Author Archives: Museum Editor

Half-term at the Museum

It’s hard to believe it’s October half-term next week! As the days are getting shorter and the country is being battered by storms, why not take shelter in the museum during half-term? We’ve got loads going on to keep the kids, and adults, entertained!


Woolly Mammoth Fun Days
25 and 26 October

Join us for our Woolly Mammoth Fun Days on the Wednesday 25 and Thursday 26 October. On both days, you can follow our Woolly Mammoth activity trail around the museum, and lend a hand to create a “fur” coat for our chilly mammoths!

On both days, there will also be seated activity sessions, as follows:

Weds 25 October: Ice Age Wrapping Paper– create your own ice age themed stamp and create some ice-tastic wrapping paper

Thurs 26 October: Fantastic Fossils – paint your own plaster fossil

These seated sessions will run every 20 minutes from 11am to 1pm, and from 2pm to 4pm. There will be space for 15 children in each session. If you are coming in a large group it is advisable to come later in the day when we tend to be less busy.

Usual admission charges to the museum apply and children MUST bring an adult.


Museums at Night
27 October

Our ever-popular Museums at Night is back on Friday 27 October, from 6pm until 8pm. We’re opening up the museum after-hours and challenging you to follow our night-time trail by torchlight. See the museum as you’ve never seen it before.

Usual admission charges to the museum apply and children MUST bring an adult.


Life in the Ice Age

Until 14 January

Our current exhibition, Life in the Ice Age, runs until 14 January 2018. 

Learn about about ice sheets, glaciers and times of warmer weather. See a Stone Age man and learn more about the tools he used, and discover more about the creatures that lived in Essex during the last Ice Age glaciation.

Come and find out more about the animals of the Ice Age, with models of a sabre-tooth tiger, a European wolf and a woolly mammoth, as well as actual remains of creatures – including a woolly mammoth tusk!

 

Plus we have lots to see and do in our nine permanent galleries, which include local history, archaeology, natural history, costume and world cultures. Take one of our activity trails around the museum, dig for treasure in our archaeological sandpit, or get up close and personal with nature in our Discovery Centre.

For more details about visiting the museum click here

Object in Focus – Violet Dix’s Trunk

In 1973, a leather trunk was donated to Saffron Walden Museum, containing the belongings of a girl named Violet Dix. Violet died in 1919, aged 10. Her belongings had been packed into a trunk, perhaps by her parents who were too upset to deal with them, and kept, untouched, until her death.

The belongings include clothes, toys, books, schoolwork, letters and material relating to Violet’s death. From these objects we can piece together a picture of Violet and her childhood in Saffron Walden.

School

An embroidered handkerchief from the trunk

Despite her being frequently ill, Violet’s schoolwork and letters show that she was an intelligent girl with a sense of humour. In a note to her mother she wrote “If you want to know where your safety pins are, look where you told me to put them”, suggesting could get away with being cheeky. Violet was at the top of her class at school, and her writing shows skill and imagination. Included in her possessions are some embroidered items, most likely sewn by Violet in needlework class.

Play

All of Violet’s social arrangements were made by letter, so we know that she often had friends to play with her at home, or that she visited others. She liked collecting things, and the trunk contains packs of cigarette cards, pictures of trains and cut-out paper dolls. There are numerous boxes and tins with handmade peg dolls, small toys and brooches.

Clothing

Violet’s clothing includes dresses, petticoats, underwear, scarves, coats and boots. Violet’s dresses are delicate white embroidered cotton, with lace ribbon and trimming. In contrast, her underwear was made to last heavy duty cotton, with large tucks to allow for growth, and her socks are heavily darned – suggesting that her family was thrifty.

Health

School reports and other documents reveal Violet’s poor health. She was absent from school for long periods, suffering from ear trouble, measles and coughs. In 1919, just a few days before she died, Violet wrote in a notebook “I have had a long illness, and I am not well yet. I had to go to London to a great ear specialist. And soon I have to go to his nursing home…I do not want to go”. Four days later, her mother wrote home from London “Violet got through the operation but is very bad today. They will not tell me much”. Violet died the next day.

Death

Poems about Violet’s death, written by her mother, were left in the trunk along with letters of sympathy, in memoriam cards and photographs of Violet’s coffin and grave.

It has been argued that World War One marked a shift in attitudes towards death, from the Victorian fixation with outward expressions of grief to an attitude in which death was shameful and forbidden. The material in Violet’s trunk seems to represent a society on the cusp of this shift. Whilst the photographs of Violet’s coffin and grave are reminiscent of a Victorian reaction, the family’s mourning is carried out more privately, through letters, diary entries and poems.  In contrast to many Victorian mourning cards which use “died” or “departed from life”, the card announcing Violet’s interment states that she “fell asleep”.

Violet Dix’s trunk and its belongings are a fascinating and deeply personal collection. The museum has welcomed several members of the Dix family and friends to view the collection over recent years. In 1996 a book about Violet’s trunk was published locally, and an exhibition staged at the museum, but the collection has not been displayed since. The book, Violet Dix’s Trunk: Childhood in Saffron Walden, 1910 – 1920 by G. Holman, is available in the museum shop.

 

Object of the Month – October 2017

October’s Object of the Month is a mechanical calculator made by Muldivo, which probably dates from the 1930s or 1940s. It was chosen by Vicky Geddes, Digital Engagement Intern. The calculator was donated to the museum in 1982. 

Mechanical calculators

Mechanical calculators used a series of gears and pinwheels to calculate sums, and were popular through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, until the electronic calculator became more affordable.

The first designs for mechanical calculators, also known as pinwheel calculators, came from Germany in the 1600s. The first person to build a pinwheel calculator was Giovanni Poleni in 1709, but on hearing that German Antonius Braun had designed his own calculator and dedicated it to Emperor Charles VI in Vienna (which he would later build and present to the Emperor in 1727), Poleni destroyed his.

For three centuries various people across Europe and America designed and built pinwheel calculators. The first one to be mass produced was Odhner’s Arithometer in 1890, which became the most popular design in Europe. The design that the Muldivo follows first emerged in 1850, and remained popular until the 1970s.

Many companies were set up across Europe to produce clones of Odhner’s machine, resulting in its huge popularity. Even those companies not simply cloning Odhner often used aspects of his design as inspiration, including Muldivo, and as a result many of the mechanical calculators produced in the twentieth century look remarkably similar to one another.

How pinwheel calculators work

Pinwheel calculators have metal wheels (pinwheels), which are assembled into a cylinder called a rotor. The pinwheels have nine pins sticking out of them. The number of pins sticking out from the pinwheel can be changed by moving a setting lever and this selects the number you want to add/subtract/multiply/divide.

A closer view of the Muldivo calculator. Visible here are the setting levers, which choose the numbers which will be used.

To do a calculation, the user chooses the numbers they want using the setting levers. Turning the handle at the side of the calculator clockwise adds the number selected to the accumulator (the row of numbers at the bottom of the calculator) and turning the handle counter-clockwise subtracts the number. Multiplications and divisions can also be done on the calculator, through a series of repeated additions or subtractions.

A more detailed explanation of a pinwheel calculator can be found here (video)

Muldivo

Muldivo was founded in London in 1912. The company grew and expanded in the first half of the twentieth century, moving to various locations around London. Muldivo bought various companies that produced mechanical calculators, and acted mostly as the British distributor for their products.

However the company did produce a few mechanical calculator models of its own. The first Muldivo brand calculator was produced in France, and introduced in 1924. All subsequent models were produced in Germany, and they usually followed a similar design to a product made by one of the other companies Muldivo owned. 

In 1939, Muldivo bought Guy’s Calculating Machines – another British manufacturer of pinwheel calculators. In 1965, Guy’s moved to Witham in Essex, giving Muldivo a stronger footing in the county.

The company continued to grow in success and size through the twentieth century up until the 1960s. By the 1970s, the popularity of electronic calculators had pushed Muldivo out of business, and the company closed its doors in 1971.

You can see the Muldivo calculator on display in the museum until 31 October.

Object of the Month – September 2017

To celebrate the kids going back to school, September’s Object of the Month is a photograph showing the staff and pupils of the Boys’ British School in Saffron Walden in 1954. The photograph is a recent acquisition to the museum’s local history collection and it was donated in August 2017. The donor of the photograph attended the Boys’ British School and he is sat on the front row, seventh from the right.

The photograph was chosen as Object of the Month by Leah Mellors, Collections Officer (Human History), in the hope that we may be able to identify some of the pupils.

Boys’ British School

The Boys’ British School was opened in 1838. It was situated on East Street in Saffron Walden. A girls’ school was also opened at the same time on South Road.

The creation of the Boys’ British School was decided on at a meeting in Saffron Walden Town Hall on 26 July 1838. Those present at the meeting decided that the town needed better education facilities, especially for the poorer classes.

They decided that the school should follow the model of the British and Foreign School Society. The school would be open to children of all religious denominations, from the ages of seven to 14. Parents would pay 2d per week for each boy.

The Gibson family provided the building on East Street for the school, rent-free, and William Jenkines was appointed the first headmaster.


Timeline of the Boys’ British School

1838               The school is established. It averages around 100 students per year for the first three years.

1844               The school reaches a peak of almost 200 students. However, an Anglican school is built on Castle Street and numbers reduce by 40% in just three years.

1847               The school formally affiliates with the British and Foreign School Society, so that it can receive government grants. Jenkines, the Headmaster, opposes this affiliation and resigns. He is replaced by Edwin Chennell.

1857               Chennell is succeeded by Samuel Willett, who is headmaster for 22 years.

1869               The school is inspected by Matthew Arnold, who says “the school is full…and the discipline is excellent. Nearly the whole average attendance are presented for examination…the papers are worked in fair style”.

1876               The number of pupils reaches 230 and the inspector’s report for that year remarks that “discipline suffers through crowded rooms”. Numbers drop off and in 1878, the inspector reports that “the school is in excellent order”.

1896               The school premises are enlarged to cope with high numbers.

1914               Following the outbreak of World War I, the school premises are used to accommodate over 100 soldiers. Teaching is moved to the Abbey Lane Congregational Chapel.

1918               At the end of World War I, 75 previous students of the school have lost their lives. They are commemorated on a roll of honour (now held in the museum’s collection, pictured right).

1920s             The school flourishes under Headmaster Charles Heaven. Don Purkiss, a former student, describes Mr Heaven as putting “the fear of God…into most of us”.

1939-1945     World War II causes an increase in the number of pupils, as evacuees and boys from the nearby RAF Debden station enrol. Teacher Miss Foster describes the school as “bursting at the seams”.

1945               The school becomes a Controlled School, under the management of the county council.

1950               Saffron Walden County High School opens and the senior boys move from the Boys’ British School to the new school.

1982               The Boys’ British School joins with the South Road School. After 127 years, the Boys’ British School closes and the premises are vacated.

The British and Foreign School Society

The British and Foreign School Society was established in 1808, to carry on the work of Joseph Lancaster. Lancaster was a Quaker who reformed school and educational systems and promoted education for the poorer classes. He introduced a non-sectarian approach to teaching, meaning that teachers could not teach particular denominational beliefs. He also introduced the use of rewards as well as punishments and a system of monitors where older students taught younger students.

Joseph Lancaster’s system of education was based around two principles:

Order, discipline and progress

All children worked at the same time. Older boys were used as monitors, who ruled the books, ensured good behaviour and reported on attendance and progress.

The boys in the first class sat nearest to the teacher. They sat at a flat table that had a sand tray in which they could draw letters.  Once they had mastered the sand trays, they progressed to slates.

Reading stations were established around the walls. Students stood at these stations in order of merit and were taught by the monitors at reading boards, which were attached to the walls.

Students progressed from class to class once their lessons had been learned.

Rewards

Children were rewarded for good work with leather or paper merit tickets Leather merit tickets were hung on coats by a small piece of ribbon. Paper tickets were swapped for prizes.  Three ‘Number 1’ tickets earned a halfpenny prize and 12 ‘Number 5’ tickets earned a sixpenny prize. The prizes (bats, balls, tops, kites etc.) were hung in a net above the schoolroom.

You can see the photograph on display in the museum until 30 September. If you were a pupil or teacher at the Boys’ British School, get in touch and tell us your memories!

A New Costume Display

Part of our Costume in Context gallery has recently been re-displayed, with six new dresses going on display.

It is important that we regularly re-display the costumes in this gallery, as fabrics can be damaged by light if left on display for too long (this is also why we keep the light levels low in the gallery). The process of changing a display takes longer than you may think, and our Collections Officer, Leah, has spent about six weeks working on the display.

Firstly, Leah searched the database for suitable items. She wanted to display dresses from a wide time-span to show how fashion changed through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She chose six dresses, the earliest from the 1820s, and the most recent from the 1970s. Once she had chosen the dresses, Leah carefully inspected their condition to make sure they were safe to be mounted and displayed.

The prepared costumes wait in the textile store to be put on display

The next step was to prepare the mannequins. We cannot fit the dresses to our mannequins because we don’t want to put pins in the costume or create creases and folds, so instead we fit the mannequins to the dresses. Leah adjusted each mannequin to the correct height, and then created the correct shape using wadding and acid-free tissue, with a layer of Tyvek or cotton jersey to create a smooth finish. This creates a realistic shape, and ensures the dress is fully supported whilst on display. Leah then carefully steamed each dress to remove  any creases.

The next step was to research the dresses and create labels. The labels include information about the particular dress – such as who wore it – but also contextual information about fashion trends at the time.

Leah then de-installed the existing display. She carefully removed the dresses from their mannequins  and stored them in boxes, which were double-bagged and put into the freezer for two weeks to kill any insects that may have found their way into the costumes. Some insects, such as moths, can eat costume and textiles, causing permanent damage. After two weeks, the costume will be slowly defrosted and stored back in the museum’s textile store.

A dress is tweaked to get the arrangement of the train just right

Finally, Leah thoroughly cleaned the display case before installing each mannequin. Many detailed discussions were had about positioning, and hours of adjusting and tweaking took place to make sure each costume looked just right! Then the labels were added, and the display was finally ready!

Why not come along and admire the new display? It features a silk dress from the 1820s; a day dress from the 1860s; a stunning black mourning dress from the 1880s; a sheer crepe day dress from the 1920s; a wartime wedding dress from the 1940s; and a bohemian floral dress from the 1970s. Discover how fashion changed, adapted and came almost full circle in 150 years.

You can find out more about our Costume and Textiles collection here, or contact Leah if you have any questions.

Object of the Month – August 2017

August’s Object of the Month is a puppet of the character Punch, from Punch and Judy. It was chosen as our Object of the Month by Leah Mellors, Collections Officer (Human History).

The puppet was made by Joyce Sturge, a local artist from Saffron Walden, some time before the end of World War II. Joyce made the entire cast of puppets from the Punch and Judy puppet shows out of papier mache, as well as making her own puppet booth and performing the puppet show at children’s parties. She even made tiny sausages!

Punch and Judy shows varied slightly each time they were performed, but most followed a similar storyline: Punch argues with his wife Judy and mishandles the baby; a policeman comes for Punch, who beats the Policeman with a stick; and Punch faces a final enemy, often a hangman, devil, crocodile or ghost (although when the show was performed for troops during the Second World War, the enemy became Hitler). Punch and Judy shows are known for their fast pace, and for featuring lots of jokes, songs, audience interaction and slapstick comedy.

A Victorian illustration of things to do at the seaside. A Punch and Judy booth can be seen in the centre

Punch and Judy shows have been performed since the 1600s – Punch first appeared in Covent Garden, London, in 1662 – but didn’t become the show we recognise today until the Victorian era. Punch and Judy shows were not originally aimed at children because the shows featured marital problems between Punch and Judy, and regular violent behaviour from Punch. However they gradually became a part of Victorian family entertainment. As seaside holidays became more popular later in the Victorian period, Punch and Judy  too became a familiar part of a trip to the seaside.

Since the twentieth century, Punch and Judy has been gradually declining in popularity; the rise of music halls, theatres and cinema in the twentieth century contributed to its decline. An awareness of the seriousness of domestic violence damaged the show’s popularity in modern times for a time. However, the shows continue to be found at the seaside and for many remain a classic aspect of a trip to the coast: in 2006, the public voted Punch and Judy onto a list of icons in England.

Below is a gallery of all the puppets created by Joyce Sturge:

You can see the Punch puppet on display in the museum until 31 August 2017. 

Object in Focus – Dutch Cheese Press

 

This magnificent object is a Dutch cheese press.. It stands on two large feet, with a handle which hooks onto the structure when it is not in use. It is beautifully carved, and the two pillars on either side of it are carved with the image of a lion holding a crest and a bird. It has been painted red, black and gold and is highly decorated. It also has the inscription ‘1723 AO’ carved into it. The date may be when the cheese press was made, but we don’t know what AO means – it might be the initials of the owner of the cheese press. These were often given as wedding gifts, so it is possible that ‘AO’ is the initials of the bride and groom whom this was given to.

This cheese press has been in our collection since 1888, when the museum purchased it from a sale of old oak at Stansted Hall. It was long thought to be a cheese press, but we recently asked the Cheese Museum in the Netherlands, who confirmed that we were correct. The Kaasmuseum (Cheese Museum) in Alkmaar in the Netherlands has 8 to 10 cheese presses similar to this one, which date to the eighteenth century. The museum believes ours may date to between 1820 and 1850, even though it is inscribed with 1723.

Postcard from Noord-Hollandsche Kaasmakerij, which shows what a cheese press would look like when in use.

A cheese press was worked by hand to create semi hard and hard cheeses. A cheese vat, filled with curds, would be placed under the press, and the handle would be used as a lever to press a piece of wood down onto the press. Weights would then have been hung from the handle after 30 minutes, with further weight being added at 60 minutes. This would have pushed water out from the curds, helping to solidify a hard cheese.

 

We love researching and learning more about the objects in our collection. Some of the items the museum acquired many years ago do not have complete histories, so being able to fill in some gaps is very exciting! If you would like to see the cheese press, it is currently on display in our Local History gallery.

Object of the Month – July 2017

 Handaxe from Warren Hill, near Mildenhall, Suffolk

July’s Object of the Month is a flint handaxe made and used by an unknown ancient human around half a million years ago. It will be featured in our next special exhibition, Life in the Ice Age which opens on 12 August 2017.

Over many thousands of years, the handaxe has been rolled and blunted by rivers and glaciers, and stained by minerals, but it still shows signs of deliberate shaping to form an edged tool.

The reverse side of the Handaxe

‘Handaxe’ is the name we use to describe these early multi-purpose hand-held tools for cutting, chopping and grinding. Experiments have shown that they were efficient tools for butchering large animals, and for chopping and pounding other foods such as edible roots. The people who made and used them were ‘hunter-gatherers’, who hunted herds of wild animals, and gathered natural foods such as nuts, berries and edible plants.

A Short History of Handaxes

The earliest humans to make simple stone chopping tools lived in Africa about 2 million years ago. When a new species of early human, Homo erectus, developed about 1.8 million years ago, they used more carefully shaped cutting tools, which we call handaxes.

By 1.5 million years ago, humans had spread out of Africa into southern Europe and continued to make handaxes wherever there was flint or other suitable stone. As humans evolved and learned to cope with different environments, so handaxes evolved: there are many variations of size and shape. It continued to be the main tool of many human cultures up to around 50,000 years ago, when modern humans appeared, and stopped making and using handaxes.

Joseph Clarke’s collection

Joseph Clarke

Our handaxe is marked to show that it came from the collection of Joseph Clarke (1802 – 1895), who was a local antiquarian. Joseph and his brother Joshua were active members of the Saffron Walden Natural History Society (later Saffron Walden Museum Society) and as trustees they played an important role in the Museum. Joseph was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and his network of contacts enabled him to collect objects from beyond the local area.

 

 

The site at Warren Hill

Warren Hill became famous in the nineteenth century for the large number of ancient handaxes and flake tools found there, many of which, like this handaxe, eventually found their way into museum collections. The age of the Warren Hill deposits and the flint tools in them has been debated for over a century. Investigations in the 1990s suggested that the gravels were part of a now extinct river system, called the Bytham River, which flowed from the Midlands across East Anglia and out into the North Sea. Later the Anglian Glaciation destroyed the Bytham River and created our present-day landscape. So the flint tools from the Warren Hill gravels must date from before the Anglian Glaciation, about 500,000 years ago. Evidence of human activity before the Anglian Glaciation is very rare because the ice sheets destroyed most of it._

Map showing the site of Warren Hill

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You can see this Handaxe on display in the museum until Sunday 30th July, and in our upcoming exhibition ‘Life in the Ice Age’, which opens on the 12th August.

Abolition reticule

This reticule is a beautiful but very delicate object. It is made from unlined pale pink silk with a drawstring at the top. On one side, the image of a seated male slave with his two children has been painted in black. On the reverse, there is a poem entitled ‘The Slaves’ Address to British Ladies’, which reads:

Mothers of the fair and brave
Heavy is the debt you owe
For the sufferings of the slave
Thro’ an age of pain and woe. 

Shall your sons with freedom blest
Be the oppressors of our race
As I plead, each noble breast
Kindles at the foul disgrace.

Torn from Afric’s sunny plains
By your fathers’ cruelty
We have groaned in heavy chains
We have pined in misery.

But a brighter day is near
Blessings by your justice given
Faithful wives & children dear
And the hope of Joy in Heaven. 

We shall bless your holy zeal
In our lisping girls & boys
For we have a heart to feel
All a parent’s anxious joys. 

We shall see the harvests wave
And the sweets of science know
Freemen – at the name of Slave
Shall our souls indignant glow.

 
 

The reticule was made in the 1820s by a female campaign group, to raise funds and awareness for the anti-slavery movement. Although Britain officially ended its participation in the slave trade in 1807, slavery continued in the British Empire and in 1823, William Wilberforce formed the Anti-Slavery Society to campaign for the end of slavery in the colonies. Whilst women were allowed to join the society, they could not form part of its leadership, so a group of women in West Bromwich formed their own group, later called the Female Society for Birmingham. Other groups formed across the country and by 1831, there were 73 female organisations campaigning for the immediate and full abolition of slavery

Many of these groups produced objects such as bags, jewellery, prints and pin cushions, decorated with abolitionist emblems, images and text, which were sold or distributed as part of their campaigns. Silk bags and reticules like the one in our collection were filled with campaign pamphlets and newspaper cuttings and distributed to prominent people, including King George IV and Princess Victoria, as well as to other women’s anti-slavery societies.

It is very likely that this reticule was made by the Female Society for Birmingham. It is similar to reticules made by the society in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of London Docklands, the Library of the Religious Society of Friends, and the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington DC. However, another example matching this particular design has yet to be found.

The reticule is an important part of the Quaker history of Saffron Walden, which was home to some prominent Quaker families such as the Gibsons, Tukes and Frys during the nineteenth century. The abolition movement in Britain was established by the Quakers, who believe that all people are created equal (and therefore one person cannot be owned by another). 

Sadly, the reticule is in a fragile condition and cannot be handled or displayed. We are currently fundraising for conservation work to stabilise the reticule, enabling us to display it in the museum and share its fascinating history. If you would be interested in donating to the fund, please contact us

Update, August 2017: We have received a grant from the Daphne Bullard, Kathy Callow and Elizabeth Hammond Award, as well as donations from the Saffron Walden Quaker Meeting, Saffron Walden Museum Society and a private individual towards this project. We now have enough funding to conserve our reticule and we hope to complete this work in the autumn. 

Treasure20

Saffron Walden Museum is taking part in Treasure 20, a partnership project of the British Museum and Portable Antiquities Scheme, to highlight the important contribution of the Treasure Act to public museum collections around the country. Treasure 20 is a nationwide project which celebrates 20 years since the Treasure Act 1996 came into force in September 1997.

As part of the project, we are re-displaying our Treasure case, adding new archaeological finds such as a rare brooch in the form of a dove and a silver coin from Anglo-Saxon times, a delicate medieval finger ring and a tiny gold brooch with a pair of clasped hands.

The finds reflect the range of objects reported by metal-detectorists and also chance discoveries made by members of the public, like the Anglo-Saxon coin. The ring and brooches were all declared treasure under the Treasure Act 1996 and were purchased for the museum’s collections by Saffron Walden Museum Society Ltd, with generous grant-aid from the Arts Council England / Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund and The Headley Trust. Our collections and our understanding of local heritage have been enriched by over 50 acquisitions made through the Treasure Act.

As well as displaying new finds in the museum (look for the special Treasure20 labels), we will also be featuring a selection on the museum’s website and social media for 20 weeks, from June to October. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to learn more about our Treasure collection or click on the gallery below.  We’ll be adding to the gallery throughout the project.