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.

Follow us on Twitter @NMSCollMan


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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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A perfectly packed first aid kit

by Laura Reeves

My favourite thing about working with collections is that you never quite know what objects you will come across, and sometimes an object really strikes you as something special. Whilst accessioning donations at the Museum of Norwich, I was lucky enough to have one of those WOW moments.

One of our donations was an Air Raid Warden’s first aid kit.

The first aid kit contained 27 different pieces and a Warden’s Report Form. This object wowed me for two reasons. Firstly, I have been working in Collections Management for 7 months now and in that time I have built up a strong adoration for a nicely packed box, and this first aid kit is a fine example of efficient use of space. Secondly, my Great Grandpa was an Air Raid Warden in the Midlands and I’ve never known much about his role, and this box uncovers some details about Air Raid Wardens’ work.

ARP wardens did an awful lot more than enforce the Blackout and issue gas masks. Wardens had posts set up in purpose built facilities or they would use houses, shops or other offices – each post would then be split into sectors, and three to six wardens would be responsible for each sector. In these sectors wardens would sound air raid sirens, marshal people into the shelters and watch out for any bombs falling in their sector. This work would be carried out during air raids and was therefore very dangerous as they would be at risk from bombs, shrapnel and falling masonry.

ARP wardens had to be local to their sector, because they needed to know a huge amount of detail about the people living there. Wardens needed to know how many people lived in each house, where they all slept and what their air raid precautions were, so should the worst happen, they would know who to look for in amongst the rubble and where they were most likely to be. Wardens would always be first on scene. They were required to administer first aid for minor casualties, put out small fires and organise the emergency response.

First aid kits like these were owned by air raid wardens, but also families during the war as advised by the Home Office. They were designed to help people cope with injuries before ambulances were able to arrive, they contained bandages, safety pins, tweezers, iodine and an array of burn dressings. There was a variety of these kits available, and many were issued by “Boots”. Each bandage is labelled with clear instructions on how to treat patients.

This kit was donated alongside a Wardens Report Form, these were used to feedback information to their posts, and they were vital for saving lives and protecting important buildings from damage. This form provides details of an air raid that took place on 12th August 1944 on the Cromer Road and Reepham Road junction. The attack took place at 3:37am and claimed one casualty who died from shock.


This donation was a real privilege to document, it demonstrates the power of museum collections to open up opportunities for conversations and personal discovery. Everyone has a story to tell and museums have an important role in protecting these for the future.

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How to Accession an Object

By Wayne Kett

Last week a few of us from Collections Management joined forces with one of our social history Curators and a couple of volunteers to accession into our collection a variety of recent donations to the Museum of Norwich.

These included a first aid kit used by air raid wardens in Norwich during World War Two, four copies of a fanzine about the alternative music scene in Norwich during the early 1980s called the Blue Blanket and a couple of boxes of crackers made in Norwich by Tom Smith crackers.


One of the objects accessioned last week – NWHCM : 2016.386.2 (Childs boot made by Norvic Shoes)

Do watch this space because there will be a future blog about at least one of the objects mentioned above. But for this blog I thought I would explain the process by which we accession an object into our collection.

The first thing to say is that all of our museums have very strict collecting policies and as such will only accept objects that fall within the scope of their policy. Even when objects are appropriate for a particular collection we may still decline the object if we have duplicates in the collection, if it’s in poor condition or if we have any doubts about its provenance. These decisions are all expertly made by our curatorial staff.

Once an object has been accepted it is essential we diligently complete various documentation tasks that help to ensure we can properly manage the object for the long-term.

Step one is to assign each object with an accession number, this is a unique number that allows us to identify the object among the many hundreds of thousands in our collection.


Another recent donation – A UEA gig ticket from 1977, given the accession number – NWHCM : 2016.378

Step two is to mark the object with its accession number so wherever it goes in the future it can be matched to its documentation. We use various different methods to mark objects, in the case of the gig ticket above, I can simply mark it discreetly on the back in pencil.

Step three is to create an entire object record in our object database called Modes. This records information such as the object name, a brief description, measurements, an image, acquisition, association and production details and its location. Some of this information is gathered from the entry form we ask all donors to complete.


The top section of the Modes record for the gig ticket.

Finally, a basic record of the acquisition will be added to our accession register. This is a paper record of all acquisitions. In the case of our Norwich museums, an accession register has been maintained since Norwich Museums were founded in 1825. So in the event of a Zombie apocalypse and the subsequent loss of all IT systems we would retain a paper record of everything in our vast collection of objects.


A page from the 1845 accession register, they are thankfully no longer hand written.

Why not take the opportunity to explore our collections for yourself. Many of our collections are available to search on our collections online website

Or for more insights into Collections Management you can follow us on Twitter @NMSCollMan

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The New Game of Virtue Rewarded and Vice Punished

By Wayne Kett

In the year 1818 parents wishing to ensure their children grew into virtuous adults and free from vice, were given a new tool, in the form of a board game. To give it, its full name: The New Game of Virtue Rewarded and Vice Punished, For the Amusement of Youth of Both Sexes, was a game invented by Thomas Newton and published by William Darton. It sought in the words of its inventor to ‘promote the progressive improvement of the juvenile mind and to deter them from pursuing the dangerous paths of vice.


NWHCM : 1956.133.21: The New Game of Virtue Rewarded and Vice Punished for the Amusement of Youth of Both Sexes

The game is laid out as a spiral of circular pictures each numbered and given a title, either a vice such as ‘anger’ or ‘sloth’ or a virtue such as ‘temperance’ or ‘faith’. The game was played with a teetotum which was an early form of dice. Interestingly the teetotum was chosen as dice were associated with gambling which was obviously seen as a vice.


NWHCM : 1975.390.10: Pair of Teetotum from Strangers’ Hall collection

The game commences on the House of Correction square and ends with the winner reaching the 33rd and final square ‘Virtue’. There are however pitfalls along the way, for instance if you have the misfortune of landing on square 17 ‘carelessness’ your punishment is to return to square 2 ‘prudence’. Virtuous behaviour is rewarded as the pious (square 24) are rewarded with a jump up to temperance (square 31).


Square 1, the House of Correction. A place to be avoided.

What interests me about the game is what it tells us about how attitudes to good and bad or vice and virtue have changed in the 200 years since the game was published. Much of what the game has to teach is compatible with modern notions of vice and virtue. We all surely agree that truth and friendship are to be admired whilst hypocrisy and malice are to be disapproved of.

However there are some notable differences, luxury for example is presented as a sin. Do we still consider luxury a sin in the 21st century or is it something to aspire to? Regardless of your answer to this question, one thing is certain – even those of modest means enjoy luxuries in our lives that our 19th century counterparts could only dream of.


Luxury, depicted as a well fed man enjoying a large feast.

Whether the game was successful in achieving its intended aims is uncertain. I do think there is a certain irony in using a game of chance to teach children about the importance of choosing the correct path in life. So much of life is purely down to chance and the path we end up on does sometimes feel like it was decided by the throw of a dice or the spin of a teetotum.


This game forms part of Strangers’ Hall stored collections. Visit the Strangers’ Hall website for more information about this fantastic museum.

Visit our Collections website for a closer look at our stored collections:

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