The Tyburn Tree

‘The fact is that the past is everywhere; when we are in public, our senses are constantly responding to stimuli that are gorged with history, whether we are aware of it or not’.[1]

In the Heritage sector, we often talk about places[2] as being receptacles for past emotions, where previous actions and experiences are described as having seeped into their very stonework and woodwork. We describe heritage sites as ‘holding’ or ‘containing’ a ‘spirit of place’ and how these places hold echoes of emotions such as fear, love, power, greed, pain and other emotions. Is this just a narrative hook we use to engage and draw in audiences to connect with the narratives of our sites or is there something more in terms of seeing emotional heritage as akin to other types of intangible heritage? In UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage, intangible heritage is defined as the ‘…means, practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated in addition to that – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage’.[3] Taking this definition as a starting point, I would like to propose that along with other forms of intangible heritage such as music, food and performance culture we can also describe emotional heritage as being a type of ‘expression’ or ‘practice’ and therefore a form of intangible heritage. And if this is true, how does the emotional heritage in our contemporary landscape affect us today, consciously or subconsciously as we journey through the streets, buildings, pathways where we live? How do we learn from the places around us in a world that’s ever-changing and connect with their emotional history? And how do we employ this knowledge and experience to find our place in society, build empathy, create a connection between the past and present and make heritage relevant to us today?

The thrill of the past

In this article, I will use as a case study, a site that has a strong emotional history connected to it, the former site of public execution at Tyburn. The site is located in modern-day Marble Arch, in central London on the corner of Oxford Street and Edgeware Road. I will explore Tyburn as a site of emotional heritage and, through its position as an ancient spring, crossroads and later a place where criminals were hanged on the infamous ‘Tyburn Tree’. I am interested in Tyburn as it is a site where people felt and experienced intense and extreme emotions. Does anything of the pain, suffering, torment and fear of the history of the site remain today?  I will go on to discuss this idea and also present my new research findings on how the nuns of the Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre at the nearby Tyburn convent continue to pray for the souls of the martyrs executed for their faith on the gallows. I will discuss how how, although no physical evidence of the gallows remain, the emotional heritage of the site is still encountered and experienced daily by the nuns and the religious community at the convent and what this can tell us about how examples of historic emotional experience live on and are re-enacted and re-encountered in the present.

I am approaching this subject matter through my research as a PhD Candidate in the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University London. The title of my thesis is ‘The thrill of the past: encounters with historical narratives of emotional experience at heritage sites from 1895 to the present’?’ The etymology of the word ‘thrill’ comes from Middle English meaning to ‘pierce or penetrate’ and is later used as a metaphor to describe someone as being ‘pierced with emotion’.[4] It is this idea that I’m interested in, the affective nature of places and how their historical narratives can shape our emotions and penetrate or pierce our consciousness.

My background is as a museum and heritage educator, and I have over 15 years’ experience of working in museums and heritage sites. I am fascinated by the idea of how we access, present, interpret and elicit responses to emotional history in the museums and heritage sector. My thesis critically explores how throughout the 20th-century people have visited heritage sites such as stately homes, castles, battlefields, memorials and recounted having emotional experiences there. There are many reports of people seeing and sensing ghostly apparitions, getting shivers down the back of their neck, experiencing a feeling of sadness or despair when in a particular place, in essence, experiencing a long-lost emotional expression or echo from the past, now in the present. I will uncover, pick apart and put in a broader context how people have expressed and represented this idea of having a ‘thrilling’ encounter at a heritage site throughout the 20th century. For now, I will use the former site of the gallows and place of execution at Tyburn as a case study to illustrate some of the themes and theories around experiencing emotional heritage.

A Spirit of Place

In classical Roman religion, a ‘genius locus’ was the protective spirit of a place. It was often depicted in religious iconography as a figure holding attributes such as a cornucopia, patera bowl or a snake. These protective spirits would inhabit certain natural places such as streams, mounds, woods, mountains and natural crossroads. This idea of a mystical ‘spirit’ residing in a site can be seen to be translated in contemporary heritage practice in the way the United Kingdom’s heritage organisation; the National Trust communicates the stories and narratives of its heritage sites. For example, the National Trust has recently published internal documents which detail a ‘spirit of place’ descriptor for each of their sites, describing the unique, special aura of each house, garden, stately home and park they manage.[5] This contemporary way of describing a place having an ‘aura’ or ‘feeling’ attached to it, draws on this historical idea of places being haunted or possessed by a spirit or emotional energy. To take this idea further, we can see how in the 20th century, the psychogeographic paradigm (how different places and spaces make us feel and behave) explains and propagates the idea of how we, as individuals can tap into the ‘spirit of a place’ and a sites ‘emotional history’. In Michel De Certeau’s ‘The Practice of Everyday Life’ and his chapter ‘Walking the City’ he moves the idea of a ‘genius locus’ inhabiting a place to the urban environment, saying, ‘there is no place that is not haunted by many different spirits hidden there in silence, spirits one can “invoke” or not. Haunted places are the only onespeople can live in’.[6] De Certeau is drawing on the theories and ideas of the psychogeographic movement here and the work of Guy Debord, the person credited with founding the movement in Paris in the 1950s. In his 1955 essay ‘Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography’ Debord describes psychogeography as ‘the study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.’[7] Psychogeography builds on the idea that some places have a particular ‘spirit’ or ‘effect’ on us as we journey about our everyday lives and that we can experience this if we walk, observe and connect with our environment on a deeper level. Because one of the geographical focus’ for my thesis in London, I have been looking at some of the progenitors of psychogeographic writing centred on London such as the ‘London Luminaries and Cockney Visionaries’, Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and William Blake amongst others who advocated this deep dive into the spiritual heart of the city.[8] Later in the 1980s and ’90s, psychogeography experienced a renaissance, and contemporary writers such as Ian Sinclair, Will Self, Rachel Lichtenstein and Janet Cardiff echoed the writings of these ‘cockney visionaries’ in their work through their interest in the liminal parts of the city and their own visceral and sentimental connections with particular places.

Real or imagined emotions

Humans have a flair for attributing intentions, traits, agency, emotions and mental states to beings or things, either real or imagined. As a result, in my research, I am also looking at the history of the worship and mystical status of emotionally infused objects such as relics. I will discuss this later on in the article with particular reference to the relics on display at the Tyburn Convent. In his work on the history of the emotions, Rob Boddice poses the question, ‘can an object, in and of itself, carry an emotional weight? Or does the apparent emotion emanating from an object have to have been put there by the viewer who then receives the reflection of that emotion, as if it had come from the object itself?’.[9] I want to explore this question by asking how we can learn about the emotional heritage of a place like Tyburn, where very little physical evidence remains, and what reflections of the emotions experienced at this site can we discover or sense?

A concrete crossroads

Image: the traffic island on the corner of Oxford Street and Edgware Road in London where the plaque to mark the spot of the place and execution and gallows of the Tyburn Tree once stood. Photo by Jenny Pistella

Imagine, as an experiment, I took you to a specific traffic island in central London and asked you to stand in the middle to try and see if you could decipher any resonance of past events, feelings and emotions left there. I am not going to give you any secondary information about the place, no text, maps, images. I am asking you to experience it in its singular reality. I am asking you to unleash your subconscious mind to tap into the psychogeography of the site. You can hear the noise of the traffic, the beep of the pedestrian crossing, an aeroplane passing overhead. But what can you pick up from this as a site of lost or emotional heritage?

Would you be able to pick up by subconscious osmosis that this was the spot where, between 1196 and 1783, criminals were executed on the famous gallows, known colloquially as the ‘Tyburn Tree’? What other information would I need to give you to help you connect more with the site? Psychogeographers such as Ian Sinclair and Will Self might advocate that you would be able to pick up some of the residues of the emotional life of this site, encased in concrete but very much alive and tingling with echoes of its dark emotional history.[10] Sara Ahmed, however, might challenge this idea as she does in her work on ‘The Cultural Politics of Emotions’, where she argues that emotions are sensed in a world of interactions with other beings and objects. [11] She argues that it is all about encountering people and objects in context; without the background, emotions do not exist or remain on their own.

To find out more about the site, I recently went to visit the nuns at the Tyburn Convent, the Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre at Hyde Park Place, about 50 meters down the road from the site of the gallows. I spent an afternoon with them on one of their monthly open days and was fascinated to find out more about the history of the monastery and the site as well as hear their responses and reflections on praying for and keeping the memory of the Catholic Martyrs who died on the gallows at Tyburn alive. I met with them, drank tea, ate biscuits and now follow them on Twitter.

An endless labyrinth of woe

Image: The execution of the idle apprentice at Tyburn. Engraving by T. Cook, 1795, after W. Hogarth, 1747

For now, let’s start at the beginning:

He [Albion] sat by Tyburn’s brook, and underneath his heel shot up 
A deadly Tree: he nam’d its Moral Virtue, and the Law
Of God, who dwells in Chaos, hidden from the human sight.
The Tree spread over him its cold shadows (Albion groan’d),
They bent down, they felt the earth and again enrooting
Shot into many a Tree, an endless labyrinth of woe

William Blake alludes to the sacred nature of Tyburn in this poem ‘The Human Abstract, Songs of Experience’ from 1794. Can we describe Tyburn as a site of ‘genius loci’, an inherently sacred place with its own organic and natural energy attached to it? Blake certainly referenced this in the occult lyrics in the poem. Tyburn, originally meaning ‘place of the elms’, was a village close to the current location of Marble Arch and so-called for its position adjacent to the Tyburn Brook, a tributary of the lost Westbourne River which flows into the River Thames. The site of the brook and village of Tyburn was forever transformed when it was chosen, because of its liminal position outside of London proper, in the 12th century as one of the city’s main sites for execution. The eight Tyburn execution days a year were a fixture in the calendar, and Tyburn Fair, the day of execution and the customs surrounding it, was a popular spectacle and gruesome wake. William Hogarth depicted the carnival nature of the experience at Tyburn in his print ‘The idle apprentice at Tyburn’ in1747. His image shows a crowd of people waiting for an execution to take place with the condemned in a cart on his way to the gallows, which loom in the distance. The sacred procession of condemned prisoners on a pilgrimage to their deaths along a route from Newgate Prison to Holborn and St Giles and then up what is now Oxford Street was a popular public spectacle. According to contemporary accounts, one of the largest crowds ever gathered at Tyburn was estimated at around 200,000 to see the infamous jailbird and highway robber Jack Sheppard hanged in 1724. Michel Foucault, in his work ‘Discipline and Punish’ explores the idea of punishment as a spectacle and a ceremony of punishment. Tyburn, as a site, represents this: a shared emotional experience with the express purpose of educating and shaping the moral lives of the populace, transforming them.[13]

An emotional pilgrimage

Psychogeographers use walking as the method to observe and consume the world around them, and the act of pilgrimage is another way to access the emotional history and heritage of places. In her work ‘Wunderlust’ Rebecca Solnit talks about pilgrimage as a historic act of intentional walking. She explains how ‘pilgrimage is one of the fundamental structures a journey can take, the quest in search of something if only one’s transformation. Just as people had lined the route to Tyburn to watch Jack Shepherd on his way to execution in 1724, in the 1900’s Catholic worshipers connected with the emotional history of the Catholic Martyrs at Tyburn through creating their own pilgrimage.

Apr. 04, 1950 - Commemorating The Tyburn Martyrs: Many hundreds of Roman Catholics took part in the commemorative service for the Tyburn Martyrs, Roman Catholics who died for their Faith at the Tyburn Gallows in the 16th and 17th centuries. There was a pi
Image: Apr. 04, 1950 – Commemorating The Tyburn Martyrs: Many hundreds of Roman Catholics took part in the commemorative service for the Tyburn Martyrs, Roman Catholics who died for their Faith at the Tyburn Gallows in the 16th and 17th centuries. There was a pilgrimage from Old Bailey, site of Newgate Prison, to Marble Arch, where the Tyburn Gallows stood. Photo Shows: A scene during the service outside Tyburn Convent, close to the spot where once stood the Tyburn Gallows. Getty Images.

Father Fletcher started the first ‘Walk’ to glorify the Martyrs by following the ‘via sacra’ from Newgate to the execution ground at Tyburn in the early 1900s. Once the pilgrims had reached Tyburn, a priest would then conduct singing from the balcony of the Convent. ‘The bell rings out. The blessing is given in silence; the procession re-forms and withdraws; the tinkle of the bell recedes in the distance and “Blessed be God” comes the roar from the thousands of Catholics in the street beneath.’[14]

Praying for the souls of the martyrs

Image: The shrine of the Martyrs of Tyburn, on the ground floor in the monastery of the Tyburn Nuns – the Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre, London. Photo by Jenny Pistella

In total, 105 Catholic martyrs, including Saints Oliver Plunkett and Edmund Campion, were executed at Tyburn during and following the English Reformation from 1535 to 1681. For example, in 1581, Confessor of the Faith, Gregory Gunne made a prophecy after witnessing the hanging, drawing and quartering of Edmond Campion, an English Catholic Jesuit Priest and prophesied that ‘the day would come, and he hoped to see it, when a religious house would be built for an offering on the place where Campion suffered.’[15] It seems like there was a project to construct a national shrine at Tyburn from around 1901. The foundress of the present convent, Mother Mary of St Peter’s expressed this desire to establish a shrine on the site saying that ‘the Martyrs are urging us forward, they are calling us’.[16]  The nuns moved into 6 Hyde Park Place in March 1903 and have kept vigil there ever since.

 The oratory on the ground floor of the convent contains numerous relics of Catholic Martyrs from the site of the gallows but also other sites of execution in London. Displayed on the walls, in glass cases are, the forearm of the Blessed Thomas Maxfield, secular priest, martyred on 1 July 1616, a piece of wood said to come from the authentic gallows and the bloodstained shirt of Viscount Stafford, martyred on Tower Hill, 29 December 1680 amongst others. In his work the ‘Metamorphoses of the Body,’ Jose Gil writes that relics ‘hold tamed energies inside them.’ These ‘little things’, literally storages of energy, are in themselves insignificant. Their potency is directly related to and expressed through, the contrast between their absence of signification and the presence of a power hidden within’.[17] If we can talk about objects exhibiting these qualities, can places too, can they also be vessels and containers of emotion and meaning?

To conclude, as a site, Tyburn provides an interesting case study to think about how places can be described as having an emotional history attached to them. From the pain, sorrow, fear and desperation of those who died there to the crowds gathering at execution days and later pilgrims venerating the martyrs and the nuns praying for their souls, it’s a place where the emotional history of the site is kept alive, the emotion of the site is kept current, present and continually re-inscribed.


[1] Jordanova, L. J., History in Practice, 2nd ed (London: Hodder Arnold, 2006)

[2] for the purposes of this article I will define place, as a space that has meaning attached to it either within the parameters of architecture, shared public spaces which has a historical narrative attached to it.

[3] UNESCO Convention 2003, ‘Text of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage’ Article 2, [accessed on 22 August 2019]

[4] Oxford English Dictionary 2013 edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2013)

[5] The Museums Association, journal article on ‘The National Trust’s guiding spirit’ [accessed on 18 August 2018]

[6] Certeau, Michel de, The Practice of Everyday Life. Chapter 7 Walking the City, print (Berkeley, Calif.: Univ. of California Press, 2013)

[7] Reprinted with permission from Ken Knabb. Translation available in Situationist International Anthology (revised and expanded edition), Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006, and http://www.- [accessed 18 August 2019]

[8] The LWT London lecture, ‘London luminaries and Cockney visionaries’, 1993 [accessed 20 August 2019]

[9] Boddice, Rob, The History of Emotions, Historical Approaches (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018), p.182

[10] Sinclair, Iain, Lud Heat: A Book of Dead Hamlets (Cheltenham: Skylight, 2012)

[11] Ahmed, Sara, The Cultural Politics of Emotion (New York: Routledge, 2004)

[12] Blake, William, Songs of Innocence and of Experience., (London: Penguin 2017)

[13] Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 2nd Vintage Books ed (New York: Vintage Books, 1995)

[14] The Nuns of Tyburn Convent, Tyburn Hill of Glory by The Nuns of Tyburn Convent (Burns Oates, 1952)

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid

[17] Gil, José, Metamorphoses of the Body, Theory out of Bounds, v. 12 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998)

Works cited

  • Ahmed, Sara, The Cultural Politics of Emotion (New York: Routledge, 2004)
  • Blake, William, Songs of Innocence and of Experience., (London: Penguin 2017)
  • Boddice, Rob, The History of Emotions, Historical Approaches (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018), p.182
  • Certeau, Michel de, The Practice of Everyday Life. Chapter 7 Walking the City, print (Berkeley, Calif.: Univ. of California Press, 2013)
  • Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 2nd Vintage Books ed (New York: Vintage Books, 1995)
  • Gil, José, Metamorphoses of the Body, Theory out of Bounds, v. 12 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998)
  • Jordanova, L. J., History in Practice, 2nd ed (London: Hodder Arnold, 2006)
  • Sinclair, Iain, Lud Heat: A Book of Dead Hamlets (Cheltenham: Skylight, 2012)
  • UNESCO Convention 2003, ‘Text of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage’ Article 2, [accessed on 22 August 2019]
  • Oxford English Dictionary 2013 edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2013)
  • The Museums Association, journal article on ‘The National Trust’s guiding spirit’ [accessed on 18 August 2018]
  • Reprinted with permission from Ken Knabb. Translation available in Situationist International Anthology (Revised and expanded edition), Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006, and http://www.- [accessed 18 August 2019]
  • The LWT London lecture, ‘London luminaries and Cockney visionaries’, 1993 [accessed 20 August 2019]
  • The Nuns of Tyburn Convent, Tyburn Hill of Glory by The Nuns of Tyburn Convent (Burns Oates, 1952)


New Museum School 2018-19

We need to be building in access from day one. Be creative with this. Access is not an afterthought. By reflecting the diversity of our society in our working practices, by being inclusive, everyone benefits and so does the art. If there is a will for change, there is – I promise you – a way.”

Jodi-Alissa Bickerton, creative learning director, Graeae Theatre Company from Valuing Diversity MA report

One of my freelance roles is as the Course Tutor and Lead Assessor for the New Museum School, run by Culture& and Create Jobs and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. I’ve been working in the role since October 2018 and I love my job. You can see a photo above of our cohort of trainees on the New Museum School programme this year. They’ve a fantastic group of young people with amazing energy, creativity and ideas.

The New Museum School aims to make heritage more relevant, accessible and meaningful to more people and a greater range of people whilst ensuring that heritage continues to be a driving force for good that celebrates the distinctiveness and connectivity of culture. It aims to create a vibrant and passionate workforce with the skills and attributes that are relevant for the curation of heritage itself, as well as the people enjoying and shaping it.

The programme is a year long and this year we have 16 trainees from diverse backgrounds, on work placements in 16 different museums, galleries, heritage sites and in cultural organisations across London. Our partners include the Museum of London, Royal Academy of Arts, National Trust properties such as Sutton House and Rainham Hall as well as other organisations such as Shape Arts and Magnum Photos.

All of the trainees are employed on a year long traineeship within their organisation and alongside gaining practical work experience in diverse areas such as conservation, curatorial practice and learning and engagement, they also complete a Level 3 Diploma in Cultural Heritage, which I manage and assess.

This year we’ve had some wonderful training days all together in various museums and heritage sites and have worked on a podcast series, where each trainee has produced their own podcast about an issue, narrative of their choosing, relating to their work place.

Here are some images from the programme so far.

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You can find out more about the New Museum School and the work of Culture& here.


Cyborgs: Friday Late at the Wellcome Collection

The organisation I work for, Culture&, is curating a really exciting night of music, film and performances at the Wellcome Collection on Friday 15th March on the theme of Cyborgs.

Culture& is excited to announce ‘Cyborgs’, our Friday Late Spectacular curated in collaboration with the Wellcome Collection.

Join us for an evening of irreverent performance, conversation and cocktails where we’ll rethink the boundaries we perceive between human and non-human, or between races, genders or classes.

Hear from artists, designers and engineers who are challenging assumptions about how we classify things as animal, human or machine, and asking whose voices we listen to when designing the future.

Talks will be British Sign Language-interpreted.

Date: Friday 15th March 2019

Time: 7-11pm

Venue: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London, Nw1 2BE.

Tickets available here:




Discussion: ‘Return of the Cyborg’

Join us to hear from Joanna Zylinska about why the cyborg has returned at a time when there’s a boom in AI, research into immortality and an unfolding ecological crisis. The talk will include a screening of Zylinska’s short photo-film ‘Exit Man’, which explores the problem of human extinction and proposes ‘a feminist counter-apocalypse’ as an alternative cyborg scenario.


Performance: ‘A Shoal of Lovers Leads Me Home’

Listen to, breathe, taste and incite alternative Black queer liberations with speculative writer, artist and pleasure activist Ama Josephine Budge. You will explore possible climate-changed futures via her speculative fabulation ‘A Shoal of Lovers Leads Me Home’.


Screening: ‘The Last Angel of History’

Watch a screening of ‘The Last Angel of History’, a film by Black Audio Film Collective. This film follows the journey of a data thief and uses Afrofuturism as a metaphor for cultural displacement, presenting a new way to understand the relationship between Black identity and the body. The film will be introduced by Errol Francis.

From 19:00

Refreshments: ‘Cyborgian Cocktails’

Enjoy a range of cocktails specially created by mixologist Mairi Nolan. The drinks, named ‘Stars at Night’, ‘Human and Machine’ and ‘Asclepius’ will reference Cyborgian themes of space travel, the body and machine and the Greek god of medicine.



Performance: ‘Long Straight Pubic Hair’

Watch a newly commissioned and irreverent performance by artist Mamoru Iriguchi about a humble enhancement to his body that would change his life forever.



Performance: ‘Are You There?’

Join artist Rebekah Ubuntu to experience an Afrofuturist sound, video and performance work exploring unbelonging, questing and intersectional utopianism through the speculative gaze of an artificially intelligent cyborg.


Workshop: ‘Flesh and Machine’

Meet designers and engineers from UCL who are creating devices to extend our bodies’ capabilities. Come along to try out a third thumb designed by Dani Clode, learn about how new limbs could affect our brains and see prototypes of future technologies in surgery


Workshop: ‘In the Kingdom of Impossible Life’

Join a participatory workshop run by Zia Álmos Joshua X and explore classification and how it relates to the cyborg. Your activities will focus on the legacy of Carl Linnaeus (who created the system of naming organisms that we still use today), modern ideas about symbiosis and interspecies relationships, and on the political and ethical power of technology.


Discussion: ‘Cyborg Reading Groups’

Join a reading group to discover and discuss writing by Octavia Butler, Donna Haraway and Samuel R Delany and others.

ICOM CECA conference 2018

Last week I went to the ICOM Committee for Education and Cultural Action (ICOM-CECA) conference in Tbilisi, Georgia #ceca2018

Thank you to the International Council of Museums – ICOM UK for sponsoring me to come with a travel grant.

Tbilisi is a beautiful city and we were looked after so well at our host site, the Georgian National Museum / საქართველოს ეროვნული მუზეუმი

In my role as ICOM CECA rep for the UK, here’s a summary of some of the key themes and presentations from the conference for any ICOM UK members who are following this page. If you have any questions or things you like me to ask participants/ contacts to make just message me.

On the first morning we heard from the wonderful Arja van Veldhuizen and her research on ‘What’s in a name’, thinking about what ‘Cultural Action’ mean to CECA members. How does it translate in different languages and what are the different words different countries use for describing museum education. You can find more info here in the CECA 28 report

Next there was a research papers session where I presented on the Museums on Prescription project from UCL

Dr Megan Gooch from HRP also presented on the MOOC on Royal Fashion she worked on with Glasgow University and Future Learn

In the afternoon there were some fantastic presentations from international colleagues and the winners of the best practice awards were announced. Here are some highlights I’ve picked out:

The Darkroommansion app by the Finish Museum of Photography

Luiza Mitrache from La Fonderie Museum in Brussels on their Molenbeek, Little Manchester project

Mohamed Jamal from the Heritage Board in Singapore and their heritage treasure hunts as part of the Children’s Season in the city

Al-thani Moza from the Bin Jelmood House Museum, the first Museum about slavery in the Gulf

Little Flamingos Club

In the 1900’s, Lionel Nathaniel de Rothschild (1882 – 1942) kept Flamingos as pets in the grounds of his home in Gunnersbury Park.

So when I was commissioned to create a new Early Years’ series of workshops and resources for babies and toddlers for Gunnersbury Park Museum, choosing a Flamingo as a mascot for the programme seemed like a natural fit.

Flamingos are inquisitive, friendly and playful and I thought it would be great to ask the children to be ‘like flamingos’ and explore and discover the museum themselves.

From April – June I worked on devising, developing and producing a new set of Early Years’ resources and activities at Gunnersbury Park Museum for families with babies and toddlers called the ‘Little Flamingos Club’.

Gunnersbury Park Mansion and Museum

Gunnersbury Park Museum is a local history museum for the London Boroughs of Ealing and Hounslow, housed in a Grade II listed mansion in the middle of Gunnersbury Park. The estate has strong historic significance having been owned and developed as private country estates by both Princess Amelia (daughter of King George II) in the 18th century and Baron Lionel de Rothschild and his family in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before finally becoming a public park and collection in 1926. The museum’s diverse collections provide an insight into the heritage and culture of Ealing, Hounslow and the surrounding areas as well as offer an opportunity to explore the historic rooms, used by the Rothschild’s, including the beautiful state rooms of the Drawing Room, Long Gallery and Dining Room and the chance to see the 19th century historic kitchens.

I was commissioned to develop and produce a series of monthly workshops and a set of multi-sensory explorer bags that would help bring the stories of the house, it’s objects and the park to life for babies and toddlers. This became the Little Flamingos Club.

To mark the launch of the newly refurbished and interpreted Gunnersbury Park Museum, we launched the first Little Flamingos workshop in June. The workshops run on the second Wednesday of each month and are held in the historic rooms and galleries as well as in the new purpose built learning spaces. The workshops change theme each month and to date I’ve run sessions including storytelling, singing, painting, dance and music. All the workshops are hosted by the wonderful Flo the Flamingo puppet and facilitated by a fabulous team of artists and facilitators including Holly Dabbs (participatory artist, outdoor educator and storyteller), Olivia Armstrong (storyteller) and Paul Rubinstein (storytelling, music and theatre for children).

Meeting Flo the Flamingo at Little Flamingos ‘Treasure, Treasure’ workshop, July 2018, led by storyteller Olivia Armstrong
Little Flamingos ‘Treasure, Treasure’ workshop, July 2018, led by storyteller Olivia Armstrong
Paint and play
Little Flamingos ‘Paint and Play’ workshop led by storyteller and artist Holly Dabbs

I am currently working on finalising the design of the Little Flamingos multi-sensory explorer packs and will post details of the final packs and their contents when they’re ready in September.

In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about the Little Flamingos programme or Gunnersbury Park Museum in general please go to Gunnersbury Park What’s On.


I have been working with Poppy Szaybo on creating schools resources and some case studies for the fantastic Immortalised project for Historic England. Immortalised is a season of activity to explore how, why and who England remembers in its streets, buildings and spaces.

There are more statues of men called John than there are of real, non-royal women and the number of statues to those from minority groups is embarrassingly small. The project looks at the changing memorial landscape and how some of our once revered public figures have become symbols of difficult histories. Who has been left out, who should perhaps be contextualised.

The project aims to explore and raise questions such as:

  • Who gets to be Immortalised, and who has been unfairly overlooked?
  • What is being done to remember marginalised figures and communities today?
  • What happens once the initial impulse to remember has faded, or the person being commemorated comes to be seen in a different light?
  • How should we engage with problematic traces of the past, or reminders of episodes from history that we may no longer wish to celebrate?
  • What form should public memory and commemoration take in the future, and what alternatives might there be to building ever greater numbers of monuments?
Historic England was accused of pandering to the “snowflake” generation after suggesting Nelson’s Column should be destroyed. The facts were that they had run an event where they used Nelson’s Column as an example of contested history to open up the debate around memorials in the public sphere, not to suggest the statue should be destroyed.

This project by Historic England, comes at a time when there have been some high profile debates over statues and memorials that represent contested histories in our society. The fervour, anger and passion surrounding the call to remove the confederate statues in southern states in America to the call to remove the statue of slave trader Edward Colston and the recent backlash Historic England faced when using Nelson’s column as a starting point for debate. The debate about how and who we commemorate from the past is not just a matter for history, but a very real contemporary issue.

I’m really looking forward to working in partnership with Poppy on this and many future projects.

Statue of Alan Mathison Turing in Sackville Park, Manchester. Unveiled in 2001 a plaque at the statue’s feet says “Father of computer science, mathematician, logician, wartime code breaker, victim of prejudice”.
A memorial to Sheffield’s Women of Steel. The women worked in the steelworks to keep production going during World War II when the men went off to war.

Echoes from the past

Am so happy to have been accepted to present a paper on my PhD research at the Personification Across Disciplines conference this September at Durham University​.

I will be presenting a paper on how we describe heritage sites and spaces as retaining the personalities of people connected to them in the past. I was inspired by a conversation I had with Hilary Mantel when I worked at Hampton Court Palace in the learning team. Wolf Hall had just been published as we had asked Hilary to come and give a talk as part of our adult learning series of events. Everyone was at fever pitch to hear from Mantel, meters away from where Wolsey and Henry VIII had sparred, argued, laughed and eventually fatally fallen out.

In her talk, Mantel described how at 13 years old she had come to Hampton Court. She recalled how she remembered the sun on her back and the new sandals she was wearing on her feet. She recalled how she’d found herself in Cardinal Wolsey’s closet, deep inside the palace. She explained how she felt the presence of Wolsey overcome her, how she felt a tangible, spiritual connection with the man in this Tudor linen fold room. She said later in the talk that, ‘I have in fantasy, fulfilled what I imagined that day. I have seen Cardinal Wolsey sitting by the fireplace and I have lain my elbow on the windowsill and I have conversed with him.’ Some 40 years later, she has brought Wolsey and Cromwell to life with startling vivacity in her Booker Prize winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.

I am fascinated by this experience of Mantel’s. In my professional life as a museum/ heritage educator, I often try and illicit this physical and creative response to the past. I am interested in exploring this in terms of how the emotional remnants of people’s lives from the past can be understood or experienced as being left behind in buildings, only to be re-discovered or unearthed by future generations.

The conference looks at the following themes and questions:

Humans have a flair for attributing intentions, traits, agency, emotions and mental states to beings or things – either real or imagined.

Whether anthropomorphising natural or abstract shapes, playing with imaginary companions, (re) constructing fictional characters and dialoguing with gods or hallucinatory presences, the attribution of an agentive mentality to human and non-human targets appears both natural and meaningful to our everyday life.

The personification of inanimate, non-human, virtual or absent objects or entities seems at the core of human cognition, yet remains in many respects mysterious.

  • To what extent is personification a conscious process whereby we extend intersubjective and narrative relations?
  • When does this capacity emerge?
  • What are its cognitive underpinnings and what are its effects?
  • Is there a continuum to be traced between these different cognitive, narrative, religious and hallucinatory experiences?

The programme looks really good and as I was at university in Newcastle, I can’t wait to visit Durham (and it’s castle!) again.

Everyone’s different, let’s celebrate it!

Since November last year I’ve been working with charity Heart n Soul on a new Key Stage 2 schools page for their Big 30 website.

Heart n Soul is a creative arts charity that believes in the power and talents of people with learning disabilities. It is based at the Albany in Deptford and it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with them on this.

This schools website and accompanying resources have been created to accompany the Big 30 Archive and help teacher’s and students use the content in the classroom. Heart n Soul are celebrating 30 years as a charity. As part of the celebrations they have created The Big 30 Archive website with audio clips, portraits and videos telling the story of Heart n Soul artists, staff, volunteers and participants with and without learning disabilities tell their own stories in their own way.

The aim of this schools’ online resource is to help you discuss, explore and celebrate how everyone is different and how we all have different talents and passions. We want teachers to have conversations with students about what they know or understand about people with learning disabilities. We wanted to ask to help teachers use the stories of participants from Heart n Soul to encourage their students to think differently about people with learning disabilities, their power and talents. We want students to also think about how they feel positive about themselves, how they encourage others and how they express themselves through their own creativity.

You can find out more information here

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Cheryl Lyte is one of the original Heart n Soul artists and has performed in every show. In her photo, she wanted to be seen as happy and surrounded by bubbles. Photograph: Franklyn Rodgers

About Heart n Soul

Heart n Soul is an award-winning creative arts company and charity. They believe in the talents and power of people with learning disabilities, providing opportunities for people to discover, develop and share this power and talent as widely as possible.

What does Heart n Soul do?

They offer opportunities for people to take part in creative activities, train in a new skill or develop their artistic talents:

  • Art They create opportunities for artists to collaborate and to create and share their work, live, recorded, digitally and on-line
  • Taking Part They run high quality creative arts activities for people with learning disabilities
  • Training They support people with learning disabilities to secure work within and beyond the cultural sector
  • Sharing They share our art and what they do with as many people as possible
  • What happens as a result of what they do? People with learning disabilities have more choice, are more connected, have more confidence and work towards more independent lives. Artists create vibrant and relevant work.

This has life changing and life affirming value for everyone.

At Heart n Soul they put people with learning disabilities at the heart of everything they do. People with and without disabilities collaborate going on a creative journey together. They believe in the value for everyone of being present, open, creative, artist-led and loving.

They reach over 30,000 people per year in live events, creative sessions and online. This is growing every year. They receive about a third of their income from Arts Council England. They raise the remainder from ticket sales and other earned income, donations from individuals and grants from charitable trusts and foundations.

Who is involved?

30 people and groups made up of Heart n Soul artists, staff, volunteers and participants with and without learning disabilities. They represent all the different parts of Heart n Soul which make us who we are today. They each tell their story looking at the significant impact they have had on the development of Heart n Soul.

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Electric Fire are a digital band formed from Heart n Soul’s creative arts project for young people, Do Your Own Thing. Performing their own unique brand of neon-future-funk, hip hop and house, they play out-of-this-world catchy songs that will stay in your head for days, bringing energy, youth and excitement to any party. Photograph: Franklyn Rogers

Dean is a Heart n Soul artist and is the lead singer of The Fish Police. In 2012 he led the Dean Rodney Singers, a multi-media digital arts project which was part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The project had a significant impact on Heart n Soul and led to the development of SoundLab, our award-winning digital music-making project. Dean is a big fan of comics and superheroes. In his portrait he wanted to be seen as a comic book superhero character reinvented on his own terms.

GEM Twilight CPD – Happy New Year Happy New Job!

Join us for the first GEM London Twilight event of 2018 at Salters’ Hall on Thursday 25 January 18:00-20:30 to explore the Top Tips for job hunting in the Museum sector.

From applications (rejections and successes!), interviews, career approaches and identifying your own strengths and USP, our fabulous guest speakers and facilitators share their expertise through a series of interactive workshops.

BOOK now

OPENING ACT: Funemployment

Two things are tough: trying to find a vaguely good job in a museum and trying to find a boyfriend. Laura Southall shares her true story of the ‘fun’ that ensued when she tried to do both at the same time.

*Spoiler alert* Laura Southall is now Head of Learning & Community at Pallant House Gallery

WORKSHOP 1: Dear Applicant…

The two words none of us want to read. What follows next is always bad news: the ‘high volume of applications’ and the ‘high calibre of other applicants’ which amounts to: ‘we don’t want you… we wanted someone who looked the part… we wanted someone who didn’t… someone with more experience… with less experience.’ Join Sacha and Katherine for an interactive art workshop focusing on what makes you amazing, and what you’ll bring with you to your next job.

Sacha Coward is Community Programmes Producer at Royal Museums Greenwich

Katherine McAlpine is Public Engagement Officer at Queen Mary University of London

Between them they’ve had plenty of rejections, but what didn’t kill them has made them stronger.

WORKSHOP 2: Know Your Enemy

If you fit the bill of the ‘average’ museum educator, you might run the risk of being just an ‘average’ candidate in a large pile of applications. Join Ed Lawless to detect whether you’re a museum educator clone, and if so, how to find an antidote!

Ed Lawless is Education Manager: Samsung Digital Learning Programme and a founding member of the London Emerging Professionals network

WORKSHOP 3: The Golden Personality

Have you ever felt as if you’ve been put into a box and told how to think, feel, behave? Do you sometimes wonder why people say and do things that are nearly as good as you say and do?! Then good – you’ll get this concept! Teresa is going to put in a metaphorical box but all for a very sound reason…! If you want to know more about what makes you tick and others tock, then this will be an insightful look into the psyche… and how truly golden you really are!

Teresa Chambers is a Career Coach, Lecturer, NLP Practitioner and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist

Delegates will also have the chance to tour The Salters’ Company formal spaces to hear a bit more about the Company and how they use their historic spaces for education work.

First licensed in 1394, The Salters’ Company has its origins in the salt trade of medieval London and now operates as a charity from our stunning Brutalist building, Salters’ Hall. Following funding from HLF, the Company launched an onsite education programme for adults, schools and families in 2017 focused on history, science and architecture.

The Twilight session concludes with networking, nibbles & wine!


The Twilight event will take place at Salter’s Hall.

If you use CityMapper it might want to take you to The Salter’s Co on King William Street. Don’t go there! Make sure you go to Salter’s Hall, which is also on CityMapper at 4 Fore Street, London EC2Y 5DE.

If you have any trouble finding Salter’s Hall, please call reception on 020 7588 5216.

GEM members must bring proof of institutional or individual membership.

LDNEMP members and ENGAGE members can book tickets at GEM member price.

LDNEMP members must bring the discount code accessed on LDNEMP Facebook group.

ENGAGE members must bring membership cards.

We hope to see you there!

Best wishes,

Laura, Sally & Jenny (GEM London co-convenors)





Mist and mysticism

I had a brilliant afternoon doing some research for my PhD at the new London Mithraeum exhibition and installation underneath the new Bloomberg offices in the City of London today.

Situated on the site of Bloomberg’s new European headquarters, this new cultural hub showcases the ancient temple, a selection of the remarkable Roman artefacts found during the recent excavations, and a series of contemporary art commissions responding to one of the UK’s most significant archaeological sites.

You start your experience looking at beautifully presented Roman archaeological artefacts, displayed in a cabinet of curiosities style on the wall at the entrance to the exhibition. You’re given a digital tablet with a fantastic app to let you explore each object, one by one, with accompanying text, images and video to help you understand the life and culture of Roman London. One particularly outstanding find was the earliest dated writing tablet from London. Written 8 January AD 57, it is a financial record of money owed, dating from when London was just 7 years old and 1,960 years before a global financial markets company built their base on the site.

The experience continues to its apotheosis and you are ushered through thick dark hanging curtains to the reconstructed archaeological remains of the actual temple site. Bloomberg Space have done something really interesting here, they’ve tried to evoke the ‘genius loci’ or spirit of the place through audio and visual interpretation that speaks to the ephemeral and fragmentary nature of the site. You step into the space, it’s dark and you can only see a faint outline of the walls and foundations of the temple. As you walk around you hear voices of worshippers, the clang of bells, chanting, conversations. Mist is projected down from the ceiling creating screens on to which light is cast to illuminate the imaginary walls of the temple. Slowly the light gets brighter and you begin to see the temple and it’s structure more fully. Finally, a reconstruction of the sculpture of Mithras killing the sacred bull appears at the end on the alter and the experience comes to a conclusion.

I really loved it. It was fascinating to see how they’d tried to use emotional interpretation rather than factual to give you a sense of the mysticism of the site. I look forward to exploring it more in my PhD research around the lost heritage of London.

To find out more, please go to

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