The Director started his tour of the Wessex Gallery with some interesting points about the layout. Why had he insisted on a Gallery presenting the finds ‘in reverse’, chronologically? Why does the visitor start with Medieval Old Sarum and then go backwards in time into pre-history? The idea was that we walk from the Medieval building, the Kings House, into the history of the earlier Medieval city (Old Sarum) and so on, through the Gallery, into the past. If we walk the other way through the museum we find the history of the later Medieval Salisbury (the Salisbury Gallery) and, ultimately, walk out of the door into the modern city. Neat! If funding allows, it will all become more coherent.
Adrian’s plan to restrict the tour to his
favourites was a reminder that it is usually a good idea to have a focus when
in a museum, otherwise it is like ruining a delicious meal by eating too much
and leaving the table groaning.
So it was we went from the characterful carved stonework of the old Cathedral to the Saxon burial of the Swallowcliffe Princess. She was buried with what she needed for the after-life, including a glass bowl which had survived nearly one and a half millennia in the ground. Her satchel decoration is the icon used by the museum today. And amongst the Saxon grave goods were some native British pieces….
The continued references to design decisions were fascinating. Amongst them was the decision to lay the Downton mosaic on the floor as it would have been intended, rather than hanging it, which is more usual in museums.
We spent time looking at Roman New Forest Ware and considering possible purposes of the pieces that were clearly miniatures. Display pieces? Made to be used as grave goods? Look for the marks around the base, Adrian told us. The wares were dipped in a thin slip before going to the kiln. The un-slipped marks left by the potter’s fingers are often still there.
Adrian talked about two hoards, one Roman (the wine strainers and pots) and two Bronze Age (including the Wardour hoard). The mysteries around hoards continue…
The museum’s Stonehenge collections are from 20th c excavations. Earlier finds are elsewhere. In the centre of the main Stonehenge display cabinet is what Adrian described as the most important find – unique so far, but much of Stonehenge remains un-excavated – a polished gneiss mace head. It came from the Isle of Lewis, Scotland. Scotland, where all the pigs came from for the feasting at Durrington Walls.
We were asked what we thought might be the reason for the decision to polish axe heads – it didn’t make them better at chopping down trees! They have always been considered ceremonial. Adrian agreed and proposed the theory that, being contemporary with the coming of farming, they represented the agent of change, of people taking control of nature, clearing land for fields.
Perhaps the most exquisite item…
We finished where it all began, in the far corner of the Gallery where the most primitive hand axes are displayed, including one which is know to have been a Neanderthal type.
There is always more to see……. Wonderful stuff. Thank you Adrian.
Stonehenge artefacts, many of which have never previously left these shores, and many of which are usually in the care of The Salisbury Museum, are now in the USA, on tour. The Union Station exhibition is the first of a number of exhibitions taking place there in the coming months, with possibly more to follow. It opened on Friday 25 May to great fanfare and our own Adrian Green was there, at the invitation of the organisers. He flew back on Sunday, a journey that took twelve hours, and was back at work on Monday.
We have another gem from the Costume Collection. A group of Volunteers from the Arts Society (formerly NADFAS) who come along most weeks to check and re-catalogue out fabulous costumes, have uncovered this…
This is estimated to have been made around 1750 or a little earlier. The Volunteers describe it thus:
“Blue silk brocade coat trimmed with sliver braid – high round neck, braid made from silver thread around neck and down both fronts to side slits. Also on two shaped pockets with flap fastened with two buttons, plus one for show. Twelve buttons of silver thread and blue velvet centre. Long shank for button holes extended for design. Curved, fitted sleeves fastened with eight buttons and trimmed with silver braid.. All in blue silk brocade, skirted shape with 220mm slit each side. Centre vent at back. Lined throughout with cream calico…”
And just look what was inside the pocket….
It certainly looks like a coat that a young man might get married in c 1750, but confetti??
The Volunteers describe it as paper confetti, some of it chopped up newspaper. Well, that wouldn’t rule out 1750…
Having used a well known internet search engine, I discover that ‘confetti’ is Italian for almond sweets which the Italians liked to throw at one another at the time of festivals, etc. Sometimes it was also mud balls, eggs or coins…This is a tradition going back to Medieval times when it was also common, at weddings, to throw seeds and grains, representing fertility. I think this has become popular again as vicars try to discourage the littering of their churchyards with paper, or worse still, small bits of plastic.
So, throwing things at people has been ‘fun’ for a long time, but apparently it wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth century that paper confetti was used at weddings in Britain. The confetti in the photograph is not contemporary with the coat.
Did someone wear it to a much later wedding? Was the coat worn in a play where confetti was used? Was it worn to an up-market fancy dress party where confetti played a part?
Whatever the case, it is a great coat to get married in…..
Thank you Sue Alleby, Muriel Reading, Joan Moore and Helen Carlett
Henry was with us recently as part of his Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme activities which include a period of volunteering…
As a long-time member of the Young Archaeologists’ Club held at Salisbury Museum and someone with a passionate interest in history and archaeology, it seemed perfect to me that such a brilliant organisation, based so locally, was willing to take me as a volunteer for my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. From January to March, I was delighted to assist Engagement Volunteers Christine Mason and Mike Mitchard in their roles in the museum and help Katy England in running the wonderful Young Curators’ Club.
applying for the student placement was a smooth and trouble-free experience,
particularly when aided by the helpful Volunteer Co-ordinator Bridget Telfer,
and something I’d recommend anybody with a bit of spare time and an interest in
history to do. From then on, I had arranged to work alongside Katy, Christine
and Mike for a few hours on Saturdays. Thankfully, on my first day in January I
quickly picked up the induction information and was ready to begin the
Curators’ Club was my first mission. I arrived bright-eyed and bushy tailed at
10am; eager to help out with whatever tasks would be thrown at me. I was tasked
with some necessary duties for the new year of the club, but soon we ventured
farther into the museum and were allowed entry into the museum’s costume
gallery, where all of the members were so eager to engage in the fascinating
local heritage showcased in the museum. Needless to say, it was an interesting
insight into the running of clubs which spark so much interest in young people,
just as YAC did for me.
role in the student placement was in engagement volunteering; a role I value greatly
from the immense amount I learned during my placement. Not only had I become
familiar with the vast array of incredible exhibits open to the public in the
museum, I also learnt about the role of stewarding at museums and was able to try
my hand at it myself.
Throughout the entire experience, with the help of Christine and Mike, I familiarised myself with all of the collections that a visitor might ask me about when stewarding. As someone currently studying History GCSE and hoping to pursue the subject at A Level and beyond, I could not have asked for a better opportunity, not only to enhance my knowledge of local heritage, but also in skills applicable throughout the entire discipline. Public engagement, spontaneity and retaining information were all skills that I practised and improved during my placement, skills I’m sure will be invaluable for both my further pursuit of history and life in general.
For me, the
absolute highlights of this experience were definitely when I was allowed free
rein in stewarding by Mike: patrolling the Wessex Gallery eager to answer any
questions thrown at me by interested members of the public was an exhilarating
and highly enjoyable experience. Secondly, I was allowed by Christine to look
at some of the Rex Whistler project collections she had been working on.
Getting a glimpse behind closed doors in a building that I have been visiting
for years was a unique experience, one that I shall treasure for the rest of my
life, particularly as I could view such an amazing collection that the Museum
rightfully prides itself on.
incredible opportunity I’d like to thank Bridget Telfer, Katy England,
Christine Mason and Mike Mitchard especially, but also the friendly community
of volunteers working at the Museum who were so encouraging and welcoming. For
this experience I could not be more grateful.
For me, the absolute highlights of this experience were definitely when I was allowed free rein in stewarding by Mike; patrolling the Wessex Gallery eager to answer any questions thrown at me by interested members of the public was an exhilarating and highly enjoyable experience, and also when I was allowed by Christine to look at some of the Rex Whistler project collections she had been working on. Seeing behind closed doors in a building that I have been visiting for years was a unique experience, particularly whilst seeing such an amazing collection that the Museum rightfully prides itself on, one that I shall treasure for the rest of my life.
Henry – thank you for your memories and thoughts, and most of all your help and enthusiasm.
Last week we heard from Liam Story and Maddie Harris of Exeter University after their working visit to us recently. This week we hear from them again, this time telling us about exhibits which they particularly enjoyed.
In the week I spent at the museum my love of art only grew, and I became fascinated with the Rex Whistler Archive. Salisbury Museum is fortunate enough to have a vast collection of Rex’s work, correspondence and sketches, from when he was a small child to the last letter that was sent from his Officer in the Second World War, declaring his death. Regrettably, Rex died at the age of 39 and his true genius as an artist is still not as appreciated as it should be; his art work ranges from satirical to extreme detail and precise imagery. Some of Rex’s commercial work can be seen in the Creative Wiltshire Exhibit, and just outside of this exhibition hang five of Rex’s oil paintings, the first one dating from 1940, to the one of Edith Olivier on a day-bed painting in 1942. These paintings perfectly show the evolution of Whistlers work, from a more classical oil painting style with blurred brush lines and limited smaller details, to the day-bed which has overwhelming amounts of detail. On such a small canvas this seems almost impossible to comprehend with this type of media.
When I first heard that I would be working with Rex Whistler’s material I was ecstatic, and the volume of the collection that Salisbury Museum has is incredible and I would have never imaged it to be so big. The collection includes sketch-books, photographs of murals, letters and correspondence as well as stage designs and plans. Looking through some of these archives only made me appreciate his artwork more. His personality is expressed through his sketches and only looking through one of his many books you can see his humorous personality shining through. Many of Rex’s works are in watercolour and ink, these are exquisite and are said to have only been quick off-hand doodles, the precision and detail in each and every one of his works is remarkable and leaves you speechless. Looking at the sketchbooks gives an insight into how Rex responded with each and every media. His skills were endless from architectural sketches, dream houses he created, murals and beautiful canvas paintings. The paintings on display are only the tip of the iceberg to the genius of Rex Whistler. What is even more extraordinary is that the majority of Rex’s work is from memory, the observational skill is phenomenal and I have never seen anything so extraordinary. Every artist I have ever studied spends months staring at a photograph or they spend hours observing the real thing, but Rex exceeds all expectations.
I would highly recommend visiting the permanent Rex Whistler paintings displayed and to observe the transition so expertly arranged, in chronological order, highlighting the developments he made. Rex Whistler never truly believed he was extraordinary and I believe this is one of the reasons he is not more well known today, but in my eyes he is beyond extraordinary and I have gladly had the privilege to be up close and personal with some of his work.
And from Liam….
During my placement at the Salisbury Museum, I became particularly interested in the Drainage Collection. It is one of the most fascinating exhibits in the museum. It consists of numerous objects, from the most ordinary, such as keys (how someone lost some of the huge keys found I am unsure) to unusual items such as walrus ivory chess pieces (which will be later discussed). The collection lays the foundations on which the museum first started in 1860, and even today is one of the main centrepieces of the museum.
The Drainage Collection comprises around 1,300 items in total (not all are on show, of course) and the items were found in the drainage channels that were part of Salisbury during the medieval period, from the 1300s up until the mid-1800s. As such, the Drainage Collection represents 500 years of local history. It is remarkable that such wondrous items were found in drains after being lost, or purposely thrown away, by citizens of Salisbury up to 700 years ago! However, I think the most fascinating items found has to be the Walrus Ivory Chessman which was found by the superintendent of the drainage works on Ivy Street in 1846. Due to the Walrus Ivory material it is made from, the cost of the chessman in its full set would have been considerable, and to have lost such an item in a drain must have been so unfortunate. Despite the value though, the chessman can easily be missed due to its small size, which is such a shame as it really is an intriguing little item.
Upon close look, the chessman portrays a king on horseback, with rows of supporters in the form of foot soldiers looking upon the king. The design of the chessman suggests a Germanic or Scandinavian origin, and around 700 years old, it is believed it dates back to the 1300s (Murray, 1913). The date links to the design of the chessman. The king has lentoid eyes, a broad face, a flattened nose and an open crown, all synonymous with designs from the time it was made. A further indication of the date, are the costume and armour designs of the foot soldiers, especially the shields which have flattened upper edges and sharply angled corners (MacGregor in Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum: Medieval Catalogue part 3, 2001).
I would highly recommend taking a look at the Drainage Collection. It is great to think that 500 years of history was found in the medieval drainage channels that were in Salisbury. The chessman, in particular, is fascinating, and even more so once looking at its origin. I am sure some of the other items have a fascinating story too, such as how did someone manage to lose some of those huge keys. It just goes to show, that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.
Liam Story and Maddie Harris were with us at the beginning of April.
We are both history students currently studying at the University of Exeter, both raised in the local area, and still live here when we are not at University. As such, the Salisbury Museum was an obvious choice for us, we both have an interest in local history and knew that this would be the perfect place to further our knowledge and gain some valuable experience in the workings of a museum.
our placement at the Salisbury Museum, from Monday the 1st of April
to Friday the 5th, we took part in a number of different activities.
This ranged from cataloguing to behind the scenes tours.
Our week began with an induction tour of the building, learning about the brief history of some of the exhibitions. Later that day, we had a spotlight tour which further sparked our interest in objects within the museum and its displays. For Liam this was the fascinating Drainage Collection, and for Maddie it was the Creative Wiltshire Art Exhibition. The following day, we had a buildings tour which taught us about the extensive history of the building which stretches back to the 13th century, and about the King’s Room. Interestingly, James I of England stayed here on two separate occasions, in 1610 and 1613. This room is now occupied by the Wedgewood Collection. Later the building became a teachers’ training college, and inspired Thomas Hardy, whose sisters attended here. Our final tour came on Thursday which was a behind the scenes tour, and this highlighted the sheer amount of work that goes in to cataloging and preserving Salisbury Museum collections.
We were fortunate
enough to assist a number of the hard-working volunteers in cataloguing some of
the collections. This started with the ceramics collection on Monday, where we
had to measure a magnificent Toby Jug and input this into a system called
Modes, which deals with the vast number of objects the museum holds (which is
currently over 91,000). On Tuesday, we spent the afternoon wrapping and
labelling the Social History Collection, including a World War Two gas mask. Also
a particularly fascinating object was a Scold’s Bridle, a crude item used by
men to silence their wives. On Wednesday, we helped to photograph and measure
some of the wonderful costumes donated to the museum by local people. Finally,
on Friday, we were lucky to be able to view the Rex Whistler Archive, one of
the largest in England, this ranges from sketchbooks containing small scribbles
and architectural drawings to letters and correspondences. The museum displays
five of Whistlers original oil paintings, three of which contain Edith Olivier
and her Daye House estate in Wilton Park.
would like to say a massive thank you to the Salisbury Museum, and all its
staff and volunteers for welcoming us and giving us this great opportunity.
This experience has been unique, and has exceeded our expectations. Not enough
credit goes to the staff behind the scenes of museums, and has definitely
opened our eyes to the large amount of work that occurs to help with the
preservation of the archives, and the research which goes on to put together an
An email came in recently for Volunteer Alan Clarke who we all know – he looks after our photographic archive. Here is the story….
“…I live in Whiteparish, I’m interested in finding the negative to a picture that was taken on the 15th June 1966 at Alderbury Sports field. It was printed in the Salisbury Times on the 17th June, on page 14. I have spoken to a professional colleague of yours … who advised me that if the negative existed you would know where to look.
The picture is of Whiteparish Junior School at a sports day in Alderbury (which we won). I would like to enlarge the picture from the original negative and identify as many of the children (who are now very much older) and hang it in the new Village Hall at Whiteparish.
I would very much appreciate your invaluable help to see if the negative still exists,
Many thanks and kind regards….”
“It looks as though you might be in luck.
Salisbury museum has three images. The Newspaper
archivist only kept some of the negatives, not all.
We are scanning all the negatives at high resolution.
You should be able to download the images attached her. (See below)
The image size should be suitable for a modest sized print.”
We can provide at a far larger resolution if required.
And a further email from a satisfied customer…
“Thank you so much, that’s absolutely fantastic. It’s more than I could have hoped for!”
One of our ‘costume ladies’, museum Volunteer and member of the Arts Society, Sarah Brumfitt, models a very unusual Georgina Von Etzdorf stole from our collection.
Georgina von Etzdorf is a British textile designer whose fashion label is renowned for its luxurious velvet scarves and clothing accessories, worn by royalty and celebrities . Much of her work has emanated from, as she describes it, a barn near Salisbury. We now have some of it here at the museum.
The stole is called ‘Hands’. Look again and see why! It is from a collection called ‘The Sun’s Anvil’ and was designed in 1998 for the Spring Collection that year. The pattern was laser cut on a gold a silver fabric.
Her fabrics have been mainly made into jackets, gowns scarves and ties; also into gloves, belts hats and sleep wear.
‘The Origins of Photography in Salisbury, 1839-1913’
exhibition reminded me of a box of 22 glass lantern slides I had stowed away,
given to me by a former rector of St Paul’s Church, probably in the late 1960s.
A lantern slide is a glass transparency that is viewed using a slide
projector that casts an image onto a wall or other suitable surface. The light
source evolved over time from oil lamps through limelight, carbon arc lamps,
and finally electric light. Prior to the invention of photography, painted
images on glass were projected for entertainment.
The photographic lantern slide was invented during the 1840s by the
Philadelphian daguerreotypists, William and Frederick Langenheim, when they first used a glass plate negative to print
onto another sheet of glass, thus creating a transparent positive image that
could be projected. These were used well into the 20th century for displaying photographic
images for entertainment and educational purposes. They could be mass-produced
and were thus easily available and affordable.
Lantern slides were created by placing a dry plate negative directly onto
light-sensitive glass, which was dried, fitted with a cover glass and sealed
with tape. Sometimes a black and white photographic image was hand-coloured
with special inks before covering.
Among my lantern slides were seven of astronomical interest: two of the full Moon, taken at the Lick Observatory1, four of comets taken in 1906 and 1908 and one of the 1889 solar eclipse. The latter was labelled ‘R.A.S. No. 1. 1889 solar eclipse. Pickering’ (Fig 1) and was accompanied by a snippet from ‘The Observatory’, “provided by the NASA Astrophysics Data System”.
Part of the magazine snippet read,
“American astronomers are to be cordially
congratulated on the brilliant success which has attended their efforts to make
the most of the late eclipse. It was not a favourable eclipse in many ways; the
duration of totality was short, and winter is not the best time for
observations; indeed some of the intending observers found it too cold to make
the drawings they wished. But the central line was more readily reached than
usual; indeed, though no fixed observatory was actually on the line, several
were within a comparatively easy distance of it, and the partial phase was
visible both at Lick1 and
Washington. It is satisfactory to find that the advantages thus offered for
bringing to bear larger telescopes than those which have hitherto been
selected, on the score of portability, were fully recognised; and for the first
time we find a 13-in. telescope used to photograph the corona., Mr W.H.
Pickering having taken from Harvard the instrument provided by the Boyden Fund”.
This eclipse was visible across western United States, and central Canada. Partiality was visible
across the northern Pacific Ocean including Hawaii,
and all of the United States.
William Henry Pickering (Fig.2) was the younger brother of the distinguished astrophysicist E.C. Pickering, and was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on 15 February 1858. He was educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his brother had been professor of physics; and both were associated with Harvard University virtually their entire professional lives. Thus both were later directors of Harvard Observatory facilities; Edward serving as the Director of the principle observatory for over four decades and William serving as the director of several Harvard substation observatories; one in Jamaica, another near Mt. Wilson and another, Boyden Station in Peru. William was appointed an assistant professor at Harvard observatory in 1887 and set up Harvard’s Boyden Station at Arequipa, Peru in 1891. Around 1900 he led expeditions to Jamaica, and from 1911 he was in charge of a permanent Harvard observing station there. On retiring in 1924 the Jamaica station became Pickering’s private observatory.
William Pickering was a pioneer in dry-plate celestial photography, and the Harvard photographic sky survey was undertaken at his suggestion. He also made extensive visual observations of the planets and their satellites and in 1888 he produced some of the earliest photographs of Mars, using blue-sensitive plates and the 13-inch Boyden refractor telescope2 (Fig 3).
He reported “oases” on Mars (1892), and claimed short rotation periods (now
known to be incorrect) for Jupiter’s Galilean satellites.
In 1899 Pickering,
in a search for possible new satellites of Saturn, had photographic plates
taken, on which he discovered Phoebe, and demonstrated that it has a retrograde
orbit. Saturn was the first planet known to possess both direct and retrograde
From 1907 Pickering
paid considerable attention to predicting the location of trans-Neptunian
planets; and after Pluto was discovered, faint images of it were located on
plates taken for him in 1919. Although Percival Lowell is generally accorded
greater credit for this discovery, Pickering’s
observation was quite independent and more accurate in many respects.In 1924, Pickering
came up with a seemingly bizarre and ridiculous idea. He had recorded apparent changes in the
albedo of the lunar surface, which he attributed to hoarfrost and vegetation,
and suggested that changing shadows on
the floor of the crater, Eratosthenes could be swarms of insects or herds of
small animals. These ideas, however, are perhaps not quite so fantastic as they
first appear; one should recall that as recently as the 1960’s the possibility
of lunar life forms was taken sufficiently seriously to require the first
Apollo crews returning from the Moon to undergo extensive decontamination and quarantine protocols. Peter
Ryan in his book, ‘The Invasion of the Moon 1957-70’ (Penguin, 1969) wrote:
decimation of many primitive or isolated earth communities upon first contact
with diseases common to the ‘civilised’ world, NASA had been under pressure
from many scientists to take steps to prevent a repetition in the space
I have donated this whole set of lantern slides to the
Museum and Volunteer Alan Clarke has informed the Director, Adrian Green, that
these slides, together with two other sets of lantern slides, constitute a collection of
Lick Observatory. Lick Observatory is the world’s first permanently occupied mountain-top astronomical observatory, owned and operated by the University of California. It is situated on the summit of Mount Hamilton, near San Jose, California.
Boyden 13-inch refractor telescope. This was constructed in 1888 by Alvan Clark & Sons for Harvard College Observatory. In 1889 it was relocated to Mount Wilson Observatory in California. During its time at Harvard and Mt. Wilson, Pickering used it to take some of the earliest photographs of Mars, and the following year it was moved again to Harvard’s southern station at Arequipa in Peru.
Our hugely knowledgeable costume Volunteers, also members of the Art Society, have uncovered some treasures recently. They, and other Volunteers, are systematically unpacking, checking, re-cataloging and re-packing the museum’s huge and important collection of costume. Week by week anything and everything which broadly comes under the heading of costume is lovingly poured over.
A fortnight ago, a petticoat of white lawn cotton and lace was unpacked by Volunteers Caroline Lanyon, Sarah Brumfitt, Selina Chudleigh, Pam Balchin. Dating from 1901, it had belonged to the donor’s mother and had been part of her trousseau that year. It had been made by Queen Victoria’s underwear seamstress. We might conjecture that, Queen Victoria having died in 1901, the seamstress had sought new customers elsewhere. and so produced this beautiful garment.
The Volunteers described the petticoat as follows:
“This lawn and lace petticoat is made in narrow vertical panels on the bodice in white work and tucked lawn cotton. The sides are gently shaped with tucked V shaped horizontal panels in lawn and the lace shaped with godet darts. The hem of 400mm depth has horizontal panels of cotton lawn and lace. Many of the panels are joined a ladder stitch insertion. The back has a gusset opening to the hips and is fastened by eight covered buttons. The button holes are hand made with two top hand-worked loops.”