We don’t often categorise heritage by how it is displayed. If we did, and we thought about ‘hanging heritage’, we might think of curtains, paintings and armour within a stately home or castle. In museums, we might consider suspended dinosaur and ptersosaur fossils. If we considered transport heritage then immediately this might bring to mind aviation museums and displays of aircraft of different kinds: aeroplanes and helicopters. Equally, we might think of maritime heritage where boats are often propped at angles or simply within dry docks, or smaller craft are ‘suspended’. This post is about propped and suspended land transport heritage and traditional tools, using Erddig as an example.
As a regular visitor to Erddig National Trust property. I still haven’t been able to get an opportunity to look inside the house as my only attempt to do so didn’t go too well for me and my kids. Still, I am a great fan of the gardens and woods. I also like the various outbuildings including a sawpit, sawmill, blacksmithy and stables.
Within the carriage house and small carriage house as well as elsewhere amidst the outbuildings, there is a collection of vintage carriages, carts, a wagon, cars, motorbikes and bicycles. Disappointingly, there are few captions giving details about them, and the 96-page guidebook dedicates less than a page to the collection which includes:
- A Skeleton Boot Victoria of c. 1860
- A Wagonette Omnibus
- The undercarriage of an early 19th-century Travelling Chariot.
- A 1907 Rover.
- 1924 and 1927 Austins
- Bicycles including a 19th-century penny-farthings and a ‘Bone Shaker’.
Very few of these are simply standing on the ground. The carts, carriages and wagons have elements poles and traces suspended. Cars, car-parts, and motorbikes and their parts are propped in various fashions. Likewise, motorbike and car-parts are suspended from walls and ceilings. Most notably, the bicycles are propped but also suspended from the roof and walls. Likewise, there are displays of tack in the stables, woodworking tools and saws, agricultural tools and blacksmithing tools, all displayed suspended from walls.
Together, they reveal the importance of suspension as a practical means of storage within workshops, keeping them away from water and heat, rendering them easy to locate for the worker and also easy to spot if they are missing. For vehicles, suspension and propping facilitates storage but also the repair of vehicles.
In heritage terms, the collective suspension of material culture and vehicles serves to emulate authentic storage and work settings. Equally, via suspension, collections can be condensed into smaller spaces and still be apprehended by the visitor. Moreover, suspension and propping allow different perspectives and appreciation of items individually and as a collection.
There is also a further dimension to these observations. Suspension and propping enhance a sense of implied movement and invoke in the imagination the presence of absent-operators and workers. In this regard, I think it is easy to dismiss these arrangements as traditional and thoughtless displays. On the contrary, I think they provide a powerful sense of suspended animation: of people and things intended to be on the move…