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Object of the Month – July 2021

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

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

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

      

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

Credits

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

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

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

 

 

Object of the Month : May 2021

Skin of a Grass Snake

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

Grass Snakes

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

Life Cycle

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

Grass Snake near Morfa Nefyn, Gwynedd, Wales

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-Booked Admission tickets

 

You can pre-book your visit online through Art Tickets 

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

or

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

 

 

 

For online booking:

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

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

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

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

Visiting Saffron Walden Museum

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

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

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

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

Temperature Check on entry for all visitors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“The Museum and Me” – new book by Rachel Morris

Rachel Morris launches her new book on the 27th August 2020, inspired in part by her childhood visits to Saffron Walden Museum….

There can have been few children quite as geeky and eccentric as I was when I was ten. We were living outside Saffron Walden with our high-minded and austere grandmother, the four of us surviving on her state pension.  It was because we were always broke that I spent my childhood haunting Saffron Walden library and museum, where I could drift around for hours on end and no one would ask me any questions.

Years later I became the director of a museum-making company called Metaphor and started to remember my ten-year-old self. My book ‘The Museum Makers’ is about time and memory and museums, but also about families and the secrets they carry and the stories they tell.  One theme that’s threaded through it is Saffron Walden museum. 

I don’t remember the museum’s Victorian incarnation (though I wish I did) because they did up the museum in the middle of the 20th century and the majority of the old Victorian exhibits were swept away.  But some photographs have survived to show how typically Victorian looking the old museum had been, with its dark brown wooden showcases and its rows of deer antlers and its stuffed elephant in the middle of the gallery.  It’s companies like mine that have updated many museums and although there is much I don’t miss about Victorian museums (they were often racist) I do admire their grandeur and the rather gloomy drama of the way they looked.

I didn’t go to Saffron Walden museum to learn things – though I did love history and I was always reading children’s books about time travel. I went partly out of curiosity, partly in search of wonder and amazement, partly out of a restless urge to go to places without having to ask my family first.  I don’t remember many specific things – I was too young for that – though I remember Wallace the Lion.  And I remember the overall look of it, as well as the approach up the drive, with the castle ruins beyond, and the way you went in up the steps to the front door – as if into a house, except that it was not like any house I had ever been into.

I doubt that there was much interpretation at the time (museum interpretation didn’t really take off until the end of the twentieth century), but for me that didn’t matter. I generally visited the museum after having visited the library and so I always arrived with a head full of the stories that I had already consumed (usually whilst lying flat on my tummy on the library floor with the soles of my feet in the air).  And anyway, like lots of children I liked to look at things and to tell stories in my head about them.  One story I learnt either then or later was how the museum’s elephant was taken to London to star in the Great Exhibition in 1851.  Now that’s a story I would have loved when I was little.

After the museum I went round to the Common to pick up the bus home, with the first of my library books already open and me starting to read.

Children have a natural affinity with museums. They share with museum-people a love of things and a willingness (well, this is true of children at least) to ascribe to them magical powers. It’s no accident that a film like ‘Night at the Museum’ has been so popular with children. And so likewise the popularity of fairy tales that are stuffed with things that have magical powers, like slippers that can’t stop dancing and a ring that makes you invisible.  The other thing that amazed me about museums when I was little was the sheer profusion of things inside them.  My high-minded grandmother had got through life owning not much more than a small suitcase of belongings.  One of the qualities of museums that so entranced me when I was little was that they were thing-worlds (and so the very opposite of home), filled with more things than I could count.

Saffron Walden Museum is a family-focused museum with a long history of being child-friendly. As early as the beginning of the twentieth century schoolchildren were being encouraged to visit the museum when Guy Maynard was the curator.

My book, The Museum Makers, is about many things but its basic premise is that if museums have always been about sorting and classifying and making sense out of the confusion of the world, then – in the way that we hold on to our things and our memories and try to make sense of our own pasts – we are all museum makers.

My book is also very definitely a thank you to the museums of my childhood, of which Saffron Walden was one.

Click here https://bit.ly/TheMuseumMakersextract to hear Rachel Morris reading an extract from her new book, The Museum Makers which is published by September Publishing on August 27th 2020.

For more information behind this story visit https://bit.ly/TheMuseumMakersbook

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

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/