‘The Collections’ or T.C.’s as Gladys would call them

‘The Collections’ of WoW / Background

Originally, ‘The Collections of Memorabilia, or ‘TC’s’ as they were once known in the family, were started by Gladys May Roberts and Mary Owen. Over time, items passed into the care of Joyce Latham Elam, daughter of Gladys, who herself started collecting more ‘memorabilia’, specifically fish & water related, until the lack of home storage room became a big family issue.

Joyce was always on the look out for a place to store and display the TC’s, and whilst filming in Wales she discovered Aber Gwen Woollen Mill in Pencader. It was overgrown, derelict and being used as a tractor garage, sheep shelter and hay store by a neighbouring farmer. It was owned by an American, in America, who Joyce found had no active plans to do anything with it or its surrounding land. Joyce asked the owner if he would sell it now so a new owner could start immediate work on its needed restoration and he said, “yes”.

Joyce arranged a buyer (Arthur Taylor) and the mill was restored, landscaped with ponds, areas for waterlife plus a fish hatchery, all surrounded by steep woodland nature walks.

When asked by South West Wales Tourism Board if she would create a small exhibition on aquaculture, a water play area and a cafe on site to make it more of a ‘family water tourism centre’, Joyce jumped at the idea of adapting her memorabilia collections to create this water themed museum.

Research for this led to South Kensington Museum where the World’s first exhibition on aquaculture had opened in 1865.

Part of the mill’s hatchery was converted into a shell museum and shop and most of the memorabilia collection was packed into tea chests and moved to the mill. When the worst flood in 100 years hit Aber Gwen Woollen Mill, the damage to the collections stored on the ground floor was extensive.

In 1980, when the owner of Aber Gwen Woollen Mill died, his heirs contested his will and forced its sale. The centre had to close and the collections that escaped the flood went back into storage. Local children who had nicknamed ‘their’ mill ‘World of Water’, were so sad at its closure that the managers continued to write, publish and mail them a newsletter, changing its name from Waterline to World of Water and vowing to find another local site to restart the project.

Coultershaw Mill on the Petworth Estate was negotiated but this fell through during the three years it took for the heirs to successfully contest the validity of the will. Severn Trent Water then offered their redundant Hatton Pumping Station and several other redundant sites but the high cost of conversion ruled out the use of each and every site.

Then, in an interesting development, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery contacted Joyce to find out whether they could use some of the exhibits on display at Aber Gwen Woollen Mill to create an exhibition on the ‘History & Future of Aquaculture’. This went ahead and was followed by a popular year long UK tour of the exhibition organised by the West Midlands Area Museum Service. Additional exhibits were loaned by Arlington Mill Museum and Bibury Fish Farm.

With popularity grew demand for more information, requests for radio and television interviews and invitations to give talks to university students, school classes and various institutes/groups, all fuelled by a general increase in public awareness of the potential of aquaculture alongside the threats posed by increasing water pollution.

In 1986, Joyce registered ‘World of Water’ as an education and research charity and enjoyed working on community and school projects about water with volunteers from Birmingham Volunteer Bureau whilst continually looking for a replacement museum site. Joyce continued to add to ‘The Collections’ and these proved to be useful educational tools, and in the hands of Joyce, a source of great live entertainment.

The Collections have come out of storage to be displayed in theatre, library, school, gallery, brewery and shop window and have featured during festivals, retail promotions, city events, country fairs, talks and walkabouts, each time bringing new audiences a greater understanding of the growing water issues the World faces of flooding, drought, pollution, fresh water scarecity, melting glaciers, rising sea level, ocean acidification, aquifer depletion, overfishing and wetland habitat loss.

In 1996, WoW’s ‘Campaign for Clean Water’ launched online, and today, exhibits from The Collections appear mainly on the charity’s instagram, twitter, WordPress blog and pinterest sites to highlight water issues to an international audience.

The Collection’s are of use in helping to illustrate our historical and present day global relationship with water as a requirement for economic growth, planetary health, farming, social welfare and energy production with due regard to the problems and solutions in making progress whilst maintaining a path to a perpetually sustainable future’.

The Collections remain packed in storage at the World of Water Field Centre where short-stay student residencies are held which have covered subjects as diverse as media & environmental issues, aquaculture, global well-being, entrepreneurship, qigong, soundscaping, global health, construction techniques, design, public speaking and conservation. Prior to covid, student residential positions were booked up to a year in advance through helpx.net; wwoof.org and directly via the WoW website. Post covid re-opening of the WoW Field Centre is planned with the addition of  self-contained accommodation.