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H. M. F. Gretna explosives factory undated block plan showing acid, guncotton and nitro-glycerine plants

Proposal to designate HM Factory Gretna site for its heritage significance

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We’re delighted to share that Historic Environment Scotland have just launched a public consultation to gather views on a proposal to schedule and list parts of the site of HM Factory Gretna. The aim of scheduling is to preserve our most significant sites and monuments as far as possible in the form in which they have been passed down to us today.

The proposal documents for the scheduled monument are here >

HES are also proposing to list the guardhouses and gate piers at the factory’s main entrance; these are amongst the few remaining original buildings on site. Listing protects historically important buildings from inappropriate future development.

The proposal documents for the listed building are here >

They encourage members of the public to send in their views and comments by completing a short questionnaire that takes 5-10 minutes to complete.

An overview of the proposal can be accessed here >

The consultation closes on 3rd November.

A happy person trying on a helmet in The Devil's Porridge Museum.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

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We’re delighted to share this blog written by Claudia Weyde-Bialas, who spent a week volunteering with us on curatorial projects.

In the course of my research for my thesis on “Self portrayal and (war) role perception in female munition workers’ poetry of World War I in Great Britain” last year, a very nice and helpful contact was established with the curator of the DPM and her team, who provided me with extensive documents and valuable additional information.

I found and find it very interesting that women poets of this era still receive little attention compared to their male counterparts. In particular, the lyrics of working-class women writers are not given the recognition they deserve, historically and culturally. Female munition workers, known as Munitionettes, who made up by far the largest proportion of the female workforce during WWI, published their verses and rhymes in factory magazines and staff journals, which now lie dormant in the archives of the Imperial War Museum in London. But the Devil’s Porridge Museum also has a considerable number of Munitionette poems and has published some of them in the volume Munition Workers’ Poems. 

A Munitionette poem

During my research I decided to travel to Eastriggs and visit the DPM as soon as I had handed in my thesis. – I wanted to see the writings I was working on in the original and also get a personal impression of the research that was done at the museum.

I have now spent a week at DPM and have seen and learned a lot – I did not expect that. It is impressive how much ongoing research and projects are worked on behind the scenes, including the administration and inventory of the constantly growing collection of objects.

As well as getting to see “my” Munitionette poems, or at least some of them, I was allowed to work on the inventory catalogue and do research on people for the Miracle Workers Project. Especially the latter was super exciting, – you get a name and possibly a birth date of a worker at the Gretna factory and then you try to find out more about that person. Often you don’t find anything else, but then again you come across whole stories, and suddenly the people, the “Miracle Workers” come to life. This is a project that is really worth volunteering for!

I also chose an “Object of the month”, which is another ongoing project of the DPM. I picked a cameo brooch, and besides the fact that it was neither antique nor did it have any direct relation to the World Wars, it was – again – the story behind it that makes it special. The brooch belonged to a women who delivered telegrams in WWII, including those containing the death of a soldier. She gave the brooch to her nurse at the Annan hospital to thank her for her care, and the nurse donated it to the museum.

I think this is what history is about, it is about people and their stories. It is about “giving voice.” A museum can display valuable, rare and beautiful pieces in its showcases, but the true value of an object always comes from its story and the people associated with it. The DPM has realised that and that makes its exhibition and the work here special.

Last but not least, I would like to point out – in addition to the great research and administrative staff – the impressive number of volunteers who contribute to the very positive spirit of the facility with their constant friendliness and willingness to help.

THANK YOU!

By Claudia Weyde-Bialas
July 2022

Calum in his museum uniform

A Day in the Life of a SVQ Student at The Devil’s Porridge Museum

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by Calum Boyde, SVQ Student at The Devil’s Porridge Museum.

Calum in his museum uniform

I came to volunteer at the museum due to a work placement at Annan Academy in 2019. I got offered a chance at doing an SVQ by Judith (the former museum manager). I want to work in the museums because ever since I watched Horrible Histories, I have been interested in History.  My favourite time period is the Ancient Egyptians, Roman and Greek, The Golden Age of Piracy and The Age of Revolution and all the way up to the end of the Cold War. Some of my favourite people from History are Cleopatra, Robert The Bruce, William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, Blackbeard, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Marquis de Lafayette, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. My hobbies are Gaming, Reading and watching Musicals.

The object store

One of my many experiences of working here is re-organising the object store and accessioning objects. I started by having a short meeting with Judith as she explained what needed to be done. We took boxes out to see what was in them and to see if they could be better in a different box. We had a collection of objects gifted to us last year that I had to accession all the objects. During the accessioning of the objects, I had to write a description of what it was and where it could be found in the object store and then I wrote a label for it. After we have accessioned and catalogued all the objects we got to work at reorganising the object store so everything was easer to find.

An environment monitor in the object store at The Devil’s Porridge Museum

At the museum we check pest traps and environmental control once a month. Pest traps are recorded by picking up the pest traps and seeing what bugs and insects are in and seeing if there is any pests. If there is any pests we check the trap or traps a week later to see if there is anymore in the trap because it would be a sign of an infestation. Every trap gets a number and is recorded on a report sheet. Environmental controls are recorded digitally and we collect them to put the data onto a computer so we can print it out. In this we look at the temperature and humidity to see if any places are affected by them. If there is anything above or below the lines, we would see if we can explain what it is before we do any action.

Tik Tok club was set up to bring in teenagers who use this site to the museum. I have enjoyed working on Tik Toks because it diversifies what I have done in the museum. The challenging parts of making Tik Toks are making sure everything we want is in frame and making sure we don’t make many mistakes while making them, even if they are sometimes funny.

@devilsporridgemuseum

Have you ever been so bored you’ve shot a telegraph pole? Stitch this with your most unusual object museums! We tag @lincsmuseums @sachistorymuseum

♬ original sound – The Devil’s Porridge Museum

I have enjoyed doing this SVQ and volunteering in the museum as it gave me experience of working in different parts of a museum, even though it is a small museum, The staff and volunteering here are welcoming and very polite. If I had any advice for new SVQ students it would be to do it because it’s great for CV and experience.

Isabella Morrison Marriage Certificate

‘Gretna Girl Heroines – Volunteering on the Miracle Workers Project.’

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‘Gretna Girl Heroines’ is the headlines that announces an article in The Daily Mirror from 3rd May 1918 of three Gretna Munitions Workers receiving the British Empire Medal from the Earl of Lonsdale for gallant work at Gretna. In the lower left-hand side is a photograph of Miss. Ada Watt, one of the first munitions workers that I’ve researched for the Miracle Workers project at the Devil’s Porridge Museum. Ada received her medal for, ‘courageously staying at her post….and saving many lives.’

Ada Watt is but one of several courageous munitions workers that I have had the pleasure of researching for the project. The other women have included Annie Milne, Ethel Davies, Gladys Carr, Isabella Morrison, and Lily Florence Curle. As a volunteer I hunt through birth, record, deaths, and census records and the British Newspaper Library to try put together an assemblage of these women’s lives from before, during, and after they worked at Gretna. Some research is more fruitful than others with some of the women having a lot of mentions whilst some having no mention whatsoever in both the official and newspaper records.

The most helpful website for this work has been the Scotland’s People’s website with it’s vast array of online, digital records available to researchers. The clear and concise imagery of the various records has enabled me to pin-point information for one munitions worker, Isabella Morrison, who was born 22nd May 1897 near Elgin in Moray-shire.

I have been able to find her birth certificate, marriage certificate and mentions in the 1901 and 1911 census. Isabella married shortly after the end of the First World War and immigrated to Canada with her husband; because I was able to find her marriage certificate, which contained an address she was married from, I was able to use Google Street view to see the actual building which still stands in Elgin. These links with the past is what most excites me as a volunteer with the Miracle Worker’s project as I get to bring back to life women who have been almost forgotten for over a century and may have only been remembered within their own families or local area where they lived.

Miss Ada Watt, The Daily Mirror, May 3rd 1918

Additionally, the fact that this project and resources like Scotland’s People are available to people who want to volunteer digitally due to the current pandemic or geographic restrictions has enabled me to be part of the larger volunteer project whilst still living in Ireland. I am very familiar with the Devils Porridge Museum and the local area and have visited the museum on several occasions in the past and hope to do so in the future. By engaging with the Miracle Worker’s project, I feel that I can be part of the larger volunteer project and am contributing something worthwhile to the project whilst also gaining new skills in research, writing, and explaining of historical information.

A closer look at our mini conference: the importance of chemists to HM Factory Gretna

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Chemists were crucial in the manufacture of Cordite, which was what HM Factory Gretna produced during World War One. Harry Marchanton Lowe was one of these chemists, and his grandson, Peter, researched his life during WW1 and after for The Miracle Worker’s Project. Hear Peter speak about Harry by coming along to our ONLINE mini-conference on July 31st from 10-12.

Tickets are FREE and available here!

Harry Marchanton Lowe at his graduation.

Some young people with the archive photo that inspired them.

Stories From the SS Avoceta: The Success of Museum’s Creative Writing Workshop.

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On Monday 26th July we enjoyed welcoming local author, Kerrie McKinnel and some young people to the museum for a great creative writing workshop. Everyone involved had completely different ideas for some excellent stories or story beginnings (with some great cliff-hangers!).

 

(Note: All the children  in the photographs are part of the same bubble with no need to social distance.)

 

Young people looking at a page from the family photo album in the museum’s collection.

 

Using early 20th century holiday photos from a family photo album in the museum’s collection as inspiration, we took part in some fun games. Including one where everyone told a sentence of the story each to find that it went in a completely different direction to what we were expecting (thanks to some ducks!).

 

A page from the family photo album we used for inspiration.

 

Another page from the photo album.

 

Everyone then chose a photo from the family photo album to inspire their story. Although most of the photos chosen for inspiration may have been the same, the ideas couldn’t have been more different. They ranged from biographies to adventures, which were about the ship’s captain, a young doctor, a widower, someone called to court and more!

 

Young people hard at work crafting stories!

 

 

 

 

We really enjoyed hearing all these fantastic stories and hope everyone else enjoyed the workshop too. Thanks to Kerrie McKinnel for hosting the workshop and all the imaginative young people who took part!

 

The young people with the photo their inspiration; a photo taken onboard the SS Avoceta from the family photo album.

Obituary of Edward Ernest Pearson.

A closer look at our mini-conference: the importance of newspaper research

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One of the most important sources of information for our Miracle Workers Research project has been newspapers. The newspapers in South Scotland and Cumbria are a rich source for finding out about munitions workers at Gretna–especially when they were caught doing something not entirely legal! One of our researchers, Fiona, has concentrated her volunteering on newspaper research, uncovering some fascinating stories from over 100 years ago.

Learn more about newspaper research by coming along to our ONLINE mini-conference on July 31st from 10-12 and hear Fiona speak about the interesting stories she’s uncovered!

Tickets are FREE and available here!

A photo of Fiona’s grandmother, Jane, who worked as a typist at HM Factory Gretna.

Two munition workers unloading the Incorporator.

A closer look at our mini-conference: Keynote speaker Dr Chris Brader

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Dr Chris Brader wrote his PhD thesis on women munition workers at Gretna during World War One. He not only delved into the nature of their work, but also how they lived and what they did for fun. It’s an absolutely fascinating read and we’re delighted to have him speak at our mini-conference in July.

Learn more about Chris’ work by coming along to our ONLINE mini-conference on July 31st from 10-12.

Tickets are FREE and available here!

 

Chris’ excellent book on WW1 and borders women also contains an exploration of munitions workers at HM Factory Gretna

Florence Catnach.

A closer look at our mini conference: From HM Factory Gretna to the Cadbury Factory

By News

Miss F Catnach was a tricky person for our volunteer researcher, Cathy, to research, because initially we only had the above photo of her and her first initial. However, she not only found her Christian name, but also uncovered a fascinating family backstory that includes suffrage, charity work and the Cadbury Factory in Birmingham! Florence had a very important role at HM Factory Gretna–she was the Chief Supervisor in the Mossband Section. Learn more about this fascinating woman by coming along to our ONLINE mini-conference on July 31st from 10-12 and hear Cathy speak about her!

Tickets are FREE and available here!

A photo of Cadbury’s centenary celebrations in 1931. Florence is somewhere in this picture.

A colourful banner which reads Disability Pride Month.

Disability Pride Month: Working in the Heritage Sector as a Disabled Person and Telling Disability History

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This month (July) is Disability Pride Month, and in this post, I want to talk both about working in a museum as a disabled person and the importance of researching and sharing disability history.

As I neared the end of my PhD, I came to the conclusion that what I loved most about the study of history was sharing that knowledge with people. And, when a job came up at The Devil’s Porridge Museum that gave me the incredible opportunity to continue historical research whilst also gaining vital in-museum experience, I jumped at the chance. 

But I was also a little nervous.  

I have Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder (HSD). HSD is a connective tissue disorder that affects joints and ligaments. Often grouped together with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, HSD is different for everyone a little differently. I often have joint subluxations—where joints such as my knee cap or thumb pop out of place and partially dislocate. This is extremely painful, and can also happen at any moment. These subluxations often leave me with chronic pain, and I sometimes need to use mobility aids and braces to feel a bit more stable. Another part of my condition is ‘brain fog’. This generally happens when I’m going through a flare up—when I’m in a lot of pain and/or dealing with recurrent subluxations. Brain fog spaces me out a little, and makes it difficult for me to concentrate. The combination of chronic pain and joints that pop out whenever they please also make me a lot more tired than usual—my body spends a lot of time recovering from subluxations and this can be exhausting! HSD is a life-long condition that varies a lot—sometimes I can walk and exercise and drive without pain, but other times I struggle making it up and down the stairs in my flat. 

Laura is pictured in a white dress, holding a mobility aid for support.

My trusty mobility aid.

Being a disabled person is sometimes tricky. Having rest days around big events to try and ensure I can make it is normal. Phoning up train stations, or places to visit to ask about lift access and how many stairs the building is similarly something I do pretty regularly. And some days I can’t drive or walk at all. So beginning a full-time job in a museum at the other side of the country was daunting. The heritage sector has made great strides forward in accessibility in recent years, with increased focus on the need to make culturally important sites and museums accessible for all.

If there’s one positive thing the last year of lockdowns has given us, it’s the increased pivot by many organisations towards the digital. In museums, this took the form of virtual exhibitions, and online talks, opening up a route for people–no matter their location, or their physical ability to be present–to virtually visit museums. Not only can such a move widen audiences, but also it means that a more diverse audience can access a rich cultural heritage. For me, beginning my job at the Porridge during lockdown, I worked remotely for months. Whilst this was sometimes lonely and frustrating, it showed me that I could do a good job from home.

Laura's legs are pictured, one of them is in a knee brace

The knee brace I wear after a dislocation

When I finally moved to the area and got to work in the museum for the first time, I was so excited. There is something so special about sitting at a desk in arms reach of a interesting historical object that I’m sure many of my fellow history nerds can relate to. Not only that, but I got to meet my colleagues for the first time, as well as actually seeing the museum for the first time. It was an incredible experience.

But it was also tinged with a bit of fear. When you live with a chronic condition like HSD, you learn to be aware of warning signs of a coming flare-up. I knew that my HSD would inevitably worsen at some point, and I wanted my employers to be aware that as a result of my disability, I might need some adjustments. Telling people about my condition was, as always, scary. HSD isn’t very well known, and as a ‘invisible illness’ I’ve (in the past) encountered some people that struggle to believe that I have a disability. But disabilities come in all shapes and sizes, and aren’t always visible at first glance. However, my colleagues at The Devil’s Porridge were kind, keen to understand, and willing to make the necessary adjustments for me, which was brilliant. Together, we devised a support plan and I work from home once a week, with the option for more home working if my HSD flares up. I can also use the lift when stairs are too much for me. The Devil’s Porridge Museum is staffed mainly by dedicated volunteers, and they were also made aware of my condition–I didn’t want to worry them all by having a random dislocation at work!

It’s crucially important for disabled people to both be able to work within the heritage sector, and also for sites and museums to be accessible for disabled visitors–and I believe these two goals are interrelated. According to an Arts Council England Report in 2017/18, only 4% of museum workers were disabled, leading The Museum’s Association to conclude that diversity remained static within the sector. This is a disappointing statistic. History should be accessible to everyone, and this is especially so when it comes to areas that have traditionally been neglected, like disability history.

A fascinating and wide-ranging area of history, disability history is (to me) endlessly interesting and also very poignant. It can be viewed from a number of perspectives from development of medical treatments, to the records of charities and work-houses, to recollections of disabled people themselves. Historic England have compiled a great overview of disability history in England, whilst both The National Archives and The Institute of Historical Research also have resources and tips on researching disability history in the archives. The history of disabled people cannot be divorced from the wider historical context of time and place, and this is never more true than during, and in the aftermath of World War One.

Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1972-062-01 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Much has been written about the horrific injuries soldiers at the Front received during the Great War. According to Martina Salvante, 8 million people were disabled in World War One. Not only did these people have to reconcile their disabilities with a post-war world, but many also struggled with ‘shell shock’, a form of traumatic disorder. This influx of disabled veterans also raised questions about the treatment and attitudes towards disabled people–organisations were established to help support this men, whether in re-training them to work in a new occupation or with living independently.

However, it wasn’t only disabled soldiers who had to readjust to life with a disability. Many who worked in munitions factories, such as HM Factory Gretna were also disabled. Some had arrived at the factory disabled or injured and were unable to do active service. Eric De Clemont lost his eye and contracted miner’s phthisis before the outbreak of war. Considered unfit for active service, Eric spent the war working in the cordite section as a sub-section officer at Gretna. Others were disabled through their work at Gretna. Victoria May McIver lost the lower part of her arm in an accident at the factory. In later life, one of her son’s friends was amazed at her skills at potato peeling, balancing the potato in the crook of her elbow.

A munitions worker, Victoria May McIver, is pictured giving Queen Mary a bouquet of flowers. The king stands next to his wife.

Victoria gives a bouquet of flowers to Queen Mary during the Royal Visit to Gretna in 1917. She was chosen to present the bouquet to the Queen on account of being the youngest munitions worker at Gretna Works Hospital.

There are many accounts of workers afflicted with chronic illnesses after working at HM Factory Gretna. There are accounts of women whose whites of their eyes turned yellow, and many suffered breathing problems long after the war was finished. The health impact of working in munitions during WW1 still isn’t clear, and may never be, due to a fragmentary nature of records kept and a lack of understanding of the medical effects of working with cordite. However, what I think is clear is that munitions factories like HM Factory Gretna often operated as hubs for disabled people to work in wartime, and this is a crucial, and often untold part of the history of disability in WW1. Many men considered ‘unfit’ for active, front line service were diverted into working in munitions, as an acceptable, yet maybe not as prestigious, alternative to being a soldier. These men contributed to the war effort in a different, but no less powerful way, by supplying the Front with ammunition. Similarly, all munitions workers risked injury and death as a result of their work in factories and with dangerous and volatile chemicals. Many, like Victoria May McIver, lost limbs, others were disabled in less visible but no less traumatic ways. These conditions would often dog them throughout their lives, and was a direct result of their wartime work.

Whilst the horrific injuries soldiers received during the war increased visibility for disabled people in the UK, it would be decades before The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act of 1970 gave statutory provision to disabled people. Disability history isn’t widely known–it isn’t taught in schools, and even when (inevitably) other areas of history overlap with the history of disability, the focus is generally on medical developments and disabled people aren’t centred as historical actors in their own story. This needs to change. As a historical researcher and disabled person, I have been woefully ignorant of this history, but it is important to learn it, and to share it.

Disabled history is a crucial part of our collective national story, and the disabled workers at HM Factory Gretna, and other munitions factories, during World War One are a very small part of this wider rich and complicated history.

 

 

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