Category Archives: Object of the Month

Object of the Month – October 2019

This case is arranged to show which butterflies live in the Saffron Walden area today (left), and which are extinct (right).

These butterflies died off mainly because of changing land use in the 19th & 20th centuries. Butterflies such as the Adonis blue (1) and chalk-hill blue (2) prefer large areas of chalk wildflower meadow, grazed by sheep and cattle. However, much of this land was converted to crop farming in the 1800s and these specialist insects died off. Other changes, such as the end of coppicing in woodlands, removed the open wooded habitat that butterflies such as the grizzled skipper (3) thrive in.

Species like the purple emperor (4) and white admiral (5) feed on the sugary waste products from aphids (honeydew). Pollution from coal burning may have contributed to these butterflies’ extinction as the toxins could dissolve into the honeydew on the leaf surface.

However, 2019 has been a very good year for some impressive larger butterflies too, with lots of painted ladies (6) arriving in Britain from the Mediterranean as they migrate north. Protected roadside verges in Uttlesford also provide good chalk grassland habitat for species such as the small copper (7).

There is also some very good news for three ‘extinct’ species (green boxes in main image). The purple emperor (4) returned to Uttlesford about two years ago and has been seen in Shadwell Wood and Rowney Wood, two local Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserves. The silver-washed fritillary (8) was first seen again about five years ago and is now known from Shadwell Wood, Rowney Wood and Hatfield Forest. The marbled white (9) has also been spotted at Harrison Sayer and Noakes Grove nature reserves and along some protected roadside verges over the last two years. The return of these three species in protected areas of countryside and special habitats show just how important effective conservation efforts are in supporting our native wildlife.

You can learn more about how humans have affected local environments and wildlife, for bad and for good, in the Take Away the Walls exhibition until 3 November.
Find out how you can help local wildlife groups on the Discovery Centre noticeboard next to the stick insects, and in the Take Away the Walls exhibition.

 

 

Object of the Month – September 2019

September’s Object of the Month is a wax model of Pestle Puffball fungus, Handkea excipuliformis, found growing under Scots pine trees on a road to Newport, Essex by George Maynard between 1880 and 1904.

Pestle Puffball Fungus

This common fungus can be seen from August to November. It grows in woods, grassland, heaths and on waste ground. The fungus is 8 to 20 cm tall. It is white at first and turns brown as it ages. Initially it is covered in soft, pointed warts which all fall off to leave a smooth surface. The upper, rounded section, 3 to 12 cm across, is the head which contains the spores. The lower, straight section is the stem which soon develops a wrinkled skin.

This puffball is edible when it is young and white, if the tough outer skin is removed. However, the older yellow, olive and brown fungi and stems can still be found in winter and summer and should not be eaten. You need an expert to identify edible fungi as mistakes can easily be made.

George Nathan Maynard

George Nathan Maynard was the first curator of Saffron Walden Museum. He was born in 1829 in the village of Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire. From a young age he showed a great interest in natural sciences, including botany, entomology and geology. George inherited his father’s shop but had to sell it in 1873. The family moved to Lambeth in London where he worked as a printer and his wife Elizabeth was a dressmaker. In 1880 he was employed as the first paid curator of Saffron Walden Museum.

As curator he reorganised the museum displays, recorded objects in accession registers and carried out conservation work to preserve the collections. During this time he made a collection of models in wax, modelled from fungus specimens collected in Saffron Walden, Newport, Debden and Little Chesterford.

In 1904 George died of respiratory problems at the age of 75. His son Guy took over as curator until 1920 when he left to become curator of Ipswich Museum.

Fungus Forays

Want to know more about mushrooms and other fungi? 

Wildlife organisations lead fungus forays in the countryside with experts who can help you to discover the fascinating world of fungi, and which ones are edible and which ones to avoid!

Sat 19 October Marks Hill Wood Nature Reserve, Basildon, Essex https://www.essexwt.org.uk/events/2019-10-19-fungi-foray

Sat 27 October Sandylay & Moat Woods, Great Leighs, Essex https://www.essexwt.org.uk/events/2019-10-27-fungus-foray-sandylay-moat-woods

September, October, November.  Lots of fungus meetings with the Essex Field Club, see their Events programme at http://www.essexfieldclub.org.uk/portal/p/Meetings+ahead

Object of the Month – August 2019

 

Inspired by the Summer sunshine, Jenny Oxley Collections Officer (Human History) has chosen to pick Victorian ice-cream making equipment as this month’s Object of the Month.

G.E. Read’s shop was on the High Street in Saffron Walden in the 19th century, and by the early 20th century had been taken over by T.T. Snow (Thomas Thurgood Snow and his wife, Ellen Snow).  It was known as the High Street Bakery.

The Victorian pewter Ice cream maker or sorbetiere and accompanying moulds which will be on display in the Museum this month would have been used at Read’s Shop in the late 19th century.  They have recently been donated to the Museum by Read / Thurgood family members. 

There are also some step-by-step picture instructions showing how ice cream was made using the sorbetiere.  The moulds you will be able to view on display, are particularly elaborate in design and in the shape of a traditional jelly moulds, as well as quinelle and fruit shapes. 

In the Georgian and Victorian periods ice cream desserts could be decorated with saffron, cochineal, spinach, or some other natural colouring to add visual flair, a treat for the eyes as well as for the taste buds.

Visiting the Museum in August you will also be able to see adverts and photographs, and extracts of account books, related to both the Read and Snow shops which were in the High Street. 

Object of the Month – July 2019

Parking Deer and Cars at Stansted Airport

If you are heading off on holiday via Stansted Airport this summer, and leave your car in the Long Term Car Park, spare a thought for the medieval and Tudor ‘parkers’ who once tended this area. These men were responsible for the extensive deer park and its stock of deer (principally fallow deer) which provided recreational hunting for the late medieval and Tudor lords of the manor of Stansted. Before the Long Term Car Park was created, nearly 20 years ago, archaeologists from Framework Archaeology excavated the site and discovered remains of successive hunting lodges, dating to the 15th and 16th centuries. Iron arrowheads and deer bones found on the site helped to identify the building as a hunting lodge, situated in the centre of the park. It provided accommodation for the parkers and other retainers through the year, and accommodation for aristocratic hunting parties, when the lord of the manor would entertain guests with a day’s hunting followed by a feast.

The important archives (records and finds) from Framework’s excavations at the Long Term Car Park have just been deposited with Saffron Walden Museum. The vast majority of archaeological finds are fragments, but these two rusted arrowheads (with a modern 1p coin for scale) were among the more complete items of hunting equipment unearthed by the archaeologists. The arrowhead of typical triangular shape was widely used for hunting. The other arrow (its blade partly missing) is of forked or crescent shape; complete examples are shown in the other image. Arrows of this type were probably used for hunting birds, as the shape of the arrowhead bunched the feathers and killed by impact, rather than cutting into and disfiguring the bird, an important consideration for roasting and displaying birds at table.

Not far from the Airport, you can find another relic of Stansted Deer Park in the historic St Mary’s Church, to the east of Stansted Mountfichet. Here there is a notable painted effigy of Hester Salisbury, who died in 1614. She was daughter of Sir Thomas Middleton, lord of the manor in the early 17th century, and it is said that she was killed in Stansted Park by a stag.

For more information on this month’s Object of the Month visit Saffron Walden Museum in July.

 

Object of the Month – June 2019

Did You Know?

The ‘cabbage white’ butterfly is actually two closely related species – the large white (Pieris brassicae) and the small white (Pieris rapae). Apart from the size difference, the large white has darker black wing spots, and a dark black band at the front of its wings. Both lay their eggs on cabbages in gardens, allotments and farms, as it is the preferred food of their caterpillars. The large white takes the outer leaves, while the small white prefers the soft inner leaves. The adult (imago) of both species often feeds on nectar from buddleia flowers.

Cabbage white butterflies “Insects Injurious to Vegetables”. SAFWM : 118007. © Saffron Walden Museum

The display has a male and female of each species, with the male at the top and female below. There is also a caterpillar of the large white butterfly, which is yellow and hairy, with black bumps on its skin. The small white’s caterpillar is pale green and hairless with a narrow yellow stripe on either side. The cabbage leaf in the box has some caterpillar feeding damage.

Caterpillar of the small white. CC BY-SA 3.0, Harald Süpfle.

Chrysalis of the small white. CC BY-SA 2.5, James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster.

Life cycle

These butterflies have two ‘broods’ per year, and three in a good year. In the spring, butterflies which survived the winter as a chrysalis emerge as adults in April and May. They lay eggs in May and June (spring brood), which hatch into caterpillars in June and July. The caterpillars feed and grow quickly, and shed their skin 4 times as they grow. After about a month, the caterpillar finds a sheltered spot to transform into a butterfly in a process called metamorphosis. The caterpillar spins a pad of silk against the surface of its shelter, and sheds it skin again to reveal a hard skin (chrysalis), which has a small hook to keep it attached to the silk.

Adults emerge from the chrysalis about two weeks later, in July and August. They then lay eggs which develop into caterpillars through September and form chrysalises into October. The caterpillars go through a very slow metamorphosis to survive the winter, and emerge as adults the following April and May to start the process again.

Butterfly survival

On the right of the leaf are some cocoons and adults of a parasitic wasp which lays its eggs inside the caterpillars. After hatching, the wasp larvae feed on the caterpillar and eventually kill it, helping to control cabbage white numbers in a natural way. The adult wasp feeds on nectar.

The parasitic wasp, now called Cotesia glomerata. © Albert de Wilde.

Like many insects, these butterflies have declined in number recently. Currently, the large white and small white are not the focus of conservation efforts, but many other more specialist butterflies have declined severely or have gone extinct in Essex since 1900.
You can find out more about local butterflies in the Take Away the Walls exhibition at the Museum.

June’s Object of the Month was chosen by James Lumbard, Natural Sciences Officer.

Image credits

Pieris rapae caterpillar: James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]. Accessed 11/06/2019.

Pieris rapae chrysalis: Harald Süpfle [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]. Accessed 11/06/2019

Parasitic wasp Cotesia glomerata: Copyright © Albert de Wilde – All rights reserved http://www.ahw.me/img/sluipwesp4mm_grootkoolwitje01b.html. Accessed 11/06/2019.

Featured Image – Cabbage whites “Insects Injurious to Vegetables” on display in the Museum © Saffron Walden Museum

 

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.

The polecat comeback

Object of the Month – February 2019

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.

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