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Museum Treasures: Roman Sarcophagus
The precise origins of this stone sarcophagus or coffin (currently held in our museum stores) are unknown. It is likely to have been produced in mainland Europe, perhaps in Rome itself, but had found its way into the collections now held by The Potteries Museum by the late 19th century.
The sarcophagus is decorated along one side and at both ends, indicating that it was originally positioned against a wall or in an alcove. It features the central figure of a man flanked by leaves, lion’s heads, cornucopia (horns of plenty) and mythical creatures known as griffins. The sarcophagus is relatively small, suggesting that it could be that of a child or woman – the male figure carved on the side may not, therefore, represent the deceased.
The word sarcophagus literally means ‘flesh eater’ in Greek. The name derives from a belief in the ancient world that it was the stone itself that decomposed or ‘devoured’ the flesh of the body placed within the container. For much of their early history, Romans typically cremated their dead, but by the AD 2nd century burial or interment in sarcophagi was practiced throughout the Empire. This one is known as a ‘lenos’ type, crafted to resemble the trough used to press grapes for wine. Such sarcophagi were popular from the late AD 2nd century.
The imagery on sarcophagi is often symbolic – in this instance the cornucopia may relate to Pluto, the ruler of the underworld and the provider of wealth. Alternatively they may denote Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and merry-making. Both would have offered the deceased the hope of an afterlife filled with pleasure.
Minton Hollins mosaic: The Birth of the Virgin
When the new museum in Hanley opened in 1956, one of the most prominent features was the huge mosaic panel by the firm of Minton Hollins depicting the Birth of the Virgin which was installed, in pride of place on the main staircase.
Since then the museum has had not one, but two, extensions but the panel is still in its original position. Underneath the mosaic is a small brass panel with the inscription “Presented to the Stoke-on-Trent Museums in memory of their father Col. Michael Daintry Hollins DL, of Staffordshire, by J Constance Hollins, Executrix, and her sisters Catherine Gwinilda Hollins and Lucy Blanche Hollins August 22nd 1917“. Thousands of people pass it every year but perhaps one in a hundred people read the inscription and wonder who Colonel Hollins was, and how the panel came to be in the museum.
The panel was originally installed in the old Hanley museum in Pall Mall, having been presented by the daughters of Michael Daintry Hollins, owner of the largest and best-known tile manufactory in Staffordshire: Minton Hollins. When the new museum was erected the panel came too and was built into the staircase wall as a permanent fixture.
The subject is the Birth of the Virgin Mary. It is a copy of one of six mosaics depicting the life of the Virgin in the apse of the basilica church of Santa Maria Trastevere, Rome. The church is one of the oldest in the city, with evidence of a church on the site from the early 3rd century. The mosaics, which were designed by the Roman artist Pietro Cavallini (c.1250-c.1330), date from the 1290s and were commissioned by the Italian Cardinal, Bertoldo Stefaneschi.
The mosaic shows an elaborate bedchamber with St Anne lying in bed while midwives bathe the infant Mary and two servants bring a meal of two loaves of bread on the table, and wine in a jug. Latin texts on the bedframe identify St Anne and the Virgin Mary as “Mother of God”. The longer Latin inscription can be translated as “Creator of mankind, who hast ordained pardon for the fallen, take away the stains of old tarnish from the Silver! Let there be for Thee the chamber where the virgin lies in splendour.”
So how did a copy of a 13th century Italian mosaic come to be made in Stoke-on-Trent and installed in the Hanley Museum?
In the 1860s the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert Museum) was planning a grand new extension. It was to be built of terracotta in the Renaissance style and embellished with sculpture, ironwork, tiling, frescos – and mosaic panels.
Minton Hollins had recently been responsible for the mosaic work on the Royal Albert Hall at Hyde Park and, according to the company, as a result, the Director of the V&A, Sir Henry Cole, had asked Michael Daintry Hollins “whether the firm could produce any mosaic work of sufficient merit to warrant its preservation in the national collection. As an outcome of this question, Col Hollins had this particular mosaic panel prepared, at very great cost, nothing was spared in its production…… It was submitted to the authorities and as a result, Messrs Minton Hollins & Co were requested to put in the panels, which they could now see in the Victoria & Albert Museum.”
The mosaic had then been displayed at Minton Hollins’ London showroom at 50 Conduit Street, Mayfair, where it remained, the property of the Hollins family, until 1917. In that year, Alfred J Caddie, the Curator of Stoke-on-Trent Museums, obtained the panel as a gift to the City. According to Caddie he was travelling to London on business. As he said, “It would be the business of begging or borrowing something no doubt… because one of the duties of the Curator of a provincial museum was to obtain gifts for the museum.”
Travelling in the same railway carriage was John Henry Marlow, the general manager at the Minton Hollins & Co. tile factory. As they were passed Rugby, Marlow, knowing of Caddie’s interest in ceramics, asked him if he had ever seen the mosaic panel displayed in the company’s London showroom. When Caddie replied that he had not, Marlow gave him a long and interesting description of the panel. According to Caddie: “When we had reached Bletchley, I ventured to suggest that it would be very nice if the panel could be presented to our Museum. The look on Mr Marlow’s face for a moment suggested the coolness of my remark – it seemed to do it, at any rate.”
Nonetheless Marlow agreed to help Caddie pursue the idea of the panel being presented to the Stoke Museums. Caddie visited the company showrooms the next day where the manager of the showroom also agreed that the panel would be an appropriate gift to the City – if the Hollins family approved. Later that day, according to Caddie, as he was walking to a lunch appointment with Mr Thomas Twyford, the sanitary ware manufacturer, he “was wondering how he should commence to obtain the panel as a gift for the Museums” when he realised that “ Mr Twyford must know the Hollins family and….mentioned the matter to him… Mr Twyford… became very keen about the idea and he promised to do his best.” Twyford was as good as his word. Within a few days, Caddie had an invitation to call on Miss Hollins and shortly thereafter it was agreed that the panel should be presented to the Museum.
The panel was carefully removed from the London showroom and installed in Hanley Museum. A grand unveiling ceremony was held on 22nd August 1917 with many local worthies in attendance and was fully reported in the local paper.
As almost everyone attending the unveiling had known Col. Hollins, few details of his life were outlined among the many speeches but, over 120 years since his death, the name of his tile company is rather better known than that of the man himself, although he made an important contribution to the industrial, economic and social life of Stoke-on-Trent and the frontage of his factory building still stands.
Michael Daintry Hollins was born in 1815, the fourth son of Thomas Hollins, a Manchester merchant. Hollins qualified as a doctor and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons but never practised. In 1839, at the age of 24, he joined the pottery factory of his maternal uncle, Herbert Minton, and was soon in charge of supervising the manufacturing side of the business. By the early 1840s the production of tiles was becoming an increasingly important part of the Minton company’s output and Hollins became a partner in the new firm of Minton, Hollins & Co., set up solely to produce tiles under the Minton name. Following Herbert Minton’s death in 1858, Hollins and his cousin, Colin Minton Campbell, continued to run the pottery between them until 1868. Following a disagreement between the cousins, Hollins moved tile production to a newly-built factory at Cliffe Vale where production continued until the 1970s.
Hollins was active in local life. He became a Justice of the Peace in 1861 and was Chief Bailiff, (equivalent to a modern mayor) for Stoke-upon-Trent in 1866, as well as serving on Staffordshire County Council for three years and becoming Deputy Lieutenant of Staffordshire. He was chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce for over 20 years and took a leading role in founding the important Staffordshire Potteries Board of Arbitration and Conciliation, serving as President in 1868. One of the causes closest to his heart was the local Volunteer force. He was the first Captain of the Stoke Company in 1859, and subsequently Major of what became the Volunteer Battalion of the 1st Staffordshire Regiment, rising to the position of Colonel, a post he held for 25 years.
Hollins married Elizabeth Mackenzie in 1844 and had nine children. All his sons and one daughter predeceased him. His three unmarried daughters jointly gave the panel to Stoke Museums in memory of their father.
Potty Gardening Club: Dandelion – Friend or Foe?
Dandelions are one of the most successful plants in the world, they seem to grow anywhere! In the cracks of the pavement, in your lawn and flower bed, at the side of the road – in fact anywhere they can set roots down. We are all familiar with dandelion clocks, like the one in my photograph:
It’s the fluffy seed ball that separates into lots of tiny parachutes carried on the wind. If the tiny parachute seeds can land in a small crack a dandelion will grow. Dandelions are in the same plant family as the Daisy and the Sunflower. They are perennials, which means they will survive over winter and grow again. Their long taproots go deep into the ground where they are protected against the winter weather. The roots store food to provide the energy the plants need to sprout in early Spring the next year. It’s the very deep root of the dandelion which can grow up to 1.5 meters deep that make it so difficult for gardeners to pull the plants out of soil. Strangely these deep roots benefit other plants by mining nutrients deep in the soil, bringing them up closer to the surface where other shallower-rooted plants can make use of them. So, before we class the poor old dandelion as a weed let’s take a closer look.
There is a lot to be discovered about the dandelion. Let’s start with the name. If you hold a dandelion leaf horizontally and have a good look or look at the picture below it may resemble a row of teeth . Well it did to someone in the past, who called it the dent-de-lion which is French for ‘lion’s tooth’. And did you know dandelions can be used as a green salad food? Dandelions used to be praised as a food crop. The entire plant, leaves, stems, flowers, and roots are all edible. Dandelion greens contain important vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese so are a good food source. They can be eaten fresh or cooked. The flowers can also be used to make tea, wine and pop. During World War 2, dried, roasted roots were ground up and used to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute.
And that’s not all, yellow dye can be made from the flowers and the roots. Dandelions are an important plant for bees and other pollinators that rely on this early flowering plant when no other flowers are blooming as a source of nectar. The dandelion plant was well known and used by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and the Anglo Saxons. Dandelions were prescribed for every ailment from warts and upset stomach to the plague. How can such a marvellous plant with so many beneficial properties be classed as a weed? What do think? The Dandelion, Friend or Foe, Weed it or Grow?
This week we have two colouring pictures – you can download the first sheet here. We also have this dandelion flower with its sunshine dye removed – why don’t you see if you can put the colour back and make it shine again?
Written by Rob Gagliano, Casual Learning Development Leader and Natural Science Collections Volunteer
Anglo-Saxon Animal Art: Colour and Discover
The Anglo-Saxons used complicated animal patterns to decorate the Staffordshire Hoard. They can sometimes be difficult to understand. This picture shows some of the decoration from the Hoard. Can you spot, in the picture below, some of the parts usually found in Anglo-Saxon animal art?
- Long jaws biting itself or another animal
- Pear shaped thighs
- Clawed feet
- Round oval shaped eyes
We think that some of the animals that the Anglo-Saxons used as decoration had special meanings.
Birds were probably meant to be ravens or eagles. Both of these birds were linked to Odin (King of the Norse gods and the god of wisdom and magic). Eagles might have been used to represent victory like they had to the Romans. The Anglo-Saxons believed birds could communicate with the gods and that they could predict the future.
As well as birds, boars have also been linked with Odin. They might have been used on weapons like in the Hoard for protection. An Anglo-Saxon helmet from Benty Grange in Derbyshire has a boar crest on the top which probably was believed to protect the wearer in battle. The statue of an Anglo-Saxon warrior in the museum foyer has a boar on the crest of his helmet. Boars can also be fierce animals and could have been used on helmets to intimidate the enemy.
Fish were used by the Anglo-Saxons for protection on shields. When the Anglo-Saxons became Christian, they carried on using fish as a Christian symbol. We don’t know exactly which fish they were showing but they might have been pike. Pike are aggressive predators, exactly the kind of qualities you would need going into battle.
Snake like creatures are described in epic poems like Beowulf as fearsome monsters that have to be defeated by the hero. But snakes could also be for protection and healing. Snakes were also used in Christianity as symbols of evil and temptations. In Anglo-Saxon art snakes are used in complicated twisting patterns and knotwork. Some of these are so complicated that it is difficult to see the animal parts. You might be able to spot the same sort of jaws and eyes as on the first picture.
Images used under licence from ADS. Data copyright © Barbican Research Associates, Birmingham City Council, Trustees of the British Museum, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Birmingham Museums Trust unless otherwise stated.
The colouring sheets can be downloaded here:
The Art of the Staffordshire Hoard
Since its discovery in 2009, the decoration of the Staffordshire Hoard has attracted much attention. The remarkable craftsmanship of the Anglo-Saxons produced stunning and intricate designs through casting, filigree (delicate wire work) and garnet cloisonné (cut gemstones separated by strips of gold). The designs in the hoard are typical of Germanic (a diverse group of non-Roman tribes) decoration. They are frequently zoomorphic, that is composed of animal designs. These designs may have had a symbolic function as well as being purely decorative.
The art of the Staffordshire Hoard is predominantly what is known as Anglo-Saxon Style II. This involves animals in fluent, ribbon-like structures, often interlaced. It was rapidly adopted in the late sixth century by powerful elites to display their wealth and identity. The Staffordshire Hoard is possibly one of the best examples of elite Style II metalwork decoration. Spears were the most common weapon in Anglo-Saxon England and so a collection of sword, seax and other weapons fittings such as the Staffordshire Hoard would have belonged to a collection of extremely elite warriors. But how did this style develop and what were its influences?
In many ways, the Anglo-Saxon art of the Staffordshire Hoard takes its ultimate inspiration from Roman art. The earliest Anglo-Saxon settlers in fifth century Britain would have come across Roman culture and objects. There was also contact between the two cultures prior to this. Germanic soldiers fought in the Roman army and Stilicho, the son of a Germanic officer was at one time the most influential man in the Western Roman Empire. So-called ‘barbarian’ tribes would have come across Roman objects and decoration. Roman trade across Europe often included feasting equipment, glassware, weapons and armour. Friezes on many of these types of items included hunting scenes, foliage and human faces. These may have influenced Germanic craftsmen. Late Roman military belt buckles were influential in Anglo-Saxon decorative styles as well as Roman coinage. Visitors to the Staffordshire Hoard gallery at the museum often comment that the helmet reconstruction looks Roman. We do not know for sure that the helmet had a red horse hair crest but it remains a best guess based on the colours that dominate the hoard and other ancient helmets. All other known Anglo-Saxon helmets were inspired by Roman ones. It may be that the Anglo-Saxons deliberately invoked Roman design to portray themselves as the rightful inheritors of Roman Britain. They also made pendants from old Roman coins and the choice of red garnets may have been inspired by Roman military colours.
Saxon Relief Style
The first Germanic art style found in Anglo-Saxon England is the fifth century Saxon Relief Style. This style is heavily influenced by Roman decoration and uses geometrical patterns, classical borders, scrolls and animal elements. The Saxon Relief style came from northern Germany and is typically found in southern England, meaning we have none in the museum collection.
The Quoit Brooch Style
Like the Saxon Relief Style, the Quoit Brooch Style derives from the decoration of late Roman military metalwork. Quoit Brooch Style artefacts are predominantly found in Kent and the wider southern and eastern area of England. This has been linked by some archaeologists to immigrants from Jutland in Denmark, however, this is not necessarily accurate. The decoration uses similar scroll and animal motifs to the Saxon Relief Style.
Style I art was named by the Swedish scholar Bernhard Salin and is sometimes thought of as the first purely Germanic style in England. Style I uses a range of animal and human motifs including elliptical eyes and pear-shaped thighs that are still clearly visible in the Style II art of the Staffordshire Hoard. Style I developed from earlier Germanic artwork and, ultimately the Roman and Quoit Brooch Style decoration seen in England. It began in Scandinavia in the early fifth century and had developed in England by the late fifth century. The style is sometimes called Tiersalat or animal salad because of its fragmented images! In England, Style I art developed a distinctive, anthropomorphic, look. This can be seen in the human mask which is visible in the fragment of a brooch or mount from the museum collection.
Style I art developed some regional variations. Whereas examples from Kent often began to use garnet inlay and in East Anglia spiral ornament dominates, in the Midlands designs are often more crowded and have swirling elements showing their Roman origins. By the late sixth century, the immediate descendant of Style I art had begun to appear in southern England.
As the Style II decoration we see in the hoard developed, the ‘animal salad’ of Style I became a much more flowing, sinuous style of animal decoration. The ribbed bodies of animals became thinner and elongated with beasts interlocking, biting one another with their long jaws. As with Style I, regional styles developed. In East Anglia filigree is rare and elaborate garnet cloisonné is seen. This style influenced the decoration of manuscripts. In Kent, Style II art was more often twisting filigree animals.
Style II animals have the same ribbon-like bodies and pear-shaped legs as in Style I – compare the animals on the seax hilt-plate from the Staffordshire Hoard to the Style I mount from Rutland – but have become more flowing. The decoration on the hilt-plate is similar to later examples on Christian manuscripts like The Book of Durrow.
In other example of Style II art in the hoard, the animals have become even more flowing and abstract to the point they are often difficult to recognise. On the pommel cap below the zoomorphs eyes can be seen at the end of their sinuous bodies in shapes similar to those seen in Style I.
09/12/2017 – 03/06/2018
The Tale of the Broken Sword
They were buried on hills, just within sight of one another. They had spent all their life together, but now they were a distance apart, but forever linked by the landscapes around them.
Sounds romantic right? But we’re not talking about ancient Romeo and Juliet. This blog is actually about a Bronze Age sword that was discovered in surprising circumstances. The wonderful mystery around these fragments makes the sword one of my favourite objects in the museum.
In 1983 a metal detectorist discovered a fragment of a Bronze Age sword on a hilltop at Trentham. Although it was only half a blade, it was still a remarkable 2,900 year-old find. Like many important archaeological discoveries in the area, the sword fragment ended up here at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.
But the story didn’t end there…
Fast forward 13 years. A different metal detectorist, with no connection to the previous one, was scanning over a hilltop in Hanford, around 2 miles from the Trentham findspot. Finding a promising signal, he too discovered a fragment of a Bronze Age sword.
Both fragments were reunited at the museum and, to everyone’s excitement, they fitted together perfectly. Two fragments of the same sword buried on hilltops, 2 miles apart, and discovered by chance 13 years apart. Furthermore, the nature of the break suggested it may have been done deliberately.
One theory for the breaking of this sword might be for recycling – the destruction and burial of objects to later reclaim and recast. However, this doesn’t explain why the two pieces were buried in two different places, or why they were necessarily buried at all.
Is there a clue in the landscape? Both sites are separated by the River Trent, where other Bronze Age artefacts have been recovered further downstream. Furthermore, the Hanford burial site also included a series of springs nearby. Watery places held some sort of ritual or social importance for Bronze Age communities. Metal objects, including what must have been high-status items, were placed into rivers, lakes and bogs, probably as offerings. This is one of the defining practices of the Bronze Age, and continued long after (we still throw coins in fountains and wells today).
So did the proximity to the river influence the chosen burial sites? This still doesn’t explain the breaking of the sword.
One compelling idea is that the sword represents some sort of agreement or promise between two people or social groups. The sword was broken as part of the agreement and a piece kept each interested party as a physical reminder of the bond. Perhaps they were buried once the agreement was completed. The bottom of the blade and tang is still missing, so perhaps there was a third party whose fragment remains hidden?
Another idea frames these swords as objects of power – possibly conferred by their maker or owner. They were certainly high-status objects that only some people had access to. Maybe the destruction of the sword was meant to break its power, and that of its owner?
It’s likely we will never know why this sword came to be buried the way it was. But it’s exactly this mystery, and the incredibly unlikely circumstances of its discovery, that make me like it all the more.
Spitfire Progress – New Year Edition
We begin 2020 with a fresh update on the restoration of Spitfire RW388. The aircraft remains at the workshops of the Medway Aircraft Preservation Society Ltd (MAPSL) as it enters the next phase. Work slowed towards the end of 2019 due to the planned redevelopment of Rocester Airport, which includes an archaeological excavation of both Iron Age and Roman remains! However, there are still a number of areas to report on.
Oil and water pipes from the engine are being cleaned then lacquered to protect them from corrosion. MAPSL are using original schematic diagrams to identify exactly where each pipe needs to positioned. Other small fittings from the engine including clamps, electrical sockets, and other components, are similarly in the process of being cleaned up.
Recent efforts have concentrated on the area between frames 5 and 8 where the front fuel tanks are situated. The tanks themselves have been cautiously cleaned to remove grime, but without removing original chalk marks, lettering or patina. In-situ cables, pipes and hoses have been identified, cleaned and tidied, a time consuming job! Once each area is clean and tidy a coat of clear lacquer is applied to ensure the bare metal is resistant to corrosion.
Externally, spray painting has begun following the green-grey colour scheme of late-war Spitfires. The lower surfaces will be Medium Sea Grey, with the upper surfaces treated in Ocean Grey. Dark Green will follow to complete the camo pattern for the upper surface of the plane. Originally the aircraft would have had a completely matt finish, but we are opting for a slight silk finish. This is commonly used on static museum craft as its longer wearing.
The procurement and manufacture of cockpit accessories and controls has continued. The gyro gun site support structure has been completed and primed and the control column is now a complete assembly. Also completed recently is a replica crash crowbar which would have been stored on the inside of the pilot’s door for emergency use.
The fear fuselage and tail unit are now ready to be sprayed in the two shades of grey, and silvered internally.
A culmination of research by MAPSL, Operation Spitfire, and ourselves, is slowly building the most detailed history of RW388 we’ve ever known. I’m looking forward to sharing the results of this progress in future posts.
Mad March Hares
Spring is a good time to see Brown hares in the countryside. Although normally nocturnal and cautious of daytime predators, the warmer weather makes them more active and they can be seen chasing each other in fields and meadows alongside the edges of woods and hedgerows. The famous ‘boxing’ activity is between a male and a female hare, not two males challenging each other, with an unreceptive female fending off a passionate male. Brown hares are the fastest land mammals in England and can reach speeds of up to nearly 75kph (45mph). Their main predators are foxes and buzzards and the hares use their fast running abilities to escape.
The Brown, or European, hare (Lepus europaeus) is common in Staffordshire and feeds on a variety of vegetation. As this includes agricultural produce, hares can cause problems in farming areas. They rest in depressions called ‘forms’ and, unlike rabbits, do not construct burrows. Brown hares are not native to Britain. There is no fossil evidence to them being in the country before the land-bridge connection to France was broken about 8,500 years ago after sea levels had risen following the melting of ice sheets from the last Ice Age. The earliest archaeological finds of Brown hare bones are from Roman sites, this suggests that they were introduced into Britain about 2,000 years ago. The smaller Mountain hares (Lepus timidus) are native to Britain but their distribution is restricted to upland areas. They graze mainly on heather and grasses, and also their fur changes in colour from grey brown in summer to white in winter. Mountain hares do not occur in Staffordshire and the nearest populations are in the moorlands of Derbyshire.
Come and visit the Natural Science gallery at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery to find out what other creatures you may spot in the local area.
Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs
Discovered in the Staffordshire Moorlands, these three gold neck torcs and one bracelet from the Iron Age were declared Treasure earlier this year and have been valued at £325,000. This fabulous gold jewellery, was unearthed by metal detectorists in 2016. The intricate decoration on the bracelet is a rare example of Early Celtic art. The British Museum, which has assessed the torcs, believes that they date to around 400-250Bc and are probably the oldest Iron Age gold found in Britain. They give us a tantalising glimpse of life in North Staffordshire around 2,500 years ago before the arrival of the Romans.
Once the torcs were declared treasure and the national independent Treasure Valuation Committee valued them the race was on to raise the funds to secure the artefacts for the museum and ensure that were not separated and sold to private bidders.
On 19th December 2017 it was announced that the Museum’s fundraising campaign, spearheaded by the Friends of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, had reached its target. Donations from members of the public and major support from funding bodies as well as trusts and local businesses have been flooding in since the campaign to save the torcs was launched in September. In early December generous grants of up to £165,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and £80,000 from Art Fund took the total raised to its target. This follows on from a £40,000 grant fund provided by Arts Council England and managed by the Victoria and Albert Museum, and £25,000 from The Headley Trust – one of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts – received in November.