Category Archives: Object of the Month

Object of the Month – August 2020

Chinese Foot-Binding – Lotus Shoes

Foot-binding was a traditional practice that originated in 10th century China, among court dancers and high society women. By the 12th century it was a widespread practice. In the early 19th century it was estimated that five to eight women out of every ten in China (taking into account regional variations) had bound feet. It eventually spread through all social classes and while it was outlawed in 1912, it continued in some rural areas for years afterwards. A census taken in 1928 in rural Shanxi found that 18% of women had bound feet, while in some remote rural areas such as the Yunnan Province, foot-binding continued to be practiced until the 1950s. In most parts of China, the practice had virtually disappeared by 1949. In 1999, the last lotus shoe-making factory closed.

The museum has around 14 pairs of Chinese lotus shoes associated with foot binding. They typically have wedge heels, pointed upturned toes which extend beyond the sole and stiffened ankles. The embroidered uppers of the shoes have been beautifully crafted in silk and metallic threads, with embellishments – usually gold braid, beading and sequins.

The foot-binding practice involved plunging the feet into hot water and massaging them with oil. Then all the toes, except for the big ones, were broken and bound flat against the sole, to produce a triangular shape. The arch of the foot was strained as the foot was bent double. The feet were bound in place using a silk strip measuring 10ft long and 2 inches wide. These wrappings were briefly removed every 2 days to prevent blood and pus from infecting the foot. Sometimes “excess” flesh was cut away or encouraged to rot. Over time the wrappings became tighter and the shoes became smaller as the heel and sole were crushed together. After 2 years the process was complete and the feet were most probably numb, with a deep cleft in the sole that could hold a coin in place. Once a foot had been crushed and bound, the shape could not be reversed without undergoing the same pain all over again. This practice was usually undertaken on the feet of a young girl, aged between 3 and 11 years, as their feet would have been softer and easier to manipulate. It was usually carried out by the child’s grandmother. 

This painful practice was associated with beauty, status and marriage eligibility. Having tiny feet was considered sexually attractive, emphasising a masculine Chinese view at that time of a woman’s inferiority and weakness.  It was believed that girls who had their feet bound would be able to attract better marriage offers because of their tiny feet. In wealthy families, the feet of all the daughters would have been bound but in poorer families, the practice might only have been carried out on the eldest daughter, as they had the best chance of making a good marriage union. The ideal length of the foot – the “golden lotus” was deemed to be just three inches. 

Request for help with research project

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martin Barry a PhD student from Bristol University is researching ‘The Materiality, Memories & Material Culture” of Princess Mary’s 1914 (WW1) Christmas Gift to Soldiers & Sailors. Let him know if you are still in possession of your relatives embossed brass ‘Mary Tin’.  He would like to interview relatives by phone or virtually via Zoom.  Contact mb12582@bristol.ac.uk

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

Object of the Month – June 2020

June’s Object of the Month celebrates Volunteers’ Week. These fossils have been cleaned and recorded by two dedicated geology volunteers, helping to audit the thousands of fossils held in the Museum’s stores. The project is suspended at the moment, but we all look forward to getting back together when times are better.

These fossils are from the Red Crag layers, which are the reason Walton-on-the-Naze is famous for marine fossils. The sandy Red Crag rocks and fossils were laid down in the late Pliocene and early Pleistocene epochs between 3.3 and 2.5 million years ago, when a warm, shallow sea and bay covered most of Essex. The fossils have stained red-brown over time due to iron-rich water washing through the sandy rock.

The first fossil is a species of whelk, Neptunea contraria, which is still alive today (extant, rather than extinct). This species has an unusual left-spiral shell, hence the word contraria in its scientific name. Almost all species with a coiled shell have a right-hand spiral.

Neptunea contraria

Cardita senilis

Cardita senilis is a species of bivalve, a group which also includes oysters, mussels and scallops. These molluscs have a flattened body protected by two shells or valves joined by a hinge. A bulge near the hinge, called the umbo, is the oldest part of a growing shell, and is at the centre of the growth rings that can sometimes be seen on the surface.

Spinucella tetragona is an extinct species of predatory sea snail, in a group known as murex snails or rock snails. This species’ shells are highly ridged, but other extant species (such as Chicoreus aculeatus) have exaggerated and complicated patterns of spines on their shells, which makes them very popular with shell collectors.

Chicoreus a

Spinucella tetragona

Chicoreus aculeatus

Oyster: Ostrea species

Later Pleistocene fossils from Essex, such as the oyster, don’t really ‘belong’ here at all. They were brought south or churned up from older rocks by glaciers during the Pleistocene Ice Age, which lasted from 2.5 Mya to 12,000 years ago. They appear in glacial drift deposits left behind as the glaciers grew and shrank. This fossil of Chicoreus aculea is actually from the Jurassic period (201-145 Million years ago).

All images © Saffron Walden Museum, except C. aculeatus: H. Zell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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

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

Keep in Touch – Introducing our new Blog! & Sign up to our monthly E-News

In these unprecedented times it’s more important than ever that we all stay in touch.

In addition to our regular E-News update, our website and social media platforms, we’ve introduced a new blog for the Museum. 

It is being setup to share our learning resources more effectively whilst we are closed to the public.

CHECK OUT OUR BLOG 

What stories would you like us to share with you about our collections?

What resources could the museum provide that you might find helpful?  – local history, geography, science, maths, art….

Here’s a link to the April edition of our monthly E-Newsletter. 

You can also subscribe to receive it monthly direct to your email inbox

Object of the Month – April 2020


Adoration of the Shepherds pen & ink with chalk drawing by Gaspare Diziani (in Museum’s collections)

April’s Object of the Month has been chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History). It is a pen and ink drawing with additions in chalk by Italian artist Gaspare Diziani (b.1689 d.1767) called the Adoration of the Shepherds

This item recently came back off loan from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge where it has been on loan to them since 1979. In its time at the Fitzwilliam, it also went out on further loan to the Fondazione Cini in Venice for a special display of Venetian drawings.  Before it came to Saffron Walden Museum, the drawing had originally been housed at Ashdon Hall.

Diziani’s original oil on canvas painting – a version of the same scene dates to around 1755 and is housed in a private collection. Diziani was an Italian painter and draughtsman.  His earliest training was in Belluno in Northern Italy with Antonio Lazzarini (1672-1732). Having moved to Venice, he joined the workshop of Gregorio Lazzarini and later that of Sebastiano Ricci, who was in Venice until 1715 and exerted the strongest influence on his development; presumably Diziani was familiar with Ricci’s many paintings in Belluno before becoming his pupil. 

Between 1710 and 1720 he painted a group of eight pictures that included the Mary Magdalene for Santo. Stefano, Belluno, and the Entry into Jerusalem for Santo. Teodoro, Venice. His speed of production and technical assurance are demonstrated especially in his preparatory oil sketches, with colour applied in rapid and spirited pen-like strokes.  He also worked as a scenery painter in a number of Venetian theatres.  Art commissions took him to Munich (1717) and later to Dresden, where he was highly acclaimed.  In 1719 he was active in Rome but by 1720 he was already back in Venice where he entered the “Fraglia dei Pittori Veneziani”, remaining in the Veneto for the rest of his life. 

The works of Gaspare Diziani can be found in the Church of San Rocco in Belluno, dated 1727, several paintings in the Sacristy of the Church of Santo Stefano in Venice, dated 1733, the frescoes in Palazzo Spineda in Treviso, dated 1748, and the frescoes in the Church of San Bartolomeo in Bergamo.

The Adoration of the Shepherds (based on the account in Luke 2) is a scene in which the shepherds witness the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  It is often combined in art with the Adoration of the Magi.  The Museum holds an oil-on-canvas painting of the Adoration of the Magi scene as well, which is by the artist Ramsey Richard Reinagle (1749-1833) – (a copy after Peter Paul Rubens c.1616).  It is currently on renewable loan to Chrishall Parish Council, where it is on display in the Holy Trinity Church, Chrishall.  It originally came to the Museum around 1843, having been bought for Francis Gibson at an auction at the Leicester Square Sale Rooms.

 

Adoration of the Shepherds, oil on canvas painting by  Gaspare Diziani c. 1755

(in a private collection)