Some of Her Favourite Things…

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Some of the grave goods, including metal arrow heads, from the Amesbury Archer grave
The Amesbury Archer

Artemis has written in our blog before (see July 10) and has recently completed two pieces on her favourite items in the museum. We include one today. The other will appear next week.

The Salisbury Museum is, of course, chock full of all sorts of curious objects that people would find intriguing, no matter where their interests lay. That is the allure of a museum. I’ve only been studying in England for three years, having done my GCSE’s at Godolphin (and now continuing my A-levels there), and in my first year of GCSE Art we came down to look at the artefacts – specifically ceramics. No offence to anyone, but I grew to dislike looking at old ceramics after that experience where we were expressly forbidden to look at anything but pots! So my first impression of the museum was unfortunately not that great. Now that I have had a full week to explore the museum more in depth and have been able to adapt to my own tastes better, there were two objects that I found particularly interesting that I hadn’t had the chance to properly study before.

The first is the famous Amesbury Archer. I had glanced at him (longingly) two years ago, but on Monday I got to really inspect the display. (The staff and volunteers often joked that he had received more media coverage than the whole museum combined throughout the years.) His remains were found near Stonehenge, dating back to the late Neolithic period. The reason why he was so interesting was because of the finds in his burial, which suggested that he was a man of extremely high status despite one non-functional leg. His teeth traced his origins to somewhere near the Alps. He was, seemingly, one of the founders of metal-working in Britain, which was what gave him such a wealthy burial, with the oldest gold and copper items yet found within the UK.

My interest lies in archaeology, but the main influence on that is in all types of ancient mythology (also mainly in ceremonial rites like funerals and weddings, but that isn’t really relevant right now). The Greeks believed in a blacksmith god named Hephaestus, or the Roman Vulcan, who was crippled with a smashed leg when Hera threw him off Olympus as a baby for being too ugly. He landed on high mountains – some believed he landed on a volcano, which made him also the god of volcanoes (hence the word derived from his Roman name). After being raised by the older generation of “monstrous” immortals who taught him the trade of metalworking, Hephaestus travelled far and wide, ultimately seeking revenge against his immortal family for his mistreatment. Mortals associated him with gold and bronze.

With that in mind, the first thing that came to me upon seeing the Amesbury Archer was the similarities he had to Hephaestus. Both crippled, metalworking men who came from the mountains, treated with high prestige and immense respect by the locality; the coincidence was all too much. Could it be possible that the Stone Age Archer was a reincarnation of the Ancient Greek God?

The reincarnation theory is highly prominent in Asian religions and mythologies, and it has certainly spread worldwide in providing interesting plotlines (e.g. see the film A Dog’s Journey). Of course the common person would scoff at my association of the Amesbury Archer with an Ancient Greek myth, but it left a lasting impression on me and certainly allowed my imagination to wander far and wide.

Thank you Artemis. Fascinating, and thought provoking.

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Poppies

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This email was sent to us by Volunteer Linda. I haven’t been given Linda’s surname but I believe it is Linda Salter…Someone will tell me if I am wrong!

When Bridget asked us to make poppies to be displayed in the Army Flying Museum, I thought I can’t crochet and my knitting isn’t that good, but I do have plenty of felt.

What you need:

I red felt square

1 black felt square

Black embroidery silk ( 2 strands)

You can make several out of just one felt square. Just use the drawing as a guide and make it any size you want, (mine is 7cm).

2 red cut outs and one black centre. Sew  all 3 together  with the black silk, overlapping slightly to give it extra effect of how a poppy looks.

Best wishes

Linda

What a great idea! Thank you Linda.

Keeping Us Up-to-date with DAG

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Dr Claire Rainsford and DAG chairman David Croot grapple with bones!

This is the first of two items on excavations this week. We have written before (most recently 18 June this year) about the activities of DAG (Deverills Archaeology Group) which welcomes a small group of Salisbury Museum Volunteers to its talks and on its excavations.

Last week, Dr David Roberts (see ‘Excavations’ below) was ‘in town’ and led talks and discussion summarising the work of DAG over the last 18 months: six geo surveys, three evening talks, two excavations, funding wins, public engagement (including visits from Brownies and Young Archaeologists) and, most important of all, significant gains in knowledge and understanding of the history of the Deverills valley.

David Croot, Chairman, introduced the speakers and made particular mention of the organisations that had made the project possible financially: the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Warminster Area Board and the village hall.

The speakers, including David Roberts, made for a pretty high-powered bunch. Also present, and involved with continuing research and interpretation in the valley, were Mike Allen (environmental archaeologist), Dr Claire Rainsford (the animal bone lady!) and Dr Jorn Schuster (small finds expert).

Amongst other things we learned that the Romans enjoyed beef but in later periods lamb had become the favourite. We were also told that fish bones tend not to appear in excavation because people ate them, they dissolved in the gut, and so were not passed on, as it were (at least, I think that is what they said!). It may also be that not a lot of fish was eaten (although fresh water fish would have been available -and required on Fridays) and that fish bones are pretty small anyway…

We are grateful to the DAG blog for some of the detail here. You might like to go to their website and sign up for their blog, to keep track of events.

Excavations

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Last week, Volunteers from Salisbury Museum were involved in excavations in the depths of beautiful Wiltshire countryside, west of Salisbury.

Friend of the museum, archaeologist Dr David Roberts, has been digging in this particular area for a decade, looking mainly at Roman remains, and it continues to bring forth surprises!

Dr Roberts (in background) discusses the interpretation of a trench
Remains of Roman structures revealed
In post -ex, a Roman tessera (stone from mosaic) is washed
Large amounts of material, mostly Romano-British pottery sherds, are washed and dried
Interested locals look on!

Inspired Art

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Earlier in the summer Volunteers were again invited to join University of Southampton students in producing art work inspired by the annual excavations at Old Sarum. Here are some of the results…

(Click on any of the photos above to enlarge)

Volunteer Selina Chudleigh (centre) and others at work

REX WHISTLER TOUR by Volunteer Alan Crooks

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Did you read Linda’s report last week on the recent Rex Whistler tour of Wilton? Alan Crooks adds this…

As Linda said, we were all shocked at the terrible condition of Edith Olivier’s grave marker (Fig 1). I, however, was not surprised, as I had attended the first ever Wilton History Festival in 2017 during which the organiser, Dr Rebecca Lyons, now a Wilton Councillor, mentioned the awful state it was in and said that she would see whether anything could be done about it. I have reminded her about this and she has undertaken to pursue this further.

Fig 1 Edith Olivier grave marker
Fig 2 Lillian Rosemary Olivier grave marker

Edith, who had an interest in the paranormal, had been familiar with the legend that two white birds would be seen flying over Salisbury Cathedral following the death of a Bishop of Salisbury. Thus it is particularly poignant that David Herbert, second son of Reginald, 15th Earl of Pembroke in recalling her funeral, wrote: ‘As they lowered her coffin into the grave, with a swish of wings a pigeon flew up into the sky. Cecil [Beaton] and I gasped and in one breath said, ‘Edith soaring through tracks unknown!’

Close by Edith’s grave marker was that of her niece, Lillian Rosemary, who died in 2002 aged 99 (Fig 2). This is in much better condition than Edith’s. A member of our party explained that it was Lillian who bequeathed her aunt’s Rex Whistler pictures to Salisbury Museum.

Margaret, our guide, also pointed out the marble monumental effigies of Baron Herbert of Lea (Fig 3) and his wife Elizabeth within the church of St Mary and St Nicholas. Although Sidney Herbert is buried in the churchyard at Wilton, Elizabeth, who controversially converted to Roman Catholicism, is buried at the St Joseph’s Missionary College, Mill Hill, where she was a notable patron.

Fig 3 Marble monumental effigy of Baron Herbert of Lea

We were reminded that Sidney Herbert was Secretary at War during the Crimean War and it was he who sent Florence Nightingale out to Scutari, and with Nightingale led the movement for Army Health and War Office reform after the war.

Later in the afternoon, during a guided walk of Wilton House Park, Ros Liddington pointed out the busts of Gladstone and Disraeli, with associated messages, on the boathouse roof (Fig 4). The message on Gladstone’s bust says, ‘My number is 666’ whereas that on Disraeli’s bust says, ‘the time will come when…’ (I regret that I didn’t catch the rest of this, but it was equally salacious!)

Fig 4

As the younger son of George Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke, Sidney ran the Pembroke family estates at Wilton House for most of his adult life, so therefore had the opportunity to build the boathouse with the salacious busts. Sidney’s mother was the Russian noblewoman  Countess Catherine Woronzow (or Vorontsov), the only daughter of Semyon, Count Woronzow, formerly Russian ambassador at the court of St. James, and long-time resident in England. Sidney Herbert’s Russian ancestry caused him a lot of trouble in Parliament, thus leading to his creation of the satirical busts.

A bronze statue of Sidney Herbert, who was MP for Wiltshire from 1832-1861, is now in Victoria Park, Salisbury, having been moved there from Guildhall Square in 1953 to make space for the coronation celebrations.

As Linda commented, this was a fascinating and really memorable day, covering far more than Rex Whistler and his relationship with Edith Olivier; and providing an opportunity to visit parts of Wilton House Park not generally accessible to the public. Very many thanks to Bridget for arranging it.

Sarum St Michael Honorary Degrees

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Some time ago we heard that teachers who gained a Certificate of Education (Southampton University) at the College of Sarum St Michael (65 The Close!), were being considered for Honorary Degrees. We have now received this from Lin Mills:

“Following our meeting on Wednesday with the staff at the University, a date  has been booked for the Honorary Degree Ceremony.

It will be at Salisbury Cathedral on Monday 2nd March 2020 during the morning.

We will contact you again in September with information on how to register with the university in order to receive this award.

All students who gained a qualification allowing them to teach are eligible for this.

Please give this information to any students you know who might like to receive the award.

Several Volunteers will be putting this date in their diary! Please spread the word if you can.

The Connection Between Snuff, Parliament and Coffins? Read on…

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For a better picture and description, go here

A student on her work experience at Salisbury Museum (Charlotte; see her blog below) has done some interesting research on a snuff box which is part of one of our collections…

The object I have chosen is a souvenir coffin shaped snuffbox from the 19th century. I chose this object because of its immediate irony and dark humour, as well as the intriguing local history behind it.

Most wooden snuffboxes were made by country craftsmen, which can make them hard to date, and have less delicate designs. Country craftsmen had no need to keep up with fashions, so many snuffboxes are shaped and decorated with humour or simple design, as opposed to the latest style. Whilst the shape of a coffin is initially shocking, it is not unusual; there were quite a few snuffboxes shaped as coffins, some even containing miniature skeletons. The snuff powder these skeletons would be replaced with would serve as a macabre reminder of the dust we all return to. A few snuffboxes also bore engravings of skulls, further exemplifying this surprisingly dark humour.

This particular snuffbox in the form of a coffin, was made by Benjamin Best of Tisbury, from a piece of the ‘Parliament Tree’ allegedly felled sometime in the late 19th century. It bears the inscription: OLD SARUM DIED 7th JUNE 1832 AGED 584.’ Here the reference to the death of Old Sarum is about the passing of the Reform Bill, the local political history that makes this object so fascinating.

The Reform Bill was passed in the 1830s, and deprived Old Sarum of the right to return two members to Parliament. Old Sarum had retained this right previously, even though the town had been completely deserted for many years. By the 19th century, the town was often known as a ‘rotten borough’, or ‘pocket borough’; a place where a small number of electors voted under the control of their landlord (in this case, because it had been abandoned for Salisbury).

This box not only relates to the ‘death’ of Old Sarum in writing, but it is made from the ‘Parliament tree’, beneath which the polling tent would have been set up. The tree is also said to have been situated on ‘election acre’ although there is not a decided location for it. A second snuff box was made from this tree. Inscribed: OLD SARUM DESERTED IN YEAR 1217, DISFRANCHISED JUNE 7 1832’, which bears a similar message to the coffin shaped one I have chosen.

I find the coffin shaped snuff boxes really interesting, as they are the product of a certain type of dark humour and irony that many of us would consider to be more modern. Snuff boxes shaped as coffins are an unusual combination of fear and fascination with death, and a morbid joke.

This specific box’s relation to the Reform Bill and subsequent ‘death’ of Old Sarum, makes it all the more engaging. There were very mixed emotions surrounding the reform bill, so this symbol of the death of the old town may have been like a political statement, not just an ironic souvenir. I would be interested to know how the maker of it, Benjamin Best, felt about the bill.

I think that this snuffbox is an interesting object in itself, but also with an engaging message, and story behind it.

Snuff boxes in the form of coffins are surprisingly common!

“…a lovely atmosphere…”

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My name is Charlotte, and I am currently a student at Upper Shirley High school in Southampton. I study History, Spanish, Art and Citizenship, alongside English, triple Science and Maths. I have always had a keen interest in History, particularly Ancient History and Archaeology, which is why Salisbury Museum seemed like the perfect place to go to for a week’s work experience. Not only does Salisbury Museum have an amazing range of artefacts, it is also has a really lovely atmosphere, and beautiful surroundings, so I feel very lucky to have been able to spend a week here!

Leading up to this week of work experience, I was excited, but generally unsure what to expect, as I haven’t had much experience working behind the scenes in a museum. I think that overall, I was just hoping to try out a variety of things, and find out a bit more about the history of Salisbury and its surrounding area. In that sense, my time at the museum was perfect; I was able to experience working in a wide range of departments, and see many things that I otherwise would not have done.

We started off with a quick induction session, to give us an idea of where everything is, and of what the museum has to offer. After that, we spent some time cataloguing the Ceramics collection. During the week, we were also given the use of the Museum Library and public displays for our own research in to a chosen artefact. This was great, as an opportunity to see the amazing collections, and understand what independent research in a Museum is like.

We not only got the opportunity to catalogue some of the Ceramics collection, but also the Social History collection, Archaeological archives, Costume collection, and Rex Whistler archives. This gave us a real taste of the work that goes on behind the scenes, and some time to see and handle the amazing artefacts here at Salisbury Museum. Aside from cataloguing, we were taken on a brilliant spotlight tour of the museum, and heard some wonderful stories whilst shadowing an engagement volunteer.

I have really enjoyed my week at the museum, especially being able to see the Rex Whistler archives, and hearing some engaging stories and facts about the building and its collection. It was a good chance to learn about Salisbury’s history and how museums function behind the scenes.

I want to offer massive thanks to all of the volunteers and staff here, I really appreciate the time taken to help and talk to us, and how welcoming everybody was. It was brilliant to spend time with so many dedicated and passionate people. This is a lovely museum!

Thank you Charlotte. We are glad you enjoyed yourself and obviously gained much from your stay with us.

“…tried many different things…”

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Hello, my name is Harvey and I have recently been doing my work experience at Salisbury Museum.

Over this week I have tried many different things that I would not normally try. However they have been great fun; from cataloguing pottery, archaeological finds and costumes, to shadowing an engagement volunteer and some admin support.

One of my favourite things was the spotlight tour as it gave me more information on not only the artefacts in the museum but also the history of the building itself as it transformed from an abbot’s house to the museum you see today. It is amazing to see everything that goes on behind the scenes and to be able to see all the artefacts on display.

My favourite in the museum has been a Roman Mosaic dating from the 4th century AD now located in the Wessex Galley. It was found in 1953 in the garden of a new housing estate in Downton. It was part of a villa. In total the villa was over 30m long and consisted of 17 rooms, however some of them had been destroyed by a railway built in 1846.

The mosaic was located in the first room and 3m long. It showed a white ground with a geometric design made out of red, white, grey and black tiles in which the central motif was a large vase with two handles in the form of dolphins.

The mosaic was not the only thing found on site. For example there were bones belong to several different animals, pottery, 16 coins, sea food shells and also flint implements dating back to the Neolithic area. This then suggests that the site was used long before the Romans came in and built a villa on the spot.

Inside the villa there were two corn drying ovens and a bathhouse which consisted of three rooms. The ovens where roughly 6 m long and had a diameter of 91cm. Nothing remained above floor level. However. most of the floors and all of the stoking pits remained.                                   

So thank you Salisbury Museum for allowing me to do my work experience here.    

Thank you, Harvey