Tag Archives: museums

A little Fiction

STORIES

The silence was constant, the darkness absolute but at least it was comfortable.  Of course, that was not completely true.  Sometimes there would be noise and light but only on rare occasions.  This was one of those occasions.  At first it was only a muffled clipping noise could be heard, plastic heels on a hard linoleum floor.  As the minutes ticked by the noise got louder until it stopped, so close.  They had heard the noise before, anticipation hung in the still air or perhaps it was just the dust motes waiting for something to disturb the stillness so that they at least could continue to be what they were, to do what they were meant to do – float lazily around finding surfaces to decorate.

Now a loud clicking as the tumblers in the old lock turned, a breath then a snap, crackle and pop.  The ancient and rarely used fluorescent lights shuddered on, illuminating row after row of metal shelves filled to the ceiling with anonymous brown boxes.  Each box was numbered and some of the older ones even had labels, browning around the edges, peeling, faded but labels all the same.  Testimony, that someone had once cared.

From its cushioned interior the broken pot waited, perhaps this time it would be chosen.  Broken it may be but it still had a story to tell.  

At first a lump of cold, dull clay, providing inspiration for a human mind.  Worked and moulded by human hands, its exterior carefully smoothed and decorated.  Then from the hot fire like a phoenix it came.  The incised decorations had meaning, told their own story of the people who made it.  Its beauty admired, given as a gift from an aunt to a niece and filled with grain.  Beautiful and practical, that was its story.  It was valued passing from mother to daughter until a day of violence, rough voices and screaming.  In the aftermath the pot lay broken on the hard-earthen floor, broken into many pieces, its precious contents spilt out.  The crackle and spit of the burning building heralding the end of an era but not the end of the story.

Buried, for what seemed like an eternity.  The only company the ever-present earthworms and the occasional mole. Scratching and burrowing, moving away parts of the whole so that even now safe in the brown box, it was not complete.  Then came the day when the light returned, once more human hands held it, reverently, exclaiming over its beauty.  Carefully washing away the dirt that had accumulated over the centuries, it was drawn, measured and photographed.  Then carefully, oh so carefully, a new home was made for all its broken parts.

At first many hands held it, admired it, there were more drawings and more photographs but gradually the visits into the light became fewer and fewer as the next best thing came along.  It had been a long time since it had felt the warmth of human hands gently caressing the incised decoration that had its own story.  Perhaps today would be the day.  If it had a voice it would have cried out “pick me, pick me” not unlike so many of the other artefacts sitting comfortably in their specially cut foam in their anonymous brown boxes.  Each had story to tell of a time when they were useful and valued, even broken and buried over centuries their stories had not diminished. 

“Pick me, pick me” said the silence.

*****

Standing still at the doorway to the storeroom the woman took a deep breath.  Smiling she wondered where best to start.  Her boss had simply said “choose the ones with the best stories”.  But how do you choose a good story?  What is a good story? With a small satisfied sigh,  she looked at her tablet with its inventory, deciding to simply start with the artefacts that appealed to her personally.  Hoping on some instinctive level she would choose the ones with the ‘best stories.

Although there was a certain amount of pressure to pick the right artefacts this was a job she had been looking forward to for quite some time.  Finally, a legitimate opportunity for a good rummage in one of the museums oldest storerooms and a chance to prove she was good at her job.  A job she loved.  If she were a person of a certain disposition she would have done a little jig, as it was she simply contented herself with humming her favourite tune. 

Running her fingers lightly along the brown boxes she did a slow circuit of the room, soaking up the slightly musty atmosphere.  There was no real order to the space except in a numerical fashion.  Each box numbered according to when it arrived in the room, so that Mesolithic flints sat happily beside early medieval pottery sherds.  She did briefly wonder if there was analogy for the modern world there.  Either way, here she felt at home, to her each and every one of these artefacts had a good story to tell.  Put them together and their story would be…mind blowing?  No, wrong word, it would be…enlightening.  Smiling and humming she went in search of a trolley.

After an hour she had half a dozen boxes on the trolley, so far so good she thought as she sat on the desk at the end of the room. There were a few errant boxes that for reasons known only to themselves had moved to other locations in the room other than their designated spot.  Perseverance had paid off in those cases.  It had been a risk coming here, her choices were risky too.  This was not the only storeroom there were others with brighter, better and more well-known artefacts stored in them, safer choices, but better stories? 

Perusing the inventory, the woman waited for something to jump out at her.  What she needed for this part of the exhibition was an object that grabbed people’s attention, an item to stop and wonder at, what else is hidden away in the bowels of their museum?  Page after page she flicks through, finally at the bottom of the very last page a hastily added note.  The last few boxes to come into the room, containing artefacts from a small, local society training dig.  The enthusiastic amateurs had come across an ancient settlement but a lack of funding had kept the dig to a single trench, two metres wide and five metres long.  Even so, several of the finds had been remarkable, telling a story of settlement in use for many generations and its eventual but violent demise.

Feeling her heart beat quicken the woman began to count boxes searching, hoping that no one had moved them.  The sound of her heels clicking a beat along the rows, up, down, pause, up, down, pause.  Damn!  They weren’t there.  Hands on her hips, frowning, her eyes focussing on the boxes that were not the boxes she was looking for.  Taking a step back she scans around, sometimes they were simply a little bit in the wrong place, but no not this time.   If she were of a particular disposition she would have stamped her foot in frustration not once but twice, instead though she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

Logic dictated that she should check who had last looked at the boxes, there might be some indication as to where were now.  Walking back to the desk where she had left the tablet with its inventory she spied a row of four brown boxes sitting innocently on the desk she had only moments before been sitting on.  Her pace quickened, please let it be them she prayed to no one god in particular.  If she were of a particular disposition she would have ran and slid to a halt at the table, but she was not and she still got there in good time.  A quick glance at the numbers on the outside of the box confirmed it, yes it was them. 

As she lifted the lids on each of the boxes, once more she said a silent prayer of thanks.  The contents of all four boxes would be her centrepiece, they told a real story, a story to resonate through the ages.  The woman placed the boxes on the trolley, satisfied.  Her heels once more clicking sedately on the linoleum floor, a creak of the door, snap as the fluorescents flicker off, bang, the door shuts once more on darkness.  The dust motes swirled about in the air eddies left by the woman’s presence.  A comfortable constant silence reigns – until next time.

*****

Slam, went the car door.  Two bodies wrapped up against the weather, one tall, one small make a mad dash for cover under the museum’s portico.  Stopping to catch their breath the small one links hands with the tall one. There were a lot of people milling under the portico and mum had said very clearly, ‘do not lose your dad, after all, he can’t even find his way out of a paper bag’.  The boy wasn’t really sure what his dad would have been doing in a paper bag.  He shrugs to himself, grown-ups!

Rain and school holidays, not a good time to come to the museum but today was his only day off work and he had promised his son that he would bring him.  He had no idea why he actually agreed, he would have much rather chewed off his own leg than come to the museum.  But there was something about the look the boy’s mother had given him and then there was the boy…equal portions of guilt and love tumbled through his consciousness and he found himself agreeing.  She had pulled him aside, “he loves the museum, and it’s soothing…when he is there he almost like any other kid, stay as long as you can”. 

As they walked through the doors, father and son turned and looked at each other.

“Well, you know it best, where to first?”

The boy smiled, twirling around eyes closed, mentally communicating with the museum, where to first?  He stopped, opened his eyes and pointed.  Following the pointed finger, he spies the new exhibition hall and yes as luck would have it there was a new exhibition.  A display of previously unseen objects from the museum’s storerooms, well fair enough at least it wouldn’t be the same old things although he did fear that was yet to come.  There was a tugging at the end of his arm; the boy was itching to go.  His mother was right he did almost seem like any other kid here. 

Kids, no one tells you no matter what you think will happen, no matter how prepared you are, it is nothing like what actually happens.  He had been so excited knowing he was to have a son, he had imagined footy games, cricket on the beach, surfing, building tree houses and boisterous games of tag.  What he had got was an entirely different kettle of fish.  It wasn’t that he didn’t love him his heart had almost burst when he first held him in his arms.  It was just that things had not quite turned out as expected and in the beginning the readjustment had taken awhile, it had taken too long for his wife, the boy’s mother.

The boy tugged again on his dad’s hand, come on, imagine the treasures in here he tried to say.  He looked up at his dad, his lopsided grin bigger than ever.  He loved the museum, he loved the way it smelled, the way it sounded, the way the objects would speak to him, tell him their stories.  He could spend hours with his nose pressed up against the glass cases just staring and imagining.  His mum always told him that no matter what he would always have his imagination, the endless stories he wrote were testimony to that.  She had packed his journal and brand-new pack of pencils in his backpack, “just in case the mood takes you”, she had said with a wink.

As they wandered around the new exhibition they saw stuffed animals in scary poses, shiny beetles and beautiful butterflies pinned very carefully to a board, everything was named (common and Latin), everything creatively displayed.  Each display had an information board with their stories.  Many of the stories were about where the animal had come from, who had found it and the hardships that were undertaken in the name of science.  The boy wasn’t that impressed, again he decided it must be a grown-up thing, killing something in the name of science, it was not a part of the museum he liked much.  But although just a kid he understood that you didn’t need to like everything about something or someone in order to love it – no one was perfect.

He tugged on his dad’s hand again, something was calling him forward.  It was the archaeology section, now this was more like it.  His soul sang for this was his nirvana.  Here artefacts spoke of human lives, told their stories, here he could lose himself totally.  He moved quickly from case to case his dad trailing dutifully behind him.

“Slow down kiddo, we have all the time in the world.”

The boy came to a complete halt in front of a case displaying a beautiful blackened pot, its swirly incised decoration speaking to him.  There were other artefacts, bronze clothes pins, other pieces of pottery, part of an iron skillet and an iron knife blade, both rusted but still identifiable, jet beads lovingly set into a shape of necklace.  The board said that they all came from the same excavation, not far from where the boy lived with his mother.  It was exciting to know that under his feet as he walked around his town there could be more stories waiting to be discovered.  He looked at his dad, who was just smiling at him in a funny kind of way.

“Go on, your mum said she had packed your journal, it’s okay.  I like to watch you write your stories, I’ll just be over here keeping an eye on you.”

The boys grin said it all.

*****

She had drawn the short straw, the volunteer who was rostered on to look after this section answering the public’s questions had called in sick, a migraine or something.  So here she was, she didn’t really mind, she liked to see people interact with the artefacts.  The boy and his father had intrigued her. 

They were in a world of their own, the boy strangely silent.  The father seemed a little uncomfortable, he looked like he’d much rather be out tackling the elements than in here.  The boy had sat down on the floor with his back leaning against the plinth, on his lap was a book and in his hand a pencil, he leaned back eyes closed, obviously deep in thought.  Suddenly as if someone had fired a starting gun his eyes flicked open and the pencil flew across the page.  Her eyes glanced at the father, he was smiling, he had seen this before.  Father and son settled in, one watching the other, just being.

An hour later, the pencil was put away.  She was intrigued, her feet moving of their own volition she walked over to the boy.

“Hello, I’m the curator who put this section together.  Do you like it?”

The boy nodded smiling his lopsided smile.  His dad hurried over “he doesn’t speak but he does understand everything, just doesn’t talk” he shrugged apologetically.

“But you like to write, don’t you?” she asked, not fazed by his father’s explanation.

The boy nodded again, a moment of silence stretched out and then he handed her the journal.  Taking the journal, she moved to the bench the father had previously occupied, sat down and started to read.  Both father and son sat quietly and waited.

When she had finished, she turned to look at the boy, “you have a rare talent, you can see the story behind each artefact, I honestly can say I felt like I was transported back in time.  Thank you.  You are a very clever young man.”  It was a truth, not words to bolster a child’s confidence.

“I would love you to come back another day, so I can show you some of the other artefacts in storerooms and you can write more stories.  Perhaps we can convince the museum to publish some of them.  People need to hear your stories”.

Because the boy was of a particular disposition he did do a jig, his joy obvious to all.  His father felt a lump in his throat and not trusting himself to speak just smiled and nodded his thanks.  She handed over her card and got his details too – she knew a good story when she saw one. 

It’s all about the story, we all have them tucked away inside, sometimes we tell ourselves, sometimes we tell others.  They are in everything and everyone we touch.  Some are short lived and some will resonate through time but in the end, it is our story and how it ends is up to us.

         

Two Days in napier

Just recently the husband and I had a child free weekend away, during this time we spend two days exploring the town of Napier in the Hawkes Bay.  Naturally I was drawn to the town’s heritage and as per usual my first stop was to the local museum – MTG Hawkes Bay.

The exterior of the museum.

Situated in the main part of town near the seafront, it is attached to the library and spread over three floors.  The ground floor gallery is taken up by two exhibitions – Tenei Tonu and Turuturu, Fingers, Feathers and Fibre. Tenei Tonu showcased the taonga, both historic and contemporary, alongside the stories of the local Iwi Ngati Kahunguru. Turuturu took up a space which joined the museum to the library and is a fascinating albeit brief look at the importance of weaving in Maori culture.

Turuturu are weaving pegs used to keep a garment off the ground when it is being made. The main peg is the right one and can be elaborately decorated. It represents the mana of Te Whare Pora – the knowledge-bank of the art-form. The peg itself upholds the mana of the growing garment and it spiritually connects the maker to the world of thought and concentration. The peg also grounds the maker so they do not get lost in their intellectual world. (quoted from the MTG Hawkes Bay website)

On the second floor was three collections – one of an amazing display of heirloom silverware whilst the second was called Five Pakeha Painters – Perspectives on the Hawkes Bay.  This small exhibition of artwork acknowledged the importance of art as a form of dialogue between the artist, the land and the social norms of the time.  The third exhibition was titled The House of Webb – A Victorian Family’s Journey to Ormondsville.  This is a temporary exhibition (it finishes on the 3rd November) showcasing life in Victorian Napier through the belongings, diaries and letters of the Webb Family.  In 1884 the Webb family left their comfortable life in England and travelled to Napier and then further south to Ormondsville, this exhibition showed what life was like for these early settlers, some of their trials and how they survived those early days. 

The final gallery to be explored was in the basement of the museum – here the visitor is taken through that fateful day in 1931 when the Hawkes Bay was hit by a massive earthquake which destroyed almost all of Napier and killed over three hundred people.

At 10:47am on 3 February 1931, a devastating earthquake struck Hawke’s Bay. In that moment it seemed the end of the world had come. People were thrown off their feet; buildings shuddered and collapsed as the ground pitched violently. In central Napier, fires broke out within minutes and rushed through the city. Amidst the burning, falling buildings, the bright blue sky of a summer’s day was obscured by smoke and dust. People could only watch as their home was destroyed around them. In desperation the injured screamed for help, others ran for the safety of the beach, or home to find their families. (Quoted from the MTG Hawkes Bay website)

As well as the thoughtful display of objects and stories, there is also a short film of ‘Survivor Stories’ which brings home how devasting the earthquake was to the people of the Hawkes Bay.  Time here will forever be divided between ‘before and after the earthquake’.

The second place to be visited was the Napier Prison…yes on purpose…and no not in shackles…

Napier Prison is New Zealand’s oldest prison, it was first opened in 1852 and was closed to inmates in 1993.  Situated on Bluff Hill and next to the quarry where early inmates were expected to do hard labour extracting the stone that would build walls which now surround the prison.  In 2002 the prison was restored to the state it is in by a local family who turned it into a back-packers (not my first choice of accommodation) but nowadays it is a tourist attraction and even on the cold wet day we visited there were a quite a few visitors.

The forbidding entrance of Napier Prison – visitors must knock…

As a visitor you can either go on a guided tour or do the self-guided audio tour which we did.  The facilities also host scare tours in the evenings and has an Escape Room Experience for those wanting something a bit different.  On two separate occasions and for quite different reasons, the prison has been the focus of a TV show – one looking to enhance the visitor experience from a heritage perspective and the other capitalising on the prison’s spookier stories. The prison has also through its time been used as a psychiatric unit, a lighthouse and a meeting place for Alcoholic Anonymous groups.

Above is a block called ‘The Pound’ – the padded cells and caged exercise area chilling reminders that once upon a time mental illness was treated with a lot less compassion.

Beside The Pound is ‘The Hole’ – use your imagination…

The above photos show a small selection of numerous information boards that provide a light moment amongst the many somber ones.

The above photos are of the main block and exercise yard, the bottom picture is of a well discovered a short while ago. The well room is in what was once the infirmary before being divided into other rooms during the prisons back packing days.

Above is a plaque about one of the prison’s most well known executioners. – the role of executioner would often fall to one of the inmates and Tom Long was no exception.

On a personal note, it was a fascinating place, however the sense of relief when I walked back out the front gates was immense. The heavy sense of foreboding made for an uncomfortable visit, there were places I simply could not enter.  I took no photos of the ‘hanging yard’ or the graveyard (where only three burials are had), the feelings of deep sadness were enough to stop me pressing the shutter. The ‘hanging yard’ in particular had an effect on me…but having said that I am glad I went, it was educational and an eye-opener to life behind bars in New Zealand’s oldest prison.

The remaining photos are just a few from around a city well known for its art deco architecture and seafront gardens.

The view of Napier Port from the lookout on Bluff Hill.

Please note that all photos are my own – the MTG Hawkes Bay do not allow photography in many of their galleries, hence the paucity of photos from this lovely museum.

The Devonport Museum

A recent addition to my television viewing is a locally produced show – ‘Heritage Rescue’.  Along the veins of a reality tv show and borrowing loosely from home makeover shows and the UK’s ever popular ‘Time Team’ (the shows presenter once worked on the latter as a humble archaeologist), Heritage Rescue visits small local museums, spending time (usually around a week) and resources to inject new life into these establishments.  More often than not they operate purely on the fuel of volunteers.

One such museum was the Devonport Museum in Auckland – I am sorry to say that even though I have lived only a fifteen minute drive from this musuem I had never visited…a fact I hastened to amend after watching the two episodes dedicated to giving the wee museum a new lease of life.  Having never been to the museum prior to its appearance on the telly I can’t compare so the photos that follow are of the new look museum.

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The one thing that has obviously remained the same is the essential fabric of the building.  The museum is housed in an old Presbyterian church which was moved to it present day location in an old quarry on the side of Mt Cambria in 1978.

On entering the museum to the left there is a timeline of Devonports history with a superb diorama of the local landscape taking centre stage.  I was fascinated to learn that once upon time it was possible to get a boat through at high tide directly from Narrow Neck beach to the Ngatringa Bay past what is now the golf course and along the present day Seabreeze Rd.

Devonport itself is an area rich in history, not just because it was one of the earliest nineteenth century settlements but also it was well utilised by Maori with its safe landing beaches, excellent access to kai moana and fertile soils on the slopes of its volcanic cones.  Jutting out into the wider Hauraki Gulf it also provides an excellent vantage point of all who come and go into Auckland.  The museum effectively reflects this tapestry of Devonports past.

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There are displays on the history of ship/boat building in the area, we are told that the foreshore was a hive of industry in the nineteenth century.  The above picture shows a model of New Zealands one and only remaining wooden light house which can be found just off the tip of Devonport, no longer being used as a light house but preserved as a historic site.

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Shop window displays using real shop windows from the towns retail past gives the visitor an impression of what the main street may have once looked like.

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Here a display panel gives information on Devonports main street – Victoria Road – who lived/worked and played there.

Devonport is well known for it old villas and colonial cottages – the museum has two models of these types of houses on display.  The one on the right is complete with washing on the line and a larder stocked with local produce.

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An old map of Devonport – the Takapuna Racecourse is now a golf course…

Overall our visit to the Devonport museum was very enjoyable, helped along by a friendly and informative volunteer who was able to answer my questions.  There is even a kids corner with old fashioned games for the littlies to have a go at and in a seperate room a research space is well appointed for those to local/family histories.  It is well worth a visit if you are in the  area and even if you’re not.

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Devonport Museum website

The Thames Museum

For most people Thames is the town you whizz though on the way to the more exciting destinations in the Coromandel and to be honest this is what we often do except on this one occasion when it was decided to stop at the small local museum.

The Thames Museum featured in an episode of ‘Heritage Rescue’ during 2016 and as such was brought to my attention fuelling a quick pit stop along with the obligatory pie and coffee.  The entry fee is $5 an adult or in our case, $10 for a family of two adults and two children.  For this you get entry into an Aladdin’s cave of memorabilia from the 1800s and later.  The early fridge and scary looking dentists chair filled both tween and teen with horror.

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An early fridge…

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“My bed is bigger than that!” says the tween.

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A Victorian kitchen.

The first room was divided into spaces depicting life in a Victorian household.  Leading on from this was a space where a short film would have been shown (but for whatever reason was not on the day we were visiting) and in cabinets along the walls were a variety of early Maori artefacts.  This part of the museum was a little disappointing, there were very few explanatory notes as to what the artefacts were, where they were found or even who donated them.  Unfortunately it did give the impression of being an afterthought which seems a shame given the rich Maori history of the area.

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A third room held a collection of tools and equipment (including several dreaded dentist chairs which I forgot to photograph) whilst the final room where the spaces which were given a make over by the TV show ‘Heirtage Rescue’.

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The brillant blue of the painted walls setting off the easy to read maps and displays.  A small side room off this main space was given over to handcrafted models of the towns heritage buildings.

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Like so many of our small town museums this one is run solely by volunteers and as such they should be applauded for their efforts in bringing the history of their town to life.  Having said that it was at times difficult to navigate visually around the museum, particularly as the general feel is one of an overstuffed Victorian home.   There is something to be said for a more minimalist approach.  It was a stark and distinct difference between the areas given a make over by museum professionals and those not yet tackled, perhaps to the detriment of the remainder of the museum.

Thames Museum website

 

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The British Museum – a fleeting visit.

Why fleeting you might ask? Well in a nutshell, the visit occured a couple of years ago during a whirlwind trip to London with the family and after a protracted visit to the Natural History Museum followed by getting distracted by a well known sci-fi shop I was left with a mere two and half hours to see the Museum…As some of you are well aware this is not nearly enough time and so it was, a fleeting visit.  The following are a few of the photos I took along with brief explanations.

One of the first gallerys I made my way to was the early Medieval gallery – I had long wanted to see the artefacts from Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo, the famous Anglo-saxon ship burial.  Sutton Hoo is located near Woodbridge in Suffolk and is the remains of a 6th and 7th century AD cemetary.  Mound 1 was excavated in 1939 providing the world with a fascinating glimpse of the artistic ability of our Anglo-saxon forebears. The artefacts were richer and more intricate than any other found before.

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The most famous face of Anglo-saxon England – the helmet was in in a bad way when excavated and the above shows only the few remaining pieces which could be salvaged.

 

Not far from the Sutton Hoo treasure is the Lewis Chessmen.  These fascinating wee carvings were discovered in 1831 in Uig on the Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides).  They are 12th century in date and carved from walrus ivory; it is believed they were originally made in Trondheim in Norway – at the time the Outer Hebrides were ruled by Norway.  A number of years ago, a travelling exhibition on the Vikings came to the Auckland Museum in New Zealand.  Two of the Lewis Chessmen accompanied the exhibition and it was this that inspired me to write “A Viking Moon”.

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The Lewis Chessmen

Staying with the Vikings we have the Cuerdale Hoard from Lancashire.  The display at the museum is only part an enormous hoard of silver found in a lead chest beside the River Ribble.  The hoard itself consisted of 7500 coins and 1200 pieces of silver bullion, weighing in at forty kilograms.  The coins come from a variety of sources – mainly the eastern Viking kingdoms of England but also from King Alfred’s Wessex, Byzantium, Scandinavia, Islamic and Carolingian sources.  The Ribble Valley was an important Viking route between the Irish Sea and York and this may have some bearing on why the hoard was found here.

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Part of the Cuerdale Hoard

Staying in the early Medieval my next photo is of the Burghead Bull.  The town of Burghead in Moray, Scotland occupies part of what was once a Pictish promontory fort of great importance.  The Burghead Bulls were discovered in the late nineteenth century when much of the fort was destroyed to make way for more houses.  Originally there were thirty panels carrying carved images of bulls, now however, only six remain – one of which is held at the British Museum.  They are dated to 5th century AD and it has been suggested they formed a frieze set into the ramparts of the fort and possibly represent a warrior cult which celebrated strength and aggression.  Regardless of what the bull represents it is a fabulous piece of Pictish art.

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Burghead Bull

Travelling back in time I moved onto the Roman and Iron Age galleries (this was a flying visit, I had just recieved a text from an impatient husband…)

In the Roman gallery I took a moment to admire a stone sarcophagus found in London in 1853 within what was described as an extensive Roman cemetary outside the city wall to the east.  It is dated to the early 4th century AD.

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An early 4th century AD Roman stone sarcophagus.

Moving along swiftly I found myself in the British Iron Age and here I had to stop and admire the mirrors.  Of all the artefacts from this period these are my favorite (and no its not because I have vain streak…).  I have long held the belief that mirrors were more than a toilette item for these were never true mirrors that the modern person might be familiar with.  Their surfaces were often burnished bronze and would at best reflect a fuzzy image.  Instead I would suggest that the surface of a mirror acted in a similar way to the reflective surface of lake, pond or well providing access to the otherworld – a liminal space/place.  Such places are well documented as being special, the vast numbersof artefacts found deposited into watery places at this time speaks for itself.  Furthermore, it is surely no coincidence that later myths and stories use a mirror as a storytelling device (think Snow White).

 

Then of course something shiny caught my eye, first the Snettisham Torc and then the twisted gold torcs from the Ipswich Hoard.   The Snettisham Torc was discovered in 1950 near the village of Snettisham in Norfolk.  It is made up of a kilo of gold mixed with silver, there are 64 threads and each thread is 1.9mm wide, eight threads were pulled together and twisted then all were twisted again to make the torc.  The terminal ends are hollow and were cast from a mould.  The torc is dated to between 150BC and 50BC.  The Ipswich Hoard was the second hoard to be found in the area, the first being Anglo-saxon in date.  This particular hoard was discovered during the construction of a housing estate in 1968 by a digger driver and consisted of six twisted gold torcs.  These torcs had less silver in them which has led the musuem to date their manufacture to around 75BC.

 

Finally I wound my way through the Egyptian gallery and down the stairs to meet up with the family who were marvelling at the large statues from the ancient world.  The following is a selection of the photos from this part of the museum.

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There was so much else to see but I simply ran out of time and as we were flying out the next day any other sight seeing would have to wait until another visit – although I have heard recently that there are plans afoot for a downloadable VR experience for those who can’t visit in person.

Below are a few links which relate to the above photos.

The British Museum

Sutton Hoo – The National Trust

The Lewis Chessmen

The Snettisham Torc

List of Iron Age Hoards in Britain

The St Kevern Mirror

 

The Mercury Bay Museum

Whenever I go somewhere new my first stop (after a leg stretch and a coffee) is usually to the local museum.  I have a deep fondness for museums and the people who put their heart and soul into their creation and upkeep.  The Mercury Bay Museum was one of those musuems where the peoples love of their town and surroundings was evident.

Our first visit to Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula was in the winter and unfortunately the musuem was closed however we had much better luck on our second visit.  Situated on The Esplanade just opposite the wharf, this small but well thought out musuem tells the history of the area beginning with Kupe who gave the local area the name Te Whitianga nui a Kupe or The Big Crossing Place of Kupe.

 

Originally the site of the museum was an urupa or cemetary for  the local Maori iwi called Ngati Hei up until the 1870s.  But when European curio hunters violated the tapu of the site members of the Ngati Hei removed the remains of their people and reinterred them safely elsewhere.  The Maori history of the area represents only a small part of the musuem and was my one criticism of this otherwise outstanding museum.  The displays of Maori artefacts were not clearly labelled and the display was largely restricted to the walls of the walkway as you entered and could be easily overlooked – personally I think the museum designers may have missed a beat in down playing the 800 years or so of Maori history.

 

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Examples of Tahanga basalt stone tools (and other random stone tools) – this material was traded far and wide – the lack of information on this dispay was disappointing, only personal knowledge helped be identify what the objects were.

 

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Poster on the wall about the Tahanga basalt quarry at Opito

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A display of Maori digging sticks.

The Museum is very child friendly – my daughter in particular enjoyed dressing up as Captain Cook who visited the area in 1769 on the HMS Endeavour.  It was he who gave the area its European name of Mercury Bay after taking his longitude and latitude from the viewing of the transit of the sun across the planet Mercury.

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As you head further into the museum there is a significant display on the wreck of The Buffalo which gave the local beach its name (Buffalo Beach), the Kauri room and shanty shack – Kauri were an important part of the economy in the 1800s, either as logs or from the fossilied resin/gum – a 1950s school room, a 1960s bach, a smithy, two rooms displaying birds of the area and displays regarding the importance of the fishing industry (commercially and recreationally) and agriculture to the area.  A butter churn display harks back to the days when the museum was once a dairy factory producing butter from cream from all over the Mercury Bay area.  The musuem also holds an extensive collection of photos covering the life and times of Mercury Bay and its residents.

 

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A Museum With A Difference

The fog rolled in along the North Cornish coast blanketing the hills.  Coming in fast behind it was a weather front of rain and blustering wind.  What was I doing out in this weather?  Why would anyone venture forth in such conditions, most sensible people were safe inside.  But today I was a tourist and nothing was going to stand between myself and the place I wished to visit.

Tomorrow it would close for the winter and my chances of visiting again would be blown (it’s a long to come from NZ).  My destination?  The Museum of Witchcraft in the wee coastal village of Boscastle on the North Cornish coast.  I had also dragged the husband and kids along (I needed a driver and there’s this funny law which says you can’t leave the kids at home alone…)

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The exterior of the museum – Jan 2015 (it now has new signage…)

The museum is the home to the worlds’ largest collection of “witchcraft-related objects dating from the time of the witch-hunts to the present day.”  A friend recently asked why I would want to visit the museum.  Well, in short it is a fascinating subject because it tells a story of how people have viewed not only themselves but also the world around them on a very deep and personal level.  So my question to her was – why wouldn’t you?

The museum was not always in Boscastle, originally it was based on the Isle of Man in Castleton.  It was first opened by Cecil Williamson in 1951 (the same year the Witchcraft Act was repealed successfully).  He employed Gerald Gardner – the father of modern witchcraft – as “Resident Witch” and the museum was very successful.  But eventually as things go, the two men felt the museum should go in different directions and Williamson sold the building to Gardner and moved his collection to Windsor and then onto the Cotswolds.  Unfortunately a lack of tolerance in the local area resulted in the museum being firebombed several times.  Once more Williamson moved his collection but this time to Boscastle, where it has been ever since.  The current owner is Graham King, who bought it from Williamson in 1996.

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The village of Boscastle looking back from the sea wall.

 In 2004 the whole of Boscastle was brought to its knees when a flash flood filled the valley – the town was swamped by over three metres of flood waters.  The museum was severely damaged however this did not deter King – clean up of the museum began as soon as possible with every inch of mud being sifted and every item found meticulously cleaned and disinfected.  During this time the museum layout was redesigned and gradually the museum rose from mud and sewage all brand new.  I recently read on Facebook, that once more the museum is having a bit of face lift for no other reason than “change is good”.

The museum itself is divided into sections, each section dealing with one particular aspect of the craft.  The descriptions below are from a pamphlet bought at the museum during my visit.

  • Images of Witchcraft – “Although many people today are sceptical about the power of magic, there can be no doubt about the enduring power of the image of the witch.
  • Persecution – “Our display about the witch-hunts begins with a 17th Century copy of Daemonologie – a book condemning magic written by King James I. King James wrote it after personally interrogating the suspects in the North Berwick witchcraft case, who were accused of raising a storm to sink his ship”.

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A witch weighing chair – not everyone was into the witch hunts.  As long as the accused weighed more than the Bible they were proved innocent.

  • The Wheel of the Year – “Modern witches meet on, and celebrate, ancient seasonal festivals and call them Sabbats”.
  • Stangs – “Modern witches refer to forked or skull-topped staffs as stangs”.

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A collection of stangs.

  • Sacred Sites – “Ancient sacred sites are very important to many people who practise Modern Pagan Witchcraft today…however, the witches of the past centuries also valued sacred sites as places to practise magic.”
  • The Hare and Shape-Shifting “Many legends and folktales tell of witches turning into animals – particularly hares, cats and owls. A traditional Cornish term for “cursed” is “owl-blasted”.

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A ceramic hare-woman made in the 1960s by Lionel Miskin.

  • The Magic of Christianity – “Trial records show that most people who practised magic during the witch-hunts were Christians, and often used the sacred object of Christianity in their spells.
  • Herbs and Healing – “Healing has always been an important part of magic. Many people arrested for witchcraft were respected healers using charms and herbal remedies.
  • The Wise Woman – “Our wise woman in her cottage shows just how different real life witches were from the stereotype of the ugly hag muttering curses.”

 

  • Protection Magic – “The use of objects as protection charms (also known as amulets) is one of the most ancient types of magic – and also one still widely used thoughout the world today.”
  • Magic in Wartime – “This display shows some of the ways people have used magic to help them cope with the stress and danger of war.”
  • Mandrakes – “According to William Shakespeare, human shaped mandrakes roots were worn as good luck charms.”
  • Curses – “Did people really use magic to put curses on their enemies? Of course they did!…Cursing was an instrument of natural justice, and a form of anger management.”
  • Ritual Magic and The Golden Dawn – “At the heart of the display are the colourful and dramatic tools developed by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.”
  • The Richel Collection – “This collection of magical objects from the Netherlands bequeathed to the museum in 2000, is complex, challenging and sometimes downright mystifying – though sexual symbolism is a recurring theme.”
  • The Devil and the Horned God – “There can be little doubt that the horned Devil of medieval art had its origins in earlier horned deities of nature and fertility, such as the Egyptian goddess Hathor, the Celtic god Cerunnos and the Roman god Pan.”
  • Baphomet and the Green Man
  • Fortune Telling and Divination – “Of all the objects in the museum, the one that most intrigues and fascinates visitors is the dark mirror used by the museums founder Cecil Williamson.”
  • Spells and Charms – “Many of the exhibits in this museum illustrate a central principle of folk magic, that there is magic all around us in the natural objects of everyday life”.
  • Sea Witchcraft – “There are many accounts of witches selling the wind to sailors, by magically knotting it into a length of rope on a windy day.”
  • Tools of the Witch – “Knitting needles might not seem an obvious magical tool – but stitches are really knots, and knot magic is ancient and widespread.”
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    The cauldron – you can’t be a witch without one of these…
  • Modern Witchcraft – “Many of the objects in this section are personal and unusual, such as the Peruvian magic dolls used by Brownie Pate, or the painted altar stone made by Iain Steele, with its dragon like symbol in the centre.”

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This may not be a museum for everyone, some might even find the occasional display uncomfortable (the sideways looks I kept getting from the hubby was proof of that).  Even so, the effort to visit should be made.  To learn about and educate ourselves in the ways  of the craft and its history means that the past won’t be repeated.  When it comes down to it, today witchcraft/paganism is just another form of spirituality which provides harmony and solace in the lives who follow that path.

It was a fascinating museum and well worth the trip, the dreary weather adding to the atmosphere.  To visit on a bright sunny day when Boscastle is thronging with tourists…

 

Contact details:  The Museum of Witchcraft, The Harbour, Boscastle, Cornwall PL35 0HD.

Tel: 01840 250111

www.museumofwitchcraft.com

museumwitchcraft@aol.com