Thrills and skills in the world of Shandy Hall

Working behind the scenes at one of the country’s most enchanting museums proved to be full of  new experiences and expertise for interns participating in their Sensory Opportunity at Shandy Hall. Over a three-day period in February applicants from the Sensory Stories training day had the opportunity to acquire valuable skills such as object research, object handling, book preservation and using cataloguing systems, experiencing first-hand how literary history can be interpreted in a museum setting.

Interns working at Shandy Hall

Shandy Hall, situated in the village of Coxwold, was home in 1760-67 to the witty and eccentric parson Laurence Sterne, author of Tristram Shandy, one of the most extraordinary novels in the English language, and A Sentimental Journey. Architecturally as intriguing and eccentric as its former occupant, the hall is still a lived-in house, more than 500 years old, full of books, pictures and amazing memorabilia that tell Sterne’s story and bring together his far-reaching influence for the experimental novel and for contemporary art. It was into this world that the Sensory Stories interns stepped to learn more about engaging visitors with Sterne’s life and work. Here are some of their thoughts on the experience:

‘Working as an intern at Shandy Hall was a wonderful introduction to the wonderfully eccentric world of small museums. I really appreciated the opportunity to think about research in an incredibly tactile sense. It was inspiring to see how literary academic research can engage with the public on such an immersive and interesting level. I have been very eager to come across an opportunity for archiving/cataloguing experience for a long time now and I feel fortunate to have been able to spend three days immersed in the world of Shandy Hall. Learning how to bind poorly books and photographing books for the digital catalogue are all new skills that I have gained. Researching book plates was also extremely interesting as we discovered the life that a book led before it worked its way to the museum collection.’

Lucy Barnett, Department of English, University of York

Book preservation at Shandy Hall

‘The Sensory Stories training day had revealed some of the ways in which research may be shared with a community across time and space in a manner that provokes laughter, recognition and delight. I was eager to find out how laughter, recognition and delight at the stuff-ness of things was being used creatively at Shandy Hall, just a few miles from York, to provide imaginative portals into that most literary of texts, Tristram Shandy. It wasn’t quite what I expected. In addition to creatively designing, exhibiting, teaching, supervising, promoting, filming, cataloguing, networking, linking, stabilizing and rendering accessible Tristram Shandy-related material ( … reader! I was shocked! horrified! and maybe slightly amused to discover), the Curator and Collections Officer of Shandy Hall also has to change the fuses, answer the phones, screw in the light bulbs, lower the shelves and catch raindrops in saucepans when the pipes burst. Busy pursuing the Sensory Stories arc like a rainbow, has been the trajectory of Real Lives outside the Ivory Tower. Our experience at Shandy Hall showed us where the happy little bluebirds fly!’

Hellen Jowett, Department of English, University of Newcastle


Scents and sensitivity

A quiet corner of York offers both peace in the heart of the city and stimulation for all the senses, as Mark discovered on his visit to St Anthony’s Hall Sensory Garden.

St Anthony's Sensory Garden was designed and restored by students of Bishop Burton College, Beverley

Situated just off bustling Stonebow, St Anthony’s Hall Sensory Garden is a place of peace and tranquility. The pink and purple flowers of the ‘heraldic courtyard’ catch the light and tempt you to touch and feel them, the scent of lavender and thyme permeates the air, and from the seating area you are surrounded by meadow plants that give a feel of a wildlife haven. A sunshine border of bright yellow plants increases this effect. At the far end of the garden lies a woodland area, where a profusion of green tones form a carpet beneath the overhanging trees and give a calming effect.

How, though, can this sensory garden be used for educational purposes? Elements of history and spirituality permeate the garden, and its backdrop of the city walls vividly reminds visitors of the importance of York as a site of major historical and religious significance. Moreover, the garden’s location in the busy city centre reconnects us to nature and the natural world. But I think that this sensory garden, filled to the brim with features that stimulate all five senses, is cleverly designed to make rich experiences of the natural world available to sight impaired, hearing impaired, learning disabled or mobility impaired people. With its accessible walkways throughout, raised beds that bring scent and colour to eye level, and tactile and edible plants, this beautiful garden provides a safe space that encourages an interactive experience with nature as well as relieving tension and providing the restorative properties of nature.

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