The European polecat, Mustela putorius, was thought to be extinct in Essex since 1880 thanks to persecution from gamekeepers. The first modern sighting was in 1999 near Wendens Ambo and there are now numerous records from north-west Essex, though only from roadkill specimens.
A mounted polecat skin from 1842 and a polecat skull, also from the 1800s.
An update from James Lumbard, Natural Sciences Officer.
The Geology Gallery received a lot of attention in the run-up to the festive period thanks in no small part to the help provided by Cali, the latest addition to the natural sciences volunteer team. After a short training session in how to carefully clean specimens using a conservation vac and a paintbrush, we were away, and have already cleaned around half of the objects on display at the time of writing. It should be a fairly quick job to finish the rest of the objects in the ‘table-top’ display cases, leaving only a dozen or so in wall-mounted cases. This is part of regular ‘deep cleans’ that help care for museum objects, and will help us double-check and update the information we hold about each object. Many museums are also ‘Accredited’ which means that they uphold certain national standards of collection care, and this work contributes to Saffron Walden Museum maintaining its Accredited status year-on-year. Meanwhile, the photos we take can be used for everything from social media to encouraging researchers to visit the collection.
Fossil ammonite found in Saffron Walden. 150-200 million y.o.
At the start of December I visited the Essex Field Club’s (EFC) annual exhibition and social at Wat Tyler Country Park, near Basildon. The EFC is a volunteer-run society of amateurs and professionals who compile and look after a county-wide database of the wildlife and geology of Essex. The club’s secretary, Fiona Hutchings, very kindly introduced me to members from each specialty so I could speak to them about the natural sciences exhibition this summer, called Take Away the Walls. My plan is to hold a museum-based exhibition showcasing the wildlife of north-west Essex, and to run activities bringing together wildlife organisations and community groups across Uttlesford to help people enjoy the outdoors in new ways that will benefit their own health, and the health of the local environment. The exhibition and activities will really start to take shape behind the scenes soon, so keep your eyes peeled for more updates in the coming months.
Fossil bryozoan in flint. Tiny bryozoa live in coral-like colonies (above), but are much more complex internally.
At the end of this month I will be attending a short training seminar entitled ‘Finding Funds for Fossils, Ferns and Flamingos’, hosted by the Natural Sciences Collections Association (NatSCA) at the World Museum, Liverpool. NatSCA are a nationwide ‘subject-specialist network’ of museum professionals working in the natural sciences who have an active programme of meetings, training courses and conferences throughout the year. This particular event is all about how to successfully attract funding and support to care for and promote natural sciences collections in museums, and I look forward to putting my new-found knowledge into use to benefit the tens of thousands of natural sciences specimens at Saffron Walden Museum.
Holly and Ivy specimens from the herbarium collection of pressed, dried plants mounted on paper sheets. They were collected in 1864 by Joshua Clarke, a Botanist who lived at The Roos farmhouse on Debden Road, Saffron Walden with his brother Joseph. The Holly is from Stansted Mountfitchet and the Ivy was collected in Saffron Walden.
Holly is traditionally used in Christmas decorations. Did you know that holly and ivy are also a fantastic resource for wildlife? Animals struggle to survive in winter. Food is hard to find, days are short, the weather is cold and snow can cover the ground. Small birds and mammals spend all the daylight hours trying to find enough food. Deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter. However evergreen trees keep theirs, giving shelter and nesting sites, and their berries provide welcome food.
Female Holly trees produce red berries which are eaten by blackbirds, redwings, fieldfares and song thrushes. Caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly and privet hawkmoth feed on Holly leaves. When food is scarce in autumn and winter Ivy provides nectar, pollen and high calorie black berries. They are essential food for insects, small mammals and a variety of birds.
Come to Saffron Walden Museum to see these remarkably well preserved 154 year old plants, learn more about Joshua Clarke and find out how you can help animals to survive the winter.
On display from Wednesday 2nd January 2019 until the end of the month.
In 2017, 913 gold sovereign and half-sovereign coins were discovered in Shropshire, hidden inside a piano. So what is the link with Saffron Walden? How have we acquired such a fascinating assemblage of material? The piano was originally supplied by Beaven & Mothersole Piano Tuners, who were based in 27 West Road, Saffron Walden. Receipts show that they had purchased the piano direct from the London manufacturers, Broadwood & Sons Ltd in 1906.
It was only when the piano was professionally tuned, that the coins were finally discovered, nestled between the keys and the keyboard.
In 1983, the piano was bought by the Hemmings family, residents of Saffron Walden. They owned the piano for 33 years, before moving to Shropshire and gifting it to their local college, The Community College, Bishop’s Castle, completely unaware of what was hidden inside.
Research has shown that the coins found date to between 1847 and 1915; so they originate from the reigns of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V.
It is likely that they were concealed within the piano by a Saffron Walden resident. Some of the cardboard packaging in the pouches, which encased the coins, were taken from Shredded Wheat cereal boxes.
The style of the packaging suggests that the coins were concealed around the time of the Great Depression, when there was great economic hardship across the world.
“The identity of the person who hid the coins and their precise motivation will probably remain a fascinating unanswered question”
Peter Reavill, Shropshire Finds Liaison Officer
When the coins were discovered, they were declared treasure under the Treasure Act 1996, as they were gold coins which were deliberately hidden and no rightful heirs could be traced. At the time of its discovery, this hoard of modern gold coins was the largest of its type.
We are delighted that a representative sample of twelve of the gold coins from the hoard, as well as their packaging and the piano in which they were hidden, have now been acquired by the Museum, as a result of a crowd-funding campaign and generous donations from individuals, as well as the Saffron Walden Round Table and Butler Smith Carriers. This fascinating mystery has captured many people’s imaginations, having received local, regional and national news coverage and it is fantastic to see it going on display in the Museum. The display will be formally launched at the Museum on Friday 30th November.
The piano and a representative sample of the hoard will be on display in the Great Hall of the Museum in December, and then the display will be transferred to the Local History Gallery.
Photo credit: Peter Reavill / British Museum
Here’s a sound clip of the piano hoard piano being played by Gail Ford at the launch of the display on 30th November 2018:
2nd Standard of the Royal British Legion by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer, Human History.
To mark the commemoration of the Centenary of the end of the First World War (1914-1918), November’s Object of the Month is a poignant one.
The Royal British Legion is a charity which provides financial, social and emotional care and support to members and veterans of the British Armed Forces, their families and dependants. The Legion is also the national Custodian of Remembrance and safeguards the Military Covenant between the nation and its Armed Forces and is best known for the annual Poppy Appeal and its emblem the red poppy. Founded in 1921, the Legion is not just about those who fought in the two World Wars of the last century, but also about those involved in the many conflicts since 1945 and those who are still fighting for the freedom we enjoy today.
The 2nd Saffron Walden Royal British Legion Branch Standard was first sworn in at the Eastern Area Golden Jubilee Rally, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the British Legion on the 26th June 1971 at Newmarket’s July Racecourse.
Over the years it has featured at many local, national and international events, helping to commemorate those who have given military service. It has featured at annual carol services, the Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall, the Last Royal Tournament at Earls Court in 1999 and many times for Burma Star Association events, Poppy Race Days at Newmarket Racecourse, and HMS Lapwing Association parades. It took pride of place at the 80th Anniversary of the Saffron Walden Branch celebrations and played a key role in the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War (1939-1945) commemorations in 2005.
Parading these standards for many years, can leave them liable to damage as they feature detailed embroidery and brocade, so new ones are established and sworn in, when this is the case. The retired 2nd Standard has now been donated to the Museum, and features as our Object of the Month for November, whilst a new 3rd standard has been sworn in. On Sunday 11th November, the new standard will form part of the town’s annual Remembrance Sunday Parade and Church service
The Standard is on display at the Museum until the 1st December, where you can learn more about this object, the role played by the Royal British Legion and the Centenary of the end of the First World War.
October’s Object of the Month is a Roman wine strainer chosen by Carolyn Wingfield, Curator
An Essential Accessory for Wine Drinkers
This fragile bronze vessel was described as a “Roman Bronze colander – origin unknown” in the Museum’s registers when it was acquired in 1927. It was among a list of diverse archaeological, historical and ethnographic objects given by George Morris of The Friends’ School, Saffron Walden. It measures nearly 15cms in diameter and the tiny holes piercing the central bowl form a delicate pattern.
Too delicate to be a colander, it is more accurately described as a wine strainer, which would have been used to filter sediment from wine. It is of fine workmanship, though a little damaged and has in the past been repaired with plastic mesh to support the paper-thin edges where some pieces are missing. The handle is also largely missing, although the end adjoining the pan is visible, repaired in the past with modern solder.
We can now place this wine strainer in context, thanks to finds of similar vessels, often accompanying small Roman bronze saucepans know as trullei (singular, trulleus). Trullei were part of the standard equipment of Roman legionaries, but wine strainers were not everyday items issued to Roman troops, and strainers like ours could have been made in Britain. There are examples of strainers been buried with trullei or bronze bowls, for instance the Kingdtone Deverell hoard, discovered in 2005 and now in Salisbury Museum, and the Langstone hoard from Newport, Wales, found in 2007. The Langstone hoard may have been a ritual deposit made by Britons, but elsewhere, strainers and bronze vessels have been found in graves, as part of the feasting and drinking equipment which accompanied the social elite of late Iron Age and early Roman Britain to the next world.
Certainly at the top of Iron Age society in the Essex region, there were people enjoying wine imported from the Roman world as much as a century before the Claudian invasion of AD 43. We know this from high-status graves where wine amphorae were buried, and you can see examples of such amphorae in Saffron Walden Museum. So our wine strainer could date to around the 1st century AD, either just before or after the Roman conquest. It is a pity that we do not know where it was found, but we can imagine a local British aristocrat using this as part of a wine-drinking ceremony or special feast.
The wine strainer is on display at the Museum until 1st November 2018, where you can learn more about this object and life in Roman times.
September’s Object of the Month is a collection of fossilised teeth chosen by James Lumbard, Natural Sciences Officer.
These fossilised teeth come from the extinct fish Ptychodus (pronounced tie-co-duss) which lived across the Americas, Europe and Asia. They are closely related to modern sharks and rays, but may not have been direct ancestors. Some species grew up to 10 metres long, feeding on the large shellfish that existed during the Cretaceous period, 66–145 million years ago. Although they had similar diet and teeth to modern rays, they looked more like modern nurse sharks, which cruise the seabed for small fish and shellfish.
August’s Object of the Month is a red squirrel. The mammal was chosen as Object of the Month by Sarah Kenyon, Natural Sciences Officer.
This red squirrel was found dead at Saffron Walden, Essex in August 2003. It had been run over by a car in Landscape View. A member of the Uttlesford group of Essex Wildlife Trust gave it to Saffron Walden Museum to be preserved. The body was mounted, or stuffed, by a taxidermist. This red squirrel has russet red fur on its body and tail, with white fur on its chest and belly. Male and female squirrels look identical.
Hello! As I’ve been here since the end of April, it’s well-and-truly time to introduce myself. I’m James Lumbard, and I’m delighted to have been chosen to share the post of Natural Sciences Officer with Sarah Kenyon. I’ve really enjoyed my introduction to the job, the museum and the friendly staff and volunteers who make it such a pleasant place to work and visit. I’m originally from South Wales and moved to East Anglia two years ago. I’ve moved around a few times since then, moving to Tendring district at the start of this year, so it’s great to have the chance to explore Uttlesford and the lovely town of Saffron Walden.
July’s Object of the Month is a group of three ancient pots from Little Hallingbury. They are about 2,000 years old and were from the cremation cemetery of a late Iron Age community just before the Roman period. Gravel extraction led to their discovery in 1876.