Whether it’s flamingo science, pelican training or otter poo, Slimbridge is teeming with experts who can tell you about all sorts of things.
With Slimbridge 2020 well underway, the WWT family is growing, meaning even more specialists are joining our unique team.
One of our latest additions is the curator of Sir Peter Scott’s House, Helen McConnell Simpson. She is tasked with overseeing the transition of the WWT founder’s family home into a new museum and exclusive guest accommodation. This includes the uncovering and cataloguing of the Scott family’s prized possessions. These amazing discoveries range from photographs of famous visitors to Slimbridge, to Sir Peter Scott’s artwork and a 200-year-old telescope.
An experienced social history curator, Helen has worked at M Shed, a big city history museum in Bristol, Blaise Castle House Museum and STEAM – Museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon. But she’s never taken on a position quite like this one before.
She says: “It’s a very unusual opportunity for a curator. Very few are given an opportunity to start completely from scratch. There are a completely different set of challenges and so it’s important to try and get things right in the beginning.”
Helen has just received the go-ahead to press on with construction work to the upstairs part of the house, which will be transformed into contemporary new guest accommodation. Downstairs will remain exactly the same, a snapshot into the lives of the famous family, exactly as it was when Sir Peter was alive.
She explains: “Items that originate from after Sir Peter’s death will be stored so that we can rotate objects and change how we display the house in the future. But everything from 2010 onwards will not be kept, because it doesn’t have anything to do with the Scotts.”
Since starting her role here, Helen has come across some remarkable pieces such as a watercolour of a lake in Cambridgeshire dating back to the 1930s featuring the first ever bird hide, invented by Sir Peter Scott. It is accompanied by a list of all of the birds he’d shot that season.
Helen says: “I think it’s so interesting because it gives us an insight into his differing interests over a lifetime – that colossal change from wildfowler to conservationist.”
But it’s not just the Scott possessions that will be on show. The house itself exudes bags of character. Built from scratch by the Severn Estuary in the early fifties, Sir Peter Scott resided there for more than thirty years.
It was intended to serve several functions; family comfort, scientific study, art and the provision of Slimbridge.
The BBC’s first ongoing natural history programme was regularly presented by Scott live from his lounge, offering incredible views of Rushy Lake, from 1955.
Built for looking out of rather than looking at, it’s befitting of a family celebrated for so many different pursuits – and the reason why there’s no other residence quite like it.
She says: “It’s a very unique-looking property. The set-up of the house is typical of the time, post-war and make-do and mend. It’s a blend of domestic life and pioneering scientific work – a familiar family space but with all these stories of science and art. It’s just wonderful and I can’t wait for the public to have the chance to peer into the remarkable lives of this extraordinary family.”
Scott House is planned to open in the spring of 2020 with group tours, giving an insight into the life and work of Sir Peter Scott.