Winging It!

By Wednesday Batchelor, Collections Management Trainee

As the Teaching Museum trainee in collections management, this is my first of many posts to come! My name is Wednesday Batchelor and I am based with the collections management team between Shirehall, Strangers’ Hall and Gressenhall for the next year; the role has already been diverse and exciting with no two days the same, so I’m very grateful to be here!

On the first bank holiday Monday of May the Norfolk Collections Centre were a part of “Winging It!”, a day at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse dedicated to birds, with various crafts and activities as well as teaching opportunities and live birds. Our involvement was a display of Victorian cased taxidermy birds from the store, which had not been seen by the public for a number of decades. Because of this, there was plenty of preparation to be done, including conservation cleaning and some research.

The birds were brought out of storage, their conditions assessed and cases cleaned; this takes considerable patience and due care. Some of the specimens had very little information recorded about them, but I was able to research the species and the taxidermists associated with some examples to create display materials for the event, and spent some time creating artwork to support each bird.


Conservation cleaning of a young male roller prior to the event – in the second picture you can see the difference between the front and back of the glass where cleaning has taken place.

There were twelve cases displayed on the day, including Red-Crested Pochards, a Bittern, a Scoter and a trio of Palla’s Sandgrouse. We also displayed a gannet which was in very poor condition, having been damaged by pests whilst stored some years ago; it gave us the opportunity to convey the message that museum collections require considerable care and upkeep, and to discuss the ways that we deal with pests.

Another interesting specimen was a hybrid taxidermy, meaning it consisted of parts from different animals – in this case it was the head of a Great Northern Diver, attached to the body of another bird and the wings of a different, far smaller bird. Unfortunately, the motivation behind the creation is unknown, but he’s a very fabulous frankenduck.

Some of the displays from the ‘Winging It!’ event

Overall, the event was a lovely success, and despite the downpour we were well attended and managed to engage plenty of people!

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The Norwich Snapdragon

Over the past few weeks we have gradually been removing objects from Norwich Castle keep, in order to clear the space for the next phase of our exciting project: Gateway to Medieval England.

This meant the transportation of one of our Snap Dragons from Norwich Castle to the Norfolk Collections Centre. I say ‘one of’, because we actually have three Snap Dragons! And they are now all re-united in store…..


Three Snap Dragons at the Norfolk Collections Centre (we also have the head of a Snap Dragon on display at the Museum of Norwich). 

In 1984 Norfolk Museums Service published this very informative information sheet summarising the long and fascinating story of the Snap Dragons. It is a longer read than our blogs tend to be, but if you are interested in learning more about our Snaps then I recommend giving it a read……..




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Tracking down an ancient Egyptian artefact

By Faye Kalloniatis, Research Associate

This rectangular coloured-glass plaque was ‘re-discovered’ recently while I was working on cataloguing the museum’s Egyptian collection. In a booklet, ‘Curios from Egypt’, which belonged to the donors of this item (the Colman family, of Colman’s Mustard fame), it was listed as a ‘glass plaque with head of gorgon’. I had ransacked the stores over many months trying in vain to locate it. I’d finally given up when, walking through the Roman gallery one day, my attention was drawn to a colourful glass plaque with a rather distinctive face. It had large staring eyes, a bulbous nose, an impossibly small mouth and red dreadlocks. This surely was what I’d been looking for – and a quick check of the accession number proved that I was right.

[384] 1921-37-161 glass inlay

NWHCM : 1921.37.161 – Mosaic-glass plaque of a Greek theatre mask.

colman catalogue

‘Curios from Egypt’, the Colman booklet which mentions the glass plaque.

It was an intriguing, if alarming, face – its disconcerting expression clearly due to the way in which it had been made. Imagine a rectangular mosaic glass rod decorated with only one half of a face. Then, cut this rod into two thin slices, flip one of them and place them alongside each other, and there you have it – an unnaturally symmetrical face cut in two by a vertical line running along its centre. But who or what did this face represent? After some delving, I came across other, similar, images. They belonged to courtesans, one of the most-represented characters in the popular plays of the Athenian playwright, Menander. These glass plaques were made to imitate the tragi-comic theatre masks of the ancient Greeks.

Yet the Colman family had bought this item during their visit to Egypt and so what were these ancient Greek mosaic-glass ‘courtesans’ doing there? Egypt’s ancient past readily solves this mystery. In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and so began the Ptolemaic Period with its influx of Macedonian Greeks. Living in Egypt and accepting Egyptian customs, the Greeks nevertheless added something of their own into the mix. Ever fond of their playwrights (whose plays captured the flavour of ancient Greek life and culture), the Greeks exported some of that to their new homeland. Greek theatre became popular in Egypt and a ‘spin-off’ of this was the production of small mosaic glass plaques. These colourful items illustrated many of the characters which populated the ancient Greek comedies and tragedies – the brothel keepers, the maeneds (female followers of Dionysos) and many more. Of all of these, the courtesans were amongst the most popular.

But how might these small plaques have been used? Some had thought they were intended as jewellery and worn for adornment. Yet, with no visible means of attaching them to clothing or threading them onto a chain, this theory became problematic. Then, by good fortune, some were found with wooden backing and so these items are now thought to be inlays for luxury wooden boxes. Look closely at the Norwich ‘courtesan’ and you will see what appear to be wooden fibres on the bottom edge of the plaque.

Whichever way they were used, they must have provided a ready reminder of home for Greeks living in Egypt and an entertaining view of another culture for the Egyptians.

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Common Sense

By Caleb Laster, Collections Management Intern


THEHM : 2009.2.1

The above image of James Gillray’s Caricature of Thomas Paine, entitled ‘The Rights of Man; or Tommy Paine the Little American Taylor, Taking the Measure of the Crown for a New Pair of Revolution-breeches,’ presents an interesting aspect of history.  As a political cartoon, the image is meant to mock Thomas Paine and his beliefs. At the time of its creation, Paine was participating in the French Revolution and while the image would not be published until 1851, it reflects a time when the British government was concerned with the French Revolution spreading to England.

Both the cartoon and Paine himself serve as an interesting example of a historical debate. First the cartoon brings into question how people should view Thomas Paine. From this depiction of him it could be inferred that his contemporaries viewed him as a trouble maker intent to spread revolution to England. On the other hand, modern histories often frame Pain as a scholar and influential enlightenment writer.


THEHM : DS.144, Portrait of Thomas Paine in oils, copy of George Romney’s portrait of Thomas Paine

To be honest, my original interest in this object and Paine’s role in history was sparked from a line of text from A History of Norfolk in 100 Objects, which described Paine as a founding father of the United States. Having grown up in the states this came as a surprise to me. While I was taught about Thomas Paine in connection to the American Revolution, it was always about his writings. Specifically, his pamphlet Common Sense, which greatly influenced the American elites and leaders of the revolution. This led me to further research who is considered to be a founding father of the U.S., a term that is used loosely throughout the U.S. when talking about influential figures of the revolution. While I never found an end-all be-all list of who is and who isn’t a founding father, the search itself made me reconsider how I looked at Paine and thought of him in relationship to a wider history.


THEHM : 1976.454, Photograph of a painting of Thomas Paine, portrait

In this way, this cartoon published more than 150 years ago re-energised my interest in American history and led me to consider multiple ways of viewing Thomas Paine. It can sometimes be frustrating that history does not have clear cut answers that we wish it had and it is often easy to be overwhelmed by debates between historians. However, such debates can be insightful and help present different perspectives on history that you may have never considered before.

To find out more about Thomas Paine, why not visit Ancient House Museum in Thetford which features objects on display relating to Thomas Paine.

This cartoon of Thomas Paine features in the excellent ‘History of Norfolk in 100 Objects’ by John A. Davies and Tim Pestell which is available for sale in Norwich Castle gift shop or can be ordered online.

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A Collection of Pubs

By Wayne Kett, Collections Development Officer

This week Norwich enjoys the third and final Norwich Winter Ale Festival at St Andrews Hall and to celebrate I thought a blog about pubs would be appropriate.

I decided to focus on ten objects from our collection. Each object is associated with a different public house, featuring pubs both past and present and across the entire county of Norfolk.

The General Windham, Cowgate Street, Norwich & Backs Wine Bar, Haymarket, Norwich


Snap Dragon ~ NWHCM : 1971.572.1


One of our famous Norwich Snap Dragons was once kept at the General Windham pub in Pockthorpe. An account from a Mrs Warden, whose aunt kept the General Windham in the late 1800s, remembered a large dragon was displayed on the skittle alley, which her aunt later sold to Back’s Wine Bar. The Dragon was then hung in the entrance of Back’s Wine Bar before later being donated to the museum service in the early 1970s.

Adam & Eve, Bishopgate, Norwich


Tap ~ NWHCM : 1971.261.1

adam & eve

The Adam & Eve is probably the oldest pub in Norwich, it can trace its history back to 1249, having been built by monks for the purpose of brewing beer. It is likely it provided refreshment for the workforce building Norwich Cathedral.

This brass beer tap was for use on a barrel of bitter, with perforations to prevent the hops being drawn out.

The Beaconsfield Arms, Lawson Road, Norwich


Game ~ NWHCM : 1975.390.1

This is a Nyner Kum-Bak game, which is similar to bagatelle – itself a form of indoor table top billiards. This game set was reputedly used in the Beaconsfield Arms (later the Wherry and now the Fat Cat Brewery Tap).

The Three Cranes, Lower Close, Norwich


Sign ~ NWHCM : 1936.6


This painting by John Crome is on display at the Museum of Norwich and was the pub sign for the Three Cranes public house (the pub is recorded to have closed by 1827).

There are other examples of pub signs John Crome painted in the early part of his career, including one of a Wherryman in the V&A collection.

East Suffolk Tavern, Bridge Road, Great Yarmouth


Photograph ~ GRYEH : 2013.4.4052

east suffolk

Photograph of the East Suffolk Tavern, Bridge Road, Southtown, taken between 1903-1906. Note the sign outside indicating the sale of ‘Lacons Fine Ales’. Lacons was a household name in Yarmouth throughout the 19th century, and by the time this photograph was taken operated hundreds of pubs in Great Yarmouth.

Lacons closed in 1968 having been bought out by Whitbread, but thankfully the brewery was resurrected in 2013 and today you can enjoy Lacons beer made to the original recipe.

The Rifle Volunteer, Blackfriars Road, Great Yarmouth

Early 20th c.

Sign ~ GRYEH : 2005.32


The Rifle Volunteer located on Blackfriars Road was another Lacons pub. It closed in 1974 and the building has since been demolished and replaced with housing. The pub was just a few yards from our very own Time & Tide Museum, which is housed in a building that was until 1988 a herring curing works. The Rifle Volunteer would perhaps have been a popular drinking haunt for workers at the herring works.

The Jolly Farmers, Wisbech Road, Kings Lynn

1930 – 1950

Panel ~ KILLM : 2017.1.2


The Jolly Farmers in Kings Lynn has now closed, but once featured six panels created by the Norwich based artist John Moray-Smith. This panel featured in last years Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse ‘Beer & Brewing’ exhibition and is now stored in the publicly accessible Norfolk Collections Centre.

Moray-Smith was employed by Morgans brewery during the 1930s – 1950s to create these unique plaster artworks for both the inside and outside of many of Morgans public houses. The Woolpack Inn on Golden Ball Street in Norwich still features similar panels.

The Red Lion, The Street, Banham

Used until the 1970s

Game ~ GRSRM : 1977.11


This is a twister or Norfolk wheel, which is a traditional Norfolk pub game. The round wooden board is painted black with numbers 1-12 in gold lettering with a square board to fix to the ceiling. It was used for a variety of games, but equally could just be used to decide whose round it is. The board is fixed to the ceiling so that everybody can see what is happening and there can be no cheating.

This twister board was used in the Red Lion public house in Banham up until the 1970s. The pub has unfortunately closed and is now a private residence.

The Ship Inn, Brancaster


Print ~ NWHCM : 1954.138.Todd23.Smethdon.16


This etching is of the Ship Inn in Brancaster on the North Norfolk coast and is by the Rev E. Edwards. The Ship Inn is still open for business and actually features a sculpture of a ship on the side of the pub, created by the same artist (John Moray-Smith) who created the panel for the Jolly Farmers in Lynn.

Norwich Beer Festival, St Andrew Hall, Norwich


Glass ~ NWHCM : 1983.207.3a


Okay so the last one is not a pub, but you can buy beer there! Norwich beer festival was launched by CAMERA in 1977 and will this October celebrate its 42nd birthday. Our glasses are from the 1982 beer festival and feature the festivals official logo, the Snap Dragon.

If you would like to search our collections for yourself, why not check out our Norfolk Museums Collections website?


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Circus! Show of shows

By Phillip Miles, Exhibitions Officer

2018 was the 250th anniversary of the creation of ‘Circus’ in the UK. With Norfolk jointly holding one of the 6 ‘cities of circus’ in the form of Norwich and Great Yarmouth we were lucky enough to be able to partner up with three other cultural institutions and many private circus ephemera collectors, to jointly deliver a Heritage Lottery Grant funded exhibition celebrating this grand anniversary. This was a great reason to look through our own circus archives and try to uncover the hidden stories of circus in Norfolk.

Jordan's Circus images 12.10.18 (69) - smaller

Our main partners were Museums Sheffield, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and the National Fairground and Circus Archive at the University of Sheffield (known as the NFCA). Although all of the museum partners, ourselves included, had extensive circus material to draw upon, the chance to borrow from the collections held at a national circus archive was very exciting.

The NFCA holds almost 200,000 unique items, many of which have been digitised and can be found on their online database. Amazingly hundreds of these items relate to circus in Norfolk.

As is often the way with temporary exhibitions, the limited wall space in the galleries and the competition between hundreds of high quality artefacts from external sources meant that some objects shortlisted for display from our own collections unfortunately had to remain in storage, mostly circus programmes from the 1950’s – 1970’s. Like those in the NFCA archive, these items still serve an important purpose when in store and are available for use by researchers. Our volunteers have embarked on a digitisation process of each page of these programmes so that we can use them digitally.

GRYEH 2001.26.8 centre pages

GRYEH : 2001.26.8 – Circus programme 

The originals continue to be cared for in store at Time and Tide Museum so that when the next big Circus anniversary comes around they are still available to contribute to the story of a very important local, national and international tradition.


Circus! Show of Shows is on until Sunday 3rd March at Time and Tide Museum

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‘Do not fear the great moo-moo’

by Laura Reeves


Whenever I think of musical books, I think of a Pinocchio book my Mum attempted to read to me when I was a child. Most of the noises were beginning to fail and were slurring and crackly, so Pinocchio sounded evil – the whole book terrified me. I’ve always assumed that musical books were a 90’s phenomenon until I came across ‘The Speaking Picture Book’ at Strangers’ Hall.


At first glance the large book appears to be simply a picture book, filled with short poems about farm animals. However, when you look closer there are small arrows pointing towards the outer edge of the book. These arrows direct the reader to small ivory beads on string, and when you give these a pull, the book makes the noise of the animal! The book can make the noise of a cockerel, a donkey, a lamb, birds, a cow, a cuckoo, a goat, and mamma and papa. Sadly, not of all of the sounds are still working – but I have found a YouTube video where a collector has a fully working copy




‘The Speaking Picture Book’ was originally created in Nuremburg by Theodore Brand. He patented the book in 1878, and the British patent followed in 1879. German, English, French and Spanish translations have been published.

The sounds are created through small paper bellows similar to an accordion. Paper is concertinaed in different ways to create small bellows that can expand and contract to push and pull air, which creates the different animal sounds. There is another YouTube video where someone has opened the mechanism to demonstrate how the bellows work –

If Victorian children had access to speaking books such as this, perhaps the ideal of ‘children must be seen and not heard’ isn’t so true after all?

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