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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Snakes & Ladders: A Matter of Fate and Destiny

By Wayne Kett

Happy New Year!! I suspect many of you like myself enjoyed playing a board game with your family during the Christmas period. In my household this year, it was Monopoly, I usually loose and this year was no different. This got me thinking about the vast array of weird and wonderful board games we have in the toy collection at Strangers’ Hall. So I thought I would share a few of my favorites…..

I begin with a different version of an old classic – Snakes & Ladders.


NWHCM : 1986.31.7 – Kismet, a form of Snakes & Ladders. Published as part of the Globe Series of Games and printed in Bavaria in about 1895


Self denial allows you to jump from square 80 to 100 

It follows the same principle as the usual game i.e. snake = bad and ladder = good, but with a twist. Named Kismet, meaning fate or destiny the game was intended to show a child that by being good and obedient, life would be rewarding and generally more pleasant.

Next we have Ships & Commerce or Merchants of the Mediterranean.


NWHCM : 1972.460.9 – Board game, Ships and Commerce or Merchants of the Mediterranean, produced by  Standring & Company in the 1860s


The game features a map of the Mediterranean and the countries surrounding it, in the centre is a picture of two sailing ships. It comes with 73 cards each relating to one of the 73 spaces and printed with the name of a product such as wine, marble or tin. As you move around the board (on the roll of a dice) you acquire cards, the winner is the person with the highest value of goods. The intention of the game was educational – to learn which goods or products originated from the different countries and regions.

See the rules in the image below to learn how to play ‘The Ivory Castle Game’

NWHCM : 1986.31.9 – The Ivory Castle Game, produced by DW Gibbs Ltd, 1950s

Finally we have the fantastically named ‘Go-Bang’ game which was produced by the Thomas de la Rue company in the 1870s. It is actually a variation of a Japanese game called Gomoku which roughly translates as five stones. Traditionally the games was played with black and white stones on a grid. The winner was the first person to get five colours in a row, either horizontally or vertically.

NWHCM : 1969.43.27 – Go Bang, published by Thomas de la Rue and Co, 1877

Gomoku was introduced into Britain in the 19th century, but was re-named as ‘Go Bang’ (Connect 4 is also a variation of Gomoku). As you can see from our game the stones have been replaced by red and black counters, but the same principle applies.

There have actually been 7 Gomoku world championships since 1989, the current champion, Zoltan Laszlo of Hungary was crowned in 2017.

Be sure to visit Strangers’ Hall when it opens for the 2019 season on the 20th February.

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With every Christmas card I write…

By Laura Reeves

With it now less than a fortnight until Christmas day we would like to share you with some festive favourites from our collections. We’re technically breaking the rules here because this blog is supposed to celebrate our stored collections and these objects are currently on display at Strangers’ Hall. However, they are usually in storage so bear with us.

Santa Case

In this display case you will find a selection of Christmas cards, and a Christmas children’s book – but did you know the history of Christmas cards and children’s books?


It was not until the 19th century that greetings cards became popular. It was during this time that there was a ‘communication revolution’ – printing methods were improving, new railway systems were being built and reformed public postal services all contributed to a fast and efficient movement of greetings cards.

The custom of sending Christmas cards started in Britain in the 1840s, and by the 1860s cards were being produced in large numbers. They could be posted in an unsealed envelope for one half-penny, which was half the price of an ordinary letter.



Modern children’s literature began to emerge in the mid-19th century. Much like Christmas cards, children’s books grew in popularity and availability as printing techniques improved, but also the rise in literacy rates created a demand for children’s literature. By the end of the Victorian era, children’s books were seen as an independent genre, featuring colour, illustrations and imaginative story lines. The book in this display ‘Jolly St. Nick’ is a picture book published by the McLoughlin Brothers – a New York based firm who specialised in producing affordable and colourful illustrative children’s books.

And there you have it, a brief history of some Christmassy collections. Happy Christmas and a happy new year!

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