The Strange Case of the Wandering Spoon

I am working on a project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation that is overseeing the re-homing of the objects from the School library Loans Service in Derby. This collection consists of paintings, studio pottery, archaeological, ethnographic and social history items. Sadly, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery can only keep a small percentage of this wonderful and eclectic mix of items. Through detective work that involves sifting through old records, myself and my colleague have been gathering information on where the items came from over the fifty years the service was collecting. We are contacting museums and community groups in the areas that these objects originate from to see if they would like the items so that they can have a new lease of life.

The Roman spoon at Buxton museum and Art Gallery

One of these items is a Roman silver spoon, elegant in its shape and practical in its form; the handle ends in a point which enabled the wealthy Roman who owned it to pick out oysters from their shells – Britain was famed in the Roman period for its oysters ! The handle joins the bowl of the spoon with an arched shape that gives this type of spoon its name – swan necked. Through my investigations I discovered that the spoon originated from Canterbury and was purchased from an antiques dealer in Keighley in 1966. I contacted Canterbury Museum who emailed me back to say that they were very excited by the news as it appeared to have originally belonged to a hoard of precious items buried in the city as the Roman Empire collapsed.

The hoard was discovered during road works in the Longmarket area of the city in 1962. Declared treasure trove, it was bought by the city council to be displayed at the Roman Museum which had been established the year before. However five objects appeared on the London antiquities market in 1982 that were originally part of the treasure but had not been declared at the time of its discovery. They were again declared as treasure trove and purchased a year later. It would seem as though the spoon in our collection had also not been declared at the time of the discovery and had been sold to the antiques dealer in Keighley shortly after.

The Canterbury Hoard © Canterbury Museum

The treasure is mostly composed of small silver objects and jewellery. Many of the artefacts have Christian iconography on them. The silver objects include thirteen spoons (one engraved with a sea stag, another with the words in Latin ‘viribonum’-‘I belong to a good man’), a toothpick, a rough bar and three ingots which each weigh one Roman pound. The jewellery include a gold finger ring with an inset green glass stone, a gold necklace clasp and a silver pin. One of the coins in the treasure was minted at Milan in the time of Emperor Honorius which means the hoard must have been buried sometime after 402 AD.

Silver spoons from the Canterbury Hoard with Christian and Pagan symbols © Canterbury Museum

The treasure was buried at a time when the Roman Empire was collapsing, the economy was nose diving and plague was sweeping across Europe, weakening the infrastructure of the once greatest Empire on earth. Britain at this time was also subject to raids by Germanic tribes from Northern Europe. In response to the anarchy many people buried their valuables with a view to coming back in safer times to retrieve them; for whatever reason many people never returned. Shortly after the treasure at Canterbury was buried the Romans left Britain to fend for itself and the Anglo-Saxons arrived, filling the power vacuum and bringing with them a new language, art form and society that would form the foundations of modern day England. The spoon from Buxton is now on display at Canterbury Roman Museum along with the rest of the hoard where it forms part of the story of the ancient Roman city of Durovernum Cantiacorum.

Picture credits: Canterbury Museums and Galleries

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Gold for the Gods

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is one of five venues to host ‘Hoards: a hidden history of ancient Britain,’ and the only one in the Midlands and North West. The exhibition showcases objects from Prehistory to the post-medieval period that tell us how people lived, what they valued, why they collected and stored objects that they considered precious and what circumstances may have led to hoards remaining hidden.

More often than not objects were hidden because of times of economic hardship, warfare, or as gifts to the gods. Three of the most spectacular items on display at the Hoards exhibition are gold neck torcs dating to the Iron Age, and which were most likely deposited in the ground as offerings to the gods. Two on display come from a hoard from Ipswich in Suffolk, territory of the Trinovantes tribe, and the other was found as part of a hoard from Snettisham in Norfolk, the territory of the Iceni. 

Anyone visiting the exhibition cannot fail to be impressed by these huge collars of twisted and plaited gold, and this must also have been the effect, and the intention, during the time of the Celts. For the Celts jewellery was a highly important status symbol and a clear sign of wealth and rank. The torc was reserved for the aristocracy, as well as the gods, and they seem to have possessed an intrinsic magical and religious significance. Depictions of Celtic gods and goddesses often show them wearing a torc.  G

Ipswich torc with La Tene decoration

Roman authors provide a good description of the Celtic aristocracy, often describing them as ostentatiously flaunting their wealth. Diodorus Siculus describes warriors going into battle, hair spiked using lime water, and completely naked except for their weapons and gold torcs. Cassius Dio describes Queen Boudicca of the Iceni as wearing a huge gold torc, and Quintilian writes that a delegation of Gallic Celts presented the Emperor Augustus with a gold torc weighing thirty three kilograms – far too heavy to wear!

A question we are often asked at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is “how were the torcs put on?” Julia Farley, curator of British and European Iron Age collections at the British Museum, has suggested that they were put around the neck “by being bent slightly out of shape, slipped onto the neck, and then bent back into shape again.” One torc from Ipswich, which is on display in the Hoards exhibition, clearly shows that it has been bent out of shape to make the opening larger. Some torcs do show repeated flexing of the metal; this eventually leads to a lot of stress being exerted onto the metal which eventually becomes brittle and snaps. One gold torc from Snettisham (not on display at Buxton) had snapped in antiquity and been soldered back together again, the break being hidden by a thin sheet of gold. Some torcs have hidden hinges or removable sections to allow easier fitting to the neck; when worn they would have given the impression of a solid ring of metal.

Ipswich torc bent out of shape to wear

Some torcs are far too rigid and heavy to be bent out of shape and worn, and it is possible that these were attached to cult statues or held aloft during ceremonies. A clue to this can be seen on the famous Gundestrupp cauldron from Denmark; one scene on the cauldron shows a seated deity with antlers to his head, interpreted as the god Cernunnos, surrounded by animals and wearing a torc around his neck and holding one up in his right hand. At Maily, Champagne, France, comes a torc with an inscription in Greek which alludes to it being part of a large offering of treasure dedicated to the gods by the tribe of the Nitrobriges in south-west Gaul. By offering precious items into the ground, or in water, the Celts were placing them into a liminal world between that of humans and the gods.

One of the Snettisham torcs with associated torc fragments

It is possible that torcs were placed around the neck of Celtic aristocracy at a rite of passage, such as a coming of age ceremony, or upon inauguration as a king or queen of a tribe. Some may have been only produced as votive offerings, intended to be buried and sent to the realm of the gods, out of reach of humans. Some bog bodies have been found wearing leather torcs around their necks, and this type may be associated with sacrificial rituals.

You may notice that one of the Ipswich torcs is decorated to both of its terminals with a foliate curvilinear pattern; this is known as the La Tene style (named after an archaeological site in Switzerland) and was a much favoured style of art across most of Europe and the British Isles from the 5th to 1st century BC; in fact it was so popular that the Celts are also known as the La Tene culture.

Torcs are frequently mentioned in the vernacular mythology of Wales and Ireland. The tale of Culhwch and Olwen describes Olwen as wearing a large gold neck-ring, and Giraldus Camberensis mentions a well in Pembrokeshire which contained a gold torc guarded by a serpent who bit anyone who attempted to steal it.

If you would like to discover more about hoards please come along to one of the following free talks at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery:

Hoards and hordes: – the Viking conquest and settlement of the East Midlands, by Gareth Williams, curator of early medieval coins at the British Museum, on Tuesday 30 April, 11am – 12 noon.

Talking torcs – the Leekfrith Hoard, by Teresa Gilmore, Finds Liaison Officer for Staffordshire and the West Midlands, on Wednesday 12 June, 11am – 12 noon.

A Library in a Field

A blog by BM125 artist Creeping Toad, who’s out and about running all manner of exciting events for the project.

Make your own Haymeadow Book

This idea can lend itself to all sorts of situations – you could put together a little book-building kit and make books about different places or different occasions

On our National Meadows Day event (http://creepingtoad.blogspot.com/2018/07/rippling-ribbons-of-colour.html), we invited people to gather their own experiences, reflections and knowledge about the meadows they were visiting into little books….These are concertina books which essentially fit one long folded strip of paper into a cover. Once you are used to doing these, you could experiment – stick books together by the cover to make thicker volumes, have sections that fold out in different directions….

You will need:

  • 1 piece of thin cardboard (about 15cm x 10.5cm)
  • scissors
  • glue or a gluestick
  • paper for the bookblock (see below)
  • pencils, wax crayons, coloured pencils, scrap paper…

Make your bookblock: this is the set of pages that make the body of the book. You might use a long strip of paper (A2 cut into quarters lengthwise works well) or take a sheet of A4 (standard printer size) and cut or tear it in half lengthways. Overlap the ends by about 1cm and stick them together

Write a poem for a page?

Falling sky splinters
Into scabious and cornflower blue,
While tormentil nestles in the grass,
Droplets of sunshine on the green

Concertina: fold your strip of paper in half and then in half again. Unfold it: this should give you 8 sections of about the same size. Use those folds as guides to now fold the paper into a zig-zag pattern

card cover and tearing paper for book block

first fold should give you this

concertina fold

 Try an acrostic perhaps?

M – many harvest mice hiding
I  – in the long grass, swaying,
C – curl up in careful nests
E – every night in safety.

You might write, draw or print on pages

Now you are ready to make your book! It is easier to work on the book before you fit it into the cover. Work on one side of your paper. On your pages you might:

write
draw
add a patch of scrap paper and draw on that
make a pocket
do a rubbing
print
add a map
make a pop-up
think of something else….

Add a patch perhaps or a rubbing?

 

Add a map?

Make a pocket?

When it is done decide if you are having
a) a book that unfolds completely – stick one end page into the cover. You could now work on the back side of your pages (Picture 9: stick one end of the finished block into the cover)”
Or
b) a book that is fixed at both ends. If you are going for this, you might need to refold your concertina so it looks like the picture below:

Cover: fold the card in half. Decorate the cover. Glue in the book block….Title? Author?

Please, send us a picture of your finished book! creepingtoad@btinternet.com

The new Buxton Museum shop

The recent renovation at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery gave us chance to review all aspects of our service including the gift shop. These days, most museums and art galleries have really great shops where you can purchase souvenirs that reflect the unique character of the place, as well as raise some revenue. Funded by the Arts Council and guided by retail expert Polly Redman, we decided to embark on an enterprise of our own.

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I started by collecting an assortment of images from the collections and asked my colleagues which ones appealed to them from a retail perspective. Our marketing advisor, Jen Francis, quickly pointed out that what the museum staff liked might be different from what the majority of the public liked, which was a good point; we can be a bit geeky! Most of the team agreed that we could not go wrong with the museum bear; a fierce character from the old Wonders of the Peak display that seems to have become Buxton Museum’s unofficial mascot. The many fans of the bear will be pleased to know that you can now get the furry guy on a postcard, a mug, a bag and a t-shirt.

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Some of the other images we thought our visitors might like have ended up on postcards, coasters, scarfs, tea towels water bottles and lens cloths. Of course, the ultimate gift shop would be one where you can have any image you like printed on any product you like and we will work towards this ideal in the future. Until then, I hope you will come in and have a look at the gift shop. There’s a museum and art gallery attached!

Time for a bit of Spring Cleaning

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With the reopening of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery close on the horizon, the time has come to dust the cobwebs off the collection so that it can match the rest of the new shiny gallery.

 
I have been working closely with the museum’s bone material. In the picture above you can see that some of the pieces – like this hyena jaw bone discovered in Elderbush cave – were in definite need of a little TLC after being displayed for so many years in the old gallery. So, adorned with a set of brushes and little pieces of rubber sponge I began the task of patiently dabbing, wiping and brushing away the years to breathe new life into each of the bone objects.

 
Below you can see the after shot of my work, and evidently
a little bit of spring cleaning really does make all the difference!

 
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Jasmine Barnfather MSci MA, Museum Attendant / Museum Assistant,
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery