Hello, we are Victoria and Sarah, from South Wilts Grammar school, in the Lower Sixth. We both take History and Politics with Victoria also studying Geography and Sarah studying Business. We both share a passion for history and thought a student placement at the Salisbury Museum would be a fantastic way to explore a topic we deeply enjoy.
We were fortunate enough to be here during the National Volunteers’ Week (an event organised for Salisbury Museum volunteers by the amazing Bridget Telfer in order to thank volunteers for all their hard work), and this meant that we have spent our week enjoying (and documenting) many of the activities and events of the week. Over the past five days we have experienced:
A three hour tour of the Stonehenge Landscape
A tour of the Salisbury Cathedral Tower
A tour of the Salisbury Cathedral Stonemasonry
A tour and talk at Mottisfont Abbey focusing on
the works of Rex Whistler
A very detailed tour of the Wessex Gallery held
by the Museum’s own director Adrian Green
A tour of Wessex Archaeology as well as a
thorough talk given by Si Cleggett about Larkhill 300
A tour behind the scenes of the Salisbury
You can imagine that we have had a very busy week, which has been utterly fascinating. However it wasn’t just a jolly week of activities (well, it predominantly was but…), we have had the responsibility of commandeering the social media accounts of the museum (we hope we have done you proud Louise), and we therefore spent all of our visits photographing and noting down interesting points, of which there were many.
3rd June: The Stonehenge Landscape Tour
We started off our week we an informative walk around the surrounding geography of Stonehenge led by the National Trust Tour Guide, Mike. It was great to see a new perspective of such a popular tourist attraction, and give greater context to the stones themselves. We learnt a great deal about the barrows in the landscape as well as excavations that delved into the mystery of Stonehenge. We also had the privilege of seeing a rare species of blue butterflies, which we were fortunate to get so close to. Overall a peaceful and informative first outing, which gave us a great start to documenting National Volunteers’ Week on social media, and starting our iMovie about the week.
4th June: Salisbury Cathedral Tower Tour *Sarah’s personal
Our second day at the museum kicked off with a fantastic tour up the Cathedral Tower given by Tour Guide, Leslie Smith. The journey to the top was insightful and humorous. There was a spectacular view over Salisbury, including a new way of seeing the Salisbury Museum. It took 330 steps to get to the top, but it was more than worth it for such as sight. Leslie had a boundless knowledge of the Cathedral; the next time the bell rings make sure to look out for the tower swaying gently (the force of the bells and lack of foundations means it’s surprisingly unstable).
Tuesday 4th June: Salisbury Cathedral Stonemasonry Works Yard Tour
The tour gave us an insight into the talented masonry work of the cathedral as well as the impressive skill of the masons. Head Mason, Lee Andrews, took us round the yard, telling us about the intricate process or maintaining the stonework on the stunning Cathedral. We saw the Drawing Room, the Banker Shop (where the exciting shaping happens) and their wall of inspiration that was full of interesting stone carvings (shown below). It is impressive that Salisbury Cathedral is the only Cathedral that takes care of the whole process, from the massive bits of stone to the carefully crafted details we see on the beautiful building.
5th June: Mottisfont Abbey *Victoria’s personal favourite*
On Wednesday morning we had a tour of the house, with focus on the Whistler room – a large drawing room designed and painted by Rex Whistler at the height of his career. Our Tour Guide, Bob, gave us much understanding of the sheer talent of Whistler through his intricate use of perspective as well as the secrets in his art. There is much debate over whether the room was ever finished as Rex left for war during his time painting the room he left Lady Maud Russell a mural implying that he would return to finish the room (it is a small paint pot in one corner). Not only did Bob tell us all about the Whistler Room he also gave a talk on the bittersweet life of the artist, who unfortunately died during active service in the prime of his career.
the talk, we had freedom to roam the house and gardens and found our way to the
stunning rose gardens which were in full bloom and made the beautiful estate
even more picturesque.
5th June: Wessex Gallery tour
Adrian Green, the curator involved in creating the Wessex Gallery and current director at Salisbury Museum, gave a detailed tour of the gallery, with particular focus on some of his favourite objects in the museum. He started with a brief acknowledgment that the gallery is designed to go back in time, which is an interesting choice, so that visitors can start with the relatable model of Old Sarum. The object we found most interesting was the glass bowl that was found in a tomb, which is still complete. It is incredible to think that a bowl made, 1,300 years ago is still in pristine condition today. It was also uplifting to hear the story of the key and its portrait being reunited and displayed together in the gallery. Adrian Green was a fantastic speaker, and it was great to hear such detail delivered with genuine passion.
6th June: Wessex Archaeology Tour
Our penultimate outing was a tour and talk at Wessex Archaeology, we were led round the different departments of the archaeological process, including Environment which looks at the soil composition of excavation areas, Graphics which looks at reconstruction and printing of fragmented finds – this includes a lot of 3D printing, Unit 13 – Marine and Oceanography which looks at finds in the ocean and the desalination process, and the Finds Department which labels and identifies excavated objects. After the tour, we had a fascinating talk by Si Cleggett, who described the excavation of a WW1 practise battlefield in Larkhill, he retold stories from the areas as well as plans to use their finds to create a lasting memorial to soldiers.
6th June: Behind the Scenes Tour of Salisbury Museum
The tour, given by the very knowledgeable Roger Wadey, took us to hidden places in Salisbury Museum, where we saw incredible objects that are not currently on display. There was a selection of stuffed birds, a whole room full of geology, the library and a cupboard full of delicate artefacts, such as Victorian toys and medical equipment. It was great to see the objects up close, and even handle a few.
this week has been an incredible experience and we are extremely grateful for
the opportunity to join the volunteers on their trips and events. Both of us
have learnt so much about the history in Salisbury and its surrounding areas,
as well as what it is like to be part of the Salisbury Museum team. We would
like to say a huge thank you to all the volunteers for making us feel so
welcome, and for telling us interesting stories about their lives and passions.
We would also like thank Louise Tunnard for uploading our social media ideas to
each platform, and the wonderful Bridget Telfer for organising and supervising
us on such a fantastic week.
Thank you, Victoria and Sarah, for all your work, and your several contributions to this blog. The photo from the top of the Cathedral tower here is the best we have had in a long time.
On Monday 3 June I was one of fifteen volunteers who enjoyed a guided walk over the Stonehenge Landscape, led by Michael Robinson of the National Trust.
Starting at Tombs Road in Larkhill, the walk took in King Barrows Ridge and the King Barrows themselves, Stonehenge Avenue, the Cursus Barrows, and the Cursus. Despite having walked this landscape several times in the past, including the former WW1 airfields at Stonehenge and Larkhill – walks organised by ‘Wings Over Stonehenge’ – and taken the trouble to read the information boards en route, I still learned new things. Thus I learned that it was not until the Great Storm of 1990 felled some trees growing on the barrows did archaeologists discover that the mounds were made of turf and soil rather than the usual chalk. The importance of these monuments to the Bronze Age people can be appreciated when one realises that an area of 12 football pitches (valuable agricultural land!) would need to have been stripped of grass to create them. The King Barrows have never been excavated.
Leaving King Barrows we took the path that led us onto the
Avenue where we could savour the effect, experienced by our forbears, of Stonehenge gradually coming into view as we ascended the
final stretch. Two of our party walked the left hand bank whilst the main body
walked the right hand bank so that we could visualise the width of the Avenue.
Leaving Stonehenge we walked across the site of the former Visitor Centre and carpark and took the path to the Cursus Barrows. From here we could look across in the direction of Normanton Barrows and Bush Barrow, the latter being the site of Britain’s richest Bronze Age burial, the artefacts of which can be seen at Wiltshire Museum, Devizes.
Amongst these artefacts is a bronze dagger adorned with
140,000 minute gold rivets. This excavation was led by William Cunnington
(1754-1810) whose colleague, John Parker, of Heytesbury, is credited as being
the first person to use a trowel on an archaeological site. John Parker had scattered these “points of
gold” before Cunnington had had an opportunity to examine them.
Whilst at the Cursus Barrows we were all enthralled by the
sight of a small but spectacularly blue Adonis Blue butterfly, whose sole larval
food source is horseshoe vetch. This beautiful butterfly is one of the most
characteristic of unimproved southern chalk downland, but has undergone a major
decline through its entire range (-19% since the 1970s). However, it has
recently expanded in some regions, notably Dorset and Wiltshire.
At the end of the walk, many of us were extremely flattered
when we were asked to sign a ‘permission to use our images’ form from the
National Trust which referred to us as ‘models’.
My iphone ‘Health’ app informed me that we had covered about
7km during this walk.
This was a very enjoyable and worthwhile morning out.
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.
We have two students doing their work placements at the museum this week – Victoria and Sarah from South Wilts Grammar School. They are taking over our social media feeds – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – to report on all of our events taking place for National Volunteers’ Week. A big thank you to all of our volunteers for all of their hard work and dedication to Salisbury Museum, and to Victoria and Sarah!
Monday 3 June and the first of our events to mark National Volunteers’ Week at Salisbury Museum…a Stonehenge Landscape Guided Walk. A brilliant event, walking through the landscape around Stonehenge with its round barrows, long barrows, cursus and Stonehenge Avenue – in the very capable and informative hands of Mike Robinson and Don Carmichael – two National Trust guides. A great way to start the week!
National Volunteers’ Week at Salisbury Museum
These free events are open to all volunteers at Salisbury Museum – as part of our ‘thank you’ for your support and hard work at the museum.
Places however are limited and must be booked in advance. To book a place please contact Bridget Telfer, the Volunteer Co-ordinator, and state your top two choices in order:firstname.lastname@example.org; 01722 332151.
Landscape Guided Walk
The Stonehenge landscape is an intriguing place with many
of its secrets still lying tantalisingly below ground. This walk takes you
around various aspects of the World Heritage Site, with iconic views of
Stonehenge visible for much of the time. We’ll visit ancient earthworks
including the Cursus monument, the Stonehenge avenue and some of the many and
Point: The car park on Tombs Road, Larkhill, SP4 8NB. Access
Tombs Road from Fargo Road (south entrance) – no access from The Packway. If
the carpark is full then there is space to park along Tombs Road.
Access: The walk is 4 miles long. Please wear appropriate footwear/ clothes for the conditions. Bring water/ snacks with you. There are no toilet facilities – the nearest public toilets are at Amesbury. The NT do not allow dogs on the walks (except guide dogs).
Cathedral Tower Tour
Climb 332 steps in easy stages and explore the ancient roof
spaces. You’ll reach the foot of the iconic spire, 68 metres above ground
level, and be rewarded with an aerial view of the inside of the Cathedral and
panoramic views of Salisbury. An experienced guide will explain all there is to
know about the construction of this architectural masterpiece.
Meeting Point: Welcome Desk, Salisbury Cathedral
Cathedral Stonemasonry Works Yard Tour
Take a backstage tour with an expert guide around our Works
Yard, one of only nine English Cathedral works yards in the country. Observe
how 21st century know-how, and hand-carving skills that have been
practised since the 13th century, are brought together to protect
this amazing heritage building for generations to come.
2.00pm-3.00pm (followed by tea/coffee)
Meeting Point: Welcome Desk, Salisbury Cathedral
Whistler themed talk and tour at Mottisfont Abbey
Join us for a guided tour of the saloon where Rex Whistler
was commissioned to create a unique backdrop for Mottisfont’s glamorous guests.
The results were his spectacular trompe l’oeil murals, light-heartedly
reflecting Mottisfont’s medieval origins. Following this will be an illustrated
talk about Rex’s life and works, with particular links to Salisbury.
Meeting Point: Visitor Reception Desk, Mottisfont Abbey Cost: free for NT members/ £12.70 per person for non NT members
A fascinating tour around Sir Edward Heath’s former home.
Arundells, The Close, Salisbury
Meeting point: Reception Desk at Arundells
of the Wessex Gallery, Salisbury Museum
Join Adrian Green, the museum Director, to hear fascinating
stories behind some of the artefacts on display in the Wessex Gallery.
Meeting point: Wessex Gallery
to Wessex Archaeology
An exciting opportunity to visit the different departments
at Wessex Archaeology (finds/ environmental/ graphics); see some recent finds;
and listen to an expert talk about one of the archaeological projects they are
currently working on.
for coffee/ prompt start at 10am-1pm
Location: Wessex Archaeology (meet at reception, main entrance door), Portway House, Old Sarum Park, Salisbury, SP4 6EB Parking/ Transport: There is very limited parking at the Portway Centre nearby – this needs to be booked via Bridget. Easiest transport is on the free Park and
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.
Rosemary Pemberton’s recent very knowledgeable, fascinating, talk to Volunteers about the museum’s ceramics collection started with a good question – what is the difference between china and crockery? It had us thinking. It is the kind of thing where you know the difference but articulating it is rather more difficult. There is a good attempt to do so on an internet blog:
“…”crockery” is a generic functional word for the mugs, cups, plates and saucers – that I eat from and drink out of. On the other hand “china” carries for me a definite connotation of “delicate and expensive”. I’d say, for example: “Don’t put your best china in the dishwasher” or “The removal men broke a lot of our china” (where “china” could include decorative pieces such as ornaments).”
I think most of us would agree with that. But what about the differences between pottery, earthenware, porcelain, and china and bone china? This is more technical.
Dictionary definitions generally suggest pots, dishes, and other articles made of fired clay are generally called pottery and can be broadly divided into earthenware, porcelain, and stoneware. Earthenware is not fired so hot and so chips fairly easily. Porcelain is fired at very hot temperatures (vitrified so that it is glass like) while stoneware has, as its name suggests, some stone in the clay which makes it stronger.
Verwood pottery – earthenware – in the Salisbury Museum ceramics gallery.
So, your best ‘china’ is probably porcelain. Some of that crockery might be stoneware…
Bone china (white) has, as you might guess, bone ash in it. It is a type of soft-paste porcelain, typical of English manufacturers since about 1800. Hard paste porcelain was originally made from a compound of the feldspathic rock petuntse and kaolin fired at very high temperature, usually around 1400°C (thank you Wikipedia!). It was first made in China around the 7th or 8th century, and has remained the most common type of Chinese porcelain.
Bone china with the characteristic shiny white finish (painted or with transfers)
No one in Europe could copy imported Chinese porcelain until the early 18th century. Much was imported which hit the home-grown industries hard. Fine china (from China) was decorated for the European market which led to some oddly hand-painted scenes on some items and encouraged surviving British chinaware factories in turn to copy Chinese patterns (think Willow pattern plates).
The rest is history as they say. And with very few young couples interested anymore in ‘fine china’, what does the future hold?