Christmas at Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust

Sophie Bricknell shares tales of her busy Christmas dashing from site to site at Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust…

Following our sell out events for Halloween and Bonfire night, the Ironbridge Events team set about preparations for Christmas. I was involved in two very different events: Gorgeous Christmas Craft Fair, held across the Coalbrookdale venues, and Victorian Christmas at Blists Hill Victorian town.

Gorgeous Christmas Craft Fair, held in collaboration with Shropshire Guild of Contemporary Craft, offered visitors the opportunity to buy a wide variety of gifts, food and crafts, ranging from from wicker baskets and silk scarfs to stunning glass plates and jewellery. To prepare for this, we had to make the site look the part; setting up a variety of Christmas decorations, in addition to infrastructural arrangements, from tables and chairs to heaters, electricity access and PA systems. I also set up all the signage around the event to guide the public into and around the site. The event ran over an entire weekend, during which I undertook a variety of roles, including managing the car parks, answering visitor and exhibitor enquiries, and general problem solving. Our work didn’t end at close of play either – all hired equipment had to be prepared for collection and the venue returned to normal. I also used visitor, staff and exhibitor feedback collected during the event to produce an evaluation report in order that the event can be improved in future years, as I have done with all the events I have contributed to.

Morris Dancers & Dickensian scene

Over at Blists Hill Victorian Town, and across two weekends in December, weeks of site preparation paid off as visitors to Victorian Christmas were greeted with brass bands, Morris dancers and falling snow. Showcasing the Christmas traditions of 1900, there was a whole host of activities on offer including Christmas card printing, candle dipping, and a wishing tree alongside market stalls and a Dickensian scene, based on Dickens’ A Christmas Tree. Musicians, choirs and reenactors brought the event to life, populating the streets and guiding visitors back through time in order to experience Victorian celebrations and entertainment; alongside which the demonstrators and exhibits offered a historical education of the Victorian class system and their respective Christmas celebrations. A traditional Shropshire Mummers Play and Punch and Judy shows further entertained visitors, together with Shire Horses, Reindeer and Donkeys.

During the event I dressed as a Victorian and took to the streets, dividing my attention between visitors, external contractors and the donkeys, Bobby, Sunny and Geronimo (my favourite!). Each event taught us something new about how to improve the visitor experience, some of which we were able to implement before the second Christmas weekend.

Victorian Christmas at at Blists Hill Victorian Town

Now that Christmas is over and safely packed away, we’re looking ahead to 2017 and Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust’s 50th anniversary. In February half term we’ll be having fun with falconry displays and kite-making at Blists Hill Victorian Town and rocket workshops as well as a flight simulator at Enginuity. For Mothering Sunday in March we’ll mark the day Victorian children were given leave from work to see their parents. There’ll be high tea, Simnel cake in the bakery, a floral rosette workshop and a family activity trail encouraging children to learn about Victorian society. It looks set to be another great few months.

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