An architect uncovered (and the story of a successful placement)

My name is Archana Kapoor and I have just finished a three week placement at Abbey House Museum.

I have very much enjoyed my placement here at Abbey House. It was a great opportunity to increase my experience of working in museums. I had had a brief experience of working in my local museum in Wolverhampton, but the length of the placement hardly allowed for much work. At Abbey House it has been the opposite! I have been involved in such a wide range of activities and tasks from cataloguing images and text on TMS, preparing web texts, measuring and scanning photos, dusting items at Discovery Centre, to researching in trade directories. Such a range of work has given me a different insight into the world of museums and curatorial work. It is not only continuous but also extremely flexible. I have found it also requires good social skills. I was a bit taken aback when I asked to attend a buffet lunch (for volunteers) on my second day, but I found that I enjoyed meeting different people and began to feel part of a team. I was very grateful for the help and advice that Kitty and Nicola gave me, especially during the first week, but also (and perhaps more!) the interesting conversations we and other staff had about their work and historical issues in general. It gives out a signal of enthusiasm, which made the placement even more enjoyable.

Similarly, each task I was asked to do I enjoyed – even the dusting! It was something new that I hadn’t even thought of as being part of a museum job before, the work that goes into creating a profile on TMS and in addition it tested my flexibility as well. What I valued more as an historian, however, was the work done with primary sources, something which does not happen as much in my course. I did find though that the method of researching for my degree helped in my placement. Trade directories, censuses, newspaper archives and National Registry information were all used in the work I was set.

One of the tasks I really got stuck into was finding out about the man behind the drawing tools (see picture at the top)! Having quite literally just a name to go by, I soon found that Thomas Howdill had had quite a brilliant career as an architect and popped up every now and then in the newspaper announcements. Again, trade directories and newspaper archives were used, and I was delighted to be able to see the drawing instruments themselves when the donor brought them in this week. It was a thrill for to me to see the link between the information on paper and a physical link to the person I was researching. It is this element of my placement, which has flown by, that I value most, and which is something my course had not quite introduced me to. Because of this, and because of the kindness of the staff, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself here at Abbey House.

Archana Kapoor, History undergraduate student at Leeds University.

The drawing instruments have just been donated to the museum by Mr Woods from Pembrokeshire who was given them as a boy by Mr Howdill (Mr Wood’s mother and grandmother cleaned for the Howdill family). Thomas Howdill designed among other buildings the Oxford Place Chapel and Brudenell School in Leeds.

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