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Historic puppet collection to take centre stage in new history centre

Puppets from a unique collection of over 1,000 historic puppets will be amongst the exhibits in the new Staffordshire History Centre, being funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The Douglas Hayward collection, which dates back to the 1930’s, is one of the largest collections of its kind in the country and is currently being cared for by Staffordshire County Council’s Archives and Heritage Service.

Now staff are busily preparing items to be displayed in the new centre, due to open later this year.  The project has been funded by The Heritage Fund, with a grant of £4,858,699.  The new centre on Eastgate Street in Stafford will incorporate Staffordshire Record Office and the heritage building that formerly housed the William Salt Library.

Douglas Hayward ran a puppet theatre in Abbotts Bromley in Staffordshire from the 1970s to 1990s.  The collection contains marionettes, glove, shadow and rod puppets, used for entertainment in many cultures.

Amongst the puppets likely to go on display is a balancing clown marionette, made by Douglas Hayward as an act in a puppet circus show.  Made in the 1980s, he balances a ball on his nose.  Also making the shortlist is a Pelham Pinocchio puppet dating back to the1970s.  These mass-produced marionettes, made between 1947 and 1993 were very popular with children who could perform their own shows at home.

The Hayward collection also has puppets from around the world, showing shared traditions of storytelling and entertainment. It also includes rod puppets from the island of Java which are used to tell stories from the epic Hindu texts, the Mahabharata and Ramayana.  Heroes battle villains in tales of adventure and danger.

Victoria Wilson, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture at Staffordshire County Council said: “Our Douglas Hayward puppet collection is a real national treasure and it’s wonderful that we’ll be able to display some of them in the new centre.

“It’s a fascinating collection with puppets from all over the world and the team will have a difficult job in deciding which ones go on display.  They have been out to local schools to get feedback from children too on the ones they would like to see in the History Centre.

“We’re all incredibly excited about the project and it’s great that we’ll be able to showcase so much of our amazing heritage in the new history centre, while protecting our valuable collections for generations to come.  We’re extremely grateful for the funding from The Heritage Fund and National Lottery players.”

Running alongside the construction work and collections management, is an exciting programme of outreach activities to promote the centre.  Events in schools and libraries are all helping to raise awareness of the project and shape plans for displays and exhibitions ahead of the opening.  Young people, community groups and focus groups have all supported the development of displays by sharing their ideas and choosing their favourite items.

In addition to The Heritage Fund grant, Staffordshire County Council provided £2.1m and Stafford Borough Council has directed £250,000 of UK Shared Prosperity Funding towards the project.

People can keep up to date on the project blog here: Staffordshire History Centre

Find out more about our collections and the puppets on the Staffordshire Pass Track Website.

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