Author Archives: Museum Administrator

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.

Object of the Month – March 2016

Reform Flask

March’s Object of the Month is a flask or bottle made from salt-glazed stoneware. It is shaped in the form of Henry Peter Brougham, who was Lord Chancellor of Britain between 1830 and 1834. The inscription on the front of the flask reads:

“The Second Magna Charta
Brougham’s Reform Cordial”

The flask was made by Belper and Denby Bournes Potteries, Derbyshire, in 1832 and it is marked on the back with their maker’s mark.

The flask was donated to the museum in 1897 by Edward Taylor of Saffron Walden.

Henry Peter Brougham

Hnery BroughamHenry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron of Brougham and Vaux, was a British politician and statesman. He was born in 1778 and died in 1868.

Brougham began his career as a lawyer in Scotland, before entering the House of Commons in London in 1810. He was appointed as one of the chief advisors of Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of the future George IV, in 1812 and he became her Attorney-General in 1820.

Brougham was a Member of Parliament for Winchelsea from 1816 until 1830, when he was appointed Lord Chancellor of Britain by Prime Minister Charles Grey. He held this post for four years. During this time, he helped to pass the 1832 Reform Act and the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. He was devoted to the anti-slavery cause throughout his life.

The 1832 Reform Act

The bottle commemorates Brougham’s role in helping to pass the 1832 Reform Act.

The Representation of the People Act 1832 (known informally as the 1832 Reform Act), was an act of Parliament that introduced changes to the voting system in England and Wales.

The Act was proposed by the Whigs, a political party led by the Prime Minister Charles Grey. It was heavily opposed by the Pittite factions of the Conservative party but the Act was eventually passed, mainly because of widespread public pressure and unrest.
Traditionally, Members of Parliament represented boroughs and the choice of members was often controlled by one wealthy and powerful patron. For example, Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk, controlled 11 boroughs. The number of voters in each borough varied widely, as did the criteria for voting. Boroughs with a small number of voters that were controlled by a wealthy patron were known as “rotten boroughs”.

Reform Act

Extract from the manuscript of the Act

The 1832 Reform Act removed seats from these “rotten boroughs” and created 67 new constituencies, many in the large cities that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution. It also broadened the criteria for voting, giving the vote to all householders who paid a yearly rental of £10 or more. This increased the electorate to about one in five adult males.

The 1832 Reform Act did little to appease the working classes or women, who were still unable to vote. However, it did prove that change was possible and over the next decades, the call for further parliamentary reform continued.

You can see the flask on display in the museum until 31 March 2016.


Cipriani paintings to move home

This week, four of the museum’s paintings by the celebrated Tuscan artist, Giovanni Battista Cipriani, will move to a new home at Audley End House.

Cipriani panel

The four paintings are part of a six-part frieze painted by Cipriani in 1770-1. The paintings were commissioned for the Library at Audley End House, which was remodelled as part of Robert Adam’s renovations for Sir John Griffin Griffin. The museum holds a copy of the receipt given to Griffin by Cipriani, which reads:

“December 31st 1771 / Received of Sir John P. Griffin, hundred and / ten pounds been the remainder of three / hundred and fifteen, which makes the full / price agreed for six frizes that I have / painted by his order for his library / at Audley End / by G. B. Cipriani”

The 1797 inventory for Audley End House mentions the frieze, describing each part as follows:

  • A Sacrifice to Jupiter, showing a priest throwing water on the sacred fire, the Sacrificer with the ram intended to be sacrificed, a boy holding a box of incense, another with the musical instrument and several attendants carrying various offerings. This is intended to represent religion.
  • Urania with the other Muses asking protection of Minerva. This represents Arts, Sciences and Learning.
  • Apollo in his chariot followed by the Hours and preceded by Aurora and Lucifer, an old man Somnus sleeping on the side of Morphus. This is intended to represent Day, Night and Air
  • Vulcan with the Cyclops, showing the arms of Aeneas to Venus accompanied by Cupid and the Three Graces. This is intended to represent Fire.
  • The Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite, with Sea Horses, Tritons and Nymphs. This is intended to represent Water.

Cybile accompanied by the Four Seasons, Spring represented by Flora, Summer by Ceres, Autumn by Bacchus and Winter by Saturn, with their proper attributes Centaurs and Satyrs. This is intended to represent Earth.

Cipriani panel detailThe frieze was donated to Saffron Walden Museum by Jane, Lady Braybrooke of Audley End House in 1839, after the library had been dismantled and subdivided into a bedroom suite. The books from the library were moved to a newly-designed room on the first floor. In 1997, two of the paintings were loaned to English Heritage for display at Audley End House. Last year it was agreed by the trustees of Saffron Walden Museum Society that the remaining four paintings, which have been on display in the museum’s Ceramics gallery, should also be loaned to English Heritage for display in their original home. They will be redisplayed close to their original locations, in the rooms which formed the Library in the eighteenth century. They will be available to view soon after Audley End House reopens to the public.

Please note that whilst the paintings are being removed from the museum, the Ceramics gallery and the Worlds of Man gallery will be closed for the duration of Thursday 3 March and Friday 4 March 2016. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Object of the Month – February 2016

Improved Magneto-Electric Machine

February’s Object of the Month is The Improved Magneto-Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases. It was chosen as Object of the Month by Leah Mellors, Collections Officer (Human History).

Magneto-Electric Machine

The machine dates from about 1880. It was donated to the museum in 1968.

In the 1800s, many people were fascinated by electricity and the possibility of using it in their own homes for medicinal or therapeutic purposes. ‘Electrotherapy’, or the use of mild electric shocks, became a popular treatment for a range of diseases and ailments, especially those associated with the nerves. Thousands of machines, including this one made by S. Maw, Son & Thompson, were made and sold between about 1850 and 1900.

The machine generated an electric current from two rotating magnets. The operator of the machine would place the two handles in the patient’s hands, or elsewhere on the patient’s body, and then turn the crank to deliver an electric current. The faster the crank was turned, the stronger the current.

Patients would feel electric shocks running through their body and they were left with a buzzing sensation, which some said relieved their symptoms. The makers of the machine claimed that using the machine could relieve pain and cure a number of diseases such as cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, gangrene, heart disease, tetanus and spinal deformities.

The use of electricity in medicine

The use of electricity to treat physical ailments dates back to the ancient Greeks, who used live electric fish to numb pain.

However, it wasn’t until the 1700s that the idea of electricity as a form of medicine really took hold. Benjamin Franklin, the American physicist and statesmen, used an electrostatic generator and a Leyden jar (a glass jar that could store electric charges) to deliver shocks to patients. This process became known as Franklinism. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was known to practise Franklinism to cure such things as blindness, deafness, gout, headache, rheumatism and even toothache. In the 1780s, Luigi Galvani discovered that electricity could also be used to cause muscle contractions, which could treat muscular and nervous conditions.

Magneto-Electric Machine_PICTUREDuring the 1800s, the use of electricity for medicinal purposes became very widespread. People were especially keen to use electricity to treat conditions and encourage good health at home. A range of devices became available, including electric corsets, electric belts and magneto-electric machines. They were especially popular among the upper classes and they remained popular until the early 1900s.

From the 1850s onwards, electricity was used to treat mental illness, especially in women. This form of treatment, now known as ‘Electroconvulsive Therapy’, is still used today as a last method of intervention for major depressive disorders, mania and catatonia.

Object of the Month – January 2016

January’s Object of the Month is a gold Viking finger-ring. This ring was selected for Object of the Month by Carolyn Wingfield, Curator.

The ring was found by a metal-detectorist near Thaxted in 2013 and reported under the Treasure Act (1996) . It was purchased in 2015 for the museum’s archaeology collections by Saffron Walden Museum Society Ltd, with the assistance of the Arts Council England / Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund and the Headley Trust.

V & A logoThe ring is made in a style associated with Viking jewellery and dates from the tenth to twelfth centuries (around AD 900 – 1200). It was made by twisting two strands of gold wire, and then twisting these withHeadley Trust logo two tapering gold rods, and forming a hoop. The thin ends of the rods and wires were joined at the back of the hoop by beating them together into a flat, diamond-shaped plate. The plate is decorated with tiny punched circles.

The size and weight of the ring suggest that it was most likely worn by a man. It weighs over 32 grams and the metal is over 95% gold, the rest being silver and copper.This was established by X-ray fluorescence analysis at the British Museum’s Department of Conservation and Scientific Research. The ring measures a maximum of 35mm across in its current state.
Viking Rings

This style of ring, made by twisting or plaiting gold wires and rods together, is associated with the Vikings. ‘Vikings’ is the collective name given to people from Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden) who raided, traded and settled across northern Europe and beyond from the ninth to twelfth centuries.

Many such rings have been found across the Viking world. Illustrated here are two different types of Viking gold ring, both from Essex and both in the collections of the British Museum.

 Plain gold ring, a form also known as ‘ring money’, Thaxted  Gold ring formed from twisted rods and wires, West Bergholt, nr. Colchester
Plain gold ring, a form also known as ‘ring money’, Thaxted
Photo: British Museum
Gold ring formed from twisted rods and wires, West Bergholt, nr. Colchester
Photo: British Museum


Sometimes detail can be important. The diamond-shaped plate on the back of our Thaxted ring is thought to be a Scandinavian feature, because it is also found on rings from the Viking homelands. In other words, it was probably made by a Viking goldsmith in Denmark, Norway or southern Sweden, rather than an Anglo-Saxon smith working for Vikings in eastern England.

We cannot tell who lost the ring, or why. Such objects could easily be traded or passed from one person to another. To the Vikings, such jewellery acted as portable currency and a sign of status. Arm-rings and neck-rings made of gold and silver in the same style are also known.

You can see the ring on display in our Treasure case, in the Ages of Man gallery.

Object of the Month – December 2015

Lotus shoe

Object of the Month – December

December’s Object of the Month is two lotus shoes. The shoes were chosen as Object of the Month by Hayley Wilson, our Administrative Assistant. They were donated to the museum in 1839.

Lotus shoes

Lotus shoes were worn by women in China who had their feet bound. The ancient practice of foot-binding consisted of tightly wrapping the feet of young girls in order to bend and break the smaller toes and raise the arch of the foot. This would create a tiny and misshapen foot, which was considered by some people to be beautiful.

The practice is believed to have originated in the tenth or eleventh century and it is said to have been inspired by a court dancer named Yao Niang. She bound her feet in the shape of a new moon and entranced Emperor Li Yu by dancing on her toes inside a six-foot golden lotus.

Lotus shoes_girlsIt was believed that girls who had their feet bound would be able to attract better marriage offers because the tiny feet, and the way that the women walked as a result, were considered to be beautiful. In wealthy families, the feet of all the daughters would have been bound but in poorer families, the practice might only have been carried out on only the eldest child.

Foot-binding was carried out on girls, sometimes as young as four years old, because young bones were softer and easier to manipulate. Grandmothers often carried out the process because they were more willing than the child’s mother to inflict the pain required for successful results. All the toes, except the big toes, were broken and bound flat against the sole, making a triangle shape. The arch of the foot was strained as the foot was bent double and the feet were bound in place using a silk strip.

Lotus shoes_footSometimes “excess” flesh was cut away or encouraged to rot. The girls were often forced to walk long distances to speed up the process of breaking their arches. Over time the wrappings became tighter and the shoes became smaller as the heel and sole were crushed together. After two years the process was complete.

Foot-binding was widespread in China until the beginning of the twentieth century, when it was banned by the new Republic of China government in 1912. Local warlords and regional government also enforced the ban. Although the campaign against foot-binding was very successful in some regions, the practice lingered on in others. A census taken in 1928 in rural Shanxi found that 18% of women had bound feet, while in some remote rural areas such as Yunnan Province foot-binding continued to be practiced until the 1950s. In most parts of China, however, the practice had virtually disappeared by 1949. In 1999, the last shoe factory making lotus shoes closed.

You can see the lotus shoes on display in the museum until 5 January 2016.

Saffron Walden Town Video

The museum features in a new video created to promote Saffron Walden and all that it has to offer. The video has been created by the Saffron Walden Initiative and it was launched at a special screening at Saffron Screen in November 2015. The video includes shots of various local attractions, including the Fry Art Gallery, Bridge End Gardens and Audley End House. Some of the museum’s galleries and star objects, such as our Anglo-Saxon ring and Wallace the Lion, also make an appearance.

Object of the Month – November 2015

P (or PH) Helmet
1915 to 1917

November’s Object of the Month is a P Helmet or PH Helmet. It was chosen by Leah Mellors, Collections Officer (Human History). The helmet was issued to the donor, E. H. Langhorn, in the trenches during World War I. It was designed to protect him from gases, such as tear gas, chlorine gas and phosgene, which were used to disable, injure and kill soldiers.

PH helmet
The helmet is made from a double-layer of flannel, which was treated with chemicals to protect the soldier from gas. It was designed to be tucked into the neck of the tunic. It has a mouthpiece with a non-return valve, which meant that the soldier could breathe out but air and gas could not be breathed in.

Gas masks in World War I

Gas masks were provided for soldiers from 1914 in response to the use of poison gas. Early gas masks were very basic because the first gas attacks were a surprise. Nobody expected poison gas to be used as a weapon because it was considered to be a war crime. It violated the 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Asphyxiating Gases and the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare, which banned the use of poison weapons in war.

The earliest formGas masks being used in the trenches of gas mask was designed to protect against tear gas and it consisted of a pad of material tied over the face, with a pair of gas goggles to protect the eyes. When chlorine gas began to be used in 1915, the H Helmet was introduced. This was a fabric helmet treated with sodium hyposulphate, which neutralised chlorine gas.

The P Helmet was introduced in July 1915. It had two layers of flannel treated with sodium phenolate to protect against phosgene and chlorine. In January 1916, hexamethylene tetramine, which protected against hydrocyanic acid, was added. This was known as the PH helmet. P Helmets and PH Helmets look very similar and it is not always possible to tell them apart.

Box respiratorsIn 1917, box respirators were introduced and used for the remainder of the war. They consisted of a mouthpiece connected to a box filter by a hose. The filter contained granules of chemicals to neutralise the gas.

Gas masks were also developed for animals that played vital roles in the war, such as horses, dogs and carrier pigeons.

Effects of gas

The use of poison gas had profound physical and psychological effects on soldiers.
Tear gas – Tear gas caused irritation to the eyes and the upper respiratory tract, causing severe tears, coughing and choking.

Phosgene – Phosgene caused suffocation. It also irritated the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Phosgene was the most deadly gas to be used, being responsible for 85% of the 100,000 deaths caused by chemical weapons during World War I.

Chlorine gas – Chlorine gas reacted quickly with water in the airways and formed hydrochloric acid, which swelled and blocked the lung tissue, causing choking and suffocation. Chlorine was also a powerful psychological weapon because it formed distinctive green clouds that could be seen approaching.

Mustard gas – Mustard gas had a very painful effect on soldiers, causing blisters on the skin, very sore eyes, vomiting, and internal and external bleeding. It also attacked the lungs.

A common effect of chlorine and mustard gas was temporary gas blindness. This painting, entitled Gassed, by John Singer Sargent shows soldiers affected by gas blindness, leading one another to a hospital tent.

Gassed, by John Singer Sargent
Only 4% of combat deaths during World War I were caused by gas, because of the introduction of gas masks. In total, between April 1915 and November 1918, 5981 British troops were killed by poison gas and 180,539 were injured.

You can see the P or PH Helmet on display in the museum until 30 November 2015.

Filming collectors and their collections

By Leah Mellors

Last week, I was out and about with local videographer and editor Ollie Sandles, filming the collectors who will be displaying their collections in the next round of our exhibition, Uttlesford: A Community of Collectors. The footage will be turned into a short film that will be shown in the museum during the exhibition.

Collections 1Ollie and I visited most of the collectors in their own homes, to film the collections and talk to the collectors about their passion for collecting. The week began with a visit to Ann’s house, where she showed us her collection of pestles and mortars, which she keeps in her kitchen. Ann was a natural in front of the camera and took great pleasure in demonstrating the many different things that can be ground up in a pestle and mortar.

Wednesday morning was spent with June, who talked to us about her vast collection of 600 pomanders, which are perfumed containers used to fragrance and decorate rooms. We were particularly interested to hear about one of the ingredients traditionally used in pomanders – ambergris, or sperm whale vomit!

Collections 2In the afternoon, Vic came into the museum with his collection of pigs, including Pinky and Perky, his stuffed animal pigs! Vic has been interested in pigs since his childhood and he used to keep his own Tamworth pigs. His collection is made from a wide variety of materials, including wood, stone, porcelain, glass, amber and even an origami pig.

On Thursday morning, we visited Angela and Christopher, a married couple who share a love of collecting. Angela collects dolls and teddy bears. She will be displaying her collection of regional costume dolls in the exhibition, which come from all over Europe. Christopher has a collection of walking sticks and canes and we were fascinated by the personal stories he told us about the individual sticks.

Collections 3The filming was rounded off with Jackie, who brought her collection of embroidery and textiles into the museum. Her collection has a close, personal connection, as many of the pieces were made by her family, including her grandfather who stitched some of the pieces whilst in hospital during the Second World War.

Ollie will bring all of the interviews and footage together into a short film for the exhibition, which will open to the public on Saturday 28 November. You can see the first round of collections, including animal skulls, army badges and model aeroplanes, on display in the museum now.

YouTubeYou can see more of Ollie’s videos on his YouTube channel

Object of the Month – October 2015

October’s Object of the Month is a boy’s flat cap with a peak, which dates from the nineteenth century, between 1840 and 1890. The cap was donated to the Museum in 1993 by Douglas Hawkes of Little Waltham, Chelmsford. The cap was chosen as Object of the Month by Gemma Tully, Visitor Services and Learning Officer, because she uses it regularly as part of her Victorian sessions with local schools.

Museum cap

The cap is size 6 and 3/8th and would have belonged to a young, working-class boy in the Victorian era. The cap is particularly interesting as the left-hand side of the peak is very worn. This tells us two things about the hat’s original owner: firstly, that he had good manners and secondly, that he was left-handed. How do we know this? The wear on the peak is likely to be the result of the boy ‘doffing’ or ‘tipping’ his hat. He would have done this to greet his friends and to show respect to women and his social superiors. As it is the left side of the peak that is worn, this is the hand he must have used for ‘doffing’ or ‘tipping’.

Victorian working class children - notice the boys are all wearing caps (

Victorian working class children – notice the boys are all wearing caps (


Hat etiquette played a big part in British society from the mediaeval period until the early twentieth century. The act of removing or touching your hat is thought to have begun with mediaeval knights. They would remove their helmets for numerous reasons: to display trust in the presence of the King or Queen (that they wouldn’t kill them when they were vulnerable without their head protection); to show chivalry in the company of a lady; or to express security in the sanctuary of a church. The act of removing your hat as a greeting or sign of respect may well have developed from this convention and it became common practice in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

There were important rules to follow when ‘tipping’ or ‘doffing’ your hat, which mainly related to your social status. Usually, two men would ‘tip’ or ‘doff’ their hats as a way of greeting or acknowledging each other, while walking or meeting at a social event. If a man was greeting someone of a higher social status, or a woman, he would be expected to remove his hat completely, making a more elaborate gesture than the superior, who would simply touch his hat. This useful tip comes from a book of etiquette published around the time our cap was in use:

“Between gentlemen, an inclination of the head, a gesture of the hand, or a mere touching of the hat is sufficient; but in bowing to a lady, the hat must be lifted from the head.” (Our Deportment, 1881)

Cartoon of a man doffing his hat (wikimedia commons)

Cartoon of a man doffing his hat (wikimedia commons)

Today few people wear a hat or follow hat etiquette, but the casual ‘nod’ of the head, often used to greet people in passing, is perhaps the modern equivalent of the hat ‘tip’.