Category Archives: Object of the Month

Object of the Month – June 2018

 

June’s Object of the Month is a silk reticule or bag, made in the 1820s to support the campaign to abolish slavery. The reticule was chosen as Object of the Month by Leah Mellors, Collections Officer (Human History). We featured the reticule on our blog last year, when we were raising money to fund vital conservation work. You can read all about the history of the reticule here

Our previous Collections Officer (Human History), Leah Mellors, acquired funding to carry out conservation work on the reticule, which was in very poor condition. The silk had faded and was badly stained, large sections of the silk had shattered and were coming loose and the reticule could not be handled or displayed without causing further damage. With funding from the Daphne Bullard Award, the Saffron Walden Quaker Meeting and individuals in our local community, the museum was able to pay a textiles conservator, Poppy Singer to carry out conservation work on the reticule. 

Poppy discovered that the bag had been folded over at the top and sewn down to cover some old damage, so she undid the stitching, cleaned and reshaped the reticule to its original shape. She made an internal support bag and pad to support the new shape of the reticule, adhered the fragmentary silk, and added very fine netting over the top to prevent future damage. Thanks to Poppy’s work, the reticule can now be carefully handled and displayed in the museum for short periods of time.  

Reticule before conservation

Reticule after conservation

You can see the reticule on display in the museum throughout June.

Object of the Month – May 2018

 

May’s Object of the Month is a Stag Beetle.

This male stag beetle was found dead on the Recreation Ground at Great Dunmow, Essex in May 1999. It was handed in to the police station at Dunmow, and a Police Wildlife Liaison Officer gave it to Saffron Walden Museum to be preserved.

Stag Beetles

The stag beetle, Lucanus cervus, is the largest beetle in Britain. They prefer areas with low rainfall, high air temperatures and light soils, so stag beetles are widespread in southern England, especially the Thames valley, north Essex, south Suffolk, south Hampshire and west Sussex. They are also found in the Severn valley, coastal areas of the southwest, and a few areas in Devon and Worcestershire. They live in hedgerows, parks, gardens and in the edges of woodlands.

Adult males are up to 75 mm long. They have large antler-like jaws, or mandibles, which are used for wrestling with other males during the breeding season.

A Long Life Cycle

Stag beetle larva (image by Anaxibia, from Wikimedia Commons)

The stag beetle has a long life cycle. Three to seven years are spent underground in the larval stage. Larvae are large white grubs, with orange heads, that can be up to 11 cm long. When it is time to change into an adult, a larva builds an oval shaped cocoon in the soil up to 20 cm below ground. Cocoons can be as large as an orange and may take up to three weeks to build. Within the cocoon the larva becomes a pupa and finally changes, or metamorphoses, into an adult. An adult stag beetle emerges from its cocoon in the autumn, then it spends the winter and spring in the soil.

Breeding

Adult beetles usually emerge from the soil from mid May onwards. Males can be seen flying at dusk looking for a mate. Male beetles use their antlers to wrestle other males when competing for a female beetle.

Female stag beetle (Image by Q-bit array, from Wikimedia Commons)

Females are often seen on the ground looking for somewhere to lay their eggs. They lay small, round eggs below ground near to rotting wood in log piles, tree stumps and old fence posts. Female beetles prefer to dig down into light soil to bury their eggs, and newly emerging adults have to find their way to the surface.  Very few stag beetles are found in hard, chalky areas like the North and South Downs.

By the end of August most stag beetles will have died after mating. They do not survive the winter.

You can see this stag beetle on display in the museum until 31 May 2018. You can also find out how you can encourage stag beetles to live in your garden!

Object of the Month – April 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Object of the Month – February 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

Object of the Month – December 2017

 

December’s Object of the Month is a pair of robins. The birds were chosen as Object of the Month by Sarah Kenyon, Natural Sciences Officer.

This adult female robin has the familiar red face and breast feathers. It is a mounted, or stuffed, bird specimen that was given to the museum during the 1800s. Male and female adult robins look identical. On display with her is the preserved skin of a young male robin whose feathers are brown with pale spots. Juvenile robins grow red feathers after their first moult. This young robin was found dead at Saffron Walden, Essex in August 2000. Study skins prepared like this are used for research in museums.

Robins
The European robin, Erithacus rubecula, is a member of the thrush family, so it is related to the blackbird and the nightingale. They live in woodland, hedgerows, parks and gardens. Robins from northern Europe may visit Britain during winter. These small song birds only live for a couple of years. Robins eat worms, snails, insects, spiders and seeds, berries and fruits.
Robins are often pictured in snowy scenes on Christmas cards. However, a robin can use up 10% of its body weight during a cold night. Unless a bird is able to feed well every day a prolonged cold spell can be fatal. Putting out food on bird tables can help robins to survive. They eat mealworms, scraps of meat, fat, cheese, cake and biscuit crumbs, dried fruit and crushed peanuts.

Territory
The robin is one of the few birds that hold a territory all year round for breeding and feeding. In summer a territory is defended by a male and female breeding pair. During winter each robin will hold an individual territory. Robins will always defend their territories from other robins. They sometimes fight to the death.

Song
Robins sing all year round because they need to defend their territories. They will also sing at night, usually under artificial street lighting, and are often mistaken for nightingales. The song is a rippling stream of crystal-clear notes with changes of speed and volume. An alarm call is a sharp “tic”, or repeated ticking “tic-ic-ic…”.

Breeding and Nesting
Robins normally start breeding in March. Males and females only pair up for a season. They nest on, or near, the ground in sites such as hollow in a bank or tree root, in climbing plants or in sheds. British robins prefer open-fronted nest boxes. A female builds a cup-shaped nest from moss and dead leaves, and then lines it with hair.
The female lays and incubates four to six eggs. The young leave the nest, called fledging, at 14 days old. Their parents look after them for up to three weeks. Most pairs of robins will try to raise three broods of chicks a year.

You can see the robins on display in the museum until 1 January 2018.

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. 

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.

Object of the Month – September 2017

To celebrate the kids going back to school, September’s Object of the Month is a photograph showing the staff and pupils of the Boys’ British School in Saffron Walden in 1954. The photograph is a recent acquisition to the museum’s local history collection and it was donated in August 2017. The donor of the photograph attended the Boys’ British School and he is sat on the front row, seventh from the right.

The photograph was chosen as Object of the Month by Leah Mellors, Collections Officer (Human History), in the hope that we may be able to identify some of the pupils.

Boys’ British School

The Boys’ British School was opened in 1838. It was situated on East Street in Saffron Walden. A girls’ school was also opened at the same time on South Road.

The creation of the Boys’ British School was decided on at a meeting in Saffron Walden Town Hall on 26 July 1838. Those present at the meeting decided that the town needed better education facilities, especially for the poorer classes.

They decided that the school should follow the model of the British and Foreign School Society. The school would be open to children of all religious denominations, from the ages of seven to 14. Parents would pay 2d per week for each boy.

The Gibson family provided the building on East Street for the school, rent-free, and William Jenkines was appointed the first headmaster.


Timeline of the Boys’ British School

1838               The school is established. It averages around 100 students per year for the first three years.

1844               The school reaches a peak of almost 200 students. However, an Anglican school is built on Castle Street and numbers reduce by 40% in just three years.

1847               The school formally affiliates with the British and Foreign School Society, so that it can receive government grants. Jenkines, the Headmaster, opposes this affiliation and resigns. He is replaced by Edwin Chennell.

1857               Chennell is succeeded by Samuel Willett, who is headmaster for 22 years.

1869               The school is inspected by Matthew Arnold, who says “the school is full…and the discipline is excellent. Nearly the whole average attendance are presented for examination…the papers are worked in fair style”.

1876               The number of pupils reaches 230 and the inspector’s report for that year remarks that “discipline suffers through crowded rooms”. Numbers drop off and in 1878, the inspector reports that “the school is in excellent order”.

1896               The school premises are enlarged to cope with high numbers.

1914               Following the outbreak of World War I, the school premises are used to accommodate over 100 soldiers. Teaching is moved to the Abbey Lane Congregational Chapel.

1918               At the end of World War I, 75 previous students of the school have lost their lives. They are commemorated on a roll of honour (now held in the museum’s collection, pictured right).

1920s             The school flourishes under Headmaster Charles Heaven. Don Purkiss, a former student, describes Mr Heaven as putting “the fear of God…into most of us”.

1939-1945     World War II causes an increase in the number of pupils, as evacuees and boys from the nearby RAF Debden station enrol. Teacher Miss Foster describes the school as “bursting at the seams”.

1945               The school becomes a Controlled School, under the management of the county council.

1950               Saffron Walden County High School opens and the senior boys move from the Boys’ British School to the new school.

1982               The Boys’ British School joins with the South Road School. After 127 years, the Boys’ British School closes and the premises are vacated.

The British and Foreign School Society

The British and Foreign School Society was established in 1808, to carry on the work of Joseph Lancaster. Lancaster was a Quaker who reformed school and educational systems and promoted education for the poorer classes. He introduced a non-sectarian approach to teaching, meaning that teachers could not teach particular denominational beliefs. He also introduced the use of rewards as well as punishments and a system of monitors where older students taught younger students.

Joseph Lancaster’s system of education was based around two principles:

Order, discipline and progress

All children worked at the same time. Older boys were used as monitors, who ruled the books, ensured good behaviour and reported on attendance and progress.

The boys in the first class sat nearest to the teacher. They sat at a flat table that had a sand tray in which they could draw letters.  Once they had mastered the sand trays, they progressed to slates.

Reading stations were established around the walls. Students stood at these stations in order of merit and were taught by the monitors at reading boards, which were attached to the walls.

Students progressed from class to class once their lessons had been learned.

Rewards

Children were rewarded for good work with leather or paper merit tickets Leather merit tickets were hung on coats by a small piece of ribbon. Paper tickets were swapped for prizes.  Three ‘Number 1’ tickets earned a halfpenny prize and 12 ‘Number 5’ tickets earned a sixpenny prize. The prizes (bats, balls, tops, kites etc.) were hung in a net above the schoolroom.

You can see the photograph on display in the museum until 30 September. If you were a pupil or teacher at the Boys’ British School, get in touch and tell us your memories!