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!

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

A Series of Fortunate Coincidences – The Loughton Boys from a Curator’s Perspective

A Series of Fortunate Coincidences – The Loughton Boys from a Curator’s Perspective

Ellis Spicer, University of Kent

I often call where I am today helping with curating the exhibition ‘a series of fortunate coincidences’, because that’s really how it manifested. References in the Martin Gilbert book on the Boys from Windermere and after to Loughton, reflections in interviews with survivors who were there all happened by chance rather than design and led me down this path. I was doing my PhD on Holocaust survivor communities in Britain at the University of Kent, I grew up in Epping Forest and went to King Harold School, I used to be an Epping Forest Youth Councillor and volunteer at the museum. I wasn’t expecting all of those spheres of my life to come together in a series of fortunate (or what I’ve come to think of as amazing) coincidences.

And at an event in the Houses of Parliament in 2018 for the Epping Forest Youth Council, which I was part of 2009-2011, I ran into Tony O’Connor, one of the museum’s staff members and shared my fascinating discovery about the history of Holocaust survivors in the UK and the history of the Epping Forest District. His reaction was gobsmacked, he mentioned how the museum were looking to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and this could be a perfect way to showcase a little-known aspect of our area’s history.

The process happened fairly quickly and an exhibition was due to open in May 2020 at Epping Forest District Museum. Research was compiled, ideas exchanged and excitement was high. But then Covid happened. And in many ways we reflect on that disruption with an air of gratitude despite all of the horrors unfolding in the world during the pandemic. So many more avenues we could explore, so many more exciting projects to do the exhibition justice and tell such an important story the best way we could.

The research process for an exhibition has been very similar to the research process for my PhD. I started out knowing what I wanted to research and the individuals/groups I needed to reach out to, and I started there with interviews with three of the four surviving Loughton boys living in the UK: Ben Helfgott, Harry Spiro and Janek Goldberger. From there, I delved into the archives of the ’45 Aid Society Journal and the Central British Fund and expanded my networks for information, looking at archived oral history and testimony for those Loughton boys no longer with us and objects from the Jewish Museum and Imperial War Museum to potentially loan.

The biggest learning curve for this former King Harold student under the tutelage of Mr Rumsey turned PhD student at Kent turned curator is the designing stage. I have learned so much more about how to communicate research, how to engage with people and how to make things look appealing. We academics often lose sight of the everyday in our research, and this exhibition has connected me back to the day-to-day life of the stories I’m privileged to tell.

It’s always been important to me to never stop learning, and this exhibition reflects this next step for me in order to meet that goal. I credit my connection to the District, it’s schools, teachers, the museum and passionate local individuals for bringing me to this point. I want to end with the many fascinating stories of our local history waiting to be discovered, and to urge all of the passionate historians out there to capture these stories and record them where possible.

The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District is open now at Epping Forest District Museum. For more information on the opening hours of the museum and how we are managing our covid safe environment please visit https://www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/museum/