Object of the month – December 2019 – Slave Ship Fetters

International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, which aims to raise awareness of the atrocities of modern slavery, falls at the start of December. Accordingly, we’ve selected these Slave Ship Fetters as our object of the month.

An image of slave ship fetters that are the object of the month at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery in recognition of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

Slave Ship Fetters

These wrought iron fetters, which are shackles for the feet, were reputedly worn by slaves on board a slave ship captured by Commander George Kenyon off the west coast of Africa in 1843. However, historic records suggest that the fetters are more likely to have been seized at some point between 1841 and 1843, when Kenyon was serving as a Lieutenant on the ship ‘Madagascar’ under Captain John Foote. During this period, the ‘Madagascar’ captured five slave ships off the coast of west Africa, effecting the release of 1400 black slaves.

George Kenyon was the fourth son of Hon. Thomas Kenyon, of Pradoe, near Shrewsbury. The navel papers of Kenyon (now in Somerset Archive Office) give a most interesting account of the suppression of the slave trade on the African coast between 1842 and 1849. After his time as Lieutenant on the ‘Madagascar’, Kenyon became the Commander of the sloop ‘Cygnet’. Log books for the Cygnet record the arrest of slave ships on 12 December 1848, 26 January 1849, and 22 March 1849.

These fetters were acquired by Shrewsbury Museum in 1921 from members of George Kenyon’s family. Not only do they tell the story of a Shropshire man’s involvement in inhibiting the slave trade, they also serve as a recognisable symbol of historic enslavement. Unfortunately, modern slavery is far more difficult to spot than a set of shackled feet.

Object of the Month – October 2019

October 21st is Reptile Awareness Day. With this in mind our Object of the Month is this weird looking Rhynchosaur Skull fossil.

An image of a rhynchosaur skull fossil that is the object of the month at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

Rhynchosaur Skull fossil

Rhynchosaurs, now extinct, were a kind of beaked lizard type reptile which were common 220 million years ago during the middle Triassic Period. They made up an important part of terrestrial faunas before the rise of plant eating dinosaurs near the end of the Triassic. They were about half a meter long and had a narrow, wedge-shaped skull with a few small, blunt teeth and a beak which they used to munch on rough vegetation such as ferns and horsetails.

An image of a rhynchosaur model that is on display in the Geology section at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

Model of how the rhynchosaur might have looked

This rhynchosaur skull fossil is from Grinshill, north of Shrewsbury. Back in the Triassic period this area of Shropshire was a hot desert on a lake margin. The rocks laid down were sand, silt and mudstones. In the late 1700s the sandstone from Grinshill began to be quarried for use in the construction of buildings in the county. This quarrying process uncovered various Triassic plant and animal fossils, including those of rhynchosaurs. Luckily, a member of the Shrewsbury Natural History Society kept a look out for these fossils during the quarrying, and many of the finds made there way eventually into the collection of Shrewsbury Museum in the 1800’s.

This particular specimen is scientifically important because it has been selected as a lectotype for the species. This means that it is the specimen with which other specimens are compared in order to name them as this species. As such, study of this specimen is ongoing. In fact, this spring it was taken for micro-CT scanning in Bristol, so researchers could study the braincase anatomy in more detail. Explore a 3D image of the rhynchosaur skull created by the Fossils in Shropshire project.

An image of the reverse side of the rhynchosaur fossil which is the object of the month at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

Rhynchosaur Skull fossil reverse

There are more rhynchosaur fossils on display in the geology gallery at SM&AG, and many reptile specimens in Shropshire Museums’ collections including turtle shells and a snake preserved in alcohol.

Object of the Month is on display in the Visitor Information Centre and features on our social media feeds:
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Object of the Month – September 2019 – Team GB Tracksuit

Shropshire has a strong connection to the Olympics as Much Wenlock is home to the Wenlock Olympian Games, which are thought to have inspired the modern Olympic Games that began in 1896.

It just so happens that National Sporting Heritage Day falls on Monday 30 September, so we thought our object of the month should reflect this. Therefore, we have chosen this Team GB tracksuit worn by archer, Alison Williamson, at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Along with items related to Wenlock Olympian Games we have a several items donated by sports men and women with a connection to the county.

Our object of the month is one of several outfits and items donated to Shropshire Museums by Alison Williamson, who competed in archery for Great Britain at six consecutive Olympic Games, from 1992 to 2012. Williamson’s highest Olympic achievement was winning a bronze medal at the 2004 Games in Athens.

For her services to archery she was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2012 Birthday Honours.

This tracksuit, given to Williamson for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, is made up of an Adidas jacket and trousers in the Team GB colours of red, white and blue. A great example of 1990s style, with large bright blocks of colour making it stand out from just any tracksuit is the inclusion of the British flags and Team GB branding. The tracksuit is made from the light weight and durable materials of polyester and nylon.

Williamson is a member the Long Mynd Archers, which is a club based in Church Stretton. There are several historic archery clubs in the county and you might be surprised to know that a great deal of the archers were women. The Archers of the Teme club was in fact founded by Lady Curtis of Caynham Court near Ludlow, in 1857.

Object of the Month – June 2019

Butterfly Drawer

It’s Butterfly Education and Awareness Day in June, so our Object of the Month is this drawer of butterflies from a cabinet of specimens collected by John Norton.

Many of the butterflies in this drawer are around 60 years old.  They were collected by John Norton, who was Curator of Ludlow Museum 1959 – 1989.  John was well known in the county as an inspirational Natural Historian and Geologist who did a great deal to interpret and promote the Museum Collections.  In this drawer, John has added small species distribution maps and paintings to illustrate the butterflies and caterpillars, all to increase understanding of these wonderful creatures and the collection.

The cabinet from which this drawer was taken is similar to butterfly cabinets that would have been found in the homes of many middle-class families during the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Victorians believed that the study of natural history contributed to good mental health.  Consequently, during the 19th century, the collection of things like birds, shells, wildflowers and butterflies became very popular hobbies.  As you can imagine, many people capturing and killing plants and animals for their collections had a significant impact on nature and sadly, several species have gone extinct due to this over collecting.

However, the popularity of collecting plants and animals during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries played an important role in building natural history collections.  Many local museums, including those in Shropshire, evolved from private collections and the societies that emerged around the hobby of collecting.  These collections and learned groups were also important in the emergence of professional biological disciplines.

Butterfly collections such as our Object of the Month can be used as a teaching tool and as the basis for research.  Not only can the butterflies be inspected, and changes in species noted through time, but where there is collection location information, variations in population distribution can also be studied.  Unfortunately, none of this can help us conserve and protect the butterflies we have around today.

Luckily, the taste for collecting butterflies has virtually disappeared in the UK.  Instead, butterfly enthusiasts are now being encouraged to collect information and digital images of the creatures to help scientists and conservators keep track of these important pollinators.

There are many wonderful natural history specimens waiting to be discovered in our Shropshire Gallery and even more available for research at Shropshire Museums’ Collections Centre in Ludlow.

Object of the Month is on display in the Visitor Information Centre and features on our social media feeds:

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Object of the Month – May 2019

Crossbow

It’s Zombie Awareness Month and our ‘Drawn of the Dead’ exhibition is on the horizon. This exciting exhibition features some of the original artwork produced by Shropshire’s Charlie Adlard for the hugely popular ‘The Walking Dead’. So it seemed appropriate to us that our object of the month for May be this pest controlling crossbow [H.06225].

An image of a bullet crossbow. The bullet crossbow is the Object of the Month at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery and can be seen in the Visitor Information Centre.

Bullet type crossbow (H.06225) Photographs by Jeremy Hall.

 

This is an English, bullet shooting, crossbow dating from the early nineteenth century. It would have been used for hunting small animals like rooks. Earlier styles of crossbows fired stones and clay pellets, but bullet shooting bows like this one were designed to be more accurate and damaging, using half ounce balls of lead as their ammunition.

Box lock with Catch, Trigger, and Sight

To load the weapon the string must be pulled back and secured on the hook shaped catch. This crossbow has a built in bending lever to make this process easier. This leaver is attached by a hinge to the box lock, where the catch and the trigger button are positioned. Also on the box lock is a sight with five sighting holes. It is engraved with pretty leaf scrolls. At the front end is the less pretty but equally practical, ‘U’ shaped foresight.

Select your weapon wisely…

Unlike guns, crossbows are quiet when fired. This means you can take a shot without scaring off your prey or alerting others to your presence. This made them popular with poachers in Tudor England. It’s also why they may just be the perfect weapon for use in a zombie uprising.

Foresight

If a dawn of the dead situation were to occur in Shropshire, there are several weapons on display around Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery which could be utilised alongside this crossbow. However, an even better place to find yourself would be Shropshire Museums Collection Centre in Ludlow, where an array of historic weapons are stored, and ideal for the fight against the undead.

Arms and Armour Catalogue

For those that like to be prepared and in the know, a full catalogue of the Arms and Armour in Shropshire Museums collection is available for purchase. This wonderful and detailed catalogue was produced in memory of photographer, and former volunteer for Ludlow Museum, Jeremy Hall.

Object of the Month is on display in the Visitor Information Centre and features on our social media feeds:

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Object of the Month – March 2019

Woolly Mammoth Jaw Bone

It’s British Science Week this month, so our object for March is this amazing Woolly Mammoth Jaw Bone. (G.15001)

An image of a woolly mammoth jaw bone. This is the Object of the Month at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery and can be seen in the Visitor Information Centre.

The Woolly Mammoth jaw bone is our Object of the Month

This jaw bone is part of an almost complete adult woolly mammoth skeleton which was found, together with bones from several juvenile mammoths, in a spoil heap at the Condover Quarry near Shrewsbury in 1986.

The skeleton is the most complete and best-preserved woolly mammoth in Britain, and its discovery is even more important because of its surprisingly young age. Carbon dating puts this woolly mammoth in Shropshire just 12,700 years ago. Which is a time when it had previously been assumed woolly mammoths had gone extinct in western Europe.

Using a variety of techniques scientists were able to not only work out when this mammoth died but likely how and at what age.

An artist illustration of three woolly mammoths battling through a fierce snowstorm. The woolly mammoth jaw bone is the Object of the Month at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery.The mammoths are thought to have died after getting stuck in a shallow, body of water filled with sediment, known as a kettle hole. Things like pollen and invertebrates were used by scientists to determine the landscape and climate in which the mammoths were living before their death. They found it was most likely a dry treeless landscape with a temperate climate not much cooler than we have today. The kettle hole was comparatively rich in vegetation, which might be why the mammoths were drawn to it. Little did they know it would mean their demise.

An image of a woolly mammoth jaw bone. The mammoth jaw bone is the object of the month at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery and can be seen on display in the Visitor Information Centre.This jaw bone is very useful for aging the woolly mammoth because it contains teeth. Woolly mammoth had four teeth. One on each side of their jaw, top and bottom. Over their life time they would get six sets of these, increasing in size as the got older. Unlike ours, mammoth teeth are replaced from the back of the jaw. Moving forward to replace the old one. This specimen of lower jaw contains two teeth. One near the front which is worn smooth through use and one behind coming through to replace it. The plates that make up the teeth can be seen, creating a stripy pattern on the front worn tooth. Based on the size of the teeth, it is inferred that these are the second and third set of teeth for the woolly mammoth. Using the ages elephants get their different sets of teeth for reference, it was reasoned that this mammoth was likely around 28 years old.

An image of a huge woolly mammoth tusk that is stored at Shropshire Museums Collections Centre in Ludlow. The woolly mammoth bones were only in the ground for a dozen or so thousand years, meaning they didn’t have time to fully fossilise. As such, in order to preserve them for the future, they must be stored in an environment in which temperature and humidity are controlled. Several the woolly mammoth bones are on permanent display with us at SM&AG in a specially made display case. The rest are normally held in the store at the Museum’s secure climate-controlled Collections Centre in Ludlow. Several bones are also currently on display in the gallery space at Ludlow Library as part of the Evolving Shropshire exhibition, which is coming to a close at the end of this month.

Object of the Month is on display in the Visitor Information Centre and features on our social media feeds:

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Object of the Month – February 2019

Love Token

Our object of the month for February is this Love Token. Which is fitting for the time of year when we are thinking about romance and celebrating Valentine’s Day.

An image of a love token. The love token is the object of the month at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

From the 16th Century onwards, young men have been known to give tokens to young ladies as a sign of their love. If the young lady kept the token it meant she felt the same way. If she didn’t return the feels she would discard the token.

Love tokens were usually made from a single coin, which was physically bent by the young man into an S shape. The surface of the coin was often smoothed down to remove features like the monarch’s head. Additionally, initials or love symbols such as hearts were sometimes engraved onto the token. All of which can make it very difficult to identify the exact coin from which they are made. Most love tokens are made from silver sixpences, but some made from gold and copper coins have also been found.

An image of a love token. The love token is the object of the month at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

Our object of the month is particularly special, because it is made from three coins which have been folded together into what appears to be a heart shape. There are no other examples quite like this known, but it is reasonably assumed to be a love token. It is also officially a piece of treasure (Treasure Act, 1996).

The coins are well worn and perhaps also clipped, making it hard to date them exactly. The size of the coins and the letters ‘LIZA’ visible on the surface suggest that they are silver sixpences from the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603). It is likely that the coins were being used as currency well into the 17th Century, before being fitted together in this way.

This special love token was found by a metal detectorist in North West Shropshire in 2008 and reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme for recording (see record). After being declare treasure, it was acquired by Shropshire Museum Service in 2011.

Shropshire Treasure Trail logo

There are many other wonderful pieces of treasure on display at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, and across the county. To learn more, check out the Shropshire Treasure Trail.

Object of the Month is on display in the Visitors Information Centre and features on our social media feeds:

@shrewsmuseum      @shrewsburymuseum      @shrewsburymuseum

Object of the Month – January 2019

HUIA Bird

An image of a huia bird from Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery's taxidermy collection. The Huia bird is the current object of the month and can be seen on display in the Visitor Information Centre.

Our first object of the month is this lovely taxidermy of a female Huia bird (Z.00270).

Pupils taking part in the Big School Birdwatch this month are very unlikely to see a Huia, as they have only ever been found on the North Island of New Zealand. Even our kiwi followers will be hard pressed to see this bird outside their window, because they are thought to have gone extinct around 50 to 100 years ago.

To those in the know, it’s easy to tell this specimen is a female. That’s because Huia birds had the greatest variation in beak shape between the male and female, of any bird species in the world! As our Huia demonstrates, the female had a long, slim, downward curving beak. Meanwhile males had a much shorter and more robust beak. This variation between the male and female is known as sexual dimorphism. It is a topic which former Shrewsbury resident Charles Darwin discusses in his works on evolution. You can find out more about Darwin in the Shropshire Gallery.

Fossils show that Huia originally lived across pretty much all of New Zealand’s North Island. However, from around the 14th Century their range began to shrink and the Huia disappeared from the west. This was caused by the arrival of the Maori and later European settlers. Both groups hunted the Huia and cleared the forest it lived in, to make way for things like agriculture.

In Maori culture, Huia were considered sacred, and the wearing of their skin and feathers was reserved for those of high status. This is why during the Duke and Duchess of York’s visit to New Zealand in 1901, a Huia feather was placed in the Duke’s hat as a token of respect. The wearing of a Huia feather in your hat then became very fashionable in both New Zealand and England. Hunting of the Huia increased to meet the demand of the fashion market and as a result the Huia population shrank.

As the Huia became rarer, their skins and feathers became ever more valuable, and collectors and museums were very keen to get specimens before they disappeared completely. Our taxidermy of a Huia was purchased at auction in the mid-20th Century by former curator of Ludlow Museum, John Norton. We don’t know when, where or why the specimen was originally collected, but it seems likely that it was taken to add to a private collection at a time when Huia were at risk of extinction.

This Huia isn’t the only bird we have in the collection that is thought to have gone extinct due to human factors. Also on display at SM&AG are a Passenger Pigeon and even a Great Auk (sort of…).

Object of the Month is displayed in the Visitors Information Centre and also features on our social media feeds: Twitter: @shrewsmuseum    Instagram: @shrewsburymuseum   Facebook: @shrewsburymuseum