Author Archives: Museum Administrator

Object of the Month – July 2021

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

July’s Objects of the Month have been chosen by Carolyn Wingfield, Curator

This pair of solid gold bracelets, found in North-west Essex are nearly 3,000 years old. They date from the late Bronze Age, around 900 – 750 AD and seem to have been deliberately buried on their own. The Museum purchased them through the Treasure Act thanks to generous support from the Arts Council England / V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Art Fund, the Beecroft Bequest and two local donors.

      

Two members of Creative Walden’s Writers’ Room model the Bronze Age bling!

Credits

ACE / V&A Purchase Grant Fund:   www.vam.ac.uk/purchasegrantfund  

Art Fund: Twitter and Instagram @artfund  Facebook  facebook.com/artfunduk

For website include link to  https://www.artfund.org

 

 

New Archaeological Treasure Acquisitions

Roman ring and silver coins

Saffron Walden Museum celebrates Uttlesford’s ancient heritage with three new archaeological treasures on display from 10 June.

The first two are a gold Roman ring from Broxted, set with a polished amethyst, and a hoard of ten silver coins from Barnston. The coins date from AD 395-402 and were probably buried in the early fifth century. When the last Roman legion left Britain in 410 and the supply of new coins dried up, silver coins like these continued in use into the fifth century, and are often found in hoards. The ring and coins were metal-detector finds and acquired by the Museum through the Treasure Act, with thanks to the Gibson Walden Fund who generously supported the purchase of the ring.

 

Ring surrounded by the 10 silver coins is                      © Saffron Walden Museum

 

 

 

Close-up of ring with amethyst                             ©Portable Antiquities Scheme

 

 

 

Bronze Age Gold Bracelets

This pair of solid gold bracelets, found in North-west Essex are nearly 3,000 years old. They date from the late Bronze Age, around 900 – 750 AD and seem to have been deliberately buried on their own. The Museum purchased them through the Treasure Act thanks to generous support from the Arts Council England / V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Art Fund, the Beecroft Bequest and two local donors.

       

Two members of Creative Walden’s Writers’ Room model the Bronze Age bling!

Credits

ACE / V&A Purchase Grant Fund:   www.vam.ac.uk/purchasegrantfund  

Art Fund: Twitter and Instagram @artfund  Facebook  facebook.com/artfunduk

For website include link to  https://www.artfund.org

Object of the Month : May 2021

Skin of a Grass Snake

Our ‘Object of the Month’ for May is the shed skin of a grass snake, Natrix helvetica, that was found at Wimbish Green, Essex in July 2001. It was chosen by Sarah Kenyon, one of the Natural Sciences Officers at the Museum.

Grass Snakes

Snakes are reptiles and the grass snake is Britain’s longest snake, measuring 90 to 150cm in length. They are grey to green in colour, with a striking yellow and black collar around the neck, a pale belly and black markings along the length of the body. Grass snakes are found in England and Wales in wetland areas, grassland, farmland, woodland and gardens with ponds. You may spot one from April to October, when they go into hibernation until March. Don’t be scared if you do see one, because this snake is harmless. One summer I saw a grass snake swim across a pond at the Gardens of Easton Lodge in Little Easton. They are often found near water because they eat amphibians (frogs, toads and newts), fish and small mammals or birds.

Life Cycle

Grass snakes are Britain’s only egg-laying snake. Females lay up to 40 eggs in June or July in rotting vegetation, like garden compost heaps, in which the heat acts as an incubator. The eggs hatch into tiny versions of the adults in the late summer months. To grow in size a snake will shed its skin in a process called moulting. Male grass snakes shed their skin twice a year. Females shed once a year before laying their eggs. The Museum’s snake skin is 125cm long. Grass snakes live for 15 to 25 years. In the UK they are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), so it illegal to harm or sell them.

 

 

Cast skin of a grass snake, SAFWM : 2001.199 © Saffron Walden Museum

 

 

 

Grass Snake near Morfa Nefyn, Gwynedd, Wales

© Copyright John S Turner and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence from www.geograph.org.uk

 

 

On this Day……7th April 1914…….The Great Fire at Little Chesterford

On the 7th April 1914, a fire broke out at Bordeaux farm in the parish of Littlebury.  Newspaper reports at the time suggested that in high winds, sparks from a traction engine caught light to some dry thatch.  The flames ran along the river path to Little Chesterford and then spread rapidly across the village.  Many of the timber framed thatched properties were burnt to the ground whilst the ones built using clunch (chalk bedded in rammed powered chalk) fared better.      

The fire also highlighted the lack of effective fire-fighting equipment and poor communication that existed between local fire fighters at that time.  Littlebury had no fire pump, whilst Little Chesterford had only a small portable one for estate purposes.  The closest fire engine was based at the Mill in Great Chesterford, but it took over half an hour to attend once the alarm had been raised.  The Saffron Walden brigade was hampered in its efforts to attend, as they reportedly “lost their coal on the journey to the fire.”  Eventually additional brigades from Hinxton, Audley End estate and Sawston attended as well as the police, but the response had sadly come too late to save many of the properties.    

Within 30 minutes of the fire starting it had already destroyed 2 farms, 2 pubs (The Crown and The Bushel & Strike) and 9 houses, leaving 43 out of 100 villagers homeless. The fire had taken everyone by surprise and spread so quickly that the alarm had been raised too late to make a difference.   The town’s labourers working in the fields saw the fire spreading at huge speed, they returned home to find their wives and children making frantic efforts to save themselves and their belongings.

Newspaper reports from the time tell the dramatic story of 100 year old Mrs Law who was rescued from her burning first floor room by Stacey Dyer and her son, who lifted her into a wheelbarrow and got her quickly to safety. Stacey Dyer was reportedly scarred on his face for the rest of his life following his heroism.  It must have been pandemonium as villagers and their animals ran from the flames.  One baby was missing for 2 hours before it was found safe.      

Photographs show the village roads strewn with salvaged furniture and crowds gathering shocked by the scale of the fire and how quickly it had spread. The landlady of the Bushel and Strike (Pampisford Brewery) hastily prepared a shed so that they could continue to serve drinks to their shell-shocked customers.  A fire relief committee was established and the village reading room was used as a shelter for the homeless and store for their surviving belongings.  A fundraising campaign was advertised in the Daily Mail Newspaper. However, not everyone appreciated outside help, with Reverend John Stewart, vicar of both Chesterfords quoted in a subsequent edition of the newspaper as saying:

“We’re a proud people and like to help ourselves. Tell all the kind people who want to send money that we thank them, but do not need their help.”

Cheques from the Daily Mail campaign were reportedly returned to their senders! Archive material suggests local gentry stepped in and helped with the rebuilding work and financial loss.  Lessons were learnt following the fire, as all the local brigades vowed to work on better communication and to pool resources.

Object of the Month : April 2021

April’s Object of the Month has been chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) and is not strictly one object but a collection, in this case, items made from barkcloth, which form part of the museum’s world cultures collections.

The museum holds around 80 barkcloth items, originating from all around the world, but largely from the Pacific region. Over the last year the museum has been involved in an international project: “A Living Tradition: Expanding engagement with Pacific barkcloth” being led by Glasgow University, which has provided us a great opportunity to shed more light on the cultural traditions surrounding their production, design and use. 

Barkcloth is made from the inner bark of paper mulberry, breadfruit or banyan trees, which is soaked and stretched, then naturally dyed and hand-painted, printed or stencilled, to create often highly decorative barkcloths (sometimes referred to as Tapa).  It is believed there are over 90 different pattern variations in existence.  The barkcloths are used for utilitarian items as well as for ceremonial purposes. 

In addition to large textile rolls and flat sections of barkcloth, the museum also holds clothing made from barkcloth. Notable examples include a barkcloth poncho believed to have originated from Samoa, as well as a lace-bark dress and matching bonnet from Jamaica, which were donated to the museum in 1833 by the Marchioness Cornwallis.

“The Dig” on Netflix & it’s Saffron Walden Museum connections

Have you been watching “The Dig” on Netflix, which explores the excavation of the Great Ship Burial at Sutton Hoo (1939), based on John Preston’s novel.

Many of the characters depicted are inspired by real people, including one connected to Saffron Walden Museum.

Guy Maynard (1877-1968) was the museum’s Curator between 1904 and 1920, having initially been a mechanical engineer in the gun trade. Guy succeeded the 1st paid Curator, his father, George Nathan Maynard (b. 1828, Curator 1880-1904).

In 1920 Guy left Saffron Walden to become Curator of Ipswich Museum (1920-1932). He also became secretary and editor of the Prehistoric Society (1921–1936).

In 1937 as curator of Ipswich Museum, he was invited to visit the Sutton Hoo estate by its owner Edith Pretty and Vincent Redstone, a local historian. The wheels were then set in motion to explore the site. Little did they know then, that what they would unearth would completely transform our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon period. The site began to be excavated in 1938, by a team which included Maynard. The archaeological finds from the site were placed on display at Ipswich Museum and Maynard published a number of articles about them. He liaised with the British Museum about the excavation project.  

However, as the true archaeological significance of the site was revealed, tensions began to rise between Maynard & the Ipswich Museum team on one side and Charles Phillips, the new site archaeologist on the other. Maynard was angry that the finds were now being sent straight to the British Museum. There were increasingly arguments about physical access to the site and who should brief the press. Later Maynard gave evidence at the inquest which gifted the excavated finds back to the landowner Edith Pretty in Suffolk, but she ultimately gifted them back to the nation. Sadly, Guy Maynard and Charles Phillips never did resolve their issues and decided to avoid each other until Maynard retired from Ipswich Museum in 1952.

Photo Description: Guy Maynard wearing a flat cap and plus fours stood at the entrance to Saffron Walden Museum in 1912.

Object of the Month – January 2021

These Snowdrops from Littlebury in Essex are January’s ‘Object of the Month’. The snowdrops were collected by George Stacey Gibson in a meadow at Littlebury in March 1864, so these preserved plants are 156 years old.

George Stacey Gibson of Saffron Walden published the first Flora of Essex in 1862. This is an illustration of Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, from volume five of the Museum’s copy of his flora.

Herbarium

Specimens of these snowdrops are preserved in Saffron Walden Museum’s herbarium collection of dried plants. The herbarium contains plant specimens collected by botanists in Essex and it is now more accessible at the new museum store. The collection is an invaluable record of the plants found in this region and has been used to produce Floras for Essex and Cambridgeshire.

To preserve the plants they were pressed, dried and mounted on a paper herbarium sheet. The plant name, the location where it was found, the name of the collector and the date were written on the sheet, or a label which is fixed to the sheet. Each herbarium sheet represents a biological record of where a plant species was found at a particular time.

Flora

A Flora is a book that describes the plants that grow in a geographical area and records where they are found at a certain time. Research using the Museum herbarium has plotted how the number of plant species and the distribution of plants have changed over time because of habitat loss, changes in management of the countryside and pollution. The Museum’s copy of the Flora of Essex by George Stacey Gibson, 1862, includes so many beautiful coloured illustrations of plants from English Botany  by James Sowerby (1757-1822) that it has expanded to six volumes which are each bound in green leather.

The snowdrops were chosen by Sarah Kenyon, one of the Natural Sciences Officers at the Museum. These beautiful little plants produce their white flowers from January to March and they signify that spring is on its way. Snowdrops grow at the entrance to the Museum on Museum Street. We look forward to welcoming you back to Saffron Walden Museum later in 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images (top to bottom, left to right):

A herbarium sheet of snowdrop plants collected at Littlebury in 1864.

Snowdrop Gibson Flora. An illustration of snowdrop in the Flora of Essex by George Stacey Gibson, 1862.

The historic label for the herbarium sheet.

Pre-Booked Admission tickets

 

You can pre-book your visit online through Art Tickets 

https://saffron-walden-museum.arttickets.org.uk/saffron-walden-museum/

or

Drop-in on the day and pay by cash or card at our welcome desk

 

 

 

For online booking:

From the Museum’s Art Tickets page, simply follow the instructions on screen.  Here’s a quick summary: 

  • Click Green Book Tickets button
  • Click Green Book General Admission Tickets button
  • On the Calendar click the date you wish to book, click Green Continue button
  • Select the Hour time slot you require & then click the Green Continue button
  • Click the drop down menu and select the number of tickets required & then click the Green Continue button
  • Then follow the remaining instruction on screen which will prompt you to enter your contact details and clicking the continue buttons highlighted in green after each stage.

For any booking queries please contact the Museum on (01799 510333) during office opening hours (9am-5pm Tues-Fri)

** Covid secure procedures are in place, see our website for more details of how we are complying with the current regulations. At busy times queuing outside social distanced may be required.  Please come prepared and dress suitably for inclement weather. 

Visiting Saffron Walden Museum

Wallace says “Please enjoy your visit in safety by following our simple procedures”

Hands              there is sanitiser for your paws on entry, and all round the Museum

Face                please wear a face covering (unless exempt by government guidance)

Space              Wallace’s paw marks every 2m will help you keep a safe distance

Temperature Check on entry for all visitors

Contact & Trace details must be provided for every visitors. You can either scan the QR code displayed in the foyer with your mobile, or give your contact details to the member of staff on duty at the entrance.

Entry to the Museum will be by the ramp at the side of the porch, and exit will be down the steps (special arrangements for wheelchairs and buggies). Please be prepared to queue for a few minutes outside if necessary, to help us manage visitor flow safely.

WCs in the Museum will be available, but only one person or household group at a time can enter the Ladies or Gents. There is a simple procedure to show whether WCs are free or occupied, and to prevent queuing for the WCs.

A member of the Museum team will be on duty at the entrance to assist and direct visitors, and maintain Covid safety measures. Staff will be patrolling the galleries at intervals to monitor Covid safety and do extra cleaning.

When the museum re-opens to the public we will accept payment by debit and credit card at the Welcome Desk, as well as online booking via Art Tickets. 

The Museum reserves the right to refuse entry to anyone who refuses to comply.

We hope you enjoy your visit and welcome feedback on your experience to museum@uttlesford.gov.uk

 

Object of the Month – December 2020

Karl Wesche (1925-2005), Sculpture: Deutschland 1946

Despite the museum having been physically closed to the public because of Covid-19 lockdowns for many months, we have thankfully continued to receive many interesting research enquiries. Maybe in lockdown, some academic researchers had fewer competing distractions!  For us working behind the scenes, the constant flow of research enquiries, was a godsend and ensured the collections have still been utilised.

One of the researchers who contacted us is working on his PhD, the first ever in-depth academic study into the life and work of the famous artist Karl Weschke. The museum holds a very evocative sculpture by Weschke of a weeping mother and child, titled ‘Deutschland 1946’ which he produced using clay he dug up at the Radwinter POW Rehabilitation camp when he was interred there.  Some have claimed it may even be the artist’s earliest known work.   

Weschke was born in central Germany near Gera in 1925 and became a member of the Hitler Youth, volunteering for parachute training in the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. In 1945, he was described as “insolent” when he was captured and ended up in a camp for hard-line prisoners in Caithness.  His mother petitioned for him to be freed in a prisoner exchange, but it fell through.  It was eventually decided that he was young and didn’t really pose any real threat, so he was moved to a more lenient student’s POW camp at Radwinter.    

Radwinter North camp had been established in the grounds of the requisitioned Radwinter Rectory, now known as Radwinter Manor. The camp was the brainchild of Charles Stambrook, a Jewish refugee from Vienna.  It was intended to be a way to reach out to those it was felt could be “re-educated.”

The German POWs regularly visited local families, as it was felt that this would help “rehabilitate” and integrate them better into the local community. Weschke regularly visited Bessie Midgeley at Larchmount on London Road, Saffron Walden with other POWS and she encouraged his artistic talents.  He painted scenery for the POW’s theatrical performances.  He became an art student at Cambridge using their studios to work on his sculpture and carvings.  He later went to St. Martins, before abandoning sculpture for painting and found acclaim as a leading artist of the Cornish School, having moved there in 1955.  He achieved national and international recognition relatively late in his career. A one-man show at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, in 1980, prompted the Tate to start acquiring examples of his paintings and Tate St Ives held an exhibition of Weschke’s work in 2004.  His obituary from February 2005 makes fascinating reading about his life and work. 

The sculpture we hold is believed to have been given by Weschke as a leaving present to Kelvin Osborn, who was then the YMCA Welfare Officer at the Radwinter camp. Decades later, Osborn donated the sculpture (by which time Weschke was now a famous artist!) for fundraising to the Friend’s School, Saffron Walden for an overseas development project they were undertaking.  It was purchased by Jean Strachan for £20 in the 1960s and it was later used again in the 1980s for fundraising for one of the school’s other overseas development projects, a water scheme in Bolivia.  The item remained unsold, so the family put in the donation money themselves and retained the sculpture.  The sculpture isn’t something which would naturally be displayed in a family home as it is quite raw.  The family eventually donated the sculpture to the Museum in 1984.