And how grateful our visitors are that they can at our museum. BUT.. we want this to be a pleasurable experience!
The Salisbury Museum is going potty!
We need new loos… Please donate
And how grateful our visitors are that they can at our museum. BUT.. we want this to be a pleasurable experience!
The Salisbury Museum is going potty!
We need new loos… Please donate
Please see last week’s blog about the tunnel at Old Sarum.
Alan writes “Regarding the Old Sarum tunnel, the museum has 51 of Austin’s photographs concerning the tunnel…Austin Underwood himself is in some of the photos!”
Notice the graffiti from decades before. Notice also the dowser or diviner, with his ‘Y’ shaped branch. Diviners have been used to search for water, graves, mines and tunnels over the ages. As recently as the 1960s the US army used them to seek out the enemy underground in Vietnam. Presumably this gentleman was employed to try and follow the line of the Old Sarum tunnel under the walls.
If any local readers have any stories about these events, we should love to hear from you.
This story has been revived for us by Volunteer Alan Crooks who was, in turn, reminded of it on the recent SALOG visit to Old Sarum.
These are notes taken after reading a Salisbury Journal article by Austin Underwood, dated October 13 1988.
This blog is written on the 60th anniversary of the rediscovery of the tunnel (November 1957) by Austin Underwood and others.
The tunnel was originally discovered in 1795, running from the outer bailey into the countryside on the north side of the site. Severe weather had caused a collapse near the sealed up entrance. Although the local farmer tried to discourage visitors, it became well known for a while and was much visited but was again sealed and largely forgotten until the 1950s when a group of local historians discovered it again.
The description in the Salisbury Journal article of that 1957 find is almost as exciting as that of Carter’s breaking through into Tutankhamun’s tomb. The men crawled in to the tiny entrance to the tunnel, despite their wives’ pleas not to, and in a way that health and Safety simply would not allow today.
They discovered a tunnel which was 7 feet wide in places. It was full of two hundred year old grafitti – much the same as any you would see today, reports Austin Underwood. After walking in for 57 feet they could go no further. Further exploration or conservation was out of the question as funds are never available.
The purpose of the tunnel, and indeed, who built it, is not known. It could have been a sally port (allowing defenders to exit secretly and come up behind the attackers) or simply somewhere from which the castle’s inhabitants could retreat). It might have been built in Roman or Norman times, probably not earlier.
An occasional series – highlighting some of the museum’s incredible collection of costume and the excellent work of our NADFAS (National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies) Volunteers…
c 1852 Day Dress (a photo taken for cataloguing purposes only)
Described as “A long blue and cream plaid dress with three quarter length sleeves. Front fastening to the waist with three linen buttons. Cape attached at neck”
Sir Walter Scott’s novels of the early nineteenth century had romanticized life in the Scottish Highlands and he was a great advocate for all things Scottish. The romantic image of clan members in kilts and maidens in fields of heather charmed English ladies, including Queen Victoria. Tartans became very popular. Balmoral, built by Victoria and Albert in 1853, was furnished exclusively in tartans – carpets, curtains, upholstery – and Victoria herself wore tartans.
Every child I ever taught about the Roman conquest of Britain was told about the Roman ballista bolt still lodged in the skeleton of the slaughtered Durotrigian lying in the museum in Dorchester. Those children, and a couple of generations of others. Why? Because it is what the text books said. Problem? It isn’t a Roman ballista bolt. It is the tip of an Iron Age spear, according to Dr Miles Russell, who should know. His talk, Digging the Durotriges, last Thursday, was as up to date on the archaeology of Iron Age and Roman SW England as it is possible to be. He and his team from Bournemouth University have been excavating at Winterborne Kingston in Dorset since 2009 and as a result, many of the existing stories about the period have had to be re-written.
Excavations at Winterborne Kingston
THE story about the Roman Conquest in Dorset has been that of the brave Dorset Brits in a last ditch (literally) defence of their lands at Maiden Castle near Dorchester. The text books tell us the Romans advanced and defeated them, with their ballista, killing them all and leaving them roughly buried within their fort, the bones discovered centuries later. Well maybe. But as well as the man who wasn’t killed by a ballista bolt, many of those buried there weren’t killed at the time of the Conquest.
Maiden Castle nr Dorchester and Durotriges defending (painting by Nicholas Subkov)
The archaeology shows that Maiden Castle had been, like most Iron Age forts in southern England, largely abandoned by 100BC, as had other, smaller settlements. By the time the Romans arrived in 43AD, the old Iron Age ways had already gone and a new, different, way of life had already been established. The defended settlements were no longer used and large agricultural settlements had been established on lower ground, such as the one excavated at Winterborne Kingston, dubbed Duropolis. And these settlements probably continued into the Roman period, first and second centuries AD, as long as it suited the new governors after the Conquest. Because there are no written records from Britain c100BC we don’t know why there was a change in the way the Durotriges lived but the changes are there to be seen in the archaeology.
Pits have been found with strange assemblies of bones deposited
That isn’t the only mystery of Dr Russell’s excavations. Some may remember the popular press and its mocked up images a few years ago of a sheep with cow’s head growing out of its tail. This was a response to the discovery in dozens of excavated pits at Duropolis of oddly assembled animal bones. The archaeologists can tell that the bones were placed deliberately, when they still had meat on them, in the bottom of each used, but empty, hole, the pit then immediately filled in. What the archaeologists can’t tell, is why.
There is also a later Roman house at Duropolis where there is evidence of even later, so called sub Roman activity. That is, once the Roman period of rule ended, people had used the materials from the site to strengthen or improve their less salubrious domestic buildings at the time Britain entered the Dark Ages. Who were they? Probably the descendants, four centuries on, of the same people who lived in Duropolis, but we can’t be sure.
More mysteries! Wonderful stuff.
Excavations continue next summer. Go to the Bournemouth University website to find out about dates of open days at Winterborne Kingston.
A number of Volunteers, being Salisbury people or, indeed, retired teachers who trained here, will have known the museum buildings when they were the heart of a teacher training establishment.
The College of Sarum St Michael, or the Diocesan Training College, Salisbury as it was originally known, was set up in 1841 and moved into the King’s House in 1851. It closed as a teacher training facility in 1978 and two ex-students, Jenny Head and Anne Johns, co-wrote an excellent book about it, published in 2015 and available in the museum shop. Their research formed the basis of a talk, too, given at the museum last week.
Jenny and Anne used the words of the staff and students, gleaned from letters, other documents and from interviews, to tell the story of a place that had clearly been special to many, including the authors themselves. The King’s House itself, has, in may ways, changed hardly at all of course. Those Volunteers who work in the back rooms (or, more accurately, the attics) will be familiar with the corridor doors that still retain the numbers of what were bedrooms, as well as offices, from the former era. I am told they could be very cold indeed, back in the day…..
The more recent buildings, handsome red brick apartment blocks that lie between the King’s House and the river, were originally accommodation blocks for the students, but also music rooms, dance and drama and art spaces and so on. Other buildings in the Close, and beyond, were also used to house students as numbers swelled.
One of things that made the college special was its association with, and proximity to, the Cathedral. One moving story was of a student, in relatively recent times, who, unable to sleep on her last night in college, got up and walked into the Close in the early hours. She found a door into the Cathedral was unlocked and walked up the nave one last time as a student, barefoot and in her pyjamas, full of wonder, as always, in that magical place.
The story of the college was, of course, a story of things changing as time past – a woman’s place in society, the effect of war, how people dressed (for the students it was gym slips to academic gowns to the uniform of jeans and T shirts) but Jenny and Anne had clearly found that in some ways nothing changed at all. Girls came, and left as young women. Most full of hope, making the most of their opportunity, enjoying their time here and going in to the world to do their bit.
Some of the NADFAS ( National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies) ladies were in, as usual, this Tuesday, working on the cataloguing of the museum’s impressive, massive and delicate collection of historical costume.
Selina, Pam and Caroline (and, usually, Sarah in this group) are amongst a number who work tirelessly on this project. Every box is a bit like Pandora’s, and may contain a number of items – anything from babies’ bonnets and Victorian underwear to military greatcoats and lavish evening gowns. Each item must be checked against any pre-existing references, combed for bugs (moth, carpet beetle…), identified, measured, assessed for condition, and any background details noted
All this is then recorded on a carefully designed form.
Sue Allenby and Muriel Redding, two more of our ‘costume ladies’, processed this gorgeous Edwardian black skirt:
With this 1912 item was some information about the dressmaker (a firm in Bradford), and the owner, a Fanny Garnett, and we are also told a little of the history of it. Apparently Fanny wore it on her Golden Wedding Anniversary day. It came to the museum with a matching bodice and is described by the costume ladies thus:
“Asymmetrical black satin skirt with gold gauze overskirt. Deep border black silk tulle with Regency design motifs in gold thread…Petersham waistband reads Gibson Boyce and Co, Bradford. Nineeen groups of five yellow glass beads, eleven missing. Overlay fringed in black. Back fastening with hooks and eyes. Loops inside waistband to retain fastenings on bodice. Gold saltire cross embroidered centre front on waistband (for alignment?). Overlay is black gauze over gold satin silk.”
In addition to this ‘long description’ further details of the material, weave, colour and so on are recorded on the form.
This form is then passed to another volunteer who matches it with photos that are taken, records the photos on a data base and then passes the form to yet more volunteers who bring all the information and photos together and record it all on our famous MODES database from where members of the public, including researchers, can eventually access the information.
A dress from the 1730- 1750s with detail of embroidery
This is an item labelled Women’s Home Industries.
WHI was a company founded in 1947 in London in order to earn export revenue for the UK in the post war period by harnessing women’s craft skills, such as knitting and needlework.
Originally seen as part of the effort to rebuild the economy – and a way to give women practical work they could do from home – between the 1950s and 1970s its reputation as a retailer and supplier of hand-made knits and traditional crafts grew, with exports to match.
Christening robes, evening gloves, uniforms, shepherds smocks, vests – it is an endlessly fascinating collection, much enjoyed by those who work on it. Thanks to all concerned.
In my very first teaching post (I came into teaching as a second career) I vividly recall being appalled when a teacher of English came into the staff room one break-time and commented of a pupil, “Poor Jason, he’s so limited. He’s never going to achieve anything, he’s so dyslexic”. Well, this pupil, an eleven year old boy, used to attend my Science Club after school. In the last session before a half term, I showed the BBC2 ‘science strand’ programme ‘Horizon’ about buckminsterfullerene, and intended for somewhat older audiences. Buckminsterfullerene, also known as C60, is a molecule, made solely of carbon atoms, which a British scientist, Professor Sir Harry Kroto had worked out to be spherical and, in fact, made up of hexagons and pentagons – like a football (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Model of Buckminsterfullerene (C60)
In elucidating this structure, Professor Kroto had accurately constructed pentagons and hexagons on thin card, cut them out and sellotaped them together to make a ball. Imagine my delight and pride when Jason, a boy who was “never going to achieve anything”, came in after half term with a fine cardboard model of buckminsterfullerene which he’d made himself. I ensured that this took pride of place in a cabinet in the dining room, where pupils’ finest work was displayed. My thoughts turned to this when I read that Terry Pratchett’s former headmaster, Mr Tame, had told him that he would “never amount to anything”.
In our exhibition, the legend accompanying Terry Pratchett’s Olivetti Quaderno electronic notebook reads, “Although I have no particular need of it, I can’t bring myself to throw away what is now vintage technology”.
I know this feeling well as my desk drawer is cluttered with, among other things, a British Thornton slide rule, which I haven’t used in at least 30 years, a Sinclair Scientific calculator (1974), whose ‘reverse Polish notation’ taught me how to keep track of the exponent when using the slide rule; and a Nokia 6030 mobile phone (2006), which I believe is now regarded as ‘retro’ (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Alan Crooks’ collection of ‘vintage technology’
Moving on to the Corridor Display, the caption against ‘Death on Binky’ (Paul Kidby, 2000) reads”When I was a kid I was scared rigid of skeletons”. I can empathise with this as because, when I was about 6 or 7 years old, I had to walk home from school across a meadow, within which was a small copse. One day, one of the friends I was with mentioned casually that there was a skeleton under one of the trees in the copse. Well, at the time, I didn’t know what a skeleton was but imagined it to be some sort of crocodilian, like an alligator. I used to give that copse a wide berth thereafter, but wonder to this day what it was that was in this copse.
Whilst on the subject of Death, a visitor came in one day and commented that she wants Death at her funeral. She has written into her Will that , at her funeral, she wants there to be a tall man in a black coat carrying a scythe, and she wants her daughter to tether her white horse at the church gates!
More next week in this fascinating series from Alan.
After dealing with many many images from various photographers, one gets to know the style of the photographer. Austin Underwood always tries to get the Cathedral spire in the picture. Austin was a County Councillor for Amesbury and thus his photographs are often of items that would concern such a role. For example road signs, accidents, road works, buildings being demolished or built, traffic jams, protest marches, Amesbury social events. He was also a schoolmaster at BIshop Wordsworth School, so there is an almost complete record of the school activities whilst he was a master there. This record includes details of all the metalwork that the boys were taught. All the sporting events, concerts and plays are captured in his negatives including backstage scenes during hectic make-up for large casts. Another aspect which distinguishes an Austin photograph is his ability to climb adjacent structures in order to obtain an unusual view. On one occasion this included climbing a helter-skelter that was under construction in the Chipperfield’s funfair yard in the centre of Amesbury. This resulted in some very unusual aerial images of Amesbury town centre.
Wilfred Chaplin has a great sense of humour which shows in many of his photographs. He also liked wildlife and even made a trip wire to set off the shutter of his camera. In this way he captured badgers and birds on their nests. As he used glass plates, he took great care composing the scene before photographing it. One of his winning masterpieces was entitled “11:55”. It consisted of an elderly gentleman resting against a bollard by the St Ann Cathedral gate with the Kings Arms Inn in the background. The implication was that the gentleman was resting against the bollard waiting with five minutes still to go before opening time.
Some photographers always try to include people in the scene. Others wait and try and take scenes with no-one present. I have concluded that having people in the scene adds greatly to its interest.
The photographer has entitled the above image “Going Home”. The windows open imply the end of a hot summer’s day. No smoke from any of the chimneys. The TV aerials date the image as early 1960s. The gentleman is wheeling his three speed Sturmy-Archered hubbed bicycle home at the end of a tiring day. He has his tea urn on the handlebars. A cloth hat to protect him from the sun. You can almost feel the heat rising from the road surface. The houses don’t have many windows and have porches to protect their front doors from the weather, not a problem today. The road has cats-eyes and looks to me like the A338, just past Idmiston. But what really surprises me is that the photographer is Austin Underwood. This is definitely not his usual style.
As we bid farewell to our summer exhibition, some observations on British Art:Ancient Landscapes by Engagement Volunteer, Alan Crooks…
With my scientific background (former Health Service scientist and latterly a Teacher of Chemistry) I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that there are several artists featured in this exhibition of whom I had never previously heard, despite them being well-known – even famous. Among these are Eric Ravilious and Derek Jarman. Indeed a major joy of having retired and taken on a role as a Museum Volunteer is the opportunity to learn things outside of my previous sphere.
My scientific background gives me a completely different perspective on many of the works, that were not picked up by the curator, Professor Sam Smiles, either in his introductory lecture or in the accompanying book. For example, several visitors have commented to me that they are not keen on Derek Jarman’s ‘Avebury Series IV’ (1973) picture. However, this is one of my favourite pieces in the exhibition because, I think, it evokes the scientific approach to archaeology. Thus the horizontal and vertical lines are evocative of graph paper, hinting at the need to precisely record the positions in which artifacts are found, whereas the horizontal lines also hint at stratification: the layering of deposits within an archaeological site according to age. The images of the stones exemplify the need to accurately record artifacts by drawing.
To another visitor however, the colours in the picture were reminiscent of Mondrian art. The Dutch artist and architect, Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) evolved a non-representational art form called ‘neoplasticism’ which consists of a white ground upon which is painted a grid of horizontal and vertical black lines and the three primary colours. Piet Mondrian was another artist of whom I had never heard until mentioned by this visitor.
Having never previously heard of Derek Jarman, it is interesting how his name has impinged on my consciousness several times since this exhibition started, including two BBC Radio 4 programmes. One of these was ‘The Film Programme’, in June, when they were discussing Jarman’s 1990 film, ‘The Garden’. Jarman created a garden on a shingle beach in the shadow of Dungeness nuclear power station. He retreated here to live in a “humble fisherman’s cottage” when he was diagnosed as having HIV AIDS, the “gay man’s plague”. Jarman commented that he “became a hermit in the desert of illness”
While on the topic of stratification, another visitor commented on Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Two Figures (Menhirs) (1964) asking, “How did Barbara Hepworth find such a large block of slate with no cleavage lines?”. In fact, if one looks at the ‘face-edge’, to use a woodworking term, one can see that there are cleavage planes, but the slate has been so highly polished as to render them almost invisible. Another visitor wondered whether Barbara Hepworth had selected the block because of the “lovely pattern” on its surface. All of a sudden I realised that this pattern was a fossil whereas, hitherto I had wondered whether she had carved it, even though the sculpture is perfectly smooth to the touch. This set my brain to ‘scientist mode’. Slate is a metamorphic rock; that is a very old rock that has (usually) been subjected to enormous heat and pressure, sufficient to change its appearance and behaviour. Slate is derived from an original shale-type sedimentary rock. However, compared to most metamorphic rocks, it was formed under relatively low heat and pressure, leading to ‘low grade metamorphism’. For this reason, any fossils formed during the sedimentary stage can sometimes survive. The description of this fossil given by The Tate is that it “was caused by a small creature swimming through the silt that solidified, preserving the pattern of eddying mud in the stone”.
Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) served as a war artist and died when the aircraft he was in was lost off Iceland, while involved in a search for another aircraft which had failed to return from a patrol. Ravilious’ depiction of barbed wire in his pictures, for example, ‘The Long Man of Wilmington, reflects his wartime experiences. Professor Smiles described Ravilious’ ‘The Valley of the White Horse’ (1939) as having a foreground like the hide of an animal with hairs coming out. However, a visitor to the exhibition commented that this part of the picture was reminiscent of the top surface of the wing of a military aircraft, painted in desert camouflage colours. When I mentioned this to a different visitor on another day, he commented that this was unlikely as the Desert Air Force (DAF) was not formed until 1941, and Ravilious had been killed in 1942. However, these were interesting conversations.
A gentleman came in and stopped sharply in front of Yoshijiro Urishibara’s two colour woodcuts of Stonehenge. Turning to me he commented that he immediately recognised these as being Japanese due to the use of the pigment, Prussian blue. He went on to explain that Japanese painters and woodblock artists didn’t have access to a long-lasting blue pigment until they were able to import Prussian blue from Europe in the 1820s. Prussian blue, (iron (III) hexacyanoferrate (III)) was the first stable and relatively light-fast blue pigment to be widely used following the loss of knowledge of how to prepare Egyptian blue. Hitherto, artists had been using indigo or other dayflower petal dyes. However, the synthetic pigment was more vivid, provided a greater tonal range and was more resistant to fading.
This conversation made a nice link with a Salters ‘A’Level Chemistry unit I used to teach called ‘Colour By Design’ which brought together ideas about why things (including rainbows!) are coloured, and ways of making colour. The Unit explained how from earliest times people used natural substances around them to colour themselves and their possessions, and went on to discuss the use of mineral pigments and synthetic dyes.
Altogether this was a fascinating exhibition which involved me in many interesting conversations in which I have been able to bring my scientific background to bear.