World War One

Dale – volunteer

Northampton Museum and Art Gallery cares for an extensive array of objects and archive material in its World War One collections. These range from military equipment, uniforms, and footwear, through to more personal items such as medals, gifts from loved ones, and letters sent home from the front.

Much of these collections are held in storage, with only a small percentage on display at any one time. As part of the WW1 Conflict and Community project, we have been working to make these collections more readily accessible, and to a wider audience.

A team of museum staff and volunteers have spent several days in recent weeks removing items from display and storage, to be individually photographed by a professional photographer. This effectively meant setting up a photographic studio each day either in the museum in Guildhall Road, or at Abington Park Museum. Many objects, and especially some of the paper archive, are quite fragile, so great care was needed in preparing them to be photographed. Often one image was enough, but for some objects we took two or more pictures to capture any detail we felt was important. As we went along, we recorded details of each object to match to the corresponding image.

The objective was to have at least one digital image of everything related to the First World War in the collections, and to have these available for everyone to see on the museum’s Flickr stream. With everything now available to look at online, we hope to increase people’s awareness of the collections, the conflict itself, and the role played by local men and women.

As a volunteer on this project I’ve very much enjoyed having access to so many things that are usually kept in storage. Even with objects on public display, it’s been particularly pleasing to be allowed the next step of actually handling them and having a closer look. Somehow it gets you closer to the past and people’s lives during the war.

Reading some of the descriptive labels alongside those objects recently on display also caused me to think more about the impact of the conflict on the local community, and Northampton’s involvement in the war effort. An incendiary bomb dropped by a Zeppelin airship illustrated how close the war came to this area, while the range of army footwear was a reminder of the huge contribution made by town and county in the manufacture of boots and shoes for the military. The great number of medals held by the museum, awarded to local men for bravery and to commemorate their participation in the war, signposts the fact that for four years a great many men were called on to serve.

One notable object in the collection is a chess set, the board made of wood with the pieces finely made from spent bullet casings. Trench art as it’s known, especially things made from shell and bullet casings, was popular amongst soldiers and POWs.

Chess Set

Chess Set






Another stand out item is a bugle. Beautifully made of wood and metal, the name Ypres reminds us of the town and salient which was the scene of three major battles involving the Northamptonshire Regiment









Some objects are items of German military equipment, presumably taken as trophies of war. This type of helmet, known as a “Pickelhaube”, was used in the early part of the war.


Pickelhaube Helmet
Pickelhaube Helmet






The project has been a pleasure to work on, and hopefully people will enjoy looking at these images over the coming year.



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