Thursday, July 23, 2020

Edward Burne-Jones: Stained Glass Master

Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) was arguably the most eminent artist of the Victorian period, having mastered various art forms. He particularly excelled as a stained-glass maker; his watercolour of Lot and his Daughters (1874), from our collection, is a window design that exemplifies his masterful and refreshing approach to stained glass art. 

Born in 1833, Burne-Jones had a comfortable upbringing, but was, in many ways, a deprived child. Having lost his mother at just six days old, he was raised in an isolated religious household by his melancholic father and an unstimulating housekeeper. Seeking solace from his bleak childhood, a young Burne-Jones would immerse himself in the arts in his free time, particularly drawing. As a young adult, he was destined to be a priest. However, in 1855, he abandoned his Theology degree at the University of Oxford to pursue a career in art.

Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), Cupid delivering Psyche, c. 1867
© Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery 

Initially, Burne-Jones focused solely on painting, inspired heavily by the artistic philosophy of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He continued to paint for the rest of his life, becoming one of the most celebrated painters of the Brotherhood (our collection’s Cupid delivering Psyche is a fine example of his Pre-Raphaelite work). But in 1861 he expanded his repertoire to more artisanal practices, notably succeeding with his stained-glass work. He and close friend William Morris founded Morris & Co., a company that manufactured furniture, jewellery and stained glass, amongst other decorative arts. He did this for two main reasons. It was common practice for artists of his time to pursue interdisciplinary careers and master several crafts. Secondly, and more practically, it provided him with a steadier income than his paintings, which, though popular, could not generate a consistent income for a young artist yet to firmly establish his name in the industry. The artists at Morris & Co. proved to be fundamental in the Arts and Crafts movement, which sought to inject decorative and aesthetic richness into a Victorian society that they considered to be over-industrial and drab. 

Stained glass windows were highly sought after in Victorian times. This was because Gothic Revivalism became the leading style of church architecture in the wake of the Church of England’s 1833 Oxford Movement. The movement’s leaders felt that the Church’s rituals were devoid of grace, and, therefore, encouraged a return to the traditional Catholic style of worship; a visually opulent, public ritual centred around the Eucharist. Stained glass was thus crucial to Gothic Revival architects, who were, from then on, more often tasked with recreating the awe-inspiring, icon-littered settings of Medieval masses.

Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), Lot and his Daughters, 1874
© Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery 

The demand for stained glass in the 1870s certainly shows in Burne-Jones’ artistic output; between 1872 and 1876, he produced 270 cartoons for stained glass designs. In this design for the biblical story of Lot and his Daughters, Lot, who lives in the sinful city of Sodom, is warned by angels that God is going to burn the city down, and so flees with his wife and two daughters. As they escape, the angels tell the family to not look back at the city. This, however, is ignored by Lot’s wife, who consequently gets turned into a pillar of salt. 

The scene’s narrative enables Burne-Jones to fully demonstrate his skill as a stained-glass designer. Decorative art historian Alan Crawford says that Burne-Jones’ figures are either ‘dancing or statuesque’. Lot’s wife is undoubtedly exemplary of the latter, depicted like a classical sculpture. She stands in contrapposto, a technique very popular with classical sculptors to make their figure stand with their weight on one side to create a natural, slight s-shaped twist in their pose. And, while Lot and his daughters are not exactly ‘dancing’, they are certainly captured in a moment of dramatic movement. 

Burne-Jones was renowned for his drawing of drapery. This is evident in his use of another classical technique; modelling lines. These are the lines formed from grooves in the drapery that give depth and definition to a figure. They are used expertly by Burne-Jones to show the tightening of the drapery around the knees of his figures. This reveals the contrapposto stance of the wife, and the bending knees of Lot and the daughters to emphasise their hasty escape from Sodom. It is no coincidence that Burne-Jones was painting such dramatized, classicised figures in 1874. Three years prior he visited Italy, where he spent hours on his back in the Sistine Chapel. Using an opera glass, he meticulously studied Michelangelo’s figures. 

Designing and making stained glass in the 19th century was a relatively straightforward process. While Medieval stained-glass makers had to piece together fragments of coloured glass between thin strips of lead in a mosaic-like fashion, advances in technology meant that large glass panels could now simply be painted with coloured enamel. This allowed Burne-Jones to use glass like a canvas, and easily implement his painterly techniques into his designs.

Lot and his Daughters was never realised. It was a design for a Morris & Co. window in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Kolkata, to commemorate Lord Mayo, Viceroy of India, who was assassinated in 1872. In the completed window, however, are examples of how Burne-Jones was able to translate the above-mentioned techniques from his highly sophisticated designs into their intended material.

Written by Tom MacKinnon, Curatorial Volunteer

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Three Glittering Bowls

When you next visit The Higgins Bedford, put a little time aside to pop into The Settlement Gallery to stroll round and explore our local archaeology.

Our story begins with a very brief look at the geology of the area and moves swiftly into the Prehistoric period with bones of long gone Woolly Mammoths, Rhinoceroses’ and Cave Bears. The displays continue in chronological order and end with the siege of Bedford Castle and the beginnings of the medieval town.

About half way through your journey your eye will be caught by 3 large glittering copper alloy bowls. The bowls were found buried together in a deep pit in 1856 by workmen building the railway line near Sandy.

The bowls, measuring between 7cm and 11cm high and 23 cm and 31 cm in diameter, are very thin, about 2m thick and they are very lightweight. All three bowls are plain and undecorated apart from simple fluting around the rim edge. Each bowl would have been made by a skilful craftsman beating the shape out of a single sheet of copper alloy.

The bowls are Roman in date and would have originally formed part of a table service belonging to a wealthy household, probably a family living and working in the busy town of Sandy.

Quite why this nest of luxury metal bowls came to be buried near Sandy, we will never know. The most likely explanation could be related to the upheaval and the crumbling of the Roman administration in the province of Britannia, as the Roman Empire went into decline in the late 4th to early 5th century AD.

This transition would have affected all levels of society and many people would have faced an uncertain future. It is quite possible that the owners of the bowls fearing for their future decided to deliberately bury these valuable items to safe guard them until they could return at a later time to dig them up.

Written by Liz Pieksma, Keeper of Archaeology

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Bedfordshire Breweries - Thomas Jarvis & Co., Phoenix Brewery

Thomas Jarvis was born in 1803 at Eaton Socon. He moved to Bedford and married Ann Wainright in July 1826 at St. Paul’s Church. Their first and only child was Samuel Wainright Jarvis, born in February 1828. Sadly, Ann died aged just 44 years old on 31st December 1843.

By 1841, Thomas Jarvis had set up his brewery in Gwyn Street. At that time, there were eight breweries in Bedford and the brewing industry was second only to the cotton industry in the country. Weak or “small” beer was cheaper and safer to drink than water and both adults and children drank beer in preference to water.

Following the death of his first wife Ann, Thomas married Eliza Page on 30th July 1844 at St. Peter’s Church, Bedford. Eliza was from Gloucestershire and was 17 years younger than Thomas. Before Eliza married she had lived at the Moravian Girls College, 34 St. Peter’s Street, Bedford. The Moravian College was founded in 1801 and closed in 1911. Until the arrival of the Harpur Trust Girls School in 1882 it was the best girls school in the local area.
Jarvis and Co. Ginger Beer Bottle, BEDFM 2008.42.303, Chrystal Collection

By 1851 Thomas was living at 185 Gwyn Street with Eliza and their three children, Lewis, Robert, and, Mary Ann. They went on to have five more children, three girls, and two boys. Sadly, two of their daughters died in infancy. 

Jarvis and Co. ‘Old Rum’ Bottle, with Phoenix Brewery logo at top of label, BEDFM 2008.42.173, Chrystal Collection.

Over the years, the brewery went from strength to strength, so in 1866 Thomas expanded operations and moved to Midland Road to build a larger brewery. He called it the ‘Phoenix Brewery’, and he moved next door. Four years later, he was employing six men, and trading as Thomas Jarvis & Co., Brewers, Wine and Spirit Merchants

Jarvis and Co. Beer Bottle of green glass, BEDFM 2008.42.251, Chrystal Collection

Thomas was the victim of theft by one of his servant’s, Emma Green, who had been employed by him for about ten weeks. On Monday 31st May 1869, Emma Green appeared before the Borough Petty Sessions Court. The Bedfordshire Times on Saturday 5th June 1869, reported;
“Emma Green, aged about 21, a domestic servant, lately in the employ of Mr. Thomas Jarvis, brewer, was charged with stealing a cheque belonging to her late master, on the 26th May, and pleaded guilty. She was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment with hard labour. It appeared that the girl presented a cheque, drawn for £5, at Messrs Barnard’s Bank, on the 26th May., … an investigation took place at the bank, and Mr. Alger, chief clerk, discovered that the cheque thus presented belonged to the cheque book held by Mr. Jarvis … it was ascertained that five cheques had been taken away. The book had been left out of the bureau on one occasion … and on another occasion, the lock of the bureau had been forced. With many tears, Emma Green said she was very sorry she did not think what she was doing at the time. She did not take more than one cheque.”
Emma Green had lived with her parents and three siblings at Maldons Yard, Bedford. Her time in prison appeared to have taught her a lesson. Emma was able to turn her life around after her release from prison, she moved to Luton where she worked as a cook for a solicitor and his family.

The White Horse Inn, Midland Road, 1928, Lantern Slide by Walter N Henman, associated with Jarvis and Co. just before the pub was demolished to build Marks and Spencers on that site in 1929, BEDFM 1974.27.138

On the 16th July 1873, following the death of Bingham Newland of Newland and Nash brewers, Thomas Jarvis purchased St. Paul’s Brewery and 35 public houses for the sum of £34,200. He merged it with his Phoenix Brewery. In 1876 he sold the St. Paul’s brewery site to the Harpur Trust to extend its Grammar School. In 1883 Thomas retired and his three sons, Lewis, Robert, and Walter ran the brewery, trading as Jarvis & Company. On the 14th October 1886, Thomas died aged 83 years. He is buried in the graveyard behind the Moravian Chapel at St. Peter’s Street, Bedford. Lewis, Thomas’s eldest son, married Ada Maud Dawson on the 5th October 1876. They moved in to ‘Barley Craft’ at Sharnbrook in Bedfordshire and all their eleven children were born there.

Jarvis and Co. Beer Bottle, clear glass, BEDFM 2008.42.249, Chrystal Collection

Lewis retired on 13th May 1897. His brothers Robert and Walter then ran the firm of Jarvis & Co. On the 9th February 1912, Robert died aged 64 at his home Castle Lodge, Castle Hill, Bedford. Walter Jarvis was the last surviving partner of the firm and spent much of his time in the business. Walter died aged 58 years in 1915.

Jarvis and Co. Codd Bottle, BEDFM 2008.42.160, Chrystal Collection

In 1917, Charles Wells purchased the Phoenix Brewery for the sum of £79,000. It came with two maltings and 69 pubs and off-licences. In 1918, brewing ceased. 


Written by Lydia Saul, Keeper of Social History

Friday, July 3, 2020

Six Designing Women

Today I wanted to write about some of the female artists and craftspeople in the Design Gallery. There are so many reasons why the work of women is harder to find in a museum setting whilst that of men is prevalent. Women’s art has historically been seen as ‘low’ art, domestic and incomparable to the fine art that men produced. There is nothing ‘low’ about the women’s art in this blog, as May Morris, one of the women I have included said, ‘I’m a remarkable woman — always was, though none of you seemed to think so.’

Textile Designer May Morris (1862-1938)

May was an important figure in the Arts and Crafts movement as a designer and maker. She ran Morris & Co.’s embroidery department and was instrumental in making embroidery be seen as a serious art form rather than a domestic pastime. She was also passionate about gender equality founding the Women’s Guild of Arts after seeing the lack of support for female artists. 

Screen with embroidery designed by May Morris about 1890 and made by Morris & Co.

Enameller Mary Beilby (1749-1797)

Mary was from a talented family of enamellers who are credited with introducing enamel painting on glass to England. At just 13 she joined her brother’s Newcastle workshop where she decorated drinking glasses with beautiful enamel decoration. It is not always easy to recognise Mary’s contribution as glasses are often signed with just the Beilby surname. 

Goblet with enamelling by Mary Beilby 1765-1770 

Silversmiths Hester (about 1708-1794) and Ann Bateman (1748-about 1812)

Hester ran one of the most famous family silversmiths in London which was known for its beautifully made, simply decorated, graceful tableware. She was from a poor background and had no formal education; in 1760 when she registered as a silversmith she was unable to sign her own name. Over the next 30 years she built an incredibly successful business which fully embraced new technologies.

Silver tea caddy made in 1782 by Hester Bateman

When Hester retired her family continued the business. Her daughter-in-law Ann (1748–1813) became a successful silversmith in her own right, registering her first mark in 1791 after the death of her husband Jonathan. She later went into partnership with Jonathan’s brother Peter, and together they made beautiful pieces in the popular neoclassical style.

Silver jug made in 1794 by Ann and Peter Bateman (1740-1825)

Decorator Hannah Barlow (1851-1916)

Hannah was the first female artist to be employed by Doulton’s Lambeth pottery as a decorator. She specialised in animals and countryside scenes, decorating up to 20 pots a day. Her work is easily identifiable not just by its quality, but also by her initials as all of Doulton’s artists were encouraged to mark their work.

Vase decorated by Hannah Barlow in 1886 and made by Doulton

Designer and Decorator Eliza Simmance (1873-1928)

Eliza started at Doulton a couple of years after Hannah in 1873 and worked for the company for 55 years. By the 1880s, she had a staff of artists working to produce her beautiful and varied designs which ranged from Art Nouveau to Victorian Gothic. 

Vase designed by Eliza Simmance about 1873-1880 and made by Doulton

You can find these objects and more in the Design Gallery when we're able to have visitors again.

Written by Victoria Partridge, Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Apulian red-figured Amphora

In the collections, there is a large and colourful ancient vase. Recently we decided to take this vase out of the store and put it on display in the Collectors Gallery. You may remember a blog from a few months ago, The Volunteers biggest nightmare? written by Derek Niemann.

Once the vase was safely locked in the case we stood back and began to ponder what story was being told with the two beautifully painted scenes on each side of the vase.

Other questions flooded in such as: How old is the vase? Where was it made? Who owned it?

The answers as it turns out were more exciting and complex than we thought.

The vessel is actually a wheel-made red-figured amphora (a jug with two handles and a narrow neck) and can be dated to 350 BCE.

Large painted vessels of this type are associated with Greek potters who moved from their homeland in the 8th century BCE to set up their own specialist pottery workshops in Apulia, specifically in the town of Taras located in the “Heel” of southern Italy. The settlement of Taras was a thriving port during the Greek and Roman empires, and still is today.

The painted scenes, one on each side of the amphora, illustrate two types of funeral. The scene on side 1 shows a grand temple-like structure with a woman walking into the tomb, carrying a wreath, a white sash and a box. The woman is symbolically painted in white to tell us that she has died and is crossing from our world into the next. She has two female mourners outside, holding ritual bucket-like vessels and torches, who watch over her final journey.

The scene on the other side shows a more simple style of funeral ceremony. Two male mourners face each other across a simple box-shaped tomb. The tomb has a zigzag decoration at the top with a black sash tied around the middle.

The one answer we will never know is who owned this ancient amphora. Nevertheless, we now know far more about this wonderful pottery vessel than we did before.

The Higgins Bedford thanks Alan Johnston, Emeritus Reader in Classical Archaeology at University College London, for his identification and generous advice on the story behind this Apulian red figure amphora. 

Written by Liz Pieksma, Keeper of Archaeology

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Get your teeth into this!

The Higgins Bedford is currently closed but when we reopen you can visit the Settlement Gallery to see our collections. In the Settlement Gallery there is a mammoth molar in the case called “Sculpted by Ice” (item no.2). They look amazing – and they are. 

For a start, mammoth molars are amongst the largest grinding teeth of any animal ever, averaging at around 15 cm in length. They needed them, for chewing the coarse grass and sedges that they lived on. It's said that mammoth teeth are as tough as any rock as more have survived throughout the years compared to their bones.

Did you know that, like us, mammoths had milk teeth and adult teeth? But unlike us, they had six sets in their lives. Once a tooth was worn down from grinding food, new molars grew from the back of the jaw, and moved forward to replace worn-out ones - just like modern elephants. This process continued until the sixth set was in place and was used for the rest of the mammoth's life. There were no more teeth to replace the sixth set once it was worn down which meant that mammoths struggled to grind down and eat their food.

We have molars, incisors and canine teeth. Mammoths didn’t have canines, and they only had four molars at a time, two at the top, two at the bottom. They had two incisors which grew throughout their lives – their tusks. You can read about Mammoth tusks in our previous post HERE.

Written by Sarah, Collections Volunteer.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Why has someone written on the exhibits?

Look closely at almost any object on display in any museum and you may find some numbers and letters written upon it, usually discretely on the least important area of the artefact. This is the museum’s Accession Number, a reference identification given to the object when it was accepted into the museum’s collection.

Every museum maintains an Accessions Register which is a catalogue of each object that it holds. This contains vital information such as a description of the item, where it originated, when it was made, how it was acquired, from whom and when, plus, very importantly, its Accession Number, a unique identification reference to that particular object.

This number is also physically attached in some way to the object so that its provenance can always be determined via the Accessions Register. There are standard methods for doing this and for the archaeological artefacts that I’ve been working with it is usually written directly onto the object, or else has a label attached to it. If you’d like to read more about this topic the Collections Trust provides guidance HERE.

The Collections Trust (formerly the Museum Documentation Association) also maintains a list of MDA Codes, five-letter codes uniquely identifying each museum. Prior to it merging with the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery in 2005, and their later rebranding in 2013 as The Higgins, Bedford Museum was a separate organization and had its own MDA code, BEDFM, so all of its collection’s accession numbers begin with this code.

Bedford Museum’s collection was founded upon that formed by Bedford Modern School (BMS) and its accession numbering scheme was a simple incrementing number, so these became BEDFM 1 to BEDFM 13,203. At this point, in 1963, Bedford Museum adopted a different numbering scheme, still in use today, based upon the year of accession followed by an incrementing number restarting from 1 each year, so, for example, BEDFM 1989.23 was the 23rd object accessioned in 1989.

Below is an example using the original BMS numbering system, number 3691, now referred to as BEDFM 3691. This late Iron Age (1st century BCE) wheel thrown pottery bowl was collected by Reverend P.G. Langdon (teacher and honorary curator at BMS) from Kempston in 1913 and subsequently donated to the BMS collection. This is not how objects would be marked these days. The number would now be discretely written on the base and the remaining information in the Accessions Register.

The following image shows the front and rear of a bronze Roman 4th century CE nail cleaner found at Farndish and added to Bedford Museum’s collection in 1989 using the current numbering system as BEDFM 1989.23.

Having worked on a museum’s collection for a while it has affected how I look at objects in other museums’ collections and I now have fun figuring out what numbering systems they have used when I visit or look at their collections online. I sometimes even look at the objects(!)

Written by Keith Balmer, Collections Volunteer

Friday, May 15, 2020

Winning the War in the Fields - The Contribution of the Women’s Land Army during WWII

As we see people across the country growing their own fruit and vegetables during lockdown, and farmers struggling to be able to harvest the food in their fields, we are reminded of the women who worked tirelessly on the nation’s farmlands and market gardens to produce food during a time of rationing. 

Before the Second World War, Britain imported two thirds of the country's food by ship. When the war started in September 1939, shipping was attacked by enemy submarines and warships and cargo ships were requisitioned for war materials rather than food transportation. This resulted in food shortages, rationing of foods and materials, and increased necessity of self-sufficiency in food production.

Rita Woodward demonstrating her driving skills on Clophill Farm, 25 March 1941, Bedfordshire Archives, (Bedfordshire Times Archive), Ref: BTNeg1049/2

The first Women's Land Army was recruited as a civilian labour force during the First World War. Women were recruited to help farmers, replacing thousands of male farm workers who had joined the armed forces. Traditionally women's work on farms was limited to dairy work, looking after hens and egg production, caring for young animals and occasional seasonal harvesting work. Now women aged 18 and over were invited to do paid general work for local farmers. 

Take-up by farmers was slow because of conservative attitudes to the role of working women. It was difficult to persuade women to take on low-status work on the land. During the First World War, 23,000 women across the nation trained up and took on farm work, with 16,000 'land girls' working around the country. In Bedfordshire, 550 Land Girls worked for 90 farmers.

 Women’s Land Army Recruitment Parade, Bedford, 1 June 1940, Bedfordshire Archives, (Bedfordshire Times Archive), Ref: Z50/13/312

The Land Army was reinstated at the start of the Second World War, anticipating the need to recruit women to assist with farming and food production for soldiers abroad and the civilian population at home. Lady Denman, director of the Land Army, set up county committees. The WLA set up accommodation in the neighbourhood of farms for the land girls. Young women were expected to take over from experienced male farm workers who were called up into the armed forces, or left for better-paid war work elsewhere.

The Bedfordshire county WLA headquarters was at St. Paul's Square, later moving to Harpur Street in June 1942 where it remained until November 1949. 

First intake of Milton Ernest hostel land girls, Harpur Street, Bedford.
(Bedfordshire Times Archive), Bedfordshire Archives, Ref: BTNeg1290B

Recruitment locally was slow and only a handful of volunteers signed up, 24 were serving by end of December 1939, 53 by December 1940 and 140 by December 1941. The land girls were on minimum pay for a 50 hour working week in summer and 48 hours in winter. Pay was 28 shillings (£1.40p) per week, with 14 shillings (70p) deducted for board and lodging. This was less than half the national average for unskilled labour in other occupations and 10 shillings (50p) a week less than male agricultural workers. 

As a result of conscription in November 1941, Bedfordshire WLA had 506 land girls by December 1942, 792 by mid-1943 and 1006 in December 1943. 

Land girls dining at the new Milton Ernest hostel, 1942, (Bedfordshire Times Archive), courtesy of Stuart Antrobus, Source: B Nichols, Ref:BTNeg1315/1315B

From 1942 increasing numbers of women were being employed directly by Bedfordshire "War Ag" (Bedfordshire War Agricultural Executive Committee, or WAEC) and housed in hostels around the county. 

They were transported daily to surrounding farms, according to the seasonal needs of the farmers. Large numbers of recruits were from London, Essex and the northern counties of England (especially Yorkshire mill towns}.

There were seventeen residential hostels housing large groups of Land Girls and accommodation ranged from 16 in a farmhouse to 40 in huts and, exceptionally, to 100 in a large country mansion in Cople. Each hostel was encouraged to be self-sufficient in growing its own vegetables.

40 land girls were giving accommodation at the new Milton Ernest hostel, 1942, courtesy of Stuart Antrobus, Source: B Nichols. Ref:BTNeg1315/1315B

Hostel girls benefited from the company and support of other land girls both when working and during their time off, but life could be lonely and isolated for single land girls working on private farms.

Inter-hostel rivalry, Sharnbrook House sports day, July 1945, Bedfordshire Archives, (Bedfordshire Times Archive), Ref: BTNeg2141

There were three training centres at Luton Hoo, Toddington Park and Ravensden. Some Land Girls attended 4 weeks of induction training in milking, arable work and animal husbandry before being sent to work. 

Many land girls had to train on the job, but there were opportunities later to learn to drive tractors or do specialist training and pass tests to achieve proficiency certificates.

Farmers were set almost impossible challenges during the war. Bedfordshire War Ag. (Beds WAEC) set Bedfordshire farmers a target of 10,000 new acres to be ploughed up during 1940. Amazingly, they achieved 17,000 new acres of arable land.

Land Girls working on a haystack speaking to passing schoolboys at Great Barford, 13 May 1941, Bedfordshire Archives, (Bedfordshire Times Archive), Ref: BTNeg1081/1

Reclamation of previously uncultivated land was helped by the introduction of caterpillar tractors and other agricultural machinery from America, thanks to the Lend-Lease arrangement. Bedfordshire War Ag. was able to loan machinery to farmers who could not afford to buy their own and increasingly, land girls became expert mechanics on the farm. 

At the beginning of the war, two thirds of Britain's food was imported but by the end of the war, two thirds of Britain’s food was produced at home. Bedfordshire's land girls played a vital role in increasing self-sufficiency during the war. 

Land Girls in Bedford High Street, V E Day, 8 May 1945 (Bedfordshire Times Archive) Ref:

Their wartime contribution was finally recognised in 2007/2008 when the Government created a Veterans Badge which could be applied for by any surviving Land Girls (and Lumber Jills of the Women's Timber Corps) and events were arranged in every county to celebrate their wartime efforts.

I will finish with a poem from Hilda Gibson, who was a Land Girl and wrote about what it meant to her to finally receive recognition to her contribution to the war:

We're still standing

Rally round the badge girls,
Welcome it with pride.
Remember those no longer
Walking by our side.
Eighty thousand volunteers 
Of independent mind.
No marching, drilling or salutes,
Our roles were well defined.
Hard labour was our remit,
Each working hour to fill.
Livestock, crops and woodland 
We nurtured with a will.
We found fresh fields and pastures new 
In unfamiliar places.
Young sons of toil called up to arms,
Each man a girl replaces.
Frost bitten toes and fingers,
But wait! We soon will find 
As Shelley wrote: "If winter comes, 
Can spring be far behind?"
Our joy was summer sunshine 
And red gold autumn days
When leaves fell soft as snowflakes
And stirred the smoky haze.
As years roll by we live our lives,
The girls that time forgot.
We hoped one day someone would say: 
"You did well, thanks a lot".
Now better late then never,
At last we hear the call,
The Cinderella army 
Is going to the ball.

By Hilda Gibson, Land Girl

There are very few Land Girls still, alive. Zeita Hole nee Trott, who lives in Bedford, is one of them. Here are some links to her story from the BBC VE Day commemorations:

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Stuart Antrobus for the information and images provided in his publication ‘We wouldn’t have missed it for the world, The Womens Land Army in Bedfordshire 1939 – 1950’, and Bedfordshire Archives for the use of their archive images. The sound clips are taken from the BBC Peoples War archive for which I would like to acknowledge the work of Ann Hagen and Jenny Ford.

Written by Lydia Saul, Keeper of Social History

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Terrific Tuskers

Mammoth tusks are remarkable – you can see part of one in the Settlement gallery, in the “landscape and people” case (when we reopen). 

They are incisor teeth that grow from sockets in the upper jaw (there were no incisors on the lower jaw). Mammoths only had one adult set, although they had five adult sets of molars. The tusks could grow to incredible sizes. The longest ever recorded was 4.2m long and weighed a staggering 91kg! This came from a male, but it seems that females had them too. About a quarter of the length was in the socket.

Mammoth tusks are bigger than those of modern elephants, and much more curved. They used them for similar tasks – manipulating things, foraging, and of course, fighting, but perhaps also to sweep snow off the grass they ate. Modern elephants are right or left “tusked” (in the same way as we are with our hands), and mammoths may have been too. So one tusk was often more worn than the other.

And if you want to know how old a mammoth was when it died, you can count the rings inside the tusk – just like you can do with a tree! This is because the tusks continued to grow throughout the animal’s life. 

Written by Sarah, Collections Volunteer.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Henry Moore – Illustration to ‘The Rescue’

Of Henry Moore’s work depicting the Second World War, his scenes of Londoner’s sheltering in Underground stations are probably the best known, but there is another series, one which has a more subtle nod to the war effort.

In 1944 he was commissioned to produce six illustrations for the published version of The Rescue, a radio play by Edward Sackville-West based on the Greek poet Homer’s Odyssey. It was the first time Moore had illustrated a text.

Over two evenings from Thursday 25th November 1943 the BBC broadcast The Rescue. The story of Odysseus’ ten year battle to return home after the Trojan War is one of oldest poems in Western literature but Sackville-West deliberately reinterpreted it to resonate with current events. At the time of its broadcast, Greece had suffered over two years of occupation by German and Italian forces. The economy had been crippled and thousands had died in a country wide famine.

Henry Moore (1898-1986) Penelope and her Suitors, The Odyssey, 1944
Reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation
The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Bedford Collection

The Rescue focussed on the last part of the Odyssey. Odysseus, the King of the Greek island of Ithaca has failed to return from The Trojan Wars. His wife Penelope waits for his return but her palace is plagued by suitors, who believing her to be a widow, vie for her hand in marriage. Whilst Penelope thinks of various ways to keep them at bay, they overrun her palace, slaughter her livestock, drink her wine and plot to murder her son. Odysseus, after ten years, finally returns and with the help of his son, Telemachus, kills them all.

Henry Moore (1898-1986) Death of the Suitors, The Odyssey, 1944
Reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation

The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Bedford Collection

Sackville-West‘s parallels with the situation in Europe and the palace in Ithaca were clear. As was his call to arms to those listening to help liberate the lands threatened by the Nazi ‘suitors’.

Moore doesn’t shy away from the gruesomeness of the story. In his Death of the Suitors the walls and floors are covered in red as the suitors lay in various stages of dying. The solid rounded figures show the same influence as his sculpture which he had been prevented from making due to the war. In 1940 his Hampstead studio had suffered bomb damage and he and his wife moved to Perry Green in Hertfordshire, where Moore concentrated on drawing. He still journeyed to London where he found comparisons with his own sculptures and people sleeping under blankets sheltering in the underground. The same dark palette that he used for the shelter scenes is used in the illustrations for The Rescue but instead of wax crayon as a highlight he used chalk, again enhancing the sculptural form of his figures.

Henry Moore (1898-1986) Shelter Scene – Bunks and Sleepers, 1941
© Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Bedford

The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery collection at The Higgins Bedford contains eight drawings by Henry Moore dating from 1935 to 1979. We are also lucky enough to have one of his sculptures, ‘Helmet Head No.1’, from 1950 which you can see HERE on Art UK.

Written by Victoria Partridge, Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art