You can now vote for your favourite Suffolk Museums Object of the Year!
The theme for the objects this year is ‘Hidden History‘. An object with a Hidden History can be anything from objects which are rarely displayed, (but that have a fascinating tale to tell), to objects connected to this history of underrepresented communities. This could include the LGBTQ community, disabled people, BAME communities, women’s history or any other hidden communities. Museum objects are evidence of our shared culture and heritage and contain hidden histories, capable of telling the stories of people who may not currently be represented in museum displays.
The objects below represent hidden stories from military and maritime history, abandoned railway lines, Womens History and objects that when in use where hidden from view or became hidden as conditions around them changed. Read on to discover more about these fascinating objects and their hidden stories.
Vote for your favourite below and help us find the Suffolk Museums Object of the Year 2018.
Alfred Corry Lifeboat Museum
Alfred Corry Museum’s Torpedo Log provides a glimpse into maritime history before the advent of modern GPS tracking systems. Dating from 1861, made of brass and 18” long, this nautical instrument measured a ship’s speed and distance travelled (it is believed that this log was towed behind the Alfred Corry Lifeboat as it went out for rescues). Navigational instruments that measure a ship’s speed are known as logs, a name which dates to the days of sail when sailors used a log and rope knotted at regular intervals to determine the ships speed. The term Knot is still used by sailors today to indicate the speed of a ship.
Weston Church Pre-reformation Missal pages
A book within a book: Weston Church in Suffolk had framed on its wall, pages from an old manuscript. Not much was known about the pages other than the hand-written text along the spine which said they were used to cover an ancient book. On investigation, the pages have been identified as being from a pre-reformation Missal and relate to the masses around Pentecost. Missals were generally destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, but pages made from valuable velum or paper were often used to cover other books.
Novelty cigarette lighter
Clare Ancient House Museum
Old habits: Several of the objects at Clare Ancient House Museum relate to the habit of smoking, a once popular activity which has now been shown to have adverse health effects. Objects in the museum’s collection include match boxes, pipes, cigarette cases, and, as in this object, lighters. This object, a brass elf or pixie is of unknown provenance but likely represents a 19th Century example of a bar top cigarette lighter. This object embodies a rather controversial topic, but shows that many museum objects relate to aspects of the past that are can prove divisive today.
Thomas Gainsborough’s Old Horse
One of a Kind: This object is the only known piece of sculpture by celebrated Suffolk artist, Thomas Gainsborough. Commended as one of the greatest artists of the 18th Century, Gainsborough was the first important British artist to consistently paint landscapes, helping to establish the genre. This horse was once owned by another renowned Suffolk Artist, John Constable, and is made of fragile plaster. Gainsborough’s House now has a version cast in bronze. Modern 3-D printing has enabled this project and the museum can now show the original, the resin mould and the final cast bronze at the same time.
Witchcraft protection: This concealed shoe was first brought into Ipswich Museum in 1969 and identified as a right footed early 17th Century child’s shoe. It was discovered under the floorboards of a house in Sudbury. Shoes had a special significance to people in the past and they were often hidden to bring good luck or ward off evil spirits. A single worn shoe, such as this one, was often concealed to keep evil spirits from stealing them. Shoes like this have been left in places that are normally only accessible during times of construction and alteration meaning many more could be hidden in older houses today.
The Original Naughty Step
Lavenham Little Hall Museum
This example of a deportment chair dates from 1800. Invented by eminent surgeon and anatomist Sir Astley Paston Cooper (1768-1841), these chairs where designed to correct poor posture in children (the design of the chair forces children to sit with a straight back and upright head). Good posture was believed to be important not only for medical reasons but for discipline too. These chairs were often found in the Victorian classroom or nursery and acted as a form of punishment. Paston Cooper also advocated the use of these chairs for children with spinal deformities, as a helpful, if painful, form of therapy.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: This is an example of a ‘Suffolk Puff’, a quilt made from individually sewn rosettes of dress and other fabrics. Originally, Suffolk puffs were made from scraps of fabric and sewn together to make quilts as a method of reusing and not wasting any old material. They were also traditionally used to create toys. The technique, a circle of material gathered in on itself to form a smaller, double thickness, puffier circle, has a long history and references to ‘puffs’ appear as far back as 1601.
The Feminist Brick
Museum of East Anglian Life
Womens History: This brick may not seem very exciting, but this simple object hides a fascinating story. The clue is in its stamp: 'FISON STOWMARKET'. The brick was produced in Stowmarket and is linked to the Museum of East Anglian Life through a connection to the Prentice family, 19th century inhabitants of the Museum’s ‘big house’, Abbots Hall. Their eldest daughter, Catherine, took over the helm of Fison’s brickworks and other local enterprises, becoming a successful business leader at a time when women were rarely seen in such roles. This object provides a tangible link to Catherine’s business empire and her inspiring story.
Mid-Suffolk Light Railway
Hidden Railways: 1604, the last working steam locomotive in East Anglia, is the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway’s own locomotive. It is a 1928 Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 tank engine and represents a hidden piece of Suffolk’s railway history. The Mid-Suffolk Light Railway (MSLR) was a standard gauge railway intended for access into the heart of Suffolk. Benefiting from ‘Railwaymaniaia’ in the 1800s, 19 miles of railway from Haughley to Laxfield was opened in 1908. Despite initial interest, mounting costs and poor usage of the line led to its closure in 1952. Today, the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway Museum operates on part of the line at the old Brockford Station cattle dock.
Painted Wall Hanging
What lies beneath: Hidden under several layers of wallpaper in a house in Mildenhall, this 17th Century painted linen wall hanging is a beautiful and rare survivor of art from the rule of the Stuarts in England. The hanging depicts a Dutch country scene, with a town and windmill visible in the background and a young boy, walking his dog. It’s an idyllic image, far removed from the turmoil which Britain found itself in during this period, from the turbulent reign of the Stuarts to the conflict of the English Civil War and the execution of Charles I.
The Abbey Gate by Mabel Parker
Moyse’s Hall Museum
Womens History: A beautiful sketch of the Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds by a female artist illustrating under her pseudonym “M. Oliver Rae”; a name designed to cover her gender which she believed would obstruct her ability to get published. Parker operated under a couple of gender-blurring names, including being printed under ‘M. Parker’. Born in Cambridge, the well-travelled Parker would ultimately end up in Mildenhall; after a successful career that seemed to specialise in topographical etchings and sketches.
WWII Wartime Anderson Shelter
Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation
Military history: During World War II Anderson Shelters were installed in most gardens in the UK and throughout East Anglia. They helped save many lives by protecting people from bomb blasts. The Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum’s replica Anderson Shelter is built to scale with corrugated iron sheets. Visitors can sit inside in the semi-darkness and listen to the eerie sounds of an air raid siren, giving a feel for what it was like for families crowded inside, hiding from the Luftwaffe bombs, during WWII.
Walt Disney Photo Editing Machine
Parham Airfield Museum
Hidden WWII: This object is a Walt Disney Photo Editing machine. It might not look like much, but it played a pivotal role in World War II for Mustang and Thunderbolt fighter planes on missions. With the arrival of WWII, the Disney Company, famed for its children’s stories and films, was keen to help with the war effort. It used its technological knowledge to create this photo editing machine to help fighter pilots capture images on missions which were then used to improve strategies for future operations.
Bronze Age Engraving
Ancient carving: This small fragment of an ox rib, engraved with the outline of a deer, was found just north of Southwold. Recently featured in the BBC TV programme ‘Civilisations Stories - Treasures of the Bronze Age, with Ray Mears’, it dates from around 2000 BC and is one of the earliest examples of human art to survive in the UK.
Draft manuscript of ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ by Wilfred Owen
Hidden WWI: 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. One of the most important items in the Britten-Pears Foundation collection is this early draft manuscript of Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. It was given to Benjamin Britten by Wilfred’s brother Harold in gratitude for the composer’s setting of Wilfred’s poetry. This work had added resonance for Harold, whose brother was killed in action only days before the 1918 Armistice. The draft shows us how hard the poet worked to achieve what he wanted to say; to simply but powerfully symbolise what he called ‘the pity of war’
West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village
Hidden Geography: This object was uncovered during the 2007 excavation at West Stow. The dig found previously unknown Anglo-Saxon structures some of them, waste pits. A substantial amount of human and animal waste was uncovered, as well as small finds. This coprolite (fossil poo) could be human or animal and has been brought out of store for use in the newly refurbished Anglo-Saxon Museum. It evidences a behavioural history of the West Stow people and how they disposed of waste in addition to revealing the hidden history of the original geography of the village.
The UK’s only surviving, purpose-built Submarine Mining Establishment (SME) was originally constructed in 1878. The Ravelin Block, home to Felixstowe Museum, is located in a “semi-sunken” position on the Landguard Peninsula. SME were built to build, equip, electrically charge and test submarine mines. These mines were placed on the sea-bed as a harbour defence and were connected to Observation posts on shore which could detonate them as needed. The hidden past of the building is evident in original fittings, letterboxes in doors which once lead to military offices and the narrow gauge tracks used to transport the mines.