Braintree Museum

We went to Braintree Museum specifically to see an exhibition called Life in an English Village. The exhibition brought together work by the internationally famous Bardfield artists. They were a group of artists based in and around the Essex village of Great Bardfield for much of the twentieth century.

The exhibition took its name from a book written by Edward Bawden: Life in an English Village, first published by Penguin Books in 1949.

The main focus of the exhibition was a series of sketches by Edward Bawden of scenes for village life during the 1950’s. These were black and white pencil drawings, showing people in their homes, at the shops and in the pub. There was also a collection of prints, and in particular I liked Braintree Station by Edward Bawden. You can view it here, on the website of the Fry Art Gallery.

The exhibition ran from 28th January to 15th April 2017. However if you would like to see work by the Great Bardfield artists, a visit to the Fry Gallery which is in Saffron Walden would be a good idea.

We then looked around the museum. The museum is based in the former Manor Street School, and there is evidence of its past life all around you. The old school hall is the main exhibition area, the children’s coat hooks are still in place, waiting for winter coats to be hung on them, and one of the old class rooms is furnished as a Victorian schoolroom, complete with teachers desk, cane and dunces cap. The schoolroom is used for class visits for today’s children to find out what school was like in the nineteenth century.

Braintree has been home to two nationally and internationally important companies; Courtaulds and Crittal and both companies are represented in the displays. There are beautiful examples of silk, including a full Victorian deep-mourning outfit, which I found quite disturbing. The ensemble reminded me of a character out of a Dr. Who story. Certainly not for the faint-hearted.

It’s a small museum, but full of interesting objects, telling the story of an Essex market town. After our trip to the museum we went for a coffee and hot chocolate (it was a very cold day) at Costa Coffee, which was in an old timber-framed building, which had clearly been a pub at some point in its long life. It was a very pleasant end to our trip to the museum. i have to admit though that this wasn’t the end of our trip to Braintree, because we then drove to Freeport Shopping Centre for a spot of retail therapy. There is a link between the museum and the shopping centre, as the museum reflects on consumerism through its exhibitions about design, textiles and clothes, but that’s not the reason we went to Freeport!