Why we need to keep our small urban museums.

22nd October 2011

Regardless of where you live in the UK if you mention the TV programme “The Office” and most people remember 1) that dance 2) Slough. Mention Slough to older generation of people and they will quote the famous lines of John Betjeman’s poem Come Friendly Bombs “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough! It isn’t fit for humans now, There isn’t grass to graze a cow. Swarm over, Death!”  More recently the BBC commissioned a TV series called Making Slough Happy in autumn 2005. It is for these very reasons why it is so important that Slough has a museum. 

These cultural slurs not only demean the morale of the people who live and work within the town but it also cause deeper rooted social problems amongst youth who then have no respect for the place they live which can spiral into causing anti social behaviour and low level crime. During the recent summer riots Slough came through virtually unscathed, yet if you believed Slough’s reputation the town should have seen the town full of feral wild youths looting and smashing the town up. 

One of the reasons why the town was relatively unscathed was that for the people who live in the town do feel a sense of community that is largely thanks to the tireless work of the local schools and youth services. I would argue that Slough Museum is one of those key services and facilities that helps glues the local community together by helping the locals understand their towns past and take pride in where they live work and go to school. 

The museum enable a place were all sectors of the community can be celebrated. This is so important in a town like Slough that is made up of so many different cultures and nationalities. It also shows the towns many achievements through history which helps counter balance the negative cultural references of resent history.

Here are 20 things that I have learnt about slough since volunteering at the Museum:

1)    Langley (part of Slough) made 3700 Hurrican Hawker planes during World War II.

2)     During the 1908 Olympics the Marathon was run from Windsor Castle via Eton and Slough High Street to White City (BBC TV Centre)

3)     A Slough Company High Duty Alloys made the Olympic Torches for the 1948 London Olympics

4)     Slough home to The Mars Bar (and all Mars Chocolates)

5)     It was in Slough that James Elliman created his Royal Embrocation for Horses and Humans. James Elliman became a local benefactor to many local churches and good causes and gave the locals Salt Hill Park.

6)     The first criminal to be arrested by Telegram happened in Slough. On 1st January 1845 John Tawell travelled from Paddington to Slough to visit his mistress Sarah Hart on Salt Hill. He was carrying cyanide of potassium, a deadly poison, which he gave to Sarah in a glass of stout. The following day he was arrested. He hung on 28th March 1845.

7)     Sir Fredrick William Herschel the astronomer to the King and the man who discovered Uranus lived in Datchet and then in Windsor Road Slough until his death on 15 November 1738.

8)     Charles Dickens had a Publisher (and a Mistress) in Slough.

9)    Slough had the First ever Zebra Crossing. Slough has been a Safety town since the 1950’s and still trials various road safety systems and crossing before they are rolled out nation wide.

10) Victoria and Albert’s first train journey (with JMW Turner) was from Slough to London Paddington.

11)Britain’s first mass made branded and widely available painkiller, Aspro, was manufactured in slough from the trading estate.

12) Thunderbirds were made in Slough (yes that was the biggest shock to me!)

13) Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, was cremated at Slough crematory in 2002.

14) Kate Middleton’s parents lived in a flat in Slough when they were first married

15) During WW2 many factories on the Trading Estate were taken over for the war effort making plane parts, bombs, ammunition, stretchers, tank parts, and repairing MOD vehicles from the front.

16) During the 1930s depression there was only 1% unemployment inSlough

17) Horlicks is another big brand that live in Slough and its factory is one of the iconic land marks of the town.

18) In Colnbrook (in Slough) boosts the 3rd oldest public house inEngland.

19) Richard Cox of apple fame cultivated the Cox’s Orange Pippin locally the original tree blew over in a storm in 1911.

20) The rose “Mrs Simkins Pink” (dianthus) was cultivated by Mr Thomas Simkins, Master of the Slough and Eton Union workhouse, for his wife. The full and highly scented bloom is still popular today.  

Small museums also play an important role in the lives of those of us who volunteer there. People of all ages class and background come together to generously give their time. For me it has given me a positive way to spend my time as I look for work, it was something positive to get better for when I was sick and also give me a place rto give something back to society as well as giving me experience within the sector I want to work in.

I have also seen first hand how the museum’s out reach programmes have positive effects within some of the venerable sectors of society such as the elderly at the local Age Concern centres and venerable women who exhibited work in the old temporary exhibition space in the old museum. Exhibiting work was an important part in the recovery process for some of the women who showed art. 

What separates humans from the animals is our empathy and intelligence. By having places such as the museum in towns such as Slough you reach those core points of being human and help the locals connect with their town empathize with the citizens of the past and be proud of the place they live and work and strive towards the future.

Slough Museum reopens in its new home at Sloughs Central library on 26th October 2011. Please come and see us if you are in the area. Let us change your perception of Slough!

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4 Responses to Why we need to keep our small urban museums.

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