All of the photographs are now up on the walls ahead of schedule, which is great. Today we have installed 5 Punch and Judy puppets in the middle of the gallery. They've never been on display before, and I've been researching the history of Punch and Judy for the exhibition.
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From left to right: Policeman, Judy, Mr Punch (centre), Ghost and Beadle
Punch and Judy shows have been a feature of seaside entertainment for many years. Although the show seems like a typically British phenomenon, it actually originated in Italy. The traditional show was very violent and featured Mr Punch killing his wife Judy, his own baby and other characters including the devil. Since it first appeared in England in 1662, the story has been modified to appeal more to children. Modern versions include new characters like the ghost, policeman and crocodile puppets shown alongside Punch and Judy in the exhibition. Although Punch and Judy still argue, today's shows are much less violent.
The puppets on display in Beside the Seaside were acquired by the museum in 2001 from Deptford resident Peter Butchard, who's now 99. He began performing as a Punch and Judy man in Broadstairs after his retirement, and took his show around the world, bringing the delights of Punch and Judy to children in Greece and Australia. The Museum's archives has lots of photographs of his appreciative audiences.
The Museum now holds over 50 of Peter Butchard's puppets and props including a 'swazzle'; an instrument which rests in the throat and helps Punch and Judy men to create Mr Punch's distinctive squeaky voice. Peter Butchard rarely used his swazzle however, preferring to create his characters' voices himself.
Before they could be installed in the exhibition, the puppets had to be examined by the museum's Textile Conservator, Nicky Yates. In order to prepare them for display, Nicky surface cleaned the puppets. Creased and misshapen textile elements were eased back into shape using a 'cold' steam from an ultrasonic humidifier; this was particularly useful on the lace edging on Judy's hat, apron and her big red bow. Other conservation work included stitching down and supporting any loose threads/ribbons or damaged areas such as the ribbons on Punch's costume and the many loose threads on the back of the crocodile. Punch's 'hump' was given an overlay of dyed silk Crepeline to protect its surface, it has been re-covered sometime in the past as there are sections of metal thread braid wearing through the covering fabric. Mr Punch appears to be quite an early puppet, possibly dating from the last century, unfortunately he has been much altered over the years.
Richard Norris, one of the Museum's Collections Display Technicians, painted a beautiful theatrical backdrop for the puppets' case. The puppets look great, and add a splash of colour to the exhibition, as most of the photographs are black and white.
Tomorrow we will light the puppet display case to show the puppets off to their full glory, as well as lighting the photographs, which will enable visitors to fully appreciate every detail.