Category Archives: Object of the Month

Object of the Month – December 2018

The Piano Hoard Comes Home

In 2017, 913 gold sovereign and half-sovereign coins were discovered in Shropshire, hidden inside a piano. So what is the link with Saffron Walden? How have we acquired such a fascinating assemblage of material? The piano was originally supplied by Beaven & Mothersole Piano Tuners, who were based in 27 West Road, Saffron Walden. Receipts show that they had purchased the piano direct from the London manufacturers, Broadwood & Sons Ltd in 1906.

It was only when the piano was professionally tuned, that the coins were finally discovered, nestled between the keys and the keyboard.

In 1983, the piano was bought by the Hemmings family, residents of Saffron Walden. They owned the piano for 33 years, before moving to Shropshire and gifting it to their local college, The Community College, Bishop’s Castle, completely unaware of what was hidden inside.

Research has shown that the coins found date to between 1847 and 1915; so they originate from the reigns of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V.

It is likely that they were concealed within the piano by a Saffron Walden resident. Some of the cardboard packaging in the pouches, which encased the coins, were taken from Shredded Wheat cereal boxes.

The style of the packaging suggests that the coins were concealed around the time of the Great Depression, when there was great economic hardship across the world.

“The identity of the person who hid the coins and their precise motivation will probably remain a fascinating unanswered question”

Peter Reavill, Shropshire Finds Liaison Officer

When the coins were discovered, they were declared treasure under the Treasure Act 1996, as they were gold coins which were deliberately hidden and no rightful heirs could be traced. At the time of its discovery, this hoard of modern gold coins was the largest of its type.

We are delighted that a representative sample of twelve of the gold coins from the hoard, as well as their packaging and the piano in which they were hidden, have now been acquired by the Museum, as a result of a crowd-funding campaign and generous donations from individuals, as well as the Saffron Walden Round Table and Butler Smith Carriers. This fascinating mystery has captured many people’s imaginations, having received local, regional and national news coverage and it is fantastic to see it going on display in the Museum.  The display will be formally launched at the Museum on Friday 30th November.  

The piano and a representative sample of the hoard will be on display in the Great Hall of the Museum in December, and then the display will be transferred to the Local History Gallery.

Photo credit: Peter Reavill / British Museum

Museum Shop Sunday – 25th November

Museum Shop Sunday is an International Cultural Shopping Day, taking place on Sunday 25 November.

Supported by the Association for Cultural Enterprises, Museum Shop Sunday invites members of the public to experience the inspirational gifts offered by cultural organisations nationwide. Encouraging shopping with a conscience, sales made will contribute to each venue directly and provide a valuable contribution to culture in the UK.

Sunday 25 November promises to be a day to enjoy a relaxing and inspiring shopping experience after the chaos of Black Friday! It is the ideal occasion to purchase those essential Christmas gifts and stocking fillers.  Shoppers can expect to find quality products inspired by the exhibitions, from Stationery to Books and Jewellery, there is certain to be something for everyone.

This year we are highlighting our new range of bespoke products inspired by the Museum’s collections:

Saffron Walden Museum Pin Badge, £3.50

Saffron Walden Museum Stationery Pack, £3.50

Saffron Walden Fridge Magnet: Wallace the Lion Fridge Magnet £1.99  Inspired by one of the most striking items in Museum is a stuffed lion named Wallace.  In a former life, Wallace had been a star in George Wombwell’s nineteenth-century traveling menagerie of exotic beasts and birds. Born in Edinburgh in 1812, Wallace was the first African lion to be bred in England and was perhaps named after William Wallace, the Scottish freedom fighter.

Saffron Walden Museum Fridge Magnet: Coffin Lid image £3.50 Inspired by the Coffin lid of Tayef-Herut-Nakht, Thebes which is on display in the Museum’s Egyptology Gallery and dates to the New Kingdom 950 – 900 BC. 

Object of the Month – November 2018

2nd Standard of the Royal British Legion by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer, Human History.

To mark the commemoration of the Centenary of the end of the First World War (1914-1918), November’s Object of the Month is a poignant one.

The Royal British Legion is a charity which provides financial, social and emotional care and support to members and veterans of the British Armed Forces, their families and dependants. The Legion is also the national Custodian of Remembrance and safeguards the Military Covenant between the nation and its Armed Forces and is best known for the annual Poppy Appeal and its emblem the red poppy.  Founded in 1921, the Legion is not just about those who fought in the two World Wars of the last century, but also about those involved in the many conflicts since 1945 and those who are still fighting for the freedom we enjoy today.

The 2nd Saffron Walden Royal British Legion Branch Standard was first sworn in at the Eastern Area Golden Jubilee Rally, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the British Legion on the 26th June 1971 at Newmarket’s July Racecourse.

Over the years it has featured at many local, national and international events, helping to commemorate those who have given military service. It has featured at annual carol services, the Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall, the Last Royal Tournament at Earls Court in 1999 and many times for Burma Star Association events, Poppy Race Days at Newmarket Racecourse, and HMS Lapwing Association parades.  It took pride of place at the 80th Anniversary of the Saffron Walden Branch celebrations and played a key role in the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War (1939-1945) commemorations in 2005. 

Parading these standards for many years, can leave them liable to damage as they feature detailed embroidery and brocade, so new ones are established and sworn in, when this is the case. The retired 2nd Standard has now been donated to the Museum, and features as our Object of the Month for November, whilst a new 3rd standard has been sworn in.  On Sunday 11th November, the new standard will form part of the town’s annual Remembrance Sunday Parade and Church service

For more information on the Saffron Walden branch of the Royal British Legion  http://branches.britishlegion.org.uk/branches/saffron-walden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Standard is on display at the Museum until the 1st December, where you can learn more about this object, the role played by the Royal British Legion and the Centenary of the end of the First World War.

Object of the Month – October 2018

October’s Object of the Month is a Roman wine strainer chosen by Carolyn Wingfield, Curator

An Essential Accessory for Wine Drinkers

This fragile bronze vessel was described as a “Roman Bronze colander – origin unknown” in the Museum’s registers when it was acquired in 1927. It was among a list of diverse archaeological, historical and ethnographic objects given by George Morris of The Friends’ School, Saffron Walden. It measures nearly 15cms in diameter and the tiny holes piercing the central bowl form a delicate pattern.

Too delicate to be a colander, it is more accurately described as a wine strainer, which would have been used to filter sediment from wine. It is of fine workmanship, though a little damaged and has in the past been repaired with plastic mesh to support the paper-thin edges where some pieces are missing. The handle is also largely missing, although the end adjoining the pan is visible, repaired in the past with modern solder.

We can now place this wine strainer in context, thanks to finds of similar vessels, often accompanying small Roman bronze saucepans know as trullei (singular, trulleus). Trullei were part of the standard equipment of Roman legionaries, but wine strainers were not everyday items issued to Roman troops, and strainers like ours could have been made in Britain. There are examples of strainers been buried with trullei or bronze bowls, for instance the Kingdtone Deverell hoard, discovered in 2005 and now in Salisbury Museum, and the Langstone hoard from Newport, Wales, found in 2007. The Langstone hoard may have been a ritual deposit made by Britons, but elsewhere, strainers and bronze vessels have been found in graves, as part of the feasting and drinking equipment which accompanied the social elite of late Iron Age and early Roman Britain to the next world.

Certainly at the top of Iron Age society in the Essex region, there were people enjoying wine imported from the Roman world as much as a century before the Claudian invasion of AD 43. We know this from high-status graves where wine amphorae were buried, and you can see examples of such amphorae in Saffron Walden Museum. So our wine strainer could date to around the 1st century AD, either just before or after the Roman conquest. It is a pity that we do not know where it was found, but we can imagine a local British aristocrat using this as part of a wine-drinking ceremony or special feast.

Cheers!

 

The wine strainer is on display at the Museum until 1st November 2018, where you can learn more about this object and life in Roman times.

Object of the Month -September 2018

September’s Object of the Month is a collection of fossilised teeth chosen by James Lumbard, Natural Sciences Officer.

These fossilised teeth come from the extinct fish Ptychodus (pronounced tie-co-duss) which lived across the Americas, Europe and Asia. They are closely related to modern sharks and rays, but may not have been direct ancestors. Some species grew up to 10 metres long, feeding on the large shellfish that existed during the Cretaceous period, 66–145 million years ago. Although they had similar diet and teeth to modern rays, they looked more like modern nurse sharks, which cruise the seabed for small fish and shellfish.

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Object of the Month – August 2018

Red squirrel - August object of the month

August’s Object of the Month is a red squirrel. The mammal was chosen as Object of the Month by Sarah Kenyon, Natural Sciences Officer.

This red squirrel was found dead at Saffron Walden, Essex in August 2003. It had been run over by a car in Landscape View. A member of the Uttlesford group of Essex Wildlife Trust gave it to Saffron Walden Museum to be preserved. The body was mounted, or stuffed, by a taxidermist. This red squirrel has russet red fur on its body and tail, with white fur on its chest and belly. Male and female squirrels look identical.

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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.