Farewell Rachel

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Rachel Herring,  a Year Twelve student studying, History, German, English Literature and Philosophy at South Wilts Grammar school in Salisbury, has now completed a second stay with us.  In this photo we can see her at the History Through the Eye of a Needle temporary exhibition in the Wessex Gallery. Notice, behind Rachel, the little creature which seems to have ‘photo-bombed’ proceedings! If you don’t know who it is, come and enjoy the exhibition, which is a fascinating ‘take’ on history, presented through a variety of forms of needlework, mostly based on items from our Salisbury Gallery.

Thank you Rachel, for all your help. Best wishes for the future…

On 25th July I returned to the museum to complete my five-day work placement, which I had started over Easter with the Glow Wall event. This time I was helping out at the ‘Companions of the Long Bow’ archery event where, under clear blue skies, families could try their hand at this ancient weapon and find out about armour and strategy at battles such as Agincourt. As an A Level history student I was intrigued to learn more from the archers, who, amongst other things participate in the huge medieval re-enactment at Tewkesbury. Both I and the public were fascinated by their expertise; for example, demonstrations using wooden pikes which were sharpened and hammered into the ground as protection for Henry V’s armies explained why archers carried mallets. It was also revealed that an old act of courtesy, whereby knights would raise their visor to see their opponent’s eyes before combat, had in fact evolved into the modern day gesture of the salute.

This event wasn’t the only opportunity I had to expand my knowledge of history during my placement at the museum. The next morning I was asked to do some research and write a text to accompany the display of Great Bustards in the museum entrance, which were killed in the late 1800s and were some of the last of their species to be sighted in Britain. During my research I not only read about the heritage of the birds (which are the heaviest flying birds in the world and have a wingspan of up to 8 feet), but about the work of the Great Bustard Group, which is the organisation responsible for reintroducing the birds to Britain using eggs from Russia and Spain. After their effective extinction in the 19th century due to two centuries of hunting and industrialisation, the Great Bustard population in Britain has now been reviving since 2004.

In the afternoon I was lucky enough to have a detailed tour of the museum; despite living in Salisbury, I have to admit I had not visited the museum as a visitor for several years! I particularly enjoyed visiting the Wessex gallery, which triggered some interesting conversations with the guides there about the limits of archaeology and the assumptions we often make as historians. It was also refreshing to consider some more local and personal forms of history, which made a contrast to the scale of history studied in school.

On my third and final day at the museum, I helped out at a Young Carers art event run by the learning department. This was a truly enjoyable and thought-provoking experience, as I realised the enthusiasm which art and history can create, and the importance of making heritage accessible and engaging to all age groups. Through talking to some of the children about the displays they were drawing, I had an insight into their interpretations of what they saw, and what they had taken away from visiting the museum.

All that remains is to thank the staff who helped to organise my placement, the volunteers who I worked with and those in charge of the activities I contributed to. The level of variety which I experienced during my placement opened my eyes to the breadth and depth of what the museum offers, and I now have a much greater appreciation of what those who work there contribute to the Salisbury community and beyond.

 

I Have Thoroughly Enjoyed My Time

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A view from Katy Saunders…

As part of my archaeology course at the University of Nottingham, I have to complete twenty days compulsory fieldwork. Last year I spent ten of these days working on an excavation at the Poulton Research Project, near Chester (as seen on Time Team!). For some strange reason, after ten days of either pouring rain or blistering sun and mud getting in places mud should not be, I decided to go somewhere indoors with heaters and carpet and a roof. Weird.

Joking aside, I really wanted to gain experience on the museum/heritage side of archaeology, as this is the area I am most interested in. It would be good work experience for me, and would help me make decisions in terms of my future career. I sat down at my computer and tried to rack my brains for somewhere which might be willing to take me on. My Dad suggested Salisbury to me. We had been to the museum several times, having visited the Festival of Archaeology for two years in a row. I emailed, and soon found myself with a placement.

I was down for various jobs, all of which gave me great insight to the running of museums. I worked with the Rex Whistler collections with several lovely ladies,  helped organise the many boxes of the Pitt-River’s collection (I have never seen so many models of ploughs in my life!) and worked with the team slowly going through boxes and boxes of clothes, describing them carefully and recording them properly. I also tried my hand at asking the public to fill in exit surveys after they had been around the museum, and a special thank you to the lady, a volunteer, who said, “People never filled them out for me, so I’ll fill one out for you!”

I was not able to completely avoid Britain’s magical weather. During the Festival of Archaeology I was photographing Phil Harding’s dig at the museum and was extremely thankful for the tent that was put up over us! But rather unfortunately I was not under this lovely, dry, non-leaking tent when the fire alarm went off during a particularly heavy downpour, I was in the building. The building which had to be evacuated. Into the rain.

Needless to say when I got home that evening I was more than a little damp.

Katy photo NYU

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As someone keenly interested in archaeology, the Pitt-Rivers collection was highly interesting. I was able to peek in at the items stored in the backroom; rows and rows of boxes piled high and filled with all sorts of fascinating and intriguing things. As someone who loves browsing bookshops for hours, I felt like I could be in there forever! One box contained skulls, others flint from Norfolk, many with models of carved crosses, I was like a kid in a sweet shop and wanted to carefully take each box out one by one and poke my nose in.

The costume and clothes collection was also interesting. Archaeology is defined as ‘studying the past through the physical remains’. Most of the time, we tend to think of this as pottery or tile or the ruined remains of an abbey where the jackdaws nest. However, when I thought about it, clothing is archaeology too. The items also have stories to tell, from which kind of intricate lace the item was decorated with to the type of hand-made button carefully sewn into the cuffs of a 1800s dress. The items were created, had owners and hold as much history as the flints and the axe heads in the Wessex Gallery. This was something that had not crossed my mind before, and left me intrigued!

I admit, art is not my forte. At best a wonky stick figure is all I can manage, at worse a lop-sided smiley face. So when I was shown to the Rex Whister room to go through his work, cataloguing and recording each item, I wondered if I was going to be a little out of my depth. Luckily, my nervousness vanished quickly as I looked over all the silly doodles Rex had drawn on the back on envelopes, and the funny sketches of couples dancing. A Volunteer and I had great fun trying to describe what was meant to be a pretty picture at in the opening pages of a book (‘The New Forget-Me-Not’). If, “Grotesque grimacing face with a flowing fountain and star above it and ribbon and plants at either side.” made any sense to the poor person transferring our record online I have no idea, but hopefully they will be so confused that they have to look the image up. It’s a great picture, so I hope they do!

In conclusion, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Salisbury Museum. The collections are fascinating, the staff and Volunteers welcoming, and it has given me great insight to the running of museums, something highly valuable to me as I make decisions for my future. I shall be recommending this experience everywhere I go!

Thank you Katy. We’re glad it was fun. Best wishes to you…

Ever Wish You were Five Again?

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Summer is here (according to the calendar anyway!), school’s out and Discovery Tuesdays at the museum are packed. Last week we had printing with Charlotte Moreton.

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This week they are making Noah’s Ark with Charlotte Stowell, which may actually be quite appropriate for the weather!

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Photo courtesy of Charlotte Stowell

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Next week, Tuesday 15 August Sarah Holtby will be working with the little ones to produce Layered Landscape Ceramic Tiles and Pots, and the week after, Archaeologist Chris Elmer will be taking them digging.

Many thanks, as always, to the Volunteers who help make it all happen!

 

Do Your Work Experience at the Salisbury Museum

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20170712_155658 Josh

Hi my name is Josh, I am currently attending the Burgate School & Sixth Form in which I am studying for my GCSE’S – Maths, English, Science, History, Geography, Philosophy and Ethics and Business Studies. I am really enjoying it there and in my opinion it is one of the friendliest schools around.

I started here on Monday feeling more than a little bit nervous, but as soon as I was introduced to everyone such as Joyce, Roger, Bridget, Katy and so many other volunteers that I instantly lost that nervous feeling and felt so much more welcomed and accepted. Everyone was friendly here and the volunteers were some of the friendliest people I have met in my life. Overall I have really loved this work experience.

I feel that I have learnt so much from all of these exhibits, the Wessex gallery being my favourite and the Warminster Jewel being my favourite thing in it. I have learnt more about costumes and clothing from cataloguing than I would have ever thought I could       (thanks Caroline, Pam, Selina, Sarah, Muriel, Joan and Sue). I have also witnessed the amazing art skills of Rex Whistler and how complicated and fiddly the computer catalogues are (thanks Kaye).  And even helping out at the under five’s crafting morning was more fun than I could have expected.

Overall, I would highly recommend to anyone who studies History, or is just fascinated by what happens behind the scenes in a museum, then I would definitely say that you should do your work experience at the Salisbury Museum. I do think that by doing my work experience here I have now had an in-depth knowledge of what really happens in a museum.

Joshua Merritt

Thank you Josh.  We enjoyed your time with us.

Anne Lightbrown’s Delightful Tour of our Recent Event

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ArchFest 17 was a brilliant event (and the fact that people turned up enthusiastically in the rain is testament to that!). We were very busy all weekend with 1277 visitors to the museum and it was those people and the part played by the tremendous volunteers and staff that helped to make the weekend enjoyable whilst getting thoroughly soaked!

Dr Phil Harding’s dig (using Mick Aston’s shovel and overlooked by the giant statue in the front garden!) for the remains of the lost gatehouse (guided by old maps and geophysics) found some medieval tiles and pottery while providing a fascinating insight into practical archaeology and demonstrated to the onlookers that a lot can be accomplished in a small amount of time and space. Within just a few hours they had found something they did not know before and this was the essence of archaeology. The discoveries, paired with Phil’s humour, made the dig incredibly popular and his tent always had a crowd round it. Whilst amongst the crowds I met a family who had come from Southampton and whose daughter was interested in archaeology even at her young age. They said they were “really enjoying watching the dig”, and from what they could see from where they were standing, couldn’t wait to have a look round the rest of the stands as they all looked “very interesting”. Working with Phil was Lorraine Mepham who is a finds specialist. She worked throughout the event identifying objects which she would discuss with a sold-out crowd in a talk the following day.

Adjacent to the dig was cooking masterclasses. Although some of the ingredients may have been brought from Tesco, it just shows it is still possible to connect with history in the modern day. Visitors could also enjoy slightly less historical hot dogs and burgers brought from a BBQ.

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Another live demonstration included that of the College of Chivalry which showed eager listeners the importance of archery in conflicts of the past as well as teaching them how to be proper archers. The first of these lessons was that you “shoot”, not “fire” a bow as many people may have thought, due to the inconsistencies of Hollywood.

Some of the many projects showcased included Human Henge who described their first year at the festival as “wonderful”. They were highlighting the work they are doing to help people with mental health problems engage with culture and history through a partnership with Bournemouth and English Heritage. This was a very exciting stall as this is a pilot project (so new it is still in its research phase) which will hopefully be developed by June 2018. The Maritime Archaeology bus gave visitors a chance to engage with maritime archaeology including World War One ship wrecks. This seemed to have captured the imagination of many young visitors as at the end of the day they could be seen sailing boats they had made with Scrapstore in the puddles that had formed – you know what they say about lemons and lemonade! Waterloo Uncovered were enjoying their first year at the festival displaying finds from the last three years of work. This project involves leading battlefield archaeologist working with veterans from recent campaigns and helping to aid their recovery and rehabilitation into life after the army. Their stall was supplemented by virtual tours of the farmhouse three times a day which provided another different type of activity. Whilst Waterloo Uncovered were enjoying their first time at the festival, Friends of Clarendon were equally enjoying their third time at the event. They say that it is the “enthusiasm of the people they meet” and the enjoyment they get from talking about the ”fantastic site” which keeps them coming back (and they will hopefully return in the future too!). The Cathedral was kept secure by the Butser IX Legion marching around it impressively while General Pitt-Rivers told us of his contribution in the early days of archaeology.

All whilst this was happening, a variety of highly interesting talks were taking place from a diverse range of speakers with an equally mixed selection of topics being a pioneering female journalist for the BBC (Kate Adey) to the “Pompeii of Britain” (Must Farm). The knowledge the speakers brought, coupled with opportunity for intellectual questions and answers made them very informative.

Overall, the weekend was very successful and enjoyed by all who attended. We learned a lot and enjoyed learning it and we hope to see you next year!

Francis Pryor at ArchFest – They Were Farmers Like Me…

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Francis Pryor’s talk at ArchFest, ‘Stonehenge: The Story of a Sacred Landscape’ was a surprise, and all the more interesting for that of course.

He began by saying that we would never fully understand the ancient monuments that surround us (particularly in Wiltshire it seems!) but he suggested that we don’t anyway fully understand our own sacred monuments. In saying this, he gestured towards our own magnificent Salisbury Cathedral. That got me thinking.  And he hadn’t even mentioned Stonehenge as yet!

I have included here a piece from his own blog which tells us a little about his background and begins to explain his own theory about Stonehenge and places like it.

I’ve been an archaeologist for over forty years and have excavated several major sites, mostly in the Fens of eastern England. I’ve also tried to bring archaeology to a wider audience, with a number of books, radio and television programmes, of which Time Team is the best known. When not writing or digging, I’m also a sheep farmer and keen gardener. But like most people, I get bees in my bonnet – obsessions, call them what you like. Most of my worries are about the general disregard for the achievements of people in the past and the failure of politicians, both local and national, to learn the lessons of history.

Francis shared most of this with us in his talk. He explained that because the people who built and used Stonehenge were farmers, like himself, he tried to see the monument through their eyes. A view surely not unlike his own. It is a mistake, he said, to see the great henges as places that were each the creation of some megalomaniac figure. Rather they are the product of people, not unlike himself, as a farmer, and not unlike any of us, really. Just as we have our churches, graves, and memorials, so they wanted to record, celebrate and remember, loved ones.

The great megaliths are almost certainly he suggested, as we would suspect, representing Gods or great figures from within their society, and the smaller bluestones almost certainly representing local people. He also suggested that the numerous carvings of axes on some of the uprights are each representing a person.

It is important to remember that Stonehenge was built, added to, abandoned and re-used over centuries, anyway and so there would be subtle changes all the time in how it was used.

I kept remembering his opening remarks about Salisbury Cathedral.  He is quite right, that in thousands of years’ time, no one will be able to precisely imagine, measure or record the feeling that the building gives us as we, Christians or not, walk into the Close. No one will be able to measure the awe we feel, its importance in our lives, the feeling it gives us for our own history. The magic.

Stonehenge was, and had, all of that for the peoples of the times in which it was the centre of their lives. And to a degree that magic lives on, even though we are no longer sure why it was built in the first place.

A Thank You to all Volunteers involved at ArchFest

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We will hear more about ArchFest weekend  in next week’s blog, including some details of the wonderful talks. Meanwhile, a special thanks to the Volunteers who were with us, some on both days, and some who got very wet indeed! We can’t do it without you.  It is as simple as that.

Here are just a few who were here on Sunday…

Thank you, too, to the staff, who gave up their weekend and still turned up to work on Monday!

Wonderful Volunteers

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An email received from a recent visitor..

Last week a friend and I came over to Salisbury from Chichester  and Portsmouth specifically to see the current art exhibition, enticed particularly by the posters/fliers of a Ravilious work… we were totally overwhelmed by the rest of your museum, the fascinating displays and information and, most especially, the totally wonderful and knowledgeable guardian staff.  We gained so much extra information by asking a few questions and, if the answer was not known, it was sought and brought back to us.  We were thrilled and so impressed.  Obviously the room guardians (I am presuming they are volunteers) are in love with the area, the history and the museum itself.

Our grateful thanks to all those on duty last Wednesday 12th July …