Landmark new exhibition explores Bristol’s disability and architectural history


A landmark exhibition, Brave Poor Things: Reclaiming Bristol’s Disability History exploring the previously hidden histories of deaf and disabled people in Bristol, opens at M Shed on 14 October and runs until 15 April 2018 

Archive sepia photo of a two young disabled boys with crutches

Archive photo from the Guild of Brave, Poor Things courtesy Bristol Records Office.

It’s estimated today that there are one billion disabled people in the world. Yet the history of deaf and disabled people continues to be overlooked, even while their stories are intrinsic to the environments we live in and around every day. This exhibition tells the unique story of The Guild of the Brave Poor Things; a pioneering social and educational space for disabled people.

Founded in Bristol in 1896 by local philanthropist Ada Vachell, the Guild set new benchmarks for disabled people, affecting the ways they were treated and viewed by society, and more importantly, how they viewed themselves.

The Guild’s 1913 building was exemplary in its design, featuring wide doorways and corridors, step free access from street to ground floor, and rooms designed precisely for their needs. It is often described as the first “purpose built building” for disabled people.

The Guild played a unique role in bringing together people with physical impairments in order to socialise and enjoy themselves in a place free from judgement or stigma. At the same time, the Guild offered routes back into work by enabling apprenticeship schemes and teaching members to make items that were then sold.

The exhibition will display original artifacts made by Guild members, archive material such as minute books and an array of photographs depicting life at the Guild and on their holidays. There will also be interactive elements including a digital game exploring this history as well as various other locations across Bristol. The exhibition concludes with a film created by young people in Bristol.

Archive black and white photo of a group of people standing behind a bench for basket weaving

Archive photo from the Guild of Brave, Poor Things courtesy Bristol Records Office.

Grace Swordy, History of Place Project Coordinator, said: “We have been working with local people on various elements of this project in Bristol. Amazing volunteers have undertaken research, young people have developed a game and made a film from their own ideas, we’ve run workshops and made a flag with a local artist.”

Esther Fox, Head of the Accentuate Programme, said: “With this exhibition we are attempting to break new ground. Everything about the exhibition has been designed with accessibility in mind and in consultation with disabled people. Different access requirements have driven the process of design and interpretation, encouraging us to think differently about the way we present stories to the public.”

Brave Poor Things is one of three exhibitions produced by History of Place, a national project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. History of Place is dedicated to revealing the presence and place of disabled people in relation to the built environment, and uncovering the authentic voices of deaf and disabled people who founded, attended, visited and influenced building design and use from the Middle Ages to the present day.

Archive sepia photo of a group of young disabled men with crutches

Archive photo from the Guild of Brave, Poor Things courtesy Bristol Records Office.

History of Place charts the lives of deaf and disabled people over 800 years across eight different locations. Following this exhibition, there will two further displays in 20 18 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Museum of Liverpool.

History of Place is part of the groundbreaking Accentuate Programme managed by the Cultural Development Agency Screen South. Accentuate challenges perceptions of disability by providing life-changing opportunities for deaf and disabled people to participate in and lead the cultural sector.

Brave Poor Things: Reclaiming Bristol’s Disability History is on show at M Shed from 14 October until 15 April 2018
pen Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm plus Bank Holiday Mondays and Mondays during Bristol school holidays.
Please click on this link to the M Shed website for more information