Shickle Collection

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I’m straying into Ollie’s blogging territory a bit here, but I found that the polehead collection got me thinking quite a bit about place, and the relationship between objects and places.

Seeing so many place names at once, I started to draw connections between them and notice patterns. The most obvious was the number of places with ‘combe’ in the name, especially in Somerset. The strong relationship between the names of places and their geographical features can be found throughout the UK, in English, Welsh and Gaelic. ‘Combe’ comes from the Saxon word for ‘valley’ and Compton, which I’ve also catalogued a few of, means ‘valley farm’.  There’s a handy website with more examples and look out for a blog post on this theme in the future.

Another idea that came to me, although I’m struggling to articulate it clearly, is how a polehead can relate to place in so many ways. Not only is the polehead connected physically to a place in that it was actually used there, it is also connected symbolically – it represents membership of the Friendly Society which was formed for the benefit of the people there. As mentioned earlier, the form and shape of the polehead can directly represent the place it comes from – such as an anchor if it comes from a village near the sea, or a deer if the squire owned a deer park. On a wider level, these types of poleheads are representative of the West Country in that they are only found in this region of England.

And finally, while cataloguing the Shickle Collection I made a list of all the places mentioned. I think it would be good to add the other polehead collections to it when we catalogue them… I’ll try to persuade Felicity.

  • Aller, Somerset
  • Alveston, Gloucestershire
  • Ansford, Somerset
  • Ashby Saint Ledgers, Northamptonshire
  • Ashcott, Somerset
  • Axbridge, Somerset
  • Banwell, Somerset
  • Batcombe, Somerset
  • Bath, Somerset
  • Bathpool, Somerset
  • Binegar, Somerset
  • Bishop’s Hull, Somerset
  • Bishops Lydeard, Somerset
  • Bitton, Gloucestershire
  • Blagdon, Somerset
  • Bower Hinton, Somerset
  • Bowlish, Somerset
  • Bradninch, Devon
  • Bridgeyate, Gloucestershire
  • Bristol
  • Broadway, Somerset
  • Bruton, Somerset
  • Buckhorn Weston, Dorset
  • Buckland Dinham, Somerset
  • Burrington, Somerset
  • Burrow Bridge, Somerset
  • Burton, Wiltshire
  • Butleigh, Somerset
  • Cannington, Somerset
  • Carlingcott, Somerset
  • Castle Cary, Somerset
  • Charlton Horethorne, Somerset
  • Chedzoy, Somerset
  • Chew Magna, Somerset
  • Chewton Mendip, Somerset
  • Chilcompton, Somerset
  • Chiselborough, Somerset
  • Churchill, Somerset
  • Clutton, Somerset
  • Coalpit Heath, Gloucestershire
  • Combe Florey, Somerset
  • Combe Hay, Somerset
  • Combe Saint Nicholas, Somerset
  • Combwich, Somerset
  • Compton Martin, Somerset
  • Corsley Heath, Wiltshire
  • Corston, Somerset
  • Creech Saint Michael, Somerset
  • Crewkerne, Somerset
  • Crowcombe, Somerset
  • Curry Mallet, Somerset
  • Ditcheat, Somerset
  • Dowlish Wake, Somerset
  • Downend, Gloucestershire
  • Drayton, Somerset
  • Dudley, West Midlands/Worcestershire
  • East Stour, Dorset
  • Evercreech, Somerset
  • Farrington Gurney, Somerset
  • Fifehead Magdalen, Dorset
  • Filton, Bristol
  • Filton, Gloucestershire
  • Filton/Whitchurch, Somerset
  • Fishponds, Bristol
  • Frenchay, Gloucestershire
  • Frome, Somerset
  • Glastonbury, Somerset
  • Halberton, Devon
  • Halse, Somerset
  • Ham, Somerset
  • Hambrook, Gloucestershire
  • Hanham, Gloucestershire
  • Hardington, Somerset
  • Harptree, Somerset
  • Hele (near Bradninch) Devon
  • Henstridge, Somerset
  • Henton, Somerset
  • Heytesbury, Wiltshire
  • Holcombe, Somerset
  • Huntspill, Somerset
  • Ilchester, Somerset
  • Keevil, Wiltshire
  • Kelston, Somerset
  • Keynsham, Somerset
  • Kilmersdon, Somerset
  • Kilve, Somerset
  • Kingsbury Episcopi, Somerset
  • Kingsdon, Somerset
  • Kingston Saint Mary, Somerset
  • Kingswood, Bristol, Gloucestershire
  • Larkhall, Somerset
  • Long Ashton, Somerset
  • Long Burton, Dorset
  • Lopen, Somerset
  • Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire
  • Mark, Somerset
  • Marnhull, Dorset
  • Marston Bigot, Somerset
  • Martock, Somerset
  • Meare, Somerset
  • Merriott, Somerset
  • Mickleton, Gloucestershire
  • Milverton, Somerset
  • Middle Chinnock, Somerset
  • Misterton, Somerset
  • Monkton Farleigh, Wiltshire
  • Montacute, Somerset
  • Nailsea, Somerset
  • Nether Stowey, Somerset
  • Nibley, Gloucestershire
  • North Cadbury, Somerset
  • North Coker, Somerset
  • North Perrott, Somerset
  • Norton Saint Philip, Somerset
  • Nunney, Somerset
  • Oakhill, Somerset
  • Panborough, Somerset
  • Pawlett, Somerset
  • Potterne, Wiltshire
  • Priddy, Somerset
  • Publow, Somerset
  • Pucklechurch, Gloucestershire
  • Puddletown, Dorset
  • Radstock, Somerset
  • Redhill, Somerset
  • Rode, Somerset
  • Seavington Saint Michael, Somerset
  • Shepton Beauchamp, Somerset
  • Sherborne, Dorset
  • Shirehampton, Bristol
  • Siston, Gloucestershire
  • Somerton, Somerset
  • Soundwell, Gloucestershire
  • South Brewham, Somerset
  • South Petherton, Somerset
  • South Wraxall, Wiltshire
  • Stalbridge, Dorset
  • Stapleton, Bristol
  • Stogursey, Somerset
  • Stoke Saint Michael, Somerset
  • Stoke sub Hampton, Somerset
  • Ston Easton, Somerset
  • Stone Allerton, Somerset
  • Stourton Caundle, Dorset
  • Street, Somerset
  • Studley, Wiltshire
  • Sturminster, Dorset
  • Sutton Veny, Wiltshire
  • Swineford, Gloucestershire
  • Taunton, Somerset
  • Temple Cloud, Somerset
  • Templecombe, Somerset
  • Timsbury, Somerset
  • Tiverton, Devon
  • Tividale, West Midlands
  • Tunley, Somerset
  • Wanstrow, Somerset
  • Warminster, Wiltshire
  • Watchet, Somerset
  • Wedmore, Somerset
  • Wellow, Somerset
  • Wells, Somerset
  • Wembdon, Somerset
  • Westbury on Trym, Bristol
  • West Chinnock, Somerset
  • West Coker, Somerset
  • West Monkton, Somerset
  • West Pennard, Somerset
  • West Stour, Dorset
  • Westonzoyland, Somerset
  • Whitechurch, Somerset
  • Wick, Somerset
  • Williton, Somerset
  • Willoughby, Warwickshire
  • Winsley, Wiltshire
  • Winterbourne, Gloucestershire
  • Wrington, Somerset
  • Writhlington, Somerset
  • Yate, Gloucestershire
  • Yatton, Somerset
  • Zeals, Wiltshire

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Time for the technical stuff…

One of the key points of focus in our cataloguing is location (hence all this place-related blogging). The Shickle Collection covers about 180 villages, many of which were not listed on the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names, so I spent quite a lot of time exploring Google Maps of Somerset, Wiltshire, Devon, Dorset and Gloucestershire. I’d love to see all of these places pinned on a map to see just how big an area the Shickle Collection covers, and to get a feel for whether it is very evenly spread out, or clustered in particular areas. Perhaps that’s something for a rainy Sunday afternoon…  We hope that one of the outcomes of the cataloguing work we’re doing will be to have our collections pinpointed on a map so maybe one day I’ll get lucky!

As part of the cataloguing process I had to create thesaurus terms for all of these places. This was not an easy task.

 

Challenge 1: Getty.

Many of the places, being very small villages, were not listed in Getty. This wasn’t too bad, as it could be overcome by using other online sources such as Google Maps and A Vision of Britain through Time.

 

Challenge 2: Spelling.

Along with variant spellings and alternative names for places, there was also quite a lot of mis-spellings on the original accession records, so I had to search for lots of possible spellings and scour the maps to find what I was looking for. Thankfully, many of the villages were recorded as being near somewhere so at least I had a starting point to look at.

 

Challenge 3: One name, several villages.

Place names aren’t unique and we’ve come across many instances in our catalogue of several places sharing the same name, but these are usually in different counties and can be distinguished by this on the Adlib catalogue. The problem I had this time round was when there were two, or more, villages sharing the same name in the same county, such as Hele in Devon. In this case, it wasn’t possible to distinguish them by county so instead I had to resort to using ‘near’ e.g. ‘Hele [near Bradninch]’ and ‘Hele [near Ilfracombe]’.

 

Challenge 4: One polehead, several villages.

In some cases it was hard to establish the relationship between the polehead and the place recorded in the accession records. Did the (tangible) polehead belong to the identified place, or was it the (intangible) design which belonged there? When a polehead was identified as belonging to several clubs, does it mean that several villages shared the same tangible polehead, or shared the intangible design? There were many subtleties in the wording on the accession records to do with degrees of certainty and I tried to rationalise the cataloguing in the following ways:

  1. It belonged to the Club at A – A recorded as ‘place used’
  2. It belonged to Club at A and B – A and B recorded as ‘place used’
  3. It probably belonged to Club A – A recorded as ‘associated place’
  4. It probably belonged to Club A and B – A and B recorded as ‘associated place’
  5. It belonged to Club A or B – A and B recorded as ‘as associated place’
  6.  It belonged to one of Club A, B or C – A, B and C recorded as ‘associated place’

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I don’t have time to visit every place I’ve catalogued (see my post on East Hendred and the Lavinia Smith Collection), but I feel I’ve been getting to know Somerset (and the surrounding counties) through the Shickle Collection of Friendly Society poleheads (search ‘Shickle’ under collection in the online catalogue). MERL holds four collections of poleheads – the Shickle Collection, the Allen Collection, the Jardine Collection and the Forster Collection. The Shickle Collection consists of about 250 and occupied a happy week of cataloguing from the year 1951. It’s definitely Felicity’s turn to catalogue the next polehead collection!

Poleheads from the Allen Collection.

Friendly Societies were village clubs formed to provide insurance for members in the case of sickness or death, and they also played an important role in the village social life. A government act was passed in 1793 to encourage their foundation, and they were common until the late-nineteenth century. Most Friendly Societies held an annual meeting which was followed by a church service and a procession, or ‘walk’, around the parish. In many areas, simple poles were carried in the processions, but in Somerset and the adjoining counties brass poleheads, like those in the Shickle Collection, were commonly used.

There are two basic types of poleheads in the Shickle Collection – the ‘spear’ type, which is essentially flat, and the ‘bedpost’ type, which is bulbous. These are often embellished in various ways – with cut out designs, curved edges, projections, differently shaped and sized bulges and so on. Common motifs include crowns, oak leaves, clasped hands, birds, diamonds, triangles, hearts etc. and in some cases the motif represents the interest of the Friendly Society or the place where they met. The Society at Frome in Somerset met at the Ring of Bells pub and their polehead is spear shaped with cut outs of five bells and two crescents (51/913). Unfortunately the Shickle Collection poleheads are all packed away in boxes so I couldn’t take any photos, but the Allen Collection is on open display in our stores.

Spear type poleheads with an array of emellishments.

Close up of a bedpost type polehead.

 

 

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Having reached the cataloguing milestone of finishing all 1300 or so records from 1951, I thought it would be good to share some of the things I’ve catalogued. 1951 contained several large collections of objects – the Lavinia Smith Collection, the H. J. Massingham Collection and the Shickle Collection of Friendly Society Poleheads – which definitely helped speed up the cataloguing.

Lavinia Smith was an American who lived with her sister, Frances, in the village of East Hendred in Oxfordshire (formerly in Berkshire) until her death in 1944, aged 73. She gathered objects from friends and neighbours in the East Hendred area, and even found some at the village dump, and displayed them to visitors, especially children from local schools, at their house in the village, ‘Downside’. When Lavinia died, the collection was bequeathed to Berkshire Education Services, and later transferred to the Berkshire Archives at MERL.

A view of Downside, where Lavinia Smith lived.

The Lavinia Smith collection at MERL contains over 400objects – including agricultural implements, animal traps, animal bells and shepherds’ crooks, horseshoes and harnesses, woodworking and metal working tools, fireside and cooking equipment, and much much more! Try searching for ‘Lavinia Smith’ in our online catalogue. Further Lavinia Smith material is held at the East Hendred Museum and details can also be found here. Our records at MERL also contain a list of many of Lavinia Smith’s donors, along with their occupations, which provides interesting contextual evidence – and could be an interesting avenue for future research.

The East Hendred Museum, housed in Champs Chapel.

So, having spent the best part of a month cataloguing the Lavinia Smith Collection, I had a really strong urge to visit East Hendred (and take my photo next to the village sign – but my arms weren’t long enough to fit me and the sign in the same photo) and decided to head off one sunny Sunday and see what sort of a place it was. As it turns out, East Hendred is one of the most beautiful villages I’ve ever been to! Unfortunately the East Hendred Museum was closed on my visit, but I spent an hour or two walking around and enjoying the sunshine, and I can see why it would have appealed – it was very ‘English’ and very ‘Midsomer Murders’. However, there wasn’t much sign within the village of the agricultural way of life that Lavinia Smith’s collection documents. Until this project, I’d never heard of East Hendred, and so had no idea what it was like and had no context in which to catalogue the Collection – visiting it has made it a ‘real’ place far more than looking at it on a map did.

Incidentally, East Hendred is one of those difficult places we’ve encountered which has been affected by changing county borders – from Berkshire to Oxfordshire – and is brilliantly illustrated in this ‘Best Kept Village’ sign from the 1970s.

From Berkshire to Oxfordshire.

And on the way back into Reading, across the Berkshire Downs, it was pleasing to recognise lots of place names that I’d encountered in the cataloguing. I’m from Cambridge and don’t know this area at all, but I feel that I’m slowly starting to piece together a map in my mind of where places around here are. So my visit to East Hendred helped me improve my ‘sense of place’ in terms of the context in which Lavinia Smith was collecting and of my geographical knowledge of the Berkshire/Oxfordshire area.

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