Recollections of John Bullen

Our long-standing volunteer John Bullen recently passed away, and we send our condolences to Janet. Some of the museum’s other volunteers and members of staff have sent their recollections of John:

Len Pole:

John Bullen was a constant presence when help was needed in running events and moving items in the 1980s and before – his assistance goes back as long as Janet’s, I think as far back as the mid 1970s. He could be relied upon to turn up at short notice to help when needed, as well as being very useful in running the more regular Society events.

Maureen Evans:

John and Janet have both been involved with the museum for well over 40 years – perhaps even before Len’s time. Janet was initially involved with conservation in the 1980’s as far as I can recall – working alongside Louise Bacon ( the first ever conservator) . One of the jobmaster’s carts they worked on, then displayed in the Audley End stable block, had a family connection with Janet. The jobmaster’s cart, has since been transferred to Burwell Museum, due to lack of space at Saffron Walden.

John was always ‘around’ too, always genial and supportive in many ways including his photographic expertise. He had no specific regular role but definitely enjoyed bar-tending at society events, and helping out at innumerable museum society and fundraising events. Most recently for me, he and Janet helped out with the book sale in the then school room a while back – and at the end John toted carrier bags full of surplus books off to assorted charity shops around the town.

We really enjoyed John’s input into a rather jolly exhibition we did called The Jukebox Generation covering 50s/60s. Janet produced some of her clothing from the time; Jenny and David Gibsone loaned a jukebox; friends of mine provided a motorbike and leathers, and a poster of the Isle of Wight festival – and John lent us his immaculate ( presumably conscripted? ) RAF uniform. It was fitted onto a rather camp looking male mannequin we had borrowed, so a boot and a shoe brush were placed on each hand to lend a more military bearing. The family maintained proud links to the service. Their (late) daughter joined the RAF and married one of the Red Arrows team and , as you know, donations in his memory can be directed to The Royal Airforce Benevolent Fund c/o Peasgood & Skeates.

In my mind they have always been an inseparable Janet- and-John double act

Lynn Morrison:

I remember John mainly as an unflappable and kindly barman who didn’t mind finishing up a bottle in the direction of my wine glass – better than wasting it – at the end of a social evening. We talked about Australia, travelling and cruises. I’m sure he thoroughly enjoyed his life.

He also discussed with me the merits of Araldite and provided much information, and data sheets, as he used to work in the Ciba Geigy resin factory, and they produced different kinds which were used in conservation.

He was a great photographer, though he shocked me by saying he disposed of his photographic prints after their display at the Camera Club exhibitions. When the switch from film cameras to digital came, I was very reluctant and discussed the pros and cons with John. He was very encouraging and digital took over at the museum.

Bruce Tice:

I remember John as being an affable and, together with Janet, an ever-dependable presence at Museum events.

I don’t think that he ever had an ‘official’ volunteering role, however he often pitched in to help with whatever was going on. He was especially knowledgeable about timber and timber crafts. He was a member of something (and I can’t recall the exact name) like the Wood Industries Forum and I recall him organising trips for some of the members of that group to look at items in the Museum collections.

He was also most helpful when I moved the Museum’s agricultural collections from the store and stable block at Audley End during the winter of 1995. In those days, the storeroom (under the gardener’s flat in the stable block) resembled something more akin to Tutankhamun’s tomb than to an ordered museum store. Things were piled everywhere in dusty heaps, there was precious little by way of documentation and every now and again an object would yield up the desiccated corpse of a mouse or bird. John was a fund of knowledge on what some of the more obscure objects might be and I recall with particular vividness his description of watching, as a young boy, his grandfather making coffins from elm boards and then sealing the insides with hot pitch so as to make them ‘watertight’. Janet’s family also had a connection with the owners of the jobmaster’s wagon.

John had worked for CIBA‐Geigy at Duxford (the so-called “home of Araldite resins for adhesives”) and one of his last jobs there was to oversee the dismantling of the labs. He kindly arranged for the Museum to have access to anything we wanted. Over a few days we went back and forth from Duxford with a hired van helping ourselves to shelving, small cupboards, timber and anything else that seemed like it could come in handy for either displays or stores. This must have been sometime in late 1998 or early 1999, as at one point he presented me with an industrial sign warning people of loud noises in the vicinity saying I might need it soon. This was just before Henrietta was born and it was a gesture typical of John. Luckily, there were only a few occasions on which Henrietta used her baby lungs to full capacity but for a number of years the sign hung on the wall of her bedroom just in case.