Gordon Stevenson has been chairman of the trustees of Petworth Cottage Museum since May 2011, and was a trustee for six years prior to that.
He said: “Petworth Cottage Museum is ‘not really a museum’. It’s a house that has been restored, decorated, furnished and equipped as if it were 1910, when it was the home of Mrs. Mary Cummings and when the Leconfield Estate had the most cottages and workers ever.”
The museum was the idea of Mrs. Ann Bradley who wanted to show a typical estate worker’s cottage in contrast to life at Petworth House.
Gordon added: “Mary Cummings, however, was not a typical estate worker, and the reconstruction takes account of the living memories of Mary’s time here, her Irish Catholic background, and her work as a seamstress at home and at Petworth House.
“It is uniquely atmospheric, nostalgic and educational.”
The museum shut its doors at the beginning of 2020 when the UK went into lockdown and is working on plans to open in the summer when restrictions should be lifted fully.
He said: “Some of our stewards and some of our visitors were in vulnerable groups and the museum’s interior and contents would be fragile in the face of deep cleaning.
“The museum has limited space for social distancing. It seems more feasible to open again this summer and autumn, but we will need to control visitor numbers - possibly by pre-booking - and of course must comply with current COVID regulations and guidance.”
Every year some of the volunteers retire, with some having stewarded at the museum since 1996, this means it is looking for people to be stewards as well as helping with day to day preparation.
He said: “We are hoping to open from about June or July. The museum needs a lot of preparation and new ways of working may need to be developed and tested. Our existing and new volunteers will need training.”
Volunteers are not required to sign up to a ‘rigid commitment’ with many doing two afternoons per month during the usual season of April to October, with the rota done a month in advance.
He said: “This is not a museum where everything is labelled - that would destroy the impression of it being Mrs. Cummings home. So the stewards’ explanations and interpretations are fundamental to the visitor’s experience.”
The museum has been open for 25 years, and is in need of some conservation work.
Gordon said: “The most pressing issue is internal re-decorating.
“The penalty for our authentic gas lights and coal fired range is soot. A certain amount is part of the lived-in look. But it’s now so bad as to make the living room rather dark and dirty. This room is wallpapered with a 1910s pattern. We are working to obtain an exact or close match to redecorate it.”
For more information visit - petworthcottagemuseum.co.uk where you can view a virtual exhibition celebrating 25 years in conjunction with the Petworth Heritage Partnership.
Potential volunteers should call 01798 343496 or email at [email protected]