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Saturday, 20 September 2014

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Stalwarts say farewell to museum

Two people largely responsible for putting Maryport’s Senhouse Roman Museum on the map have announced their retirement.

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HISTORY STALWARTS: Hugh Thomson, outgoing treasurer of Maryport’s Senhouse Roman Museum, second left, and wife Zoe, left, with outgoing chairman Peter Greggains and his wife Gillian

Maryport businessman Peter Greggains, 73, whose family owned a garage, haulage and quarrying business for four generations, has lived with Maryport’s Roman history all his life.

He was born on Camp Farm, close to the Roman fort, and has lived on Camp Road for many years.

His interest in the Roman history was sparked, however, when, in his 20s, he helped Roger Senhouse rescue the Senhouse family’s collection of Roman antiquities, including the altars, from their derelict mansion at Netherhall.

Peter joined the trust 20 years and succeeded Stephen Harbottle as chairman seven years ago.

He recalled: “Vince Mulgrew, former mayor of Maryport and trust chairman, asked me to join with the rider that I would attend every meeting.”

There has hardly been a day since that Peter has not been involved in museum business in one way or the other.

Hugh Thomson, who has been involved with the museum since 1994, was recruited by Mary Burkett.

He said: “Mary’s energy and wide range of contacts helped to establish the museum in 1990. She had known my wife Zoe, a Cumbrian girl, for many years.

“When Mary heard that I had retired to Cumbria, had been involved in work with charities in Canada and the UK and had a degree in history, she guessed that I might find the challenge of saving an institution on the ropes appealing.”

As partner in a leading firm on business consultants, Hugh had worked with clients in Britain, the United States and many of the world’s largest banks.

In his early career he had also worked as a shipping agent in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

He well remembers his first visit to the museum: “It was winter and cold. I kept my Puffa jacket on the whole time. There was no manager, no money, no display but a fantastic collection in a fantastic location.”

Each man is quick to acknowledge the contribution of the other and it is evident that any success they have had at the museum has been the result of the fact that they work as a team.

Peter has been the local face of the museum and largely responsible for its promotion as well as steering the trustees through the recent developments.

Hugh, as well as looking after the finances, has been the source of many of the ideas which have helped the museum come alive, attracting more than 150,000 visitors to Maryport and playing its part in the life of the local community.

By the start of the millennium the museum was firmly established. Finances were in good enough order to undertake, with help from Eric Martin and the Maryport Heritage Trust, two important projects – the construction of a watch tower and a geophysical survey by Alan Biggins and David Taylor which revealed the size and structure of a significant civil settlement outside the Roman fort.

It’s not all been about Peter and Hugh, as their wives have been hugely supportive and involved.

Zoe Thomson, with Peter, was largely responsible for the award-winning display.

Gillian Greggains, Peter’s wife, with Angela Locke, Ann Ward and Mike Smith, established a writers’ group which evolved into a successful literary festival, now in its sixth year.

In 2004 Maryport was established at the top of the regional development agencies’ priority list for the World Heritage Site. This resulted, in 2008, in the acquisition of Camp Farm by Hadrian’s Wall Heritage Ltd.

In the same year a solicitor’s call to Hugh revealed that Graham Harris, a former trustee, had left a legacy to the trust.

Hugh recalled: “When I asked the lawyer how much, she replied that she was not altogether sure but the amount would be around £1 million.”

According to Zoe, her husband’s face went white.

He said: “I had plans for most contingencies but this was one for which we did not have a plan.”

The money ensures the long-term future of the museum and has already enabled the trust to fund a programme of excavation which has transformed the understanding of what happened in Maryport more than a thousand years ago.

For more than 400 years the Senhouse collection has had the attention of historians and antiquarians. Now, thanks to the efforts of many people including Peter Greggains and Hugh Thomson, the collection is properly housed and accessible to everyone.

Both men look forward to future developments which they hope will result in further increases to visitor numbers and contribute to Maryport's economic future.

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