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STASHED AWAY Television series reveals secrets from the Empire Museum

90% of museum collections are in boxes - history unseen until now.

‘Stashed Away’ delves into the stores of South West museums to reveal treasures previously hidden from public view.

Sunday 24th July at 5pm, ITV West

Currency, crowns, photos and film.

A Wildfire Bristol production for ITV1 West.

Empire Museum nominated for a major award for a record third year

The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum in Bristol has been short-listed as a finalist for the 2005 Museums & Heritage Awards for Excellence. It is the only museum in Britain to have been nominated in each of the three years since the Awards began. The presentation ceremony will take place at London's Cafe Royal on Wednesday, 11th May and is to be hosted by journalist and author Sophie Raworth.

This year’s nomination is for ‘Pow Wow’, the Museum’s current special exhibition about England’s attempts to colonise North America in the 16th and 17th Centuries. ‘Pow Wow’ was designed and built by Bristol-based Codsteaks, set makers best known for the successful Wallace and Gromit films. The exhibition runs until the end of 2005.

The Museum’s permanent exhibition was an outright winner in the inaugural Museums and Heritage Awards for Excellence in 2003, in a category rewarding creativity and innovation. The Museum was also given a highly commended award the same year for ‘Commonwealth FM’, its community radio project. In 2004, the Museum’s special exhibition ‘On Your Marks’, received a nomination in the category of ‘best temporary or touring exhibition’ and it is for this award that ‘Pow Wow’ has been shortlisted this year.

The only other cultural institution that has also received a nomination each year since the awards began is Falmouth Art Gallery.


Top Native American Dance troupe to perform at the Empire Museum

One of America’s leading Native American Dance troupes will be performing in Britain for the very first time this Easter. The First Nations Dance Company will be the highlight of the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum’s Native American Festival, which takes place between the 25th March and the 10th April.

Flying into Britain, direct from New Mexico, a dozen performers from the First Nations Dance Company will entertain audiences with a series of spectacular music and dance shows inside the Museum’s passenger shed.

Ten dancers and two musicians representing the Apache, Zuni, Navajo, Lakota and Caddo tribes will perform traditional dances such as the Inter-tribal War Dance, the Men’s Chicken Dance, the Snake Dance and the Men’s Fast and Fancy War dance.

The performances will also feature special women-only dances, including the Scalp Dance, traditionally performed at ceremonies to honour the sons, brothers and fathers who served in battle. Historically, men in returning "war parties" were acclaimed by the women of the tribe when they brought back "A'sku." (scalp locks). A lock of hair was tied by Scalp Dance leaders to the end of a pole which represented the lance which the women would then use in their dance.

The troupe will be allowing members of the audience to join in with selected dances, such as the Round Dance, which is a children’s favourite.

First Nations’ performer ‘Sky Medicine Bear’ says: "Performing in the UK will be a fascinating experience. As we have performed in other places in Europe, we are excited and proud to showcase our Native American culture for the British people".

Tickets for the shows can be booked in advance by calling 0117 925 4980. Performances scheduled for the 26, 28 29 and 30 March and the 1st and 2nd April and are suitable for all ages from three years upwards.

The Native American Festival also features food tasting, storytelling and traditional Native American arts and crafts. The Festival is part of a year-long programme of major events to accompany Pow Wow, the Museum’s popular exhibition about England’s attempts to colonize North America in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Museum celebrates International Women's Day

To mark International Women’s Day, an evening of performance and presentations by women writers is to be held at the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum on Tuesday, 8th March.

Members of Vivida (Bristol’s Asian women’s writing group) and Bristol Black Writers are collaborating for a combined show, entitled ‘Breathing Fire’, using the Museum as their inspiration as well as location. The event is open to the public with all proceeds from ticket sales to be donated to the Tsunami Appeal.
The audience will be guided from one location in the gallery to another as the evening goes on and organisers promise a thought-provoking and uplifting experience.

Anger, conflict, ambivalence, celebration and ownership are all words that are flung around by the women while talking about the museum.

This is what some of the participants have to say:
Jenny Davis, member of Bristol Black Writers says "I like the museum a lot, it’s a very rich place. It’s an uncomfortable part of our history - our stories are buried there in those archives, between those sentences."

Maithreyi Nandakumar, part of Vivida, says: "So much of me is here in this museum. The first time I came to see it, I was shocked at the strength of my own reaction. This is a chance to voice those thoughts aloud, and share them".

Baljinder Bhopal attends both groups; "The poet being witness is a strong force. It’s a powerful location to be performing in and I’m looking forward to the experience."

‘Breathing Fire’ takes place at the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum this International Women’s day, Tuesday, 8th March at 6.30 p.m. Tickets cost £3.50 and can be booked in advance by calling 0117 925 4980.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

To coincide with the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War, The Commonwealth War Graves Commission today launched Anthem for Remembrance – a Commonwealth-wide music composition competition for students aged 23 and under.

Anthem for Remembrance was inspired by the grave of Hugh Gordon Langton, a brilliant violinist who was killed in the First World War. His family used a small musical phrase, instead of words, as an inscription on his headstone to express their feelings of sorrow. Using the musical inscription on Hugh’s headstone as inspiration, the Commission is challenging students across the Commonwealth to compose a short piece of music expressing their view on remembrance.

Peter Francis, spokesperson for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission said, "When remembering the men and women who have lost their lives in the two world wars, it can sometimes be difficult to find the best thing to say. Music can be a powerful alternative and with this in mind we have launched Anthem for Remembrance – an imaginative means of encouraging young people to think about how they want to remember those who died."

Entries must be received by 30 June and will be accepted in three categories, according to age. The judging panel will include world famous composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and renowned musician Piers Adams. A fantastic package of prizes, including the chance for the winners to have their entry professionally recorded, has been put together by the Commission, with the help and support of The Royal British Legion.

Peter added, "We are not sure what we are going to get – it is very exciting! The winning entry might be a classically inspired piece or a rap song. It’s all about the students using their imagination and having fun, while tackling a serious topic and perhaps challenging some of our views on how to remember the war dead."

"We are very grateful to The Royal British Legion, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Piers Adams and all those who have supported this initiative. We are looking forward to a huge response."
More details can be found at or by contacting Peter Francis on 01628 507163.

Museum needs your old stamps!

The Museum has just launched a new appeal encouraging people to send in their old stamps.
Old, used, new, foreign or unused - the Museum would like them all. The Museum is also collecting coins, tokens, banknotes, postcards, First day covers and interesting envelopes.

Send in your collections to:

British Empire & Commonwealth Museum, FREEPOST NAT 5540, Bristol BS1 6FA.
Of course using a stamp increases your charitable giving - but every little helps!

Museum named 'Best in the Region' in new museum guide

The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum has been named 'Best in the Region' in 'Britain's best museums and galleries', a new book written by Mark Fisher which celebrates the museums of the British Isles and their contents.

Mark Fisher has travelled across Britain, from the West of Ireland to East Anglia, from the Orkneys to St. Ives, to select the best 350: famous and little-known, international and local; collections of fashion; flying machines and fans; ceramics and motorcars; boots, shoes and lasts; great works of art.

In an in-depth piece on the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum, Mark Fisher comments on the use of audio-visual technology in the Museum galleries to present the individual experience of empire: "This archive is a triumph, as impressive a use of video as in any British Museum"

Commonwealth comes to Britain gallery: Just one example of how audio-visual technology is used to present the personal experience of empire.

Museum acquires Ordnance Survey Archives

The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum is one of five institutions to have
acquired archive material from the Ordnance Survey International Library . The handover is part of the Ordnance Survey's mission to improve access to the library and as a result the British Empire & Commonwealth

Museum is now home to an archive of 1.5 million aerial photographs and associated survey data of 60 mainly Commonwealth countries. The archived items date mainly from 1946 to 1999, although there are some maps from the 19th century that were acquired in the 1940s. A second set of the DOS
mapping, and relevant items from the book library have also been placed in the Museum’s Library. These records will be available to the public in the near future.For further information about accessing the material, email Jo Hopkins in the still image archive on

Other collections from the Ordnance Surveys International Library can be found in the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office), The Royal Geographical Society, The British Film Institute’s National Film and TV Archive and the University of Portsmouth.

Museum wins top education award

The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum in Bristol received an education
award at a special ceremony at the Thackray Museum in Leeds this week. The award was given in recognition of the quality of the education services provided by the Museum.

Commenting on the Museum’s success, the Judges said "education is at the heart of this museum dedicated to studying Britain’s imperial past in order to understand our multicultural present. The young, energetic and enthusiastic staff deserve their success".

The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum attracts over 12,000 pupils per year from schools and colleges from across the south-west and even further afield. The Museum’s education programme, 'Learning Journeys', offers a variety of educational experiences, ranging from workshops for children
under six to lectures and seminars for adult learners.

'Learning Journeys' covers a range of current issues from slavery to fair trade, poverty to human rights. Through 'Learning Journeys' students are able to get a view of the world from a non-western perspective, focusing on aspects of life and culture in different countries across the Commonwealth.

The Sandford Award for Heritage Education is the latest of many awards to be
won by the Museum since opening in September 2002. It was a finalist for the title of ‘European Museum of the Year’ in 2004 and is a previous winner in the Museums and Heritage annual Awards for Excellence.

Chester Zoo, HMS Belfast and the Roman Baths were also among the winners of
the 2004 award.

Rachel Alderson from the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum (right), is presented with the Sandford Award by Anne Green, Chairman of the Trustees of the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

Intertribal Indian Club of Tulsa wowed crowds at Museum

The Museum was host to a series of performances by the Intertribal Indian Club of Tulsa who headlined the Musem's October half-term programme. The famous dance troupe in full Native American costume
adorned with feathers and beads, wowed audiences with their colourful music and dance shows inside the Museum’s Passenger Shed.

The performers showcased several dances unique to the Cherokee and Creek tribes. The Fancy War Dance and the Grass Dance are the highlight of traditional Native American gatherings – or Powwows - which celebrate the continuation of Native American Culture.

Look out for more Native American themed events next year featuring storytellers, dancers and a showcase of Native Amedrican film.

Photos by Dave Pratt Photography.

British Merchant Seamen Honoured at Museum

The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum is the first port of call for an important new touring exhibition about the role of the Merchant Navy in the Second World War. Opening on Remembrance Day, Thursday 11th November, "Cruel Sea" reveals the little known experiences of Merchant Navy veterans.

"Cruel Sea" has been created in partnership with Age Exchange, a charity that promotes the use of reminiscence in the arts. The exhibition explores through photographs, sound and film the extraordinary and moving stories of survivors from Bristol who served during the darkest days of the Second World War.

More than 30,000 Merchant seafarers from across the Empire lost their lives on British Merchant ships. Approximately one in four of these seamen were killed during the Second World War. Over 3,000 Merchant ships were sunk. Yet despite these heavy losses the Merchant Navy continued to bring home food and raw materials from around the world. Their courage in facing terrible conditions at sea and at war enabled Britain to endure and to feed itself at a time when defeat and not victory seemed almost inevitable.

Age Exchange and the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum have been working closely with members of the Bristol Merchant Navy Association whose stories provide the backdrop to the exhibition. Fifteen students from Bristol’s City Academy, aged between 13 and 14, volunteered to be a part of this intergenerational project, which involved them interviewing veterans of the Bristol Merchant Navy Association.

One of the individuals featured is Leonard Dib Western who, like many of the veterans, joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 15. He describes how he sailed out from Bristol on a Norwegian ship:
"Mother was going to come down with my brothers to see me off. Only we went at 10 o’clock, so I missed them. I was very sea sick, from here to Barry. It was on a Sunday evening. I sat under a lifeboat, a hole in my sock and I was so homesick I broke my heart"

Other Bristol Merchant veterans interviewed include Bob Bromley, Gerald Warden, Bill Wann, Ray Buck, Tom Scotland and Ray Pearce.

"Cruel Sea" is the first project of its kind ever undertaken, bringing together partners from veterans, museums, artists, filmmakers, voluntary associations and educational professionals who have worked together to share and represent first hand experience of the war at sea. After appearing at the Museum it will continue its national tour visiting ports including Liverpool, Plymouth, Newcastle, Southampton and Falmouth .

The Lord Mayor of Bristol, Councillor Simon Cook, will formally launch the exhibition at 4.15pm at a special private viewing for members of the Merchant Navy Association.

"Cruel Sea" will be on display until the 11th February 2005 in the Museum’s Cafe Gallery and is included in the cost of admission to the Museum.


The ideal Christmas present

Membership to the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum makes a unique gift for the whole family. A family membership to the Museum can cost as little as £40 for unlimited entry to the Museum’s ever- changing programme of events and exhibitions. This represents excellent value with members gaining access to additional events such as school holiday activities, new exhibitions and lectures and seminars absolutely free. Family membership provides the ideal solution for those hard to buy for families, a unique gift that will give the lucky family or individual lots of exciting days out all year round!

Benefits of Membership:

Unlimited free entry to the Museum and temporary exhibitions

Free entry to school holiday activities, lectures and seminars
Members’ magazine ""Newsline"
Invitations to exclusive members’ events
One Free Guest for adult members

Cost of membership

Adult £25
Joint Membership £40

Family Membership is worked out on a person –by –person basis:
Adult £20 (Maximum of Two)
Child £5 (no maximum)

To find out more, contact Rachel Alderson on 0117 925 4980 ext 209 or email Alternatively click on the following:

Friends Membership Form

Standing Order Form

A Common Language in Bristol
A unique project, which looks at one of the most enduring influences of the British Empire, the spread of the English language, will be showcased at the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum on the 5th October at 5pm.

The event will mark the completion of a year-long project funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, entitled Language and legacy in Empire. The project looks at the influence of the former Empire on language and how it has affected vocabulary, accents and even cadence of voice of people from all over the Commonwealth.

The Museum has worked with CEED (Centre for Employment and Enterprise) to collect over fifty interviews from Bristol’s Asian, African and Afro-Caribbean communities. The interviewees were all aged between 18 and 30 years old and have family links to former Empire and Commonwealth countries. The project was designed to heighten awareness of the richness and variety of spoken language in contemporary Britain.

Dharani Naidoo, the Museum’s education facilitator and manager of the project, says that the recordings provide "a snap shot of second and third generation immigrant experiences in this country. The essence of culture, identity, life experience and the effect of the English and Commonwealth languages on contemporary society have all been captured in this exciting project".

The project allowed the interviewees to reflect on their use of language. In one interview a 26 year old Gujarati Indian tells of how he threw himself into sport as a way of becoming accepted, as communicating in English didn't come straight away. He learnt English through children's television programmes, while his mother taught him Gujarati.

Some of the testimonies will be broadcast on the Museum’s own radio station, Commonwealth FM, which will broadcast to Bristol from the 1 – 30 November. They will also be accessible to researchers in the Museum’s oral history archive which covers a vast range of views, opinions, anecdotes and experience from people who lived and worked in the former Empire and Commonwealth.

For further details of how to access these recordings, please contact Dharani Naidoo on 0117 925 4980 ext 235 or email