Sophie isn’t disappointed….


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Dauntsey’s School (Devizes) student Sophie Roberts has been with us for two days of her week’s work experience – and says she isn’t disappointed so far!

Yesterday she was helping visitors enjoy our Coo Var Glow Wall experience. Today, she has been involved with more traditional museum back room work.  Sophie joined Volunteers Roger Collins and Mary Crane who are here every Tuesday, building boxes to store priceless artefacts.


Roger completes a new box


Sophie and Roger carefully lift a model to be boxed


Many hands…


ArchFest 17


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Summer is here. ArchFest cannot be far behind…

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Katy England reminds us it is a really exciting weekend with lots going on including talks in the lecture hall, a showground of living history and heritage, and an archaeological dig by Dr Phil Harding to search for the remains of the museum’s lost gatehouse. Volunteers are needed again this year for what is usually a very busy weekend. Two briefing sessions are planned:

Friday 16 June 10.30 – 11.30am   and

Tuesday 20 June 2.30 – 3.30pm

Please contact Katy at if you would like to be involved, and to let her know which of the two sessions would be convenient for you.

Extra engagement volunteers in the galleries are also needed for the two days. Please contact if you think you can help with that.

Rock Art


Anyone who is not in the habit of attending the regular talks put on by the museum – you are missing something! Not just something, but many things.

High quality speakers, at the cutting edge of their areas of expertise, and sometimes talking about things which are a surprise to their audience.

Many of us present at Professor Richard Bradley’s talk on 25 May thought rock art was confined to Australia and the caves of France. Not so. Even those with some knowledge of it all will have been surprised by how much rock art is being discovered in Britain, and fascinated by Richard Bradley’s theories on it all.

The markings are usually concentric circles with associated dots or ‘cups’, sometimes spirals, often with ‘tails’ or lines which link parts of the overall image. That, in itself, is intriguing. What degree of collective thinking and communication was involved in the same markings appearing all over the country?



Archaeological excavation around the sites dates this art to between 3 000 and 2 000 BC. It is almost always found on high ground, ‘pecked’ into natural outcrops of rock which nevertheless are situated above prime grazing land. And, as Richard Bradley has discovered through careful observation, lined up with views of astronomical events (eg the setting summer sun) or significant geographical sites. One set of markings in the north west lines up with a natural break in the rock which in turn is a view of the peak above Britain’s most prolific prehistoric axe quarry. This is another intriguing fact. A survey of two thousand axes discovered all over the country shows that nearly thirty percent came from a single site – Langdale in Cumbria. More collective thinking and communication!

Not surprisingly, quartz was favoured as the ‘canvas’ for this work, giving off a glitter which is still effective today – thousands of years later.

New examples of this art are being found all the time.  As with all things archaeological, we will never have all the answers, but how exciting the questions are!

Rock art

Professor Richard Bradley




A few years ago, the museum’s photographic archive was dispersed and not easy to access.  Various handwritten reference books and card sets existed in numerous places.

Today a comprehensive structure exists which makes great use of the computer.  There are dedicated image rooms for storing the image archive items in numbered boxes.  All the photographs, negatives (film, slides, glass plates), postcards have been numbered and scanned.  Well not quite all. As you know, the museum has recently acquired a rather massive amount of negatives and slides. The scans are put onto the computer and hence can now be interrogated without having to spend years searching through boxes.

The file format called jpeg is used for all the images.  I use the word ‘images’ rather than photographs because it is not just photographs.  For example all the postcards are scanned, both front and back, as well as slides and even books of photographs.  Thus the jpeg image can include more than just the photograph.

A simple example is given here where the image numbered pp13408a is shown.


pp13408b, not shown here, is its reverse side, sometimes useful for hand written descriptions.  One can instantly see that it is called Harvesting at Waterson*, photo by A H Evans. Dorchester.  I can find the photographer on Google but no place called Waterson.  Maybe it is Waterson’s farm?  The typed note gives some fascinating information but unfortunately no references.  We cannot find any instance of the mentioned record of the men and oxen names in the museum.  This is why we now include such information in the metadata of the jpeg file where it cannot go astray.  Lots of potential research here: how widespread was the horse influenza outbreak? Did this spur the invention of the steam plough? How many oxen were imported? Has Lord Ilchester’s estate got records of this ‘oxen to replace horses’ event in 1885?

*Likely to be Waterston, Puddletown. The manor there was owned by Lord Ilchester until 1911.

The Museum at Night


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Museums at Night – a twice-a-year event when museums, galleries and heritage sites try to do something a bit different to highlight British culture.

museums night

Friday 19 May was a damp evening, in contrast to the weather recently, but visitors turned out to see Greg Chapman, back by popular demand. His lively (juggling, story telling and unicycling) version of history is not to be forgotten!

Greg Chapman

The Art of Stonehenge


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A new exhibition opens on Saturday 20 May: The Art of Stonehenge.  This is designed to complement the major exhibition, British Art, Ancient Landscapes, and allows the museum to display its probably unique collection of paintings on the subject.

The exhibitions continue to be supported by talks and other activities.  You may be interested in Ancient Landscapes Through the Lens, a guided photographic walk to Breamore with David Walker and Peter  Norton on Tuesday 23 May (see earlier blog). There is a further such adventure on Tuesday 20 June, this time a photographic walk to Fyfield, again with David and Peter. There are are limited places on these walks so booking is essential.

See also Rock Art: Prehistoric Art in the Prehistoric Landscape, a talk by Professor Richard Bradley scheduled for Thursday 25 May at 6.30pm (booking advised £10).

Panel of Rock Art

Don’t forget ArchFest17 (The Salisbury Museum Festival of Archaeology 21 to 23 July): full details, and tickets now available on-line here.

…ready to get stuck in.” by student Emily Smith




My name is Emily Smith and I am currently an MA student studying Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. I’m writing my dissertation at the moment so have some time to come back home whilst I research. I volunteered with Salisbury Museum during my early summers at university so I was really happy to be able to get a placement in the collections department whilst I am back in the area.

I have never worked in a museum’s collection before but employing some useful knowledge from my course I feel ready to get stuck in. The collections are such a vital part of any museum that I know experience in this area will be really worthwhile.

I am currently partnered with another volunteer Tracy, and we are tackling the fine art picture stores. Our job is to go through the pictures making sure they are labelled correctly and match the records on MODES (I’ve had my introduction to MODES and although I’m excited to get to grips with it, I’m not sure it’ll be the easiest relationship!). This is such a thrilling opportunity to see what is hidden in the museum stores and I’m sure there will be many treasures to find.

I will be here until July and I can’t wait to see what the collections have in store.

AN ON-GOING STORY from Volunteer Alan Crooks


I am indebted to another of our Volunteers, Tony Harris, who, knowing of my interest in the wagon depicted in Constable’s ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’, loaned me a small book entitled ‘Wagons and Carts’ by David Viner (Shire Publications, 2008).

David Viner is a museum and heritage consultant and a freelance curator, with a long-standing interest in carts and wagons.

The first thing I should say is that I am grateful to note that I fortuitously got the terminology right in my previous two blogs, for a cart has two wheels and a wagon has four.  A second issue concerns spelling – is it waggon or wagon? My dictionary shows that either spelling is permissible. Viner says that the former seems the older word, and seems also to be associated more with the use of road vehicles rather than those used in agriculture. However, this terminology is not consistent and differs according to location, as do variations in the design of wagons themselves.

Viner identifies two basic types of wagon, the box wagon and the bow wagon. The box wagon, as its name suggests, is little more than a box sitting on an undercarriage or frame, whereas the bow wagon is of a more elaborate design. Viner says that box wagons, although showing marked regional variations, were common across the whole of central, southern and south-western Britain from at least the Eighteenth Century onwards. Bow wagons, on the other hand, were much associated with the South Midlands, and also featured strongly in the south-western counties and South Wales.

Bow wagons are elegant constructions in which longitudinal timbers attached to the sides of the wagon, called ‘raves’ rise in a “gentle arch” over the rear wheels.  In fact, there are four types of rave, from bottom to top known as the inner rave,  middle rave (or mid-rail), the top rave and the outrave. The outrave, or outer rail, is angled outwards from the side of the cart to facilitate carriage of a greater load. In the bow wagon, the inner and outer raves rise in an arch over the rear wheels.

wagon 1

It is apparent from this description that the type of wagon depicted in ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’ is a bow wagon. However, far from ‘rising in a gentle sweep over the wheels’, the curve is much more exaggerated, reinforcing my belief that Constable employed artistic licence in the portrayal of this vehicle.

Viner also says that a further group identifiable within the bow wagons classification are known as ‘ship’ or ‘cock-rave’ wagons, due to the rising up of the body over the rear wheels, evocative of the shape of a ship or of a cockerel’s tail. Thus, instead of turning downwards towards the shutlock (the end cross member of a wagon or cart), the hoop rave remains in a horizontal plain behind the wheel.

The illustration below is a Devon ‘ship wagon’ or cockrave, so-called because of the way the raves ride over the wheels.


Another example is this 1911 horse-drawn Somerset ‘cockrave’ wagon:


It is apparent that the wagon depicted by Constable in ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’ is of this type, namely a cockrave wagon.


 In writing this piece, I came across Amy Concannon’s article, ‘The Painting’, in Amy Concannon (ed), In Focus: Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows exhibited by John Constable, Tate Research Publication, 2017: (accessed 2nd May, 2017) in which she states, “… the cart (sic) is reminiscent of that in The Hay Wain,  modified here to display the characteristics of a particular kind of vehicle, the bow wagon, specific to the south-west of England”.

In writing this, Concannon made reference to:  Constable, exhibition catalogue, Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams, Tate Gallery, London 1991, p.364.

Amongst other things I am learning what beautiful things these wagons were… Thank you Alan.

Welcome to Nadia




This happy face belongs to Nadia Messina, our latest ERASMUS colleague from Italy. ERASMUS is an EU programme which helps higher education students live and work abroad for up to twelve months, thus extending their studies and learning a new language while contributing to their place of work in a new country.

Nadia, 25, hails from Syracuse (Siracusa) in Sicily, not far from a smoking Mount Etna. She studied Archaeology at Siena University in another beautiful part of that country, Tuscany. How she must be missing that weather! Nadia is working with the Portable Antiquities Scheme under the watchful eyes of Richard Henry and Fiona Johnstone. She will return to Italy hoping for work in her chosen profession.

Welcome Nadia!



More joy from our photographic archive, courtesy of Volunteer Alan Clarke…

Heath Robinson Garden Waterer Contraption

Heath Robinson Garden Waterer Contraption.

The above photograph comes from the Austin Underwood collection.  The only text on the envelope, which contains a series of 2¼ inch black and white negatives, is “April 1965 Nether Wallop”.  The Wallop Brook flows through this village. There has been a mill at Nether Wallop for over a thousand years, as one is listed in the Domesday Book.  Thus, I deduce that the residents of Nether Wallop are well acquainted with water wheel technology.

This photograph of a water wheel rewards detailed examination.  I use the term Heath Robinson to describe its construction. I define a “Heath Robinson contraption” as a machine built using ingenuity and whatever is to hand, often string and tape, or unlikely cannibalisations. Apparently the term is linked to Second World War Britain’s shortages and the need to “make do and mend”.  This photograph shows a motorcycle wheel in the centre with eight long rectangular blades attached.  There have to be enough blades so that one blade is always in the water, otherwise the wheel will stop, as with no blade in the water there is no force to keep the wheel turning.  Eight is about the minimum number of blades necessary.

Now for the interesting bit: the diameter of the wheel.   The purpose of the wheel is to provide a head of water of about five feet.  This is done by having small tin cans pivoted near the ends of each blade.  These are filled as the cans are dragged through the water. The cans are then rotated up to the top where a hot water bottle is used to gently rotate the can and empty it into a container, which then allows the water to flow away through an almost horizontal drainpipe, going out of the photo to the right.  It is quite ingenious to use a soft hot water bottle to avoid a continuous clanking noise.  Austin has cleverly taken the photograph when a can is being emptied, so one can see the water flowing out of the can.  This also shows the direction the waterwheel is rotating, counter-clockwise looking into the photograph.  I can’t claim to understand all of this ingenious construction.  The hot water  bottle appears to be attached to a vertical pole which can be raised or lowered a very fine amount via a horizontal lever just above the river surface. Perhaps this was found necessary, as the force to turn a full can at the top might be enough to stop the wheel if the brook flow was weak.  By lowering the hot water bottle, the can would not be completely turned and thus require less force.  If the hot water bottle was lowered enough then the can wouldn’t be turned at all, and thus not be a brake on the wheel at all.  Hence maybe the need for fine adjustment depending upon the brook flow.

If any reader of this blog has access to a small brook, they now know how to make a garden watering contraption which requires no electricity.