In this blog series, we'll be interviewing some familiar faces around Gunnersbury. Next up is Gerry Horwood, Volunteer Room Guide.
A former judge, Gerry Horwood started volunteering as a room attendant at Gunnersbury Park Museum in 2017. It’s a job she’s been doing ever since #fortheloveofgunnersbury
What’s it like to be back at the museum after the big lockdown?
So far so good! We’re all very pleased to be back, both volunteers and paid staff. I didn’t enjoy lockdown – I’m not the kind of person who handles isolation very well. I like to be out doing things and surrounded by people. I do one afternoon a week – and it’s so nice to be back.
What kind of people visit the museum?
When the museum is busy you find that there are elderly people who will wander around and reminisce about coming here as children years ago. I might ask them: “When did you first come here?” Sometimes they start to cry a bit as they talk about their childhoods. We also have people who have lived nearby for years and this is the first time that they’ve visited the museum. I’m happy to talk to anyone who comes in.
You were a judge before you came to work here?
Yes, that’s right. I did it for 19 years and retired on my 70th birthday. Before becoming a judge I worked as a solicitor specialising in children and family law. Being a solicitor and a judge in this area is hard work and can be emotionally draining but it can also be incredibly rewarding. I didn’t want to stop doing it but I had to retire. Then I wanted to find something else to do because I didn’t want to just sit at home. I’m not what you might call a “domestic goddess”. I first started work even before I left school and I’ve always worked.
I live in Isleworth so it’s a 30 to 40 minute commute to come here and do my afternoons but I’d already visited the park and museum a few times. I love museums and I was very keen to volunteer in one. I tried the Victoria & Albert but they were very oversubscribed and so I contacted Gunnersbury and, after an interview, they said “yes.” I like the community aspect and the fact that this is a local museum, very much connected with the area and local people.
As well as being a local museum it was also a family home, wasn’t it?
I’d read about the Rothschilds and their history. If you look at how different their lives were to those of their servants, it’s really quite shocking. I was particularly interested in how their servants lived because my own grandmother, who was born in the 1880s, went into service. The master of the house made some unwelcome approaches to her, shall we say, and so she ran away, which would have been a very brave thing to do. She then worked in a pickle factory, got married at 18 and had 11 children. It’s incredible to think about how different her life was to mine and how many more opportunities I’ve had. I consider myself to be very lucky.
It’s a small team here, isn’t it?
Yes, but I like that. The volunteers keep in touch when we’re not here which is nice and it was particularly good during lockdown. We all help out and there’s a great team spirit.