Animating the archives

Museum for Addenbrooke'sWorking creatively with communities in Cambridgeshire to explore the extraordinary collection of objects and stories displayed in the Addenbrooke’s Museum

Addenbrooke’s was established thanks to a gift of £4,676 Dr John Addenbrooke left in his Will to “hire and fit up, purchase or erect a small, physical hospital in the town of Cambridge for poor people’.  Originally housing just 20 beds when it opened in 1766, today’s hospital has over 1,000.

As part of their 250th birthday celebrations, the hospital has now opened a new museum. In the main corridor of the hospital, it houses a collection of just some of the extraordinary objects and stories stored in the archive.

I have been the Archivist at Addenbrooke’s for nearly 13 years and care for a vast amount of paper material, artefacts and instruments relating to the history and running of Addenbrooke’s Hospital and its other associated organisations.  I have wanted to be able to get the material in a public area for several years and the creation of this new museum, coinciding with the 250th anniversary of the hospital, has allowed this to happen. Working with CCI will give me the opportunity to bring to light some of these objects and stories that have been ‘hidden’ for so long and to use them with the help of CCI, to illustrate the past of the hospital. I am also looking forward to seeing how each project might bring new material to add to the museum.
Hilary Ritchie, Hospital Archivist

CCI visual artist theatre-maker Sally Todd is working with people of all ages during 2016/17 to animate the museum, inviting different groups to play creatively with ideas and provocations inspired by the collection. Our initial workshops with the children of St Philips Primary School in 2016 (see below) proved invaluable research for her:

I’ve been gaining more insight into the museum archive and beginning to appreciate how many hidden stories of distinct voices and lives there are within the collection. I’ve been particularly struck by how the patients case notes from the 1890’s powerfully evoke an individual and place in time; how nursing has evolved as a profession and through the horrors of war; and the emerging theme of art and healing in the convalescing soldiers’ WW1 sketch book – a document so full of humour and pathos.

I’m looking forward to working more closely with these stories that conjure lives lived in Cambridgeshire long ago.

Other groups involved include two supported by the Carers Trust Cambridgeshire – young carers in the county and people living with dementia and their carers – and a class of children from Queen Edith’s Primary School. Each project has a different creative focus – poetry, story-making and sculpture - and Sally is joined by poet Jane Monson, fellow theatre-maker Steve Tiplady and sculptor Jenny Goater to support these.

I will remember how thirsty the children are for more art. I always try to get it in to lessons but this project brought back to me the need to keep things creative, the different ways that can hook the children in and engage them. I really noticed that for all of them.

It was really important that they had the chance to come to the hospital. I could see how they kept reaching back and bringing knowledge from their first trip to the museum at the hospital into everything they did with you afterwards.  I learned a lot about the history of Addenbroooke’s too.

Tasha Bowen, Queen Edith’s Primary School

Posts below share a flavour of these projects. Two exhibitions of work created during these workshops are being curated for the hospital - the first is now installed and details are here. Importantly archivist Hilary Ritchie will also select some elements to be preserved as permanent contributions to the archive.

Children working with artist Sally Todd on Museum for Addenbrooke's project

Addenbrooke's Arts, HLF National Lottery and Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust logos

A Stork’s Nest on Addenbrooke’s Chimney


(Sally Todd) For our final session with the Shelford Dementia Support Group, everyone invented the wonderful story of Taffy and the Stork’s Nest.

Steve Tiplady with the group

We started with a clay model of Addenbrooke’s hospital and decided that a miner called Taffy got a job at Addenbrooke’s to clean the chimney. Amazingly, John, the visiting pianist had been the quantity surveyor in 1967 when the chimney was built and remembers how people who lived in Long Road came home from their holidays to find an enormous new structure behind their gardens.

Clay objects

Sally Todd with clay objects

The Stork's Nest on the Chimney in clay

In our story Taffy realised that a stork had built a nest on top of the chimney and laid some eggs. He was very hungry and wanted some breakfast so he poked the nest with his long brush and out fell an egg which he ran to catch with his frying pan that he happened to have in his back pocket. At that moment a little mouse got hold of a stretcher from A&E and by some miracle managed to catch the slow falling stork egg, lassoing it with his tail just before it crashed into Taffy’s frying pan. The mouse saved the egg and the baby stork was born and reunited with the mother stork on top of the chimney where it stayed until it learnt to fly……and Taffy went to Burger King for his breakfast instead!

After this delightful and raucous story, we invited the group to make some more creations in the clay and, as well as the mice, penguins, elephants, and sting ray there also appeared a stork’s nest, a cheese board…..and a wedding ceremony!

Participants talking

Participant making

Clay objects

As Kate created her model she remembered that she had been offered clay many years ago in hospital when she lay inside a plaster cast for nearly a year and how wonderful it had been to be able to make and be creative.

Finger pointing at clay object

Images credits: Gecko Photography

Frank and ‘Nellie’ the Elephant


(by Sally Todd)

Frank with Nellie and Dumbo made from clay

We met again with the Shelford Dementia Support Group and together with Steve’s support, everyone created a beautiful funny story with the clay. The highly sociable session involved making a clay elephant and a clay model of Frank who became the protagonist of the tale……a tale of a journey to Africa on Frank’s pension where he met a baby elephant on safari playing in the mud. Frank gave the baby elephant called Dumbo a bath to clean him up then took him back to Nellie the mother elephant and offered her a dead fly biscuit when she really wanted a bun!…so the big elephant bit him on the leg and he had to sit down and he thought, I need to go to the bunnery to buy her a bun…and see the doctor! so Dumbo flapped her big ears and flew Frank to the doctor where Frank remembered he was a good cook and made his own iced bun to give to Nellie who said sorry and they became firm friends.

Sally holding Dumbo

Participants working with Clay

After this joyful story…Well I just loved it and others would love that too said Pat…..we invited everyone to make their own creations in the clay and, amongst a few more elephants made, there were also giant peonies and imaginary gardens on lily pads and other offerings that symbolise comfort and solace like a song bird and a musical note.

Today I was trying to do a treble clef because music is a great comfort to us and Stephen has done a bird as he loves them. 
Judith and Stephen

Giant peony and miniature formal garden made from Clay

Treble clef and bird made from Clay

The comfort of guinea pigs


Tray with clay items made at the workshop

(by Sally Todd) We started our next session for the Shelford Dementia Support Group with a potted history of Addenbrooke’s Hospital by Archivist Hilary Ritchie who also brought some objects in to share with the group. We looked at nurses badges, belts and bonnets and wondered about the reliability of the old blood pressure gauge. The talk prompted thoughts about care and the hospital.

I’ve been in Addenbrooke’s for three operations… they looked after me in there and every patient had their own nurse. Ray

I worked in the female wards. I looked after the patients and they were happy to employ me, I was the only male carer . Frank

The morning was full of unexpected anecdotes including pet guinea pigs being taken in to a London hospital in a bicycle basket to comfort patients and the announcement by Ray that he had installed the first telephone at the new Addenbrooke’s site in 1958!

Wonderful creations emerged from the clay; a baby bath, medicine bottles, pestle and mortars, guinea pigs and pigs too, as well as cats and elephants!

I used to enjoy carpentry and loved doing this. It made me concentrate and focus on what I was doing. It was good exercise for my fingers as well and I found it therapeutic. Frank

Participant working with clay

Frank with his clay dragon

Clay Guinea Pigs

Clay mortars and pestle and medicine bottle

Clay Elephant

Using clay to animate ideas


Artists Sally Todd with members of the Shelford Dementia Support Group

(By Sally Todd) Theatre-maker Steve Tiplady joined me to begin our sessions with the Shelford Dementia Support Group. We spent a wonderful playful morning chatting with participants and their carers as we all explored the properties of clay.  In no time at all, models were made of roller coasters, dragons, castles, a barbecue with a puffer fish and even the new train station for Addenbrooke’s!

Shelford Dementia Support Group exploring the properties of clay

Hands exploring the properties of clay

Shelford Dementia Support Group exploring the properties of clay

Over the next three sessions we’ll be developing stories around the theme of Addenbrooke’s Hospital museum, using clay to animate our ideas, shared memories and responses. Work from the sessions will be included in our next exhibition for the hospital later this year.

It’s very fascinating to me


Image of all the young carers

(by Sally Todd) Over two days in April we had the pleasure and privilege of working with a group of young carers from the Carers Trust Cambridgeshire, inviting them to engage with the Addenbrooke’s museum.

Hilary the Archivist gave an introduction to John Addenbrooke’s legacy and then, with a nod to the ancient Greek Gods of medicine and healing and thinking of young carers as modern day heroes, we drew inspiration from the collection and created some amazing and eclectic images around the theme of medicine and health.

The group spent time experimenting with different art materials and had the additional excitement of a visit downstairs to the basement archive where they tried on nurses cloaks and had a closer look at objects in the collection.

JP wearing the prosthetics that he made

Xanthe wearing a nurses cloak

Lucy and Chloe wearing nurses uniforms and swirling round and round

Young carer working with wire

Young carers looking at prosthetics

On day two we worked with wire artist Jenny Goater to develop our ideas and ambitiously produced wire sculptures including surgeon’s portraits, a 3D Addenbrooke’s Bear, a fox skeleton (thinking of old bones in ancient apothecaries) and a nurses’s delicate belt buckle.

One of the yound carers working with wire

Wire sculpture and shadow

Wire artist Jenny Goater working with young carer to produced wire sculptures


One of the young carers showing her wire sculpture against and wall and it's shadow

The young carers working with wire

The group shared some of their highlights:

I wanted to wear the cloak because I saw one in the museum. It reminded me of Call the midwife. We went downstairs with Hilary to try one on. It felt warm and comfy. I wanted to take it home. I was surprised by how big it was. It made me feel like a like nurse……it was a good feeling.
Chloe (18)

Going downstairs to the archive where no one else gets to go was great. We put on the old nurses uniforms and we were swirling….it made us think of Call the midwife. It’s something you can’t do every day.
Lucy (12) and Chloe (16)

I’d noticed the old fashioned photo in the museum and the beard. I’d finished doing a charcoal drawing and I was ripping up the paper – browns and grey and green – to try to make the beard. It was good to be able to do something creative and what I want for once – not having to do what other people need. I started it off after we came back from lunch and kept going for two and half hours. I really like art. At times I’ve spend 6/7 hours drawing and not noticed the time.
Alice (21)

I really liked seeing everybody here and eating lunch with them. Some of us go to school together but I’ve met new people too. When I was down in the archives I saw a prosthetic arm and other bits. It looked fun and tried to make my own and then I went into the corridor and got reactions from people. I was wearing a prosthetic arm and leg. People were a bit confused and said what’s going on.
JP (12)

Wearing the cloak was a once in lifetime experience and not many people get down there (to the archive). It’s very fascinating to me – I’m a history geek. I’d like to work down there. It would be very cold though. I enjoy finding out the history of people and places….I’d like to find out more about how they helped people in the healing process.
Xanthe (14)


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