranging from a tumour-riddled bladder to an unborn dog, this museum is probably not one for the squeamish.

With five free half-hour workshops on offer, this evening couldn’t get much better. I enjoyed the contrast of visitors chatting together and learning new knitting, weaving and spinning techniques, set against the creepy background of yellowing, centuries-old flesh in jars.

The suturing workshops, overseen by real-life surgeons from the Royal College of Surgeons, were so popular that by 7 pm all sessions were booked up until 9.15, and there were overflow queues forming at the beginning of each round: the idea of stitching up a fake arm filled with red taffeta was irresistible.

A photo of a woman carefully suturing a wound in a fake arm

Learning surgical skills by practicing sutures on a fake arm

My friend and I waited impatiently with beer in hand and looked at the various surgical instruments in drawers next to the suturing room. To have had a leg amputated or a bladder stone crushed in the old days must have involved incomprehensible pain, by the look of some of the instruments on show.

Led by a slightly frazzled but very patient surgeon, our small group of 4 learnt about the different types of needles used for various stitching, the different widths of thread, and finally we got the chance to stitch up a minor scratch on a false limb. I managed three untidy stitches with immense pride. However, it took me almost 5 minutes to achieve this small feat, and I reasoned that my patient would probably be dead by the time I finished. Still, I managed more than my frustrated friend who damaged the patient’s limb with her scissors!

This interesting Museums at Night experience has ignited an obscure fascination with medical museums in me – I wish I could do this every weekend.

A photo of a woman in a stripy top

Mel Jones

Mel Jones is a writer lured by the bright lights of London. She works for a national charity by day, and explores the city in her spare time.


Thanks, Mel, for sharing your impressions!

What would you like to see on the Museums at Night blog in future?

Thanks to all our readers, commenters, lurkers, and everyone who’s contributed guest posts to the Museums at Night blog so far! Lots of people have said how much they value this blog as a forum for sharing good ideas, and it would be a shame to let the momentum die off over the next few months until we begin planning Museums at Night next year (which will take place from Friday 13th May – Sunday 15th May 2011).

A photo of people silhouetted against a cloudy sky

Museums at Night visitors watching hovercrafts at sea

So, what I’m thinking is that I’ll go back to posting here once or twice a week over the summer, until we begin the run-up to Museums at Night 2011.

We’re still collating feedback from everyone who planned a Museums at Night event this year (through our Venue Survey here), and as many people as possible who attended a Museums at Night event (through our Visitor Survey here) – and there are a lot of useful points being made!

What would you like to see featured here in future? Do you have any ideas you’d like to talk about, top tips or rueful recommendations based on your experiences of planning events at your venue? I’ll continue to look for guest posts about any aspect of promoting museums, galleries, libraries, archives and heritage sites: please get in touch if you have an idea you’d like to write about, or if there’s something you’d like me to discuss in more detail.

Please leave a comment, or email me on!

Guest post: A cautionary tale from Anita Spencer of Bakewell Old House Museum

The latest in our series of guest posts comes from Anita Spencer, who explains why Bakewell Old House Museum have had to postpone their planned Museums at Night event.

A photo of young people singing inside a historic building

Singers performing in Bakewell Old House Museum (photo courtesy Clare Mosley)

Scene: a gloomy February day.

Cut to the beautiful, atmospheric but chilly Bakewell Old House Museum.

Zoom in on one slightly stressed manager, in the final throes of a Heritage Lottery funded project, surrounded by plasterers, electricians, telephones ringing, volunteer rota etc.

I was desperately thinking of a theme for 2010 Museum at Night. We’ve used poetry, storytelling and choirs before, but I now needed something relaxing, cheerful and heart / belly warming.

The award winning local microbrewery, Thornbridge, sponsors our museum leaflets this year. What goes with beer? Skittles, announced volunteer Jane Martin – and cheese, of course! Beer and Skittles, Cheese and Pickles: perfect – and along the way we managed to link in folk music as well!

A photo of a museum full of smiling visitors

Offering beer draws visitors into the museum (picture courtesy Clare Mosley)

Scene: late April, weather still chilly. Event posters are all around the market town of Bakewell, our website has been updated, the event registered on Culture24, and tickets are selling fast.

I made a point of collecting the ticket buyers’ details (name, phone number etc), in case I needed to cancel (not likely – I’ve worked too hard for this!)

Then, suddenly a niggling doubt arises – TEN license (Temporary Event Notice, costs £21 for a one off event). I have applied, in fact I posted it last week, just before the Bank Holiday. Because we’re selling scrummy, fruity beer and performing live music I need a licence from my local district council.  The forms and other info are also available on the DCMS Website –

Scene: a gloomy Friday afternoon in May. My TEN application was delayed in the Bank Holiday post and firmly rejected. A cautionary tale. You need to have your application in 10 working days before your event. I also needed to send a copy to Derbyshire Constabulary Divisional Licensing Manager.

Licensable activities include:

indoor or outdoor events

performance of a play or dance

an exhibition or film

performance of live music

playing of recorded music

sporting events

plus the retail sale of alcohol!

Not to be beaten, our event Folk, Beer and Skittles – Cheese and Pickles is now taking place on the 29th May. We’ve missed Museums at Night this time, but we’re still going ahead – thank goodness I’d taken everyone’s contact details and was able to update all the ticket buyers!

A photo of a woman standing outside a stone building

Anita Spencer

Anita is the madly enthusiastic manager of the beautiful and atmospheric Tudor Old House Museum in Bakewell, Derbyshire. She is very grateful to have over 100 talented volunteers of all ages, including wonderful Clare, their new “techie”.


Thanks for sharing that, Anita – we wish you and your team all the best for your rescheduled event.

Does anyone else have any cautionary tales or words of warning about planning or promoting events in museums, galleries or heritage sites? Please send me an email on – I’m keen to feature more guest blog posts about lessons learned from Museums at Night!

Looking back at Museums at Night 2010 – where do we go from here?

Museums at Night 2010 has been a wild ride: in the end we had around 360 events taking place all over the country, which took an enormous amount of organisation. We’d really like to thank all the staff and volunteers at each venue, who went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that every visitor had an amazing experience!

An illustrated hand written thank you letter from a child

A thank you letter to the Royal Armouries Museum, Fort Nelson

Did you put on an event? Please let us know what went well, and what we could do to support you better next time, by filling in our venue survey.

Did you go to an event? Please let us know what you thought, and any suggestions for improvement next year, by filling in our visitor survey.

There was excellent media coverage across the sector, from radio, primetime TV (the One Show reported live from the Churchill War Rooms sleepover), and Clifton Suspension Bridge had a visit from a BBC Breakfast News TV crew – watch carefully and you might even see the ghost of Brunel!

There have been numerous blog posts shared about Museums at Night events: the Scottish Poetry Library tripped the moonlight fantastic, Caroline went to the Government Art Collection’s event, “BangsandaBun” explored Harewood House, and competition winner Helen was one of the 6 lucky literature lovers who got to visit the Faber Archive.

Ther Culture24 team also crossed the country to capture the excitement: here are our experiences at the Tank Museum, Dorchester Museums, Wollaton Hall, Colman’s Mustard Shop in Norwich, Petersfield Museum & the Flora Twort Gallery, Worthing Museum & Art Gallery and Tate Modern.

Watch the fun at Avoncroft Museum:

We’d like to thank MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, for funding Museums at Night this year, and to everyone else who supported us – BBC History Magazine for producing the beautiful Guide, the BBC and British Museum for offering venues the Relic trails, VisitEngland for helping us publicise the campaign, the Florence Nightingale Museum for hosting our launch, and Ruth Cobb and Pandora George who worked so hard to get the word out about Museums at Night!

Thanks to everyone who read the blog and the email newsletters, and who responded to our questions and calls for help. Thanks to the hundreds of Facebook fans and thousands of Twitter followers who tweeted, retweeted, shared their stories, asked questions, offered advice and helped us make this the most successful year of Museums at Night ever!

It’s been an amazing journey, and I can’t wait to do it again next year.

This blog will continue – there are lots of offers of guest posts coming in, and we’re keen to keep sharing best practice in event planning and marketing, so we can all learn from each other. But that’s a story for another day: I’m taking a long weekend off and will be back next week!

Tonight’s the last night of Museums at Night 2010 – where will you go?

It’s great to hear on Twitter and Facebook how many people have had a great time at museums, galleries and heritage sites all over the country, and to see photos of the diversity of Museums at Night events!

Don’t forget that there are still many late openings tonight – so why not make the most of the weekend and check out somewhere different?

From a fortress in Eastbourne to pies and peas in Rotherham, we’ve written about some of tonight’s highlights here, and you can see all of tonight’s events here. Where will you go?

Museums at Night – how was the first night for you?

Yesterday kicked off with great excitement as we dispatched our writers off around the country, were featured on the One Show, and our chairman, the lovely John Newbigin, talked about Museums at Night with Claudia Winkleman on Radio 2 for a good 15 minutes! You can listen to them again for a week here: John’s bit starts about 1 hour and 5 minutes in to the programme.

I left the office and wandered in to the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, where they were offering free entry to the “Sickert to Gertler” exhibition of 20th century art, and lots of people were mingling, chatting and appreciating the gorgeous paintings and drawings.

Then I caught up with friends in Jubilee Square where Kanoti (who ran our Museums at Night animation competition) had organised an hour of animated short films to be projected on to the side of a building. Crowds of people gathered, many sitting down, applauding every film – much to the bafflement of people living in the building, who peered out through their curtains and were surprised by the cheering audience!

It’s been great reading people’s immediate reactions on Twitter (I’m retweeting comments and previews as @Culture24) and learning what a great time everybody had – especially people who enjoyed one thing last night and are setting out again tonight! The Faber Archive tour in particular sounds like a wonderful success – ticket winner Helen Cox has already written about the experience on her blog!

BBC Wales sent a reporter along to Gwynedd Museum & Art Gallery, who really captures what makes a torchlight tour so special.

We’re also getting the first reports back from our journalists, including this beautiful photo Patrick Dandy took of the illuminated exterior of Wollaton Hall in Nottingham.

A photo of the outside of a large historic house lit up at night

Wollaton Hall stayed open late for Museums at Night

What next? Well, I’ve just been interviewed by Ken Livingstone on LBC Radio about Museums at Night events in London, trying to mention as many venues as possible – being live on the radio is a real adrenalin rush, but I think I’m getting better at staying calm.

Keep watching the Culture24 site ( where we’ll be sharing reports as they come in. If you’re having fun at a Museums at Night event, do tweet about it using the hashtag #MuseumsatNight. And if you capture exciting photos of a Museums at Night event, please share them in our Flickr group – we’ll be showcasing the best images on our site!

Have a fantastic weekend, whichever events you go to!

Culture24 writers on the road for Museums at Night 2010!

They’re coming soon to a museum near you – and they respond well to cake. Say hello to our talented team of reporters if you spot them!

The Culture24 staff are not only talented, they're also extremely good-looking

Who’s going where?

Our Learners and Teachers Editor Rachel will be checking out the Tank Museum tonight, and the 6 museums all opening late in Dorchester tomorrow night.

Larna is going across to Worthing Museum & Art Gallery tonight to take part in their Life Drawing class.

Office guitarist Mark Slawinski is heading to Petersfield Museum for a night of music.

Kirstie Brewer and Mark Sheerin will be reporting from Tate Modern’s 10th anniversary.

Ivan Stoyanov will be catching up on the excitement in Norwich.

Patrick Dandy is taking a sunset tour of historic Wollaton Hall in Nottingham.

Ruth will be filming trips across the Solent from the Hovercraft Museum.

Culture24 are based in Brighton, so I’m hoping to catch Kanoti’s Bamboozled animations in Jubilee Square tonight!

Wherever you go, have a fabulous time: do tweet about your experiences using the hashtag #MuseumsatNight, let us know how it went through the Facebook page, and if you snap any photos of the fun you’re having, please share them in the Flickr group!

P.S. Wondering what all the Museums at Night excitement is about? Here’s a quick recap!

Guest post: Chris Bennion introduces the Parlour Collective’s site-specific performance at the Ragged School Museum

The latest in our series of guest posts comes from Chris Bennion, Museum Learning Officer at London’s Ragged School Museum.

A black and white photo of somebody writing at a desk with a quill pen

Writing with a Victorian style quill pen at an old school desk

One artist can’t contain her excitement over the cracked concrete floor, another bagsies the derelict basement and one chap wonders if it’d be alright to drip wax all over our lunch room floor.

But then I suppose this is what happens when you let a bunch of performance artists take over your museum.

Here the floorboards creak of their own accord, wind whistles through cracks in the windows, shadows lurk and loom menacingly – it’s no wonder then that the only people brave enough to set foot in the Ragged School Museum at night so far have been intrepid ghost hunters. However, thanks to a daring group of young performance artists, this is all about to change.

A photo of a man playing an accordion

A member of the Parlour Collective sets the scene with accordion music

The artists of the Parlour Collective are as eclectic as they are international. Hailing from all four corners of the globe, they promise ‘an evening of contemporary performance and cabaret exploring the theme of Victorian schooling and the mystique and romance it conjures in the eyes of a 21st century audience.’ What more can I tell you? Apart from that, they’ve been very secretive…

The exciting (and difficult) thing for us was letting go and allowing the artists complete control. We’ve opened up the whole building, even parts never seen by the public before, and allowed them uninhibited access. The building is theirs. Their stage, their canvas, their inspiration, their playground.

An ominous photograph of the exterior of the Ragged School Museum

The atmospheric Ragged School Museum

For one night only, the Ragged School Museum will be transformed into a mysterious world of performance, music and dance. Be brave, have a swig of rum to calm your nerves, and expect the unexpected.

A photo of a man wearing a cardboard moustache

Chris Bennion

Chris Bennion is the Museum Learning Officer at the Ragged School Museum. You can follow the museum on Twitter (@RaggedSchool) or Facebook, and see their pictures on Flickr here.

Museums at Night on the radio!

A quick behind-the-scenes update: we’ve been lucky enough to be able to talk about Museums at Night events across the airwaves!

I was surprised and delighted to be interviewed by Radio Belgrade last week, as part of a feature about Nuit des Musees events around Europe.

Yesterday our director Jane, along with representatives from the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms and the Hovercraft Museum in Lee-on-Solent, were featured on Radio 4’s consumer programme You and Yours – you can listen to it again here.

In the afternoon, Jane also chatted with Simon Mayo on Radio 2, which you can listen to again here, and Andrew Collins (who came to our campaign launch) also gave us a plug on his 6Music show.

This morning, Elvie Thompson from Fishbourne Roman Palace spoke about their Ancient Myths and Mosaics event as part of a quiz on BBC Radio Sussex, and we got a mention on the Lauren Laverne show on 6Music!

Tomorrow morning at the shockingly early hour of 6:45 AM you’ll hear me talking about Museums at Night events in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire on Three Counties Radio. At 11:30 AM I’ll be on BBC Radio Lincolnshire, and at 11:50 AM on BBC Radio Sheffield.

Tomorrow evening, the lovely John Newbigin (chair of Culture24’s board of Trustees) will be talking about Museums at Night on the Claudia Winkleman show on Radio 2.

We also had a mad scramble to find a French speaker from a participating venue who’d be able to discuss their event on a French radio station. Thanks very much to everybody who called up, made suggestions, and tweeted our call for help: we were able to find a French speaker from National Museums Liverpool!

Has anyone else had radio coverage? Let us know!

Guest post: Simon Clabby shares the spooky atmosphere of the Mary Rose at night

Hello, my name is Simon, and I enjoy scaring people.

A photo of a man in Tudor costume holding a lantern

Illuminating the Mary Rose

Admittedly, in a museum like ours, that’s not hard. Walking through the Mary Rose museum, surrounded by the belongings of men who died over 450 years ago, in a wooden building dating back to the 1870s, with some of its exposed beams salvaged from old sailing ships … especially with the low lighting we have to use to protect the artefacts, it’s easy for your mind to play tricks on you. And that’s just with the lights on!

Our Museums at Night Torchlight Trail, which takes place tomorrow (Friday 14th May) builds on the success of Tours by Torchlight, which we held in October last year. Through the use of the artefacts on display, plus a few “Tudor sailors” dotted around, we were able to bring the museum to life in a way that very few members of the public have experienced previously.

However, it would have been impossible to hold this event without our excellent team of staff and volunteers, all of whom throw themselves into their roles with great aplomb! I was very proud of all them last year, and I’m certain that they’ll be just as brilliant this year.

A photo of two women in Tudor costume

Tudor women examine artefacts from the Mary Rose

Of course, we have one obstacle that many of the other venues don’t have; the Mary Rose museum is inside Portsmouth Naval Base, an area usually restricted outside museum opening hours. Usually you need to fill out several forms and undergo a security check before they let you in once the Historic Dockyard is closed, but luckily they’re prepared to make an exception for our guests!

Apart from putting the willies up the people of Portsmouth and Hampshire, our main purpose in running this event is fundraising. The Mary Rose 500 Appeal is our way of raising money to re-house the Mary Rose and her contents, which are currently distributed through three separate building  spread over a site 500 metres long. In doing so, not only will the ship and her contents be reunited, but it will also stand as a memorial to those brave men who lost their lives defending this country in 1545.

A photo of a man in Tudor costume

Simon Clabby

Simon Clabby has far too many jobs at the Mary Rose to list here, but amongst them is social media coordinator for the 500 Appeal, maintaining their presence on Twitter (@maryrose500) and Facebook ( and updating their Flickr account. He can be contacted at