Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Royal Gunpowder Mills Victorian Experience 5th - 6th August 2006



Friday: This was going to be our first event as an independent Victorian re-enacting group. We were nervous and eager that we went to the Mills on Friday evening as we had been told that we could stay overnight. Strangely enough it is exactly 10 years (plus or minus a few days) that Laz and I went to our first ever ACWS event in Doncaster – we went by train with back packs!

We are used to turning up on Friday, set up camp, meet people, change into period clothing, chill out, cook, eat, drink more or less in that order...except today...When I spoke to Lynne at the gate she told me that every one else will be coming in the morning, bit late to go back. Oh well, never mind.

As it turned out Laz and I had a very good time, it was a beautiful afternoon and we had the entire place to ourselves, we even had our own Portaloo which was so clean you could smell it 20 feet away. I was in my element here; enough greenery to have a surfeit of chlorophyll, fallow deer, foxes and stock doves growling away in the trees and old buildings.

As the darkness drew in we settled down and had something to eat. The greenery was now black shadows, bits of light reflected from broken windows and by the time that the last bird had twittered its last twitter the hairs on the back of my neck were tingling and getting ready to scurry down my spine at the first hint of something with more eyes and legs than a seafood salad. Hang on, that’s not my reflection in that window...

Saturday: I woke up to another beautiful morning. I had had some incredibly bizarre dreams during the night and I suspect that these had been encouraged more by the quantities of excellent blue cheese consumed before going to bed than by any spooky stuff around us.

While Laz drove off to collect Mrs. Grymm I set about cooking breakfast. Once they had returned we downed the tent, since we were going home in the evening, and made our way down to the exhibition area. Brian allowed us to use the saltpetre house and he even had a sign made for us. This was fantastic, ever since I started Grymm’s World of Wonders four years ago I have wanted to do an indoor show and now with the Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum we had achieved that. This is the way that Victorian curio collections should be displayed. And so at 11.00 a.m. The Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum officially opened to the public. Apart from my display, Laz now has an interesting collection of skulls including a model of an unfortunate Mr. Gage who had an iron rod accidentally blown through his skull. The model needs to be seen to be believed and has a 10 out of 10 yuck factor! Cassandra is now doing an Optics display which includes a zoetrope, thaumatropes and various other ‘opes’ with rather odd names. My favourite is the phenakistoscope.

While we were never quite inundated with people we had a steady stream and within an hour or so we had informed, confused and bedazzled more punters than our two previous events put together. There were some very well informed people about and they are always a pleasure to talk to as are enthusiastic kids, although a couple of them were a real test of endurance! They grabbed randomly at everything possible and it is a real challenge to one’s story telling when you are holding a shrunken head in one hand while gently retrieving items from hands moving faster than a hyper-active squid with the other. You also need a sort of chameleon vision in order to keep an eye on the audience and exhibits on the table. I like to have a sort of hands-on thing, otherwise some of the things I talk about do not work.

I am not sure what Liz and Brian were expecting from us, their main experience had been two visits in the hope of us using the theatre for a public magic lantern display. The last visit was more of a Laurel and Hardy re-run, still it kept Liz amused! In retrospect it was just as well that it had been a failure as we barely had time for a break during the day. It had been a very successful first day and we headed for home in high spirits.

Sunday: Sadly Cassandra was not able to go back to the show today so Laz and I returned to the Mills early. It was another beautiful morning, despite the BBC weather site predicting rain, so we sat outside for an hour or so and enjoyed a bacon, sausage and black pudding sandwich.

There was again a good crowd and we managed to keep most of them entertained while they waited for the school lesson or the musical hall routine to start. Somewhere on the grounds there was also a lady doing a wash day. I was getting used to the space and used window sills to put some displays on, we could have used the entire room but it would have become unmanageable. We got about a half hour break when it seemed every visitor was somewhere else. Again we had quality audiences; in fact at one point I had real problems getting them to move on to the ‘Craniology’ table.

If there were no more questions at the end I would put one to them myself. I hold up the cannibal fork or iculanibokola and ask them what they think it is. It is very interesting to see what comes up: something like 50% of answers involve weaving wool, followed by comb, planter of some kind, “stabby-thing” is quite common and then there are, of course, the totally unprintable. Four people this weekend thought that it was a dried squid, which was new. One lad was, more or less, spot on, he even gave two answers: fork and ceremonial. Actually when the answer is revealed it gets much the same reaction as Mr. Phineas Gage’s trapdoor skull.

Liz managed to escape the shop for a while and came over to talk to us. While I was explaining the manufacture of mermaids, I said “The first mermaid that I made...” and Liz, thinking this rather odd, voted it the sentence of the weekend!

Our last groups were really nice people with very clever kids, I noticed that while one little girl said very little during my talk, her brother giving most of the answers, she seemed very intrigued by the Trepanning Techniques of Dr. Tooms and asked lots of amazing questions. I’d like to add here that her brother was the 2nd lad this weekend to guess what the fork was...a fork...must be a boy thing.

On to my quote of the weekend; it came from an incredibly eager lad fascinated by Egyptology who also had the sense to question something that I said regarding a small amulet, I told him to check things out; that should be the policy for any investigator. He told me that when he was asked what he wanted to do when he left school his reply had been, “I want to be a field archaeologist in the Valley of the Kings” Now that is an ambition! He’s teacher on the other hand had written down, “Why can’t he just want to be a policeman?” Good luck kid!

It had been a very enjoyable and successful weekend for us and I hope Gunpowder Mills had an equally successful time of it. So I would like to give special thanks, on behalf of the Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum, to Brain and Liz for their support and help and to Tricia Dibb, music hall impresario, for her valuable advice.

This is Professor Leonidas Grymm...heading for the Orinoco...