My Favourite Object #6: ‘Check Rein’ and Blacksmithing Tools

This post was written by Christina Avramakis, Project Assistant for our Sense of Place project.

My role at MERL has been to accession and catalogue new objects coming into the Museum, and so I have been very lucky to get up close and personal with many interesting objects and stories. For this reason, it was difficult to choose just one object and in the end I have settled on two horse-related accessions (although the queen honeybee artificial inseminator was very tempting!).

The objects I have chosen are a ‘check rein’ (object number 2012/387) and a set of blacksmithing tools (object numbers 2012/455/1-3 – 2012/459).

A pair of hammers and a pair of tongs (MERL/456-459)

A pair of hammers and a pair of tongs (MERL/456-459)

I think that the check rein is particularly special as this style of driving horses on the farm was very rare, only employed in a small part of Yorkshire, near Hull. The check rein was used by Ron Creasey, who was one of the last horselads (as the men who worked with the horses on the farm were known), working with horses on the farm from 1946, at the age of 17, until 1960.

Common horse reins consist of two lines which the driver uses to direct the horses or stop them. A check rein only uses a single line and so the driver controls and directs the horse using the rein in combination with verbal commands. Depending on the pull on the check rein, the horse will turn right or left, but the horse will only stop at the verbal command of the driver. For this reason, the horselad had to be both highly skilled to handle the check rein to ensure that the horses moved in the right direction at the right time, and sufficiently commanding that the horse would respond to its orders. It was for this same reason that the use of the check rein did not spread further; because of the reliance on verbal commands to manage the horses, some farmers simply considered it too unsafe, for if there was an emergency and the driver could not use his voice, there was no other way to stop the horses.

The 'Check Rein' (MERL/2012/387)

The ‘Check Rein’ (MERL/2012/387)

The blacksmithing tools, specifically a number of pincers and cat’s-head hammers, were used in Hampshire. They are just a small selection of blacksmith tools, but I like them for four reasons – their testament to innovation, sustainability, skill and endurance.

The pincers appeal to me for their ridged texture; but they have these ridges because of the way that they are made. They are an excellent example of innovation and recycling – they are made from used, worn-out rasps which,  as they were no longer fit for their original purpose, have been fashioned into something  different and given new life.

The cat’s-head hammers have a small prominent bulge on each side of the head which, it has been suggested, almost have the appearance of two ears, and so may be where the name comes from. One of the small bulges is used to create clips on the horseshoe, although the use of these hammers is now uncommon. For me, the skill, dexterity and precision required to shape the metal by striking it with just this small bulge is highly impressive.

DSC_0265

Finally, what struck me as I learned more about these tools and their makers, beyond the specialised skills involved, were the unbreakable links between these people through a system of apprenticeships and mentoring that extended from the early 20th Century to the present day. Particularly at a time when there is a greater emphasis on an academic l education at school and university, it is both fascinating and reassuring to know that the traditional and unique skills and knowledge of the countryside have not yet been lost but have endured, with generations of blacksmiths passing on the tricks of the trade.

Weekly What’s On: 14th – 16th April

You can find full details of all our forthcoming events and activities in our What’s On and MERL Families guides, which are now available from the Museum or to download from our website You can also see all events on our online calendar

Easter Closure

Please note that the Museum is open on Tuesday  & Wednesday this week. University Easter closure means that we close at 5pm on Wednesday 16th and reopen at 9am on Tuesday 22nd, April. Happy Easter!

You can find details of opening times on our webiste.

 

Guided tourGuided tours
Wednesdays 16th April, 3pm
Free, booking advisable
Let our fully trained tour guides tell you the stories behind the objects on display and visit the object store to see MERL’s hidden treasures.

 

 

Family fun in the Easter holidays!

For details of our family workshops throughout the holiday, visit our family events page

Easter trail 1Easter trail
Tuesday 15th & Wednesday 16th April, 9am to 5pm.
£2 per child, drop-in, suitable for families with children of all ages
Follow the Easter trail and locate the Easter eggs in the Museum and garden. Prizes for all!!

 

 

Family tour guides2Family tours
Tues 15th April, 11am & 2.30pm
Free, drop-in
Join members of our team of family tour guides for a fun, interactive 30-minute tour of the museum and hear stories about what it was once like to live and work in the countryside.

 

Pepperimnt cream eggs
Weds 9th April, 10-12.30pm, 1.30-4pm
£3 per child, drop-in, suitable for families with children aged 3+
Come and mix, shape and decorate some tasty peppermint cream Easter treats! With artist Alison Quinn.

 

Exhibitions

DennyReading University College: WW1 and beyond
Tuesday 1st April to 31 August, 2014
Staircase hall, MERL
Free, drop-in, normal museum opening times
Funded by Arts Council England as part of the Reading Connections project, and inspired by the University of Reading Memorial Book and Clock Tower memorial, this exhibition reveals the stories of the men and women with connections to the then Reading University College, who fell during the First World War. The exhibition also looks at the theme of War in a broader sense with interesting items from MERL and the Special Collections relating to other conflicts.
Part of our WW1 programme

 

greenhamCollecting the countryside: 20th century rural cultures
Until Autumn 2014
Temporary exhibition space
Free, drop in, normal museum opening times
Since 2008 the Museum of English Rural Life has been adding even more objects to its collection, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme, in order to represent each decade of the last century. (Find out more in Curator, Isabel Hughes’ blog post) This exhibition gives a taste of what has been acquired and challenges visitors to suggest the modern-day objects that the Museum needs to collect for the future. The exhibition will help the Museum to explore how to incorporate more recent histories and representations of the English countryside into its displays as part of the new Our Country Lives project.

 

MERL on Twitter #2: #MuseumWeek & beyond

The dust has settled and I’ve just about managed to catch up on the work that was sidelined as I spent #museumweek glued to Twitter! It seems to have been a hugely successful initiative according to @TwitterUk themselves in their summary, and I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to try out some new ideas.  Coverage was clearly dominated by the highlights from @HRP_palaces and @V_and_A and there was definitely the danger that the smaller museums could get lost amongst the ‘big guns’ with their millions of followers. But I think there were also advantages for the smaller museums such as ourselves in tagging our posts with top-trending hashtags and appearing in timelines alongside Henry VIII and dinosaurs. When I met up with @ACallaZoo to talk about how @ColeZoology could join in, she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to do enough, with so few staff and so little time, to participate effectively. In the end, it was this amazing #museummastermind picture from @ColeZoology which appeared in a Storify summary, thus attracting attention beyond the end of the week.

Cole teeth

My colleagues at the Cole Museum and the Herbarium  both reported increased followers as a result of the week, with some really useful contacts amongst them. ‘Tweepsmap‘ congratulated @MERLReading on gaining 211 new followers over the week as opposed to a more usual 30ish. There were definitely lessons to  learn from the week of frantic tweeting. We all agreed that the posts with pictures were the most successful and that actively encouraging followers to engage by asking questions really does work! Our #dayinthelife posts were very popular, proving that people appreciate that opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes.

Selecting objects

Selecting objects from the store for a new handling collection #dayinthelife

I was also amazed at the number of people who took up the challenge to identify our mystery object posts on #museummastermind day.

Mystery object3

What are these? #museummastermind

So is there a lasting advantage to having invested in this opportunity? It was a lot of work and to be honest, after the first couple of days when I got little other work done, our involvement in the later hashtags dwindled. For my colleagues who don’t have dedicated Marketing Officers on site, it will be even harder to maintain the momentum. (I’m considering setting up a new account to cover all the Museums and Collections at Reading in one place to help increase exposure for the smaller collections…) For MERL, it’s meant that I will be thinking much more about encouraging interaction, rather than just posting links to events and blog posts. We’ve already introduced the #TuesdayTool to highlight a part of our collection that doesn’t get much exposure whilst engaging our followers, (if you’ve missed them so far, we’re storing them on our Pinterest and Facebook pages too) I think I might continue #WheresJethro too, bringing our popular family trail online!

Jethro MAE

#WheresJethro?

If you have any ideas on what you would like to see MERL and the other University collections tweeting about, please comment below!

Student Spotlight #4: Joseph Arch hand casts

Maria Rabbani is a 2nd year Archaeology student at the University of Reading.

The objects which I have chosen are the white plaster casts of Joseph Arch’s right and left hand. The length of the casts is 18cm and their breadth (across the knuckles) is 12cm. His hands look small and delicate, which may be because of the plaster (which smooths roughness), making them look less real. Even though the use of plaster cast has declined nowadays, largely due to photography and film, it is still used by some artists.

Joseph Arch (1826-1919) was the leader of the National Agricultural Labourers Union (1872-1892), which was the first successful union to be established. Born in 1826 in Barford, Warwickshire, he worked from the age of 25 as a farm worker. At the age of 55 in 1851 he became the President of the Farm Workers Union and became the first labourer to become a Member of Parliament when he was 59 years old.

Plaster casts of Joseph Arch's hands (MERL 75/16/1-2)

Plaster casts of Joseph Arch’s hands (MERL 75/16/1-2)

Prior to the forming of the National Agricultural Labourers Union, the agricultural labourer faced many difficulties such as underpayment, malnutrition and little to no education. While the condition of workmen in other industries improved, the condition of agricultural labourer remained the same. This discontent led to the establishment of the Union which helped to improve the conditions of the agricultural labourer such as gaining the right to vote and so become a free man. The union, which started with small numbers, eventually became a successful union with its peak in membership totalling 86,214 in 1874, mostly due to Arch’s leadership and inspiring speeches which encouraged people to join the union.

Portrait of Joseph Arch (Wikipedia)

Portrait of Joseph Arch (Wikipedia)

The union, although it collapsed in 1896, was resurrected as the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers in 1906, which represented farmworkers until 1982. After merging with other unions, over time, it eventually formed the Unite the Union in 2007.

Unfortunately nothing is known about the casting process except that the plaster cast hands were made during the last quarter of the 19th century. Due to the fact that the plaster cast hands do not look not like the hands of an agricultural labourer, which are heavy, calloused and weather-beaten, this indicates that these casts were made when Joseph Arch was no longer a practising labourer but when he started working as a representative of labourers (Sayer 2013).

The exact reason why the casts were made is unknown but maybe they were part of a statue. Even though no other parts of the statue were found, and the fact that he is not holding any tool of his trade in his hand, I do not think this provides enough evidence to claim that these hands were not made to become part of a statue. I think that the way the plaster hands are portrayed resemble hands when they are used to write something. Therefore, it could be possible that it was thought to make a statue of Joseph Arch where he wrote one of his inspiring speeches. Maybe it was intended to add any tool such as a pen after the sculpture was finished. It may be possible that for some unknown reason the production was stopped.

Another possibility as to why these plaster casts were created could be explained by the increasing interest in publicly displaying plaster casts during the 19th century in England to improve art and architecture as well as use them for teaching and research. However, as there is no written record which could explain why these plaster cast hands were created, only speculations can be made.

Student Spotlight #3: Lave Net

Mubariz Rabbani is a second year Archaeology student at the University of Reading.

I have chosen to write about a lave fishing (pictured below) net as the fishing industry is an important part of the British economy as well as a contemporary issue, as increased fishing may result in environmental damage and may affect the economy and employment all across the UK. I also chose the lave net because of its simplicity and flexibility; for instance you can catch a large number of fish or sometimes even different species whether you stand on the bank to fish or trawl from a boat.

A lave net fisherman in the Severn Estuary in South Wales.

A lave net fisherman in the Severn Estuary in South Wales (Daily Express)

The tradition of lave net fishing has been in use since ancient times, being the only traditional fishing practice to have survived into the 21st century. The number of lave net fishermen has, however, gone into significant decline to about 25 people, who try to catch salmon at the Severn River. Their number has fallen because it has become difficult to earn a living from a diminishing fish stock. In 1914, for example, there were 150 lave net fishermen, with catches peaking as high as 36,000 fish annually, earning up to £150 per week (which was a huge amount at that time).

Lave net fishing also faces extinction from  the Environment Agency which has suggested the complete abandonment of this ancient technique, as overfishing and poor quality water have led to a decrease in the numbers of fish stocks in the river. On the other hand, the Black Rock fishermen claim that their season is so limited, not just by law but by the power of the tides and the winds, that they are no threat to the salmon population. Secretary of the Black Rock association Martin Morgan argues that they already catch so few salmon and that they are keen to keep their lave net tradition alive. The association also argues that out of the about 15,000 fish in the upper regions of the Severn River, only 0.3 per cent is caught during one season. Peter Kavanagh of the Severn Estuary Fishermen’s Association also argues that future generations should be given the opportunity to be able to do it and see it taking place in the river. For the moment, the number of lave fishing licences has been decreased to 25, with each fisherman allowed to catch five salmon only in a season and only in the moths of June and July.

Therefore, it is possible that in the near future this unique, effective and ancient technique becomes abandoned and part of our history. As a result, this would be a great opportunity to visit the Museum of English Rural Life and view one of the remaining intact lave nets which could become rare and difficult to find in the future.

The lave net currently on display in the Museum of English rural life was used by salmon fishers believed to have been used only on the River Severn before 1966. The net was built using wood and string in the local area.

Discovering the Landscape #4: Inaugural Meeting of the LI Friends Group

Guest post written by Penny Beckett, Chair of the LI Archive Friend’s Group

As followers of this blog will be aware, the Landscape Institute transferred its archive to MERL in October of last year and is currently supporting MERL financially to work on the Institute’s collections and make them accessible.

As part of the terms of the transfer, it was agreed that a separate friends group should be established to support and advise either party when asked to do so. We held our inaugural meeting at MERL in February this year but chose the worst possible week to do so – a combination of flooding, high winds and travel disruption meant that some had to put off even attempting to travel to Reading while from others we received messages such as: ‘at the airport  in Belfast, delayed by snow’; ‘the car broke down in Yorkshire’,  ‘my apologies…heavily involved with flood issues…I serve on the Thames flood and coastal committee’. Despite the travel difficulties we still had a sufficient turnout to make the day a great success. Guy Baxter, the University’s Archivist, gave us a talk about work in progress and the mutual benefits derived from having our archive at Reading.  The MERL staff laid out a wonderful display in the MERL reading room of some choice items from the Institute’s archive.

Friends Inaugural AGM RR display

Reading Room display

LI Royal Charter seal

Landscape Institute Royal Charter Great Seal

On the day a further important collection was brought to Reading. Hal Moggridge of Colvin and Moggridge donated the Brenda Colvin collection to the LI’s archive at MERL. Brenda Colvin, who died in 1981, was a founder member of the Institute of Landscape Architects (as the Landscape Institute was then known) and elected its first female President in 1951. Currently, she is less well known by the general public than her contemporaries, Sylvia Crowe and Geoffrey Jellicoe, but her influence was just as great on a whole generation of landscape professionals. Her collection will be a wonderful additional source of primary material for researchers at MERL.

Drawing of Trimpley Reservoir, Brenda Colvin collection

Drawing of Trimpley Reservoir, Brenda Colvin collection

Photograph album compiled by Brenda Colvin, Brenda Colvin collection

Photograph album compiled by Brenda Colvin, Brenda Colvin collection

Weekly What’s On: 7th to 13th April

You can find full details of all our forthcoming events and activities in our What’s On and MERL Families guides, which are now available from the Museum or to download from our website You can also see all events on our online calendar

 

Guided tourGuided tours
Wednesdays, Saturdays & Sundays, 3-3.45pm (Please note that we are closed on Thurs 17th April and over the Easter weekend)
Free, booking advisable
Let our fully trained tour guides tell you the stories behind the objects on display and visit the object store to see MERL’s hidden treasures.

 

 

Family fun in the Easter holidays!
For details of our family workshops throughout the holiday, visit our family events page

 

Easter trail 1Easter trail
5-16th April, normal opening times (NB. Closed Mondays & Thurs 17th and all Easter weekend. We reopen on Tues 22nd)
£2 per child, drop-in, suitable for families with children of all ages
Follow the Easter trail and locate the Easter eggs in the Museum and garden. Prizes for all!!

 

 

Family tour guides2Family tours
Tues 8th April, 11am & 2.30pm
Free, drop-in
Join members of our team of family tour guides for a fun, interactive 30-minute tour of the museum and hear stories about what it was once like to live and work in the countryside.

 

 

Wooden egg cupDecoupage egg cups
Weds 9th April, 10-11.30am, 11.30-1pm, 2-3.30pm
£3 per child, booking required, suitable for families with children aged 4+
Be inspired by the Museum’s intriguing egg-related artefacts this Easter and decorate your very own egg cup using decoupage techniques.

 

 

 

Basketry and Beyond studying MERL’s collection of baskets from the south west.

Rag Easter basket weaving
Thurs 10th April, 10-11.30am, 11.30-1pm, 2-3.30pm
£3 per child, booking required, suitable for families with children aged 3+
Explore some of the beautiful baskets in the Museum’s collection and weave your own from material.

 

 

 

Birds nestBird’s nest making
Friday 11th April, 110am-12.30pm & 1.30-4pm
£2 per child, drop-in, For early years and above
Come and get messy making a nest from tissue paper, yarn and glue. Use your imagination to create a fantastic colourful home that any bird would be proud of!

 

 

 

Exhibitions

DennyReading University College: WW1 and beyond
Tuesday 1st April to 31 August, 2014
Staircase hall, MERL
Free, drop-in, normal museum opening times
Funded by Arts Council England as part of the Reading Connections project, and inspired by the University of Reading Memorial Book and Clock Tower memorial, this exhibition reveals the stories of the men and women with connections to the then Reading University College, who fell during the First World War. The exhibition also looks at the theme of War in a broader sense with interesting items from MERL and the Special Collections relating to other conflicts.
Part of our WW1 programme

 

greenhamCollecting the countryside: 20th century rural cultures
Until Autumn 2014
Temporary exhibition space
Free, drop in, normal museum opening times
Since 2008 the Museum of English Rural Life has been adding even more objects to its collection, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme, in order to represent each decade of the last century. (Find out more in Curator, Isabel Hughes’ blog post) This exhibition gives a taste of what has been acquired and challenges visitors to suggest the modern-day objects that the Museum needs to collect for the future. The exhibition will help the Museum to explore how to incorporate more recent histories and representations of the English countryside into its displays as part of the new Our Country Lives project.

 

MERL Village Fete: MERL Toddlers take the biscuit!

This is the first of a series of posts from the Village Fete team on the run-up to this year’s event, by Alison Hilton, MERL Marketing Officer.

Preparations for the 2014 MERL Village Fete are well underway and it’s exciting to be able to start sharing some of the new features of the event, which will focus on food this year!

Last Friday, the Village Fete team hijacked the regular Friday Toddler Time session to launch the ‘MERL Biscuit Bake-off’ which will be judged at the Fete on May 31st.  One of Reading’s famous 3Bs, biscuits are part of the town’s – and MERL’s – heritage. Our beautiful Victorian building is the former family home of the Palmer family of Huntley & Palmer’s, and we hold their archive in the University’s Special Collections. Introducing a ‘Biscuit Bake-off’ competition to the Fete seems the perfect way to encourage the people of Reading to get baking biscuits!

 MERL toddlers take the biscuit group

Regular Toddler Time attendees were invited to bring in their favourite homemade biscuits to be tasted by long-term MERL supporter and descendant of the Palmer family, Andrew Palmer and his wife Davina. Despite the chaos as families arrived armed with plates of biscuits, Andrew and Davina had a great time trying out everyone’s delicious offerings!

Andrew Palmer & Leo

Andrew Palmer trying Anzac biscuits baked by Leo

Everyone was also very interested to try the biscuits baked by Deiniol Pritchard, a Food Science student at the University. These were inspired by a recipe for ‘University Rusks’ from the records of ‘Huntley & Palmers’.

rusks3

Deiniol with his biscuits, the Huntley & Palmer recipe for University Rusks and an image from the archive of Tea Rusks.

After a photo session (look out for pictures in the local press!) and the usual sing-along on the carpet, the toddlers enjoyed the rest of the session decorating biscuits in the Studio, where they were joined not only by the Palmers, but also by the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, who happened to be at the Museum for a meeting, and called in to investigate the commotion!

VC & toddler 1

The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, joined in the biscuit-decorating activity

Everyone is welcome to enter the ‘Biscuit Bake-off’ at the Fete. There will be ‘traditional’ and ‘freestyle’ categories, and several age groups – from Under 5s to adults! Just bring your favourite homemade biscuits to the event on the day. You can find details of how to enter on our website.

In the meantime, we’re going to be posting a different biscuit recipe on the blog each week, so watch this space for inspiration and start practising!

 

 

 

Student Spotlight #2: Man Traps

Henrik Yau is a second year Archaeology student at the University of Reading, who chose to research our Man Traps because they caught his eye, because they looked dangerous and he had no prior knowledge of them.

I’ve always loved going to museums. Looking at vast collection of objects always excited me as a child, which probably stemmed from me collecting Pokémon cards (don’t judge, everyone did it), so when asked to go on a placement I immediately thought of museums. I took my placement at MERL because of my aspiration of working in a museum, and being allowed behind the scenes and actually handling museum objects is somewhat of a privilege, and seeing how a museum actually operates was insightful. I was also surprised to find English rural life isn’t just all about tractors and farming, and for my research it was Man traps that caught my eye.

An depiction of a humane man-trap in use (MERL 68/95)

An depiction of a humane man-trap in use (MERL 68/95)

The harsh conditions of rural districts drove men to poaching in order to feed their families as a means of survival. Those forced to poach may have lost their jobs as game keepers, farmers or travelling gypsies. The small populated, dense woodland fields and large estates were a haven for these illegal activities and became a poacher’s paradise.

Before the Norman invasion of 1066 anyone with permission to set foot on land could freely hunt, until William the Conqueror decreed he would claim vast acres of land to be set up as private preserves. Up until the Game Act of 1671 poachers had thought all game belonged to no one until caught. However, under the Game Act of 1671, landowners, their eldest sons or tenant farmers who  became the only ones allowed to take game from the land. Because of this poaching became increasingly on the rise as peasants needed a way to feed their families and themselves, resulting in it becoming a capital offence under the 1723 Waltham Black Act. However, the law still didn’t deter poachers so Parliament made the trade of game entirely illegal in 1755.

An inhumane man-trap (59/155)

An inhumane man-trap (MERL 59/155)

Eventually poachers had become so frequent and the numbers of groups so great that local law enforcement was unable to attend every case of poaching. Throughout the 19th century there had been many cases of game keepers being killed and many seriously injured when battling violent poachers. While employing more game keepers was too expensive, estate owners began to employ the use of man traps which came to be known as ‘thigh crackers and body squeezers’.  Man traps like the one pictured above are thought to have first circulated around England by 1770, and placed in plain sight to act as a deterrent. These initial traps would operate with two opposite weight-bearing springs and a pressure pad in the middle which, when stepped on, the razor sharp teeth attached to the jaws of the trap would close shut and catch any unsuspecting poacher. However, in May 1827 these non-humane man traps were outlawed.

A humane man-trap (64/24)

A humane man-trap (MERL 64/24), measuring in mm: 530×655 (l x w)

In 1830, since there was still a high demand for traps, humane man traps were produced for estate/landowners. Humane man-traps like the one pictured above, and currently on display in the Museum’s collection of traps,  was acquired in 1964 from an unknown donor. These traps would be placed in a hole dug in the ground in the middle of a used pathway, and covered up by placing leaves and grass on top. Humane traps such as this work by a pressure pad in the centre of the trap which had four prongs extending outwards in a north, east, south and west direction to keep the two barrels at the top of the trap and the curved flanges underneath the barrels firmly down in place. When an unsuspecting poacher disturbs the pressure pad it causes the prongs to be displaced and the flanges to abruptly surge up, forcing the two barrels to shut tightly on the leg of the poacher. The chain is used to lock the trap to a tree or another object. Unlike the inhumane man traps, anyone stepping on these traps could not easily free themselves as they were fitted with locks which could only be opened by gamekeepers who possessed the only key. Humane man traps such as this were manufactured by iron founder companies such as William Bullock & Co and Archibald Kendrick & Co in the West Midlands in towns such as Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.

Further Reading

Christy, M. 1902-1903. Man traps and spring guns. Outing, 41: 729-734.

Haddon-Riddoch, S. 2006. Rural reflection: a brief history of traps, trap makers and game keeping in Britain. Glendaruel: Argyll Publishing.

Jones, D.S.D.2000. A game keeping Miscellany. No place publication: No publisher.

Lovergrove, R. 2007. Silent field. The decline of a nation’s wildlife. Oxford: Oxford university press

Munsche, P.B. 1983. Pursuing Wild Symbols of Privilege: Munsche’s Gentlemen and Poachers: The English Game Laws 1671-1831. American bar foundation research journal, 8 (2): 481-489.

Museum of English Rural Life. 2014. Man traps. [Online] Available at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/adlib/Details/collect/4079 [Accessed 28th February 2014].

Watson, J. 1974. Poachers, and poaching. Wakefield: Ep Publishing LTD.

 

 

 

 

Student Spotlight #1: Veterinary Medicine Box

This is the first in a series of blog posts focusing on particular objects, researched by University of Reading Archaeology students as part of their course.

Kelly van Doorn is a second year BA Archaeology and Ancient History student at the University of Reading. On completion of her degree, she hopes to take up a master’s degree in Classics. Following this, she would like to work within a museum, perhaps abroad, so that she can combine her interests in archaeology and ancient history into one job.

The object that I chose to research is a vet’s medicine box from the 18th century, which I chose because I did not know a lot about veterinary care or treatment. I thought that it would be interesting to assess how different medicines from this era were in comparison with a more contemporary period.

P1010281

 

 

1Before veterinary surgery became a popular and accepted vocation, farmers were often forced to seek help from the blacksmith or it became a ‘do-it-yourself’ job.  Medicine boxes needed to be portable and carry all the necessary medicines so that it could be transported to farms. This medicine box was compiled by William Radley, a druggist and chemist in the 18th century. He was in practice from at least 1776, according to an advertisement for his horse medicines in the St. James’ Chronicle, and so it has been estimated that this medicine box is from c.1780. However, Mr William Popplewell, a producer of medicine in the box, is not found as a druggist and chemist until 1822 in Baine’s West Riding Directory, so we are unsure if he was producing medicines before this time, and which casts a bit of doubt on the approximate age of the box.

The medicine box includes: 4 bottles, 4 tin containers, 8 built-in boxes varying in size, and various packets of powders and medicines. Some of these medicines include: diuretic balls used to treat swelled legs or inflammation and prepared by a William Popplewell, pectorae powders used for treating cough or asthma in horses, purging balls for dogs to cool them down or aid in digestion, cordial safe balls to treat a drop of circulation, worm powder and lotion for mange.

P1010257

This box was predominantly used for treating horses, although it contains a powder for the ‘cure of mad dog’ produced by a Ms Hill and Berry, most commonly known as rabies. There is also a treatment for Mange, which was, and still is, an ailment which affects horses and causes severe itching and inflammation. It is caused by mites and can be spread between horses easily as well as being passed onto humans, and so mange ointment would be applied to soothe the affected area. It can spread over the horse through grooming, as well as scratching and biting at the affected areas, which would lead to inflammation.  The medicine box also contains a few recipes for how to give the correct dosage of medicine or to use the correct ingredients for mixtures.  It is unknown how well these particular medicines or medicines in particular from that time worked.

vet box bottles

Horse care was not purely medicinal and farmers or stock breeders would use a number of implements to aid in veterinary surgery or applying medicine. A fleam mallet was used to drive a fleam, a 3 bladed implement, into the animal’s jugular so as to bleed it for medicinal purposes. Bleeding was proscribed by doctors and veterinary practitioners alike prior to and during the 18th century. A gag was placed inside the horse’s mouth and forced it open, which prevented the horse from biting. This was used when administering a ball, such as a cordial safe ball, which would be inserted into the back of the throat and would be consumed by the horse.  A drenching horn was used to administer liquid medicines to horses and cattle.  It would be placed into the animal’s mouth so that the medicine could be poured down the throat.

This box is in very good condition, with the paper and paper wrappings inside demonstrating slight deterioration but nevertheless they are still eligible and useful in teaching us about veterinary care during the 18th to 19th centuries.