If a group of Witches is a Coven, what’s the equivalent for Wizards? Well, there isn’t one officially, but “circle – a number of people grouped round a centre of interest” describes us Window Wizards perfectly.
We Wizards are the Ipswich Maritime Trust volunteers who devise and install the displays and exhibitions, (19 of them to date) in our dockside Window Museum on Albion Wharf. What unites us is a passion for the maritime heritage of Ipswich and the desire to protect it and promote it through exciting and informative visual formats.
Like all teams, players come and go: currently we are eight strong. But we could always do with more volunteers to bring extra expertise to the table, and it doesn’t have to be nautical experience. Ben Bendall, who sadly passed away recently, had an agricultural engineering background but he was a brilliant model maker. Stuart Grimwade is an expert in restoring and digitising old photographs for our Image Archive and displays but whose background is within local government. That’s what makes the Wizards effective – a mix of people with different talents and perspectives. Who can come up with great ideas for exhibition and display themes and how to best illustrate them.
Fortunately, Ipswich has a rich history from which we can always extract and highlight interesting incidents, developments or features to tell a story. This isn’t always a smooth process and at times leads to heated discussions! But, at the end of such brainstorming sessions, we always settle on the theme for the next window – and the one after that (we try to work two windows ahead). The very first window display 2009 featured sailing barges and Ipswich sailmakers and we were most grateful to Mrs. Whitmore who had given us many tools used in her family’s sail-loft on the docks. They closed down in 1984, but we were able to revive memories of the business upon which local sailing barges heavily relied for their motive power.
The objects we feature in the windows come from two sources: our own collection of artefacts donated to the Trust and from individuals, companies or museums kind enough to loan them to us for a fixed term. This is usually seven months as we aim to put in two displays a year. They range from very small to large and heavy items, including a 6 inch model of the Herzogin Cecilie from the National Maritime Museum. To the largest and heaviest item we have so far displayed, a full size 9 pounder cannon lent to us for our display on Broke of the Shannon in 2013.
Anniversaries are celebrated: currently we are depicting ships that brought grain to Ipswich from Australia before the Second World War. The last so-called Grain Race was 80 years ago. In 2011 we celebrated 50 years of the Pin Mill Barge Match with a display of all their match programmes and silverware. These races are still held annually on the River Orwell. Usually in June or July and create a marvellous spectacle,
– well worth viewing from Shotley or other vantage points along the river.*
Our displays are intended to be informative and accurate and we try to do our research to get things right. But more than once an eagle-eyed visitor has filled in gaps in our knowledge and we very much welcome comments of this sort. Our next window display is about the Development of the Wet Dock, featuring a three-
dimensional map produced by former Merchant Mariner Colin. The window after that will include a collection of the models made by Ben over the years.
The current Window Wizards are (alphabetically): Pam Glasspool; Stuart Grimwade, Stuart Harris, Doug Nicholls, Andy Parker, Des Pawson, Colin Waters and Richard Watkinson. We always welcome new volunteers with new ideas and a passion for helping tell the amazing stories of Maritime Ipswich.
Written by Richard Watkinson – Window Wizard Volunteer
*at the time of writing, a decision has yet to be made about this year’s event.