Each month one object from the Museum's collection is featured on this page. The objects may be chosen by Museum staff or visitors, and we are particularly keen for young visitors to select objects for this page.
We should be delighted to receive comments and feedback on any of these objects from members of the public: please contact the Curator, Robert Bacon, by email at email@example.com.
June 2017: Toy Train, c.1946
This toy train was made just after the Second World War by a German prisoner of war for English children to play with.
After the Second World War, from 1946 to 1948 the former RAF accommodation on the aerodrome at RAF Beccles was used to house 1,000 German prisoners of war. It was a work camp and the prisoners worked as labourers on local farms. With hostilities over, the prisoners were allowed a certain amount of freedom, so when they weren't working they were allowed the freedom of Beccles, providing they were back in the camp for 'lights out'.
Local families were encouraged to invite prisoners for Christmas lunch and various recreational facilities were set up for them in Beccles, such as a reading room. This toy train may well have been a form of reciprocation - or perhaps it may have been exchanged for some luxuries.
May 2017: Beccles Town Sign, 1936
The sign shows Queen Elizabeth I presenting the town’s Charter to the first Portreeve of Beccles, Sir John Baas, in 1584. Elizabeth’s Charter established the Beccles Corporation and at its head the office of Portreeve.
The idea that Beccles should have a town sign was conceived by Dr Henry Wood-Hill, Mayor of the Borough of Beccles (1935-1938). The sign was carved in 1936 by the Norfolk sculptress Judy Quinton Barber, whose work can be found in a variety of churches and public buildings in Norfolk.
The sign stood at the end of Ballygate until it was vandalised in 1980. It was removed for restoration and replaced by a replica. Four further replicas were subsequently installed on the other main approaches to Beccles.
The original town sign has been on display in the Museum since its skilful restoration by the late Mr Arthur Josling.
April 2017: Man Trap c.1770-1820
This man trap was used for catching trespassers and poachers. The opposing tooth-edged iron jaws would spring shut, trapping the victim when he stood on the trap’s plate. Almost certainly badly injured, the victim would have to wait until discovered and released.
Traps like these are thought to have been first used in the 1770s in East Anglia by landowners anxious to preserve the game on their estates. By the 1790s their use had spread to other English regions. They were introduced at this time not so much to deter the ubiquitous individual local poacher who took game to feed his family, but in response to the rising incidence of nocturnal raids on private country estates by organised gangs of armed poachers, often from outside the area. These gangs were responding to the growing black market in game, and no doubt also – to an extent – to an urge for sport and forbidden adventure.
For landowners it was too expensive and impractical to keep a large force of game-keepers, so man-traps were introduced at least as a deterrent (it was obligatory to erect warning notices), if not as a practical tool.
Traps that could cause such damage to people were made illegal in 1827 and 'humane traps' that merely caught and secured the victim, rather than damaging them, continued in use until late in the 19th Century.
The 1671 Game Act had decreed that only landowners, their eldest sons and their tenant farmers could take game from the land. In 1723 the Waltham Black Act introduced the death penalty for poaching, though in practice this was rarely carried out unless manslaughter or murder was also involved. In 1755 this Act was repealed but convicted offenders were liable to be transported to the colonies.
October 2016: Bull's Head Can Opener
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The world's first canning factory was opened in London in 1813 and produced cans for preserved meat, fish and vegetables. The cans were made from thick steel and could only be opened with a hammer and chisel. These earliest cans were not suitable for domestic use and tended to be used by soldiers, sailors, travellers, explorers and so on. It was only in the 1830s that cans became more accessible to the general public and even more so in the 1850s, when thinner steel cans were produced.
In 1855 a Middlesex cutler patented a new type of can opener, the lever knife opener, that was much more convenient and safer to use. In the 1860s these can openers were commonly supplied with cans of 'bully beef' (pickled and canned beef) and they were often decorated with a bull's head and tail. The tail was incorporated into the handle, the spike at the top of the bull's neck was used for piercing the can and the cutting blade under the bull's chin was used in a see-saw motion to cut around the rim of the can.
Canned bully beef was much consumed by soldiers and sailors everywhere and these bull's head can openers were familiar to soldiers and sailors from the 1860s to the 1930s. Indeed they were also familiar household items in the same period.
September 2016: 1910-11 Sanders Aeroplane Company Propeller
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This propeller is what survives of the experimental aeroplane business conducted in Beccles by Captain Haydn Sanders from 1910 to 1914. The Beccles Corporation, in the hopes of nurturing a flourishing new industry in the town, gave permission for Capt Sanders to use Beccles Common as a flying ground and allowed him to lease a marsh adjacent to the Common to build a shed for his factory.
Through the summer months of 1911 the Sanders Aeroplane Company’s Sanders Biplane No.2 was test-flown extensively on Beccles Common. On 2nd May, for instance, it undertook three flights at 40mph and 40ft above the ground. This machine was exhibited at the 1911 Olympia Aero Show with a listed price of £1,000.
Capt Sanders (1885-1962) also flew in the Royal Naval Air Service and in the First World War in the Royal Flying Corps.
August 2016: Moustache Cup
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The moustache cup is a tea cup with a semi-circular ledge across the cup and an opening between the ledge and the rim to enable the passage of the cup’s contents. The ledge is a moustache guard to prevent the drinker’s moustache getting wet or steamy from the hot tea.
The moustache cup found favour in Victorian times when tea drinking was popular and moustaches were all but ubiquitous. Fashionable men curled their moustaches and applied wax to maintain the shape. The guard prevented the wax and the dye from melting into the tea.
The moustache cup is thought to have been invented in the 1860s by the potter Harvey Adams of Harvey Adams and Company, Longton, Staffordshire. This practical invention was so successful it spread rapidly to manufacturers across Europe, America and the British Empire. With the falling out of fashion of flamboyant moustaches in the 1920s production largely ceased and moustache cups are now collectors’ items.
1st July 2016: On the centenary of the First Day of the Battle of the Somme, a re-enactor as a 1916 cavalry dispatch rider outside the Museum building
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Neither the horse nor the rider belong to the Museum, but this photograph marks the centenary of the First Day on the Somme and complements our special temporary Somme Exhibition. The rider wears an authentic 1916 sergeant's uniform of the 9th Lancers. The saddle is a genuine 1915 saddle.
The re-enactor is Nigel Dix and his mount is 'Prince Albert', a riding and carriage horse owned by Sue Day. The team has been carrying out First World War re-enactments since 2014, marking the centenary of each year of the Great War.
June 2016: Leavers' Board from the Fauconberge School, Beccles
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The Fauconberge School opened in 1770 and closed in 1926. During its lifetime it went under a variety of names including Beccles Classical School, Beccles Grammar School, Dr Fauconberge’s Endowed Grammar School and the Fauconberge School. The school started out in Blyburgate but migrated with various changes of headmaster until it found stability at St Mary’s Ballygate (1846 to 1906) and later Grange Road (1909-1926).
It was typical of the endowed schools that sprang up in many small English towns in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, before the advent of state education, providing an education for the sons of clergy and local gentry, professional men and prosperous farmers and tradesmen. The endowment of such schools was usually put in place to provide sufficient funds to pay the schoolmaster’s salary. In this case the endowment was left in the will of Dr Henry Fauconberge, a Beccles man who became a Doctor of Law and, amongst other things, a Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge.
Some pupils underwent an entire education at the Fauconberge leading to university entrance, others left in their mid-teens to enter trades and professions, and during the prodigious expansion of the public schools in the second half of the 19th Century the school was often used as a preparatory school for boys moving on to these larger establishments at the age of 12 or 13.
May 2016: Watercolour painting entitled 'The Port of Beccles in 1832', by F.W. Woodroffe Esq.
The Museum has a small collection of watercolour paintings of Beccles, including a number of the old road bridge over the Waveney. This medieval bridge was dismantled in 1884 and replaced on the same site by the iron bridge you see today.
April 2016: Bust of Horatio, Lord Nelson (1758-1805)
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Nelson’s father, the Revd Edmund Nelson, was curate and then Rector of St Michael’s Church, Beccles. Here in 1749 he married Catherine Suckling, who was born and brought up in the Rectory at Barsham, two miles west of Beccles. It was Catherine’s brother, Captain Maurice Suckling RN, who first introduced the boy Horatio to the Royal Navy and took him to sea aged 12 on an expedition to the Falkland Islands.
In this bust Nelson is seen in rear-admiral’s full dress uniform, wearing on his left breast three orders of chivalry. At the top is the Turkish Order of the Crescent, awarded by the Sultan Sulem III following the Battle of the Nile in 1798. In the middle is the Neapolitan Order of Ferdinand & of Merit, awarded by Ferdinand IV of the Two Sicilies in 1800 for his service to Naples. At the bottom is the Order of the Bath, awarded by George III following the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797. He is also wearing two King’s Naval Gold Medals, commemorating his victories at the Battle of Cape St Vincent and the Nile. The lower medal is inscribed ‘Nile First August 1798’.
Nelson’s empty right sleeve symbolises his heroism and is a reminder that he lost his right arm whilst attacking Tenerife in 1797. His slightly closed right eye recalls the loss of sight in that eye as the result of a wound sustained whilst assaulting the Corsican fortress of Calvi in 1794.
This white marble sculpture is almost certainly a copy of a bust sculpted by Franz Thaller and Matthias Ranson in Vienna in 1800. Nelson had been recalled to London and was on his way home overland from Naples, travelling in the company of Sir William and Lady Hamilton. Nelson was much feted in Vienna as the only man in Europe at the time able to challenge Napoleon’s military dominance.
One indication that this sculpture originates in 1800 is that Nelson is wearing the badge of the Order of Ferdinand and of Merit, conferred on him in April 1800, but he is not wearing the badge of the Order of St Joachim, a German order of chivalry, awarded the following year.
After his death at Trafalgar in 1805 Nelson became an iconic figure in the Royal Navy and his achievements influenced naval thinking for well over a century. He was also a towering national hero and throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century there was much demand for Nelson commemorative objects. Thaller’s and Ranson’s bust of Nelson was widely copied by well known sculptors, including Turnerelli, Nollekens and Bertolini, as well as by lesser known individuals and workshops.
March 2016: Clockwork jigging dancers, mid-19th Century
Composite and wood articulated figures with cloth outfits, two with wool hair. The dancers are held on a wire that connects them to a clockwork mechanism making them dance. The mechanism sits inside a paper-covered box that forms a platform for the dance.
The label inside the lid of the box reads, Perry and Co.’s Patent Automaton Dancers, sold by dealers of fancy goods. Wholesale – 37, Red Lion Square, & 3, Cheapside, London.
Perry & Co., originally James Perry & Co. of Manchester, were formed from a merger of three firms in the mid-19th Century. In 1876 Perry & Co. were described as ‘Manufacturers and merchants of London’. They had a ‘manufactory’ at 37 Red Lion Square, London and bases in Birmingham and New York. Although they sold clockwork jigging dancers, they also sold stationery supplies, pencil cases, books, cycle chains and cycle accessories, and they made ‘Perryan’ patented pens. In fact their principal manufactures and sales were pens and in this capacity they were described as ‘Manufacturers to Her Majesty and H.R.H. Prince Albert’.
February 2016: Eel Trap
Until the Twentieth Century eels were abundant in the River Waveney and other East Anglian rivers and willow basket eel hives, or traps, were a common sight. Eel catching was a significant industry and the eels were sent to market in London, where they were very popular. Jellied, smoked, fried or stewed eels were considered a delicacy in the East End of London.
Eel traps like this one have have been used in East Anglian rivers for hundreds, indeed thousands, of years and with little change to the technology of the trap. Eels were so valuable a thousand years ago in the Eleventh Century that some people were allowed to pay their taxes in eels. Pictorial depictions of wicker eel traps like this one appear in medieval manuscripts. In fact such traps are ubiquitous the world over, invented independently by many cultures around the world.
The eel swims in through the upstream mouth cone of the trap and wriggles through a narrower cone inside to reach the bait, but is unable to return. Typical types of bait might be rabbit entrails or rotten fish. The eel catcher might check the trap each morning and remove the bung at the far, donwstream, end of the trap to collect the eels caught inside.
On 19th January 2016 the EDP (Eastern Daily Press) carried an article with the headline, "Britain's last traditional eel fisherman calls it a day - ending a 3,000 year-old Fens tradition". It told the story of Peter Carter, who had traced his family connection with eel catching as far back as 1475, now giving up eel catching as the result of dwindling stocks and new fishing laws introduced in the interests of conservation. Both The Daily Telegraph and The Times published similar articles in the last week of January. Our eel trap at Beccles and District Museum is an important relic of a lost industry.
January 2016: Victorian British Army Bayonet
1856/1860 pattern Yataghan sword bayonet made for the pattern 1856/1860 Snider short rifle
Bayonets are thought to have appeared in the 18th century, usually as spikes fitted to the end of muskets. ‘Sword’ bayonets originated for use with muzzle-loading rifles in the mid-19th century and their name is derived from their long, sword-like blades. Since rifles were shorter than muskets, the long blade on this weapon was designed to produce the same overall length as a musket and shorter pattern bayonet.
This example was designed for mounting on the muzzle of the Snider short rifle. The weight of the bayonet would have had an adverse effect on the rifle’s balance and thus the accuracy of the rifleman’s shooting, so bayonets were usually fixed only for close quarter combat. When unmounted from the rifle, of course, the sword bayonet with its hilt, grippable handle and long blade could be wielded as a short sword.
This sword bayonet has a yataghan blade with fullers (grooves) on both sides. The yataghan is a Turkish sword design whose blade has a graceful double-bend that adds strength and rigidity, while keeping the grip and point in direct alignment for maximum thrusting efficiency.
On the hilt is the remains of the chequered black leather grip. The right side has three rivets and a long leaf spring with securing screw. The pommel is of steel and the crossguard has a straight steel crosspiece, muzzle ring with finial and lower guard tapering to a swept forward disc finial.
Overall length 705mm
The blade length 570mm
Blade width (at crossguard) 31mm
Blade thickness (at crossguard) 8.6mm
Muzzle ring diameter 21 mm
This object was found partly encased in concrete in a garden in Worlingham. It was donated to the Museum in December 2015.
With thanks to Robert Tilney (R. Tilney & Son Gunsmith, 17 Smallgate, Beccles) for identification.