Hill Hall Visitors Book

A blog written by Museum Remote Volunteer Amanda Ciccone.

We have all seen them and signed them on museum visits: a visitors book

“Great museum!”

“Loved the exhibition!”

“Greetings from (insert some far or near city)”

But did you know that, in the not-so-distant past, you might have signed a visitors book when visiting someone’s home?

A visitors book, bound in red leather with gold details, was uncovered at Epping Forest District Museum, and contains signatures from 1925 and 1926 of certain recognisable names. A short history of the book is told on its inscription page: it was used “at Hill Hall during the time of Sir Robert and Lady Hudson, and which records, among others, the Visit of Queen Mary on 29th June 1926”. The inscription also describes how the book was badly damaged in “the fire which destroyed much of the House on 18/19th April 1969…but (was) fortunately recovered”. Afterwards, the book was repaired at Wormwood Scrubs prison, where it presumably stayed until it was given to the museum.

History confirms that there was, indeed, a fire at Hill Hall in 1969, and the pages themselves show evidence of smoke damage. By then, however, Sir Robert and Lady Hudson had long been out of Hill Hall; the property had become a POW camp in WWII, and after that, a women’s prison.

Sir Robert Arundell Hudson (1864-1927) was secretary of a political organisation of the time, the National Liberal Federation. During his tenure, he saw the victory of the Liberal Party in the general election of 1906, which led to his knighthood. He married Mary (1867-1963) in 1923, which was, for both, a second marriage. Born Mary Milner, she was previously married to Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, a newspaper and publishing mogul who was, in fact, a proprietor of the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror.

Sir Robert and Lady Mary were newly married by the time they were accepting visitors at Hill Hall, but the marriage was not destined to be long-lasting; Sir Robert passed away in Berlin in 1927.

What do we know about the signatures themselves? Some were of politicians and military leaders & members such as Godfrey P. Collins (Liberal Party politician), Vivian Bulkeley-Johnson (amongst other professional experiences, was aide-de-camp to a Governor General of Canada and served in the Air Ministry), Bernard Freyberg (Governor-General of New Zealand), and Augustine Birrell (Liberal Party politician, and Chief Secretary for Ireland). Other interesting figures are Berkeley Levett, a witness of an event called the Royal Baccarat Scandal of 1890, and Sybil Middleton Grey, a philanthropist and Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse. Recognisable to mainstream culture we have Rudyard Kipling, author of the Jungle Book, along with his wife, Caroline (or “Carrie” as she calls herself in the visitors book).

What could they have been doing at Hill Hall? These meetings were likely professional as Sir Robert and many of his visitors were in the political sphere. Sir Robert’s party, though, had declined by the mid-1920s, the Conservatives occupying the majority in Parliament. Furthermore, this was the Interwar Era, a charged period characterised by major cultural shifts and evolving social attitudes towards class and the aristocracy. Also, of note, women had recently been granted the right to vote[i] and the right to run for office as a Member of Parliament[ii]. It is interesting to consider, then, how these big changes, whether or not they directly affected the lives of Sir Robert, Lady Mary and their visitors, influenced the discussions that took place at Hill Hall, or if they only provided fodder for small talk.

The visitors book itself has an intriguing trajectory, originating at a private manor-turned-prison, surviving a fire, then going to another prison, and finally landing at the museum. Its signatures document a brief period, within a new marriage, nestled between two major world wars, an impending economic depression, and cultural & societal revolutions, making this visitors book a true snapshot in time.

[i] Albeit only under certain conditions, under the Representation of the People Act of 1918. It was not until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 that women and men had equal rights to vote.

[ii] Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act of 1918

Glass Bell

A blog written by Museum Remote Volunteer Amanda Ciccone.

Epping Forest District Museum has been working on a Review and Reimagine project since 2021, whereby the stored and displayed collection is audited. Objects are inspected, researched, and sometimes are put on display. Volunteers play a big part in every step.

Helen, museum volunteer since 2014, has been leading the compilation of an upcoming display of glass bells and goblets from the Bell Post House, which is now open to the public in the museum’s Core Gallery.

Four bells and two goblets are showcased. They appear to have been Christmas gifts from the 1980s – to whom exactly, whether to hotel guests or other customers, we aren’t entirely sure- and were eventually donated to the museum in 1995.[1]

To ready these objects for public view, there is a particular process that the museum follows:

  1. Condition check – Assessing the object by describing its background, current physical state and other key questions- Is the object stable? Is it complete? How damaged is it? (Among other questions)

  2. Location and Movement control – Concerns the transfer logistics between storage and gallery spaces. Is the object’s location updated on the museum database?

  3. Research & Label writing for public display – Follows the V&A Gallery Text guidance to ensure the clearest, most suitable text possible[2]. Never use long words where a short will do.

  4. Mount the object – Must think about how to best exhibit an object, taking environmental factors, the object’s state, and the best viewing conditions into consideration. How do we best display a glass object on a glass shelf?

When asked what she has learned from this experience of display compilation, Helen points out the cleaning of the glass (i.e., its conservation needs) and filling out the Condition checklist, as well as the mounting of the objects to prevent accidental vibration damage.  

This display will remain out until MAY 2023. Come see these beautiful glass bells and goblets, and the product of many weeks of research and care to make this exhibition a reality.

Brava, Helen, on a job well done!

[1] If anyone in the public is aware of more of these glass bells and goblets in existence, don’t hesitate to let the museum know!

[2] The writer of this article has in fact chosen to follow this text writing method.

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!

What’s On – Special Events for Children and Families

Ice Age Exhibition: Opening Event

Tuesday 29 October

11am – 3pm

Admission free, craft activity £2.00 per child

All ages welcome

Join us for the opening of our Ice Age Exhibition, with a special display by Essex Rock and Mineral Society and the chance to make an Ice Age Animal Mask. Children must be accompanied by a responsible adult. No booking required, just drop in.

Spooky Steps Dance Workshop

Wednesday 30 October

10.30am – 12noon

£10, 5+ years

Booking essential

Come and celebrate Halloween by learning a dance based on the famous ‘Thriller’ video and play some spooky themed games. Please feel free to come dressed up on a Halloween theme. Spooky fruity juices will be provided.

Book at https://eppingforestdc.bookinglive.com/ or call 01992 564226 (Monday – Friday 10am – 4pm)

Stone Age Flint Knapping

Saturday 2 November

11am – 4pm

Admission free, craft activity £2.00 per child

All ages welcome

Join us for an amazing demonstration of how tools were made during the Stone Age and make your own piece of Ice Age art. Children must be accompanied by a responsible adult. No booking required, just drop in.

Takeover Day

Wednesday 20 November

11am – 3pm

Students from King Harold Business & Enterprise Academy will be running the museum for the day. Join us to get involved with their activities, take a unique tour, and see how they have transformed the museum.

Cavalcade of Light

Friday 29 November

5pm – 7pm

All ages welcome

Explore the museum after hours as we celebrate the Cavalcade of Light. Before the lights are switched on join us for an evening of music, activities, and festive refreshments. No need to book. Children need to be accompanied by a responsible adult.

Father Christmas

Saturday 7 December

10.30am – 4pm

£6 per child, all ages welcome

Come along for our annual festive Christmas event.  Have a go at our Christmas craft, visit Father Christmas in his grotto and receive a gift. Children must be accompanied by a responsible adult. No need to book, just drop in.  You will be allocated a time to visit the grotto. You may be required to wait; art and craft activities are available to do while you wait.

Toddler Father Christmas

Tuesday 10 December

10am – 12noon

£6 per child, most suitable for toddlers aged 2 – 4 years

Our regular toddler session has a very special guest today. Father Christmas will be here in his grotto. As well as our regular rhyme, craft and story, you can also visit the grotto and receive a special gift. Children must be accompanied by a responsible adult. To book your place please call the museum on 01992 716882 or email museum@eppingforestdc.gov.uk

Meet the Team – Lowewood Museum Development Officer

Carly Hearn

Job title
Lowewood Museum Development Officer

Describe a typical working day at Epping Forest District and Lowewood Museums.
The best part about working in a museum is that every day is very different. You really don’t know what will turn up next…literally!
A day in the museum can include setting up volunteering projects, which may include working with the collection or registering new items into the museum. We also help with public enquiries, ranging from family history research to identifying an object which someone may have found locally or even in their back yard- this is where it can get really interesting  A typical working day for me also includes planning and organising the museum’s yearly programme of events and exhibitions, as well as the day to day management of the Grade II listed building in which the museum is housed.

What is your favourite thing about working at the Museum?
My favourite part about working for a museum is the opportunity to curate new displays and workshops for the public to see. I especially enjoy hearing good feedback from visitors when a new display has been opened, or when we have showcased an object within an education workshop or adult study day session. I recently helped our Education Officer with a pre-history workshop for schools where children were able to handle a mammoths tooth. Their faces lit up with amazement (some with horror) when we explained what the object was. One pupil even dragged her Dad into the museum later that week to show him what she’d held. This for me is what a museum is all about… learning something new and providing enjoyment.

Share one piece of advice for those interested in working in the Museum field.
Volunteer! Helping out at your local museum can provide invaluable experience for a future museum career. Museums today would be lost without volunteer support so you’d really be helping them as much as they you.

Which historical figure would you like to meet and why. What would you ask them?
Yuri Gagarin. I find outer space fascinating , so it would be very interesting to hear what it felt like to be the first person to go into space. What was going through his mind at the launch? What did it feel like to look down on Earth? It must be an experience like no other.

Where would you choose to go/visit if you could go anywhere in the world for a day?
One of the biggest things to do on my bucket list is a safari. I would probably go to the Maasai Mara in Kenya to see the lions or to see the silverbacks in Rwanda.

What was the first music track or album you bought?
I am ashamed to say it was Chesney Hawkes!

Meet the team – Museum Manager

Our second meet the team blog gives you the chance to meet our Museum Manager.

Tony O’Connor

Job title
Museums Services Manager

Describe a typical working day at Epping Forest District and Lowewood Museums.
The great thing about the job is that there isn’t a typical day! I could be undertaking a forward planning exercise, writing a funding bid, reviewing service performance and or examining ways of working with a range of other groups and organisations to support the work of the museum and engagement with heritage. After that I might be working on a lecture or presentation to a group. I could be reviewing items offered to the collection to take a view on whether we should accept /purchase or decline them. Then in the evening I might be attending a related project meeting, giving a talk to a group or holding a painting level, while it is positioned on a wall for display.

What is your favourite thing about working at the Museum?
The privilege of working with the collections, of having the opportunity to work with our wonderful heritage and helping to create opportunities for others to engage with it too.

Share one piece of advice for those interested in working in the Museum field.
It’s not 9-5, it really is a vocation and you will never be rich, in monetary terms!

Which historical figure would you like to meet and why. What would you ask them?
Alexander the Great. Was he the visionary ruler sometimes depicted, a man with serious physiological problems or a bit of both!
‘ You burnt down the fabulous palace of Persepolis last night when you were drunk. Any regrets this morning?’

Where would you choose to go/visit if you could go anywhere in the world for a day?
Byblos in Lebabnon

What was the first music track or album you bought?
Transformer: Lou Reed

Meet the Team – Audience Development Officer

From this week we are starting a series of Meet the Team Blog posts. We thought we would introduce you to the people behind Epping Forest District and Lowewood Museums.

We thought we would start with the person responsible for the blog writing, social media and online activity!


Francesca Pellegrino

Job title
Audience Development Officer

Describe a typical working day at Epping Forest District and Lowewood Museums.
Like a lot of people in the museum team every day is different. The work I do on a regular basis involves researching objects and photographs for our social media platforms, writing the museum’s blogs and working on the museum’s marketing more generally. Along with this I also work on a number of other projects and coming up with events to work with lots of different audiences. This includes going out to fairs, planning heritage events across the district and within the museums and developing projects like Community Cabinet, Takeover Day and many more.

What is your favourite thing about working at the Museum?
I really enjoy seeing all the fascinating photographs and objects in the museum’s collection. It is really exciting being able to find out about them and then share them with people both locally and more widely. Sharing collections online is a great way to interact with people and we get such a great response which is really rewarding. I also love that my job is so varied, I am really proud to work for such a fantastic museum and the fact that my job involves trying to get more people interacting with the museum is excellent.

Share one piece of advice for those interested in working in the Museum field.
I would say getting hands on experience is really important. Personally I did a lot of volunteering, work experience and internships during my degree and I think that was really useful. It helped me think about what I would like to do in the museum field but also the practical experience is a great thing for future employers to see.

Which historical figure would you like to meet and why. What would you ask them?
I would like to meet Queen Elizabeth I. Having studied the Tudor period and particular Elizabeth I, I think she was such an outstanding figure in history, her story will always stand out to me. If I could ask her anything I would ask her if she realised at the time she would become such an important historical figure.

Where would you choose to go/visit if you could go anywhere in the world for a day?
I would really like to go and visit the Terracotta Army in Xian, China. Said to be one of the most important discoveries of the 20th Century I think it would be amazing to see the figures in real life. Hearing about the history of their production it would be an amazing experience to actually see them.

What was the first music track or album you bought?
I think my first album was STEPS!

Epping Forest District and the Great War

A new temporary community exhibition “Epping Forest District and the Great War”
WW1 Exhibition poster

Epping Forest District Museum was one of the Museums selected to receive funding and be part of the SHARE Museums East Community Cabinet project. The ‘Community Cabinet’ is an invitation to members of the public and community groups to curate a single, dedicated cabinet with objects of their own choice. Objects may come from their own lives and ‘collections’ or from the museum’s vast array of objects.

Epping Forest District Museum’s community cabinet will be displayed in Epping Civic Offices while the Museum is closed for a Heritage Lottery Fund redevelopment. Once the Museum reopens the dedicated community cabinet will feature within the newly redisplayed museum and we will have a series of exhibitions throughout the year.

Our first project was working to help document the links between Epping Forest District and World War One. As part of the project the team have been going out and about into the district, holding Heritage Events in various venues to allow people to share their stories with us. The objects have been recorded and stories documented and these records will become part of the Museum’s collection.

The objects and stories discovered have now come together as the museum’s first community cabinet display. These unique and unheard stories feature in a free temporary exhibition at the Civic Offices in Epping High Street from 4th August to 4th September 2014.

exhibition opening

The exhibition was opened on Monday 4th August by the Chairman of the Council, Tony Boyce, who also met invited guests who had loaned objects to be part of the display.

Here are some photographs of the exhibition.
WW1 ExhibitionWW1 exhibitionWW1 exhibition

If you have a collection or might be interested in putting on a display in our community cabinet then get in touch with the museum:

T. 01992 716882
E. museum@eppingforestdc.gov.uk