Winsham cartoon village map showing the church, primary school, jubilee hall and community shop with fields, cows and sheep. Created by Bethany Fowler as the header banner for the Winsham Web Museum.
Home The Web Museum Idea

The Web Museum Idea

Orginally published May 2002
Last updated Aug 2021

John Sullivan

The Winsham Web Museum was the brain child of John Sullivan. It was initially launched in 2002 as part of the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations, after nearly 2 years of preparation. Without John's dedication the community wouldn't have this fantastic source of history and information.

Winsham was a pioneer in the use of the internet to benefit communications within small rural communities in the UK. Luckier than many such communities,  broadband arrived in Winsham in 2004, and enjoyed reasonable transmission speeds of between 2-6mbs for most of that time.

Winsham had use of the Internet before the arrival of broadband. The Winsham Web Museum was launched in 2002, followed in 2004 by the launch of the Winsham Parish Web site. These in turn led, in 2006, to the publication the Winsham E-Letter. All of which John created and managed over many years.

John Sullivan

A New Approach to Recording History

It seems to us that there exists a great deal of latent interest among the present population for information about the lives of the earlier inhabitants of the village. Whenever the opportunity arises there is always good support for any attempt to recall Winsham’s past. Street Fairs; VE Day Celebrations with the accompanying exhibition of memorabilia from World War 2; the Millennium Book, a record for the future generations of Winsham people. Old photographs are pored over, and the older generations love to talk about life as it was fifty years ago. More importantly, people love to listen, providing they haven’t heard it too often before!

On a wider front, the reality is that many people are interested in history, local, national and international, and the evidence for this is to be found in the tremendous volume of coverage by TV, radio, magazines & books. The people of Winsham are no different.

The principal problem for a small community attempting to record its history is often the lack of facility for storing information gathered, as well as being able to make it readily accessible to those who wish to view it.

Some years ago there was a movement in the village to set up a small conventional ‘bricks & mortar’ museum, but without success. The problems of finding a suitable permanent space, and the associated problems of cost of refurbishment, heating, lighting, cleaning, control of access were daunting. Add to this the cost and organisational problems associated with preparing and maintaining good quality displays, and it becomes clear that the conventional approach to museums was not an option for a small village such as Winsham.

In the course of discussing these problems with County Museum experts, they suggested that a ‘virtual museum’ using a website on the Internet. At the time the suggestion was not met with much enthusiasm. To explain this it must be remembered that in the middle of the 1990's, the Internet was nothing like as well established as it is now. Furthermore, home PC ownership was nothing like as widespread, and building a website did not seem possible as we had no knowledge of how to do this. So, the matter was left for some three or four years.

Public Access Broadband came to Winsham at the Jubilee Hall. This, in turn, led to a series of Computer Training Courses for people in the general area, sponsored by the Jubilee Hall, which were well attended-nearly one hundred people have attended a variety of courses over an eighteen month period to date (spring 2009). Winsham got its Broadband connection in 2004, a year or so early due to a public campaign. By 2012 this project became a victim of its own success. Some 75% of all households had Broadband, so 'public access' was no longer relevant. Two hundred homes also received the weekly Winsham E-Letter with its links to this Museum and The Winsham Parish Web Site

The Trigger

The trigger for the renewal of interest in the idea was the death of two elderly villagers. The realisation that they had taken with them to the grave a great store of memories and experiences of most of the twentieth century, which would have been of great interest to many people, was depressing. In addition to their memories of their own life, they had, in all probability received the recollections of their parents and grandparents. Access to maybe a century and a half of history of these two people was lost, and some of this at least was Winsham history.

The one and a half centuries involved are also of particular significance. Just think of how much has changed in the world during that time. The manner of how these changes would have influenced life in a small rural village in the west of England is something that fascinates many.

The one and a half centuries involved are also of particular significance. Just think of how much has changed in the world during that time. The manner of how these changes would have influenced life in a small rural village in the west of England is something that fascinates many.

David Dawson, County Museums Officer , whose idea in 1996 sparked the idea off

Getting Started

Clearly something needed to be done, and at a meeting of a small group of people early in 2001, it was agreed that the possibility of establishing a Web Museum should be investigated.

The problem had two elements. The first was establishing a management organisation that could decide how such a museum should be structured to provide a comprehensive repository of relevant village and parish historical information, and then how to gather and present the material. The second was how we would cope with the technicalities of building a web site, bearing in mind that very little experience of web site construction existed within the group.

The problems were initially very daunting, but in practice they were quickly overcome. Dealing with the problem of building the web site first, we did have a large slice of good fortune. Contact was made with the Website Manager of South Somerset District Council. It was an obvious first step to take, because Winsham already participated in the Village Web Site initiative which he had organised. The idea of the virtual museum was received with enthusiasm, and we were given a good deal of information about the things that we would need to do. We were, most importantly, offered practical help in constructing the site, and some temporary space on the SSDC site on which to build a test site, which would be accessible only to those authorised. In practise it enabled the group to proceed with the other element of the museum, the structuring and preparation of material for the museum.In retrospect we sometimes wonder if our Web Museum project would ever have got started without the initial technical support from the SSDC's Website Manager. This must be an area of concern for any group considering such a project, without much computer and web site experience. The answer is that with sufficient determination it would have progressed, although it would have taken longer, and the on-screen result might not have been as professional. Would that have really mattered? 

The time taken on the project, and the speed of its progress is not the main issue. The most important thing is that material, which might otherwise become lost, is recorded digitally. Of course the standard of presentation is important, as this will improve accessibility and readability and encourage people to revisit the site on a regular basis. A community history web project can never reach a conclusion. It is ongoing, with today's events becoming tomorrow’s history.

We did have one person in our group who had limited experience of web site construction, and another two or three who had experience of computer graphics. With the ever-increasing amounts of ‘build your own web site’ software becoming available, we could have achieved a worthwhile result. Furthermore, our IT expert, who also teaches web site design at the evening classes at the local technical college assures us that any of his students who had completed his 16 week course would know more than enough to achieve a result comparable to our own web site.

The Winsham Web Museum Launch Weekend

An account of our two-day event will bring us up to the present time - June 2002. Can we really have achieved so much in just under eighteen months? It doesn’t seem possible. You could do the same. All it takes is a bit of enthusiasm. It’s not like getting to the Moon!

Our weekend event took quite a lot of organising and took place on the 24th and 25th May 2002. Its objectives were as follows:-

The result was one of overwhelming success, in terms of all objectives.

David Laws, our MP, opened the event supported by various important people in the community, which included the Chair of the District Council, the Leader of the District Council, the County Historian, the Chairman of Winsham Parish Council, the County Museums Officer, the District Council Museums and Heritage Officer and, it is estimated, over a hundred people from the Parish.

During the weekend over three hundred photographs and documents were scanned, with promises given for lots more.

Press & Radio coverage was extensive, which resulted in a sharp increase in ‘visits’ to the web site.

Display Units were loaned to us by the SSDC Museums Department, which helped greatly in enabling us to get the Web Museum story across.

Further mention must be made of the role played by the South Somerset District Council's Museums and Heritage Department who willingly gave so much help. This ranged from advice on matters of copyright and other legalities to museum layout and indexing. If you consider building a community museum on the Internet such help will greatly aid your overall effectiveness.

Now we are very busy incorporating this material into the site, a task that will not be completed fully for several months, and maybe longer. Almost daily the site increases in size. It already contains some eighty megabytes of information.
May 2002

People gathering in the Jubilee Hall
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Photo from the launch event with David Laws chatting with Jean Thompson and Stella Abbey

Newspaper clipping of the event
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Photo courtesy of Helen Fowler

Western Gazette coverage of the event
Cyber space has won the hearts and minds of a rural community by providing a link to a village's past. More than 100 people gathered at Winsham Jubilee Hall to mark the opening of a pioneering Internet museum which organisers predict will set the benchmark for villages across the country to follow. When parishioners realised their community was too small to justify building a museum from bricks and mortar, they seized upon the idea of preserving Winsham's past on the web. Local MP David Laws officially unveiled the fruits of months of hard work at the ceremony on Friday, joined by guests including South Somerset District Council chairman Nigel Mermagen, former villager and ex-Chard mayor Jean Smith and district council leader Tim Carroll. Images of old photographs and documents have been scanned and downloaded to the website and recorded interviews with old inhabitants are planned.
Web museum spokesman John Sullivan said: "It has got off to a very good start and we are going to produce an information pack so that other villages can come up with their own ideas for a web museum. It is a marvellous way to record our past and provides an interesting contrast between the sharp edge of information technology and the way things used to be done. We wanted as many people as possible to get involved. Once people realised the project was about people and places they had known when they were children, interest soared. Some people did not even known what the Net was and quite a lot of them had never used it before, but all of a sudden people have started saying 'I think it is about time I bought a computer'. I am sure the site will boost the number of PCs in the village."
Cllr Mermagen moved to Winsham from Chard recently and said the virtual museum was an inspired idea. "It is the first of its kind in the area if not in England," he said. "I think other villages might think about copying what has been done here. Like all villages in this part of the world there have been quite a lot of new people come in in recent years and people who have been here for generations but they have blended together very well. It is important to preserve what we can of the past and this is an ideal way of doing it."

Time Travellers: Helen Fowler helps Winsham children Jordan Fowler, aged three, Bethany Fowler, seven, and friend Electra Owen, seven, to check out the new web museum at Winsham Jubilee Hall.

Newspaper clipping of the event
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Photo courtesy of Helen Fowler

Chard and Ilminster coverage of the event

Making History: Winsham Web Museum was officially launched last weekend. Pictured during a preview event are the Fowler family and a friend - Helen Fowler, Electra Owen, seven, Jordan Fowler, three, and Bethany Fowler, seven.
Right: Cllr Nigel Mermagen, chairman of South Somerset District Council and a resident of Winsham, and John Sullivan, chairman of the web museum management committee

Encouraging the use of the Internet

During the first decade of the 21st century, the impact of the internet began, slowly at first, to gain momentum, as Broadband extended across the country. It is difficult to believe now that prior to broadband,the only access to the Internet was by a 'dial-up' service that operated at 64bps. The process used to take several minute, during which one was entertained by sound effects that were popularly described as 'a host of angels eating crisps'. Images had to be very low resolution if they were not to take ages to load. Web site designers generally worked on a resolution of 800 x 500pixels, and as a rule of thumb kept pages down to an absolute maximum of 100Kb.Winsham got Broadband in 2004, after much lobbying. Winsham Web Museum then felt that it had an obligation to encourage people to use it, at the same time running training courses for residents. Below are pictures of displays used to publicise its efforts. These were produced by Roy Smart.

The biggest coup for Winsham Web Museum at that time (2004) was the agreement from the Millennium Book Committee to allow it to be put onto the Winsham Web Museum. This was a massive project that took months. It was also a major learning experience for those responsible for the web site, bearing mind that web design software was still fairly primitive by today's standards, and experience very limited. Although the web site version will never match the experience of handling the actual book, which is now in the custodianship of the Parish Council, the web version is always available to be read, making the hard work carried out in the production of the book in time for the Millennium celebrations, all the more worthwhile.

Leading from this the Jubilee Hall from 2007 onwards ran a series of courses for residents ,using its six PCs , ranging from basic introductory courses to photo editing. Some courses ran for just a couple of sessions; others extended over six or eight weeks. A lot of emphasis was also placed on the rapidly evolving digital camera. Talks were also given to the children at Winsham Primary School, and a computer club was formed, when expert s would come and give talks. Self-help was a major aspect of the club's activities, whose motto was 'The blind leading the blind'! Heady days that seemed to pass quickly as people became more expert, and as hardware and software became easier to use.

And then came the explosion in the use of Wi-Fi ,portable devices and the Smart Phone (2016).

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Parish Magazine article
Winsham Web Museum Demonstrations
No PC? Not on line?
Now is your chance to see the Winsham Web Museum and to hear how & why it happens

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Parish Magazine article
Winsham Web Museum is a Success Story... is the first small community web museum in the UK - quite possibly anywhere in the world. It is an achievement of which we can all be proud - and it has only been achieved by the support of many people in the Parish, including Winsham Parish Council which sponsors our domains costs - about £50 pa. South Somerset Museums & Heritage Service, with whom we are in Partnership have also made a gift of an advanced, high specification computer to help in our work. For all this support we are very grateful.
To continue with the expansion of this unique enterprise we do need more help in all sorts of ways. Money of course is always useful; especially to help defray the cost of organising this exhibition and any donation that you can make will be received with thanks.
More important is help in running the Web Museum. We have all sorts of needs. We especially need people who can spare some time to help with word processing and research. The tasks can be tailored to meet your availability.
If you would like to discuss the possibility of your helping, speak to any Web Museum representative at this Exhibition or call John Sullivan on 30026.

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Parish Magazine article
Winsham Parish Registers & Census Returns
Does your family go back a long way? See if you can find the details of your Winsham ancestry.

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Parish Magazine article
This unique 'snapshot' shows how life was in Winsham during the Millennium Year.
Over one hundred people collaborated in its presentation. It has also been adapted for display on the Winsham Web Museum.