Author Archives: Museum Administrator

Object of the Month – May 2019

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ display provides an opportunity to explore interesting and unusual objects from the stores. The object chosen by Sarah Kenyon, Natural Sciences Officer, for May 2019 is a moth. This leopard moth, Zeuzera pyrina, was found in a house at Elsenham, Essex in July 2012. After it was identified it was given to the Museum.

If you love butterflies and moths then May is the month to come to Saffron Walden Museum. This beautiful black and white leopard moth will be on display all month in the natural history gallery, where you can learn more about the species. Make sure you check out Curiosity Corner – peacock butterfly caterpillars will be on display and you can see them transform into adult butterflies during May.  On 17th May as part of the Wildlife at Night evening you can do moth trapping with the Essex Field Club.  See the moths that live in the Museum grounds before they fly back into the wild.

Object of the Month – April 2019

April’s Objects of the Month have been selected by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History). She developed an interest in Napoleonic Prisoner of War items whilst working on the Norman Cross collections at Peterborough Museum in 2005. 

During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) over 100,000 French prisoners of war (POWs) were held captive in Britain.  Many remained captive for the whole duration of the conflict.

The existing land prisons on the South Coast and at Norman Cross (Peterborough) were insufficient to house them all, so extra land prisons were built. Decommissioned naval vessels known as “hulks” were also used, with over 50 in operation by the end of the conflict.  Medical inspectors from the Transport Board visited and reported to Parliament on the state of the hulks and prisons, with contractors and staff reprimanded and in a handful of cases dismissed for providing substandard services. 

The standard daily ration for prisoners was: “half a pound of bread and half a pound of beef supplemented with barley, onions and cabbage or turnips; twice a week the meat was replaced with herring and cod.”

The luckiest of the POWs were probably those who were paroled officers. They were given a tiny allowance and had to live within the bounds of a designated parole town, but they were free to socialise with the local community.  Many prisoners whiled away their days making craft items to sell or teaching the locals French, Latin, Drawing, Music, Dancing and Fencing.       

On display in the Museum throughout April as Objects of the Month will be examples of craft items made by French POWs, including intricately carved bone models and examples of straw-plaiting and marquetry.

National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to boost museum’s plans for future

18 March 2019

National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to boost museum’s plans for future

Saffron Walden Museum is delighted to be awarded a grant of £51,200 by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, under its ‘Resilient Heritage’ programme.

The museum will use the grant to undertake studies and commission work to determine the best way of improving the museum, and to attract more people to the site, which it shares with the ruins of Walden Castle.

The museum, which serves the whole of Uttlesford district, is housed in its original purpose-built building, opened in 1835.

Curator Carolyn Wingfield said: “While it is wonderful to work in such an historic Museum, with fantastic collections, there are many challenges in such an old building, and also opportunities to explore with the National Lottery funding.

“We need to make some major changes and attract more visitors. The Heritage Fund grant is a terrific boost and means we can start planning significant developments with the expert help we will need.”

Cllr Vic Ranger, Cabinet Member for Communities & Partnerships at Uttlesford District Council, said: “The National Lottery grant is excellent news. With increasing pressure on local authority finances, it is very important that the museum can increase its audiences and income, and develop as a well-used and sustainable service.”

Saffron Walden Museum Society Ltd, which is a charity, is a partner in the project and contributed £10,000 as matching funding. Museum Society Chairman, Tony Watson, said: “This demonstrates the strong partnership between the council and museum society in providing the museum. We are very grateful to the National Lottery and can now look forward to planning the museum’s long-term future and financial resilience.”

ENDS

NOTES

About The National Lottery Heritage Fund

Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future.

www.heritagefund.org.uk

Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund

  • For more details on this media release please contact Carolyn Wingfield, Curator, Saffron Walden Museum, cwingfield@uttlesford.gov.uk or ring 01799 510333

Object of the Month – March 2019

March’s Object of the Month is an ancient bronze oil lamp recently donated to Saffron Walden Museum. Olive oil would have been poured into the lamp through the hole which has a hinged lid. The spout at the front was for the wick. There is a small loop for carrying or hanging the lamp on the back of the cross, which rises from the hinge attachment.  Both the cross and the top of the lamp are decorated with engraved ‘ring and dot’ patterns.

The lamp was found in the Saffron Walden area along with pieces of glass bottles and china jars – a typical Victorian household rubbish dump! A rabbit had burrowed into the dump, bringing some of the rubbish to light, including the lamp.

The lamp however is much older, probably nearly 1,500 years old. It dates from the time of the Byzantine Empire, and was made somewhere in the east Mediterranean region, probably the Near East or Egypt, around 500-800 AD. The cross is a Christian symbol. Christianity was the official religion of the Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) Empire, and its capital was Constantinople, also known in the ancient world as Byzantium and today as Istanbul.

We do not know how and when the lamp travelled to north-west Essex, but can make a guess. Classical antiquities like this were popular souvenirs for gentlemen taking the Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries. The lamp may have been such a souvenir, but discarded later in the 19th century in a house clear-out, or perhaps after its owner died.

Object of the Month – July 2016

July’s Object of the Month is a mineral tablet created by Richard Brown, a marble merchant, and John Mawe, a dealer and expert in minerals.  This tablet was made between 1790 and 1810 from sections of rock cemented to each side of a slab of marble.

One side of the tablet is engraved Strata of Derbyshire.  It shows the limestones, toadstones and millstone grit in the Peak District of Derbyshire, with a few rock faults and mineral veins.

The reverse side of the tablet is engraved Vein of Copper Ore.  It is an engraved black marble section of Ecton Hill and its copper mine in the Manifold Valley of Staffordshire.

Maw2

Originally the tablet was enclosed in a black marble frame.  Only part of the frame survives.  It was engraved Brown, Son & Maw, London.

Maw3

You can see the mineral tablet on display in the museum until 31 July 2016. It was chosen by Sarah Kenyon, Natural Sciences Officer, because the object illustrates how people were exploring and recording the natural world over 200 years ago at the dawn of the nineteenth century in 1800.

Listening Bench

A set of eight listening benches are being installed by the Essex Record Office across Essex this summer, including this one at Saffron Walden Museum. These benches tell stories and play recordings of local history past and present, through in-built speakers.

The benches are part of You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Essex Heritage Trust and the Friends of Historic Essex. You Are Hear is a three-year project to digitise, catalogue, and make available many of the historically significant sound and video recordings in the ERO’s Essex Sound and Video Archive.

The project has worked with community groups in villages and towns throughout Essex, helping them to reflect upon where they live by engaging with the recordings. Each group created a montage of clips about their community from recordings in the Archive, which will be played on the sound benches.

At our bench, you can hear memories of life on Castle Street and in the town centre in Saffron Walden, back when the town still had a Corn Exchange, livestock markets, the Rose & Crown hotel and Victorian swimming baths.

Other benches are located in Basildon, Castle Hedingham, Colchester, Great Dunmow, Great Waltham, Harwich and Kelvedon, with two more sound benches touring the county, starting at Stansted Airport and Belhus Woods Country Park.

The bench at the museum was unveiled on Thursday 30 June, at a ceremony attended by representatives of Essex Record Office, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Saffron Walden Town Initiative and Saffron Walden Museum, as well as some of the individuals who shared their stories.

Listening_Bench_2

Why not take a minute to sit in our beautiful museum grounds, with a view of the 12th century Walden Castle, and listen to memories of Saffron Walden in times gone by?

National Insect Week

It’s National Insect Week! Celebrated from the 20 June to the 26 June 2016, National Insect Week, organised by the Royal Entomological Society, encourages people of all ages to learn more about insects.

There are over 24,000 species of insects in the United Kingdom, with hundreds of species to be found in almost every garden and green space. They can be pollinators, predators, pests, parasites and prey and their study is an important part of conservation, food production, medicine and ecology.

Saffron Walden Museum has collected insect specimens since its establishment in 1835. Our 1845 catalogue lists both British and Foreign Insects in the collection. The museum’s British Insects included butterflies, wasps and moths and the Foreign Insects included locusts and more than 350 butterflies from China, Brazil, North and South America and the Himalayas.

Female leopard moth

Female leopard moth

Nowadays, we continue to collect insects that have been found dead in the local area. This beautiful female leopard moth was found dead in a house in Elsenham and donated to the museum in 2012.

You can get up close and personal with some of the insects in our collection by looking at them under the microscope in our Discovery Centre. Whilst you’re there, you can say hello to our resident Malaysian stick insects – we now have five females and a male!

Male stag beetle

We try to encourage as much wildlife in the museum grounds as possible. Sections of the grounds have been left to grow wild to encourage biodiversity and we have recently built a loggery next to Walden Castle, to create a home for stag beetles.

Object of the Month – June 2016

June’s Object of the Month is a framed sample of the material used to make Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation dress. Elizabeth’s coronation took place on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey in London.

The sample was a gift from Norman Hartnell, the designer of the dress, to Miss Grizelle Fowler. Miss Fowler bequeathed it to the museum in 2016. The sample was chosen as Object of the Month by Leah Mellors, Collections Officer (Human History), to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s official 90th birthday in June 2016.

The coronation dress

Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation gown, on display in an exhibition at Buckingham Palace

Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation gown, on display in an exhibition at Buckingham Palace

Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation dress was designed by Norman Hartnell, who also designed her wedding dress. Elizabeth ordered the dress in October 1952 and it took eight months of research, design and workmanship to create it. Hartnell put forward eight different designs and Elizabeth chose her favourite. It then took at least three dressmakers, six embroiderers and the Royal School of Needlework to create the detailed embroidery.

The dress is made from satin. It has an embroidered design, featuring some of the national flowers and plants of Britain and the countries of the Commonwealth. These include the English Tudor rose, the Scottish thistle, the Welsh leek, the Irish shamrock, the Canadian maple leaf and the New Zealand silver fern. Hartnell secretly added in an extra four-leaf shamrock on the left-hand side of her dress as a symbol of good luck. The design is completed in seed pearls, crystals, coloured silks and gold and silver thread.

The coronation

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, following her coronation.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, following her coronation.

Elizabeth ascended to the throne, aged 25, when her father George VI died on 6 February 1952. Her coronation took place more than a year later because it was seen to be inappropriate to celebrate a coronation during a period of mourning.

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was the first coronation to be shown on television. The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was against the idea but Elizabeth refused his advice and insisted that the event be televised. Sales of television sets soared in the weeks leading up to the coronation.

Around 8000 guests from across the Commonwealth countries were invited to the ceremony in Westminster Abbey. Before the ceremony, the guests passed through the streets of London in a procession, in front of about three million spectators. More than 20 million more people watched on television.

Elizabeth arrived at Westminster Abbey at 11am. During the ceremony, she swore the Coronation Oath, promising to govern each of her countries according to their laws and customs, to carry out law and justice with mercy, to uphold Protestantism in the United Kingdom and to protect the Church of England. Following this, there was a communion service, before each of the bishops and peers of the United Kingdom swore allegiance to the new Queen. When the last baron had done this, the assembly shouted:

“God save Queen Elizabeth. Long live Queen Elizabeth.
May the Queen live forever”

Queen Elizabeth was then transported back to Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach, with an escort of thousands of military personnel from around the Commonwealth. She appeared on the balcony of the Palace in front of the crowds, as a flypast went overhead.

You can see the sample on display in the museum until 30 June 2016.

Object of the Month – May 2016

“Strange Stone Object”

In 1903, some men digging gravel on the south side of the village of Wendens Ambo, near Saffron Walden, made a remarkable discovery. Between about 3000 and 4000 years ago, Bronze Age people had used that area to bury their dead, cremating the bodies and burying the ashes in large hand-made pots or ‘cremation urns’. The diggers had unearthed pieces of an urn, together with this implement of shaped and grooved sandstone, approximately 19 cm long.

The pottery urn that the gravel-diggers found was not unusual, as many similar urns have been found across Britain. The stone object, however, was unlike anything archaeologists had ever seen. It was shown to many leading archaeologists of the day and fully published in 1916 by a noted scholar, Miller Christy, but no one could come up with a convincing explanation. Over 100 years later, it continues to baffle everyone.

Some ‘mystery stone object’ facts

  • It is shaped like a cylinder and tapers a little towards the ends
  • There are five grooves along its length, spaced equally around it
  • The grooves could have been cut with either a stone or a metal tool
  • It measures 189 mm (nearly 19 cm) long and about 63 mm diameter
  • It weighs 1165 grams and is made of gritty red sandstone
Drawing of the stone object from 'A Guide to the Departments of Archaeology and Ethnology in the Saffron Walden Museum', published in 1916.

Drawing of the stone object from ‘A Guide to the Departments of Archaeology and Ethnology in the Saffron Walden Museum‘, published in 1916.

 What Was It For?

These are some of the suggestions made:

A pounder or a pestle?

Probably not, as the ends show no signs of the wear that would be expected.

Corn-grinder?

Again, probably not, as the sides show no signs of wear and why would they be grooved?

Arrow-sharpener?

The grooves do not show the wear that would result from this and there are better ways of sharpening arrow heads or smoothing arrow-shafts.

Is it the head of a club, do the grooves allow it to be lashed to a handle?

That would have been an awkward way of mounting a club-head!

Is it a roller for breaking or ‘braying’ flax or other vegetable fibres?

Possibly – we know that Bronze Age people spun and wove flax and wool but we need more practical evidence.

Does it have a ‘religious’ or ‘ceremonial’ use, now lost to us?

Possibly, though such explanations are often given by archaeologists when they don’t really know! However, there are other Bronze Age burials that contain apparently ‘ritual’ objects, such as small decorated chalk cylinders. We do not know how our Bronze Age ancestors regarded these objects.

Is it a more recent object, which had somehow got buried near the urn?

The stone object was found actually touching the urn in the burial pit and there was no sign of later disturbance or animal burrows. Also, no historical or modern objects like this are known.

What do you think? Is it a practical tool, a ‘sacred’ object or a ‘stone loofah’?

Why not let us know what you think it is by tweeting us @SW_Museum or leaving a comment on our Facebook page.

You can see the object on display in the museum until 31 May 2016.

Object of the Month – April 2016

Coggeshall lace mat

 lace_1    lace_2

April’s Object of the Month is a table mat made from Coggeshall lace. It dates from the late 1800s. The mat is part of a small collection of Coggeshall lace in the museum’s collections, which includes table mats, a shawl and two chemisettes.

Coggeshall lace is a type of tambour lace, which is made by stretching a net over a frame and creating a line of chain stitches with a fine hook. The outline of the design on this mat is created using a chain stitch and the areas inside have been created using decorative ‘filling stitches’, such as honeycomb, bold smuggler and eyelet.

lace_3 lace_4 lace_5

Diagrams taken from Creating Coggeshall Lace by J. Dudding (1979)

Coggeshall lace

lace_6In about 1812, a French man named Drago and his two daughters moved to Coggeshall, a village in Essex, and began to teach women and children how to make tambour lace. Throughout the 1800s, tamboured net lace was made in tambour rooms and cottages in Coggeshall and the surrounding villages.

Lace manufacturers and dealers obtained orders from London and elsewhere and co-ordinated the Coggeshall lace workers. Among other stores,
Liberty & Co., the famous London department store, was supplied with Coggeshall lace.

Shortly after 1900, there was a great improvement in the quality of Coggeshall lace, thanks to the activities of two ladies called Miss Spurge. They were the chief employers in the district and together with their brother William, an art teacher, they improved the standard of design.

Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent

Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent

Unfortunately, the invention of chain stitch sewing machines and machine-made laces led to a decline in the production of Coggeshall lace in the early 1900s and this was made worse by the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

However, in the 1930s, there was an effort to revive the production of Coggeshall lace. Three lace handkerchiefs were made for Princess Marina for her marriage to the Duke of Kent and Coggeshall lace was also made into dresses for Queen Elizabeth II (when she was a princess), Princess Margaret and Princess Alexandra. Queen Mary also owned Coggeshall lace dresses and a teacloth. Nevertheless, despite this royal patronage, the financial return was not great enough and the production of Coggeshall lace died out after World War II.

Today, Coggeshall lace is made by some members of the Lacemakers Guild and it is taught as part of a City and Guilds course.

You can see the table mat on display in the museum until 30 April.