I am in my first days as the Wessex Museums Partnership Community Curator (Wiltshire) and have had a fantastic time so far. In past lives I have been a community theatre practitioner, a producer and a tour manager for theatre in education. However, the bulk of my work over the last 15 years has been coordinating and managing programmes of learning and community work for Oxford Playhouse and the Corn Exchange in Newbury. Most recently I have been developing arts & health projects and managing a three year programme of creative work for people over 55, including work in care settings. I also have two small children so some of you may see me at Under 5’s Fridays from time to time.
I am incredibly excited by working in museums and all the potential these organisations have to benefit the local community, in the broadest sense. Community Curator is a brand new role so the job will evolve over time but I will be looking ways to build projects for particular groups, to find ways to overcome the barriers people might face in engaging with us or in life more generally. I will also find ways to take our work out to people in their own familiar settings. I will also aim to establish smaller things we can do to welcome people to our buildings who have never been before. In essence my work should have a social impact and ensure that more and more people benefit from these marvelous collections.
I will be based at Salisbury Museum but also working at the Wilshire Museum in Devizes and will be taking the next few weeks to really familiarise myself with the great work that is already going on in and around both buildings.
Chris Elmer, lecturer at the University of Southampton, will give a talk: ‘It’s all in the mind: how museums make the past come alive’.
Come along, meet friends, enjoy beverage and cake and what will be an excellent talk. No need to book.
Wednesday 27 March 10.30 – Noon
Collections in Focus Lecture
Volunteer Anthony Hawley will give a talk on his grandfather William Hawley, who was an archaeologist, amongst other very varied things. He worked on Stonehenge and had connections with the museum over seventy years ago. ‘Should be fascinating. No need to book.
Dr David Roberts is an old friend of Salisbury Museum and a number of museum Volunteers have worked with him in recent years, particularly on community excavations near Teffont and in the Deverills where the Deverills Archaeology Group (DAG) has been putting on a series of exciting winter talks. We are grateful to John Russell and his DAG blog posted on 8 February, which gives an account of David’s lecture. We have used extracts which we hope will be of interest to our readers.
David’s recent talk there was ‘South West Wiltshire in the Roman period – Farming, Pagans and Wealth’ and his intention was to provide the audience with an overview to give a wider context to the Deverills’ villa and what may emerge in the valley. He started with a slide of the conventional view of early Roman Britain with names of British tribes and their areas, with a scattering of towns with their Roman names: Verulamium etc.
Having convincingly debunked the conventional view of a neatly tribal Britain, he then went on to establish his talk’s baseline by describing how things probably were in the First Century. He started by mentioning hill forts (of which there are many in Wiltshire) and describing how most were unoccupied by the time of the Roman invasion, that they had dominated the trade routes from the south coast and were displays of power. He then spoke about round houses and the very extensive villages of which they formed part. He gave a particularly interesting description of the village in Stockton Wood on Great Ridge (overlooking the Wylye valley), with the size and complexity of the village with its defensive ditches strongly suggesting the availability of large scale labour and an organised society. He then gave a brief resume of the Claudian invasion and the part Vespasian’s 2nd Legion played in it by advancing down the A303 (not so much traffic then). Vespasian was clearly a bit of a star having accomplished his mission on time and within budget. It appears that SW Britain thereafter was pretty secure and didn’t need a continuing military presence – that was reserved for the north…
David then focussed in on Wiltshire, starting by showing a map with roads, towns and villa sites. However, this picture doesn’t show what people actually did, which surely to my mind is the really interesting part of archaeology and a point that David, and indeed Professor Simon (Cleary – see earlier blog, 22 January, on our site) in the first talk, returned to a number of times. He structured his description of Wiltshire by using the various sources of evidence, starting with contemporary documentary evidence in the form of the Antonine Itinerary and its mention of Old Sarum (Sorviodunum) and then moved on to antiquarian evidence, particularly Nan Kivell’s excavations on Cold Kitchen Hill. Kivell’s excavation produced Samian ware pottery, more than found at the exploratory excavations of the Deverill villa, suggesting high status activity on the hill.
Next up in the evidence list was aerial photography. While this is efficient at showing what is there, it is expensive because of the large area it covers and doesn’t often help with dating. He showed an interesting slide of crop marks on the Great Ridge before moving on to research projects, using Teffont as the example; a particularly interesting project for us in the Deverills as it is also community-based. This blog is not the place to cover both the fascinating techniques and evidence revealed by the project but we were all intrigued to see how they provide the raw materials for forming a picture of life at the time. The last item on the evidence list was the finds made by detectorists. Their finds are very useful in geographically focusing archaeological effort and David described a temple site in Wiltshire that had subsequently produced a wealth of finds, including curse tablets!
David concluded the main part of his talk by describing what he believed the archaeological evidence reveals about Roman Britain in Wiltshire at the time of the Deverill villa, namely: it was a strongly religious society with a mix of paganism and Christianity and rejoicing in large numbers of temples and other religious sites; its economy was based on farming (sheep, grain and cattle) but with significant iron smelting and stone quarrying industries; and there was not much instability.
His finale was to give us an overview of our recent archaeological activity in the valley. He described last August’s dig at Brixton Deverill (see earlier blog, 9 October, on our site) before giving us a fascinating readout on recent ‘geophys’ at Kingston Deverill. This suggested the possible presence of a henge and a multi-roomed Roman building. How exciting is that!? As only 15% of the field has been surveyed, there is more work to be done…
When Thomas A’Beckett was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, the miraculous healing properties of his blood quickly became legend, and high status visitors, from home and abroad, began arriving to take caskets of relics, including flasks of ‘waters’, home to their own churches and cathedrals. Soon, humbler types were arriving and local metal workers neatly climbed on board the bandwagon by producing miniature versions of common flasks, called ampulla, which could be bought cheaply, and displayed, if so wished, as a sign that they had been to Canterbury!
Other religious centres caught on, one of the most prolific
being the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in N Norfolk where production of
ampullae probably continued right up until the Reformation in the mid 16th
Ampullae were also produced in Europe, and the shell pattern, being the accepted symbol across the continent of pilgrimage, became the most common decorative feature on an ampulla. Other motifs included, flowers, shields and letters eg ‘W’ for Walsingham. The little bottles were made of lead or lead and tin alloy – easy to melt and therefore to mass produce. They were basically circular, but flattened, with a slightly flared neck and with a small loop either side of the narrowest part, to which a cord could be attached (to be worn around the neck) or by which the ampulla could be sewn to a cap. The neck could be crimped if the water, oil, or perhaps dust (anything from the site would do) was to be held secure before being scattered or transferred. Occasionally ampulla are found that have not been opened, but the substance has escaped over time.
Pilgrim badges became popular later, perhaps as ‘display’ became more important, for whatever reason.
However, by the later Medieval period, ampullae were common again. It is currently thought that it may have become a ‘tradition’ of some kind to open the ampullae and spread the contents on fields, perhaps to bless the field and encourage fertility, or simply to bring the sacred back, literally to home ground. The bottles, with their necks ripped off, are commonly to be found in, or alongside, fields. They are also found in river banks or close to graves.
We might reflect that little changes. Using something to show where we have been (from a good tan to a sticker in the car – make your own list!) has never gone away. And all over the world little workshops produce cheap souvenirs for us to take home and show our friends. Neither have beliefs about special places, or people, which we (in our secular age) might describe as ‘superstitious’, become completely irrelevant. Indeed, in many societies pilgrimage remains important.
We have a temporary exhibition in the Wessex Gallery, celebrating the work of young people who have been part of the City Story: Historic Past, Creative Future Project, funded by an HLF grant.
Led by Salisbury Museum’s Katy England and supported by local artists, forty young carers aged between ten and thirteen years were working in the Museum on Saturday mornings, exploring objects in the museum and responding in a variety of art and craft techniques.
Our four partner museums have come up with objects for tour that tell stories of the region’s ‘wicked past’. The latest item to appear at Salisbury Museum is a cat-o-nine-tails, used, certainly in the Royal Navy, and perhaps by other ship’s captains, to discipline sailors at sea.
This ‘cat’ had nine tails because large ropes were plaited from three smaller ones which were, in turn, plaited. Unravel the lot and you have nine strands.
The ‘cat’ was used after the late 17th century for more serious crimes such as striking an officer, theft, and mutiny. Bearing in mind the need to maintain control in a small, over-crowded ship, perhaps thousands of miles from home and months from any allied support, captains no doubt felt that they needed to be harsh. Mutiny might attract a penalty of hundreds of lashes which was often effectively a death sentence as infection would set in afterwards.
In theory at least, the ‘cat’ could still be used in British prisons up to the middle of the twentieth century and in some countries it is still a possible mode of punishment.
Salisbury Museum Volunteers have been involved with the Deverills Archaeology Group (DAG) since last summer and joined a packed village hall at Kingston Deverill last week for their inaugural talk, given by Simon Esmonde-Cleary (Emeritus Professor of Roman Archaeology Birmingham University) on the end of Roman rule in Britain (c AD 410).
The early 5th century AD is, of course, the start of what is often called the ‘Dark Ages’, but the name refers to our lack of knowledge of the era, rather than, necessarily, the state of the country, or the weather! The Professor posed the question right at the beginning of his talk – did the end of Roman rule mean mass annihilation, bloody invasion by Saxons and so on? Did it, in fact make much difference at all?
Under attack itself, Rome was too distracted to govern this far-flung part of the empire. We know from the archaeology that coinage ceased to come in to the country which meant that Roman soldiers still based here were not being paid. Neither were the local officials. Most of the Roman army in Britain was British anyway. Within a generation, two at the most, those soldiers had settled with their families in the general area of their posting, and begun to farm or provide ‘policing’ perhaps for anyone who would reward them. Similarly, the civil servants moved away from the towns (which no longer had a much purpose) or died off. Excavations at Birdoswald fort and Chedworth villa show that sites and buildings were taken over by the far less privileged, with hearths set up on the sitting room mosaics and timber buildings erected where stone ones had previously existed. A member of the audience shared an interesting parallel – in recent times, modern British army barrack blocks in post colonial Africa were used by local families as they became vacant but those families continued to live as they had done in their relatively simple dwellings, with open fires in the rooms and so on.
The point was made that in 5th century AD Britain the local people were largely untouched by Roman rule (for a fascinating book on this, read Miles Russell’s and Stuart Laycock’s ‘UnRoman Britain’ pub by The History Press 2011) and were still living an Iron Age life. Hence the limited takeover of villas and so on as described above.
Did the Saxons seize their chance and invade? There is limited evidence for invasion and research into DNA, excavation of burial sites, etc (different burial rites are often indicators of new groups arriving in an area) offer a confused picture. Some Anglo Saxon settlement was encouraged by the locals. In other areas, settlers may not have been welcome and there may have been bloodshed. Once some settle, others follow, for a variety of reasons. Within a couple of generations those settlers are adapting to local culture and language while ‘locals’ are adapting to theirs. It is an age that is still ‘dark’. Fascinating.
It was a sometimes delightfully funny talk but also very thought provoking. We sat there as our Prime Minister faced a no-confidence vote in Parliament and thought that nothing changes very much!
What is the connection? They are all favourites of Sophie Hawke, our new Finds Liaison Assistant. Welcome Sophie.
Sophie went on her first dig at the age of eleven (a long time ago she says) and never looked back. From Bradford on Avon, she was one of Mick Aston’s original Certificate in Archaeology students and has since completed a Masters in Landscape Archaeology while bringing up a family. She has come to us via Historic England and a dig at the Roman villa site at Low Ham in Somerset as well as post excavation work at Fort Cumberland in Hampshire.
Sophie is involved with writing up a report on a Roman villa under a playing field at a Bradford on Avon school, researching the manuscripts of Rev John Skinner, Rector of Camerton, Somerset, and is interested in votive objects.
We hope we might hear more from Sophie…. She is with us until May.