Our project workshop on 1 February brought together country house staff from around the UK, representing the National Trust, English Heritage and various local councils and privately owned properties. We demonstrated some of our outputs, including our Light Night performance, this time starring a couple of the students from the Electrified musical. This came as something of a surprise to the participants as we hadn’t told them in advance that they were going to be watching a piece of live theatre!
However, it set the right tone for the afternoon, which also included short presentations from representatives from each of our partner houses about their experiences of the project so far, and how they have benefitted from it. At Standen for example, our talk for for room guides “has enabled our volunteers to find out more about a subject that has for too long been underplayed at the property and speak with more confidence to our visitors about it.”
We also heard from Dr. Ian West from the Country House Technology project at the University of Leicester about his research into lighting and other technologies at properties around the country. We then finished off the session with a discussion about the outputs, posing two main questions to the participants:
1. Thinking about what you‘ve seen today what are the potential applications of our outputs and/or research in your institution?
2. What would have to happen for you to benefit from these outputs?
The resulting discussion, in small groups, highlighted that looking at the role of women in the story of electrification – emphasised throughout Gooday and Harrison-Moore‘s work – provided a very good way to tell these stories to interested audiences. Also useful was the way in which we demonstrated how country houses could work more closely with universities local to them to generate new knowledge, resources or events: for example by history students undertaking primary research as part of an undergraduate or masters course in order to gain research skills and experience; or by drama students producing performances based on materials related to the house, as we have done for Light Night, ‘Electrified‘, our online interactive, and our short film.
However, it was also generally noted that staff and volunteers in many houses may be reluctant or not confident enough to present science or echnology content to visitors. In such cases training sessions would be invaluable, and could emphasise how these topics fit into the stories that are already told in these properties. It was also suggested that we might beneficially create a network to facilitate knowledge exchange between technology and history experts on the one hand and interpreters and country house staff on the other. This could provide help interpreting science and technology content for educational, curatorial or exhibition interpreters to use, as it was noted that it‘s often difficult to communicate the significance of electrical technologies, including objects and systems, to visitors.
Finally, our short film, Lotherton Electrified, is now available to view online (see below). In it, a reporter visits Lotherton Hall in 1904 to interview the family and servants about the new electrical lighting in the house, but is also concerned about an accident which recently occurred on the property. This is, it must be noted, entirely fictional, but the fears and concerns of the period regarding electricity which it illustrates were very real, and electrical accidents, although not normally fatal, were not uncommon.
The preparation of the individual rooms for filming required a lot of thought, and a lot of support and help from Lotherton staff Dionne Matthews and Adam Toole; we tried to avoid including too much anachronistic technology or interpretation boards in the background! The music, too, is appropriate: it is from the 1879 song ‘The New Electric Light‘, which was also used in the Electrified musical, and was recorded by another member of the cast, Mathilde Davies. The students handled the pressure and intensity of the afternoon very well, and the result is a short, 10 minute film pitched at a general, non-specialist audience, which Lotherton can show on tablets around the house or in its cinema room as appropriate.