Volunteers were again involved with excavations in the Deverills valley recently. The Deverills Archaeology Group continue to work with Dr David Roberts of Historic England in an area where a large Roman villa was discovered just a few years ago by workmen laying a trench. Investigations last year, and this, have been into features showing up on geophys suggesting banks and small buildings – potentially a farmstead associated with the villa.
The dig was planned to
be brief, over a long weekend, but even then was shortened by heavy rain on the
first day. Two trenches were opened the next day and features immediately began
to appear – a bank in one and a hard surface in the other, with possible post
There were numerous
finds from a number of periods – prehistory, the Roman period, and Medieval –
mostly pottery sherds, animal bone and a small number of iron finds, such as
horseshoe nails, as one would expect. Amongst it all, a Roman coin,
provisionally identified as from the rule of Tetricus (latter part of 3rd c).
All the finds, with the exception of metal work, must be cleaned, dried, and bagged with a careful record of where they were found.
We are very fortunate to work alongside the residents of the Deverills, always enjoy their company, and were treated to an almost endless supply of delicious cakes, brownies and biscuits while there. The setting was beautiful. What more could we ask, except perhaps, better weather…..?
Wiltshire’s FLO (Finds Liaison Officer), Wil Partridge, his assistant Sophie Hawke and eight Volunteers gathered at Wessex Archaeology last weekend to be trained by Lorraine Mepham, nationally recognised pottery specialist, on the identification of Roman pottery.
Wessex Archaeology have a huge archive of pots and pottery sherds and it was good to be able to handle and familiarise ourselves with so many. Lorraine unsparingly shared her knowledge and expertise and we were taken through the importance of recognising the fabric of a pot (ie not just the clay, of course, but the inclusions, the slip, the glaze and other finishes). Inclusions (small particles of materials other than the clay, eg flint, sand, shell) may occur naturally but were also introduced by potters to strengthen the clay. They also used grog – crumbs of fired pot – as inclusion. We can learn a lot from being able to identify these, and because some may be geologically distinctive, it is now possible, with modern science and technology, to match pottery finds with individual kiln sites.
Even before the Roman invasion of AD 43 pottery from the Empire was being imported, even moreso, of course, after that date. But local pottery was still made (particularly coarseware – for the kitchen, etc), and eventually British potteries began to copy Roman types.
Mortaria were Roman vessels – wide, shallow pots with a gritty substance lining the base to be used for grinding fruits, nuts, garlic, etc. This is a sherd from a British version, showing the archaeologist how and when diet began to change with Roman settlement.
Copies of the famous Roman Samian fineware, eventually made all over the Empire, began to be imitated here after about AD 250. The British potteries never quite made the best. Lorraine (perhaps diplomatically) suggested this was because we didn’t have the right clays here.
Samian bowl (probably from Gaul (France)
A perhaps particularly poor British copy of Samian. The covering slip is nearly worn off, but this may, in part be due to the conditions it has endured in the last 1 800 years!
From top left clockwise: an indented beaker made in the New Forest; a strainer (spot the holes) made on the Hants/Surrey border; a flagon also made there; grey ware; Black Burnished ware made around Poole harbour and distributed all over the country.
Thursday 25 April at 2.30pm, and Tuesday 30 April at 10.30am:
Adrian Green will be giving briefings on the forthcoming Augustus John exhibition: ‘Augustus John: Drawn from Life’.
is no need to RSVP for this event.
Tuesday 7 May: Volunteer Workshop – Make a ‘Rupert’ Parachutist
Join us in
making mini ‘Rupert’ parachutists to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.
Nicknamed ‘Rupert’s’, these decoy parachutists were made of sack cloth filled
with sand, straw or wood shavings. They were parachuted over enemy territory to
create the false impression of a very large invasion force. On 6 June 1944
aircraft dropped 500 Rupert’s along the French coast to divert German troops
away from the actual zones. The
mini ‘Rupert’s’ will go on display in the Apache café at the Army Flying Museum
in June 2019. At the workshop there will also be a selection of handling items
relating to D-Day, including a replica ‘Rupert’ parachutist. No sewing
book a place on the workshop please email me or call 01722 332151.
Thursday 9 May and Tuesday 14 May: Volunteer Coffee Mornings
along to meet other volunteers and have tea, coffee and cake with us! The
Learning Project Officer and two volunteers will be giving a talk
entitled: ‘Look Again: Discovering Centuries of Fashion’. Hear
about this exciting costume project working with youth groups and Art Society
volunteers. See some of the gems buried in our costume store! The project will
result in a re-designed costume gallery at the museum – come along to find out
There is no
need to RSVP for this event.
Monday 20 May at 11am-12pm, and Thursday 23 May 10am-11am:
Dementia Friends Information Sessions
Gregson, the new Community Curator for Salisbury Museum, will be running these
Dementia Friends Information Sessions as part of National Dementia Action Week
(21-26 May 2019). Later this year we will be starting to run a monthly memory
group at the museum for people living with Dementia and their carers. This
means that we will see more people with Dementia coming to the museum. We would
like staff and volunteers to be confident in engaging with people with Dementia
and their carers. These information sessions are run by volunteer Dementia
Friends Champions, who are trained and supported by Alzheimer’s Society. During
the session you will learn more about dementia and how you can help to create
dementia friendly communities. If you can’t make either of these sessions we
will be running more of these training events in the future on different days
book a place on the workshop please email me or call 01722 332151.
Last month, our Volunteer blog was visited 627 times. That’s not quite the record figure but not bad!
Last year we had 6136 visitors in total, so with your continued interest and involvement we should beat that figure this year. Thank you for joining us.
As you know, we have a small group of wonderful regular Volunteer bloggers whose expertise, experience, knowledge or thoughtful comment on their work at the museum has intrigued and entertained us for several years now.
Volunteer Linda Robson wrote (26 Feb) about a scheme she was involved with and, as a result, managed to find Volunteers to help. We give voice to students who visit from local schools and colleges and universities, and from partner organisations. We like to publicise some of the special events which staff are involved with. We try to keep our Volunteers up-to-date with what is happening and report on events for those unable to attend; to shine a light on as many different areas of the Volunteers’ work and of the museum as we can. Occasionally we receive responses which add to everyone’s knowledge but most comments are an encouraging “well done” from our readers.
We have over 250 Volunteers and hope that more will join in the blog by writing about why they came to Salisbury museum, about their work and experiences, about their past lives. We know, from conversation, how fascinating is the latter! Please consider putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and sharing. Anonymously if preferred….
Our hugely knowledgeable costume Volunteers, also members of the Art Society, have uncovered some treasures recently. They, and other Volunteers, are systematically unpacking, checking, re-cataloging and re-packing the museum’s huge and important collection of costume. Week by week anything and everything which broadly comes under the heading of costume is lovingly poured over.
A fortnight ago, a petticoat of white lawn cotton and lace was unpacked by Volunteers Caroline Lanyon, Sarah Brumfitt, Selina Chudleigh, Pam Balchin. Dating from 1901, it had belonged to the donor’s mother and had been part of her trousseau that year. It had been made by Queen Victoria’s underwear seamstress. We might conjecture that, Queen Victoria having died in 1901, the seamstress had sought new customers elsewhere. and so produced this beautiful garment.
The Volunteers described the petticoat as follows:
“This lawn and lace petticoat is made in narrow vertical panels on the bodice in white work and tucked lawn cotton. The sides are gently shaped with tucked V shaped horizontal panels in lawn and the lace shaped with godet darts. The hem of 400mm depth has horizontal panels of cotton lawn and lace. Many of the panels are joined a ladder stitch insertion. The back has a gusset opening to the hips and is fastened by eight covered buttons. The button holes are hand made with two top hand-worked loops.”
The evening of Thursday 21st March, and potentially I had four different events I could attend, including one of two history societies and an astronomical society. In the event I had already purchased a ticket to attend ‘Beer Tasting with Simon Jackson’ at the Museum.
On arrival I found myself chatting with two of the Volunteers for the evening, whom I hadn’t seen since we were all involved with the Terry Pratchett exhibition. This meant that I eventually sat at a table with people I’d never met before and who, initially, didn’t seem very chatty.
Simon Jackson started by informing us that he was a Trustee of the Museum and a qualified brewer, and reminded us that Salisbury Museum is a world class museum with collections of international importance. He also pointed out that Salisbury was once an important malting centre, and which gives its name to the area still known as The Maltings, but the nearest now is in Warminster.
Simon then reminded us of the major ingredients of beer: barley, hops, water… . The quality of brewing water is particularly important as beer is 90%-95% water, and hence the pre-eminence of Burton-Upon-Trent as a brewing centre. Burton water is created by rainwater trickling through deep beds of gypsum (calcium sulphate) before resting in underground aquifers. Burton beer is known for a temporary eggy, sulphurous smell, known in brewing circles as ‘Burton snatch’. A major brewery in Burton is Whitbread, where Louis Pasteur did much of his original work.
Another key ingredient is hops, which are used primarily as a bittering, flavouring and stability agent. They are a member of the Cannabinaceae family, although they don’t contain any of the psycho-active agents. Simon informed us that we can find hops growing in the hedgerow around Tesco Extra.
None too soon we got around to actually sampling the beers, of which six were provided, along with a complementary foodstuff for each. First to be sampled was a local brew, Hopback’s Summer Lightning. Simon informed us that this isn’t pasteurised and is one of the most awarded beers in the world. This was paired with a local cheese, Somerset Brie. According to Simon, this beer was named after its creator had been reading the P.G.Wodehouse novel of the same name.
Also of interest were some of the Museum’s collection of brewing-related artefacts, including a ‘frog mug’ – a ceramic mug with a green frog inside. Frog mugs, also called surprise mugs or ague mugs are a type of vessel mainly used for drinking alcoholic beverages. They were part of a tradition of drinking games where the frog slowly emerged at the bottom of the vessel as it was drained. This reminded me that I still have one at home – a present from a former girlfriend.
As a scientist, I was particularly interested in the Lovibond tintometer, which I think he said was an original model. Joseph Williams Lovibond, the son of a prominent London brewery owner, set up the foundations of Tintometer Ltd in Salisbury in 1885, as a means of ensuring the high quality of his beers. He devised a system of using coloured glass strips to compare against the colour of beer, and is based upon the fact that glass does not lose its colour. Tintometer was the first company to develop the science of measurement by colour and The Tintometer Ltd company still exists close by to Salisbury.
All in all this was a fabulous and informative evening. The fact that I didn’t know any of the others on my table was of no consequence once we’d imbibed our second sample of beer, which might have been the Hopping Hare (paired with Jacob’s Twiglets) – we were talking 19 to the dozen. I felt I made the right choice from my four options and I hope this is an event that can be repeated in future.
The Lecture Hall was packed last week for a Volunteer coffee morning which included a talk from Chris Elmer, lecturer at the University of Southampton, ‘It’s all in the mind: how museums make the past come alive’.
Chris is also one of the Trustees of The Salisbury Museum, has a wide-ranging background in museum work, especially museum education, and he has a PhD in Archaeology, looking at public engagement with archaeology. He is currently doing research into aspects of archaeology, running a community excavation and leading university students on fieldwork and other archaeology modules. A busy man who we are glad, found time for us last week.
It was a thought provoking talk which included some background to the history of museums and how they have changed over the last couple of centuries. The point was made that they are very variable today as ideas change about what the public are looking for. People come to be educated, as part of a social event (a family day out) and for any number of other reasons, even just to get out of the rain. All must be catered for. One man’s meat is another man’s….indigestion? The museums must survive, so finance is a factor. Race, gender, religion, what is history? are all problems…or are they opportunities? What about new technologies? Where is all going…?
In Britain, surveys have shown than the attraction of our museums is a major factor in foreigners coming here as tourists so all of this is important in that sense too.
In a nice finish Chris underlined the fact that in the end it is all about engagement and that the Volunteers present for the talk were largely engagement volunteers whose warmth, welcome and knowledge can overcome difficulties and override shortcomings. And you do.
Thanks Bridget for organising another excellent gathering.
The new Wiltshire Finds Liaison Officer (FLO), Wil Partridge, has quite a team working with him these days. At the moment, in addition to the new Finds Liaison Assistant, Sophie Hawke, with us for a few months, there are four or five regular Volunteers and assorted colleagues on work placements, etc. It’s just as well, for the metal detectorists’ finds come thick and fast.
Winter is a good time to be detecting, when there are no crops in the fields. The most common finds in Wiltshire? Roman coins, and more Roman coins. The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) encourages detectorists to bring in even the worst preserved of these (known as ‘grots’!) as all data obtained from these is important in providing an archaeological picture of what was happening all those centuries ago. Unless the coins are ‘treasure’ they are always returned to the detector after being processed by the PAS.
Sometimes it is not metal that arrives on Wil’s desk, but pottery, usually stumbled across by the detectorist when seeking those coins, but occasionally dug up by a farmer or gardener.
This is a sherd of Black Burnished Ware, c AD 250 – 410. In technical terms it is ” a coarse grained fabric, reduced grey-black throughout and containing abundant sub-angular quartz inclusions with infrequent small ferrous inclusions…the sherd exhibits burnishing on the exterior surface, with no surviving decoration.”
Black Burnished Ware was hand or wheel formed ‘coarse ware’ – sandy, rough pottery used for everyday kitchen and table ware such as jars, dishes and bowls. It was produced in huge numbers in the Poole (Dorset) area and distributed throughout Britain for centuries (pause to consider the logistics!). It was also produced in the Thames Estuary and in the Malverns. No wonder it turns up fairly frequently!
Pottery is important as a dating tool as it is well researched when and where certain types of pottery were made throughout history. If something metal (a knife, a key, a horseshoe…) turns up with the pot then the metal item can be dated with some certainty.
The Roman period, of course, is famous for its Samian Ware, a strikingly modern looking, characteristically red, ceramic. One of the ‘fine wares’. Quite a lot is brought to us here at the museum, sadly usually only fragments, but interesting nevertheless.
The technical description written by one of the PAS interns at Salisbury Museum is as follows: “A fragment of a Roman wheel made, Samian ware vessel. The fragment forms part of the body and is almost pentagonal shape. The sherd is an oxidised, sandy and pink colour fabric with an orange-red slip. There are no visible inclusions. The sherd is decorated with a stamp representing two figures. The figure on the left is bending forward the one on the right, extending his hand. The figure on the right is smaller than the first one and appears to hold something over his head. The scene is inserted into a circular and raised frame.”
The museum’s recent well-regarded and strongly supported Heritage Lottery Fund bid was, as you know, unsuccessful. However, a new bid has been submitted.
The HLF decision will come in mid December. If we are successful, the HLF funding will be £3.2 million, the project will cost £4.4 million and the museum will need to raise £1.2 million to fill the funding gap. Should we not be successful we still aim to transform the Salisbury History Galleries, to restore the King’s House and to launch a programme of learning and community activities to build and grow our audiences.
The museum is therefore starting a major fundraising campaign, The Salisbury Gallery Fund. All museum Members have been approached and we are immensely grateful that many have already responded. However, the figures show that there is a long, long way to go.
Volunteers, by the very nature of what we do, already contribute massively to the running and future of the museum and its collections. The museum quite simply could not exist in its present way without us. However, without a building (and because of its age, it is always at risk) there would be no museum! And Salisbury’s history deserves the best!
Please support the museum in this way if you can. This could be a significant part of the fundraising. It is hoped other funds will come from major Trusts and Foundations and private individuals.
Donation forms are available from Reception or you can donate online by clicking here.