This week the wonderful Cathy, our Visitor Services Coordinator talks about the time she spent with us all at collections in preparation for our Rhyme around the World and Painting with Rainbows exhibitions:

My job at Seven Stories is Visitor Services Coordinator which means I spend most of my time working with the Front of House team at the Visitor Centre on Lime Street. But when we closed for refurbishment in May I had nowhere to go! So I was really excited to be asked to come and join the Collections Team whilst the builders took over Seven Stories.

Seven Stories is a museum and like any museum we collect things. These “things” are known as artefacts and the artefacts we collect and look after are original illustrations and manuscripts from British children’s books from the 1930’s to the present day. No wait, we collect more than that. We collect author’s first ideas, notes and squiggles and illustrator’s doodles and scrawls. And we collect books. We collect lots of books. But there’s no point in them hidden away in our archive, we want people to see them. So, that’s where our exhibitions come in. 

The Seven Stories Visitor’s centre has three exhibition spaces where we hang all the beautiful illustrations and display the author’s notes, scribbles and manuscripts for everyone to look at. But not only that, we also have lots of activities and props to bring the pictures and books to life. And that was my job. I had to source and buy all of the props for the Michael Foreman exhibition; Painting with Rainbows and the nursery rhyme exhibition; Rhyme Around the World. This was going to be a shopping experience of a life time.

I worked alongside Alison, our Exhibition Curator and Gill our Senior Curator. Alison gave me a list of things she wanted for the exhibitions plus a budget. The budget was very important.

One of the areas I had to work on was Michael Foreman’s childhood home, or more specifically the living room. Michael grew up during World War 2 in a house that was also the village shop so the space had to look like it was the 1940’s. I’m a bit of a vintage lover and like to dress up in clothes inspired by this period in history, so I was really excited to be given the task of recreating this space. I read his book War Boy, looked closely at all the illustrations and scrutinised the text so I could decide on what needed to be included. I also made an awful lot of notes. 

There were so many things that I wanted to get, but remember that thing called a budget? Well, that meant that I only had a certain amount of money to spend so I had to do my shopping wisely. I also had to think about all the visitors who explore our exhibitions, some of whom are very young, so everything had to be safe to use. My list of ideas was huge, but Alison and Gillian kept me in check and we decided on a Morrison Shelter with a tea set, blankets for the shelter, and an old fashioned radio. When you visit do crawl inside the shelter, you might find some other things in there too. And don’t forget to switch on the radio.

This is Cathy in her Morrison shelter recreated for our Michael Foreman exhibition

Another unusual item I had to find was a tortoise. Michael wrote a fantastic story called The Amazing Tale of Ali Pasha based on the true story of Henry Friston, a 21 year old seaman who fought in the battle of Gallipoli and befriended a tortoise, Ali Pasha. Henry managed to smuggle the tortoise on board his ship and kept him hidden during the journey home. Michael knew Henry’s son who kindly loaned Seven Stories his father’s ditty box and Ali Pasha’s shell!  You can find out all about him in the exhibition.

For the Rhyme Around the World exhibition the biggest items I had to find were a pair of thrones fit for rhyming royalty. It took a long time on Ebay before I found the beautiful pair in regal gold that you’ll find in our exhibition, complete with a snoozing cat.

One of my favourite illustrations on display in Rhyme Around the World, and that I took inspiration from, is by artist Rebecca Cobb. It’s in the area all about food. Take a good look at it. You’ll find all the items that the children are playing with in the illustration, right there in our exhibition, for all our young visitors to play with too! The prop hardest to find was a spotty tea set, but I was determined to include it.

Other props I had to find were dinosaurs, cats and kittens, scruffy dogs, miles of ribbon, astronauts suits, sea creatures, buckets and spades, an arbour, crocheted blankets, a potty, crowns and tiaras, artists smocks, flickering  light bulbs, fluffy bean bags, pretend hay bales and lots and lots of flowers.

Over the following days all these things arrived in the post and we could hardly move for boxes and parcels. Every morning I’d have more things to unwrap; it was like all my birthdays and Christmas’s had come at once.

Then Gillian, Alison and the rest of the collections team had the really hard work of turning a whole year of planning and designing into actual exhibitions in just three weeks, ready for the re-opening of Seven Stories.

Now that I’m back working in the visitor centre, I’ve had so much fun watching all our visitors dress up and play with all the props and activities and become totally immersed in the world of children’s books. 

- Cathy, 
Seven Stories' Visitor Services Coordinator

If you'd like to find out more about the Seven Stories Collection, then 
email: or phone: 0191 495 2707 or comment on this blog.