More from the Collections


A wooden toy, probably 19th century
A carriage, complete with passengers

Jean and Jane continue to find early toys in the museum collection. This carriage has, in fact, just been removed from a display cabinet in the Costume Gallery – all part of the on-going work there. Next week painting will take place in the gallery and everything must be out by then!

Most wooden toys in our collection seem to be 200 years old, or less. Not surprising – they wear well but don’t last for ever! They are not unknown in archaeology and certainly go back 3 000 years but likely go back even further. The Ancient Egyptians put wooden toys in childrens’ graves, mostly dolls.

Throughout history, the most common wooden toys have been dolls, also carved animals, boats that float and wheeled vehicles that can be pushed or pulled. Perhaps little changes. And apart from dolls and animals that might be made of textiles or skins, and stuffed, wood must surely have been the most common material used, except for modern plastic. Lead, of course, was also much used, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, particularly for the making of model soldiers, but also farm animals.

It is thought that the oldest of toys is the rattle, in one form or another. They need not be elaborate – sticks, seed pods and other items from nature can be made to make an interesting noise for a baby.

Clay and glass marbles have also been found in graves in Egypt.

In the twentieth century model cars and trains became popular and we might remember companies like Dinky and Hornby. In the second half of the century, TV became an influence as children wanted the animals and characters they saw in their ‘cult’ programmes – Magic Roundabout, Teletubbies. Muffin the Mule and Sooty puppets became popular. Costumes also became popular – the Davy Crockett hat, the Superman cape, the Cowboy suit – and these seem to be making a comeback. But these were not wood!

A number of different wooden toys come and go. They are often the most simple. The yoyo is a classic in this respect and there is a museum dedicated to this irresistible toy.

There have long since also been wooden toys to ride upon. The earliest must have been the hobby horse and some readers will remember, no doubt, grabbing an old sock and begging a broom stick from mum and making one of these. It is at least a Medieval tradition. For those too young to remember, the horse-like figure that could be made by stuffing the sock to look like a horse’s head, with suitable reins, etc, added, and placing it on the stick which was then grabbed between the knees and so ‘ridden’, was a favourite. And wooden rocking horses developed in perhaps the early 1600s. Apparently there was a tradition of tucking family heirlooms inside them – a lock of hair, a photograph, a child’s first toy or drawing – so if you have an old rocking horse at home, look carefully!

Volunteer talk



Volunteer events

Volunteers are invited to attend Volunteer Coffee Mornings, continuing one of our themes for volunteer talks for the year: celebrating the 800th anniversary of the move of Salisbury Cathedral from Old Sarum to its present site.

Tuesday 24 March

and Wednesday 1 April: Volunteer Coffee Mornings

Times 10.30am-12pm

Volunteer Roger Wadey will be giving a talk entitled ‘Living in 13th Century Salisbury: the lives of ordinary folk’. Roger will examine the lives of ordinary folk at the time of exceptional change in Salisbury, including the lives of peasants, specialist trades and the social landscape and marketplace in which the new city was being built.

We hope you can join us for tea, coffee and cake and to hear this fascinating talk. Both dates are the same event – so just chose one! There is no need to RSVP – please just turn up on the day.

Note from the Volunteer Co-ordinator (Bridget!): I am hoping to find a volunteer that would do a 5-10 minute presentation on an object of their choice at the end of the main talk. If you are interested in doing this please do get in touch.

Twenty five hundred years old…


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La Tene I type fibula

From earliest times and into the Medieval period, people used pins to hold their clothes together. Ancient Sumerians and Egyptians made pins with decorated heads and then in the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans they began to use fibulae, or brooches.

This example recently came in to the Finds Liaison office in the museum for processing by the Volunteers there. Discovered by a metal detectorist, it is what is described as a La Tene brooch and falls about halfway through the history of brooches. It dates from the Iron Age, about 2 500 years ago. Brooches of this age are not unusual, but complete ones are a treat.

The La Tene material culture became widespread across Europe with a remarkable degree of standardisation. Thus this could be an import, or worn by a visitor to the country, but is likely to have been made in England.

Excavations of burials show that these were worn at the shoulder, holding together a tunic, or keeping a cloak or cape in place. Although the official description of such brooches always starts at the ‘head’ (in this case describing the coils of the spring, the pin, etc, first) and continues with the bow and ‘foot’ (in this case the curved section with the disc at the end), regular readers will know that the brooches were actually worn the other way up.



These are just mannequins being discarded as Katy England and her team redesign our Costume Gallery. It is all part of the ‘Look Again’ project. If you are interested, and in the museum in the coming days, you can climb up to the Gallery and see if the door is open. If it is, it is a sign that the team are there and you may be able to go in and watch the work being done.

Katy says it is all going well, with a priority at the moment being the removal of all items to allow painting to take place in a week or so’s time. It isn’t, needless to say, merely a question of popping items into the corner, out of the way. Some of the display cabinets include furniture and other small items from the museum collections, all needing to be checked against the catalogues and checked, also, for damage, etc. They then need to be packed carefully away.

Mystery Items



Doll’s House furniture? Arm chair and two occasional tables…

Jean and Jane, social history volunteers, continue to work their way through their cupboards, unearthing, checking, re-wrapping and cataloguing small items like these (above).

Apparently doll’s house furniture (about 1/6th scale), an intriguing system has been used to build them.

Was this an early form of Lego? Was someone trying out a new modular building technique? Is it someone’s sample for possible mass production?

It is not, we would hope, a model for full scale reproduction. It is somewhat over – engineered, potentially rather wasteful of timber and would surely be rather uncomfortable to sit on!

If anyone knows anything about this, please contact us….

And also re-discovered last week…

Playing cards? Date suggested c 1620

Gorgeous little pieces of history. These cards are hand written and illustrated. Each is a contemporary description of the counties, with tiny accompanying map.

Do we assume every county appeared in the full pack? Were they used for the usual card games of that period, or do we assume a particular game, lost in time?

The numbering is a bit obscure. A pat on the back to those readers who can spot it!

Still Sharp


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This may look pretty unprepossessing, but it is the (very) sharp end of a copper alloy item which is at least three thousand years old.

It came in to the Finds Liaison Office this week having been one of a number of items found in the region by a metal detectorist. The finds included the usual (but always fascinating) mix of Medieval coins, Roman brooches, buckles and other items.

This, however, is what is always described as a Bronze Age sickle. They fairly often appear, usually just fragments like this. Wooden versions with flints have been used for at east 10 000 years, and without them, farming might never have got going. It is assumed they were used just as they still are in parts of the world today – for harvesting grain crops or cutting grass for fodder. They are sometimes found in hoards, suggesting they may have had a religious significance or were in some other way ‘special’.

This example is surely as sharp as the day it was lost, probably around one thousand BC or even earlier.

A Medieval sickle in use

Good To See


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There is a very good new little exhibition in the corridor by the cafe. It is a selection of old photographs of Salisbury (see example above) and an eclectic mix of other items, including an old pub sign.

Pub sign from the Ship Inn, Britford

The Ship Inn at Britford became a bakery in the nineteenth century and since then has been renovated and converted into a house, called the Old Bakery.

The Ship Inn/Old Bakery renovated in about the 1950s
The Old Bakery today. Photo from Geograph

The other side of the pub sign shows that the landlord was Thomas Cookman. This appears to have been a local Britford family.

A Pin-Up Girl….



As promised, a little more about Granny Cousins and her ilk, courtesy largely of a great article written by Katie Carpenter and published in an edition of Dorset Life in 2015.

Granny Cousins’ lamp and bonnet on loan from Poole Museum

Her full name was Caroline Jane Cousins (nee Bartlett), born in Lytchett Matravers around 1836. She had a chequered life but not unusually so for a working class woman of that period. At one point she ended up in the Workhouse in Wareham for a while but managed to bring up at least four children, some of whom went into the Workhouse with her.

She was working at a twine factory in Poole when she took on the role of knocker-upper, and already in her 60s. As possibly the country’s last knocker-upper* she became quite famous and a bit of a pin-up girl. A local photographer sold postcards of her – the photo we always see – and Granny Cousins shared in the profits.

Granny Cousins’ postcard. Her weapon of choice seems to be a broom handle.

When she retired sometime around the end of the First World War, she joined the Salvation Army, found lodgings with a friend and lived on to the age of 89. She always put her robust constitution down to the drinking of the water in which her vegetables were cooked.

She was probably right.

Elsewhere knocker-uppers used pea shooters to rattle upper windows, and they were sometimes also employed to snuff out the gas lamps in the dawn light. Sometimes policemen earned some extra income by taking on these duties on their early rounds.

Has anyone heard this before?

We had a knocker-up, and our knocker-up had a knocker-up

And our knocker-up’s knocker-up didn’t knock our knocker up

So our knocker-up didn’t knock us up

‘Cos he’s not up.

*Wikipedia claims the last knocker-upper finished his rounds in 1952!

Granny Cousins


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As part of our partnership with Wessex Museums (made up of Dorchester, Poole, Devizes – Wiltshire – and ourselves) we have this from Poole Museum.

Granny Cousins was a Poole lady whose job it was, in the days before watches and clocks became common, to go about the town of Poole and wake up the rope-workers and others by hammering on their windows with a long pole. The most fascinating part of the story is that she is said to have started at three in the morning – pretty grim hours for her, but who was the poor workman who was first on her list and had to be up so much earlier than the others? Perhaps it was a case of last in, first to get up?

Granny Cousins died in 1927 – within living memory, almost anyway, for many – and it is interesting to think that her work was still necessary as late as the last part of the nineteenth century when she must have been in her prime. She is often referred to as the last of the ‘knocker-ups’, a role which must reach back centuries.

More about Granny Cousins next time….

Look Again


‘Look Again: Discovering Centuries of Fashion’ is a project at the museum whereby, working with the community, our nationally significant costume collection will be reinterpreted and redisplayed.

Project Manager Katy England has been working on it for some months and now things are beginning to change.

Our present costume gallery will close this week. Meanwhile new ‘dummies’ are being prepared, carefully constructed to be a good fit for the costumes which will go on display towards the end of this year.

Volunteers from The Arts Society, and our own Volunteers, have been working for a considerable time checking, re-cataloguing and re-wrapping our collection. They are now also involved with the training necessary to decant the costumes currently on view and set up the new displays. Great care is needed with items which may be two or three hundred years old.

Students from secondary schools, colleges and Bournemouth University, as well as young carers, who have a long-term association with the museum, are also involved.

Project Manager Katy England (foreground) and Amy, Bournemouth University, prepare new dummies