Guess the Object

Each Monday throughout 2017, starting on 2nd January, we are posting a photo of an item in the collection on our Facebook and Twitter pages for you to guess the object. Each Saturday we will reveal what the object is and tell you a little bit more about it here on our website.

Follow us on social media to join in!

 

 

Week 52

Viking Sword

sword

This magnificent Viking sword was made in the Rhinelands of Germany for export to Scandinavia. This type of sword was greatly prized by the Vikings. It was designed as a slashing weapon to be held in one hand and has a double-edged steel blade (steely iron). On one side of the blade is the maker’s name ‘ulfberit’, usually known as ‘Ulfberht’, a famous 10th century maker. The sword is decorated with copper and silver lops and swags inlaid. The handle would have been made of bone or leather and has rotted away in river. The scabbard would have been made of wood and leather and lined with wool or other cloth, and has also rotted away.

Knowing the maker’s name is important as it tells us quite a lot about the sword as other swords have been found with this maker’s name on it. We think that Ulfbert was a smith from the Rhine region as there are many blades over Europe which bear his name.  Also the sword was slightly different from other swords in that it is more like steel than iron and therefore stronger.  It was certainly better than the Saxon swords – easier to hold. The new blades were much speedier and more mobile and therefore more effective. Earlier iron swords were very prone to breaking or shattering. We know this again from writing – the Norse sagas are full of references to the impatient warrior who has to retreat to the side of the field to ‘draw his sword under his foot’ in order to strengthen it.

By the 9th century there were Viking raids all over southern England and we know of several which took place at Chertsey Abbey. The Vikings are said to have burnt down the abbey at least once – probably in 871 or 884 – as well as much later in 1011, and killed the abbot, prior and 90 monks. 

Week 51

Christmas Lights

This string of Christmas tree lights date to the 1920s and would have been a bit of novelty at the time. They were connected to the light fitting, such as the hanging light in the centre of the room, rather than being plugged into a socket! 

The very first string of electric Christmas lights were displayed outside Thomas Edison’s laboratory in 1880. Prior to this candles were used instead resulting in many house fires, and so Edison’s lights were seen as a huge step forward in terms of safety. However, electricity in homes was still in its infancy and so few homes had the means to plug them in, and even fewer could afford them as they cost the equivalent of £1,500 today.

Week 50

Pomander

This unmarked silver pomander, dating from c.1790, is part of the Olive Matthews Collection. 

The use of pomanders goes back to at least the 14th century when the wealthy would carry containers filled with aromatic spices as a countermeasure to the foul smelling air. The word pomander comes from the French for apple (or ball) of amber; “poimne d’ambre”. Amber-gris is a pleasant smelling waxy substance which is still used in perfume manufacturing today as a fixative to keep the scent fresh for longer, although mostly a synthetic version is used nowadays. It develops its sweet smell after it has aged a little, and is altogether less pleasant when it is first created. Ambergris is better known as sperm whale vomit!

Week 13

Fireman's Helmet

This brass Chertsey Fire Brigade helmet has a detachable brass badge, and was given to the museum with a pair of brass epaulettes.

In the mid 19th century firefighters wore leather helmets for protection against ash and falling debris, but in the late 1860s they were replaced with metal ones.

The brass Merryweather-style helmet was based on the headwear of French Sapeurs-pompiers and was first introduced into Britain in 1868. It remained in use until 1936-1938 when it was replaced by helmets made of compressed cork and rubber. These were much more practical than the heavy brass helmets, and much safer. As more and more homes had electricity it wasn't wise to wear conductive, metal helmets.

Week 12

Spats

These are a pair of spats or short gaiters made of buff coloured wool. They were donated to the museum by Mr Johnston who ran a gentleman’s outfitters at 5 High Street, Addlestone, from 1910 until he retired in the mid-1960s.

Spatterdashes, or spats for short, were primarily worn by men in the late 19th century to protect their shoes and socks from mud and rain. As time progressed into the early part of the 20th century they became a fashion item associated with the wealthy and well-to-do, as immortalised in Irving Berlin’s classic, Puttin’ on the Ritz

Have you seen the well-to-do
Up on Lenox Avenue
On that famous thoroughfare
With their noses in the air
High hats and arrowed collars 
White spats and fifteen dollars
Spending every dime
For a wonderful time

If you're blue and you don't know where to go to
Why don't you go where harlem sits
Puttin' on the Ritz

Spats fell out of favour in the mid 1930s but their demise had started almost a decade before when, in 1926, King George V appeared at the opening of the Chelsea Flower Show without them. Rumour has it that as soon as spectators registered the omission they too discarded their spats, which could be found littering shrubbery across the Show! There was also a practical reason for their loss of popularity; with cleaner streets there was no longer a need for them.

Week 11

Roman Strainer sherd

This pottery sherd dates to the 1st century AD and is from a carinated (rounded base with inward sloping sides) bowl rim with a spout and strainer. It was recovered from the Thames near Magna Carta Island in the late 1990s during dredging work.

Bowls such as this were in use in Britain before the Roman occupation, but they tended to be in bronzework, whereas the earliest ceramic examples date from c.30AD. These bowls were initially used to strain local drinks such as beers.

Archaeological evidence from the Roman fort at Vindolanda, on Hadrian’s Wall, shows that the soldiers stationed there drank a lot of ale! Military accounts written on wooden tablets have been unearthed there, and at other forts along the defence, which give details of the ceruese (beer) the soldiers bought from local brewers.

Week 10

Fire Mark

This is a copper fire mark of the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society which was established in 1797.

In 1666 the Great Fire of London resulted in disastrous losses to buildings and possessions, and at the time there were no insurance companies.  By the end of that century the Fire Office (which became the Phoenix Fire Officer), the Friendly Society and the Amicable Contributors for Insuring Loss by Fire (latterly the Hand in Hand) had established themselves in business. During the 18th century and onwards to the present day, many more insurance companies were formed to mitigate against all sorts of losses.

At a time, in the 18th century, when house building was often unplanned and rather haphazard, buildings often had no street number. Therefore, it was necessary for insurance companies to distinguish which of the many houses they had a policy against. Hence the need for a fire mark bearing the company’s emblem and the policy number. Initially these marks were made of lead but were soon replaced by cheaper copper marks. If the policy lapsed, the mark was removed.

These marks were also important when it came to putting out any fires at the property. The catastrophic events of 1666 also resulted in improvements to the way fires were tackled and an improvement in the availability of firefighting equipment. The Fire Office realised that if they had their own, organised, fire brigade then maybe they could put out the fire and limit the amount of damage done. These small fire brigades continued until the mid-19th century when ten insurance companies came together to form the London Fire Engine Establishment, and even up until the early part of the 20th century some still existed in the provinces.

Week 7

Woolly Mammoth Tooth

Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) roamed Europe, parts of Asia and parts of North America 400,000 years ago but became extinct c.12,000 years ago. They were the size of today's African elephants but were very woolly indeed!

These enormous creatues could be up tp 9ft (2.75m) tall with up to 16ft.(5m) long tusks which helped them to dig up vegetation in the frozen tundra of the last ice age. They had four molars which they replaced up to six time throughout their lifetime, so these teeth are not that uncommon to find. 

Week 6

Tobacco Jar

This lead tobacco jar with a fox on the lid belonged to Mrs Miles who lived in Eastworth Road, Chertsey, at the turn of the 20th century. Lead jars were first introduced in the 1750s and remained popular until the 1900s. They nearly always had an animal or a person on the lid.

Week 5

The Pedlar Doll

This is one of the most popular objects in the collection and was much played with by Olive herself when she was a young girl.

Pedlar dolls (also know as Dutch dolls, a misnomer as they were made in Austria but sold from Germany; hence Deutsch corruption to Dutch) were a popular child’s toy in the 18th and early 19th centuries and were accompanied by the wares they would sell, such as matches, books, candles etc. Olive’s doll is very traditional in its construction and dress, it is the wares which she sells which mark her out as exceptional. These include candlesticks, shovels, timepieces and candle snuffers and are all made of solid silver. They probably date from the late Stuart to early Georgian period with one piece, the two-handled dish, thought to date from the 1660s. Clearly these items are not original to the doll, but are thought to be from a doll's house.

The doll and her wares had already had an interesting history before it came to be owned by Olive. It had been owned by the Sassoon family, the wealthy family of bankers related through marriage to the Rothschild and was bought by Olive’s mother from the Sassoon collection (it is not known how and when the doll was bought). It was to be a treasured possession of Olive’s both as a toy when she was a child and as a rare object when she was an adult.

The elevation of what was when new a rather a pedestrian doll into an extraordinary example of its kind through its associated precious objects may have amused Olive as she grew out of childhood and may have even been an inspiration to Olive in her acquisition of rare and beautiful objects.

Week 4

Unmarked figurine of Charles James Fox, c.1850

Charles James Fox  (1749-1806)

Charles James Fox was born in 1749, the third and favourite son of Henry Fox, later Lord Holland.  From an early age Fox became infatuated with gambling, losing small fortunes at cards, such debts were always settled by his father.

With his father’s assistance he entered parliament at 19, before the legal age, as MP for the pocket Borough of Midhurst in Sussex.  Later, as MP for Westminster, Fox established a reputation as an eloquent political orator, speaking in support of civil liberty.  He was appointed Foreign Minister under King George III.

In 1778 Fox purchased a thirty-acre property on St. Ann’s Hill with commanding views of the surrounding countryside.  The house was ‘a plain irregular building, of no architectural importance … The gardens and pleasure grounds are laid out with great taste’ with ‘a small Temple’ and ‘a very neat grotto’.  Fox spent much time in this rural retreat away from the intrigues of political life in London.  Fox’s house was demolished in 1937, though two of Fox’s garden buildings still survive.

In 1782, a young German schoolmaster, Carl Philipp Moritz, during a visit to England, described Fox, ‘This same celebrated Charles Fox is a short, fat, and gross man with a swarthy complexion and dark; and in general he is badly dressed.’

He later aided his friend the Prince Regent, in his attempt to gain power during the illness of George III.  On returning to parliament in 1806, after a break of almost a decade, he strongly opposed the slave trade, but became ill and died of dropsy in the same year.  He had wished to be buried at Chertsey, but his friends considered his memory would be more honoured at Westminster Abbey.

Week 3

Day Dress by Redfern, c.1911

This stunning day gown is made from figured velvet and silk satin. It was made by the high status couture house of Redfern Ltd whose premises were located at 26 Conduit Street, London. The business was founded  around 1850. It eventually closed in 1940. Redfern was famous for quality tailoring, particularly women’s sportswear such as riding habits. It also produced beautiful day wear such as this piece. From around 1908 it led the way in producing women’s clothing in the columnar ‘Grecian’ style. This garment is an excellent example of this new silhouette.

 The dress is extremely complex in construction with a multitude of press-studs and hooks and eyes holding it in place, making it impossible to put on without assistance. It incorporates a hobble skirt with a slight train, a common style for day dress during this period. The fashion for the extremely impractical hobble skirt is attributed to the esteemed fashion designer Paul Poiret, who once famously stated that he had “shackled” women’s legs with his designs. Women had to take very small steps when walking and some even wore garters around their knees to prevent them from taking too large a stride.