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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Remember the Crickley Hill mobile exhibition of archaeology?

I found this piece from Marjorie Imlah:

"At the time of writing, the Crickley Hill Mobile Exhibition is well into its fourth year of operation, having been invited into at least 70 schools in Gloucestershire and many more beyond the county boundaries, as far afield as Hampshire, Sussex, and Kent. It has also been visited by many thousands of members of the public. The bright yellow singledecker bus, flagship of the Crickley Hill Trust, is now a fairly familiar sight around Gloucester and Cheltenham.

But how did it all start, and when? In 1982, two of the Trust’s most generous benefactors, anxious to publicize and promote the findings from the excavations, joined forces to provide a 30ft long, 45-seater coach of 1972 vintage and to arrange for it to be converted into a mobile exhibition centre. The coach, currently valued at £3000, is still serviced and maintained at a minimal cost by Warners of Tewkesbury. The value of their generous support is immeasurable, particularly as age and wear and tear begin to take their toll. The occasional breakdowns always occur at the most inconvenient moment and can bring the programme to a halt.

Westbury Homes heads a long list of companies and organizations whose support and sponsorship helped to build and furnish the initial exhibition (planned and designed by Philip Dixon, Patricia Borne, and Richard Savage), and to launch it in the spring of 1983. During those early months, it visited Nottingham University, and even the august forecourt of the British Museum. It was driven in those pioneering days by enthusiastic volunteers, but the Crickley Hill Trustees soon realised that, to be effective, the exhibition had to be driven and manned by a permanent, full-time staff. An application was therefore submitted to the Manpower Services Commission in the summer of 1983 for funding to employ five staff under the Community Programme. They would be responsible for three areas of work, the major one being the promotion and presentation of a unique mobile display of general archaeological methods and techniques and specific information based on seventeen seasons of excavation on Crickley Hill.

In January 1984, the exhibition was completely refurbished and updated to its present state. The walls and display panels on the coach were covered with maps, diagrams, photographs, and plans; on the shelves were placed scale models showing the development of many of the communities that lived on the Hill, from 4000 BC to the Dark Ages (the Dark Age dwellings are to be investigated during the summer of 1986). An invaluable dimension was added to the exhibition by the inclusion of a comprehensive selection of artefacts, ranging from Stone Age axe heads and Iron Age flints and pottery to skulls and modern animal bones.

Schools are the major clients for the mobile exhibition and experience has shown that the junior school age group is the most receptive, offering at times a most rewarding enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge.

In practical terms, the coach is manned at all times by two staff (both of whom need to be able to drive, but who do not have to hold a Public Service Vehicle Licence as the vehicle is not allowed to carry passengers). An advance planning meeting is essential to place a proper value on the forthcoming visit and provide an opportunity to plan a timetable, prepare worksheets, brief staff, and check coach parking facilities. On the day of the visit children and adults are invited to 'board the bus' in groups of no more than 10-12, and to stay there on an initial visit for 20-30 minutes in order to have a first look and gain a first impression. They are encouraged to return a second time to have a longer look, to draw or paint some favourite object or scene, to prepare a model, to answer a quiz, to complete a worksheet, or just to question the guide/organizer. While this is going on, the second member of the exhibition team is usually busy in a classroom with the other members of the group, encouraging them to handle and work with the artefacts. A classroom can be used for associated activities, both group and individual; such as a child trying to understand stratigraphy, a group painting a mural of an Iron Age village, creating papier mâché skulls or stone age weapons, flint knapping, or even trying to build a basic pottery kiln. The potential for creativity from such an educational resource as the Mobile Exhibition is considerable. Some of the 'thank you' letters from the schools reflect an interest and enthusiasm which is, in itself, rewarding.

It may be argued that the Exhibition is only as good as the staff who operate it. Their motivation and commitment to a job which can make great demands on them have been essential ingredients in the success of the project to date. One of the prime objectives of the Crickley Hill Archaeological Trust is to ‘advance the education of the public in archaeology...’. The Mobile Exhibition and its team have endeavoured to carry out that aim and will continue to do so while the yellow bus still rolls."

Whatever happened to the bus, I wonder?

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