Guard Books – It’s The People That Matter.

Collections Management
November 14, 2017

A Museum without Staff and Visitors is simply a large building with (mostly) nice objects, with no-one looking after them, or studiously appraising them.

It might be a little like this… you would expect, even very early in the morning, somebody, anybody, to be walking the pavements, travelling in very expensive motor vehicles, as seen here in 1926, but there is no-one….. at all…..

V&A Museum, Cromwell Road;

Of course a museum obviously has staff & visitors, and in this blog, from the Photographs section, the Guard Book archives (MA/32) and the Museum Archives (MA/22) I will be looking at a few of the many people involved, from the early part of the museum`s history, the twenties, through to the Second World War, to the early fifties.

The Construction Staff…

The Museum of course had to first be constructed, old buildings demolished, new galleries built, sometimes, in light of our current approach to health & safety, seem quite daring, or should that be scary… as seen below..

Two workers, involved in the construction of South Kensington Museum, testing Colonel Scott`s Newly Invented Cement, 9th July 1861.
Workers nearing the completion of the Eastern Cast Courts in 1872.

Just in case you don`t think that is is a closer look…

Once the South Kensington Museum opened, staff greeted visitors at the Entrance, complete with top hats & police constables.

The Entrance to South Kensington Museum showing the Cast Courts & The Brompton Boilers; June 1890; detail of photograph by Isabel Cowper (1826 -1911), Albumen Print.

Indeed there was actually a Police Hut, complete with ivy at the entrance in 1891.

Police Hut at the Entrance to South Kensington Museum site; Albumen print, c.1891. Department of Science & Art of The Committee of Council on Education.

In 1899 a temporary wooden structure at the corner of Exhibition Road and Cromwell Road was constructed for the installation of The Foundation Stone, with seating to accommodate the Royal Visitors.

The laying of the foundation stone of the V&A taking place within the temporary wooden pavilion erected at the junction of Exhibition Road & Cromwell Road, designed by Sir Aston Webb to accommodate spectators.
Albumen print, 1899. Department of Science and Art of the Committee of Council on Education.

We move forward now to the opening of the Eastern Hall, were once again we see in the foreground a warder(police uniform) during its construction in 1909, surrounded by scaffolding.

The Building of the Eastern Hall, looking East; with scaffolding; V&A Museum; April 1909.
Negative 33106

The Learned Staff….

During all this construction of the new parts of the museum, activities and learning were taking place, in what is now Gallery 100, the Members of The Education Board are seen assessing works, in what was called then The Competition Gallery, the image below is from an enhanced scan of Negative 9244, from May 1871.

Members of The Examination Board assessing submitted works in The Competition Gallery at South Kensington Museum;
May 1871

..and in 1897, the activity of Life study classes were taking place in the Lecture Theatre, in conjunction with the National Art Training School.

V&A Educational Activity – Life Study Classes with examples of sculptures, for the National Art Training School;
Lecture Theatre, South Kensington Museum;
6th December 1897. Negative 17937

In the twenties, guided tours were popular as they are now, as seen below with here a Guide Lecturers.

A Guide Lecturer conducting a tour;
Sculpture Gallery; Gallery 50a V&A Museum; May 1924.
Negative 53905.
Mrs.Goldschmidt; Guide & Lecturer; with a group od people in a ceramics gallery;
V&A Museum; c.1950.
Museum Archive MA/22

The museum has also had a close relationships with art students, in particular with the Royal College of Art, which were in the main building up until 1991, in what is now, the still called …er…the RCA Block.

Metalworking & Architecture Classes, Royal College of Art, April 1937.
Pottery & Cotton Printing Classes, Royal College of Art, April 1937. MA/32/249

An artist in the Galleries….

An art student painting in the Medieval & Renaissance Gallery, Gallery 50, of The Spanish Retable, St George’s Altarpiece;
V&A Museum;
December 1934.

Museum staff have always had to appraise items, sometimes from other museums, such as the ones from Melbourne Museum;

V&A Keepers appraising a sofa & a bureau cabinet, from Melbourne Museum, Australia, February 1948.

We have also seen that the police uniform here was used for warders, but in 1922, a new uniform appeared, as smartly presented, complete with medal ribbons, by the proud warder below.

Warder in the new uniform, V&A Museum, 1922.

There are other unsung members of staff in the background of the museum, like the ladies below, from the Museum Typing Pool,

Girls from the typing pool at the V&A – Miss Petty, Miss Coward, Miss Wheatley, Miss Gammack, Miss Woolmer, Miss Hall & Miss Lloyd; V&A Museum; c.1930.

A Time of War

Staff during a time of conflict have to pull together in a common cause, during the Second World War, staff were involved in a large number of activities to protect & preserve the museum collections by moving them away from the South Kensington site to other locations, or by making sure they weren’t damaged by the conflict.

All the images below show the work that happened…. and these are only a small selection….

Photograph of the V&A Museum, during World War II; removal of objects using a One Horsepower Vehicle.
Photograph of the V&A Museum, during World War II; removal of objects, with lots & lots of boxes.
Photograph of the V&A Museum, during World War II; Museum technicians & curators removing objects from Galleries.
Photograph of the V&A Museum, during World War II; Museum curators preparing the removal of large tapestries.
Photograph of the V&A Museum, during World War II; All Quiet for Now.. 1940s.

….. this situation may soon become all too familiar….. !

….though there is a time for laughter…

with during World War II, the most Unfortunate Nose Shadow in a Photograph goes to

Photographs of the V&A Museum, during World War II; from the V&A Museum Archives; 1940s

…and some fun with sandbags….

Come on Chaps, just a few more… lets keep going lads…. there’s a war on….
..there we go.. finished chaps, well done, …hello…lads….all right very funny, you can let me out now….lads….lads, anyone……!….hello?….

…it’s the people that matter.

About the author

Collections Management
November 14, 2017

VADAR & Image Archive administrator, started work here in 1983 under a different name of Steve Williams, and a smaller waistline, as a Conservation & Education department Photographer, Left in...

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