Shirley Ratcliffe

Announcing the death of our beloved curator Shirley Ratcliffe who passed recently following a short illness. We would like to send our sympathy to Malcolm, family and friends. What follows is a short outline of her work as curator at the museum here in Coggeshall.

The Museum was started in the early 1990s by three people under the stewardship of Stan Haines and was bolstered by a small committee. Within a year Shirley had volunteered and joined that committee.

She was born in Albert Place, Coggeshall and having travelled the world with her husband, Malcolm, a soon-to-be-retired British Army Brigadier, they had decided to retire back to Coggeshall (or near enough).

It was soon evident that Shirley had the desire and the ability to drive the museum forward from its humble beginnings in a bare school kitchen with storage by means of cardboard and fruit boxes kept in a cupboard.

She quickly became a leading figure on the committee and was responsible, along with Malcolm, for bringing the museum “into the light” and promoting it around the town.

Technology was introduced for the first time under Shirley’s tutelage and cardboard boxes were replaced with organized computer files. She would spend hundreds of hours creating files in order that anything could be located instantly with the click of a few keys.

After Stan stood down, Shirley was the only logical choice to take over as Curator and the museum, as she used to say, “was her baby”.

Organization became key and systems were introduced for the storage of our hundreds of photographs and documents, donations and loans, etc.

The museum was still just a kitchen area with a few borrowed or donated odd cabinets and Shirley, helped by the committee, embarked on many fund-raising schemes to raise capital to improve the look and therefore the “experience” of visiting the museum.

She oversaw the production of many booklets and information leaflets, took out guided town walks, instigated the opening of the museum on “special occasion days” other than the usual Sunday afternoons, made sure the museum always had a presence at the Rec on carnival days, sold quizzes on the Market Hill with Editha, reproduced photos for the public from our large stock, secured the museum on a BBC Radio Essex slot and much, much more.

The current web site is an offspring of the original one she and her son produced 15 years ago.

Bit by bit, money was raised, aided by occasional grants, bequests and donations, and the museum was transformed under Shirley’s stewardship into what you see today. New walls, ceilings with museum grade lighting, new purpose built cabinets and notice boards, new carpets and décor, mannequins and displays all served to bring the museum to life.

The closed period in the winter was always one of the best times, when the Wednesday afternoon working parties would reorganize the museum for the next season. There was so much fun and camaraderie especially when Shirley got cross with us.

Latterly, when we were able to claim an area in the museum that had been out of bounds to us for many years, Shirley’s idea was to turn the area into a “Family History Research Room” (a hobby that Shirley was particularly keen on herself) and reading area. Books, journals, assorted ephemera, computers containing family tree material are all there, highlighted by the Coggeshall Roll of Honour volumes that Shirley and Malcolm so brilliantly compiled.

A copy of this can be seen on the web site Here

Even during her illness Shirley could still be found in her office in the museum updating files and logging any new donations.

She has left a wonderful legacy. Thank you Shirley, you will be much missed.

Coggeshall Museum Committee