Author Archives: Museum Editor

Object of the Month – April 2018

 

April’s Object(s) of the Month is a selection of pieces of Roman roof tiles with paw, hoof and foot prints left by animals and people over 1,750 years ago. The tiles came from a temple that was about 1km north-east of Great Chesterford, which was an important town in the Roman period.

Can you work out what sort of animal left the footprints?

How animals left their mark
At the tile-maker’s yard, the wet clay tiles would have been laid out in the sun to dry before firing in a kiln. It was during this drying stage that tiles could be trampled over by any passing stray animals or domestic pets. Traces of footprints are found from time to time on Roman tiles, and the Great Chesterford tiles preserve prints from a number of different animals, including dogs of various sizes and cloven-hooved farmyard animals such as sheep, goats, calves or pigs. There is even the impression left by a hobnail boot or sandal, possibly from a workman trying to shoo away the animals that were treading on the unfired tiles!

The tiles with footprints are all pieces of tegulae – large, flat rectangular roof tiles with upturned sides. We do not know exactly where these tiles were made. Tiles and bricks were usually made near the building site if possible, where there was a supply of suitable local clay, water and wood to fuel the kilns. It was difficult and expensive to transport large numbers of tiles from a distance, though Great Chesterford’s position in the River Cam would have allowed materials to be brought in by boat.

Great Chesterford Roman Temple
The site of the temple, north-east of the town, was a special place before the Roman Conquest. Local British people had a shrine on the site in the late Iron Age. After the Roman conquest, in the late 1st or early 2nd century AD, the temple was rebuilt in Roman style as a square building with walls of mortar and chalk rubble faced with flint and plastered, and a tiled roof.

By the mid-3rd century (around 250 AD) the temple had fallen into disrepair. Large amounts of roof tile and plaster fell off the building and it appears that the remains of the roof was cleared away before a big programme of rebuilding started in the late 3rd century.

You can see the tiles on display in the museum throughout April and find out more about Great Chesterford, the temple and Roman building materials in our archaeology gallery.

Launch of our new Learning Services

 

Saffron Walden Museum is delighted to announce the launch of new learning and engagement services following the appointment of a Learning and Outreach Officer, Charlotte Pratt.

School children exploring the museum’s collections

The Museum is now able to offer a range of services to schools and groups, including taught sessions in the Museum, new revised schools loan boxes to support National Curriculum topics, and outreach sessions which can be delivered in the school classroom. The sessions are tailored to the National Curriculum and are an ideal way to enrich the delivery of a range of subjects. The learning menu is currently being fully developed but in the meantime, teachers and group leaders are welcome to contact Charlotte on 01799 510644 or email her to request sessions.

Saffron Walden Museum is fortunate to have a rich and varied collections as well as a separate handling collection which includes historical artefacts. Topics which can be offered include:

• Romans
• Ancient Greece
• Prehistory
• WW2
• Local History
• Vikings and Anglo Saxons
• Ancient Egypt
• Natural History
• Art and Design
• Victorians
• Geology
• Museums – kid curators
• Toys and games

A bespoke handling session for Support for Sight

As well as structured school sessions, the Museum will also be offering a range of activities for visitors and groups including school holiday activities and events for adults. The Museum is working in partnership with a range of other local and national organisations to widen its learning offer, including the Dementia Action Alliance, Support for Sight and the Wellcome Trust. Museum staff aim to make the collections and their stories accessible and engaging to all, through a range of activities to suit different needs.

On Tuesday 15 May there will be a Reminiscence object handling session, arranged in conjunction with Uttlesford Dementia Action Alliance, and visitors will be able to just drop in (usual admission charges apply).

Object of the Month – March 2018

 

March’s Object of the Month is a Holloway brooch. Holloway brooches were given to women who were imprisoned for their involvement in the women’s suffrage movement during the early twentieth century. The brooch was chosen as Object of the Month by Leah Mellors, Collections Officer (Human History) to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918.

Holloway brooches
The Holloway brooch was designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, a campaigner for women’s suffrage. The design is symbolic of the suffragette’s fight for voting rights. The brooch is in the shape of a portcullis and chains, which is the symbol of the House of Commons. In the centre, there is a broad arrow, which was a recognised symbol of government property that was used on prison uniforms. The broad arrow is in the three colours of the suffragette movement: green (symbolising hope), white (symbolising purity) and violet (symbolising dignity).

Sylvia Pankhurst, wearing a Holloway brooch on her collar

The brooches were given to members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) who had been imprisoned in Holloway prison and other prisons. Some brooches were inscribed with the dates of imprisonment. They were first awarded at a mass demonstration by the WSPU in the Albert Hall on 29 April 1909, which was held to coincide with the meeting of the International Suffrage Alliance. In an issue of the WSPU newspaper, Votes for Women, of 16 April 1909 the brooch was described as the ‘Victoria Cross of the Union’. When WSPU prisoners began to use hunger strikes, the WSPU instituted the hunger strike medal, the first of which was presented four months after the first Holloway brooch.

Women’s Suffrage Movement
6 February 2018 marked 100 years since the Representation of the People Act 1918, which allowed women over the age of 30, who held £5 of property, to vote in parliamentary and local government elections.

The Representation of the People Act was the result of a decades-long campaign by men and women for women’s suffrage. This campaign began peacefully in the late 1800s. In 1897, Millicent Fawcett set up the National Union of Women’s Suffrage, which campaigned for women’s suffrage through peaceful protest and logical argument. Unfortunately, Millicent’s progress was slow and this was not enough for some women, who wanted faster and more direct results. In 1903, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia. In contrast to the peaceful protests of the suffragists, the members of the WSPU, known as suffragettes, were prepared to use militant and violent methods to draw attention to the cause. These militant methods included breaking shop windows, raiding the Houses of Parliament, burning down churches, attacking politicians and even protesting at the gates of Buckingham Palace.

Imprisonment of suffragettes
As a result of the violent acts committed by suffragettes, many were imprisoned, in Holloway prison in London and other prisons around the country. 
The treatment of suffragettes who were imprisoned was often brutal. Many went on hunger strike. A report in The Suffragette on 11 April 1913, stated that Emmeline Pankhurst had collapsed in prison after being on hunger strike for eight days. The hunger strikes concerned the government, who did not want the movement to have martyrs, so prisons guards were ordered to force-feed those on hunger strike.

There was public outcry at the force-feeding of mostly educated women, so the government introduced the Cat and Mouse Act. This Act stated that any suffragette who went on hunger strike whilst in prison should not be force-fed but instead should be allowed to get weaker and weaker, at which point she would be released from prison. She would then either die, or be too weak to take part in the suffragette movement. Once she had regained her strength, she would be rearrested for a trivial reason and the process would start again. In response to the Cat and Mouse Act, the suffragettes became even more extreme, with some blowing up part of David Lloyd George’s house. It is likely that they would have continued with this extreme behaviour but in August 1914, World War I broke out and Emmeline Pankhurst ordered her followers to stop their campaign and support the war effort.

The suffragette movement in north-west Essex
The first suffrage society in north-west Essex was formed in 1906, when Miss Mitchell, of Saffron Walden Training College, became honorary secretary of a Saffron Walden branch of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. By 1909, two federations of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) had been formed in the area – one covering north and east Essex and the other covering most of East Anglia.  By the end of 1911, a NUWSS society was formed in north-west Essex to cover Dunmow and the surrounding district.

Flyer for a public meeting of the Saffron Walden & District Women’s Suffrage Society

In 1912, a second suffrage society in Saffron Walden was formed, known as the Saffron Walden and District Women’s Suffrage Society. Flyers and programmes in Saffron Walden Museum’s collections reveal that the society held regular events between 1912 and 1914 to raise funds and awareness for the suffrage cause. These included talks by well-known speakers, suffrage plays and musical entertainments.

The President of Saffron Walden and District Women’s Suffrage Society was Gertrude Baillie-Weaver. Gertrude and her husband Harold, who lived in Newport, were both prominent members of the suffrage movement: Harold was an active member of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage and Gertrude was an early member of the Women’s Freedom League. Under the name Gertrude Colmore, Gertrude wrote many literary pieces on the suffrage movement, including the suffrage novel Suffragette Sally (1911), The Life of Emily Davison (1913) and fictional stories for Votes for Women and The Suffragette. She also regularly spoke at WSPU meetings. 

You can see the Holloway brooch on display in the museum, alongside other items in our collection relating to the suffragettes, until 31 March 2018.

Half-term at the Museum

Half term week saw the museum busy with children engaged in activities on Tuesday and Thursday for our “Down on the Farm” week, linked to our current exhibition From the Hazely Brick Earth: Agriculture in North-West Essex. The activities organised by our Education and Outreach Officer, Charlotte, and supported by learning volunteers, Jane Laing, Jeanette Fulcher and Jane Evans, proved popular with our regular visitors as well as many who were visiting the museum for the first time.

On Tuesday visitors could make Salt-Dough animals and on Thursday they made Pom Pom animals.

The salt dough was especially popular, (though perhaps not so popular with our lovely cleaner who had to remove some tricky spots from the carpet the following day!). Although the idea was to make farm animals, the children let their imaginations run riot and produced all sorts of exotic creatures using the cutter provided as well as a few free style creations, including a 3D sloth on a palm tree! Sadly, there is no photographic evidence of that particular creation!

There was also a Long-Horn Cow Trail taking the children to nearly every part of the museum to search for the cardboard cows that were ‘grazing’ there and to find the answers to the questions on each cow. The cows can still be seen grazing around the museum and the trail will be available until our next activities in Easter.

On Thursday the activity was to create pom pom animals. Again the aim initially was to create farm animals but an exotic menagerie was soon created, including more dinosaurs, a flamingo, some terrifying spiders and a giraffe. Featured in the photo are Dave and Gary, a pair of rather jolly pom pom diplodocus!

For the first time this half term the activities could be pre-booked and there was a charge of £1.50 per child for the 30 minute activity. This system will operate for all our holiday activities in future to allow us to provide better quality activates and enable visitors to pre-book in the weeks before the event to guarantee a slot.

The next activity days will be during the Easter holidays on Tuesday 3 April and Thursday 12 April. On Tuesday 3 April, the theme will be Brilliant Books, when children will have the opportunity to create a concertina book and write their own story. On Thursday 12 April our Spring Day activity will be to make a yarn sheep. On both days there will be free activities running alongside the pre-booked activity – Animal Stories in the Natural History gallery on 3 April and on an Animal Trail on 12 April.

For more information about our programme of events, see our Upcoming Events page or take a look at our programme

Help us bring the Piano Hoard home

 

In 2017, a hoard of hundreds of coins was found inside a piano in Shropshire. Investigations showed that the coins were hidden by a Saffron Walden resident in the early 20th century.

The coins date from between 1847 and 1915. They were deliberately hidden inside a Broadway upright piano by a Saffron Walden resident sometime in or after 1926. We know this because the piano has a plaque reading ‘Supplied by Beavan & Mothersole, 27 West Road, Saffron Walden’. Beavan and Mothersole were piano suppliers, tuners and music professors.

The coins were placed into small packages and pouches, carefully made from cardboard and covered with fabric. One of the pouches was made from a cereal box and the branding on the box helps us to date it to between 1926 and 1946.

We don’t know why the owner of the piano hid the coins or why they were never retrieved. Perhaps they simply considered it a safe place to hide their family’s wealth. Perhaps the coins were hidden during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The questions surrounding this hoard only add to its intrigue and appeal.

The coins remained hidden until the piano was moved to Shropshire and donated to a local school. A piano tuner discovered the coins and reported it to the local Finds Liaison Officer.

Because of the value of the coins and the fact that they were deliberately hidden, they have been classed as Treasure under the Treasure Act of 1996. The museum would like to acquire a selection of the coins and the piano, so that we can display them in the museum and create education sessions for local schools.

But we need to raise about £3000 to do so. Can you help us bring these coins home to Saffron Walden, where they belong? So far, we have raised £530 so we still have a way to go! Any donations would be gratefully received.    

Cash donations can be made in person in the museum
Cheques can be made payable to ‘Saffron Walden Museum Society’ and sent to Leah Mellors at the museum
Online donations can be made on our crowdfunding page  

For more information, please contact Leah.

Object of the Month – February 2018

 

February’s Object of the Month is a model great auk egg. It was chosen as Object of the Month by Sarah Kenyon, Natural Sciences Officer.

This plaster cast of a great auk egg was made in 1856. It is a copy of an egg that belonged to John Hancock, whose collection founded the Great North Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne. The egg, and the mould from which it was made, were given to Saffron Walden Museum by Mr William Murray Tuke of Hitchin, Hertfordshire in 1896. The inscription on the model egg reads: ‘Copy of J. Hancock’s Great Auk’s Egg Made Dec 1856’.

Making the Egg
A mould of John Hancock’s great auk egg was made first. The mould was then used to make a copy of the egg for Mr Tuke. The model egg was cast in plaster and two inscriptions engraved into the surface. Finally, the colour and markings were painted on to the model egg.

Great Auks
The great auk, Pinguinus impennis, was a flightless seabird that lived in the northern Atlantic Ocean. It was also called the gare fowl or garefowl. The black and white bird was about 75 centimetres long. Its wings were used for swimming under water, as they were only 15 centimetres long.

Great auks bred in colonies on rocky islands around the coasts of the north Atlantic Ocean, such as St. Kilda, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Funk Island off Newfoundland. Each breeding pair mated for life. They laid a single egg on bare rock. It was about 12.5 centimetres long. Sailors and island people hunted the defenceless birds for their meat, feathers, fat, oil and eggs. When the last birds were killed in 1844 on Eldey Island off the coast of Iceland, the great auk became extinct.

Mounted specimens of the birds, their bones and eggs are preserved in museums. Saffron Walden Museum has a plaster copy of a skull in the Hessisches Landesmuseum at Darmstadt, Germany and copies of great auk eggs in the collections of Sir Walter Calverley Trevelyan of Wallington Hall, Northumberland and Mr Troughton of Coventry.

You can see the model egg on display in the museum until 28 February 2018, and discover more about the mould from which the egg was made and John Hancock, the famous taxidermist.

History of the Museum – Part 3

Preparing for the opening of the museum

This is the third in a series of blog posts exploring the earliest years of Saffron Walden Museum and the society that established it. In this post, we examine the society’s preparations for the opening of Saffron Walden Museum. With thanks to Len Pole, who has been instrumental in studying the earliest available records and helping to compile a history of the museum.

Saffron Walden Natural History Society had been collecting specimens for almost two years before the museum opened in 1835. The saga of acquiring a number of animal skins and skeletons from Robert Dunn (see blog post two) took place when there was no physical museum site and the society most likely stored these specimens at the home of Jabez Gibson, the chairman. As well as hundreds of specimens, the society was also collecting display cases and other pieces of equipment long before the opening of a museum building, meaning Gibson’s home must have been very crowded!

While Gibson’s house was a temporary home for specimens and cases, plans were in motion for a museum building. Initially the trustees proposed the museum be set up within the ruins of Walden Castle but it was then decided that a new building would be built on Bury Hill, between St Mary’s Church and the castle. This land belonged to Lord Braybrooke of Audley End, who leased it to the trustees and the new museum building was erected in 1835. Part of the building was to be used as an Agricultural Hall for the Walden Agricultural Society and the rest as the museum.

In a meeting on the 8 April 1835, the division of curatorial duties was agreed:

Jabez Gibson: geology, mineralogy, zoology (not in cases)

Jabez Gibson and John Player: Conchology [the study of shells]

John Player: Entomology [the study of insects], comparative anatomy

Spurgin: British Ornithology [the study of birds]

Joseph Clarke and Mr Salmon: Foreign Ornithology

Joshua Clarke: Botany, Oology [the study of birds’ eggs], general zoology (in cases)

Joshua Clarke: Antiquities, illustrations of different departments of art, Francis Gibson.

 

The museum opened to the trustees and subscribers on 12 May 1835 and to the general public three days later. 51 paid for admission, including Nathan Maynard, the father of George Nathan Maynard who went on to be the first paid curator of the museum. He described his visit:

“Stuffed birds and animals – shells, bird’s eggs, nests, skeletons and several bones of the mammoth – a beautiful rhinoceros, stuffed, which stands in the centre of the room, Indian curiosities, insects, casts of heads, medals, minerals, petrifactions, etc., etc., head of an elephant, of a hippopotamus, horse, cow, etc. ”

The museum thus opened to the public, beginning its story as one of the oldest purpose-built museums in the country. It opened during the summer months, every Tuesday, between 10am and 3pm. The museum was known for its displays of natural specimens, especially the double-horned rhinoceros and the African elephant.

The museum c.1890. George Nathan Maynard and his wife stand outside the building.

History of the Museum – Part Two

The Dunn Deal

This is the second in a series of blog posts exploring the earliest years of Saffron Walden Museum and the society that established it. In this post, we explores the collecting of objects before the opening of the museum, including many animal skins and skeletons. With thanks to Len Pole, who has been instrumental in studying the earliest available records and helping to compile a history of the museum.

During the early 1830s, Saffron Walden Natural History Society began collecting objects that would be displayed in their new museum, once it was opened. One of the most significant early acquisitions came from Robert Dunn, who sent a huge volume of items to the museum from Algoa Bay, South Africa.

The first mention of communication with Robert Dunn in the society’s minutes appears in a meeting on 3 January 1834, when it was reported that Jabez Gibson (chairman) had received a letter from Hannibal Dunn. This letter informed the society that his brother, Robert Dunn, had acquired specimens for the museum at a cost of £400. However, it seems that he had done so without any authority or permission from the society so they decided that he would not be paid!

This could have put an end to the entire affair. However, a few months later, on 13 May 1834, it was recorded that “the consignment from Algoa Bay (had been) brought to Walden and inspected”. It was also recorded that the specimens would be taken by the society “to the amount of one hundred and fifty pounds”. The society appears to have changed its mind rather rapidly, deciding in just a few months that they were indeed willing to pay Dunn for his specimens.

The first Accession Register, compiled retrospectively by George Nathan Maynard in the 1880s, does not make it clear exactly what specimens came from Dunn, but we know that they included the skeleton and skin of a large African Elephant, a Hippopotamus, a Rhinoceros, a Gnu, and an Ant-Eater. The abridged catalogue for the museum, published in 1845, states that the society had received:

“the African Elephant, the Coudu, the double-horned rhinoceros, and many other of the South African animals. These were obtained through a gentleman then residing at Algoa Bay, who in consequence of a communication from this Society, explored in company with a hunting party, a considerable extent of that portion of the African Continent, and succeeded in procuring a great number of Specimens, most of which are now deposited in this Museum.”

This account of the acquisition of specimens from Dunn is very different from the views previously recorded in meetings of the society, in which the trustees had been reluctant to pay him for the collection!

Robert Dunn’s specimens for the museum formed a large basis of the early museum collection, and many of the large animals and skeletons were put on display in the Great Hall to awe the Victorian audiences. Many of the animals were such staples of the museum display that they remained on show until their removal from the museum in the 1950s. The acquisition of the collection was clearly a confusing time for the society, which had not been prepared for such a collection. Indeed, at the time of the specimen’s arrival in Saffron Walden, there was not even a museum site for the collection to be stored in, meaning they were stored in Jabez Gibson’s home for a year. For more information on this, and the creation and opening of the museum, read the next part of this series.

History of the Museum – Part One

The foundation of Saffron Walden Natural History Society

This is the first in a series of blog posts exploring the earliest years of Saffron Walden Museum and the society that established it. In this post, we delve into the earliest recorded meetings of the founders of the museum, including the creation of the Saffron Walden Natural History Society and the committee’s gathering of objects. With thanks to Len Pole, who has been instrumental in studying the earliest available records and helping to compile a history of the museum.

Jabez Gibson

Saffron Walden Museum was established in the 1830s by Saffron Walden Natural History Society. The earliest recorded meeting of the society took place on the 22 November 1832, in the home of Jabez Gibson in King Street, Saffron Walden. In this meeting, a statement of the society’s Rules and Regulations was written and the committee of the society was decided upon. The people placed onto the committee were Jabez Gibson (chairman), John Player, Thomas Spurgin, Joshua Clarke and William Ward. 

Much of the early workings of the society are shrouded in mystery, as information has been lost over time. It is not clearly stated who the founders of the society were, though it seems likely that the founders were these five men, and it is even less clear how other people joined the society. The society had a group of ‘Friends and Supporters’ – anyone subscribing or donating a certain amount of money – but it is not clear whether these ‘Friends and Supporters’ became members of the society. The main purpose of the society was to establish a museum but it is interesting to note just how tentative they were in doing so. They were so cautious that they did not settle on the name ‘Saffron Walden Natural History Society’ until a meeting in 1834, 18 months after the first recorded meeting!

Establishing the museum

As was common with museums in the nineteenth century, the founders focused their collecting on Natural History. The first rule of the Rules and Regulations states “That a Museum be formed to include Specimens in the several Departments of Natural History, with Antiquarian remains, and other such Articles as may be of local or general interest”. The term ‘local or general interest’ is somewhat ambiguous, and suggests that the founders intended to collect whatever they found personally interesting!

It seems that between the first meeting in November 1832 and January 1833, the committee focused on collecting specimens for display and writing letters to various well-known figures of the period, such as botanists and professors, many of whom donated to the collection. Rule 10 of the original Rules and Regulations stated that the secretaries Mr. Spurgin and Mr. Clarke were “requested to enter into a Book the Several Donations (made to the collection) in order that it might be handed down as a Register of this Institution”. However, either Mr Spurgin and Mr Clarke ignored this request or the book was never handed on. The first paid curator of the museum, George Nathan Maynard, moaned about the lack of such a register when he was faced with the task of retrospectively creating one in the 1880s, working from committee minutes and presumably the recollections of surviving members of the society. The earliest recorded addition to the museum collection in Maynard’s retrospective register was from the Zoological Society, consisting of ‘30 birds and a deer’.

The first page of Maynard’s replacement register

The first entrance in Maynard’s register

And so, the museum had a foundation: a set of Rules of Regulations and the beginnings of a collection. The focus on natural history  and specimens from fields such as zoology and botany was upheld by the museum curators, and the lasting influence of the early values of the Saffron Walden Natural History Society can still be seen in the museum and its collections today.

Object of the Month – January 2018

 

January’s Object of the Month is a metal box, said to have held salt. This curious metal box, decorated with two little mice, has been in the museum’s collections since 1898.  It was probably made in the middle of the 19th century (about 1850-1870). We are not completely sure what the box was used for so Carolyn Wingfield, Curator, and Stefan Shambrook, Security & Premises Officer, investigated…

Entry in the accession register

The accession register entry
The first place to check for information is the museum’s accession registers. The box is described in the register as “A small metal box with two mice represented as climbing the same”. It was given to the museum in 1898 by a Mr C Haggar of Saffron Walden. The register entry adds: “Probably used as a salt box for table use.”

Examining its construction
Next, Carolyn and Stefan looked at the construction of the box to see if that held any clues. The metal from which the box is made is spelter, an alloy of zinc with a little lead. Spelter was cheaper than pewter and was widely used from around 1860 onwards to make cheap, cast domestic items and ornaments. The box was made in several stages. The sides and bottom were cast as separate pieces which were soldered together by hand. The lid was then fitted. 

The geometric decoration on the box is quite crude but the mice are quite finely made by comparison, and could have been the work of another craftsman. The mice were cast separately and then skilfully soldered onto the box. The decoration only appears on three sides and the back of the box is plain, which suggests it was made to hang or stand against a wall. The box appears to be a one-off, whimsical piece and not a mass-produced object.

Historic Salt Containers
The accession register suggests that the box was a salt box so can looking at other historic salt containers confirm this? Throughout history, salt has been an important and valuable substance for preserving and flavouring food. From medieval times onwards, special containers have been used for keeping salt and for putting it on the table.

Wooden salt box in the collections of Leeds Museums & Galleries

Salts and Salt Cellars were small containers for salt on the dining table. These could range from simple miniature pottery dishes to elaborate pewter or silver pieces. Wealthy households would have a highly-decorated salt on their table. Salts and salt cellars were designed for display and to be seen from all sides. 

Salt Boxes were usually larger, more humble and practical, for use in the kitchen. They were commonly made of wood, and also of pottery or pewter. Many were plain and some were decorated, but all had a tall back projecting above the lid, with a hole at the top for hanging on a hook or nail. Salt boxes were hung on the wall by the stove or fireplace, where the salt granules would be kept dry. This stopped the salt from forming into lumps. Salt boxes were typically around 15 – 20 cms wide, considerably larger than our small box, which is just under 5cms wide.If you look closely at the Museum’s box, the top edge of the back plate behind the lid is uneven and looks as though it has broken. It may have been designed for hanging on a wall originally, before it was damaged.

Our conclusions
The box may well have been made as a miniature salt box for hanging on a wall. The patterns on the sides and lid are similar to simple designs engraved on some traditional wooden salt boxes, so maybe the maker was copying an older model.

However, the small size and fanciful addition of the mice suggest that our box was probably never intended for serious, practical use. It might have been a personal gift or just made for fun. After the back plate broke, it could have been used as a salt cellar standing on the table, as the accession register suggests. Alternatively, the box could have held small quantities of other substances such as spices, or small trinkets.

If you have seen any other boxes like this, or have any other suggestions or comments, we’d love to hear from you! Email us, or comment on our Facebook or Twitter pages. You can see our box on display in the museum until 31 January.