A day in the life of a museum assistant

Hey, my name’s Sam and I’m a museum assistant here at Stockport’s Hat Works museum. Let me bring you along on a standard day here at Hat Works.

So usual start time for me is 9:30, once I’ve come through the door and dropped off my stuff in the staff room it’s time to start switching stuff on. My role is usually as a tour guide so I have to make sure the two levels of the museum are ready for visitors at 10AM when the museum opens. Starting with the factory floor, I switch on the projector for the AV show for the start of the tour, then head through to the Bow Garret and Planking Kettle, which were used in the pre-industrial methods of hat making and then come round into the floor with the industrial machinery. I’m checking that all the lights are switched on, and everything is in its right place, then move onto opening the bolted fire exit. Even though we’re in an original 1830s fire proof mill, you’ve got to be prepared for all eventualities.

opening up

Next I head one floor up to the gallery where all our hat collections are displayed. You’ve got to carry out the daily museum assistant checklist, doing visual checks of the display cases, making sure the dressing up and kids area are clean and tidy, putting out coloured paper for hat making, and turning on the lights and videos for the information lounge.

Now everything is on, I head up to the third floor of the museum, check in with the receptionist and wait for the visitors to start pouring in at 10. We run tours here at Hat Works throughout the day, with the first possible tour of the day starting at 10:30 depending on whether visitors want to join onto one, and the last commences at 15:30.

Today we’ve got some early birds, and my first tour is at 10:30. Taking them down to the AV room, I introduce myself and give them a bit of an introduction explaining that Stockport and the North West as a region was a world centre of the Hatting Industry. Roughly three quarters of all UK Hatting firms were based here in the North West with Stockport alone having 30 major hat making manufactures, alongside countless other smaller hatters, and relating Hatting industries. Now time to shut up and switch on the AV, which features the Battersby hat factory which was one of the largest in the area, over in Offerton Stockport, with original footage taken from the 1930s factory floor, showing a variety of different machinery and processes in the Hat Making industry.

tour

The pictures I’ve included show the forming stage, which involves fur being sucked onto a large cone, roughly 36 by 30 inches in size, creating the starting size of the Hoods, the basis for all felt hats. Next is a blocker, forming the hood, once shrunken and strengthened to around 12 inches, over a hat block by hand, stretching it over a block to create a hat shape. This is a process that involved a lot of steam, and often hatters would have a bucket of cold water next to them so that they could cool their hands down. The next two are pictures of the women working on the trimming stages of the hats. This is where they would sew in hat leathers, silk linings and apply any other trimming and finish to the hat.

The tour usually lasts for around an hour, but can take a bit longer depending on the tour guide, and what kind of questions you are being asked. Now it is time to cover lunches and work on the reception area. This is the first point of contact for the museum, in person but also via phone and email. Covering today I received a phone call from someone looking to book onto one of our workshops, this one being the Mad Hatters Craft Workshop for toddlers. The booking process involves taking the customers details over the phone, entering the event spreadsheet on the computer and then taking payment. Once done, I place the receipt into the folder noting down the name of the customer, so when they arrive for the event it’s there for them if they need.

reception

Another role for the receptionist, probably the most important actually is handing out coloured feathers to any one young, or old who has made a paper hat down on the gallery floor. At the Hat Works we also have a shop fully stocked with hats, Hatting merchandise and crafty bits and pieces. The role of the receptionist also covers selling and taking payments of anyone wanting to purchase anything in the shop. Quite often you become a personal stylist for customers, providing them with advice on whether a hat style or hat colour suites them. Now it’s time to relinquish my position of power as receptionist and head down to the staff room to eat my lunch.

There are always odd jobs to be doing around the museum, which can vary from day to day depending on what’s on. Quite often we have conferences or meetings in the museum community space, if there isn’t a school trip on. This can involve setting up the tables and chairs how they asked and preparing teas and coffees for them. Yesterday we had a meeting in the community room, so today it’s time to clear up. We’ve got a school in tomorrow so the chairs and conference tables need to be put away and the education tables and benches need to come out. The meeting also asked for projection facilities which we can provide, so this is another thing that needs to be packed away and put into the correct cupboard.

Another job is to check on areas around the museum such as the family areas. These areas in particular can get quite untidy, especially on weekends and during school holidays. Today only involves a bit of tidying up, a few hats in the handling collection out of places, but the paper in the hat making areas needs refilling. A quick trip to the stationary cupboard fixes that issue, so people can still have the joy of making a paper hat, and getting a feather stuck on at reception when they leave.

randon jobs

Today also happens to be a day where we get a new hat delivery! Always an exciting event at the Hat Works as new hats arrive for the shop. After receiving the parcel it’s time to check that all the hats are correct, ticking them off on the delivery order making sure they are the right hat styles, colour and sizes that we ordered. Today we have received a new order of bowler hats in a variety of colours such as purple and blue, a top hat ordered by a customer through our shop and a few new chunky knit baker boy caps, always popular as people try and emulate the peaky blinders look.

It’s been a good day at the Hat Works with a good variety of tasks being undertaken. It’s now coming to 16:45 and as the last few visitors are leaving it’s time to think about closing up. Closing down the museum is pretty much the same as opening up, just done in reverse.  Any left over paper needs to be thrown away and any bits of tidying need to be done, and now it’s time to turn off the lights in the exhibition space and info lounge. Then down to the factory floor to turn off the Projector, lock the fire door and switch off the lights. Now time to head back up to reception turn off the shop lights, put down the shutters and lock the doors. The receptionist has cashed up so now time to collect our things, sign out, put the alarm on and head out the staff exit and run for my bus.

closing

Thanks for coming along and seeing what a normal day involves for a museum assistant at Hat Works.

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