Author Archives: Museum Administrator

Platinum Jubilee display: Straw Plait Crown

On display in the museum over the Platinum Jubilee weekend is this straw plait crown.

It was made in 1953 for the Queen’s Coronation celebrations by Thomas Thake the donor’s grandfather.

It was hung from the screen in Wimbish church during the harvest festival after the Coronation.

Thomas (Tom) Thake was a thatcher, builder and carpenter who lived and worked in the Wimbish area.  The crown stayed with the Thake family, latterly it was hanging in Tom’s grandson David’s garage until the donor rediscovered it!

 

 

 

 

Platinum Jubilee display: Textile Sample for Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Dress

 

On display in the museum over the Platinum Jubilee weekend is this framed sample of the material used to make Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation dress.

The coronation was held on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey, watched by 3 million spectators and a further 20 million following the event at home.

The sample was a gift from Norman Hartnell, the designer of the dress, to Miss Grizelle Fowler, as she had worked for him. Miss Fowler bequeathed the sample to the museum in 2016.

The coronation dress was ordered in October 1952 and it took 8 months of research, design and workmanship to create it. Hartnell put forward 8 different designs and Elizabeth chose her favourite.

It then took at least 3 dressmakers, 6 embroiderers and the Royal School of Needlework to create the detailed embroidery on the satin The embroidery features the national flowers and plants of Britain & the Commonwealth countries.

These include the English Tudor rose, the Scottish thistle, the Welsh leek, the Irish shamrock, the Canadian maple leaf and the New Zealand silver fern. The design was completed in seed pearls, crystals, coloured silks and metallic threads. #platinumjubilee #bigjubileelunch

https://saffronwaldenmuseum.swmuseumsoc.org.uk/object-of-the-month-june-2016/

Object of the Month – May 2022

Butterflies to See in May

Two drawers of British butterflies are our ‘Objects of the Month’ for May. They contain some of the butterflies that you might spot visiting your garden or local park during May. These butterfly species are the Brimstone, Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Orange-tip, Peacock, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Small White and Large White.  The drawers are from a wooden cabinet of butterfly specimens collected in Essex and other places in Britain between 1890 and 1968. The collection was donated to Saffron Walden Museum in 2002.

SAFWM : 2002.110.5 Butterfly cabinet drawer 5 containing Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies.

Butterflies that may hibernate over winter as adults in the UK include the Brimstone, Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell.    This means they can wake up bright and early to make the most of sunny spring days. There are 59 species of butterfly in Britain, 57 that live in the UK and two regular migrants – the Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow.

Butterfly Conservation found that 76% of butterflies have declined in numbers and range (occurrence) over the last 40 years due to habitats being destroyed, pollution, weather patterns and climate change. Gardens and balconies are very important for butterflies because they are wildlife corridors. They cover a large area, which according to the RSPB is about 1,500 square miles or twice the size of Greater London. This habitat provides the flowering plants, such as Buddleia, that butterflies need for nectar, or nettles and thistles which are eaten by caterpillars.

 

SAFWM : 2002.110.2 Butterfly cabinet drawer 2 containing Small White, Green-veined White, Bath White, Orange-tip and Wood White butterflies.

What can you do to help?

Butterfly caterpillars need nettles, thistles and shrubs like Buckthorn to eat, so leave parts of your garden to get wild and overgrown.

Plant cornfield annuals and nectar rich flowering plants such as Buddleia, Lavender, Betony and Red Valerian to provide nectar for butterflies.

Take part in No Mow May or leave part of your lawn uncut until autumn.

Enjoy watching butterflies and do the National Garden Butterfly Survey.

 

SAFWM : 2002.110 Butterflies from cabinet drawers 3, 11 and 1. Brimstone male and female, Holly Blue males upper side and underside and female, Large White butterflies upper side and underside.

The Hadstock ‘Daneskin’ – new research on an old mystery

One of the exciting research projects to involve Museum collections has featured the scrap of alleged ‘Viking skin’ from the ancient north door of St Botolph’s Church, Hadstock. Local folklore holds that it came from a Viking who was flayed alive as a punishment for raiding the Church. Similar stories of so-called ‘Daneskins’ are associated with church doors at Copford, Essex, and Westminster Abbey, London. It is now 20 years since a tiny sample of the Hadstock skin was analysed at Oxford for the BBC TV series Blood of the Vikings (2001) and the results then suggested that its DNA profile was more cow-like than human. Now University of Cambridge researcher Ruairidh Macleod has used a new DNA analysis technique to investigate the Hadstock, Copford and Westminster Abbey ‘Daneskins’ and presented the results at the UK Archaeological Sciences Conference in Aberdeen last week. There is also an article in the New Scientist

https://institutions.newscientist.com/article/2317004-viking-skin-nailed-to-medieval-church-doors-is-actually-animal-hide/

The results confirm that the Hadstock skin is indeed cowhide, and lends weight to the theory that high-status doors, such as important doors in churches, were given hide coverings in the medieval period.

Up in Flames : the lost Roman treasures of Bartlow Hills

The current exhibition All Fired Up! prompts us to consider the local history which has been lost in fires. The fire of 1847 at Great Easton Lodge destroyed some of the most remarkable Roman artefacts ever discovered in the area, from the lavish burials under mounds of Romano-British aristocrats at Bartlow Hills, on the Essex / Cambridgeshire border. Fortunately the finds had been illustrated and published between 1832 and 1840, so we have a good idea of the contents of these great burial mounds, and the luxury goods which were accompanied the dead.

Between 1832 and 1840, the barrows were excavated by John Gage (later known as John Gage Rokewood) for the landowner Henry, Viscount Maynard of Easton Lodge near Dunmow. Saffron Walden Museum’s archives include copies of the original illustrations, published in the journal Archaeologia by the Society of Antiquaries of London, and also large watercolour copies made in 1885 for display in the Museum by its first professional curator, George Nathan Maynard (not related to Viscount Maynard). This selection of images from the Museum’s archives shows just some of wonderful objects discovered, all dating from the first or second centuries AD.

 

A unique bronze enamelled vessel, like a miniature cauldron. This did survive the 1847 fire, though damaged, and was acquired by the British Museum. Saffron Walden Museum has a 19th-century painted plaster copy. (Society of Antiquaries, 1836)

 

 

 

 

 

This beautifully-decorated bronze jug was for serving wine at table. A similar ornate bronze jug was excavated from a burial at Stansted Airport in the late 1980s and is displayed in Saffron Walden Museum. (Society of Antiquaries, 1836)

 

 

 

 

At the heart of one barrow a burial chamber had been constructed of tiles and contained cremated remains in a glass urn, with other vessels. (Watercolour by G N Maynard 1885)

 

 

 

A rare folding stool with an iron frame and bronze terminals. When excavated, it still had remains of the leather straps which formed the seat. (Watercolour by G N Maynard 1885)

 

 

 

 

 

A bronze oil lamp, with other bronze, glass and pottery vessels recovered from one barrow. It is likely that lighted oil lamps were placed in the graves as part of the burial ritual. (Society of Antiquaries, 1836)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pottery bowl. (Watercolour by G N Maynard 1885)

 

 

 

A Plan of the Bartlow Hills in the Parish of Ashdon in Essex by J G Lenny Surveyor Bury St Edmunds 1832

 

 

 

There were seven barrows originally, though some were damaged by agriculture. The largest survives to a height of 15 metres, making it the tallest Roman barrow in western Europe. Today the site is a scheduled monument and can be accessed via public footpaths from the Bartlow-Ashdon road and Bartlow parish church. Saffron Walden Museum also has a few objects from one barrow discovered during earlier investigations in 1815 by Sir Busic Harwood, a Cambridge physician who loved nearby.

Greater in Spirit, Larger in Outlook

Hot off the press is the news that Epping Forest District Museum in Waltham Abbey and Saffron Walden Museum have received an Arts Council National Lottery project grant of £100,000 to work in partnership on their world culture collections.

The aim of the project is to ensure the museums and their collections reflect their diverse communities by working directly with cultural groups to research different objects and tell their stories.

The project’s title, ‘Greater in Spirit, Larger in Outlook’ is inspired by Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Museum staff will work with relevant community groups including the Ethiopian History Society, to explore, explain and exhibit the collection leading to a new permanent display at Epping Forest District Museum, due to be completed in 2022.

A spokesperson from Ethiopian History Society UK said: We are delighted to partner with Epping Forest District and Saffron Walden Museums for this vital project.”

Other cultures represented in the collections include West and East Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Both museums are looking to work with relevant community and cultural groups linked to these collections which will lead to a major temporary exhibition in 2023.

Hazel Edwards, Area Director (South East) for Arts Council England, said:

We’re delighted to be able to support a project that will see source communities for these exciting collections given the important opportunity to work with Epping Forest District and Saffron Walden Museums to research, reinterpret and redisplay the material for audiences to engage with, explore and enjoy.

I look forward to the resulting exhibitions and seeing how it might inspire other museums to work with cultural organisations to deliver similar projects.”

Join the team

Funding for the project is being used to support 2 new part-time positions.

  1. Community Connector Collections
  2. Community Connector Audiences

Deadline for applications is Friday 22 April 2022.

To find out more about the roles or to apply visit https://www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/jobs-and-careers/jobs/

For more about the project: https://www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/museum-world-culture-collections-project/

New Special Exhibition – All Fired Up!

Essex Fire Museum and Saffron Walden Museum have collaborated to create a unique presentation of the history of Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, which will go on display at Saffron Walden Museum from Saturday 2 April. 

Research for this exhibition has been undertaken at Saffron Walden Library, Essex Record Office Access Point based at Saffron Walden Library and at the Gibson Library and the Essex Fire Museum. Staff and volunteers also visited the Saffron Walden Fire Station and met current serving fire fighters. Local people have also generously lent archival information and related artefacts for the displays.

Visitors to the exhibition at Saffron Walden Museum will be able to explore some of the fascinating stories of firefighting across Essex. The exhibits include a wide range of artefacts, photographs, uniforms and equipment which trace the history of firefighting from Victorian times to the present-day. It will also feature private and works’ fire brigades, which were particularly prominent in Essex during the 20th century.  

Along with discovering some of the technological developments which have influenced firefighting, visitors will also be able to discover heroic stories of bravery and the human stories behind some of the major incidents which have occurred in the county’s history. The exhibition also touches upon some of the more obscure aspects of local fire-fighting history, including a troupe of fire-fighting scouts, a famous fire-fighting Vicar and the story of how an obscure family pet caused a local mansion to go up in flames.

The exhibition will be held in the temporary exhibitions gallery at Saffron Walden Museum, Museum Street, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB10 1BN from Saturday 2nd April to Sunday 3 July 2022.

A launch event for the exhibition is to be held on Saturday 2nd April, 10am-3.30pm. Vintage Fire Engines and Equipment will be on display on the museum’s forecourt. Standard Museum Admission charges apply.

For more information about the exhibition please contact: Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) joxley@uttlesford.gov.uk 01799 510333

More information can also be found on the Museum’s website www.saffronwaldenmuseum.org and on our social media feeds.

Object of the Month – April 2022

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to

explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores. 

April’s Object of the Month chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) is a charred key fob discovered after the Rose & Crown fire in the town on Boxing Day 1969. It forms part of the museum’s new exhibition, All Fired Up, by Essex Fire Museum, which charts the history of Essex Fire & Rescue Service (see more below).

At 1.40am on Boxing Day 1969 a fire broke out. Sadly 11 people died in their sleep, unaware that the fire had even taken hold. 29 people were rescued, some having climbed down from the upper floor windows using knotted sheets. The inquest ruled that the fire was caused by a faulty TV in the resident’s lounge overheating.  Three Saffron Walden firemen received commendations. The fire resulted in the government strengthening the fire safety regulations governing hotels and they passed a new Fire Precautions Act (1971). 

The building erected in its place became Boots the Chemist from 1973 onwards. A bunch of grapes carved in oak and a door canopy are all that remain of the original building. 

More detailed information including eyewitness accounts of the fire can be found in Zofia Everett’s 2008 article published in the Saffron Walden Historical Journal and in Paul Wood’s book, titled From Station Officer Drane

The fire understandably still has a major emotional impact on the town’s residents over 50 years on.  

To find out more visit the Museum in April to see this item on display in our new exhibition, All Fired Up. 

Object of the Month – March 2022

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores. 

March’s Object of the Month chosen by Curator Carolyn Wingfield features three clay tobacco pipe bowls, all recently found in the Castle Street area.

Last autumn, archaeologists monitoring building works at the Fry Art Gallery, Bridge End Gardens recovered two pipe bowls.

In December, sharp-eyed pupils from Year 5 at St Mary’s C of E Primary School discovered a clay tobacco pipe while digging in the school grounds.

In early January, the Museum was delighted to welcome a delegation from Year 5, who very kindly gave their find to the Museum.

Fragments of clay tobacco pipes, especially pieces of broken stems, are common finds. The earliest pipes date from the 17th century, following the introduction of tobacco from America.

Clay pipes continued to be made into the 20th century, although by World War I, smokers were turning to cigarettes and briar pipes.

The three pipe bowls from Castle Street date from the 19th century, when clay pipes were made in great quantities all over the country, and many were decorated with designs or motifs moulded in relief.

The pipe bowl from St Mary’s School probably dates from the later 19th century and has a fine band of leafy decoration within a border running down the front and back of the bowl.

The two pipe bowls from the Fry Art Gallery are very different. One is plain, though a small ‘spur’ beneath the bowl is stamped with the maker’s initial ‘W’.

The other bowl has elaborate moulded decoration. On one side is the badge of the Prince of Wales, three ostrich feathers and the motto ‘Ich Dien’ (‘I serve’). On the other side, a soldier fires a rifle from behind a tree. He wears the tall hat of an early 19th century infantryman.

The archaeologists (Archaeological Solutions Ltd) who were monitoring the works, dated the pipe to around 1820-1840 and suggested that it commemorated the Napoleonic Wars.

Such pipes would have been popular with former soldiers, or might be marketed to landlords of pubs named the Prince of Wales. A clay pipe with a plug of tobacco would be sold over the bar for a penny. There was a Prince of Wales pub in London Road, Saffron Walden in the 19th century, but there were also a number of pubs in Castle Street where pipes would be sold and smoked.

Image (left): all three clay pipe bowls found in the Castle Street area. 

Image (centre): St Marys School pipe bowl, showing the distinctive leafy style design 

Image (right): Detail of the Fry Art Gallery pipe bowl, showing an infantry soldier firing a gun

Many thanks to the pupils, staff and governors of St Mary’s C of E Primary School, and to John Ready and the Fry Art Gallery Society for the donation of these pipes and information on their discovery.

Andy Peachey of Wardell Armstrong LLP Archaeological Solutions Ltd provided the identification of the decorated pipe bowl from the Fry Art Gallery.

To find out more visit the Museum in March to see them on display…