Archive by Author | connectingwithcollections

Changing Perspectives: a Garden through time

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Changing Perspectives: a Garden through time is a digital exhibition about the history of the eastern half of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden from the 1950s to the twenty-first century.   The Cambridge University Museum’s Connecting with Collections project has been funded by the Arts Council East.  You are welcome to visit the exhibition and discover: http://agardenthroughtime.

Over the past six decades, new ideas and concepts have changed the ways the eastern half of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden has been developed through innovative plantings and landscape designs. Changing Perspectives: a Garden through time follows the development of these new plantings and explores why and how ideas were introduced – such as the Winter Garden, the Dry Garden, the Scented Garden, the Genetics Garden and the Ecological Mound.

IMG_8377Discover Your Own Trail – you are invited to discover and follow your own trail through the digital Garden. You can explore Decade-by-Decade from the 1950s through to the 2000s. Meet Key People who developed and managed the Botanic Garden and its innovative plantings. Listen to Garden Voices talking about the Garden across the years. You can view the Garden From the Air and scroll though the changes over time along the virtual Timeline. Current scientific concerns that have become part of our environmental vocabulary since WWII – Sustainability, Conservation, Biodiversity, Ecology and Environmental Restoration – are discussed under Themes.  The What is a Botanic Garden? section highlights shifting ideas about the Botanic Garden and its evolving role into the twenty-first century.

The launch of Changing Perspectives: a Garden through time co-incides with the launch of the Botanic Garden’s oral history project, Voicing the Garden, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Cambridge University Botanic Garden Association (CUBGA):

Changing Perspectives digital exhibition   agardenthroughtime

Changing Perspectives leaflet pdf        Changing Perspectives Poster pdf

Cambridge University Botanic Garden:


Stories behind the stitches: workshop

Last Wednesday I ran a children’s workshop along with two others from the Education Department at the Fitzwilliam. The session was based on my research project on 18th- and 19th-century school samplers. Fifteen girls turned up and they had a morning full of activities and learning. We started off by looking at the samplers on display in the Fan Gallery. I spoke for a few minutes about the collection at the Fitzwilliam and discussed sampler making over the centuries. The girls asked lots of questions including for instance how they were made, materials used, how long a sampler would take to stitch. They then had an opportunity to look more closely at the needlework and to draw motifs as seen on the examples.

Once we arrived back in the education studio, I asked the girls to complete a worksheet related to my project. The school objects were on display in the studio. The aim of the worksheet was to show them the first steps that I took when I started researching them. I required the girls to note down the key information stitched onto the sampler, including the maker’s name, age etc. During this activity questions started to turn to the makers and the schools, enabling me to inform the girls about schooling at this time, the reasons for including needlework in the curriculum and to tell them particular stories about the makers. I asked them questions about their school life and needlework experiences, if any. I wanted to get across the similarities in age between them and the makers, as well as highlighting the fact that needlework skills were a means of survival back then rather than a leisure pursuit today. Several girls commented that they were glad to go to their school rather than a charity school or orphanage.

For the last half an hour of the workshop the girls had an opportunity to stitch a motif onto a piece of fabric, either one from the school samplers, or one found on the samplers in the fan gallery. Here are a few photos:










Overall they seemed to really enjoy the workshop, particularly the practical aspect, and I enjoyed running it too!

Education, Education, Education: Samplers as a Teaching Tool.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, samplers not only demonstrated an ability to do simple embroidery techniques, but they could also teach the stitchers literacy and numeracy, as girls almost invariably stitched alphabets and numerals on their sampler.


Elder Girls Learning to Sew in the Bristol Orphan House, c.1905. Image taken from Centenary Memorial 1805-1905 (Bristol: J. Wright and Co., 1905). Copyright, and reproduced by permission, of the Bristol Central Library.

Furthermore, the moral texts they worked allowed the girls to reflect and ponder on religious and ethical sentiments. The extracts were usually taken from the Bible, hymns or poems, with the most popular verses being by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), Charles Wesley (1707-1788) and William Cowper (1731-1800).

Contemporaries believed that teaching needlework greatly benefitted girls from impoverished backgrounds as it prevented idleness and gave them employable skills. Girls could start sewing as young as 5 or 6, as long as they could hold a needle and a piece of fabric. They might make their first sampler as young as 8, possibly continuing with further ones into their later teenage years.

But samplers can be used as an educational tool today, as a way to inform young children about schooling in the past. I intend to run an activity workshop next month, providing an interesting and engaging session on sampler making in 18th– and 19th-century schools. I also plan on telling them some of the life stories of the makers, explaining to the children that needlework skills could provide young embroiderers from the past with an occupation.


The Fitzwilliam Museum

2-3pm, Saturday 15 June 2013

Free and open to all, but advanced booking recommended.

Please email to book a place.

Connecting with Collections Symposium

For more information about the Connecting with Collections Symposium and details of the Eventbrite booking link, please click on the Symposium tab above right.

You can view and print a larger version of this poster by clicking on the downward arrow symbol at the bottom of the poster (above).

University of Cambridge Museums

Archive of projects, events and news from 2012 to May 2017