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One of the great pleasures and benefits of volunteering in the museum is the amount one learns (or not!) from the visiting public.

Following on from my previous blog on ‘Constable’s Wagon’ (17th January) I accessed the website for the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) at the University of Reading, which has photographs of various county farm carts.

This does show a ‘Wiltshire cart’ which has broad similarities to the wagon in Constable’s ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows 1831’, in that the front wheels are smaller than the rear, and the structure curves over the front and rear wheels. However, as can be seen from the illustration below, the curve is nowhere near as pronounced as depicted by Constable:

Wiltshire cart

A visitor suggested that perhaps commentators have ‘got it wrong’ in referring to it as a ‘Wiltshire wagon’ and that it is really a Suffolk wagon – Constable’s home county. However, the illustration of a Suffolk wagon on the MERL website is quite dissimilar:

Suffolk cart

Thus, I do believe that Timothy Wilcox was partially correct in his  book/catalogue ‘Constable and Salisbury, The Soul of Landscape’ (p152) in which he implies that Constable used artistic licence in the appearance of the wagon, to allow the eye to follow through the curves in the painting. However, we now know from Professor John E. Thornes lecture on ‘A Reassessment of the Solar Geometry of Constable’s Rainbow’ that this was not to predict/preempt  the spectacular appearance of the rainbow, as the rainbow was only painted in a year after the painting was first exhibited at the Royal Academy; in order to mark the death of his great friend, Archdeacon John Fisher.

The most common reaction of visitors entering Gallery 2 (containing Constable’s great painting) was to stand stock still at the entrance and exclaim “Wow!”

Many visitors commented on how privileged they had been to be able to view this painting, on its own on the wall (in contrast to the situation when it goes to The Tate Gallery, when it could just become ‘one of many’) and in the absence of a large crowd. I certainly feel very privileged as an Engagement Volunteer to be in the presence of this great painting for 1.5 hours every week, and to share the joy of all our visitors.

MORE VISITORS’ COMMENTS shared by Volunteer Alan Crooks



Alan Crooks – continuing the thought that “one of the great pleasures and benefits of volunteering in the museum is the amount one learns (or not!) from the visiting public” (see previous blog)…

Another visitor who had been a member of staff at Godolphin School, contemplating Methuen’s ‘The City and Cathedral of Salisbury as seen from Harnham Hill’ (1955)  commented that Godolphin School has a Methuen House (which “always lost all the sporting events”). He said he had quizzed many of his colleagues, including some of long-standing, and was surprised that so few of them knew why Methuen House was so-named. Sadly, I was distracted away before he could enlighten me. However, a little research revealed that Field Marshal The Lord Methuen GCB, GCMG, GCVO, Legion d’Honneur (The 3rd Baron Methuen) was elected Chairman of the Governing Body of Godolphin School, Salisbury on June 10, 1913. This link will take you to a blog which describes his interest in education, his love of books and his knowledge of music.

Another visitor stood in front of Claude Buckle’s railway poster, ‘Salisbury: Where History Begins’ commemorating the visit of Charles II in 1651. He swore blind that Buckle had got the date wrong as Charles II “didn’t ascend the throne until 1660”. I had to go home and quickly check an encyclopaedia to find that Charles II had ascended the throne of Scotland in 1651, and so had visited Salisbury that same year. He issued the Declaration of Breda in 1660 in which he stated the terms on which he accepted the crown of England.

WORTH A VISIT. News via Volunteer Bob Andrews



In 2010 a gallery space was created at Mottisfont Abbey near Romsey.  It made use of redundant rooms at the top of the house and it now has a growing reputation as an art venue in Hampshire.

The current exhibition of Rex Whistler’s work, entitled “More than just Murals” began on January 14th. It draws on items from several different sources, the Welsh Guards Museum, Plas Newydd (NT) Anglesey, and his archive from the Salisbury museum.

It reflects various aspects of his short life, his school and student days, his varied output of murals, his work on the stage, book designs and advertising material. The exhibition is further enhanced by a beautifully crafted film, made by Daniel Whistler, Rex’s nephew.

Rex was influenced by the work of the architect Palladio. The Palladian bridge in the grounds of Wilton House appears in many of his classical landscapes, all created accurately from memory.


The exhibition closes on the 23rd April

Bob Andrews     Collections Volunteer

Goodbye Old Friend



Millions of pounds left the museum yesterday.  More importantly, we lost an old friend. John Constable’s Salisbury  Cathedral from the Meadows 1831 , with us since September of last year, has gone.

Constable away

What an epic painting, one which we have been privileged to come to know so well.  And what a very good exhibition of Salisbury museum’s own paintings we had to go with it.

The exhibition attracted more and more visitors as time went by and word got out. If you missed the painting, it has now gone to the Scottish National Gallery…

Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows 1831 came to us courtesy of Aspire, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund.

Intriguing Items



The Spotlight Loan programme of the Wessex Group of Museums (of which Salisbury Museum is one) has been intriguing for its choice of objects. Each of the five museums involved has contributed just one item to the tour.

So far we have seen three. Last year we had the Tibetan teapot from the Russell Coates Museum in Bournemouth, more recently the Poole Pottery plate with its seaplane motif from Poole Museums. Each item tells part of the story of the town, and is in its way iconic of the place. We could have fun trying to do the same thing for our own home town or somewhere we visit on a holiday..what single item is there in the local museum which could be said to speak for the place over the ages?


Currently on display at Salisbury are the leg shackles from Dorchester County Museum. These were used to restrict the movement of inmates of the nineteenth century Dorchester Prison. They bring to mind the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six agricultural labourers of the Dorset village of that name who were convicted of taking an illegal oath of loyalty to, and secrecy about, their Friendly Society. The setting up of this Society was part of their effort to negotiate a better wage at a time of great hardship in the countryside.

The men were eventually pardoned but not before they had been transported to Australia for their crime.

The men are celebrated today as heroes of the early Trade Union movement.

Archaeobotanist – Ruth Pelling




Recently, Dr Ruth Pelling spoke at one of our evening lectures, describing her work as the Senior Archaeobotanist at Historic England to identify and interpret plant remains from Historic England excavation projects or funded projects. With her permission, we have borrowed from her blog at the National Heritage Science Forum.  It is a bit technical, but please stick with it. Like her talk, it is totally fascinating…

“Archaeobotany is the study of plant remains from archaeological sites. Most commonly this involves the examination of charred grain, chaff, pulses, fruit and nut remains, tubers, rhizomes, weed seeds, and charcoal which have survived as a result of being burnt. Plants can also be preserved in anaerobic deposits where oxygen is excluded (most commonly due to water-logging) thus preventing bacterial and fungal action. Leaves and even flowers may survive in such conditions. A third type of preservation is mineral replacement, in which all or part of the structure of the plant is replaced by mineral salts, most commonly calcium phosphate, or mineral preserved remains where material is preserved due to its proximity to metal corrosion products. Identification is based on the physical characteristics of the item: the morphology (shape and form), surface cell structure, and internal cell structure.

My job as the senior archaeobotanist is to identify and interpret plant remains from Historic England excavation projects or funded projects. I also provide advice and support to other archaeobotanists, including those employed in the commercial sector. I identify research priorities in archaeobotany, either locally or nationally, and answer individual enquiries from helping with identification to developing sampling strategies. At the moment I am working on a really exciting project examining material held in the Pitt-Rivers archive at Salisbury Museum.

Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers (14 April 1827 – 4 May 1900) was one of the leading anthropologists and archaeologists of the Victorian age. He conducted a number of excavations, particularly in the area of Cranborne Chase in Dorset, and was an avid collector of antiquities and ethnographic artefacts. In 1975 Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum was gifted the Wessex collections by HM Treasury. Amongst the archive were a number of cigar and pill boxes full of charred grain, complete with the original labels and identifications. It is a great honour to be able to look at this material and re-identify the cereal remains with a more scientific eye.

Pitt-Rivers did not employ modern sampling and flotation methods as practiced today, so his plant samples are derived from grain caches which were substantial enough to be spotted during excavation. As such the material represents unusual burning events of stored grain, or grain accidentally burnt during processing events, as opposed to the everyday processing losses we usually encounter. A complete catalogue of the samples, possibly coupled with radiocarbon dating, will enhance our knowledge of Iron Age and Roman farming in the Dorset region and highlights the value of archived material, particularly when contextual information is as thorough as that provided by Pitt-Rivers.

Amongst the samples in the collection are two boxes of grain from the Swiss Lake settlements labelled ‘burnt wheat from the Swiss Lakes, Brice Wright’s Sale’. The Swiss Neolithic lake dwellings were first discovered in the mid-19th century when wooden house posts were exposed in Lake Zurich during the winter of 1853-4 due to exceptionally low water levels. Finds from the sites were sold to visitors from all over the world in the late 19th century. This included samples of plant remains. It is likely that the Pitt-Rivers samples derive from Robenhausen, where archaeological layers dated from the Neolithic (4th and 3rd millennium BC) to the Late Bronze Age. Interpretation is limited as there is little by way of contextual information but the material shows how amazing preservation of this ancient plant material can be. Burning grain deposits were presumably fairly rapidly extinguished when the house platforms fell into the water, where they lay in stable waterlogged conditions within the lake silts until discovered thousands of years later. Similarly remarkable preservation has been uncovered at the site of Must Farm in Cambridgeshire which is currently being studied in Cambridge.”


Burnt wheat from the Swiss Lakes


More burnt plant matter from the Swiss Lakes




HASTINGS? PERHAPS… by Volunteer Alan Clarke


Another gem from what is now a semi-regular series from Alan Clarke.  Long may it continue!

Hastings 1905 or 1907

When I find interesting old images I can’t recognise, I send them to my photographic detective friend Tony.


I sent him the seaside image you see here.

Broderick 3

The original was discovered hidden away in the museum, and has now been scanned, referenced and enclosed in a numbered box in one of the museum’s image archive rooms.  This is Tony’s reply, slightly altered by me.

“I’m sure that you will be pleased to know that I have managed to identify the location of the seaside photo.  I started investigating soon after you sent it.

I assumed that it was taken in the UK as there is a union flag flying on the seafront.  I also guessed that it could be on the south coast so I looked for a Victorian resort, built on rapidly rising ground and, having a pier and an unusual hexagonal building.  I found that in some respects Hastings seemed to be a good match so I found an aerial view of Hastings on Google Earth and studied it.

Broderick 1

The photo shows what could be a flagpole and what might be the end of a wall.  See annotation on photo.  From the Google Earth view of Hastings I found a flagpole in the castle and took the wall to be the castle wall.  Starting at the flagpole in the castle grounds, I drew a line on the Google aerial view which crossed the castle wall just before the wall ends.  Assuming it is Hastings and the flagpole position has not changed in 110 years, by this use of parallax, the camera was positioned somewhere along this line.

Both the photos and the Google aerial view show multi-storey houses with bay windows, and both also show a coast road which bends sharply as it approaches the west end of the picture.  So far so good.

What I wanted to find, as confirmation, was a photo of Hastings showing the distinctive hexagonal building and the pier.  I found pictures of piers at Hastings through the ages but none was of the design shown in the picture, and I could find no reference to the hexagonal building.

Additionally, the Google aerial picture shows a far larger distance between the sea and the base of the rock formation on which the castle stands.  Thus, if it was Hastings, at some time since the Victorian era, land has been reclaimed.  This would place the coast road shown in your photo further back from the current coast road shown in the Google aerial photo.

At this stage I felt there was insufficient evidence to say with certainty that Hastings was the true location.

Returning to the task a few days ago I looked at the lower right of the photo, which I had dismissed as containing nothing of interest, to see BRODERICKS SERIES.  This is embossed on the photograph where I have placed the green exclamation mark.  I discovered that Frederick Nutt Broderick 1878-1913 was a photographer based in the Isle of Wight.


Frederick Nutt Broderick’s photographic business was established when picture postcards were being introduced into England.  In the 1900’s, Broderick travelled along the south coast taking photographs of seaside towns, later publishing them as picture postcards; including a number of postcards featuring views of Hastings in 1905 and 1907.  His eldest daughter Aurora acted as his assistant and, rather predictably, when he issued his postcards of Hastings, he published them as the Aurora series.  A photograph taken around 1910 showing a white bearded Broderick with his wife Emily and his two daughters, Aurora and Emmeline, appeared in a recent book on Hastings in old photographs.

These are the links to Mr Broderick:

I suspect that the photo could have been taken from a Hastings hotel in which Mr Broderick was staying.  It would have been a good vantage point and a hotel room with a bay window would have been a convenient place to set up a plate camera.”

Alan continues: On receiving this communciation from Tony, I went back through the museum’s archive of photographs and found three more images with Broderick embossed faintly on them;  Carisbroke Castle, Carisbroke Church and the Needles from Alum Bay, all three the Isle of Wight.  Thus, Hastings, as the fourth photo, doesn’t fit this set as it isn’t on the IoW.

The discrepancies of the hexagonal building, wrong pier structure and land reclamation worried me.  Could there be somewhere like this on the Isle of Wight?  Ventnor came to mind, so I queried Google as to whether Ventnor ever had a pier.   Yes it did!  I soon came up with the second image here, an almost perfect match.  So, it is Ventnor IoW, and not Hasting, after all.


Feedback This Week


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“Thank you for the Blog. I really enjoy being kept up to date with what is going on at the museum.”

“Well done! Another fascinating and detailed Blog. Interesting articles,and such enthusiasm for the younger trainees.  It is evident that there is a wonderful training team behind the Museum, who are fostering interest in archaeology and museum technology. Well done and keep it up. Retention of these artifacts in our local museums is vital for the education and history of our nation, and fostering interest in younger people will help to continue this. Much credit must go to Adrian and his team of paid employees for their interest and enthusiasm, which infects all of us! Thanks to you all.”

Thank you for such encouraging feedback. We welcome your comments, ideas and contributions.  Please be in touch.


Well Worth A Look


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From our website this week.  Well worth a look…

Back in September 2016 we announced a Rainbow Photographic Competition, inviting photographers to capture a rainbow over the skies of Salisbury. This was inspired by John Constable’s painting ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’ on display at the museum. We are thrilled to announce the prize winners are First – Martin Cook, Second – Marie Jones and Third – Alan Clarke. Here is Martin’s award-winning image. Thanks also to the Salisbury Branch of London Camera Exchange, who donated the prizes. The winning photographs will go on display at the museum soon. See all the entries on YouTube