Category Archives: Human History

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.

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.

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. 

Behind-the-scenes on a Monday!

Have you ever wondered what staff do when the museum is closed on a Monday? We’re busy behind the scenes, making sure our collections are documented and cared for.

An important job to complete when the Museum is closed to visitors is routine cleaning of the museum’s permanent displays. Volunteers are helping curatorial staff to clean objects on display, a few cases at a time. This not only keeps the displays looking good, but also prevents potentially harmful dust particles accumulating on fragile objects, and allows curatorial staff to check for signs of corrosion and other problems.

Objects are carefully removed from the case to a table covered with acid-free tissue paper. Here they can be examined and very gently brushed to remove dust particles. The nozzle of the special mini-vacuum cleaner, designed for museum conservation, is held just above the object to remove any loose dust without touching fragile surfaces. Once the case interior has also been cleaned, everything can by placed back on display and the case secured. It can take about an hour to do a medium-sized show case.

Volunteer Joanne has been helping our curator Carolyn to clean the archaeology displays. So far, we are about half way round the gallery. In the case behind Joanne are some of the beautiful Roman glass vessels, pottery and metal objects used by and buried with local people over 1,800 years ago, at Little Walden, Canfield, Bartlow and Stebbing.

Other curatorial staff work in our off-site store with volunteers on a Monday. Here, we add and edit information about the collection onto our collections management database, making sure we know exactly what we have in the collection and where it is! This has been particularly important in the aftermath of our store-move, as the locations of all the objects moved (about 80,000 objects in total) needed to be updated! Every object has a separate record on the database, with information about its history, provenance, significance and physical appearance. 

As we work through the collections systematically, adding information to the database, we check the condition of our objects and identify any conservation work that needs to be done. Our new store has helped dramatically with this process as we now have the space to store our objects in a more visible way and to lay out objects so that they can be inspected. 

Whether they are on display, or cared for in our stores, our collections are at the heart of the museum. It is vitally important that we take the time to care for them properly, so that they are preserved for people to enjoy long into the future. 

Saffron

 

Saffron is famous for being the world’s most expensive spice, with its distinctive aroma, rich honey-like flavour and trademark yellow hue. The history of Saffron is particularly relevant to Saffron Walden, which took its name from the spice.

The spice

Saffron comes from the flower of the saffron crocus (crocus sativus), and its name comes from the Arabic word for yellow. The spice, the three stigma found in the flower of the crocus, is harvested between September and October, and the stigma are then dried. It is this process which gives the spice its hefty price tag, as the stigma must be hand-picked, and it can take thousands of flowers to produce a few ounces of dried saffron. Saffron is often referred to as ‘red gold’, as it is so expensive.

Today saffron is grown mostly in Iran, as well as in Greece, Spain, Australia, India and China. It can sell for anywhere between £5 and £75 a gram – good quality Afghan saffron sells for around £14 a gram. Because of saffron’s price tag, cheap substitutes are often passed off as authentic saffron – from the unrelated safflower to (in extreme cases) shredded paper or even horsehair being sold as cheap saffron.

The spice’s main use today is in cooking, famously flavouring and colouring a variety of dishes, from Swedish saffron buns to paella. It’s use is varied, and can today be found in cosmetics, such as skin cream and shampoo, or food products like coffee or salt.

Uses in history

Crocus bulbs, preserved since 1886.

Saffron can be found throughout history. Cleopatra reportedly used it to infuse her bathwater, as well as to improve her complexion. Roman physicians recommended the rubbing of a saffron paste onto the heads of the mad, and Alexander the Great bathed his battle wounds with saffron and drank saffron tea.  Saffron was very popular during medieval times, used by cooks, physicians, dyers and even monks who sometimes used it to illuminate their manuscripts. Fashionable Venetian women used it to dye their hair during the 1500s, covering it with saffron, honey, egg yolk and sulphur and sitting in the sunshine until their desired colour was achieved. It was also traditionally used in medicine, as a treatment for various illnesses including menstrual problems, depression and asthma.

Saffron Walden

Saffron was grown around Saffron Walden for many centuries, and it was said that the soil from the area gave the saffron a distinctive flavour. William Harrison (1534 – 1593) said of the Saffron Walden saffron: “As the saffron of England…is the most excellent of all other…[the saffron] that growth about Saffron Walden in the edge of Essex surmounteth all the rest, and therefore beareth worthily the higher price”.

Not only was saffron grown around the town of Saffron Walden, it was also processed and sold here. The spice was sold at market in Newport and Saffron Walden in October and November. The trade brought prosperity to the town, and the name of the town changed, from Chepyng Walden to Saffron Walden, as a result. The earliest reference to the new town name is in a deed of 1582, which refers to ‘saffornewalden’.

The crocus flowers can be seen on the left side of this town charter, which is on display in the museum’s Local History gallery.

A key industry surrounding saffron was its use as a dye, and Saffron Walden became well-known for its dying with saffron. The earliest reference to a dyeworks in Saffron Walden is dated to 1359. Saffron has been used as a dye since ancient times, but it was particularly popular as a yellow dye in the medieval cloth industry.

The saffron trade in Saffron Walden reached its peak in the 1500s. In 1514, Henry VIII granted the town a charter, which was decorated with the saffron crocus, showing how important the plant was to the town. It became a custom to present visiting dignitaries and monarchs with saffron. When William III visited Audley End in 1689, he was presented with a silver plate which cost £4 6s. 6d and fourteen ounces of saffron which cost £3 11s. 8d. After its peak in the1500s, the growing of saffron around Saffron Walden gradually declined due to the hugely labour intensive process required to harvest the plant, and saffron ceased to be grown at all in Saffron Walden in the 1700s.

Today

The Saffron Walden coat of arms. The crocus flower is central, surrounded by the walls of the castle (saffron, walled in)

The lasting impact of saffron on Saffron Walden is undeniable. Images of the crocus and saffron can be seen decorating buildings in the town, both historical and modern, including the parish church. The crocus is still on the town’s coat of arms, and of course the town’s name remains as a reminder of how important the crocus plant was to the prosperity and growth of this market town.

Recently, saffron growers have begun to return to the area. Authentic Essex-grown saffron is in demand for its historical reputation, and it can sell for £75 a gram in top London establishments – three times the price of gold.

You can learn more about saffron in the museum’s Local History gallery

Featured image: A sketch by Nathan Maynard of the crocus harvest around Saffron Walden.

Object of the Month – November 2017

 

November’s Object of the Month is this tiny razor, called the Laurel Ladies Boudoir Safety Razor. It was made in Sheffield between 1935 and 1940 by a company called G H Lawrence Ltd. The razor was donated to the museum last month and belonged to the donor’s mother. It is only 4cm in length and the blade is just 2cm wide.

Inside the tin, there is a label which reads:
The “LAUREL” LADIES BOUDOIR SAFETY RAZOR has been designed with a view to making it THE SAFEST OF ALL SAFETY RAZORS.

The Slotted Guard is of Bakelite material properly shaped to secure the correct shaving angle, and also protects the corners of the Blade. It has no comb serrations or teeth to irritate the skin. The Registered LAUREL LADIES BOUDOIR BLADES are an integral part of the Razor.

Can be obtained everywhere in
CARTONS CONTAINING 6 BLADES FOR 6d

SHAVE WITH A “LAUREL”

Female beauty in the twentieth century

The early twentieth century saw a new emphasis on personal grooming and beauty products for women. It has been suggested that this was a result of the shortage of marriageable men following World War I – women felt they needed to look good to secure a husband. But it was also partly a result of the new fashions. In contrast to Victorian and Edwardian women who had covered up with long sleeves and full skirts, women were now showing more skin.

One of the companies that benefitted from this change was Gillette, who produced the first razor for women in 1916, called the Milady Décolleté. By the 1920s, tiny boxed razors were to be found in almost every bathroom cabinet, along with hair-removal creams and powders.

Magazines in the 1920s were full of adverts for products claiming to make skin beautiful, such as creams, treatments and razors. These adverts can tell us a lot about how women were perceived at the time. In 1922 an advert in the magazine Harper’s Bazaar focused on body hair as an embarrassment, encouraging women to “have immaculate underarms if she is not to be embarrassed”.  In 1924 an advert for Veet hair removal cream stated that “nothing is so repellent and disillusioning as hair growth on the arms of a woman”.

During the 1920s, most women covered their legs with stockings and by the 1930s, hemlines had dropped back down to the ankle or floor, so shaving and hair removal was focused on the underarms. However, during World War II, the shortage of nylon meant many women were forced to go bare-legged and as a result, more and more hair removal products were sold and shaving your legs became an expected norm.

Throughout the remainder of the twentieth century, companies continued to market hair removal products at women, appealing to their desire to be feminine or attempting to make them feel ashamed of their body hair. By the 1970s, shaving had become widely accepted so companies focused on a closer or faster shave. In the 1980s, advertisers returned to the theme of women making themselves attractive to men, as seen in this advertisement, showing a man’s shadow across a woman and the phrase “If you want to get someone’s attention, just Whistle”.

Today, there is more conversation about the personal choice not to remove body hair, but adverts still aim to convince women that hair removal is an important way to look and feel glamorous and to be sexually appealing.

You can see the razor on display in the museum until 30 November 2017. 

Objects in Focus – Halloween Special

To celebrate Halloween, we’re delving back into the collections to see what ominous objects we can find! All of these objects have a connection with witches and witchcraft…

Witch bottle

Witch bottles were used to protect houses from evil spirits or to counteract spells cast by witches. They were often placed at entrance points to houses, such as fireplaces, doors and windows to stop evil spirits entering. 

Many witch bottles were made using bellarmine bottles, like this one, which was donated to the museum sometime between 1835 and 1900. They were filled with rosemary, needles and pins, red wine and sometimes hair or nail clippings. It was believed that the bottle would capture the evil spirit by impaling it on the pins and needles, drowning it with the wine, and sending it away with the rosemary.

 
Concealed shoe

Shoes were also concealed in houses to protect them from evil spirits. They were hidden under floors, in roofs, around doors or windows, or in fireplaces. This shoe is one of a pair of children’s shoes found concealed behind the fireplace at 21 High Street, Saffron Walden.

The earliest recording of a concealed shoe was from 1308. Many of the recordings come from the 1800s and the practice appears to have died out sometimes in the twentieth century. Lots of the shoes hidden belonged to children.

 
Witch mark

This is a close-up of a fireplace on display in the museum’s Local History Gallery. The fireplace stood in the Harvey family home in Market Street, Saffron Walden, and is believed to have been designed by the Tudor author Gabriel Harvey, for his father John.

Visible in this photograph is a carved mark, similar to a letter ‘W’. It is, in fact, two ‘V’s written over one another. The letters stand for ‘Virgin of Virgins’ and refer to the Virgin Mary. The mark was made to summon the protection of the Virgin Mary over the house. It has been carved on the fireplace to protect the house from evil spirits that might enter down the chimney.

Historic England have done a survey of witch marks in historic buildings, which you can find out more about 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.