More Walls

On a wet, rather cold morning, a brave builder is repairing one of our walls. It draws attention to what appears to be one of the more modern parts of the building. However, the wall is, in fact, a complete patchwork. It is mainly brick, but of different hue, and possibly bricks of different sizes, and therefore different dates. Most interesting, perhaps, are the two patches of much older wall, which are similar to the section of wall highlighted in the blog last week. That wall is in part of the building which is much more obviously early, perhaps 16th century.

Pope Joan


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What links a yellow dwarf with the Curse of Scotland, with Matrimony and Intrigue, ladies with feathers, and countries all over Europe? Read on…

1796 caricature by James Gilray showing Lady Georgiana Gordon holding the Pope (the nine of diamonds) in a game of Pope Joan.

Did you know that there is a theory that Pope John VIII was a woman? This thirteenth century conspiracy theory (conspiracy theories, it seems, aren’t a modern phenomenon) suggests that Ioannes Anglicus; AD 855–857 was a woman who disguised herself to become secretly involved in church matters (women were not allowed to be priests, of course) and proved so able that she rose up the ranks to become Pope. The best bit of the story, widely believed throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, was that her sex was revealed when she gave birth during a procession. That would do it…

Our usual source for such things is Wikipedia. Do have a look for the full story.

Meanwhile, the whole business spawned a parlour game, first mentioned in eighteenth century documents, called Pope Joan. Again, ‘Google it’ for details. It seems pretty complicated, and had overtones of religious and political bias, but became very popular in the Victorian period. If you want to have a play, used sets are available on ebay…!

Jean and Joan, our ever reliable Social History volunteers, have found a set in our archives…

These lovely mother-of-pearl counters have an archetypal Victorian look referred to as chinoiserie.

This is probably a nineteenth century set, possibly early. Chinoiserie became popular in Britain in the eighteenth century, and these counters clearly show an oriental influence.

It is nearly here! Tudor Christmas…



An added incentive to be here on Saturday 14th is the fact that the entire staff will be in costume, as well as some of the Volunteers. Yes, even our esteemed Director, Adrian Green!

The King’s Room will be closed on Friday to put up the tables and other items and by Saturday morning it will be all systems go. Be met at the gate by a certain bearded figure (no, not Father Christmas or Henry VIII) and see the reindeer. Then come in to Reception where the servants will welcome you. Walk the corridors, enjoying the decorations, and come up to the feasting room where musicians, falcons, story tellers and servants will be entertaining, and about to carve the boar’s head.

Staff member Sarah Gregson trying on costume

I only hope the falcons don’t think the food is real!

A Watch Pocket



The costume ladies have come across an interesting little gem…

We all know that in the 1800s, portly gentlemen would reach into their waistcoat pocket for their watch, gaze at it short-sightedly and return it there, safe on its gold or silver chain.

But what did women do?

They had a watch pocket like this, attached to a belt..

This example dates from the early 1800s. Rather charmingly, someone has embroidered it with a representation of a herb. We think it is thyme….

Can you read the inscription?

PLANNING THE TUDOR FEAST by Volunteer Mary Crane



(…or, “The Conversation Went Something Like This!”)

Peacocks with feathers,
Boar's head on a plate.
Pies full of minced meat.
Is that all they ate?
Swans, hams and jellies,
Spiced ale - that sounds good!
And biscuits and sweetmeats..
Is that Tudor food?
Remember this banquet
Is fit for a King.
It's not peas and pottage,
It's all Tudor bling
We won't admit feta
But blocks of hard cheese
Look very appealing
When spread out on leaves!
It must look realistic
But cannot be real.
It's got to be fake
With real Tudor feel!
Don't worry, we'll Google it,
Check it all out.
We'll make it authentic
So there is no doubt.

Volunteer Mary Crane waxes lyrical to tell the story of the conversation which kicked off the Tudor Christmas.

Staring at a Wall…


What’s in a wall?

The new uplighters in front of the museum building pick up the texture of the old walls in dramatic fashion (see last week’s blog). The photograph above is a close-up of one section, in daylight, and just wonderful to look at.

Pause to look, and there are stories there, even without any other knowledge of the history of the place. Clearly, materials have been re-used. The basic ‘building block’ here is the flint, a local material and used in many of the older buildings in the Close. When building with ‘rubble’ (unshaped stones) it was useful to include a ‘string course’ at intervals up the wall, to create a kind of frame or skeleton, assisting the mason in keeping the wall straight. Such courses are often quite decorative, contrasting with the material of the main part of the wall and perhaps projecting outwards or highlighting windows and other features. Here it is not so much for this latter purpose, although the courses can be picked out because brick, clay roof tile and dark sand stone have been used, albeit in a rather rough manner, to add colour.

There are at least two types of sandstone used here, and some limestone. I am no great geologist and so cannot identify these with any certainty but greensand is another local material and the brownish coloured chunks here may be ironstone. Comments welcome!

The bricks are very weathered and vary in colour. It may be possible to date them from their size (see below).

If you are interested in the history of bricks, read on (with thanks to the Architects Journal)….

Brickwork offers clues to the age of a building. The Romans were the first to use clay bricks in Britain, and bricks were then not re-introduced into the country until the Middle Ages. Hampton Court was one of the first major buildings of that period to be built of brick. With the decline of medieval timber- framed buildings and the advent of canals, railways, and better roads, bricks were transported and used throughout the country.

By the eighteenth century, brick was the most common material for houses, and many old timber-framed houses were gentrified by re-facing with bricks or mathematical tiles, particularly the latter after the first brick tax of 1784.

Since the 1400s the width of a brick has always been about 4.5 inches (114mm) – governed by the need to grasp and lay it with one hand. But the length and thickness of a brick has not always been as constant as today, being influenced by government legislation, regional variations in firing thicknesses of clay, bonding, joint thickness, and local practice.

Medieval bricks were longer and thinner than modern bricks – perhaps 2″ (51mm) thick. But beware modern imitations, particularly in early 20th century buildings. Parliament fixed brick sizes in 1776 at 8.5 x 4 x 2.5 inches (216 x 102 x 63mm). In 1784, after the American War of Independence, parliament taxed each brick used, so some bricks were made larger, up to 10 x 5 x 3ins (254 x 127 x 76mm) so that fewer need be used in building and so saving costs. In 1803, these large bricks were further taxed, and this was avoided by reducing the size to 9 x 4.5 x 3ins (229 x 114 x 76mm). In 1850 the brick taxes were repealed, and brick sizes gradually standardised, rising four courses per foot (304mm), except in the north of England where they rose four courses per 13 inches (330mm) for much of the nineteenth century. However, the worst examples of ‘jerry’ building in the nineteenth century produced bricks of various sizes and sometimes with large quantities of soot mixed into the clay, leading to crumbling houses over a short period of time.

In 1851, machinery was designed for making pressed bricks in volume, eventually replacing handmade bricks, except for best quality work. Machine- made bricks, such as Flettons which were first made in the 1870s, are generally smoother and more regular in appearance than handmade bricks.

If you would like to learn more, try this site by clicking here.



One of our Trustees, John Perry, has arranged for this wonderful uplighting which will adorn the museum frontage until the new year.

If you haven’t seen it, it is worth coming out in the late afternoon to enjoy the effect.

John has been working with Southampton-based company Evolve Technical Services from whom we have hired the lights and who have done a very efficient job. They have also been very generous with the museum.

Under Way…



Volunteer Sally Brown hard at work before the museum opens in the morning….

If you have been in to the museum recently you will have seen it beginning to be transformed, forward in time to Christmas, and back to Tudor times.

Volunteers are in the museum each morning, before opening time, to start putting the decorations up. Sophia Sample and Sally Brown have been paramount in creating the green swags, table and window decorations. Mary Crane and an enormous team of stitchers have produced Tudor Roses which now find their moment, as you can see…

More than a dozen stitchers, some anonymous, have contributed their time and expertise to produce these unique decorations
Mary Crane and Pam Balchin begin the dressing of the King’s Room

Saturday 14 December.

Not to be missed!



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On Monday (25 November) I was delighted to be able to attend a ‘Collections in Focus’ talk given by Simon Cleggett, Project Manager at Wessex Archaeology.

Entitled ’Echoes of the Voices from WW1: The Larkhill 300’, this concerned the exciting and varied discoveries made at Larkhill, Bulford and Tidworth for the Army Basing Programme, whereby some 30,000 troops and their families will need to be accommodated following their return to the UK. The archaeological investigation has entailed stripping some 33 hectares of land back to the bare chalk, revealing artefacts dating from the Early Neolithic to modern ‘conflict archaeology’ pertaining to World War 1.

Wessex Archaeology excavations at Larkhill

Click here to read more about Wessex Archaeology’s excavations

Among the early Neolithic finds was a causewayed enclosure which is, in fact, the closest causewayed enclosure to Stonehenge yet found, and dates to about 900 years pre-Stonehenge Phase 1. Thus it’s not too fanciful to consider that the people involved in its construction may have been involved in the conceptualisation of the future Stonehenge. There are just over 80 causewayed enclosures in the UK and they are thus fairly rare.

As a scientist (albeit a chemist, but I did once study ‘A’Level zoology) I was intrigued to learn that (being Caprinae) sheep and goats are anatomically uncannily very similar – almost identical. Hence distinguishing between the two requires outstanding observational skills and extensive practice. This has been quite problematic archaeologically, and archaeologists refer to such skeletons as sheep-goats. (This reminded me of how embarrassed I once was when having a lift home from work with a colleague. Noticing a large number of animals in a field, I exclaimed, “Blimey, look at all those goats!” He fell about laughing and said, ”Those are not goats, they’re sheep that have recently been shorn”!). I now don’t feel quite so foolish.

In terms of  ‘Conflict Archaeology’, Larkhill turns out to be the largest WW1 practice battlefield ever excavated. It was very poignant that, occurring during 2016-2017, the excavations occurred during the centenary of WW1 itself. This did not go unnoticed by the archaeologists on site. The excavations revealed WW1 practice trenches and tunnels, the entrances of which had graphitic graffiti of soldiers (rank, name and number) who were training there, and whose families may therefore be traceable. There were 400 pieces of graffiti pertaining to 300 names, this inspiring the title of Simon’s talk.

It is anticipated that the many artefacts found during these excavations will eventually be housed in Salisbury Museum.

Thank you Alan, as always.