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.
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
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.”
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.
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 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.
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:
Museum Shop Sunday is an International Cultural Shopping Day, taking place on Sunday 25 November.
Supported by the Association for Cultural Enterprises, Museum Shop Sunday invites members of the public to experience the inspirational gifts offered by cultural organisations nationwide. Encouraging shopping with a conscience, sales made will contribute to each venue directly and provide a valuable contribution to culture in the UK.
Sunday 25 November promises to be a day to enjoy a relaxing and inspiring shopping experience after the chaos of Black Friday! It is the ideal occasion to purchase those essential Christmas gifts and stocking fillers. Shoppers can expect to find quality products inspired by the exhibitions, from Stationery to Books and Jewellery, there is certain to be something for everyone.
This year we are highlighting our new range of bespoke products inspired by the Museum’s collections:
Saffron Walden Museum Pin Badge, £3.50
Saffron Walden Museum Stationery Pack, £3.50
Saffron Walden Fridge Magnet: Wallace the Lion Fridge Magnet £1.99 Inspired by one of the most striking items in Museum is a stuffed lion named Wallace. In a former life, Wallace had been a star in George Wombwell’s nineteenth-century traveling menagerie of exotic beasts and birds. Born in Edinburgh in 1812, Wallace was the first African lion to be bred in England and was perhaps named after William Wallace, the Scottish freedom fighter.
Saffron Walden Museum Fridge Magnet: Coffin Lid image £3.50 Inspired by the Coffin lid of Tayef-Herut-Nakht, Thebes which is on display in the Museum’s Egyptology Gallery and dates to the New Kingdom 950 – 900 BC.
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.