Katherine Plymley was a painter of watercolours focusing mainly on insects. Katherine was 21 years old when her mother died in 1779 and herfather was already 63 years old. Katherine gave up any chance of marriage to look after him.
Unmarried and in her 40’s Katherine began studying and painting remarkable watercolours of insects. Several prominent male entomologists of her time corresponded with her but it was not until her archive was placed on loan with Shropshire Museums and Archives in 1997 that the value of her research was fully appreciated.
Katherine Plymley’s memorial states that “They were women of superior minds which they had educated with great industry and devoted to the service of God. Of their fellow creatures, no persons, perhaps, of equal means, ever contributed more to the comfort of their nearer relatives, or the wants of an extended neighbourhood.”
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Lady Hawyse de Powys (Lady Hawyse of Powis was born on 25 July 1291. This seal matrix shows that she was a lady with a status of her own, able to write and sign documents, just like her husband but unlike most women of her day.
She was known as Hawise Gadarn (the Hardy) as her immediate family died before she reached 18 years old. In 1309, as an heiress but under age she became a ward of her uncles. Because she was a woman, her four her uncles disputed her claim to inherit her father’s property, and sought to split the land between themselves and send her to live out rest of her life in a nunnery.
Hawise travelled to the Parliament of Shrewsbury and petitioned Edward II of England in person. She met with him twice, and on the second occasion he asked her to nominate someone to act on her behalf as the champion of her rights. She named John Charleton, whom she subsequently married. Together with Charleton and a company of English knights, she returned to Powys Castle and successfully defeated her uncles.
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If it is EDU-tainment you are after, look no further than the Brick History exhibition at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery. This is the latest marvellous model show to arrive in town from the Warren Elsmore emporium – of Brick City fame – and features defining moments and discoveries on earth from the big bang right through to modern day.
Snapshots of history are presented in vibrant, multi-coloured 3D, arranged in themes such as Transport, War & Conflict, Exploration, Equality and the Arts – from intricately recreated scientific triumphs such as the double helix and smallpox vaccine (complete with little vials!), to terracotta warriors, Vesuvius, Concorde and the Titanic. Stars of the show are a 1.5m recreation of Rochester Castle – the real one dates back to 1088 with 12 ft thick walls. The Lego® ‘stonework’ is astonishing and the children loved spotting the different foods and animals in the outbuildings.
I loved the first silent movie theatre – the audience all in colour and the screen in black and white – with the intricate mechanics of its projection booth and the Hong Kong skyline, to mark the handover in 1997.
We also enjoyed hearing about some of the techniques involved from lead creative designer Guy Bagley, such as ‘bram sphere’ to create special plates for globes and ‘Studs Not on Top’ or (SNOT) for building models outwards, rather than upwards.
Guy had a hand in most of the models, as he says, he is ‘paid to play’ and has been designing Lego® models for more than 35 years, all over the world. All the models are made with unglued, standard Lego bricks, put together by human hand: “The only way you can tell if something looks right is by good old-fashioned human eye,” Guy said.
Opening the exhibition, he explained: “We hope children will be enticed by the models and may notice something that might spark their curiosity and make them want to go away and find out more. They might say ‘look mum, why is that lady chained to the railings?’ and it will prompt further discussion.
“We have 13m years of history going right back to the dinosaurs and everything in between.”
The three winning models in the museum’s Brick History competition are also on display, including a spectacular design of The Flying Scotsman from Alfie Hembrow-Forrester (5-11 category) – spot the hidden Homer Simpson! – Super Mario gaming figures from Roger Lewis (17+) and Mount Vesuvius erupting in Pompeii from Cal Adlard (12-16).
Cal was at the opening with his famous dad – comic laureate Charlie Adlard (of the Walking Dead comics) – and mum Lynette. Cal said: “I wanted to capture how much of Pompeii has been preserved after the eruption and also the perspective, with the big volcano looming in the background.”
Guy Bagley added: “We loved the black figure climbing out of the lava. We call him charcoal man.”
Get your Brick History tickets online to avoid the queues. You will be delighted, diverted, engrossed, occasionally startled – and you might even learn a thing or two. The kids won’t let you miss the huge LEGO® play zone on Level 2. My 9-year-old managed to balance on top of a 7ft Lego tower he built himself. Maybe don’t try that.
Brick History will be at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery until 15 April 2018. Admission £10 a family ticket (two adults and up to three children aged 5-17), or £7 family ticket (one adult and up to three children aged 5.17), or £4.50 adult, £2 child.
The March/April edition of My Shrewsbury is available now.
The plight of the Passenger Pigeon: How Museum collections are helping us to better understand their Story
Sat in Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, surrounded by other natural history specimens, is a small pink and grey passenger pigeon on a branch. She is just one of many creatures in the museum’s collection that can now only been seen in books or museum showcases. Like many museums worldwide, Shropshire Museums ensures that specimens like her survive as both a reminder of our impact upon the environment but also a vital resource for future research.
The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America and possibly the world. A single flock could contain more than a billion birds. John James Audubon, awed by the spectacle of passenger pigeons in Kentucky in the fall of 1813, writing that “the light of noonday was obscured as by an eclipse; the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose.” As mass shooting for sport and food reduced their numbers, museums collected examples to illustrate their plight. Today, scientists are still trying to answer the question as to how they became extinct so quickly.
A new study of the passenger pigeon’s genome, published recently in the journal Science, outlines new research into this puzzle. This recent investigation suggests that passenger pigeon populations were stable for thousands of years, even during periods of dramatic climate change. Studies of small samples taken from museum specimens have found that the pigeon population, although huge, lacked genetic diversity. The study concluded that much of the bird’s genetic code shows signs of strong natural selection, but very little evidence of ongoing small genetic changes that would help it to adapt if the ecosystem changed.
“Our mass murder of them over the course of decades was just too fast for their evolution to keep up,” said Beth Shapiro, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC-Santa Cruz and one of the paper’s co-authors.
It is therefore no wonder that Shropshire’s Passenger Pigeon is looked down upon rather wistfully by a portrait of Charles Darwin, who first fully published the process of evolution. Her, like many other specimens cared for by generations of museum curators, is all science have left to understand her species’ story.