Aspire…go for it!


, , , , , , , ,

Aspire Traineeship: An introduction


Hello! My name is Nicola Trowell and since the middle of July I have been working as the Salisbury Museum’s Aspire Trainee. My role, which continues until early 2017, is to aid in the planning of the Museum’s upcoming Constable in Context exhibition, running from 17 September 2016- 25 March 2017.

The exhibition is part of the Aspire programme, in which we are partners along with four other national and regional museums. The Aspire partnership was part of the 2013 acquisition of John Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows 1831 through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), The Manton Foundation and Tate Members. Since 2013, the programme has enabled audiences of all ages to enjoy and learn more about the work of John Constable by touring Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows 1831 across the UK. Each museum partner will display the work in the context of their collection, accompanied by a programme of activities.

I have been working closely with our Exhibitions, Learning and Marketing officers on different aspects of the exhibition. My work so far has been largely focused on researching and finalising the content for the exhibition with Joyce (our Exhibitions Officer), alongside gaining an understanding of the various tasks within my role. Although I have been part of the Salisbury Museum’s reception team for the past year, I have had little experience in the actual planning of an exhibition. Therefore this past month has been given me such a great insight into the process and hard work that goes into planning a temporary exhibition.

Having had an interest in museums and how they function from a young age, my passion for exhibitions really took off while I was studying BA Archaeology at the University of Southampton. It was here that, after undertaking an introductory module on museums, I decided my career goal was to develop exhibitions which will encourage audiences to become more involved in heritage and culture.

So far, I have thoroughly enjoyed my traineeship and I have already gained hugely beneficial experience that will undoubtedly aid me in my career aspirations. I am now turning my attention more greatly to developing learning resources for the exhibition, something I am particularly looking forward to!

Frass, and other niceties…


, , , ,

The NADFAS heritage volunteers, who look after the Salisbury Museum costume collection, met with Director Adrian Green and other volunteers recently to review the processes involved with cataloging, and to update on the dreaded moth and carpet beetle threat.

The Museum has hundreds of beautiful, endlessly fascinating and sometimes unique items of costume, some dating back hundreds of years. A frightening range of creatures find them tempting as sustenance in one way or another, notably moths and carpet beetles.

Frass is the fine powdery refuse or fragile perforated wood produced by the activity of boring insects. Insect droppings. Director Adrian Green showed examples of the coloured dust to look for inside the covers used to protect the garments. The red dress here had been attacked by something which had left just such dust in its cover.


The dress will now be wrapped carefully in heavy plastic, sealed with carpet tape and put in a freezer for sometime in order to kill off any remaining bugs.



Short of change..? Volunteers training on jettons and tokens.


, , , ,

Portable Antiquities Scheme volunteers from Salisbury Museum recently attended training on jettons and tokens at the Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton.

Jettons (it comes from the French jeter – to throw or push) were a coin-like object used in the calculation of accounts in the days long, long before electronic calculators and even before the use of Arabic numerals. Adding up, using Roman numerals, was not easy and so the jettons represented hundreds, tens and units. They were easily portable, and could be used on any table top, a chequered cloth or even on the ground, to help merchants do their sums. Our language carries echoes of all of these – we speak of the counter (over which we buy our goods), the exchequer, and so on. Until recently we could go East and watch shopkeepers using an abacus in the same way….

The Romans were the first to use counters (often simply small pieces of pottery, or even pebbles) to help them do sums. The first metal ones probably date from the 12th century. They were made primarily in England, France and Nuremberg, becoming more and more decorative, usually with religious or political messages and symbols on them. When the use of Arabic numbers became more common in  and after the 17th century the use of jettons began to die out but the thin metal discs were sometimes used as small change when such coins were, from time to time, scarce. Volunteers need to learn how to establish the origin of jettons, and establish dates, from the designs on them.

Tokens were also used as small change when necessary, although originally they were simply handed over by employers in exchange fora person’s labour, and intended for use in a very limited number of inns or shops. They mostly date from the 17th century onwards. Because they were intended for use only in local establishments they rarely ‘stray’ far from home and are a fascinating contribution to local history as a result, often including the names or initials of the employer, coats of arms, information about local trades, etc.


A copper alloy halfpenny token of Robert Pittman of Meere (Mere in Wiltshire) dating to AD 1668 (or possibly 1669). ROBERT PITTMAN OF obverse depicting HIS HALFE PENNY in the centre. MEERE DRAPER 1668 reverse depicting the Drapers’ Arms in the centre. This token recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme data base by volunteer Alyson Tanner




The Diary of Beatrix Potter, part 3 (with thanks again to Volunteer Stephen Lycett)

After lunch, to Stonehenge, I think that I was more impressed by the Plain than by Stonehenge, where behold the ubiquitous game of golf, two other carriages and a camping-photographer; his pony was wandering about in a sack. More in keeping, a great flock of sheep and lambs, with bells, attended by a shepherd, drinking in a shallow pond near the Stones, but they wandered off over the grass roads before I could get my camera ready.

The Plain is anything but flat, and most of it is broken up in cultivation, but there are no hedges, and some ways, open undulating land gives one a strange feeling of size. There seemed to be no cattle whatever, great flocks of sheep, but most of them still penned. The corn just beginning to show green, thousands of skylarks singing and running among the tussocks. Signs of hares which we did not see.

The first view of Stonehenge is disappointing, not because it is small, but because the place whereon it stands is so immense. The stones are large enough to satisfy anybody, but I had not the least idea that they were all crowded together in a grove, I do not think a larger space than our back garden. The number of mounds like gigantic mole-hills, and the straight Roman roads are almost as striking.

We passed fine Earthworks at Old Sarum and Amesbury. Came back by Lake House and the valley of the Avon. Very sweet. We drove a long way over the springy turf, most curious. It must be a fine place for funguses, gigantic fairy rings appeared on the slopes.

I had the misfortune to twist my ankle getting out of the carriage, not badly, but a singularly indiscreet choice of location, the middle of Salisbury Plain! I fell over a certain camera of papa’s which I opportunely broke, a most inconveniently heavy article which he refuses to use, and which has been breaking my back since I took to that profession. Should I get a camera of my own it will not be a bad bargain. N.B. I did no particular damage, but it was the last straw of clumsiness. We had fortunately taken a long walk in the morning round the water meadows of the Avon.

We went by Crane Bridge, looking over at the great trout in the beautiful, clear, chalk stream. Further on we saw others, and the water was alive with shoals of grayling and minnows. It was the first warm, mild feeling of spring, and we heard the cuckoo. It was hot dragging home along the road. I noticed when we were driving on the Downs we were coming with the wind, under the shadow of a cloud, and several times when we almost overtook the edge of the shadows I could feel and see the hot dither from the ground, where the sun had recently been ousted, an instance of the amount of heat refracted from the chalk.

I am afraid I shall never have a very reverent memory of Stonehenge by reason of certain shells which I found behind some nettles right under one of the standing stones. I thought they were uncommonly fine ones for such bare pasture, but failed to find a single live one, which was not surprising, for they were periwinkles. That part of the story is very fine so long as one finds it out for oneself.

The Diary of Beatrix Potter, part 4


Saturday, April 20th. — On Sat. my foot being painful I went round the town in a bathchair, and didn’t like it. It was market-day and I had an unintelligible chair-man who stopped in the middle of streets to point out objects of interest, and I was too inexperienced as to powers of endurance of that species of draught-horse to venture to remonstrate. The Poultry Cross, restored, is very curious. There is the site of the Blue Boar in the market square where Buckingham was beheaded by Richard III. We afterwards came round by the river and into collision with another pram containing a very dirty boy.

Sunday, April 21st. — I did not go out, but derived considerable amusement from a squadron of the Salvation Army, the rearguard consisting of two good-looking young women, hot, excited and trudging, with two perambulators and three babies.


“I really enjoyed my work experience…” by Eliza Howell


, , ,

My name is Eliza Howell and I volunteered at Salisbury Museum for the first week of August during my summer holidays. I am currently studying my levels at Gillingham Sixth Form and wish to continue my education to study art history at university. After previously doing work experience at an auction house, I thought it would be good for me to see another side of art history, and consequently I felt that having some experience in museums would be very important. I was interested in this museum as I have visited it before, and previously saw a John Craxton exhibition that I really enjoyed. I’d heard good things about the museum from a lot of people and it definitely lived up to my expectations!


I really enjoyed my work experience; I have been surrounded by beautiful things throughout the week, from fragile costumes to bronze objects from the Pitt Rivers archive, and later on in the week some work by the immensely talented Rex Whistler. The Museum arranged a range of things for me to do, one of which giving me the opportunity to look through some of the Whistler archive. I got to look at his sketches and plan for murals and read some of his letters. I found this experience very beneficial and enjoyable, as it allowed me to look at his art work first hand which I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do anywhere else. I also liked that, whilst I looked at the artwork, I was able to learn more about the process by which objects are protected and recorded by the Museum. This gave me an insight into conservation, and showed me a part of art history which I haven’t seen properly before. Everyone has been so kind and has had beneficial conversations with me that have opened my eyes to possible careers in art history that I hadn’t considered before. I am amazed by the work that is done at the Museum, by both staff and volunteers. I think that it is an amazing resource for the local community, allowing people to immerse themselves in important collections. I feel that after seeing the work that goes on behind the scenes I will appreciate it more and I am looking forward hopefully to returning soon!

The Diary of Beatrix Potter, part 1. Extracts by Volunteer Stephen Lycett




Thursday, April 18th. — Salisbury. By very shaky rail over country which became pretty as we approached the Avon. Went to the White Hart, a good Inn, rather emphatically an inn with a powerful smell of beer and a noise of people going late to bed, but very clean and good attendance.

We were much delighted with Salisbury, especially the Close, with its fine elms, green meadows and old red-brick houses in gardens where the ribes and Pyrus japonica are coming into flower, and the walls are covered with Cape Jessamine. Several have steps and curious old ironwork in railings and gate ways. I was much pleased with a sun-dial on the side of a house, ‘life’s but a walking shadow’.

The Cathedral is very beautiful, a thing of perfection externally. The inside rather painfully bare and plain. We had a curious illustration of the height of organ, a pigeon flying wildly up and down during the service. A very beautiful organ, the fourth sweetest I have heard. The choir-boys wear white frills, we saw them playing football in the Close afterwards, and one round-faced cherub careering about the turf on a bicycle, the frills have a most curious effect. The eggs also have frills at the White Hart. The house is old, but nothing like the five-hundred years which the Inn is said to have existed. The presiding geniuses are certainly cats, especially a very black one with yellow eyes. They supply iced-water, and there is currant-bread at lunch. The cooking is not so handsome as the bill.


The Diary of Beatrix Potter, part 2


, , , , ,


Friday, April 19th. — Went to the Museum and was much interested, an excellent compact collection, and in a handsome separate building across the garden is the Blackmore collection of antiquities illustrating the Palaeolithic and Neolithic man.

I should think it is about the finest collection of flints in the world. The objects were gathered from all parts of the world by the late Mr. Blackmore. There occurs a slight confusion with regard to objects other than flints, for instance engraved bones, as to which are real and which plaster.

Also curious, a collection of flint forgeries, a very fearful warning to avoid curiosity shops. Also the modern greenstones from New Zealand are handsomer than the Neolithic. The subject is beyond an ordinary person, but I appreciated an enormous horn from the drift at Salisbury.

The Antiquarian Museum contains, and was founded on, objects unearthed during the drainage after the cholera. A most singular medley of spurs, knives and hafts, keys, padlocks, stirrups, spoons, every imaginable small ironwork and Roman pottery from adjacent entrenchments, and a very perfect specimen of an Anglo-Saxon.

Also printed broadsides, play bills etc.; an enormous, ugly giant in a red gown; and a black hobby-horse with clapping mouth carried through the town on state occasions.

A good collection of birds, badly stuffed, but a few good. The last buzzard shot as late as ’71. A mottled hare, a breed found at a village whose name I have stupidly forgotten, grey all year round, the custodian suggested more like a white, little hare, but not sufficiently well set-up to judge. He said, for the first time in his experience, the glass of the cases containing ducks had fogged every morning during the intense cold last winter. I thought the greasy exhalation had become opaque and visual through cold, he said they thought through the salt.

There is a good small type-collection of fossils, and a case of most exquisite specimens from the chalk. Also, in a drawer, an old wooden doll roughly dressed in a bit of satin brocade, a flowered-pattern, said to have been dressed by Marie Antoinette in prison, touching if authentic.

Thanks to Stephen for these delightful extracts. We will have more next week, including Beatrix’s views on Stonehenge.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.