The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery has been successful in a bid to the Arts Council England Designation Development Fund, securing funding of £72,500 to catalogue and display its nationally significant geology collections. The collections at The Potteries Museum were awarded ‘Designated’ status in 1997 – a scheme which recognises and champions significant collections of national and international importance. The Designation Development Fund provides funding for projects which ensures long-term care of Designated collections and maximises their public value.
The project ‘Accessing Staffordshire Geology’, which is planned to start in June 2020, will recruit an Assistant Curator to document and display fossils collected by Edward ‘Ted’ Watkin – a notable member of the North Staffordshire Field Club and the North Staffordshire Group of the Geologists’ Association.
Ted Watkin was born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1921, and like many others in the area spent his life working in the ceramics industry. His interest in natural history was broad and as a young man he joined the North Staffordshire Group of the Geologists’ Association and the North Staffordshire Field Club. He was an elected committee member and chairman of both groups and remained a member throughout his life, being present at the final AGM of the North Staffordshire Field Club before it closed down in 2002. His collecting interests included stamps, postcards, minerals and fossils and included many specimens inherited from his friend and fellow North Staffordshire Field Club committee member, John Wattison. Ted sadly died in 2014, kindly leaving his geological and archaeological collections to The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. Transfer of the collection to the Museum began in 2015.
The collection is made up of approximately 2000 fossils collected from all over the UK, which requires sorting, labelling, transferring into archive-quality containers, documenting and storing. The Designation Development Fund from Arts Council England will fund an Assistant Curator to ensure that this collection is properly stored, documented and accessible.
The collection contains many spectacular fossils from the local area. Stoke-on-Trent is built on carboniferous coal measures, its local industries having being fired by the rich coal seams they provide. As such the fossils of fish and plants that would have thrived in the warm shallow seas and swamps covering the area 300 million years ago are common. The Natural Science Gallery at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery is arranged as a series of timeless dioramas, installed in 1980, each showing a scene from a local habitat. Each is a window into another place in Staffordshire – a red deer can be seen bellowing in the moorlands of the Peak District a few meters from a red squirrel in the coniferous woodland of Cannock Chase. But one view is missing which would allow us to tell a more complete story of the history of the Potteries – a window back in time.
In addition to ensuring that the Watkin collection is documented, photographed and made available through the Museum’s website, the project will aim to develop an engaging new display which use these fossils and others from the Museum’s collection to bring the ancient past of the Potteries to life – a diorama of a carboniferous swamp forest, incorporating real fossils alongside reconstructions of prehistoric life.
Peter Knott, Area Director for Arts Council England, said: “We want to support all Designated collections so that everyone can experience, enjoy, discover and learn from them. Through their collections and knowledge, museums open our eyes to the wonders and challenges of the world and can help us find our place in it.
“We’re proud to champion the significant collections held in our museums, libraries and archives and hope that this project will open up the Potteries Museum’s unique collection and help tell the story of Stoke-on-Trent with a perspective from an eye-watering 300 million years ago!”