Author Archives: Museum Administrator

Object of the Month – July 2020

Hipposandal – a Roman horse shoe

Our Object of the Month for July has been chosen by Carolyn Wingfield, Curator

How were hipposandals used?

Iron hipposandals (soleae ferreae) were removable temporary horseshoes, which were used to protect the hooves of working horses.  They were first introduced in the Celtic-Roman area north of the Alps in the mid-1st century AD and were in use until around the 5th century AD, when they were largely replaced by nailed on horseshoes.

The iron soles of the hipposandals were marked with grooves, with an oval-shaped thick metal cup above that, which would have enclosed and protected the hoof. They were fastened to the horse using metallic clips and leather laces.  This particular example from our collections has the back wings and upper frontal loop missing. 

Wearing Hipposandals gave working horses’ better traction and protected their hooves, particularly on rough ground and metalled tracks. Wearing them greatly improved the efficiency and resilience of the animals.  There were also versions known as kureisen (cure shoes) which were worn to help treat and protect a horse if it had diseased hooves.

The word hipposandal is derived from Ancient Greek as the word “hippos” means horse. Hence the word “hippodrome,” which we now use to mean a theatre, but which originally was the name for an ancient Greek stadium for horse and chariot racing.

Where did this one come from?

This item was donated to the Museum in 1985 by a metal-detectorist and researcher along with a collection of shell and pottery fragments (which included sherds of Nene Valley fine-ware) and belemnite fossils all collected in the same area of Wixoe.

Wixoe is a village in West Suffolk, located on the bank of the River Stour, 2 miles south-east of Haverhill. It was recorded in the Domesday Book as having covered 600 acres and was one of the smallest parishes in the hundred of Risbridge.  Today, many of its cottages are Victorian and it has a 12th century church, St Leonard’s. 

Roman remains have been frequently found in the vicinity of Wixoe, mostly on the Essex side of the Stour. In 1803, close to Watsoe Bridge, an earthwork enclosure was identified as a ‘camp’, along with two cemeteries.  In 1973 aerial photography showed many large pits, two streets and a building with flint foundations, close to the river.  Field-walking and metal detection over many years have revealed multiple finds of Roman coins and other artefacts, including brooches, figurines, pottery. 

The assumption of archaeologists and historians is that Wixoe in Roman times occupied between 12 and 24 hectares, and was one of eight small Roman towns in Suffolk, which included Icklingham, Long Melford and Felixstowe.

In 2011, on the Suffolk side of the Stour, archaeological surveying and excavation work undertaken during the Abberton pipeline installation, revealed a small town which was likely to have been occupied between 100-400 AD. Its road connections were the real advantage of the town’s location. 

The Via Devana, a military track, which ran from Chester to Colchester, would have passed through Wixoe. Another road would have led east from Wixoe, on the north side of the Stour, passing through Long Melford, before heading north-east to Baylham and probably on to Dunwich.  A third road led north, probably towards Icklingham and the Icknield Way.  A fourth road, close to the Ains Ford, is thought to have run towards the major Roman fort at Great Chesterford, on a more southerly section of the Icknield Way.  There is no clear trace of these roads immediately outside Wixoe, but it is likely that they have been eroded by ploughing or incorporated into the existing field boundaries.  Evidence suggests that the Stour may have also been navigable as far as Wixoe by flat-bottomed boats.  There may even have been a wharf there at one time.

The town appears to have been a planned rural commercial centre, rather than one which evolved naturally from an earlier settlement. It is most likely that it was built after the Boudiccan revolt and sacking of Camulodunum (Colchester) in AD60-61.  The archaeological evidence suggests that its wealth was focussed on industrial production relying on local timber (charcoal) and imported metals.  It appears to have consisted of largely timber-framed domestic buildings, with evidence of courtyards, boundary ditches, industrial ovens and hearths showing the remains of lead and iron workings, with cobbled surfaces and pits used for quarrying.

Use of horses in Roman Britain

Battle

The Romans used horses primarily for battle; horsemen fought as a secondary force to the infantry soldiers. They would have initially fought on the wings of the battle formation.  It was the job of the cavalry to prevent the enemy from outflanking the infantry, who would have been positioned in the centre of the formation.  When the Romans turned a battle in their favour and the enemy began to retreat, the cavalry would then move forward to cut them down.  The use of horses in battle enabled the Roman army to move faster and more efficiently.  Horse riders also played other crucial non battle roles for example couriering urgent messages and acting as scouts investigating new territories. 

Agriculture & Industry

In Romano-Britain, horses were used in the majority of agricultural processes as draught animals, alongside donkeys and oxen. In industrial processes their walking motion would have been used to power heavy machinery, for example in milling flour or operating a saw mill. 

Transport

The majority of Romano-British people would have travelled on foot, but those who were wealthier such as merchants would have used horses for transport, as did the military and government. Rest stops would have provided those travelling long distances with a chance to rest and change horses. 

Chariot Racing & Public Events

In ancient Rome, chariot racing was extremely popular. Races were held in what was called a “circus” because of the oval shape of the stadium.  The most famous and oldest of these is the Circus Maximus in Rome.  The closest chariot racing circuit in Romano-Britain would have been the Camulodunum Circus (Colchester). The Romans loved a spectacle and in addition to the chariot racing they would have also had hunting shows, where venatores, often on horseback themselves, would have hunted herds of wild animals including horses for the assembled audience’s enjoyment.

References

Manning, W.H. (1985). Catalogue of Romano-British Iron Tools, Fittings and Weapons in the British Museum, BMP, London.

Colchester’s Roman Circus Centre, Colchester Archaeological Trust: https://www.romancircus.co.uk/

Update: Museum Re-opening

We welcome the government’s announcement that museums in England can re-open from the 4th July.

Our first priority is the safety of our staff, volunteers and visitors.

We are working hard behind the scenes to ensure that all necessary safety measures are in place for re-opening in line with the government’s guidelines.

We will announce our official opening date which is likely to be later in the Summer, across our social media channels, website and local media in due course.

Thank you for your continuing support of the Museum.

New blog article: Roman Kitchen & Dining

Curator Carolyn Wingfield is giving a small display of Roman pottery a makeover, looking at where the pots were made or how they were used. This small bowl with a perforated base is a pottery strainer or colander, which has been partially reconstructed; it is quite rare for strainer bowls to be found complete. Domestic pottery like this was usually made locally, so it may well have been traded at a market in the Roman town of Great Chesterford, or the smaller centre at Great Dunmow. In this case, we do not have any information on where the strainer bowl was found. It was common in late Iron Age and Roman times to place food and drink offerings in the grave with the dead (usually cremated remains). We do not have detailed records of where every pot in the collections was found, but it is probable that most of the complete or reconstructed Roman pots in the collections probably come from burials.

Pottery strainer bowl or colander, probably made locally, c 170 – 250 AD

Everyday vessels like this take us straight to the kitchen or hearth of a Romano-British family home, to people preparing their food and maybe adopting some new food fashions and items of kitchen equipment after Britain became part of the Roman Empire. One manual of Roman cooking survives– the recipes of Apicius, a celebrated Roman ‘celebrity chef’. However his recipes do not necessarily reflect what the average Roman Briton was cooking – especially those with more exotic ingredients such as ostrich! Nevertheless it does give us a valuable insight into Roman cuisine, and some ways of preparing common foodstuffs and sauces. Recipes for preparing cooked squashes in sauce or lentils with chestnuts, for instance, refer to straining ingredients.

Small Roman flagon and cup, both dating from the mid 2nd century AD

This flagon was made at a pottery near St Albans (Roman Verulamium) and the cup was imported from north Gaul (Roman France). The flagon was found in Great Chesterford and given to the Museum in 1836 – the year after it opened – by a Mrs Barnes. The little cup, which is just 7cms high, may also have been found at Great Chesterford, but no record survives of its provenance.

Wine was imported and enjoyed before the Roman conquest by at least some local Iron Age people; wine amphorae (large pottery containers) have been found in high-status burials and sherds of amphorae were excavated at an Iron Age village site now under Stansted Airport. Romans usually drank wine diluted with water – even soldiers had a ration of weak, sour wine. After the Roman conquest the taste for wine and its availability spread. Drinks based on wines flavoured with herbs and spices were also popular, as was the use of wine in cooking. Native drinks were based on fermenting grains (barley, wheat) and honey, so mead was probably common as well as beer, though strictly it would have been more like an ale or barley wine as hops were not used in Britain until the late Middle Ages.

The small size of the flagon and cup suggest they might have ben used for someone’s special tipple rather than drinking to quench thirst. Perhaps we could imagine a local Briton enjoying a nip of spiced wine on a damp chilly evening? Bibite! (Drink up!)

Introducing our brand new – Click & Collect Activity Packs

Bringing our usual holiday craft and learning activities to your home! Each pack contains all the materials you need plus exciting stories from our collections and is just £5.

Simply follow the link to order yours

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

Week One: Brilliant Botanists

Learn all about the botanist George Stacey Gibson. Make your own plant press and create your own herbarium. Become a plant hunter with the plant hunter trail. Grow your own bean plant and learn about what plants need to grow!

Your pack will include:

1 x plant press kit

1 x Herbarium kit

1 x Glass jar and bean “seeds”

1 x A4 activity booklet, including instructions and plant hunter trail

5 x A5 Museum collections photographs to collect and keep

Collecting your Activity Pack

Once you have ordered your pack please email the Museum to arrange a collection slot. Do not come to the Museum without contacting us first.  Collection from outside the Museum will be available from the 17/06/2020 Tues to Fri depending on staff availability.

PLEASE NOTE: When booking, the date you select has no impact on when you collect – we just can’t get around this part of the booking system.

After you have ordered your pack please email cpratt@uttlesford.gov.uk to arrange a time to collect your pack from the Museum.

Hygiene & Corona Virus

Packs will be prepared by one member of staff wearing gloves and a face covering, and materials with hard surfaces will be wiped over. We recommend you also take your own additional precautions, especially if a member or your house hold is in the higher risk group.

The museum is closed for the time being, but remains active online…

Website: www.saffronwaldenmuseum.org      

Blog: https://exploresaffronwaldenmuseum.blogspot.com/

Email: museum@uttlesford.gov.uk

Phone: 01799 510333

National Volunteer Week – June 2020

The first week of June is National Volunteer Week.  With the Museum still closed due to the covid-19 lockdown, we’re really missing you all especially our amazing volunteers, who are all integral to the museum’s diverse activities. We thank you all for your on-going support.  Here’s a message from us to you for #NationalVolunteerWeek  – It reads:

We miss you all so much especially our amazing volunteers and can’t wait to see you again when it’s safe

Volunteers play lots of different roles within our organisation:

Welcome Desk volunteers.  June for example (pictured holding the “When” word, has been one of our dedicated volunteers for over 20 years.  She undertakes the vital work of co-ordinating all our welcome desk volunteers –they meet & greet our visitors and provide them with orientation information, sell admission tickets and souvenirs and answer your enquiries.

Collections volunteers  (Natural Sciences, Archaeology and Human History) assist staff with vital collections tasks such as cataloguing, packing, labelling and digitising collections, they also transcribe early museum records and assist with exhibition installing. #DidYouKnow We also have verge volunteers who carry out ecological surveys of plants at 16 Special Roadside Verges in the Uttlesford District

Learning and Activity Volunteers have a vital role assisting us with preparing and running our school sessions and school holiday activities.

Last year we held a Volunteer Party for #NationalVolunteerWeek. When it’s safe to do so we will make sure we have another one!  The volunteers admired a temporary display explaining how they are vital cogs in our organisation.  They also took part in wildlife surveying with our Natural Sciences Officer, James Lumbard. 

Follow this link for a full-size PDF version  of the Volunteers Pictures  Scrapbook  or see the Flipbook version  below

The Shape of Women: Female Fashion Silhouette – Part 2 (c. 1900-Present Day)

Our Collections Officer (Human History), Jenny Oxley has a real passion for vintage fashion, check out Part 2 of her blog charting the changes in the female fashion silhouette, this time covering the period between 1900 and the present day – illustrated through the museum’s collections.

Follow this link for the PDF version The Shape of Women – Part 2: 1900=Present or see the flipbook version below

“The Shape of Women” : Corsets & Crinolines

Our Collections Officer (Human History), Jenny Oxley has a real passion for vintage fashion, check out her latest blog, charting the changes in the female fashion silhouette between 1790 and 1900 – Corsets and Crinolines – illustrated through the museum’s collections.

Follow this link for the PDF version The Shape of Women – Part 1: 1790=1900 or see the flipbook version below

 

Object of the Month – May 2020

May’s ‘Object of the Month’ features a selection of Hawk-moths. They have been chosen by Sarah Kenyon, one of the Natural Sciences Officers at Saffron Walden Museum, from moths preserved in a wooden cabinet of British moths. It belonged to George Stacey Gibson of Saffron Walden who collected the insects before 1883.

Display of Hawk-moths

In the left column at the top you can see an Eyed Hawk-moth with a pupa, the black and blue eye spots on its hind wings are used to scare predators. Below that is a Poplar Hawk-moth with its caterpillar that feeds on poplar tree leaves and, at the bottom, a Lime Hawk-moth. Its large, bright green caterpillar eats the leaves of lime, silver birch and elm trees.

In the centre you can find a Death’s-head Hawk-moth and its caterpillar which eats Potato and Deadly Nightshade plants. This moth is a migrant visitor to Britain between August and October. It squeaks when alarmed and is recognised by a skull marking on the back of its chest (thorax). Below that is a Convolvulus Hawk-moth, and at the bottom, a Privet Hawk-moth one of our largest moths found in gardens.

On the right there is a Spurge Hawk-moth, below that a Madder Hawk-moth and its caterpillar which is now called the Bedstraw Hawk-moth, a Striped Hawk-moth and, at the bottom, an Oleander Hawk-moth. They are all migrant moths.

Hawk-moths information

These large moths of the insect family Sphingidae are beautiful and easy to identify. So they are great for budding lepidopterists. Nine species breed in Britain and eight visit as migrants including Death’s-Head, Convolvulus, Spurge, Bedstraw, Striped, Oleander and Hummingbird hawk-moths. Different hawk-moth species can be found from May to December in gardens, parks, woods or allotments. Some fly at night and are attracted to lights or they can be found resting on tree trunks and on leaves of the plants their caterpillars eat. Others such as the Hummingbird Hawk-moth drink nectar from flowers with a long tube called a proboscis.

Hummingbird hawk-moth feeding by Yusuf Akgul, Wikimedia Commons

You might find a pupa when digging in your garden or allotment. This is the hard case a caterpillar forms when it changes into an adult moth, in a process called metamorphosis. Some pupae can move as a defence mechanism. This happened when I was identifying one and it shocked me so much that I dropped it!

Please bury a pupa again if you find one.

Check out these websites to help you learn more about Hawk-moths and how to identify them.

UK Moths Beginners Top 20 http://www.ukmoths.org.uk/top-20 and family Sphingidae

www.ukmoths.org.uk/search/?entry=Sphingidae&thumbnails=true

Butterfly Conservation with an identification guide www.butterfly-conservation.org/search?query=hawkmoth

The Essex Field Club website has maps showing where each moth species has been found in Essex www.essexfieldclub.org.uk/portal/p/Species+account/s/Mimas+tiliae Select ‘next species’ on this page to move to the next moth or search for hawk-moth on the website.

If you really get the bug you could join the Essex Moth Group www.essexfieldclub.org.uk/portal/p/Essex+Moth+Group

Unfortunately this is a virtual Object of the Month during this difficult time.  However, when the Museum is open again you will be able to see these hawkmoths on display upstairs in the natural history gallery.

George Stacey Gibson (1818-1883)

George Stacey Gibson by G.Foster from the Museum’s fine  art collections

The Gibson family were wealthy Quakers who made their money from land, banking, brewing and public houses, including the Sun Inn. George was born in 1818, the son of Wyatt George Gibson and his wife Deborah, who was from the Stacey family. Wyatt Gibson built the Boys’ British School and left £5,000 for the building of a hospital (now the Uttlesford District Council offices). His brother Francis laid out Bridge End Gardens and his other brother Jabez sank a deep well in 1835 so that Saffron Walden had a clean water supply.

George Stacey Gibson was a naturalist, banker and benefactor to the Saffron Walden area. As a young man he made many excursions into the countryside, keeping field notes of plants and starting a herbarium, which is a collection of dried, pressed plants mounted on sheets of paper, and sometimes bound into in a book, with descriptions of when and where they were found. When he produced his work on the species of plants to be found around Saffron Walden he had recorded 588. In 1862 George published the first Flora of Essex at a cost of 6/-. It remained the standard reference work for a century comprising common and rare plants growing in Essex, some of which had not been discovered before. There are original copies in the Town Library. He also collected Red Crag fossils from the cliffs at Walton-on-the-Naze and purchased minerals and rocks to form his geology collection.

In 1845 George married Elizabeth Tuke and they moved to Hill House at the south end of the High Street. A blue plaque identifies this house. He laid out 11 acres of different gardens around the house and employed the services of William Chater a Saffron Walden nurseryman. A summerhouse was built onnd the corner of what is now Margaret Way and you can still see some boulders which were part of his collection. In the summer there would be Open Days when the public were invited in. There was an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in the back garden of Hill House and George organised an excavation in 1876.

Now the town had fresh water the family disposed of most of their brewing interests. A family partnership had started Saffron Walden & North Essex Bank in 1824. George entered the partnership in 1839. He brought his brother-in-law, William Murray Tuke, into the bank which was renamed Gibson, Tuke & Gibson. New premises were built in the Market Place and it became part of Barclays in 1896.

He played a huge part in public life serving on Saffron Walden Town Council from 1859 until his death in 1883. George was mayor for two years from 1875 to 1877. He was also a Justice of the Peace and vice-chairman of the Board of Guardians that administered the Poor Law and the workhouse. He was instrumental in bringing the railway to Saffron Walden in 1865 because of the economic benefits it could bring. He was active in the society that formed the Library and was involved in the reorganisation of Saffron Walden Museum. Gibson was a regular benefactor to Saffron Walden and the surrounding parishes. He and his mother paid for the drinking fountain in 1863. Gibson also oversaw the construction of the Town Hall and funded an extension which opened in 1879. He followed family tradition by supporting the Boys’ British School, the hospital, expanding the almshouses and founding a small orphanage. He donated land for a school and was influential in the relocation of the Friends’ School from Croydon to Saffron Walden in 1879.

After he died his beneficiaries included the hospital, library, schools, almshouses, orphanage, Society of Friends and Saffron Walden Museum. During his life and in his will he donated many objects to the Museum including finds from the Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, part of his herbarium, cabinets of butterflies, moths and fossils; minerals, shells, birds and birds’ eggs, panels from the Sun Inn; the portrait of Henry Winstanley and drawings of the lighthouse; and for the ethnography collection decorated bark cloth, a Navaho saddle blanket and a green arrow head from New Zealand. Autographed letters from eminent people included correspondence from Henry VII, Napoleon, Joseph Banks and Queen Victoria. He also left funds to provide a salary for the first paid Curator – George Maynard.

If you want to know more about George, then Jeremy Collingwood’s book “Mr Saffron Walden. The Life and Times of George Stacey Gibson (1818 -1883)” is still available. Members of Saffron Walden Museum Society can read notes of a talk George Stacey Gibson – Aspects of his life and achievements given by speakers Jeremy Collingwood, Len Pole and Sarah Kenyon in Newsletter 45, Summer 2018, pages 15-17

Museum From Home – Thursday 30th April

Saffron Walden Museum may be closed temporarily to the public due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but staff are still busy working behind the scenes, creating online resources for those home schooling and self-isolating.

Regular posts on the museum social media platforms and monthly e-newsletter continue to entertain and inform. A new blog has been developed with themed collection articles as well as animated “how to” videos with crafts suitable for all ages, linked to the usual events programme. Online jigsaw puzzles, themed around the museum’s diverse collections have been made available, with users challenged to complete them against the clock. There is also a behind the scenes video filmed by Saffron Drones available on YouTube.

On Thursday 30 April, the museum is taking part in a nationwide arts and culture in quarantine event organised by the BBC in conjunction with the Museum’s Association and the Art Fund. The aim is to highlight online learning resources being created by museums using the hashtag #MuseumFromHome.

Saffron Walden Museum will be using the event to introduce a new project for this weekend (1 to 4 May) – Wallace’s Great Big Survey. The world around us is full of fascinating wildlife and objects from the past, and we want you to document them. Record what you find or see while working, playing or digging in your gardens, or what you can observe from your window or on your daily walk. Take a picture and fill out a form. Your finds and observations will be uploaded onto the blog to create a virtual museum of the archaeological, historical and natural finds of Uttlesford. The museum team will also try to identify some of the objects too.

Check out the blog page https://exploresaffronwaldenmuseum.blogspot.com/p/museums.html or email information to cpratt@uttlesford.gov.uk with the subject line Wallace’s Great Big Survey (named after the museum’s mascot Wallace the Lion) and the best ones will be shared online. 

The museum, in conjunction with the town’s Tourist Information Centre, is also continuing to encourage local people to submit their experiences of life during the outbreak for a project called CV Walden. If you are keeping a journal, taking photos, creating poems, songs or artwork and are happy to share them, they would like to hear from you. The intention is to create an online or physical exhibition of the collected material in due course. If you are involved in a local club or organisation, why not encourage your members to get involved too? Digital files can be emailed to museum@uttlesford.gov.uk, and please put CV Walden in the subject line. Paper-based material will be collected at a later date.

ENDS

NOTES

CV Walden : a Community Archive

We are living through a pandemic which has changed every aspect of the world as we know it. The Covid-19 outbreak has propelled us into history books yet to be written as our lives have been reshaped beyond anything we could have imagined mere weeks ago.

There is a great deal that we can do to help future generations to understand the impact of Covid-19 on communities such as ours. You can play your own valuable part in contributing to awareness of the sociological, psychological and economic impact of this disease. Saffron Walden Museum, in conjunction with Saffron Walden Tourist Information Centre is encouraging local people to submit their own experiences of this unprecedented crisis in the form of written articles (including diaries or poetry), photographs, art, music or film. Submissions will be curated by Jenny Oxley, the Museum’s Collections Officer (Human History), and will in time form part of an on-line archive and possibly a physical or on-line exhibition in due course.

If you are part of an organisation, club, society or charity, consider asking all of your members and clients to take part; there is no deadline for submissions as it is recognised that people might wish to observe in their chosen media the development and eventual resolution of the crisis. If you are a teacher or a parent or guardian teaching at home, consider encouraging children to express their thoughts and feelings in whatever way sparks their imaginations.

Submissions should be sent to museum@uttlesford.gov.uk with ‘CV Walden’ as the subject. Please note that although digital submissions are preferred, non-digital submissions will be accepted at a later date, once the threat of infection is over.

Thank you.

Saffron Walden TIC (Saffron Walden Town Council) and Saffron Walden Museum (Uttlesford District Council & Saffron Walden Museum Society)