Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Happy Christmas from all at The Higgins!

Edward Bawden (1903 - 1989) Advertising Material for The Titfield Thunderbolt: Christmas Card 'from Reginald P. Baker and Michael Balcon' 1952 © The Edward Bawden Estate

We’ve had an amazing 2012 and we’ve really enjoyed seeing so many people at events, workshops and outreach sessions throughout Bedford and the surrounding Borough. But we’re looking forward to 2013 and the reopening even more.

During 2012 we’ve planned new displays, written thousands of object labels, moved the office (back into The Higgins!) and we’ve begun to move objects back to the new store. So far we’ve moved over 1000 boxes or 5,351 artefacts back to The Higgins.

We’ve been out and about too. We have worked with over 60 local groups and organisations including schools, faith groups, residential homes, children’s centres and youth clubs to reach new audiences, talk to people about our collections and gather stories and material for future displays.

We’ve also been out to deliver outreach sessions to over 6,000 school children.

We’ve travelled 484 (nearly 500!) miles in search of archaeology with our young archaeologists group, SAW.
SAW on a visit to Dunstable Downs in September 2012

We’ve had lots of help from audiences, participating in events and helping to create content for the new displays. At the River Festival and at Bedford International Athletic Stadium audiences had the opportunity to choose objects to be shown in Collection Point, a display designed to showcase the breadth and variety of The Higgins’ Collections and to change over time. The most popular object was a glass mouse made by Lalique.

We held an election for Great Bedfordians at Heritage Open Day in September 2012. The event offered audiences the opportunity to vote for their favourite Great Bedfordian, or to nominate a new Great Bedfordian if their favourite was not already on the list. In the end, Trevor Huddleston won the day. The result of the election will form part of the new People gallery when The Higgins reopens.

We were very happy and proud to be made Leisure & Culture ‘Team of the Year’ by the Bedford Borough Council Adult Services Directorate. Here are our staff and volunteers at the presentation with Dave Hodgson, Mayor of Bedford and Cllr Doug McMurdo, Portfolio Holder for Arts and Leisure. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Picture of the Week - Thomas Gainsborough

Thomas Gainsborough RA (1727-88) study for Diana and Actaeon, 1784-5, black chalk and wash, heightened with white on paper

The study from the Cecil Higgins Collection is the final study of three for an oil painting, now in the Royal Collection (you can see the work here). The story of Diana and Acteon is told in the Third Book of Metamorphoses, a long narrative poem by the Roman poet Ovid. The myths told in Ovid's poem are written elsewhere and in earlier texts with many variations to the stories, as well using the differing Roman and Greek names for the gods, but for artists depicting myths in paintings in the 16th to 18th centuries it was the key work. In this story Diana (or Artemis to the Greeks) is bathing with her nymphs after a hunt in

...a spacious grotto, all around o'er-grown
With hoary moss, and arch'd with pumice-stone.

Acteon, who has also just finished hunting, comes to the clearing and disturbs the bathing party, frightening the nymphs and angering Diana. A virgin goddess, Diana furiously protects her modesty and in anger throws water at Acteon which transforms him into a stag:

...the man begun to disappear
By slow degrees, and ended in a deer.
A rising horn on either brow he wears...

Actaeon then flees from the scene but only lands in more trouble as he encounters his hounds who do not recognise him and pounce on him, tearing him to pieces. As he lies dying on the ground his hunting party call for their lord Actaeon to celebrate the caught stag, and he can only wish he wasn't so near to the gory scene as to be a part of it.

Gainsborough's depiction takes a more remote viewpoint from the famous painting by Titian, where Diana's side glance at Actaeon delivers all her fury and vengeance. The scene is more tranquil and the figures looser; Actaeons antlers have started to appear but the group of goddess and nymphs seem calm. In both painting and the Cecil Higgins study Acteon is rendered in the same way as the trees and rocks, with loose handling of black chalk and wash, where the bathers shine out with the lightest areas of the paper and dazzling white chalk. Diana is the standing figure in the centre; her arms reach out to fling the magical water at the intruder. Gainsborough is clearly as interested in the woodland scene as much as the myth taking place within it, and makes if almost feel the most natural thing to find chance upon a goddess bathing in the English countryside.

Gainsborough had not turned to mythological subjects before and never exhibited the picture but he was in the last years of his life with a swollen neck from cancer and was perhaps reflecting on his life in a different way, on his passion for the suffolk landscape and his own love of beauty. (Andrew Graham Dixon has written more on his website about the relationship of this picture with Gainsborough's terminal illness and his impending death.)

Kristian Purcell

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Trevor Huddleston wins the day

Father Trevor Huddleston by David Litchfield, 2011.
On Saturday 8th September we were invited to participate in Heritage Open Day at St. Paul's Church, Bedford. The theme was 'Great Bedfordians' which was great because it tied in with work we had been doing writing a regular 'Great Bedfordian' column for local community newspaper The Bedford Clanger and researching Great Bedfordians for the People Gallery, one of the new galleries that will be in The Higgins when it reopens.

So, we decided we would run an election. We made a shortlist of candidates. Borrowed a genuine ballot box and created some campaign leaflets for our candidates. Our shortlist was by no means a comprehensive list of Great Bedfordians, so we allowed our voters the opportunity to nominate some new Bedfordians if they preferred.

We wanted to find out which of the stories resonated most with people today and why. The information and comments we collected will help us during the planning of the People Gallery which will host changing exhibitions about the people of Bedford and its surrounding borough. Some of them will be the famous names we are all familiar with, but there is also space for less well known stories and even some contemporary 'Great Bedfordians'. 

Our shortlist included:

  • Amy Walmsley - Suffragist and Headmistress of the Froebel School
  • Charlotte Bousfield - temperance advocate and diarist
  • Colonel Frederick Burnaby - Victorian adventurer
  • Etienne Stott - Olympic gold medallist
  • Father Trevor Huddleston - anti-apartheid campaigner
  • Frank Wild - polar explorer
  • James Howard - agriculturalist, inventor and politician. Founder of Britannia Iron Works.
  • Joe Clough - taxi driver and war veteran
  • John Howard - prison reformer
  • Margaret Beaufort - Mother to Henry VII
  • Sir William Harpur - philanthropist and Lord Mayor of London
  • W H Allen - engineer
You can read all about our Great Bedfordians on this PDF

Trevor Huddleston won our election by a significant margin. Here is what you said about him:

'Horizons so far beyond Bedford' 'He has been and is an inspiration' 'A man who wasn't deterred by danger to himself.'

Three candidates were tied for second place: William Harpur, WH Allen and Margaret Beaufort.
Many people commented that they owed their education to the kindness of William Harpur. And many visitors said they had worked for WH Allen and said he had 'given Bedford prominence and made them known throughout the world.' Margaret Beaufort's story earned respect and interest from many as she had 'dominated during a time of male power.'

We had some great nominations for Bedfordians not included in our shortlist as well. These included

  • Ronnie Barker - comedian, 
  • Jack Beresford - olympic oarsman, 
  • Colonel Nicolls - who named New York, 
  • David Jackson - Head Teacher of Sharnbrook Upper School for many years, 
  • David Litchfield - illustrator and musician, 
  • Johnny Parry - composer,
  • Mo Lea - artist that campaigns for Victim Support  

and many more...

We had great fun running this election. We'd like to thank all of the participants that cast their vote and came to talk to us as well as saying a big thank you to our hosts, St Paul's Church. Hopefully, we'll get to run some more elections soon.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cast your vote at Heritage Open Day

We'll be participating in this years Heritage Open Day. There are lots of events during the weekend but we will be at St. Paul's Church on Saturday 8th September from 10am till 4pm.

The theme for the day is 'Great Bedfordians' which is perfect because it has given us the chance to offer a sneak preview of plans for the People Gallery which is one of the new galleries planned for The Higgins when it reopens in spring 2013.

The People Gallery will hold changing exhibitions about Great Bedfordians. Some of these Bedfordians are the famous builders of Bedford that you're probably all familiar with - John Bunyan, Sir William Harpur and John Howard. But we also want to include those that may have been overlooked in the past and even those that might be 'Great Bedfordians' of the future.

That's why we're planning to hold an election. Heritage Open Day is your chance to vote for your favourite Bedfordians and to nominate those that may have been overlooked to date.

So come along and cast your vote.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ask a Curator 2012

You may remember a couple of years ago that we participated in the Ask a Curator project where anyone could ask a question to our curators via the wonderful medium of Twitter. This year Ask a Curator day is on 19th September and all our curatorial staff will be on hand, iphone or desktop to answer your questions. You can also follow the #askacurator hashtag  (a tag which allows others to find your message easily) and see what people are asking curators at participating museums all over the world. 

Of course, since last time we've changed our name and our twitter handle too so make sure you head to to follow the news on the redevelopment and all our questions and answers.We'll be keen to share the new things we've discovered about our collections while researching the new displays and answering any questions about old favourites in the collections, as well as anything else you can think to ask! If you have questions for museums around the world, or are just interested to see who else is participating head over to the Ask a Curator Who to Ask? page.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Collection Point - So you've chosen some of the first things to go on display in The Higgins!

We want to say a big THANK YOU to all those who participated in our Collection Point activity at the River Festival on 21st and 22nd July. We had a wonderful day and we were delighted that so many of you chose objects to go on display in the Collection Point case - and more importantly, told us why you thought those things should go on display.

We printed out a shortlist of 100 possible objects that could go in the Collection Point case. Of those 100 these were your favourites.

Your number one favourite object was a glass sculpture of a mouse by René  Lalique. Here are some of the things you said about it:
'It's beautifully made and very sweet, reminds me of the Wades Whimsies my family used to make in Stoke.'
'It looks very delicate''One of the finest glassmakers of the century'
'I admire Lalique's glass sculptures, and this is very endearing and cute.'

Things from and about Bedford were very popular. The programme of Bedford sports, the lantern slide of the fire at The Pantechnicon, the souvenir vase from The Swan Hotel and the Roman poppy-headed vase found in Bedford were all very popular. You're all very proud of Bedford! Here are some of the things you said about them:

'It shows the true history of a Bedford image that, like so many other things, have gone.' 
'It's a bit of Bedford's history.'
'It is obviously from Bedford!'
'A beautiful vase which identifies with a local landmark - The Swan Hotel.'
'Local History - Insight into day to day life'
'Old and local'
'It's quirky - has lots of information re how Bedfordians spent their leisure hours.'
'It is an important local artefact directly associated with Bedford and used by ancestors of present day inhabitants of the town.'
'I'm a Bedford person and always promote it in present and past.'

But you like novelty as well  - which I think is how the Samurai Helmet and the decanter in the form of a dog made into the list! Here are some of the things you said about them: 

'Interest in this area of the world. Good to have a mix of cultural art.'
'Foreign culture that is different to ours. Interesting design. Interesting to look at how it's made and of what materials.'
'It's curious and distinctive.'
'A vision of the future that never came to pass!'

Here are some more pictures from the day.

Even Dave Hodgson, Mayor Of Bedford chose some objects!

If you want to have a look through the shortlist of objects for Collection Point, and let us know your favourite you can see objects 1 - 50 here, and 51 - 103 here. Leave a comment here on the blog to let us know your favourite. You never know, it could be included in the Collection Point case when The Higgins reopens.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Collection Point - Unleash your inner curator at the River Festival

Miniature wooden horse from The Higgins Collections

The River Festival is on the 21st and 22nd July 2012. At this years River Festival we would like your help to choose objects that will be going on display when the museum reopens in Spring 2013

One of the new displays in The Higgins is a very large display case that will hold objects that have been chosen to go on display by members of the public. The information labels will also have been written by those that have chosen the objects. We want people to unleash their inner curator.

The Higgins holds large and varied collections, with objects from all over the world. There are over 100,000 objects in the collections and only space to display a fraction of them. The Collection Point display case will offer people the chance to engage with collections that might not be on display otherwise. It will give everyone the chance to make decisions about what goes on display at The Higgins.

Below are some of the objects in the collection.
Eggs collected by Mr Janion Steele-Elliot
Porcelain figure of a head mounted on a cork

We're getting the ball rolling by inviting people to choose the first objects to go on display in the Collection Point case at this years River Festival.

We will be based close to Castle Mound, from 11 am until 5pm during the festival. Members of the public will have the opportunity to look through a shortlist of objects from the collection, choosing their favourites, some of which will go into the Collection Point case. Everyone who chooses an object will be encouraged to write a display label explaining their choice, to be shown alongside it.

We can't wait to see you there.

Download the River Festival programme here 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Half Term with The Higgins

Half Term with The Higgins - Four Days of Fun

Sunday 2nd June - Big Victorian Jubilee Picnic

Wednesday 6th June - The Great Siege of Bedford Castle - Wootton Village Hall
Thursday 7th June - The Great Siege of Bedford Castle - Great Denham kickabout area
Friday 8th June - The Great Siege of Bedford Castle - Wixams Village Hall

Sunday 2nd June - Big Victorian Jubilee Picnic - The Queen's Diamond Jubilee - with a twist! 

We are celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee on the lawn beside The Higgins, on Sunday 3rd June between 11am and 4pm, in Victorian style! There will be flag and bunting-making and traditional toys and games to play, so bring a picnic and doff a jaunty hat or bonnet, for a pleasant and rewarding celebration.

Wednesday 6th June - The Great Siege of Bedford Castle - Wootton Village Hall 

Friday 8th June - The Great Siege of Bedford Castle - WixamsVillage Hall 

Thursday 7th June - The Great Siege of Bedford Castle - Great Denham kickabout area

Re-enact the Great Siege of Bedford Castle using props and costumes - a story of greed, kidnap and medieval mayhem! Help us tell the tale of the wicked baron, the rats in the dungeon and the terror of the king's revenge!
Sessions 10am - 12pm       Cost £1      For ages 9 - 16   
Booking essential

Contact Laura Pottinger 01234 718627

Thursday, May 10, 2012

#thethingaboutme Pop-up Museum

We want to say A BIG THANK YOU to all the participants, volunteers and staff who made our first pop-up museum such a fun day. We managed to dodge the rain drops and some amazing objects were brought in. The event was quite experimental as it involved a great deal of input from the participants. You had to think what you might bring, what you would say about it and having done all that, you had to actually bring it along on the day. We were amazed and pleased by the number of people who brought things along, and told their stories. 

Some mini-themes appeared in the objects that were brought along.

1. Childhood bears (and foxes)
Foxy, collected by Gemma c. 1970's
Brumas, collected by Norma 1950
Harry, collected by Geoff 1956

2. Things that belonged to Grandparents, Great-Grandparents and other relatives.

A radio and tape player, collected by Keith.  Previously owned by Keith's Grandad. Listen to an Audioboo of the tapeplayer in action here.
Chocolate Tin c. 1914. Collected by Paul, previously owned by his Great Uncle. The tin contained details of a convoy he followed across Europe, working as a journalist during The Great War.
Brownie camera, collected by Tracey previously owned by her Grandad.
An album of cigarette cards, c.1920's, collected by Cicily, previously owned by  Uncle Albert Turner

3. Handmade things 

Black Cat made by Amy's mum c.1986
Collection of soldiers, hand painted by Susannah
Higgy the papier mache monster made by Katie

K9 handbag made by Victoria

This is just a snapshot of the amazing array of things brought in, which also included wedding dresses, photo albums, scrap books, hair dye, a bicycle, things brought back from travels, things made by prisoners of war, lollipop makers and much more. Thank you all again for making it such a great day. We've gathered together a few of the tweets and twitpics from the day.

If you came along on the day - please email, tweet or facebook us to let us know what you thought. What can we do better?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What's a Pop-up museum?

On Saturday 5th May we will be holding a pop-up museum - The Thing About me - to celebrate the launch of our new name and brand. Read more about the new name in our new leaflet here. The event runs from 11am - 4pm, on the lawn in front The Higgins.

View Larger Map

The idea of a pop-up museum has been around for a few years although interpretations of what one is have differed. Some pop-up museums use real museum artefacts but take them out to new locations. Other pop-up museums use objects brought along by the public – so the audience makes the museum. The inspiration for The Thing About Me came from a blog post by museum thinker, Nina Simon. The post highlighted the work of Michelle DelCarlo who has been deploying pop-up museums in America and since April 2011.  Michelle states ‘the mission of the Pop-Up Museum is to create conversations between people of all ages and walks of life.’

The idea of The Thing About Me is that you bring along an thing that means something to you. Maybe it is something that you've had on your desk or shelf for more years then you can remember, a gift from a loved one or a childhood toy. It doesn't matter what it is, just as long as it is something you love.

A pop-up museum is a museum that only lasts for one day, and it can't exist without you. We'd like you to write a museum style label for your thing, maybe have a go at writing a label for someone else's thing. Imagine all of the different stories that can be told about one simple object. Who made it? When? How? Why? How did it get here? Why do you like it? Why have you kept it? We want to encourage everyone to share their passion with others at the pop-up museum, and make it a day to remember.

Cllr Doug McMurdo, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture, at Bedford Borough Council, said: “There are no rules for a pop-up museum; the simple aim is to start conversations with all sorts of people, about the things that individuals cherish. It will be a fascinating event, as no-one can know in advance what items will turn up!”

The Thing About Me is the first of 3 pop-up museums we'll be holding in the coming months. We're also going to be popping up for Refugee Week, Tuesday 19th June, 11am - 6pm, Harpur Square, Bedford.

And we'll be popping up again for the International Olympicnic and Pop-up Museum, Saturday 4th August, 12 - 4pm, International Athletics Stadium, Barkers Lane, Bedford.

We hope to see you there!

Friday, April 20, 2012

What's going on at The Higgins Art Gallery & Museum, Bedford?

Hello folks, our new leaflet is out now! It is the first one to feature our new name and logo. Even better, you can flick through the pages online, and find out about all of our upcoming events and latest news!

Also - our blog address has changed in line with the new name - we are at

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Higgins Art Gallery & Museum, Bedford

We are very pleased to be able to unveil our new name and brand, The Higgins Art Gallery & Museum, Bedford.The new name and brand for the former Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum brings a fresh new look and provides a glimpse of what is to come when we reopen in Spring 2013. They mark a new beginning for the art gallery and museum, illustrating the bringing together of the organisations and the buildings.

We love our new name and look but it does mean we're going to be making some changes.

Our main blog will be changing its address to 
Our News From The Stores blog will be moving to
Our Out & About blog will be moving to

We will be moving to these new addresses on the 20th April 2012.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Egg-tastic Easter Events

We have some fun things planned to keep you all entertained during the Easter holidays.

Tuesday 3rd April and Wednesday 4th April there will be a Humpty-Dumpty puzzle hunt on and around Castle Mound as well as the chance to paint some Easter Egg designs onto the hoardings around the Art Gallery & Museum site. The event runs from 11am - 4pm and there is no need to book. Come join us!

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Friday, January 13, 2012


During series one of Sherlock, we published a Sherlock Special blogpost to highlight the fact that we have a painting by JMW Turner (1775 - 1851) of the Reichenbach Falls in the collection at Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum. The Reichenbach Falls also happens to be the scene of the famous meeting between Sherlock and his archenemy Moriarty.

The scene was first published in a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Final Problem published in 1893. This was intended to be the last of the Sherlock Holmes stories however, pressure from fans brought Sherlock back, firslty in the prequel The Hound of the Baskervilles and then returning Holmes for good in The Adventure of the Empty House published in 1903.

Sherlock fans cannot fail to have noticed that the upcoming episode is titled 'The Reichenbach Fall'. You can see a preview here. We can't wait to find out how Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat will deal with the Reichenbach Falls story line. But more then that, we are very excited to know that the aforementioned Turner painting is likely to feature in the episode. We're not yet sure for how long, where, when, or even if it will certainly feature but we'll be keeping our eyes peeled! We hope you will be too.

The Great Falls of the Reichenbach, 1804
Accesion No.: P.98
watercolour on paper, 102.2 ´ 68.9 cm
inscribed: J M W Turner R A 1804

Entry from the Watercolour Catalogue:

The Great Falls of the Reichenbach was first shown at Turner’s own gallery held on the first floor of what was 64 Harley Street. Turner had conceived the idea of his own gallery due to uncertainty over the future of the Royal Academy in late 1803, with rumours abounding that Turner would not be showing at the the R.A. in 1804. Sir George Beaumont (who saw the Turner exhibition) complained of 'the strong skies and parts not corresponding with them'.

The Great Falls is a superb watercolour, made soon after Turner’s first visit to Switzerland in 1802, and is based on a sketch (Wilton no.361) now in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. The view is taken from the valley of Hasli above Meiringen with Great Scheidegg beyond and shows Turner tackling a 'Sublime' subject with enormous confidence. Turner’s pride in the work is shown by the fact that it was again exhibited at the R.A. in 1815.