Boudicca

Sadly, there is no evidence to show Boudicca did fight a battle against the Romans at Ambresbury Banks, the Iron Age Hill Fort in Epping Forest around 60 or 61 AD. The legend remains an important story to share about the district and how the past is remembered. 

The story of Boudicca became popular in Victorian times as people wanted to commemorate the new young Queen by recalling strong women leaders in the past. Boudicca’s name even translates as the one who will bring Victory. Poems about Boudicca fighting her battle at Ambersbury Banks were written during this period, and this obelisk in a field in Upshire was placed at the point Boudicca was believed to have taken poison, to avoid being captured by the Roman Army. 

This artist’s impression shows what the entrance to Ambresbury Banks might have looked like during Boudicca’s time based on the evidence that has been found there. We know it was a large – just over 17 acres – enclosure with a single bank and a wide ditch – potentially up to 6m wide and 10m deep.  The entrance to it was by a causeway over the ditch.  The sides of the entrance were built up with Puddingstone – in impressive looking natural stone with tiny stones set in what looks like cement but is natural rock. There were 240 blocks of stone on one side of the entrance, skillfully laid without mortar. There is evidence of two sets of post holes suggesting there were inner and outer gates.  These seem to have been one wide gate as there is no evidence of postholes in the middle of the gap.  Traces of cartwheel tracks were found, and some fragments of broken pots in the ditch show evidence of occupation.  However, there’s no evidence dating from the time of Boudicca’s rebellion so Ambresbury Banks was out of use as a hill fort by this time.

As for the debate on how you pronounce her name, well that’s for another time!

New Acquisition – Love Token

A blog written by Museum Remote Volunteer Amanda Ciccone.

Epping Forest District Museum (EFDM) would like to highlight a recent acquisition, a James I penny, that was previously modified as a love token. I will describe this penny and its background, explain the love token coin phenomenon, and finally, explore the ways to dig deeper into the emotions that surround it.

This pierced, silver James I penny, struck in the first quarter of the 1600s, was found by a metal detectorist in 2017 at North Weald Basset, Essex near Latton Priory. The obverse, or front of the penny, has a Tudor rose and the legend surrounding it I D G ROSA SINE SPINA, which translates to James by the Grace of God a rose without a thorn. The reverse has an image of a thistle as well as the words encircling TUETUR UNITA DEUS, translating to May God protect these united kingdoms.

In addition to its antiquity, what makes this penny special is its S shape; being bent in this way, it was concluded in the Treasure process that the coin was used as a love token and not currency. Its unique shape, the single piercing at the top, and it being made of more than 10% silver, makes the penny ‘treasure’ as defined in the Treasure Act of 1996.

There are endless examples of love as manifested through artefacts throughout history, though this trend of turning a coin into a love token, like in the style of the James I penny, appears to have existed off and on from the post-Medieval to modern eras [1]. The purpose of bending the coin wavily would be to avoid spending it accidently, though we do not see every token changed in this way. Other modifications we might see on a love token are text engravings (initials, small phrases), shape and dot indentations, and the relief purposely rubbed away. The single piercing at the top of this penny indicates that it was likely worn as jewellery.

Regarding purpose, there were several, the most obvious being to make a love declaration. A suitor would give a token to their “crush”, and the reciprocity of affections would be known by whether the coin was kept or not. A love token, though, could mean a good luck charm, be used to make birth and marriage announcements, or act as a keepsakes in the event of a death. There were even ones called convict love tokens in the 18th and19th centuries, where prisoners in England being sent to Australia and elsewhere customised coins for their loved ones, to be kept as personal mementos.

To discover what a love token coin meant to those who used them – that is to say, what emotions they might have felt – has its challenges. For one, attempting to uncover an individual story behind a coin is sometimes a success, but sometimes not.[2] Even if there is an inscription or initials, this will often be too generic to yield more information. Furthermore, a coin being a movable object – not a static piece of architecture, say – gives a coin infinite possibilities of definition relative to its immediate environment.

How else can we elevate the discussion to include emotions? One way is to find more context to put love token coins in, which I believe means drawing attention to the role of silver in England from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Silver was known as being easily bendable, which proved problematic in England over the centuries. In the 17th century, coins could be clipped, meaning, one could shave off the silver, boil it down into bullion, and use as counterfeit. English silver at one point had more value abroad than domestically. The English government attempted to face these challenges through the Great Recoinage of 1696. However, the updated currency transition was slower than expected, and the counterfeit activities continued through the following century and beyond, until the Great Recoinage of 1816.

It is interesting to note, then, that while some people saw an illegal opportunity in silver, others[3] used it for the more innocuous purpose of creating an emotional connection with another. Understanding this does at least two things: For one, it makes us consider the practical reasons for choosing a coin as the medium for a love token (an accessible object that is easy to manipulate). It is also a reminder that the same object can produce varying emotions: love, loss, and greed to name a few.

It should be acknowledged that archaeologists since a few decades have been incorporating emotions into their discipline, and those experts even acknowledge the difficulties of studying an unwritten, unseen entity. They have posed worthy questions and have encouraged the usage of a uniform vocabulary, though, in helping to look at an artefact from other angles. The discussion regarding the relationship between emotions and material things or culture, (Tarlow; Harris and Sørensen) and the action of exchange as emotional (Thomas Maschio, as explained by Harris and Sørensen) are particularly relevant, and very compelling literature.

Finally, there is a folklore quality that surrounds love token coins: while there is much that is lost over time, we recognise the feelings in regarding a love token without quite knowing how to prove or explain it. The number of societies, coin collecting websites, Facebook groups, and YouTube videos that focus on love token coins was noteworthy in researching for this article, and I believe their existence reinforces the idea of love token coins as a living, yet bodiless culture.

And so, while there may be much that we do not and cannot know about the emotions that surround a love token coin, perhaps this might not be seen as an obstacle. We can, instead, be encouraged to take emotions out of the equation and go in a different direction, such as studying the context of an artefact. There is potential to develop ideas and theories that might not otherwise be possible.

On the other side of the coin, the emotions that love tokens conjure in us in the present day, without knowing an individual token’s origins, are part of what sustains their legacy.

The following articles were highly influential in the writing of this blog and in considering every possible angle on the topic of studying emotions and artefacts:

  • Tarlow, S. 2012. The Archaeology of Emotion and Affect, The Annual Review of Anthropology, 41:169-85
  • Harris, O.J.T. and Sørensen, T.F. 2010. Rethinking emotion and material culture, Archaeological Dialogues, Volume 17, Issue 2, Cambridge University Press, pp. 145-163

[1] Though the research for this article focused on the love token coin trend in the English-speaking world, it could very well have been a practice in other communities, or something close to it, a coin being such a common object across so many cultures.

[2] Interestingly, convict love tokens coins seemed to tend to contain more specific information – complete names and dates – than other types of love tokens. 

[3] Perhaps the same person engaged in both activities, making this discussion more complicated!

Can you guess what this is?

This object could so easily have been overlooked – it is just a small lump of lead, a soft metal.  However, on closer inspection, archaeologists realised it had the Runic alphabet inscribed on it. We’ll never know who did this, or why – perhaps they thought rather than throwing this scrap of lead away, it would be perfect for practising their handwriting! 

This could be one of the earliest representations of this alphabet from Saxon times and is of national importance. 

It was found at the site of what is believed to have been a Viking Hall, underneath what are now the remains of the cloisters in the Abbey Gardens, in Waltham Abbey.  Pupils learn about this alphabet, how it was made of straight lines to make it easier to carve into stone, wood and metal.  As part of the Anglo Saxon and Viking History Day they translate their own name into Runes to inscribe on the helmets they make!

Some Victorian magic!

One of our popular school workshops is a local history study about life in Victorian times. The children are always fascinated by the original Victorian objects they get to handle, like the elegantly curved carpet beater and the frighteningly well-worn headmaster’s cane. But one object which stands out for many of the children is our reproduction zoetrope.

You may have seen a zoetrope: a spinning disk with sides which have vertical slits cut into the top. A narrow strip of paper is inserted around the inside of the zoetrope, decorated with pictures of something like a horse galloping. Each picture is slightly different from the one next to it. When the children spin the zoetrope and look down into it from above, they see nothing but a blur of grey; but when they try looking through the slits in the sides, they are amazed to see that the horses have come to life and are galloping around the inside of the zoetrope!

Victorian children must have been even more astounded than our schoolchildren today to see the pictures moving, at a time when even still photographs were a new phenomenon. And the parents of these young Victorians had grown up in a time when the only way to record images of places, people and animals was to literally paint or draw them.

The Victorians made huge advances in science, and scientific toys were popular. The zoetrope’s design used a discovery about how human eyes work: Images captured by our eyes are sent to the brain, where they are joined together to form a continuous moving image. So, when looking through the top of the zoetrope, you capture lots of images of the horse at once, and your brain joins these into a grey blur. But if you look through the slits, your eye can only ever see one horse at a time. Your brain stitches each slightly different image of the horse together, so that the horse seems to be moving.

This is called an optical illusion, because you are being tricked into seeing still images as moving ones! The same trick was later used to make films, which for a long time were made from tapes containing many thousands of still photographs.

Another optical toy which was popular in Victorian times was the kaleidoscope. In my first year at a local primary school, we had an ancient one in our classroom. Over the years, hundreds of children must have enjoyed looking into the eyepiece and seeing the beautiful symmetrical patterns made by coloured glass beads and sequins, reflected in the kaleidoscope’s internal mirrors. It took me some time to realise just how few beads and sequins were inside, only about eight!

The humble spinner was also popular with Victorian children. This was a wooden disc with a pointed stick pushed through the middle. With practice, by quickly twisting the stick around, you could make the disc spin for a considerable time. Even the spinner was a chance to create an optical illusion. Patterns on the disc would appear to change once the spinner was in motion – a spiral would become a series of circles within each other, or a series of red and yellow stripes would merge to become orange.

The Victorians are often portrayed as severe, but there is plenty of evidence that they looked for opportunities to use new science and inventions to have fun and make exciting toys.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Following our recent project highlighting the local district story of The Boys we have created a film about the work we undertook and some of the outcomes of it.

The project at the museum told the story of Holocaust survivors who came to the district and started their journey to new lives.

This video shows the parts of the project including a return to Holmehurst house where the boys originally stayed and the museum exhibition project.

Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for funding this project and all the partners and groups involved for making it happen.

Brass Rubbing & Monumental Brass

A blog written by Museum Remote Volunteer Amanda Ciccone.

The topic of this blog was inspired by a recent discovery in the Museum archives, as part of their Review, Rationalise and Recycle project, of several brass rubbings; the ones that have been identified are of Epping Forest District monumental brasses.

It’s useful from the beginning to clearly define monumental brass and brass rubbing, As while they are two distinct practices, they depict the same image, and so it is easy to mix the two when learning about them: A monumental brass is an inscribed memorial installed in the floor or wall, often in a church, and a brass rubbing is the reproduction of the monumental brass on a sheet of paper.

Project Officer Esther Green with the objects found.

Brass rubbing is a pastime and artform dating back to the Victorian period.  The technique is in fact very similar to the coin-rubbing over paper activities you might have enjoyed as a child. Paper, wax usually (or graphite or chalk), dusting and cleaning tools are needed. In brief, you must first clean your surface, lay and affix the paper over the monumental brass, then “colour” the paper with your wax crayon from top to bottom. The product is a black and white recreation – or whatever colour the wax is – of the monumental brass.

While brass rubbing remains legal, much precaution is exercised towards the monumental brasses themselves, and reasonably so. Communication and coordination with the church where the monumental brass is kept is an essential preliminary step. Furthermore, if a facsimile of a brass exists, the preference is to make the facsimile the brass rubbing subject instead. The Monumental Brass Society is an excellent resource for those who would like to learn more about the practice and should be referred to.

Monumental brasses emerged in the 13th century in Western Europe and became the preferred choice of memorial type over wooden and stone effigies, due to their high durability, brass being an alloy of copper and zinc, and because they do not take up any volume, being embedded in a floor or wall. Although we see several types of professions depicted in monumental brasses, a person certainly had to have money to arrange for a brass of themselves done.

Monumental brasses saw considerable destruction during the Reformation, re-emerged slightly under Elizabeth I’s rule, and met another sharp decline upon the Civil War. Though there have been periods of resurgence in the centuries since, the 13th to 16th centuries is regarded as the high period of memorial brass making.

England is considered to have the greatest number of monumental brasses today, many of which are in the eastern counties. One brass rubbing at EFD Museum is of a highly regarded brass, that of Archbishop of York Samuel Harsnett (1561-1631), which is located at St Mary’s Church in Chigwell, just near the Chigwell School that he founded in 1629. The quality of brasses is said to have declined by the 17th century in the post-Reformation period, but Archbishop Harsnett’s stands out as particularly well made.

The subjects in brasses are often not famous, yet they tell a compelling story all the same.

One brass rubbing found at the museum is of a monumental brass from Stanford Rivers, Anne Napper, who passed in 1584. In her brass, she kneels at a pew with an open book in front of her, faces diagonally to her right, and 6 boys kneel behind her. In the inscription, she is described as the late wife of William Napper and daughter to William Shelton.

In researching for this article, a brass rubbing of a William Napper’s monumental brass was discovered on the V&A Museum Collections website. Anne Shelton from Ongar, her father William Shelton, and 6 sons are referenced on his inscription. We do not know the year of his death, as it is left partially blank; people sometimes commissioned brasses before their death, and the final inscription never got attended to. Nevertheless, we can reasonably say that these inscriptions, that of Anne Napper’s and William Napper’s, reference the same people and are not coincidental.

The catch? William Napper’s monumental brass is in Dorset.

Further research revealed that at least one son, and other Napper – sometimes spelled Napier – descendants were also buried in Dorset, indicating a family relocation to another county.

Perhaps a husband and wife being buried this far apart in early to mid-1600s England is in fact nothing highly unusual. The mobility here is eye-catching to modern eyes, nonetheless. Did work obligations take William Napper and their sons away from Essex, heartbreak, something else entirely? History has not preserved more details, though these are highly personal reasons in any case. If anything, it is rather amazing to this article’s author to have accidently connected two monumental brasses of a husband and wife separated by this distance, and what this mobility could reflect about family life in this period.

The potential for learning, discovery and storytelling is vast in both monumental brasses and brass rubbings, two different disciplines, but which are inextricably linked. They are subjects easily recommended to any history lover.

References

Ellen Buxton: A Victorian Childhood

Ellen Buxton came from the large family of social reformers and philanthropists.  Her grandfather was Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton who led the campaign to abolish slavery.  The Buxton family had made their money in the family brewery, based in Spitalfields.  Ellen married a cousin, Robert Barclay, whose family were connected with Barclays bank.

As a young girl growing up in Leytonstone, Ellen had a great deal of time to explore the local area and Epping Forest with her brothers and sisters – she was one of 14 children, although three siblings died in childhood. 

Ellen loved to write in her diary and make sketches of family life, including many of her brothers and sisters playing with their favourite toys.  Her descendants published extracts from her diary and the images in these make a wonderful resource for helping children today find out what toys children played with over 100 years ago.  How many toys do you recognise in this drawing of everyone playing the garden?

There is a china doll in the museum’s collections, which comes from the Buxton family.  It is possible it might be the doll Ellen drew her sisters playing with in this sketch.  They are certainly handling it very carefully.

Game Plan

This blog has been written by one of our remote volunteers, Amanda Ciccone.

Epping Forest District Museum is hosting the Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered exhibition, on loan from the V&A Museum of Childhood, from 25 September to 24 December. This is a highly interactive exhibition that not only educates, but entertains.

There is so much that can be said about board games and their lasting value, and the exhibition attempts to cover it all. For instance, board games allow us a snapshot into history: Monopoly comes to mind, created in the early 1900s as a sort of cautionary illustration of what happens when private monopolies have ownership of land. Board games are adored as artwork (i.e. Pachisi), and can be thrilling for their level of strategy (cue in Risk). Sometimes we see board games intersect with other mediums: Legos serving as chess pieces, Cluedo being the basis of a movie, tv shows and books, and Star Wars actually becoming a board game. Playing a board game is a social activity and can be used to see what it says about the player; discover what kind of player you are in the exhibition’s What’s your Gameface? section.

Let us look at one game in particular, Snakes and Ladders, a children’s classic, and with a background story that may be unexpected to some. Originating in India in the 2nd century, called Moksha Patam, it was a morality lesson set against the journey of life, the ladders representing karma, or destiny, and the snakes representing kama, or desire. In England, that morality allegory was preserved, though altered to Christian values and vices, and the name changed to Snakes and Ladders. Later, when Milton Bradley released the game in the 1940s, the snakes were replaced by the tamer image of chutes, or slides, thereby changing the name to Chutes and Ladders in North America. All traces of ethics were stripped from the board itself by then, replaced by a playground, thought to be more appropriate for children.

The object of the game is to land on the finish line by rolling the dice or spinning a spinner. Hope that you land on a ladder, which will allow you to cut ahead on the board, and cross your fingers that you don’t land on a snake…which will take you backwards a few or several spaces. It is a game won and lost purely by luck.

Games exist as an effective vehicle for learning, which has never been more relevant to me than now as being a teacher of English as a second language. I have discovered that a board game is a useful incorporation into a lesson, because the rules are often already familiar to the student, and because the game can be transformed to fit one’s needs. In my version of Battleship, a certain sentence structure will hit your ship, not an “E2” coordinate. In Snakes and Ladders, you must conjugate a verb accordingly, regardless of landing on a snake or a ladder*. [i] In playing a board game, everyone is on the same level, and a common tongue is not particularly essential; a meeple is a word specific to Carcassonne and does not exist outside of the game, for instance.

The moment I realised that these games, which I had known my whole life, were also robust education tools, was an educative moment in itself. When done right, games make you laugh, think, be challenged, and they pass the time with ease. Playing a board game has the potential to create strong bonds and moments, which we all know can be powerfully formative.  In sum, learning is effective when having fun, and I am appreciative of the timeless, universal relevance that board games have.

B.136:1-2004 Board game Cluedo John Waddington Ltd. England 1950’s

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered is thought provoking, vibrant, and memorable. It was said in the beginning that this exhibition not only educates, but entertains. But it can even be said in the inverse: that this not only entertains, but educates; this depends on your starting point. A good game is often both, in any case.

During these current times that have often been isolating, this exhibition could not have come at a better moment.


[i] * Snakes and Ladders could be used to reinforce vocabulary, though I do not attempt to teach moral ethics!

Tom Palmer and writing historical fiction

We were thrilled when children’s author, Tom Palmer, contacted us with an offer to write a short story connected with our exhibition The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District.

Tom’s book After the War tells the story of the Boys and their arrival in England to begin their journey to recovery from the terrible experiences of the Holocaust on the shores of Lake Windermere. 

Tom researched material for this story, speaking to historians such as Trevor Avery of the Lake District Holocaust Project, as well as local people who still remember the boys to make sure his story reflected their lives and experiences with as much historical accuracy as possible.  It was important to Tom to do justice to the story of the boys this way.  He includes photographs he used in his research in his book so you can see the evidence for yourself.

The three main characters in After the War are Yossi, Mordecai and Leo.  They are composite characters, but elements of their lives are all based on what happened to the real boys.

Tom wanted to write a story about one of the actual boys for us and we decided to focus on Sir Ben Helfgott, whose story is so incredible it is almost hard to believe it is true.  Ben survived the Holocaust, describing himself as a ‘walking skeleton’ when the war finally ended, and the camps were liberated.  Yet, within ten years of his arrival in Britain he captained the British Weightlifting Team at the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games.  And, even more incredibly, in 1948 he found his sister Mala had also survived the Holocaust and they were reunited.

Ben is seated on the left, wearing a hat alongside his friends, fellow Loughton Boys Jan Goldberger and Harry Spiro.  Mala stands to the left of Ben.  Their families surround them.

We had the privilege of meeting Ben, Mala and their families at reunion of the Boys held at the museum and at Holmehurst, the house where Ben and his friend came to stay in the district.  We are very grateful that Ben and his family gave us permission to tell his story, to keep inspiring future generations with this story of survival and hope.

You can read Tom’s story His name is Ben on our website and find out more about Tom and After the War on his website

The retreats of Epping Forest

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Epping Forest has been a refuge for local people who have found peace amongst the beautiful scenery we are lucky enough to have on our doorstep. As lockdown eased, thousands of visitors came each day from further afield to enjoy the forest’s famous beauty spots including High Beech, Connaught Water and Loughton Brook.

Has the forest ever been this busy before, or brought such wellbeing benefits to so many? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is, emphatically, yes!

In Victorian times Epping Forest was spared the fate of nearby Hainault Forest, which was largely cut down during six fateful weeks in 1851. This loss spurred on a hard-fought campaign by local people to save Epping Forest, culminating in the passing of the Epping Forest Act in 1878, to protect the forest in perpetuity. Four years later Queen Victoria dedicated Epping Forest in a special ceremony, “for the enjoyment of my people forever.”

Within a short time, the number of visitors to Epping Forest had soared and forest retreats sprung up throughout the forest to provide affordable food, drink and shelter for the throngs of visitors. The earliest retreat was set up by John Riggs at Brook Road, Buckhurst Hill; followed by two more in Theydon Bois and High Beech, which were run by various members of the Riggs family. These were vast establishments, with Riggs Retreat in High Beech boasting that it could feed four hundred visitors afternoon tea in one sitting.

With the recent extension of railway lines to Loughton in 1856, and to Chingford by 1873, the forest was accessible as a day trip to many people living on the Eastern side of London. Tradesmen also used their horse carts to bring day trippers out to the forest from the East End on Sundays, often decorating the carts with brightly coloured ribbons for the trip.

Throughout the summer months, many thousands of visitors would make the trip to the forest each day, and it became known as the “Cockney Paradise”. As well as family trips out, some retreats specialised in Sunday School outings; and the Shaftesbury Retreat in Loughton provided annual days out to some of the East End’s poorest children, supported by the Ragged School Union and Lord Shaftesbury’s Society. This became a much-anticipated event for the children concerned, many of whom spent the year looking forward to their brief annual holiday from the slums to the fresh air and freedom of the forest, and the huge, tasty pies they were given for lunch.

By the early 20th century there were many privately run retreats spanning the forest villages, with small settlements like High Beech and Theydon Bois each having more than one enormous retreat.  Competition between the different venues was fierce. Each retreat tried to tempt customers in with their own unique offer: At Theydon Bois donkey rides, helter-skelters, swings, a galloping horse roundabout and a hokey pokey stall were on offer. The Princes Road retreat in Buckhurst Hill more humbly advertised “free pure drinking … cricket sets, skipping ropes lent free of charge.”

Gray’s Retreat in Theydon Bois provided a generous sounding children’s tea of bread and butter, fruit cake, lemon cake, a jam sandwich, watercress and good tea for just 9 pennies. If you stayed for dinner, for a penny and a half more you could purchase meat, fruit, custard and still lemonade. And Rigg’s Retreat in High Beech had a unique selling point – a balcony at the front constructed around a large beech tree!

Two world wars and the Great Depression reduced visitor numbers to the retreats, but the steady rise of the motor car was perhaps the main reason for their final demise. Motorists were less likely to make long forest visits and stay for a meal, and as the popularity of the retreats diminished, prices went up, making it harder for other families to afford to visit. One of the original forest retreats remains in the forest today: Butler’s Retreat in Chingford. This has continued to serve visitors refreshments throughout much of the current pandemic, though perhaps in lower numbers than a hundred years ago.