Another lovely day, and this view from The Salisbury Museum cafe across the ever gorgeous gardens of the museum will make you all feel at home! While certain Volunteers enjoyed a pot of tea and cake this afternoon, several visitors came to take photographs of the flowers, and posed with the lamb.
Come and enjoy, Monday – Saturday from 11am – 3pm.
I was astonished, in the nicest possible way, when I stumbled across this blog with its accompanying photos. I was a volunteer on the tunnel dig. As a schoolboy I became obsessed with archaeology. I lived near Downton, and when the Roman villa was discovered there I hung around enough so that eventually, when it was clear I was both interested and not going anywhere in a hurry, the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works Philip Rahtz archaeologist, who was leading the dig, found me things to do.
The following year, I was doing the same, mostly washing flint finds, with a team from Cambridge who were investigating the Mesolithic site that Rahtz’s team had discovered whilst investigating the road that led into the villa. Then the following year, I got news that Philip was hoping to find and investigate the Old Sarum tunnel over a weekend. I spent the first day with him. Whilst trying to locate the tunnel, the grave of a small Romano British child was found in a shallow grave. Presumably, from the bracelets, a girl. Apart from museum exhibits, the first real skeleton I had seen and I found it quite moving.
It took the best part of that Saturday to uncover the tunnel entrance but eventually a chink was opened, enough for a torchlit glimpse inside for a few. The dowser in the photograph was Ralph Whitlock, a local farmer from Pitton, well known broadcaster, author a general authority on all things rural. Along with others, this photograph appeared in The Times and drew an immediate shocked demand from the powers that be at Old Sarum, those that were to become in time English Heritage presumably, wanting to know why Philip had allowed such superstitious unscientific methods to be used on a dig they had paid for. Much sweet talking needed from Philip!
Anyway, towards the end of the day, enough headway, and indeed headroom, had been cleared to enable people to crawl in for look. Everyone, that is except me. I had been helping all day the same as all the admittedly older, others and was frankly more than a bit miffed. Especially as everyone appeared to have something to say in hushed tones when they came out. Disgruntled, I truthfully announced that I would have to leave soon to dash down Castle Road to the bus station and get home. There followed glances cast towards me and a huddle. After this I was coyly handed a torch and told I could have a quick peek before I left.
The reluctance was immediately apparent. Written on the ceiling in candle soot was every four letter word, similarly doubtless employed by the adolescents of Salisbury today and no doubt from time immemorial! Philip, it seems, bless him, was trying to protect my presumed innocence and perhaps more general embarrassment. The boy hauling the rope in one of the photos looks like dead ringer for me at that age though I can’t be certain as I’m sure I had my BWS school blazer on, and feeling in mortal dread of getting it covered in chalk. I’m also perplexed as to why the said sooty inscriptions don’t appear in the photo. Had they cleaned them off overnight for propriety’s sake or fear of really creating an uproar in The Times? Who knows. Anyway, in his biography Living Archaeology, Rahtz describes them discreetly as ‘very rude’.
My totally unrealistic dreams of becoming an archaeologist obviously came to naught though after an earlier career in map making and photogrammetry I spent the last 40 years and more of my working life as a potter. So, perhaps in a way I’ve been doing my bit to provide shards for future excavators to muse over and stick back together. By chance, last year one of my pieces was displayed in the museum as part of a Wiltshire Artists exhibition, on loan from Swindon’ Museum and Art Gallery.
Kind regards Laurence McGowan
This a wonderful item from Laurence and we are so pleased he has been in contact to pass on this story. Thank you.
From Bridget (almost no longer the Volunteer Co-ordinator)
Below is a link to a Volunteer Survey – we would really appreciate you taking the time to let us know what you think about volunteering at Salisbury Museum. The survey should take about 5 minutes to complete. This is part of the development phase of the ‘Salisbury Museum for Future Generations’ redevelopment project – and will help us to improve the volunteer experience and diversify volunteer recruitment over the course of the project.
The survey will be live until midnight on 12 July. There is also the chance to win £25 of Amazon vouchers!
This is not the first time Salisbury Museum has had to postpone special exhibitions – consider the year 1914 – the 50th anniversary of the opening of the St Ann Street premises.
A friend doing a ‘lockdown’ clear-out came across this hardcover book ‘The Festival Book of Salisbury – Published to commemorate the Jubilee of the Museum’. It was probably bought (for three shillings) by her grandparents.
The then ‘Resident Curator of the Museum’ and Editor of the book was Frank Stevens. He was the son of the former ‘General Curator’, E T Stevens and a nephew of Dr Humphrey Blackmore, who was Honorary Director at the time (and we know of his complicated romantic liaisons now, thanks to Martin Callow’s research). As we have seen from the blog about the Read family, the museum was then very much a private and family affair, with three Read brothers and four Blackmores all involved during the first fifty years.
As the unpaid ‘Resident Director’ Frank Stevens would have lived in the accommodation built adjoining the galleries and office, just to the west, along St Ann Street.
In the book he writes a foreword entitled ‘Invitation to the Reader’ and states he wishes the reader ‘to open the door and step inside. He will be thoroughly at home within these pages, and able to wander as he lists, just as if he were in truth strolling within the confines of his own city, with all the pride and independence of a citizen of New Sarum’.
The book contains a dozen scholarly articles on a variety of topics including The Great Bustard, George Herbert, The Giant and Hobnob, Fossils and Prehistoric remains of Salisbury and the ‘Old’ Salisbury Journal.
In his ‘Au Revoir’ at the end of the book Stevens discusses museums thus ’The days of musty fusty museums are past, the era of the official guide has begun, and as far as we can, it is a “point of honour” to show you round, to find out your tastes and if possible gratify them. Perhaps you have no particular interest in Museums as a class. That is probably because you have never visited one where you have been looked after, and where the objects of interest have been pointed out to you’. Do we recognise ourselves here, Stewards??
He signs off with this paragraph: ‘There is yet one other object in the Museum which is of supreme interest to us. It is a little box at the door: you should not miss it, and on it is a ticket which records the fact the visitors on average have contributed less than a penny apiece for the upkeep of this fine collection. Surely you can do better than that’. At this stage the museum did not charge entry and relied on ‘Subscribers’ (like our Members) and donations. Early minute books indicate that finance was always a struggle. A familiar story!
It is not clear from the book what the museum planned for its festival which the foreword (written in December 1914) says is postponed ‘owing to the European crisis’. The Museum Committee having started the publishing process of the book, decided to continue with it. I guess by the time the war was over the idea of such a celebration no longer had any relevance. During the war the museum had received a large bequest from the late Dr Wilkes and plans were afoot for enlarging the premises.
Rosemary Pemberton -with thanks to Frances Ryan and Peter Saunders.
We are tempted to say “Nothing Changes”…! Thank you Rosemary.
I was interested to read the piece entitledThe Textile industry in the Wylye Valley earlier in June concerning spinning and weaving of fibres such as flax as it reminded me of an incident recorded by the astrological physician, Simon Forman in his Autobiography which was written around 1600 . Two years after Simon’s father had died at the age of 39, when Simon was aged 11, he apprenticed himself to one Matthew Commin in Salisbury. Commin, according to Forman, ‘used many occupations’ being a hosier and a merchant of cloth and all small wares. He sold hops, salt, oil, pitch,rosin, raisins, groceries and all apothecary drugs. It was here that Forman acquired his knowledge and experience of ‘herbology’.
Apprenticeship was a standard part of Elizabethan life and one became an apprentice around the age of fourteen and normally remained in post for about seven years. Simon, however, had himself bound for ten years on condition that Commin sent him to attend the grammar school for the first three. However, after nearly 6 years with Commin, Commin’s wife blamed him for the loss of “about a dossen of flax that his mistress loste from stanning in Simon’s absence” and Simon eventually left Commin’s employ.
As a chemist I was initially somewhat bemused by the term ‘stanning’, thinking it had something to do with tin (L.stannum, tin; chemical symbol, Sn), the mining towns in Cornwall being known as The Stannaries’. However, it turns out to be the 16th Century term for a market stall.
It is interesting to note that flax, also known as linseed, is still grown locally and is in flower at the present time (Fig 1).
I have also been interested to note that a Mathew Commyne has been recorded several times in the Churchwardens Accounts for St Thomas Church of the 16th Century. Thus an entry for 1582-3 reads, ‘The Accompte of William Yonge Deliverde into the hands of Mathew Commyne wardine of the Parrish of Sainte Thomas the Apostle – from – 1582 unto 1583’. He is mentioned again in 1583-4 thus, ‘The Accompte of Mathewe Commyn – of Luke Sherlocke from 1583 unto 1584. Rec’ by W.Yonge £31 14s 6d’.
I have also found within these Churchwardens Accounts the name of Giles Escourt. Giles Estcourt JP was Simon Forman’s bête noire in Salisbury, being responsible for a lengthy term of imprisonment, appearances at assizes and confiscation of his beloved books. Sadly, I have been unable to find Simon Forman’s name among these records despite his claim to have lived within a house in St Thomas’ Churchyard.
These entries are of much interest to me since, as I have written before, it is difficult to trace Simon Forman’s life in Salisbury as he “seldom wrote about the people with whom he lived, travelled, worked, spoke, or called angels”. Could this be the same Matthew Commin to whom Simon was apprenticed? And could the William Yonge mentioned be the William Young, Anne Young’s father, Anne Young being Simon Forman’s long-term girlfriend/mistress whom he first met while working for Matthew Commin?
Coincidentally I have also been reading Neil MacGregor’s book, ‘Shakespeare’s Restless World’ which explores the stories behind twenty museum objects from the Elizabethan age. Chapter 8, entitled ‘City Life, Urban Strife’ takes its inspiration from an English woollen cap of the sixteenth century which was found at Moorfields in London 150 years ago. It is a flat chocolate brown beret, the wool of which has been closely-knitted and felted. Macgregor points out that Elizabethan England had clear rules about what sort of garments could be worn by what sort of people and, between 1571 and 1597, for example, a parliamentary statute stipulated that males over the age of six had to wear a wool cap on Sundays and the holidays. Not only was this a shrewd device for supporting the woollen industry, but it was also designed to reinforce social divisions by making them visible, because not every man and boy had to wear them, only those who were neither noblemen nor gentlemen. So, those wearing caps would be the lower echelons of society, and if they were not wearing a cap they were breaking the law. Such a cap is what in Shakespeare’s ‘Love’s Labour Lost’ is called a ‘plain statute cap’ and would have been worn by craftsmen, and journeymen, servants and apprentices (Fig 2).
It is tempting to envisage the young Simon Forman wearing such a hat and this may prove to be a useful vignette to put into my proposed historical novel.
Thank you Alan, for further fascinating insights into sixteenth centurySalisbury.
We are very pleased to have received this piece from Peter Saunders, Director of Salisbury and South Wilts Museum for thirty years and Curator Emeritus. And one of us – a Volunteer!
A few personal reflections by Peter Saunders
Father’s Day fell this year on June 21, a day often claimed by the Summer Solstice, but I’m not inclined to celebrate that day as it’s always a reminder of the day my daughter died. However, this year was different as it carried landmark significance for me: it was on that day in 1970, 50 years ago, that my association with Salisbury Museum began. I arrived in Salisbury to take up appointment as Assistant Curator and the following day was welcomed by the chairman, Cyril Trotman (whose deafness only became apparent when I realised he’d not heard a word I’d said) in the absence of the Curator, Hugh Shortt, who was hospitalized having a leg amputated – not an auspicious beginning! Later, incidentally, when we were joined by a one-legged finance officer, he would joke that there couldn’t be many museums with two members of staff with only two legs to stand on!
It was an interesting first five years: it saw slow progress towards locating suitable premises to enable the Museum to relocate within the city, given a spur by the acquisition of the Wessex collection from the Museum of General Pitt-Rivers at Farnham in Dorset, the first collection as opposed to individual objects to be accepted by The Treasury in lieu of death duties. Salisbury, too, was providing good reason not to choose career advancement elsewhere: here I met my future wife and after Hugh Shortt’s death in 1975 I became the Museum’s Curator, only the fifth since 1860! Subsequently the post was retitled Director. After retirement in 2007, having been the longest ever continuously-serving head of the institution, I failed to escape entirely, becoming its first Curator Emeritus, offering collection support and advice in an honorary capacity – and so here today as a volunteer.
Museums are defined by their collections and during my time running Salisbury’s there were many acquisition highlights. A continuous flow of archaeological objects of all periods boosted the Museum’s claim to Designated status, confirming its collections as being of national significance: it was particularly gratifying that the British Museum was later to show its confidence in Salisbury by forgoing its prerogative right to the Amesbury Archer finds, the largest collection of artefacts from an early Bronze Age burial, including the earliest known gold objects ever found in England. Beyond the Museum’s archaeological renown, it was an especial delight to have been able to strengthen its art-based collections: pictures, for example, by JMW Turner watercolours of Stonehenge and of Salisbury from Old Sarum; ceramics, by the Brixie Jarvis Wedgwood collection; and costume, by for example the 1812 uniform of Captain John Swayne (the first costume in the country to attract a National Art Collection Fund grant).
Moving the Museum from its cramped, decaying quarters in St Ann Street in 1981 was the greatest challenge I faced over the years: in the 1970s plans had been drawn up to occupy the Town Mill and part of the Maltings but this venture proved impractical and The Close beckoned. It was a daunting task: raising funds before the advent of the National Lottery and with minimal staff, looking back, I’m not sure how we did it. I particularly recall the relief we felt when the final objects made it safely across the city to the King’s House in 1981 and the largest exhibit, the Salisbury Giant, together with the Downton fire-engine were installed (a wall had to be taken down and rebuilt that day to allow their access). It was the Giant’s and Hob Nob’s last breath of fresh air – I had last taken them to the Guildhall Square in 1977 for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, where yours truly manipulated Hob Nob in a merry dance. Some 30 years later I well remember being filmed – claustrophobically – inside the Giant to demonstrate his construction and mode of carrying! They join the medieval walrus ivory chess king from the ‘Drainage’ collection as being among my most favoured objects.
Relocation of the Museum allowed galleries to be designed, professionally for the first time, by leading museum designers Robin Wade and Pat Read, both a joy to work with and who created galleries that won awards, notably a Museum of the Year award in 1985. It also enabled many temporary exhibitions to be held, Cats being the most memorable to me for its extraordinarily wide appeal and the popularity of its related events, were enlivened by the likes of Johnny Morris, Bernard Cribbens and Beryl Reid. The Father and Son: Engraved glass by Laurence and Simon Whistler exhibition, too, stood out for me – magical.
Publications, either popular monographs relating to the collections or in academic journals, were seen as a way of extending knowledge beyond the four walls of the Museum, particularly before the rise of the internet. A source of some pride are the four volumes of the Salisbury Museum Medieval Catalogue, published between 1990 and 2012 and, as far as I know, the only comprehensive catalogue of any provincial museum’s complete medieval collection. That so many scholars gave their time and expertise freely to help bring this to fruition is recognition of how nationally significant our medieval collection is and also a tribute to Hugh Shortt, who first conceived the project, and my late wife, Eleanor, who acted as its research assistant for some years.
Of course, I was blessed to have worked with many devoted staff, volunteers and well-wishers throughout those years, ranging from brilliant chairmen who guided the Museum through turbulent times, benefactors who made costly acquisitions possible, staff who worked throughout the night to meet a gallery opening deadline, through to an assistant who set fire the photographic studio and the volunteer who worked her socks off but couldn’t park her Mini without backing it across the lawn! To spare the modesty of the good and the blushes of the less well-behaved, it’s best if they all remain un-named.
And what has 50 years taught? That every object, however humble or precious, tells a story; that collections are never complete, the job never done; that museums are forever cash-poor; that curators are merely custodians passing on the tangible means by which the past may be interpreted by each new generation; that museums must move with the times; that directing them is a constant challenge. But there is no other profession I would rather have embarked upon. Curatorship satisfies one’s curiosity, desire to acquire things and brings delight in the sharing of knowledge It has provided opportunities to admire and handle so many rare treasures and to engage with a wonderful range of people: academics researching collections, children marvelling at holding a real prehistoric axe thousands of years old, the postman who dug up a medieval gold ring on his Salisbury allotment and was about to throw his ‘curtain-ring’ away, ministers of state and royalty, and especially the visitors, volunteers and members without whom the Museum would have been unable to thrive.
Reminiscing over such a breadth of time emphasises how the highs always more than outweigh the lows: major acquisitions, awards won, national recognition, even survival against the odds, have long proven that Salisbury Museum is able to punch above its weight, more than overcoming failed auction bids, thefts, floods, grant disappointments and loss of key personnel.