Suttons in World War I

This, the centenary year of the First World War, has heightened many people’s awareness and understanding of the conflict. The anniversary has also been an opportunity for us to delve into our collections, looking to see what they tell us about the contemporary reactions to World War One. This fascinating extract is just one of those that has been discovered:

Extract from a leaflet in the 1915 Suttons Seed Catalogue (TR SUT P2/A75)

To Our Customers

The stupendous conflict in which almost the whole of Europe is engaged, and the constant vicissitudes of the war, have dwarfed many features of every-day life which under normal conditions would demand attention …business must be carried on in as complete a manner as circumstances will permit, and in no section of trade is this more true than in the case of the great industry with which our House has been so prominently identified for more than a century.

The immense importance of producing home foodstuff of all kinds, on as extensive a scale as possible, was realised at the outset and large quantities of vegetable seeds were supplied by us to clients throughout the kingdom in August last [1914?]

Economy with efficiency has been the basis upon which our vast business has been built up, and in compiling our catalogue for 1915 we have endeavoured to keep the cost of seeds as low as is consistent with that efficiency which is essential.  It is perhaps unnecessary to remind our patrons that ‘cheap seeds’ are invariably the dearer in the end.

Photograph of premises adapted for use by troops as recreation rooms.

TR SUT_P2_A75_01

Suttons Seeds roll of honour (TR SUT P2/A76)

TR SUT_P2_A76_roll of honour_01

For more information on the Sutton Seeds collections please click here.

For information on events which are taking place as part of our commemorations of the First World War, including details on our fascinating seminar series, please see MERL Seminars: The Great War and the countryside and Special events 2014.

Zoe Watson

Project Manager/Project Archivist, Reading Connections

 

Experts look deep into Historic World Objects

As the Reading Connections project draws to an official close, a number of consultancy visits have been run as part of its ‘World Cultures’ theme. The most recent of these was a seminar to assess the potential of the Historic World Objects collection for future community engagement, but we’ll hear more about that in a blog post to follow. A wide range of people have been involved in organising and attending these sessions, and towards the end of February one of the Reading Connections interns, Farah Qureshi, helped facilitate an object research visit. She’s written a post about her experiences of the day:

‘As part of the Reading Connections project, a selection of historic world objects collected and donated to Reading Museum between the late-nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century have been highlighted for further study. Including clothing, weapons, musical instruments and tools, the objects represent historic international cultures and give us an insight into the cultural interests and travels of Reading residents.

As an intern involved in Reading Connections, I joined in helping while museum consultants visited the Reading Museums stores at the end of February to have a close look at these objects. Two of eight consultants who will contribute to the World Cultures theme of the project, Len Pole and Marina De Alarcón, were invited to Reading on the basis of their expertise. Len (freelance, formerly Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter) is predominantly a specialist in West-African material, and Marina (the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford) is mostly a specialist in South American material, although their knowledge seemed to know no limits!

After studying Anthropology for my University Masters, I appreciated the opportunity to spend two days working with Len and Marina, learning from Reading’s ethnographic collections. Both consultants have worked extensively with ethnographic collections across the world, and had an impressive wealth of information to share. While they analysed a range of objects, I found that my knowledge of world cultures was greatly enhanced observing the functionality of objects, which often shed light on cultural practices. I wrote down their observations, preparing notes to be attached to database records, and enjoyed being involved in their discussions exploring the purposes of the objects.’

Sword

This ‘executioner’s sword’ from the DRC seems to have been a hit with multiple consultants and project staff!

Historic World Objects: research and beyond

Although we’ve been pretty quiet on the blog post front, plenty has been going on in the World Cultures part of the project since last autumn. Adam and I have been busy researching the 600 objects that were chosen and re-photographed for inclusion in Reading Museum’s new online catalogue. This is quite a varied process as there is a lot of variety in the amount of information already available about the objects. Some records might tell you who collected the object, when, from where, what it is, and what it was used for. Others are less informative; my personal favourite is the record that simply states ‘This is a mat’. As ever in documentation and research, you are rather at the mercy of whatever information was originally collected about an object at the time it was donated to the Museum! This isn’t to say that the sparser records are lost causes – if anything, they’re the most satisfying to research, for those ‘breakthrough’ moments when you make a connection or identification.

Mozambique door rubbing

A rubbing of a door carving from a hut in Mozambique, sent to the Board of Study for the Preparation of Missionaries as a teaching tool, researched during a recent consultancy visit.

To date we’ve researched around 475 objects, which puts us just over three-quarters of the way to meeting our target. Unfortunately this does mean that we’re now getting to all the trickier objects that, earlier on in the process, we put aside for later! The research process is generally pretty fun though – especially as I seem to have the capacity to become interested in just about anything. As just a small sample, we’ve researched: traditional Burmese puppet theatre, Tunisian ceramics, Zulu bead-work, West African musical instruments, Northwest Coast Native American basketry, Scandinavian birch bark shoes, Portuguese ox yokes and Venezuelan devil masks. Keep an eye out for announcements about the launch of the online catalogue, if you’d like to see the rest of the 600 objects!

Historic World Objects consultancy

Investigating an object described as a ‘Congolese executioner’s sword’ during consultant Chris Wingfield’s visit.

The other main focus of activity over the past few months has been planning the Historic World Object consultancy. We’ve invited six ethnographic specialists to visit the collection and offer advice on research, conservation, and the potential of the collection for future engagement projects. These will take place between now and the end of April, but the first three consultants, Len Pole and Marina De Alarcón, and Chris Wingfield have visited over the past few weeks. I will write a blog post about the outcome of all the visits closer to the end of the project. In the meantime you should hear soon from one of the interns working on the project, Farah Qureshi, who helped out with one of the consultancy days, about her experience of working on this part of the project.

Felicity McWilliams, Project Officer

 

NEWS: A-Z of MERL collections launched

We are very pleased to announce the launch of the A-Z index of MERL’s archive collections which has been undertaken as part of the Reading Connections project.

This is an extremely useful resource and excellent tool for users to find out what collections are held in the archives and to learn more about individual collections. Each collection has its own page with a description of scope and content and a link to the catalogue record in our Adlib database.

The A-Z currently has links to over 200 collections. This is a work in progress and more collections will be regularly added.

This is an important milestone for the project team so well done to all those who have contributed!