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.

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.