Hidden Histories:



At Hollytrees Museum from 4th March 2023


All objects have a story to tell. Some stories are well known and are easy to hear, but others are forgotten about, ignored or contested.

Behind the labels for the objects in museums are untold stories which we are seeking to reveal, challenging existing narratives.  


What is the exhibition about?

Hidden Histories: Empire explores stories behind some of the objects on display at Hollytrees Museum linked to Empire. It includes: 


  • British India – why Queen Victoria was made Empress of India and what happened with India finally gained independence. 
  • Exoticism of the East – the Victorian fascination with Eastern design and the Chinese interest in European-made clocks. 
  • Transatlantic trade – how millions of people from West Africa were enslaved and lost their lives to bring luxuries such as coffee and sugar to British homes. 
  • Partition of Africa – how European empires divided the continent amongst themselves without consulting the peoples of Africa. 

Why Empire?

The British Empire ruled over areas across several continents, including North America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. By 1913 the empire became the largest in history, ruling over 400 million people. Whilst Britain benefitted from the empire, the people colonised by the British had British laws and customs imposed upon them, lost their ability to govern themselves and were, in many cases, violently oppressed.     

Evidence of this Empire and how Britain profited from its activities can be found in the museum collections.    

Follow the links below to find out about previous Hidden Histories projects:

Our Partners

We recognise that we don’t have the lived experience to tell the full stories behind some of the objects in the museum, so we would like to thank our project partners for their support with this display – advising on content and language. The group includes individuals who live and work in Colchester and representatives from local groups such as the Bangladeshi Women’s Association Essex and the Colchester Chinese Culture Society, some of whom are named below: 

  • Laila Afrose 
  • Salma Ahmed  
  • Simone Xue 
  • Lily Fang  
  • Claudia Lord-Lynch 
  • Reuben Rhode 

We would also like to thank Councillor Bickersteth for meeting with us to discuss the project.


The logo for the Bangladeshi Women's Association Essex

The logo for the Colchester Chinese Association

Plan Your Visit


Hidden Histories: Empire is on display from 4th March 2023


Hollytrees Museum


Hollytrees is open Monday – Saturday and free to visit.

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