My Odd Job: I run a breadboard museum that attracts hundreds of visitors a year

I never intended to open a breadboard museum.

My mum used to collect breadboards and would joke, ‘One day I’ll throw it open to the public’ when our guests would stare gog-eyed at all her Dickensian knick-knacks.

I am trying not to buy any more breadboards, but I have weak moments! Kempton Antiques Fair is great and we have also received a few donations from families who cannot bring themselves to throw their own mums’ boards away.

On display you will also see 100+ ornately carved breadboards spanning the Victorian period up to the present day, collected over 40 years, with their accompanying bread knives, butter dishes, cheese platters and wooden breakfast items, like egg trays.

They are endlessly varied and skilled, and charged with stories: the tree it came from, the type of wood, the motifs and their symbolism, the carver’s home style, the mottos reflecting owners’ values, the size connected to status and so on.

My favourite board is a platter with wheat round the border, deep-carved naturalistically with no symmetry. It’s as if the carver plumped a few sprigs down on his work bench and ran with the irregular bunchings and spacings.

An average tour day involves cleaning and tidying the whole ground floor up to health and safety standards, oiling some boards to nourish and protect them and adjusting the humidity to 40-80 per cent.

I’ll spend some time shopping for special requests for tea – you get fed at my museum – and I also keep track of sales, as we sell bespoke breadboards carved by a contemporary artist, Tom Samuel. We are privileged to be working alongside him, keeping the tradition alive.

The final touch is to hang a breadboard up on the front door to make us easy to find!

In the one year we’ve been open we’ve welcomed just over 300 visitors and each tour is personally curated by me.

Every group is different as I prefer a Q&A style, so our guests define what they learn according to their backgrounds and interests. We attract small museum lovers, woodworkers, heritage hunters, bakers, stylists, nostalgia seekers, collectors, vintage and antique buffs, and fans of quirky things.

We’ve also been supported by our local community who have adopted us as an alternative ‘tea room’ for special occasions such as birthdays and reunions.

The best moments are when a visitor unlocks a mystery in the collection, or adds insight into bread rituals or tells a great breadboard story! I collect everyone’s observations and it’s fast turning into a social history archive.

This museum is a bit unusual in inviting visitors to contribute their knowledge, and everybody knows something valuable without exception.

The greatest challenge is time management and keeping all the balls in the air, because I am a one-woman-band running a ‘pioneering’ business for the first time.

My background in teaching has helped, as both require a mix of opposites such as self-discipline and creativity, solitary and social, initiative and follow-through. My next big project is a book on breadboards called Vintage Breadboards, which is due out in October.

Breadboards were used daily at the heart of the family routine, because bread was a staple, and are therefore often associated with ‘mum’ and maternal love, caring and sharing, feeding and routine, safety and ordinariness.

We have given breadboards little attention in the same way the quiet daily sacrifices of motherhood also go unsung.

Consider that fact we have had them around us for at least 200 years and only now are we finally getting a book on the subject.

When our parents pass away, they seem to become precious as a memento mori, reconnecting us to our childhoods.

Tours of the Antique Breadboard Museum can be booked via Airbnb Experiences.

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