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Letter: Cllr Steel’s Lack of Knowledge About Guildford Museum is ‘Startling’

Published on: 25 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 25 Jul, 2020

Cllr James Steel

From: Dr Mary Alexander

Former collections officer of Guildford Museum

In response to: Dragon Interview – Cllr James Steel on ‘Decolonising’ the Museum

James Steel came over very poorly in his interview with Martin Giles. Cllr Steel’s lack of knowledge about the museum and its collections is startling. One thousand objects? The museum website says there are 100,000 objects.

He said: “They range from cars to small objects.” I worked with the collection for more than 30 years and I know there are no cars.

He claimed the vast majority of objects are owned by GBC. This is not true. About half the objects are owned by the Surrey Archaeological Society, who founded the museum. If he is actually involved with the museum project he should know this.

For more than 100 years the Society and GBC worked in a mutually beneficial partnership until GBC wrecked it and forced the Society to leave their headquarters at Castle Arch.

If the Society chose, they could remove all their objects, including well more than half of those on display. The result would be a greatly impoverished collection. Cllr Steel would be better off trying to sort this out, not boasting about an answer to a non-existent problem.

His claim that doing some sort of “audit” will lead to “richer and more detailed stories” insults the museum staff. There are clear procedures when an object enters the museum for checking its ownership and provenance, and everything known about it is noted down impartially. No-one hides anything. This is used on the labels when the objects are on display, as long as it is relevant.

Obviously, racial diversity is important today, but Guildford was not diverse in the past and we can’t change that. I have found two black men named in 400 years of parish registers for Guildford and Stoke, described as such because it was so unusual. One was baptised, one was buried.

There must have been a few more passing through but they did not choose to stay here. They have left nothing we can display in a museum collection, but then nor did most people.

We can tell the story of people whom we know were here through the objects they used and have been collected. This is always a partial story, but it’s the best we can do.

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Responses to Letter: Cllr Steel’s Lack of Knowledge About Guildford Museum is ‘Startling’

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    July 26, 2020 at 6:20 am

    Agreed, his lack of research was an insult to those involved in the museum.

  2. Charles Cooke Reply

    July 26, 2020 at 8:52 pm

    Mr Steel needs to learn what “research” means.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    July 27, 2020 at 10:22 am

    Apparently Mr. Steel is a student at the university. Do they no longer teach research and fact checking?

    Perhaps he should complete his learning, before seeking to educate the rest us about problems which do not exist.

    Honestly, what were they thinking?

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