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).


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.


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…


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!






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.

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.


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!


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!


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.


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:


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.’

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.

Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosity

cabinet1Our new ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’ display in the Victorian Entrance of the museum has been designed to give everyone a glimpse of how varied Tullie House’s collections are.  And to show you the types of material you can expect to find in the museum if you want to come in and take a closer look.



European Cabinet of Curiosities from around 1690

We’ve been inspired by ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’, one of the first types of museums that date back to the fourteenth century.  These cabinets started as display cases in private homes where well-travelled people could display all the weird and wonderful objects they had collected and show them (or show off?!) to their guests.  The concept developed over the next three hundred years and expanded from a display case to creating whole rooms of objects that had the effect of inspiring wonder and stimulating creative thought.


A number of contemporary historians have gone a little further in their interpretation of these ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’.   These cabinets were created during the Renaissance, a time when scholars wanted to understand how mankind fit within the grand scheme of nature and the divine.   It is argued that these collections of objects were a physical manifestation of this scholarly endeavour, formed around a belief that all things were linked by visible or invisible similarities.  Some people who created their own cabinet believed that by recognising the similarities between objects, they would be brought to an understanding of how the world functioned, and what mankind’s place was in it.


Both ideas are plausible: showing off, something more intellectual or indeed somewhere in between.  Whatever we believe, many have argued that from these cabinets the modern museum was born out of this seemingly basic human impulse to collect and be curious about the world around us.


Winter camouflage, keeping warm and having fun in Winter

In our ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’(as you can see from the image above) the curatorial team have selected items from the collections around the theme of ‘Winter’.  These quite different objects have been placed together within the case creating some intriguing contrasts that is certainly in keeping with the concepts of the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’. Below are two objects that you can see up close in the case.

Government Information Pamphlet

Government information pamphlet from the 1960s

Winter Skating by Dutch School

Winter; Skating by Unknown Dutch artist, 1700s

This is new project for Tullie House and one that we hope to develop further, so we’d like your thoughts about what you’ve seen and how you think it can develop.  Over the next few weeks we will Tweet regularly highlighting individual objects from the case, all object images will be on Pinterest and we will post another Blog featuring more in-depth information about individual objects and report on feedback we’ve received.


We’re looking forward to hearing what you have to say so Tweet or leave your comment below.

Winter Warmers

The weather is starting to turn colder and we are all reaching for our favourite knitwear to make those cold winter days bearable.  For centuries we have been turning to wool and the art of knitting to keep out those Winter chills.

Melanie Gardner, Curator of Art, has been delving into our extensive collection of knitted items and here are just a few examples:

This little Staffordshire pottery child’s mug is inscribed ‘A Gift for Knitting Well’. It has transfer blue printed decoration and dates from the Victorian period.

Staffordshire Pot

This lovely miniature knitted jug is called a ‘pence jug’ and dates from the 1850’s. It was used as a purse for storing change or small items. It is knitted in blue and red cotton. Knitting was a popular leisure activity in the 19th century and a wide variety of items were knitted from patterns.

Knitted Jug

Another small knitted purse in the collection this time used for holding a sovereign. Sovereign purses were very popular during the 19th and early 20th century.

Knitted Purse

This amazing ‘flapper’ style dress dates from about 1925 and was probably worn for special occasions. It is crocheted in grey silk with very long silk tassels at the hem and has a matching grey silk under-slip. This style of dress was the height of fashion in the 1920’s.

Flapper Dress

This pair of child’s brown wool socks date from the Second World War. Although they are unworn they were made for practicality and warmth. The mark ‘CC41’ stamped on each sock refers to the utility scheme introduced in 1942 during wartime rationing. Clothes with the utility mark were made from standard designs from a regulated amount of material with no superfluous decoration.


This little girl’s cream lambswool knitted dress was worn by the donor in 1946. Knitwear was hugely popular during wartime and a wide variety of knitting patterns became available to meet demand.

Baby Dress

This gents patterned knitted tank top dates from the early 1970’s when knitwear went through a revival and was hugely fashionable.

Tank Top

This stylish purple wool bat-winged jumper was knitted by Mabel Bateman from Carlisle for her daughter Jackie to wear in the 1970’s.

Batwing Jumper

Written by – Melanie Gardner, Curator of Art

Do you have any home made knitwear master pieces or even disasters lurking in your cupboards?

It may be a school jumper that went sadly wrong and you paid the price all term long! A balaclava that mum insisted you wore when the weather took a turn for the worse.

Take a picture and send it to us or share your knitwear stories.

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