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A Volunteer’s Viewpoint (or “Confessions of a Custodian”)

I admit a vested interest, having succeeded my father as a trustee of the Cheatle Collection (which includes the Burford Maces and Seals), so I do feel a sense of obligation to be on duty at the Tolsey Museum as regularly as I can. But I also find it a privilege to play an active part in Burford life, especially when it involves meeting and welcoming our visitors. Most of them visit the museum for fifteen to twenty minutes, but some stay for an hour or more. Whether their visits are long or short, the majority of visitors I find both interested and interesting. As the visitors’ book reveals, many come from overseas (the Australians being among the most friendly) but an encouraging number of local people also look in.

When I first volunteered I was pretty green, but I have picked up many snippets of information from all kinds of questions asked over the years – and I am still learning. The most frequent questions seem to relate to the Tolsey building itself (how it got its name etc.), while the dolls’ house and the spit engine seem to attract the most interest, from young and old alike. Our four albums of historic photographs (compiled by David Cotteril) also prove popular. For more “specialized” questions (and not only from the adults!) the shelfful of reference books is indispensable, not least of all Raymond & Joan Moody’s A Thousand Years of Burford and Gretton’s The Burford Records. For the occasional more difficult question, the enquirer is sometimes happy to leave a phone number where I can ring back later with an answer, otherwise I usually get away with an educated guess (we are only volunteers after all) and I learn something new every time I sit up there.

Visitor numbers, which are recorded each day, reveal no set pattern. A wet afternoon midweek in term time does not always mean we will not get a surprise family group on an extended holiday; while a sunny Bank Holiday weekend might be unexpectedly quiet. Numbers vary from less than twenty in an afternoon to more than eighty without any apparent reason. It all makes for an interesting experience, and no two days are the same. Above all, I find it pays to be welcoming and friendly, and to show particular appreciation when cash gifts rain into the donations jar. To abolish the entrance fee in 2003 must be one of the best decisions the committee ever made.

Long may the Tolsey Museum serve the town of Burford and help keep its history alive.

Stuart Eager 1st October, 2012