Past collectors, present collecting

Warwickshire Museum collects objects and items that relate to archaeology, natural history, social history and geology. Today, the museum concentrates on locally collected items or those with a strong Warwickshire connection. However, in the past, collecting activities resulted in the acquisition of many exotic specimens from further afield. These pages provide a taste of collecting, past and present.

Newdigate coins

The coin pictured below is an As issued on the death of the first Emperor Augustus by his successor Tiberius. It dates to 22 – 30BC. In the 18th and 19th Centuries it was the fashion for rich people to go on a Grand Tour, travelling round Europe visiting ancient historical sites and collecting souvenirs of their journeys.

Newdigate Coin

An As of Emperor Augustus.

Sir Roger Newdigate of Arbury Hall near Nuneaton was a local landowner, colliery owner and MP. He went on two Grand Tours, in 1738 and 1774. During his second tour, Sir Roger acquired a collection of artefacts, including manuscripts, sculpture, paintings and coins.

The collection contains fine examples of Ancient Greek and Roman coins, mainly in bronze. They date from as early as the 4th Century BC. The collection also includes silver and gold plated coins and some historic forgeries from the Medieval period.

The Newdigate collection of over 2000 coins was acquired by Warwickshire Museum in 1958.

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English Partridge

Peter Spicer was a Leamington based taxidermist who was active in the late 19th and early 20th Century. He is now regarded as one of the finest taxidermists of his age, due to his very realistic birds and bases and the beautiful, painted backdrops he placed at the back of his show cases.

Peter Spicers cased Patridges

Peter Spicer case of Grey Partridges

Here we feature a fine pair of Peter Spicer Grey Partridges. This is the so-called English Partridge and is a very scarce bird today. It does not cope well with agricultural practices such as the use of herbicides to kill off insects (vital food for the chicks), the ploughing up of winter stubble (removing a vital source of winter seeds and herbage) and the growing of winter wheat or grass for silage (which produce a poor habitat for nesting and chick growth).

Most partridges you see in Warwickshire today are Red-legged (French) Partridges bred for shooting. These are foreign introductions. Fortunately, the Grey Partridge is now a Biodiversity Plan Priority Species and is subject to research and conservation funded by Central Government. This means that you should be able to see them more easily in Warwickshire in the future.

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Social History Collecting

Doll and Trunk

Irene’s ‘Angela’ doll with her trunk.

Our Social History collection reflects the lives of Warwickshire people, past and present. It includes costume, dolls and toys and everyday objects from ploughs to teapots!

We also actively collect aspects of Warwickshire life that are currently under-represented.

Irene’s Story

Irene Hey

Irene Hey

Social History collecting now puts much more emphasis on collecting an object’s context as well as the object itself. Objects have more significance if we know something about the person who made/used/wore it. When someone donates an object, we ask them to tell us as much as they can about it.

Irene’s father bought ‘Angela’, with her trunk of clothes and accessories, from Hamley’s toy shop in Regents Street, London, on Christmas Eve 1922.

Irene Snelling (born Irene Hey) donated her doll ‘Angela’ in 2003. She told us how she was given the doll as a present :

“This precious doll came to me on Christmas Day, 1922. I was an only child, and had been seriously ill due to scarlet fever. We were sitting round the fire when… our maid Gladys came in, carrying a little trunk. ‘Angela’ was lying on the top tray, surrounded by dresses…”

This information, together with some wonderful photographs of Mrs Snelling as a child, is an important part of ‘Angela’s’ catalogue record.

Contemporary collecting


An image collected during our Asian Fashion project

While some items are donated, others come into the museum as part of collecting projects. These aim to collect aspects of Warwickshire life that are currently under-represented.

Contemporary Collecting presents a challenge. We have to make choices about what we collect because we can’t collect everything! Collecting projects, in partnership with groups of Warwickshire people, is one way we go about it.

‘Asian Fashion’ Project

In a recent project – ‘Asian Fashion’ – we worked with Muslim women and their families in north Warwickshire to explore aspects of dress and appearance.

During our ‘Asian Fashion’ project, people shared their stories about what they wear, and why. Not all Muslim women wear a veil, but some explained their reason for doing so.

As part of the project, we took photographs of different aspects of the women’s clothes and accessories. People also donated garments and information for our collection.

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The ‘Hand Beast’

During the nineteenth century, the Warwickshire Natural History and Archaeological Society actively collected geological specimens from all over Britain, for their display cabinets at the Market Hall Museum in Warwick. Many of these still exist amongst the collections of the Warwickshire Museum. Some remain on public display at the Market Hall.

Hand Beast Fossil Footprint

Natural sandstone cast of a ‘hand beast’ footprint

The specimen illustrated above is currently on display in the Market Hall Museum. It was acquired during the nineteenth Century by the Warwickshire Natural History and Archaeological Society, from Lymm in Cheshire.

Ancient footprints from Warwickshire

Ancient footprints from Warwickshire: 220 million year-old reptile tracks from Shrewley

The specimen illustrated opposite preserves tracks of a much smaller reptile and is also on display in the Market Hall Museum. It was collected from a quarry at Shrewley, near Warwick.

Natural sandstone casts and impressions of footprints, such as these examples from Warwickshire Museum’s collection, created considerable interest amongst natural historians during the nineteenth century. For many decades, controversy raged over the identity of the track-makers, and the age of the rocks in which they were found. In Warwickshire, geologists first discovered the tracks of lizard-like reptiles at Shrewley, near Warwick, during the 1830s. These have been named Rhynchosauroides (pronounced ‘rink-o-sor-oid-ees’). Following these finds, members of the Warwickshire Natural History and Archaeological Society acquired more specimens, not only locally but also from quarries in Shropshire and Cheshire. Amongst the Cheshire specimens were remarkable examples of the ‘hand beast’ – casts of footprints known as Chirotherium (pronounced ‘kye-ro-theer-e-um’).

The sandstone beds from which the tracks were collected date back roughly 220-240 million years to the Triassic Period. This was before the age of dinosaurs and a time when Britain endured a hot, arid climate. We now know that the Rhynchosauroides tracks were made on ancient river floodplains by lizards known as ‘sphenodonts’, similar to a modern tuatara. A much larger reptile, probably an ancestor of both the crocodiles and dinosaurs, is thought to be the Chirotherium track-maker. Interestingly, only one example of Chirotherium has ever been confirmed from Warwickshire. This was collected from a field near Henley-in-Arden in 1859, by the Reverend Peter Brodie. Brodie was honorary Curator of Geology at the Warwickshire Museum at that time.