Sharpen your memories

2010-09-23 00:00

“A NUMBER of schools have museums at varying degrees of development and it’s out of that variance that comes the purpose and need for a forum,” says Bev Davidge, chairperson of the Forum for School Museums and Archives and a former history teacher at Hilton College where he now runs the school museum.

“Several museums at schools have been operating for some time,” says Davidge, “such as at Hermannsburg School, which has the records of the mission as well as the school, and Epworth which has on the premises a small cottage in which memorabilia of various kinds and records are tastefully displayed and carefully preserved.”

So far the forum consists of 13 Pietermaritzburg schools which include Epworth, St John’s, Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School, Maritzburg College and St Charles College.

St Anne’s, Hilton College, Michaelhouse, Weston Agricultural School, Kearsney College and Hermannsburg School are also included. “But there are other schools that have museums or archives which might like to join the forum and benefit from shared expertise,” says Davidge.

Davidge says many schools have either appointed staff or, more likely, directed existing staff to create museums and archives in the wake of the government’s call to public institutions to record their histories.

“This has resulted in several people finding themselves at sea with regard to museum procedures and practice,” says Davidge. “They have done the best they can but the pressure from school management and past pupils for materials to use for special occasions and school reunions has made them aware of the need for good advice and encouragement.”

Hence the creation of the forum which met for the first time at Hilton College earlier this year. Since then regular meetings have been held which included a workshop at the Alan Paton Archives on the local university campus on the handling and storage of photographs.

The Hilton College museum is housed in one of the original buildings on the school estate. “It was originally a farm building and over the years it’s been a dormitory, a sanatorium, a residence and now it’s the museum,” says Davidge.

The museum houses a collection of memorabilia, documents and photographs linked to the exploits of Hiltonians in the two world wars as well as their sporting and literary achievements.

“People, mainly past pupils, donate material,” says Davidge, “and our collection policy is to collect everything and anything that pertains to the school — photographs, programmes and newspaper articles”.

”The museum is popular with old boys, parents and grandparents,” says Davidge. “But we want to encourage current pupils to get involved with the museum and we want to be much more active within the school.”

At Maritzburg College, Henrietta Ridley, who retired as deputy-director of the Voortrekker-Msunduzi Museum last year, is gearing up the school museum and archives for the celebration of the school’s 150th anniversary in 2013.

The school has a number of historic associations. The school’s hall, the Victoria Hall, was used as a hospital during the Anglo-Boer War and Alan Paton, author of Cry, the Belover Country, was both a pupil and a teacher. There are several well-known sporting heroes, including cricketers Jonty Rhodes, Kevin Pietersen and rugby player Butch James.

“Schools have their own history but they are also part of the national history,” says Ridley. “They don’t exist in isolation, they operate within a context. How Maritzburg College came about is all bound up with Natal history.”

Ridley says her role is to create an interest in the history and culture of the school. “We display and preserve the history of the school and of the old boys and old girls,” she says. “The exhibition for the 150th must also be attractive to boys currently here. It will be an interactive exhibition with touchscreens.”

Ridley also wants to develop the existing museum so that boys “can own their school history. The museum should appeal to present boys, to the old boys and also outsiders.Tourists should hear that it’s a good museum to visit.”

• To find out more information about the Forum for School Museums and Archives and what you can do, contact Bev Davidge at 033 343 1571 or 076 019 1270.

• Local school calls for help in maintaining historic buildings — see page 17.

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