Sneak Peak: Objects going into the Museum’s new archaeology display

Catherine Hammond, the museum’s Education and Outreach Officer, has been busy at the stores selecting objects for the Archaeology display in the new museum which is due to reopen early 2016.

‘I’ve been trying to find objects from all different periods of history and from different locations around the District. My aim is to show how long people have lived and worked all over this area.

As you go through box after box, taking photos, checking lists and making sure everything is recorded properly, it can be easy to forget what an incredible amount of history has passed through your hands. Its only now looking back through all my photos of potential objects I realise I took a journey through 5000 years worth of history in about 7 hours! One of the most exciting objects I found was this Neolithic bowl from Waltham Abbey. It is around 5000 years old and hasn’t been on display since it was sent away for conservation work.

Neolithic Bowl

Neolithic Bowl

Sometimes an object gives a direct link with the past when it shows what we have in common with people who lived here over 1500 years ago. These Roman tweezers used by a Roman lady to tidy her brows have hardly changed from ones we might use today.

Tweezers

Tweezers

As a horse lover, I can’t resist including something horse related, but I didn’t expect to find this ornament, made from a horse’s tooth! It dates from Saxon times and was found near Nazeingbury.

Horse Tooth

Horse Tooth

Sadly, some objects have no information with them so we have no way of knowing how old they might be or where they were found. This Axe Head is one such mystery object, but such a good one I’m tempted to include it.

Axe Head

Axe Head

My favourite find of the day had to be this Giant Mug, found in York Hill, Loughton. I happened to look in an unusual shaped box and was delighted to uncover this. After a day spent sorting over 150 objects from over 5000 years worth of history, I wished I had a mug as big as this for a cup of tea.’

Giant Mug

Giant Mug

Waltham Abbey Stonework

As part of the redevelopment project the museum has decided to undertake an assessment of some of the collections. One area of the collection that is being assessed is the stonework from the Augustinian Abbey Church.

The Abbey Church has a long history dating back to the seventh century when a wooden church existed on the current site. At this time Christianity was coming back to England. The church has within its collection a small book clasp which features eagles and a fish in the Salin II style. Both these animals have links to Christianity therefore it is likely this clasp dates to the earliest times in the church’s history.

Book Clasp

This church was then enlarged on the same site in the ninth century and later the Holy Cross was installed at the church.

The next stage in the church’s history comes during the time of Harold. After he was cured of a skin disease by the Holy Cross and as a response to Edward the Confessor building Westminster, a new church was founded on the site in 1060 by Harold.

Following Harold’s death at the Battle of Hastings Henry I builds a church which is similar in structure to today’s church.

The Augustinian Abbey Church was then built by Henry II in 1177 as part of his penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. The museum’s stonework collection comes from this part of the church’s history. Below are some computer generated images of what the Augustinian Abbey Church would have looked like.

The Augustinian Church was later demolished in the reformation during the reign of Henry VIII (1536) and the stonework was used in various parts of the town.

After several excavations the museum now holds a number of pieces of stone from the Augustinian Abbey in the collection which are being assessed as part of the Museum’s redevelopment project. Here are some images of the stone work within the collection.

Collections in Focus: Medieval Gold Finger-ring from Abridge, Essex

Collections in Focus is a new series of blog posts where we will be sharing a selection of special items from our collection and giving you a bit more information about them too. The first focuses on a Medieval ring in the collection with engravings which have a link to the Easter story.

Medieval Gold Finger-ring from Abridge, Essex

By Jill Holmen, Collections Manager

We have several religious pieces in our medieval collection, including a number of finger—rings. This particular example is possibly the finest and most visually powerful of them.

It dates to around 1475-1525. It is cast from gold and the hoop comprises five circular bezels separated by oval beads with scale decoration. Each bezel is engraved and may have originally been enamelled.

The ten beads and bezels identify this as a ‘decade ring’, which would have been used in the same way as a rosary for personal prayer. The engraved symbols show the ‘Instruments of the Passion’, which were popular in medieval art, symbolising Christ’s suffering at the time of his execution. At around the time this ring was made, they feature in devotional books accompanying specific meditations on the events associated with each, adding an extra level of contemplation.

The following lists the symbols as I interpret them and outlines the element of the Easter story each represents (click on the images to see the full description):

The images on this ring might seem gruesome to our 21st century eyes, but relics had been venerated since the 4th Century, and a new wave brought back from the Crusades led to an increase in their use during this period. Many religious institutions owned Holy Relics, as did some pious individuals. Illustrations may well have served a similar purpose for those who were unable to acquire the ‘real thing’ and some scholars suggest that contemplation of the Passion was believed equivalent to a level of repentance.

Although we can never know who wore this ring, the precious metal and high-quality work imply that they were probably wealthy and of high social rank.

The finger-ring was found by a metal-detectorist, searching with the landowner’s permission, in Abridge in 2004 and was reported under the Treasure Act (1996). We purchased it with help from the Art Fund, the V&A/MLA Purchase Grant Fund and the Headley Museums Treasure Acquisition Scheme.

More information on the Treasure Act can be found on http://www.finds.org.uk

Volunteer Update

Our volunteers are an incredible asset to the Epping Forest District and Lowewood Museums service and to our Heritage Lottery Funded project. They bring a vast array of skills and enthusiasm, and we’re very lucky that so many of our volunteers are also members of local historical societies, U3A groups and volunteer in other local historical venues as their knowledge and expertise considerably enhance our collections and research. However, you don’t have to be already knowledgeable in history to volunteer, we’re keen to involve all levels of interest and experience, and so many skills are transferable to collections care!

We will be updating you on the opportunities and volunteer projects over the year, this blog will give you a first-hand insight into the ‘behind the scenes’ work that our volunteer collections team assist us with.

At Epping Forest District Museum

In September, 2014 the volunteer collections team at Epping Forest District Museum returned to the stores alongside the Collections Manager and Volunteer Coordinator after a brief summer break.

As you may be aware the museum is closed for a refurbishment project so the staff and volunteers got stuck into the task of returning objects that had been on permanent display in the museum back to their original locations in the stores. This sounds simple, but can be a challenge, as a lot of what we do involves a fair amount of detective work! In order to relocate objects, we carefully unwrapped them from their protective acid free tissue to look for their accession number, a unique code found in every museum which identifies each object, this lets us know what the object is (as you can’t always tell from just looking at it) and where its store location is.

Our stores are vast and have hundreds of boxes, so it would be impossible to locate and put away objects safely and correctly without these accession numbers and correct cataloguing. The volunteers then hunt for the number and its location on our collections management system, a computer based database, and we go seeking the correct box in the stores. Along the way we got to look at a vast array of fascinating objects, and it can be difficult staying on task!

Packing Objects

Volunteer Philip packing a box with acid free tissue for packing and future transport. He creates little ‘clouds’ of acid free tissue to support individual objects. The box is then sealed, with a packing list, and ready to go back to its store location!

Packing objects

Vanessa, collections volunteer, updating the object packing lists. This list goes into the box with the objects, so we have a record of what should be in there, and the object requirements, for example weight and fragility. This means when someone moves the box, they can tell what requirements the contents of the box has without any unnecessary handling of the objects which could damage fragile items.

Our archaeological collections proved an interesting challenge when we were repacking, as we placed incredibly fragile iron objects into airtight plastic boxes with fresh silica gel creating a ‘micro climate’ that protects the iron from degrading in humid environments. This involved very careful handling, as some iron objects, such as nail fragments can flake or crumble.

Copper Alloy Tap

Volunteer Peter holding a copper alloy tap from Waltham Abbey Church, this unusual design of two animal heads and an animal head spout is thought to be a tap from a beer barrel. We were all thrilled by this medieval tap, and it requires careful packing in order to protect the decorative design.

At Lowewood Museum

Over at Lowewood museum, one of our volunteers was involved in assisting museum staff in the creation of the updated Braham Gallery, which celebrates our archaeological collections. Many of our archaeological collections have limited or no individual records, as a lot of archaeological collections tend to be ‘bulk’ recorded, due to the large numbers of objects that are collected. Volunteer Lia, who has a background in archaeology, assisted us by helping to record and update our records so our education and exhibitions team were able to share the stories of these objects.

Museum volunteer

Lia, writing object descriptions and location movement slips.

mammoth

A molar tooth of a mammoth, one of the many prehistory objects Lia was researching.

And of course, besides all of our hard work at the stores we ensure we celebrate with our volunteers at Epping Forest District and Lowewood Museums. This year we had our first joint volunteer Christmas party and we’re looking forward to a busy and exciting 2015!

Volunteer party

Volunteer Christmas party at Lowewood Museum, we had a pretty splendid buffet and celebrated the wonderful achievements of all our volunteers throughout 2014.

How do you pack up a Museum?

Ever wondered what is involved in packing and moving Museum objects?

Here is a little information about what the Museum got up to during the packing process.
packing

The Museum itself houses a wide range of objects in its collection; from art to archaeology, books, costume, photographs and much more. With such a variety of objects the collections team, staff and volunteers had to treat each category of object very differently and often pack items on a case by case basis.

The art forms quite a large part of the Museum’s collection. Both the staff and volunteers particularly enjoyed this task as the Museum has within the collection a number of pieces by local artists including Walter Spradbery and Haydn Mackey. Some of the newer staff members and volunteers were seeing some of these artworks for the first time and sometimes it was hard not to get distracted from the task at hand!

Watercolour sketches by Spradbery, produced during WW1 in the area around the Somme

Watercolour sketches by Spradbery, produced during WW1 in the area around the Somme

The Right Honourable Lord Noel Buxton, Oil on Canvas, by Haydn Mackey

The Right Honourable Lord Noel Buxton, Oil on Canvas, by Haydn Mackey

The framed art was a much bigger task (and often much larger pieces!) as it was important to photograph, measure and document each object. Each framed piece was treated individually depending on size and ornateness of the frame it would be packed in a slightly different way. Measuring was important for documentation as well as thinking about the Museum’s exciting new storage facilities, and by photographing the art the team has created a great inventory and record. Below are some pictures of volunteers packing some of the art.

volunteers

The costume packing was quite different. Items where either hanging and stored in special calico bags or folded with acid free tissue and boxed. We uncovered some great fashion items whilst packing the costume, our touring exhibition assistant enjoyed looking through some of these items!

costumepacking images

Archaeological items often need a much more controlled environment so some of the objects that were susceptible to moisture damage had to be stored in boxes with airtight seals and with a kind of silica gel inside to create a ‘micro-climate’.

As you can see many of the staff and volunteers enjoyed the packing process even though it was a difficult task. There was a lot to pack and often hurdles to overcome with unusually shaped and sized objects. The collection has now been moved and safely stored in the correct environment and some of the collection will continually be documented and worked on during the Museum closure.