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Old 22nd Jun 2012, 8:24 am   #1
trh01uk
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Default What happened to the National Wireless Museum?

Folks,

I've still to discover what happened to the National Wireless Museum on the Isle of Wight. Does anyone have up to date information?

Rod Burman wrote a letter to Radio Bygones revealing that much of the equipment donated to the museum had been "discovered" as "100 foot long tunnels full of rotting equipment". Was any attempt made to recover any of this? Was any of it rare stuff?

I found a webpage with recent photos of "the National Wireless museum that closed some years ago" here. But no further explanation of what is actually going on there, or who now owns the surviving equipment.

I have no personal interest in the equipment in the photos (not my area), but I would like to know what went wrong with this organisation, with a view to avoiding the same fate for my own one. Anyone know any more?


Richard
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Old 22nd Jun 2012, 1:08 pm   #2
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Default Re: What happened to the National Wireless Museum?

Covered before Richard. Seems to be one thread still searchable, from April 2007. There used to be others. I recall (I think) Sean Williams reporting that the BVWS mounted a rescue operation at the time and photos of some set remains in a tunnel. Douglas Byrne was very well intentioned (now safe at the Bodlean) illustrates that.

Dave W

Correction - Just done a second search which actually brought up more threads re "Isle of Wight Museum". New search engine is pretty good!

Last edited by dave walsh; 22nd Jun 2012 at 1:20 pm. Reason: More Info
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Old 22nd Jun 2012, 2:57 pm   #3
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Default Re: What happened to the National Wireless Museum?

Dave

it may have been covered before. I read the thread from 2007 and most of the links are now defunct. One working link does give a bit more info about some of the Marconi stuff moving to Oxford University.

But what is odd is that there are photos dating from January 2012 on the Isle of Wight amateur radio society site showing mountains of old radios - implying that there is a still a lot of stuff still there. I will enquire from the owners of that site as to what it's all about.

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Old 22nd Jun 2012, 4:20 pm   #4
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Default Re: What happened to the National Wireless Museum?

Intriguing Richard but if it's anything like the photos I saw the condition might be poor. I did get the impression from previous comments that most of the stuff had been cleared at the time but you are right, it's worth following up. Shades of Indiana Jones I think. Perhaps the Chalk Pits Museum might be able to help with info?
Dave

PS I now see that my original post was not clear apologies for that (line missing after an edit).

I meant to say that Mr Byrne's experience demonstrates that collecting items is only half the task if proper preservation and provision for the future can't be achieved subsequently-hence my ref to the Marconi Archive which has now found a proper home in Oxford..

Last edited by dave walsh; 22nd Jun 2012 at 4:29 pm. Reason: Corrected Info
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Old 22nd Jun 2012, 4:53 pm   #5
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Default Re: What happened to the National Wireless Museum?

There is little information about the National Wireless Museum, for many reasons, mainly due to it's location.

It formed out of a split with The Communications and Electronics Museum Trust, The exact dates escape me, I am not that up to speed with the archive, but would guess around the mid to late 1980s.

Douglas Byrne and Dr Graham Winbolt went their seperate ways, CEMT administered "The Winbolt Collection" - centred around RADAR and military electronics, and the NWM took care of the majority of the domestic collection that had been amassed by then.

Douglas was taken quite ill, the trustees at that time realised (as many are realising now) that the cost of supporting a formal Museum with exhibition and collection space is vast, and demands much of its trustees. With that in mind, the majority of stuff from the NWM was sold at auction, as organised by the Radiophile, at a sale in Market Drayton, some years ago.

To suggest that anything went wrong would be incorrect, indeed given the sheer number of Museums and collections within the UK that are closing, relocating, or disposing of artefacts, you could say it was just a victim of circumstance.

The hardest part of administering a collection, or a trust, is that of finding suitable trustees, CEMT, a trust of which I am a trustee is slowly winding down, the average age of trustees is high, and finding interested replacements is no easy task, we have taken a decision to wind things down slowly, while we are winding down, we are also helping to rehouse the remaining items in our care.

There really isnt much to learn from this situation - the NWM just ran out of time, and did not have a viable future.
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Old 22nd Jun 2012, 10:30 pm   #6
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Default Re: What happened to the National Wireless Museum?

Being a trustee can certainly involve considerable time and effort. The original Marconi museum was housed in a purpose-built building at the Marconi Research Centre, Great Baddow, when I was based there in the 1990's. When GEC was relaunched as Marconi and went down the drain, the company intended to sell it to realise the large amount of cash that it would no doubt have raised, and to this end Sotheby's made an inventory for a sale catalogue. Thanks to the diligence of the museum's trustees it was established that the museum's collection of Marconi artifacts had been the personal possessions of Marconi himself and did not in fact belong to the company after all. Hence the collection was not sold, but ended up under the custody of the Bodlean at Oxford.
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Old 23rd Jun 2012, 2:36 am   #7
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Default Re: What happened to the National Wireless Museum?

As a general question about museums or charitable trusts in any field, if they solicit and receive donations on the basis of being perpetually kept in care and custody and forming part of a national collection and then become unable to maintain it, what is allowed to happen to an item?
e.g. Could it be offered to the care of any similar collection in this nation, or elsewhere, or to be returned, sold, dumped, abandoned, or something else?

Last edited by G8UWM-MildMartin; 23rd Jun 2012 at 2:37 am. Reason: Changed "Would" to "Could"
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Old 28th Jun 2012, 9:33 am   #8
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Default Re: What happened to the National Wireless Museum?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sean Williams View Post
To suggest that anything went wrong would be incorrect, indeed given the sheer number of Museums and collections within the UK that are closing, relocating, or disposing of artefacts, you could say it was just a victim of circumstance.

The hardest part of administering a collection, or a trust, is that of finding suitable trustees, CEMT, a trust of which I am a trustee is slowly winding down, the average age of trustees is high, and finding interested replacements is no easy task, we have taken a decision to wind things down slowly, while we are winding down, we are also helping to rehouse the remaining items in our care.

There really isnt much to learn from this situation - the NWM just ran out of time, and did not have a viable future

Sean,

thanks for the comprehensive explanation. I am not sure I understand your comment that "To suggest that anything went wrong would be incorrect"?

Surely, if you set out to do something - presumably in this case to set up a public museum where equipment was preserved and displayed - and you end up with "100 foot long tunnels of rotting equipment" (to quote Rod Burman, one of the Trustees, in Radio Bygones) - something has gone very badly wrong?

At the very least, artefacts should have been disposed of before anyone even thought to place the first bit of equipment in any tunnel. It should hardly be a surprise that Douglas got ill - after all most of us get ill and die sooner or later. Surely any viable Trust has to take these realities into account?

Your comment on the difficulty of finding Trustees is very pertinent to my own work with the ERT. But hopefully being forewarned is to be fore-armed. I am trying to update our constitution to direct Trustees to move equipment to other institutions should they find it impossible to look after equipment or find other trustees to carry out the work.

Naturally, those who set up Trusts can only anticipate a certain range of disasters befalling it. We can't plan for everything - but we can require Trustees in the future not to ensure that equipment is properly looked after - and if they can't do it, then to move it on to someone who can.


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Old 28th Jun 2012, 10:06 am   #9
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Default Re: What happened to the National Wireless Museum?

Quote:
Originally Posted by G8UWM-MildMartin View Post
As a general question about museums or charitable trusts in any field, if they solicit and receive donations on the basis of being perpetually kept in care and custody and forming part of a national collection and then become unable to maintain it, what is allowed to happen to an item?
e.g. Could it be offered to the care of any similar collection in this nation, or elsewhere, or to be returned, sold, dumped, abandoned, or something else?
Martin,

the quick answer to your question is that it depends mostly on what the provisions of the body's constitution say. I am highly doubtful that a) constitutions have the correct provisions in them to ensure donated equipment/assets are handled appropriately, and b) that Trustees actually know what their constitution says, and obey it.

I have noted a singular lack of understanding in the UK of constitutions - probably because we don't have one in this country, and imagine that people can just do what they like when acting as Trustees. Rarely do such matters get to the courts where a constitution can be enforced.

Certainly museums have dumped a wide variety of equipment. I have story after story of just this happening. Sometimes "dumping" is the wrong word. Bits can be sold or given away to private collectors - and sometimes that is entirely appropriate, since its easy to acquire stuff that is not within the museums's scope.

Your question is very pertinent to what I am doing at the moment - which is to try and set up a trust that will properly look after a limited number of historic items that are now on the "endangered species" list (of electronics - not animals!). We have the Trust in place (the Electronics Restoration Trust), but I'm certainly not imagining that is "job done".

In the interests of not having the problems that the story of the NWM exhibits, I have been trying to understand what has gone wrong with similar efforts in the past. Those involved with failed projects of this type are usually either dead or very reluctant to explain what went wrong, I've found. That's a pity because this is not about finger pointing, but rather trying to do things better in the future, and learning from past mistakes.

I've identified a number of features of trust/museum failures:

1. There is an assumption that the resources available now (whether that be cash, building, staff, etc), will always be available. That's rarely true. So we have the Collingwood Naval Signals museum being turned out of their home, and thus closing down, because they were depending on the goodwill of the Navy to supply premises - and they have now been withdrawn.

Linked in with this is a failure to plan for sickness, death and loss of income. These are all very likely, but people imagine they will somehow be immune!

2. Museums rarely have the preservation of the items in the collection as a primary aim. You can look at the biggest museums, and you will see that they are actually about something else, and preservation of exhibits is not a priority. The IWM, for instance, is about the history of war. The Royal Signals Museum is about the history of the Royal Signals. Both museums have a lot of equipment, but no hard requirement that I can find to actually look after or preserve it.

3. A failure to understand that not all equipment is of equal value just because its old. Their collecting strategy lacks focus. Most museums (and collectors) just keep on piling the equipment up, apparently on the basis that "more is better". But more usually means what happens at the NWM - it is stored somewhere inadequate and just left to rot.

The ERT now has a system of evaluating equipment to see if its worth saving. Others may disagree with our criteria - but at least we have a basis for refusing to buy or accept acquisitions willy-nilly.


The other factor with vintage electronics is that it is just "not sexy" (like say vintage cars or steam engines) in the eyes of the general public. The museums reflect this lack of appreciation of a key technology that has changed the world. Someone may well have a "national collection" - but the truth is that the "nation" is just not interested!

Any venture trying to save vintage electronics has to take on board this reality, and I thus think that becoming dependent on separate buildings, paid staff, and a steady income is a recipe for certain failure. The approach I am taking with the ERT is to depend only on what ordinary inviduals can supply, such as a limited amount of cash, and a bit of space in their house, but backed up with enthusiasm and skills of course. A fully restored and rare item can be safely stored in someone's house, where they can exhibit it to someone interested enough to apply to see it. If they get too old to look after it, the item can be handed back to the Trust, and a new "carer" found for it.



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