Future Challenges and Some Hairy Visitors

Around 95% of our gardening activity at Tullie House Museum involves looking after herbaceous plants, shrubs and bushes, most of which have been planted in the past by others. The gardening team weed (especially the hundreds of sycamore seedlings that keep appearing), dead head and cut back – basically all the tasks that keep the gardens a place to enjoy and let us appreciate what nature has to offer. The plants in the garden that keep coming back year on year however (known as perennials) will need a bit more work for them to stay looking their best. Some have grown too well and encroached on others around them, some may be struggling a bit and there are those that self-seed into other areas of the garden (not to mention a few that have blown in in Garden 1the wind).

Our Siberian Iris – Iris sibirica ‘Persimmon’ has a few “uglier” neighbours and the Caster Oil Plant – Fatsia japonica variegata  looks as if it needs to be kept in control.

We therefore should consider lifting and splitting a lot of our plants later in the year. This will also allow us to tackle some of the more pervasive weeds like couch grass and Galium aparine (commonly known as cleavers or catchweed or stickyweed or sticky willy) that have unfortunately taken a foot hold in places. If we do this a small area at a time hopGarden 2efully the task will not be too hard for the gardening team.

The other 5% of our activity is with the annuals. We only have a few small borders where these will be planted but as they are on the terrace in front of the cafe and function room (where several weddings take place throughout the year) it is important that these are looking their best. This year’s new bedding plants will go in next week.  

I mentioned nature’s offerings earlier which off course includes the creatures that live in or visit the garden. Perhaps not this dragon fly hiding in the Smilacina Racemosa (False spikenard  – at first glance this plant could be mistaken for Solomon’s seal however when it flowers its difference with 15cm long fluffy cream plumes of flowers – more like astilbe – appears). These posts with insects are dotted around the garden and are used by the educational team. More about them later. Garden 3

One insect however is a very worthy visitor and was sighted last month. The Hairy-footed flower bee (Anthophora plumpipes). The Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre which is based in a building next door to the garden has kindly supplied notes on this little fella.Garden 4

The Hairy-footed flower bee is a solitary bee which tends to emerge in the spring, and frequently nests in old walls or in the ground. Males and females differ in appearance with females tending to be black with orange hairs on their hind legs. Males are largely brown with long hairs on their mid legs which give this species its name. Both sexes have a long tongue to drink nectar, preferably from lungwort flowers. This male bee was photographed by CBDC on the 28th April in Tullie House Museum’s garden. There are over 1,000 records on the NBN atlas for the UK, but we only have 32 records in Cumbria, 29 of which have been in the last eight years. This species appears to be expanding its distribution northwards. However, it has ‘jumped’ from central England to Cumbria with very few records in Northumbria  Lancashire, Yorkshire and Scotland. Does anyone have any suggestions as to why Cumbria may have a population but neighbouring counties lack sightings? Visit the Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society’s website http://http://www.bwars.com for more information on this species and many others.

 

Advertisements

A Garden Worth Sharing…

Welcome to the first blog post from the Tullie House gardening team.

We are a small group of volunteers who meet every week (except during the Winter) in the beautiful surroundings of the Tullie House gardens.

Our task is to carry out regular work that ensures Gardens 1the gardens continue to be a place enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Call us the Tullie Gardens Team.

Tullie House garden is a pleasant courtyard style garden set within the historic heart of the city of Carlisle, close to the central shopping area.  The garden is situated within the grounds of the historic Jacobean House, and is laid out in a style to reflect the era.

For those unfamiliar with Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, it houses considerable collections of fine and decorative art, human history and natural sciences.

Over the next few months we will be informing you of what we have in our garden and what takes place, nTullie House garden, Carlisleot only at the hands of the gardeners, but also the many events that are enjoyed by young and old throughout the year.

We are a committed team, but even we admit that we have a mixed range of plant knowledge within the group, maybe you can help us identify some of the plants and flowers?  Your comments and advice will be greatly appreciated.

Part of the garden is an attractive, open space designed with a Jacobean style theme.  We also have a Roman garden which was planted to show visitorsTullie House garden, Carlisle the main types of plant that would have been around in the Roman times.  There are now plenty of signs of Summer coming to the garden.

Although we intend to keep future blogs simple, we hope we can be informative and make as many new friends as possible along the way, so if you do see us in the gardens working away, please pop over and say ‘hello’.

Whale, Hail and a Tale – Driggsby’s Debut at Tullie!

What is 14 m long, rather smelly and comes out of the ground of a local wood: our whale skeleton!

And thanks to all you Name the Whale voters, we can now refer to it as Drigg or Driggsby!

To quickly recap: not so long ago, and not so far away, our Sei whale, Driggsby, died on Drigg beach, West Cumbria around February 2014 and we recovered the skeleton that August.  An ambitious campaign to mount the skeleton in the Museum began. Burying the specimen with sand and compost encouraged decomposition of remaining flesh.  Whilst a few of those bones were ready to store in the Museum (and exhibit) last October, most of the specimen had been sitting underground in a local wood, waiting patiently for our return……  (I hope this doesn’t read like a Star Wars intro too much).

IMG_2401

Thanks to Cumbria Wildlife Trust for the photo of Driggsby in February 2014.

I had been eagerly awaiting this April for some time.  It was an exciting prospect to bring Driggsby to its new home at Tullie.  So when I received an e-mail early in April from my predecessor Stephen Hewitt, who was involved with the recovery of the skeleton in 2014, that the specimen had been dug up from the ground and was now suitably “skeleton-ised” enough so that it could be brought to the Museum, my heart jumped with joy.

However, there was much planning to do.  For instance, we needed to arrange a large vehicle (kindly driven by Carlisle Scaffolding) to pick up the specimen.  But now the adventure could begin.

As our large 10 m long truck pulled away from Tullie House, we eagerly anticipated inspecting our specimen.  With our full protective suits and large, blue nitrile gloves, our team of six looked like we had just escaped from a laboratory (Personal Protective Equipment is not fashion-conscious!).  However, as we discovered, we would need all this gear with all the challenges that Driggsby was about to throw at us.

After we entered the local wood, we pulled up next to a large, blue tarpaulin cover, at the side of the road; this was the “X” on my (mental) treasure map.  This is where I had been told Driggsby had been stored, after she (or he) was dug up.  Eagerly I pulled back the cover to reveal dozens of bones of various different sizes.  In the middle, the neck vertebrae (cervicals) were stacked up alongside lumbar and thoracic vertebrae.  At the side, a huge bar curved around these bones: one of the lower bones in the jaw or mandible.  It seems Christmas had come early…IMGP8447

Each bone was coated in sand and compost giving it a, technically speaking, ‘messy’ feel. Now, our “bone-athun” began, loading heavy specimens carefully onto the bubblewrap lined vehicle.  It was amazing how quickly we got through such a huge roll of bubblewrap, as we carefully packed around each element to prevent movement and subsequent damage.  My advice to anyone planning this kind of project: you can never have too much bubblewrap!

Just after we got into our stride, we came across three large vertebrae seemingly joined together.  Why was this?  The first clue was a pungent, lung-gripping smell.  As we bravely peered closer, we could see a white gel-like substance between the vertebrae.  This was soft tissue still remaining.  It is quite common for soft tissue to stubbornly remain on the tail vertebrae at a late stage of decomposition.  So I was actually expecting this (though you can never really prepare for the bad smell). Using a curatorial field tool, a saw, we separated the vertebrae to make them easier to carry.

IMGP8458

However, the greatest challenge was easily the 2 1/2 m long skull.  First we needed to dig it out of the sand: it seems the weight of the skull had allowed it to sink into the soft sediment.  Like a scene from Jurassic Park (and the size of these bones certainly justifies this comparison), we busily gathered around the skull and began excavating it from the surrounding sediment so that we could safely lift it out.  Although this skull is huge, it is incredibly fragile.  Many parts are just made of thin sheets of bone and if lifted incorrectly,… well you can probably guess the rest.

As we were kneeling down prising sediment from around the bones, a heavy storm of hail showered down, mercilessly bombarding us; our dedication to this task couldn’t have been highlighted more.  But we had come this far and this was certainly not going to deter us: #stubborncuratIMGP8476ors.

Four of us were needed to lift this huge object onto the truck.  We used a series of pallets stacked on top of each other in order to get the skull safely to a height where we could lift it onto the truck.  Finally we were ready for the next part of the adventure.  Driggsby the whale was coming to Tullie.

As we arrived, we were greeted by a crowd of smiling children from Calthwaite School who had heard about the whale arriving.  One of the teachers lifted each of them up, in turn, so that they could peer inside.  Their reaction can only be described as awe; it was the combination of the fact that these strange objects were bones and that they were of dinosaurian proportions.

After taking a short break (which was a bit like taking us away from our CIMGP8490hristmas presents) we eagerly returned to start unpacking the specimens.  We have a dedicated storage area for the smelly bones where we will clean them to remove the sand and compost, and remaining flesh!

A special scaffolding frame was built (thanks to Carlisle Scaffolding) to support the skull so that it could be carried in by four people. You can see below the skull being lifted onto the scaffolding structure: what you are looking at is the top of the skull, the long spike is one of the bones in the roof of the mouth. We have one of the 2 cheekbones that go with this object.Skull_scaffolding 1

Now shelf after shelf, with bone after bone, await cleaning and identification.  I have started working with a keen team of young people from the University of Cumbria (which attracted attention last week from the Cumberland News).  We have made a good start but there is still a long way to go!

So after an untimely death on Drigg beach in 2014, Driggsby was recovered by the Museum, spent one and a half years underground “skeleton-ising”, but has now officially joined the Tullie House family.  So the adventure is still young, there is much to do before the dream of mounting Driggsby the whale in the Atrium is realised, and, as Holmes would say, the game is still very much afoot.  Stay tuned for the next exciting whale post…

IMGP8481

The whale team, from left to right: Simon Jackson (Curator), Anne-Marie Knowles (Curatorial Manager), Melanie Gardner (Curator), Gavin Campbell (Technical Officer), Jim (Carlisle Scaffolding) and not forgetting Jill Goodfellow (Exhibitions and Collections Coordinator) who is taking the photograph!

 

 

 

 

FRANKENSTEIN DA GAMBA?

Sitting next to its very formal neighbour, the Forster viola, in Old Tullie House, the viol da gamba looks downright relaxed.  His ample frontage, deep ribs, sagging shoulders “rustic” construction and finish suggest an old chap in retirement.  But who would have thought that an old chap like that would have had cosmetic surgery – or even something rather more severe – like a complete new head?  This old chap is not entirely what he appears to be.

Viola gamba

The Tullie’s viol da gamba-cum-viola

 

Of all the bowed instruments, the viol da gamba stands out; but not because it’s beautiful like the viola d’amore or the Amati violin. The viol is not a pretty instrument; it is best to say that it looks “country-made” and it looks downright wrong because the neck, head, scroll, and tailpiece, are not the ones it was born with.  This is an 18th century instrument made into something more modern.  So how? And, equally interestingly, why?

 

 

Brampton violin-maker Corrie Schrijver was a great help in deciding whether the instruments in Old Tullie House were in a condition that would allow their exhibition.  They have been out of sight for all but a very brief time for at least 20 years; hers was the first expert eye on them for rather longer than that.

Corrie said it was plain the VDG’s neck has been re-shaped, that the surgery really had been very drastic and done entirely to turn an instrument that once had ten strings into one that has just four – an imposing, if peculiar, viola.

Viola da gamba with seven strings

A modern viol da gamba with seven strings

And yes, ten strings.  Corrie pointed out the ten filled holes in the bottom of the viol and the long ebony saddle across the bottom, under the gut loop holding the new tailpiece.  It was common for viols to have six strings, seven too, some eight.  Is ten too many for a VDG?

 

Viola - 10 strings

Figure1 – Ten filled holes say this instrument once had ten strings

 

Corrie wondered even if it was originally a “country-made” – aka “ a bit rough” – viola
d’amore, with perhaps six bowed strings and four sympathetic strings.  No room to
explain here…look at this instead:  http://www.violadamoresociety.org/Vda.html    Whatever it was, why turn one instrument into another?

The VDG was part of a bequest to the museum by Sybil Mounsey-Heysham in 1949.  She probably bought it from the famous London violin-maker W.E. Hill in the mid-1930s.  Perhaps the surgery was done by Hills, to make the ten-string instrument into a more saleable, money-in-the-till, four-string viola?  The unusual viola might well have appealed to an enthusiastic, moneyed, amateur-musician such as Sybil.

Neck Joint

The new head/neck joint, complete with dowelling

Is the work up the Hills’ standard? Possibly not, so perhaps I am miles out.  Perhaps it is simply that the work was done earlier to make it playable as a viola, say for someone to learn on. Why buy a viola when there’s already the old VDG in the house that can be shaved down a little?  Or maybe the work was the best compromise after some serious damage.  It is doubtful we will ever know.

So is this VDG a monster or is just a bit of Hollywood nip’n’tuck going on here?  The neck surgery is quite apparent and the attachment of the head is anything but invisible, so it is fair to say that our old chap certainly could not go on Graham Norton and deny having had work done.  Let’s be kind and say facelift rather than Frankenstein, but either way, unlike the rest of the half-dozen instruments on show in Old Tullie House, it looks like this old thing had to adapt the most to survive.

Andy
Curatorial Assistant

Name the Whale!

A £50,000 mission is being launched at the Museum to help exhibit our new fantastic whale skeleton. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to name the whale, and in so doing, help us to meet our target.

For those of you who might remember, in October last year I reported the discovery of a sei whale which the Museum was lucky enough to acquire (read here). The young whale was tragically stranded on a beach near Drigg, West Cumbria (2014) and was recovered by an expedition for the Museum some six months later. We received the first part of the whale in October, last year, (whilst the remainder is still underground decomposing with manure). Now, the whale patiently waits in an unused room, used for storage.

Name the Whale Image 1

 

I visit whenever I can. It’s the highlight of my day. I am dwarfed by the vastness of the bones; ribs as long as me,  vertebrae as big as small children and shoulder blades which look like giant hand fans. I’ve become somewhat immune from the stale stench of manure and tell myself that it is all in the aid of science. Today I am eagerly returning with a team of bright volunteers; Laura (Carter) and Conor (Cull) from the University of Cumbria; our mission is to select several of the bones for a small exhibition in the Atrium, as a taster for the full specimen when it will ultimately go on exhibit. But first things first, we can’t put these bones on exhibition until we remove some of that nasty manure!

Brushes and sponges at the ready; we go to washing the specimens, though it will be very delicately as I explain how fragile the specimens are. Christening the new box of blue latex gloves, with a distinct surgical look, we get the bones nice and wet to start with, with the sponge, which softens the dried manure. We then switch to brushes and the bristles are great for entrapping manure particles as they are swept gently over the bones.

However, I explain to Laura and Conor that the bones will still need expert cleaning by specialists in order to remove the fatty oils which now manifest themselves as an unsightly orange colour on the specimens. But here we should be relieved as the bones are not dripping with excessive amounts of fatty oils, which are common in fresh whale specimens.  In a marine ecosystem, these oils would have provided food for communities of bacteria, mussels, and tube worms perhaps providing a feast lasting several decades. Many microbes depend on hydrogen sulphide and this gas is produced as the whale oil breaks down[1].

It seems that the action of the waves upon the specimen has naturally weathered them removing a lot of the oils, combined with their burial for a year with manure to aid decomposition (see previous blog). So all that work paid off!

The whale has an exciting future ahead, as I explain to my volunteers. After the oils have been removed, the specimen will then be put back together a bit like a jigsaw. I will work with external specialists in order to articulate the bones upon a frame. Although much of this work will be done in an off-site workshop, it is hoped that there will be some on-site construction where the whale is mounted in the Atrium.

Name the Whale Image 2

Visitors will be amazed as they look up as they enter the Atrium with a 14 m whale looking down at them. As the sun beams through the glass roof, in the summer, you will be “encaged” by the silhouette of the Leviathan. We hope that the whale will not only be a museum centrepiece, but will become a new icon for Carlisle. It would be our version of Dippy the Dinosaur from the Natural History Museum. Perhaps the train station might welcome visitors with “home of the whale”?

But as I said at the start this project, this will not come cheaply! We are currently estimating a ceiling cost of £50,000 which will cover travel, cleaning and modelling missing parts.

So how can you help? We are launching a series of public appeals: the first, Name the Whale, is where everyone can help. Choose your favourite name for the whale: it can be either male or female as we don’t know the sex of the specimen with any confidence. Please write your suggestion on the inside of the whale on the envelope (please donate £1 inside). Be inventive! Be creative! This is your chance to put your stamp on the newest addition to the Tullie family!

Stay tuned for our next blog post about the whale!

Simon Jackson

Curator of Natural Sciences

written Thursday, 25 February 2016

[1] http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/news/story.aspx?id=808&cookieConsent=A Marshall,T (2010) Oily Whale Bones Fuel Unique Ecosystems. Planet Earth Online (NERC Science of the Environment). (As accessed 26 February 2016)

Carlisle Youth Panel

Youth Panel

The Youth Panel is a group of active and enthusiastic young people based in the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery. We meet regularly to help curate exhibitions, create alternative labels for artefacts, and shape the youth programme.

unnamed

As a group of 14 to 21 year olds we put our own spin on the museum, which is now the proud winner of the Telegraph Family Friendly Museum Award 2015. As part of the museum’s inclusive approach for all ages, we play a part in making sure the exhibitions and museum spaces are designed to be suitable for everyone. As well as designing, creating and running our own exhibitions, we have made links with youth groups from other museums around the country to see how young people are shaping museums everywhere!

unnamed-1

THe Youth Panel are branching out to spread the value and meaning of culture to outside the confines of a museum, into our local society. Carlisle is overflowing with culture, history and art, yet the majority of residents and tourists miss out on the opportunity to experience it. Hundreds of tourists come into Carlisle from the train station, but follow the same familiar route to the main shops rather than reaching Carlisle’s Historical Quarter. Enter our most recent project- The Cultural Crawl app and map. The handy pocket sized map will be stocked free in the train station for tourists to pick up as they leave, and directs them to the spots on our Cultural Crawl.

The Citadel Station itself is the first point, the map then leading across the city towards The Guildhall, The Cathedral, Tullie House and Carlisle Castle. These points are only the tip of the iceberg for Carlisle’s history, and we hope in the future we’ll be able to expand the Crawl to cover as much of the rich culture as we can!

As tourists and residents follow the map around the city, summaries are available inside the leaflet, but it gets even better when you add a smartphone. By downloading the updated Tullie House app (available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store), we can give them a sneak peek into what they would see at each attraction. Using the Augmented Reality function of the map, users can hold their smartphone over the map and see THe Youth Panel talk about some of the highlights and interesting facts from each. Also on the app, users can use sliding photos to compare old and new Carlisle, as well as look at animated images.

Through the app and the group itself, we hope to open up Carlisle’s history to residents and tourists alike, bringing together a community involving every age group!

unnamed-2

Check out the app on Apple-

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tullie-house/id952651174?mt=8 and Google Play-https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.montyfunk.tulliehouse&hl=en_GB and pick up your map from Carlisle Citadel Station!

Picture This 3

After the previous two blogs, which looked at cameras from the early 1900s, I’m jumping the generations to look first at what a camera snob might say is the most awful thing they’ve ever seen.  But it’s not really the garish, fragile, unreliable, dirt-cheap, cute and amazing Snappit camera that I’m interested in – it’s the film it used.

Picture this 3 - Image 1

A Herd of Snappits

The Snappit first though. The Tullie’s example given its name by the film processing firm Supasnaps, but the camera appeared under many brand names around the world.  It might have been given away free, or might have cost, say, £1 or less if you were unlucky enough to have to pay for one.  You might be amazed that there is one in the Tullie House Collection,  but it was a popular – in its literal sense – camera. It was aimed at those who didn’t much care what their photos looked like, but who just wanted to remember the moment.

The film of the day for doing that was Kodak’s 126 cartridge.  The cartridge is longer than the Snappit’s tiny body so that some of it sticks out; the camera’s smart design keeps the bit that matters light-tight till the shutter is pressed.

Picture this 3 - Image 2

126 Cartridge

In 1963 Kodak had reacted to complaints from people who found loading cameras generally difficult.  It brought out the 126 drop-in cartridge and the first Instamatic camera. The film involved was actually 35mm but with just one perforation per frame, not for winding on, but so a pin can engage with the film and stop the wind-on so the last part of the action can cock the shutter.  The image size was about 26mm square.                                                  

Picture this 3 - Image 3

A basic Kodak Instamatic

Kodak aimed to match or beat the success of the Box Brownie with its Instamatic cameras and its fool-proof drop-in loading system.  Millions upon millions of Instamatic cameras were sold, with varying degrees of sophistication, between 1963 and the late 1980s.  Other makers bought into the format in a big way.  Typically, Rollei and Zeiss made expensive single-lens reflex 126 cameras.

 

Picture this 3 - Image 4

Rellei and Zeiss offerings

But 126 had a built-in big drawback.  Film flatness is crucial to sharp focus and 126 film was never very good at being dead flat behind the lens.  There was no pressure plate; it relied on the film cartridge being within spec, and it was never great*.  Then consider that the majority of 126 cameras had simple plastic lenses, no fine-focus mechanism and no way to check focus, so the snapper was up against it from the start; but most people didn’t care.

Many old Instamatics are relatively new and still work and it’s amazing how many of the Snappit-type cameras can be found.  The last 126 film was made by Ferrania in 2007, but if you’re handy, you can reload an old 126 cartridge with current 35mm film, but the image will overlap onto the film’s perforations.  It’s actually quite a nice effect in a print.  The web will tell you more, and like most things, you can see it done on youtube.

The Tullie’s Snappit is currently on show in the museum atrium, along with well over a dozen other cameras dating from 1900 to 2004.

*126’s “subminiature” partner, 110 film, was even worse, but it still sold by the ton.

Andy – Curatorial Assistant

Border Birthdays and other memories with John Myers#CNMyStory

John Myers came to see his photograph in Pages from History: Celebrating 200 Years of The Cumberland News, our current exhibition, and brought with him a very special guest.

eric2John and Eric the Monkey worked together from 1986-89 on Border Television, presenting the very popular Border Birthdays – which ran for many years – reading out birthday greetings for children across Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway, and the Scottish Borders.

John shared his memories of working with the puppet, revealing that he had found Eric whilst on holiday in Spain and brought him back to present the show with him.

In 1986 Eric was so popular in the region that 1000 replica Erics were made and sold in County Stores – most of the monkeys sold out – topping kid’s Christmas lists that year!

John was kind enough to donate one of the last remaining replicas to Tullie House to add to our collection. Eric is currently being accessioned, which means our Curatorial team are taking his photograph and some measurements and adding him to our database. You can come and see the Eric replica, which we’ll be putting on display in Pages from History in time for half term.

John and his wife Linda spent quite some time in the exhibition and shared more of their memories with our staff, and reporters from The Cumberland News.

As soon as we entered the exhibition Linda spotted he front cover of The Cumberland News from November 1983 – which was the first time The Cumberland News printed a colour photograph. The photograph featured Princess Diana on her visit to Carlisle.

Crowds Diana? 83/2678k 17a

Linda shared a precious memory

“I was there, I was right in the front row and she shook my hand”.

Linda was certainly not alone, thousands of people turned out to see the Princess in the City Centre. Linda had a look at this crowd shot but couldn’t see herself there. Perhaps you can see someone you recognise?

As we got further into the exhibition John spotted a picture of Grapes Lane, which was in the city centre before the streets were demolished to build The Lanes Shopping Centre.

CN212“We used to walk past the Lanes all the time, I remember watching when the demolition crew moved in and hundreds of rats came running out from everywhere”

 

The Lanes were some of the oldest buildings in the City Centre, some dating back to medieval. By the late 1970s they had fallen into a state of disrepair and the process began to clear the area to build The Lanes, which opened in 1986 – just as John and Eric were taking to screen for Border Birthdays. The development of The Lanes roused a few Carlisle citizens to protest and you can see a poster from The Lanes Presevation Society in Pages from History.

The exhibition also brought back sad memories for John. This image of Lockerbie following the terrorist attack which rocked the nation brought back a very specific memory for John.

“The night this happened (21 December 1988) was the same night as the Border Television Christmas Party. The news came through, and because all the journalists and cameramen were already there, they headed straight out.

CN221

Border Television were the first on the scene and captured some truly memorable and shocking footage. News companies from across the world were getting in touch with Border to use their images”

 

A huge thank you to John and Linda (and of course Eric the Monkey) for coming to visit the exhibition and sharing their memories with us.

Pages from History: Celebrating 200 Years of The Cumberland News is open until Sunday 21st February. Why not visit and tell us Your Story.

Amati Violin and Friends

Fiddle.  Some would say we have one in the foyer of the Old Tullie House; the one that was made in the 1560s by Andrea Amati.  Some violinists might be quite indignant if they heard it called a fiddle.  Most seem not to mind and many call their own instruments fiddles.

ViolinsOK then. Fiddle – a word developed slowly through the medieval period that can mean any bowed instrument.

It appears that the Arab world gave us the kick-start on fiddles in the 8th or 9th centuries in the shape of a gourd with strings stretched over it – the ‘rabab’ or ‘rebec’.  In Europe it was carved from wood.  Maybe all that carving effort was too much and gave the luthiers of old the idea to make a built-up wooden box instead.

 

If it hadn’t been for that leap forward the Old Tullie House might be graced with something rather different by Andrea Amati.  The five instruments – all fiddles if we go by the definition above – that have joined it there might have been all rather different too.  But no, the viola, the viol da gamba, the viola d’amore, the pochette violin and the tiny violin are all wonderful wooden boxes of maple, spruce, pine, ebony, ivory, bone and boxwood.  Boxes, but ones of just the right shape, weight, thickness, density to be quite wonderful things.

Violins2Andrea Amati’s violin, which has stood alone in Old Tullie House for a good number of years, is an amazing survivor from the court orchestra of King Charles IX of France.  That it is 450 years old almost beggars belief.  When it was made; Elizabeth I had been queen for eight years, the Spanish Armada was not even a glint in Philip II’s eye. It is one of the oldest violins in the world, and it survived the French Revolution.

The five instruments new to Old Tullie House are all rather younger, three of them 18th century, the viola is early 19th century, and the tiny “toy” 16cm-long violin late 19th.  All survivors, if only from the ravages of children.

The miniature violin is included in the display to represent the local makers of Cumbria in the Tullie collection – Maghie, Birtles, Scott.  I wish we could tell you the names of the luthiers who made the elegant viola d’amore with its 13 strings, the rather rustic viol da gamba that at one time had ten strings but now has just four, and the pochette violin (somebody said “dinky” the other day) which would have been played for the better off as they honed their ballroom skills – but not one of those instruments has a maker’s mark that can be seen.

They are on show now for the first time in more than 20 years.  To add to the spectacle, a new Collection Conversation has been developed around them.  You can find out more about how a violin is made; what Mr Amati came up with that makes the violin different to its contemporaries, and more about the origins of the instrument, with a replica soprano rebec that you can handle.  You can even try to play it if you feel bold and want your cat to write a sympathy card.

For their help in putting these instruments on show, and developing the collection conversation, Tullie House would like to thank:

 Violins3

Anthony Calvert, of the Early Music Shop, Salts Mill, Saltaire, W.Yorks
Corrie Schrijver, violin maker and restorer of Brampton, Cumbria
James Rawes, violin maker and restorer, of Cotehill, Carlisle, Cumbria

 

Local Hero- Charlie Shepherd reminisces about winning Commonwealth super-featherweight title on home soil #CNMyStory

charlie shepherdLocal sporting legend Charlie Shepherd visited the Pages from History exhibition for the first time last week, and as well as being interviewed for the press, took time to talk to our staff about his photo in the exhibition.

‘It is very emotional to see this photo in the exhibition’ he told us. ‘My trainer Jackie, who is on the right passed away recently. He was a top guy- I think I was his Golden Boy really! I was his only World Champion.’

Ever the Carlisle man, Charlie told us that he counts competing at the Sands Centre to home crowds as one of the best moments of his career.

‘The tickets sold out within 22 minutes. It was an amazing experience to be on home turf. I’d competed in the Royal Albert Hall only the week before, but I was definitely more nervous be out in front of a Carlisle crowd.’

CN727
Pages From History exhibition at Tullie House, Carlisle. Charles Shepherd against Trust Ndlovu at The Sands Centre. Charles is congratulated by Barry Hearn, left, and co – manager Tommy Gilmour

Charlie Shepherd knocked out his opponent Trust Ndlovu in the sixth round of the 1999 Commonwealth games super-featherweight boxing final. The Sands Centre stadium with a 12,000 seat capacity was sold out.

And what was it like to see himself in a museum exhibit?

‘It is nice to be recognised!’ he jokes. ‘And I can’t wait to show my kids when I bring them to see the exhibition.’

 

Charlie Shepherd’s commonwealth photographic print, together with other high quality photographic works in the exhibition is available for sale. Please enquire at the museum for more information.

Do you have stories to share? Send us your stories on Facebook or Twitter #CNMyStory #CN200 or post them in the exhibition.

%d bloggers like this: