My heritage journey

Here's how I came to be writing the new Museums and Heritage series...

My heritage journey

History is to me: art, interpretation, and intrigue. 

I was 13 when I first started volunteering in heritage, timid yet ready to explore. Home-education allowed me to discover all the areas I loved which, for me, where history and the arts.

At National Trust Ickworth I volunteered in the Front of House and Catering Team, as well as a Living History volunteer. Bringing the past to life is a life-goal of mine, because who doesn’t want to frolic in the petticoats and poppyfields of Austen’s novels? 

I believe history needs to be more than textbooks and memory tests in order to engage young people in the past.

My Front of House role at Ickworth had me greeting visitors, helping them get to grips with the basic background history of Ickworth House, and answering various questions: who was Lord Bristol?, when was Ickworth House built? etc.. As a practical learner, I absorbed significantly more information and facts chatting with staff and visitors than I ever would have if I'd sat down with a book! 

Living History reenactments have always intrigued and inspired me. I remember observing Shakespearean actors at Hampton Court Palace, and the mesmerizing way they brought a grand but somewhat cold and dreary space to life. I've always been a daydreamer, imagining how buildings, cities and sites would have looked two hundred years ago. I could imagine scullery-maids scuttling around the echoing stone corridors, whilst footmen polished gleaming silver, and the housekeeper’s keys jangled ominously. Living History gave me the opportunity to time travel. 

ba5aee1b91871a3ad6e73973383533c5e8e26076.jpgHousemaid besties!With the experience gained from Living History at Ickworth, I reenacted at Stamford Georgian Festival in 2017. This weekend-long festival started with a Bull Race (papier mache bull - all cruelty-free here) through the streets of Stamford. Myself and three other reenactors encouraged the crowds to hail back to the Georgian era by embodying a local family.

0f95f8bbf70ce3a2869cd25e4eb4b54d8171793d.jpgCheck the frilly cap...Living within close proximity to Cambridge means I’m lucky enough to access the globally renowned Fitzwilliam Museum. During 2017 I took a week-long work experience placement, exploring the University of Cambridge Museums and peeking behind the scenes at the vast collections in storage. I think part of my fascination with museums is the thrill that museum staff, with access to huge amounts of ancient objects and antiquity, are able to experience the past on a daily basis. 

I completed my Gold Arts Award with the Fitzwilliam Museum. I chose to focus on historical interpretation (basically Living History) and creative writing, designing a final piece including 1930s authentic illustrations. I loved my Gold Arts Award, from curating a mini exhibition at Ickworth House to learning how to draw in a 1930s style, to interviewing arts professionals. 

As you’ll have gathered by now, the National Trust has been a huge influence on my heritage and museums work. Last year, I started a new role at Anglesey Abbey as a Historical Engager. This was perfect for me! Dressed in mid-century costume - a head-scarf here, a seamed stocking there - our role is to engage the visiting public with the stories of the Abbey. I’m delighted to see Anglesey Abbey championing first-person engagement - undoubtedly more effective than a plaque on the wall - to ensure the next generation of visitors keep coming.

Et voila! So there’s my time during heritage, which has led me to typing this article to you. I do hope you enjoy the following museums and heritage series - and don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Instagram @sienna_jamez


Sienna James

Sienna James Voice Team

Formerly Assistant Editor, Sienna now studies History of Art at the University of Cambridge and loves to write about the intersection of politics, history and visual art. Sienna is author of the Creative Education and Instaviews series.

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  • Bee Snellen

    On 2 November 2018, 10:52 Bee Snellen Voice Team commented:

    It's great to read about your journey into the world of heritage and museums! What is, in your opinion, the most rewarding part of being an Historical Engager at the Abbey?

  • E M

    On 30 July 2019, 19:55 E M commented:

    This article is really interesting! The photos are really good. I've never thought about volunteering at National Trust. Where did you get the scullery maid costumes?

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