May 14, 2014, by Kathryn Steenson
Maps, Military and More at Mayfest 2014
Manuscripts & Special Collections staff were kept busy at The University of Nottingham’s annual community open day, Mayfest, on Saturday 10th. We were again fortunate that enough staff are prepared to help out for us to keep two stalls running for the whole day.
This year’s theme for our Portland Building stall was maps. Two original 17th century maps were on display – a Derbyshire estate map and a map of the route from Oakham to Richmond via Nottingham – and there was also a selection of copy maps of Nottingham from the 1740s, 1820s and 1920s. These proved very popular as people tried to identify what now stands on the former fields and gardens, and sparked memories of long-demolished buildings. Children got their fingers inky writing with a quill pen as they signed an indenture for a seven-year apprenticeship to a map-maker. Judging from the splodges, they found it a lot harder than it looked!
Based on last year’s hugely popular magnetic fishing activity, we asked for children’s help in ‘rescuing’ maps that had been accidentally thrown out during a house clearance. Donning hard hats and hi-vis jackets, and armed with their rods, they set to work trying to lift out the maps without catching any pieces of furniture, or even the odd rat. Those who successfully rescued four maps earned a chocolate as a reward.
Inspired by the old ‘choose your own adventure’ style books, we created a ‘Map Out Your Story’ interactive picture wall. On the back of 34 postcard-sized images from our collections were different scenarios involving historic maps, based on real-life situations archivists and librarians face. Visitors were asked to choose what they would do from the options given, ranging from conservation to enquiries to exhibitions. The decisions made determined which postcard they looked at next. Hopefully everyone’s maps ended up having a long and productive life in an archive, rather than in the bin or fashioned into a lampshade.
Down the hill at Lakeside Arts Centre, all the activities on offer were linked to our current WWI themed exhibition, ‘All Quiet in the Weston Gallery’. Hundreds of sweets were handed out as prizes to visitors who correctly found the answers to our quiz in the exhibition. One of the most addictively difficult activities was a replica of a genuine war-themed children’s puzzle game, ‘The Silver Bullet’. The player tilts the game to move a ball bearing (the ‘bullet’) through a map of Germany to Berlin, without it falling through any of the holes at German towns and strongholds. An original ‘The Silver Bullet’ game is displayed in the exhibition, as is another game dated 1916 that initially caused some consternation. Instead of a ball bearing it involved moving little globules of highly poisonous mercury! Staff from Conservation and Life Sciences have displayed it in a specially-constructed, hermetically-sealed box to prevent any contamination from the evaporating mercury.
Families played Trench Ludo, moving their soldier through No-Man’s Land back to Blighty, alternatively spurred on by food parcels from home and hindered by losing a turn for gas attacks and barbed wire. After the success of invisible-ink pens at a previous Mayfest, we challenged children to beat the wartime censors by writing messages on postcards to each other in invisible ink. The recipient could only read the secret message by shining a special UV light on it. Younger children were entertained by colouring sheets, jigsaws of pictures from our collections, and posing with the cardboard cut-outs of a soldier and a nurse.
Close to 1000 people visited us over the two sites. Unfortunately the disruption caused to access and parking at the South Entrance to University Park campus contributed to a slightly lower number of visitors than last year. An extra big thank you to everyone who did manage to find us at Lakeside, as we hope everyone enjoyed the day as much as we did. See you next year!