Embroidered Silk Postcards

Embroidered Silk Postcards

Embroidered silk postcards were popular items for British soldiers to send home during the First World War. These precious and expensive gifts represented skilled local craftsmanship and contained intricate details and were often sent home for a special occasion such as a birthday or Christmas. Designs varied considerably but usually the postcards featured a patriotic or personal theme and contained bright colours.

Embroidered Silk Postcards

Embroidered Silk Postcards

Embroidered silk postcards, 1914-1915

Northampton Museum holds a framed example of these postcards. The writing in the frame reads ‘Embroidered silk postcards made in Paris during the 1914-18 war. Presented by Mrs D.H. Simmonds in memory of her husband’. There are three cards in this frame: two silk and one smaller paper card. The first silk postcard includes an embroidered badge of the Northamptonshire Imperial Yeomanry and the second silk card has a Christmas theme with holly and three flags representing the allied powers: Russia, Italy and Great Britain. The smaller paper card reads ‘To bring you Luck’.

Many of these silk postcards were produced by civilians in France and Belgium and the popularity with British soldiers supported the craft industry and the local economy in some of the smaller towns and villages.

Many of the silk designs would have been standardised and drafted by a professional. The wording, like ‘Christmas’, would have been swapped according to the occasion and designed to fit within the pre-made card frames to allow them to be posted. The message would then have been written on the back of the card.

The design would have been transferred to silk organdie and then stitched with silk floss. The technique is called ‘silk shading’ and predominately uses satin stitch and long and short stitch. These items would have been stitched by a competent embroiderer, most likely using a hoop and then sold to soldiers to send home.

In 2018, objects like these and many more will be made available online for you to explore through a First World War digital archive. For more information on the Conflict & Community Project please click here.

Further information:

Imperial War Museum: Embroidered Silk Postcards

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Christmas during the First World War

Christmas during the First World War

 As Christmas fast approaches, most of us are contemplating what gifts to buy our friends and family. During the First World War (1914–1918), many families did not have the money or resources to buy extravagant presents. Those that could spare some pennies tended to purchase British made items including toys, perfume, pens and cigars and these were considered a true luxury during a period of food shortages, price hikes and wartime thrift.

Exchanging presents at Christmas was viewed as an important act. Through all the struggles and hardships of war, Christmas time offered a flicker of happiness and a feeling of hope. Not only was this important on the home front but also on the front line where soldiers maintained military operations throughout the winter months. During 1914, at the age of seventeen, Princess Mary supported a public fundraising campaign to send gifts to the soldiers serving overseas. The Princess Mary Gift Fund box was made of brass and contained a variety of items such as tobacco, sugar candy and a Christmas card.

Princess Mary Gift Fund Box, 1914–1915 

Brass tin containing two packets of cigarettes, tobacco, a printed Christmas card and a bullet pencil case.

Many families shopping for soldiers in Britain searched for practical gifts as opposed to seasonal novelty products. Relatives purchased presents that would be useful to the soldiers such as gloves, lighters, razors, watches and wallets. The leather wallet pictured below is an example of one such item:

Leather Wallet, 1917

Brown leather wallet with fabric and buff leather lining presented as a gift by the Northampton Allied War Fund during Christmas 1917.

In 2018, objects like these and many more will be made available online for you to explore through a First World War digital archive. For more information on the Conflict & Community Project please click here.

Further reading:

Imperial War Museum: Princess Mary Gift Fund 1914 Box and Contents

10 ways Christmas was celebrated during the First World War

Constance Howard ‘Northamptonshire Churches and Buildings’

Constance Howard ‘Northamptonshire Churches and Buildings’

Earlier this month some of the Collections team un-rolled one of the famous Constance Howard hangings she designed and made for the museum in 1973. We had to take over a conference room in the Guildhall for an afternoon as it was the only space big enough for the 330cm by 505cm textile.

Constance Howard was part of the vanguard of the modern embroidery renaissance and in her role as Head of Textile and Fashion at Goldsmiths she influenced generations of embroiderers and textile artists. With her iconic green hair Howard pioneered the re-interpretation of traditional embroidery techniques like Gold work and Crewel work using modern materials, including household items like tin foil and milk bottle tops. She was born in Northampton and trained as an illustrator and engraver before setting up the Embroidery depart at Goldsmiths in 1948.

 

 

 

 

 

The hanging depicts buildings around Northamptonshire and celebrates the varied architecture of the county and its role in historical events. The Iron Age Desborough Mirror, now held by the British Museum, has a prominent place as does the Althorp House.

 

This is one of a pair of wall hangings that were commissioned by the Friends of the Northampton Museum, the companion hanging celebrates the Fashion and Footwear history of the town. We are hoping to put both of the hangings on display when the expanded museum re-opens so their condition needs to be assessed to ensure that they won’t be damaged by being on display.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To do this we first unrolled the wall hanging so that we could look at it in detailed looking for any areas of damage where the 45 year old textile that would need to be stabilised by a conservator. The very liner design harks back to her training as an engraver. Although she designed the hanging to be stitched in sections, by herself and a team of embroiderers, the pieces merge together effortlessly.

 

 

 

 

 

It was fascinating to get up close to Howard’s embroidery to see how delicate and detailed her stitches are even on an object designed to be viewed from afar. She used lots of different materials and threads to create a layered effect evoking the textures of the buildings through applique and a variety of different stitches. Though, unfortunately none of her famous milk bottle tops.

 

 

 

 

 

After completing our condition report for both the front and back we re-rolled the hanging so that it could be returned to the museum store until we are ready to prepare it to go on display.

 

 

For more information about Constance Howard http://www.gold.ac.uk/textile-collection/constance/

 

Northampton and the First World War: Tourist Information Centre Display

Northampton and the First World War: Tourist Information Centre Display.

In December 2014, I was tasked with putting together a display to showcase the Conflict and Community Project, a Heritage Lottery Funded initiative that focuses on Northampton and its involvement in the First World War. The display can be found in the Tourist Information Centre at Sessions House, and has been running bimonthly ever since. The display has covered themes like Christmas on the front line and life on the home front, as well as showcasing the lives and achievements of local soldiers through personal artefacts. As Autumn grows nearer, it’s time for the display material to change yet again; for the latest set of objects, selected from the Northampton Regimental Collection, the emphasis has shifted to trench warfare.

Trench warfare is the aspect of WWI we perhaps are the most familiar with. A landscape of horror, constant shelling, and the oft romanticised notion of ‘going over the top’ were the bread and butter of wartime poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Despite this, only a relatively small proportion of the army actually served in the trenches. Of these soldiers, only around fifteen percent would have been in the firing line at any one time. The British Army regularly rotated troops between the trenches and other stations behind the lines, with the average soldier spending only a few days in the trenches with each rotation. The BBC quote an incredible statistic regarding trench warfare: on average, not including days of exceptional loss (for example, the Battle of the Somme), nine out of ten Tommy soldiers survived the trenches (link here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z3kgjxs#zg2dtfr). Nonetheless, the unpleasant environment of the trenches and the lingering threat of battle and death remained constant for those on the front line.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—

Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

– Dulce Et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen (1920).

All of the items on display throughout September and October represent aspects of trench warfare, each having a unique resonance of an experience so unimaginable that we can hardly begin to picture it.

The first item I chose for the display was a pair of German-made Emil Busch binoculars. These found their way to Northampton in the care of Private William Green – my great-grandfather (you can read my previous blog, telling his incredible story here https://northamptonmuseums.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/tic-display-for-conflict-and-community-project/.The binoculars originally belonged to a German soldier, and were taken as a souvenir of the battles William fought on the Hindenburg Line. During the final assault on the line, William earned a Military Medal for acts of bravery under fire, the highest commendation an Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) could receive. I have often wondered about those binoculars and how they came to William’s hands, the grisly circumstances only too easily imagined.

Also on display is an officer’s Derby boot. This boot was probably made as a government sample, and almost certainly never saw action on the front line. However, millions of similar, locally manufactured boots did. Northampton played an important part in shoeing the soldiers, even making boots for the allies. Approximately two thirds of the seventy million boots produced for the British forces were made in Northampton. The First World War was a lucrative time for boot makers, with business booming and women being employed to help with the workload. Boot makers and repairers were vital on the front line, relied upon to mend soles and keep the soldiers marching.

The display also features a selection of artillery, including shell cases, a grenade, and a 1lb brass shell. The term ‘shell case’ refers to the outer part of an artillery shell, which would have housed the charge and ignition. Shells contained explosives and were fired behind enemy lines. The shells on display were probably never fired, given their excellent condition. Unused shell cases were often transformed into pieces of trench art, referencing theatres of war or locations of battles. Such pieces were usually kept by soldiers as souvenirs and brought home to England. Dramatically smaller in size were the 1lb brass shells, used with early anti-aircraft guns throughout WWI as a part of the home defence. They were nicknamed ‘pom pom’ shells for the sound they made when they discharged. Smaller still, but no less deadly, were the factory-built white phosphorus grenades that were introduced in 1916. Following this, around 250,000 grenades were produced per week. Phosphorus was popular in incendiary munitions as it burns quickly and produces a smoke blanket to offer camouflage.

Finally, the signallers’ whistle is perhaps the most iconic artefact of WWI. One blast would signal the troops’ advance over the top, something featured frequently in films, drama and poetry. It is difficult to imagine waiting to hear the whistle, knowing that it could signal your death.

Choosing and researching the artefacts for display was a privilege. During my second year as an archaeology student, I travelled between WWI battlefields and memorials in western Europe, writing a research project. I was trying to learn about different types of memorials, and how they engaged the public. I personally found that museums were the most effective form of memorialisation. As a young person with no concept of what it truly means to be at war, I found it very difficult to connect with stone monoliths and bronze statues. They did not bring history to life like the museums did, each display showcasing remnants of soldier’s lives. For me, this was far more emotive than standing upon long-healed, empty fields. So, with this display, I have tried to bring memories of WWI to life, so that we may continue to remember it.‘If I should die, think only this of me;

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England.’

– The Soldier, Rupert Brooke (1914)

Name of author: Vikki Green

This article has been written as part of the HLF funded Conflict & Community Project. The project commemorates the contributions of the people of Northampton to World War I. To learn more about the project please visit http://www.northampton.gov.uk/info/200246/events–and–exhibitions/2139/conflict-and-community

Leading the Way: How Northampton Welcomed the Wounded

Leading the Way: How Northampton Welcomed the Wounded.

By Ellen Hackett.

Previously I have written about my upcoming talk on how Northampton cared for injured soldiers returning from the battlefields of World War 1

https://northamptonmuseums.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/leading-the-way-how-northampton-welcomed-the-wounded/

With the talk drawing nearer (22 September at 7pm at the museum) my co-presenter Liam and I have been delving deeper into the stories of local soldiers. There are some fascinating tales of the lives of Northamptonians against the backdrop of world-changing events, and we cannot wait to share these with you.

As a taster of what is to come I thought I would write about how very early on in our research a local person of interest emerged. His father was a former mayor of Northampton and his brother ran a town centre shop which still operates today and is still family run. He was a young man of fighting age but was not an enlisted man, another curiousity. He was very involved in fundraising and was prominent in Northampton General Hospital. Further research revealed that his family was extremely active in the war effort. But they weren’t alone.

You may be itching to hear the name of this person, but we’re keeping this close to our chests at the moment!

From Earls to Alderman and ordinary citizens alike, the town of Northampton reveals the stoicism of its citizens and a determination to win the war and contribute to the war effort. We can all be proud of what our town achieved. The efforts made by people in all walks of life are what won through in the end.

Our talk will demonstrate how Northampton faced the challenge of the War and cared for so many soldiers and will showcase some of the strong individuals whose efforts led to Northampton Leading the Way.

We hope to see you there.

Talk date/time: Tuesday 22 September, 7pm

Venue: Northampton Museum & Art Gallery

Tickets: Just £5, please call 01604 837 397 to book early (and a limited number of tickets will also available on the door)

 

Against the Tide – Northampton Conscientious Objectors in World War One

Against the Tide – Northampton Conscientious Objectors in World War One

Post talk blog by John Buckell

On the evening of the hottest July day on record (1st July 2015), nine people gathered at the Museum to listen to this talk. They included the granddaughter of a Northampton WW1 conscientious objector, and a Quaker lady from Bournemouth who had grown up in Northampton.

The talk was based on the stories of some of the 60 conscientious objectors (COs) who I have identified in the records of the Northamptonshire Appeals Tribunal. Northamptonshire is one of a very small number of counties that retained these records after the war. I began with an account of the rejection by Northampton Town Council in 1920 of Harold Croft, a nominee for alderman. A majority of councillors refused to accept a man who had been imprisoned as a conscientious objector during the recent war. The background to conscientious objection was then explained – the introduction of conscription in 1916, the insertion of a conscience clause in the legislation and the setting up of local and county tribunals to judge claims for exemption from military service.

Stories of individual COs were used to illustrate their varying religious, moral and political beliefs, as well as different outcomes to their appeals –non-combatant service, alternative “work of national importance,” or dismissal, sometimes leading to prison and the Home Office Scheme. Evidence from a Northampton man’s diary showed what happened to COs who refused to obey orders when conscripted into the army.

Albert Burrows

Albert Burrows

 

George Nutt

George Nutt

Conscientious objectors who became mayors of Northampton – left, Albert Burrows (1935); right, George Nutt (1959). Northampton Independent Northampton Central Library, courtesy of Northamptonshire Newspapers

Instances of public hostility to COs were given, but also evidence of a local support network – the No Conscription Fellowship, the Quakers and individuals prepared to testify to a man’s genuine conscientious objection to military service. A number of women also gave active moral support, including attendance at courts martial.

The talk concluded with an outline of the future careers of some Northampton COs.

Several questions arose from the talk. How, for example, did tribunals judge the sincerity (or otherwise) of men claiming conscientious objection? Some men were working on military orders for boots, others withdrew appeals and a small number had earlier attested their willingness to serve. These were a minority, however, and it took a strong commitment to principle to face a public tribunal, and possibly the ostracism of neighbours and workmates.

Did the numbers of skilled workers in the boot factories, essential for army boots, result in fewer men being conscripted in Northampton than elsewhere in the country? It is impossible to answer this without comparative figures, but of course many other towns also had their own essential industries. Being a key worker in one of these was certainly firm grounds for exemption, unless substitutes could be trained. Conscience cases were only a small proportion of total exemptions.

Another query concerned the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU), a Quaker founded body which tended the wounded at the front, in parallel with the official Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). At least one Northampton CO served in the FAU, but it was oversubscribed and difficult to get into. A small number of Northampton COs did alternative medical work at home with the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) of St. John Ambulance Brigade and Red Cross. Others refused even hospital work, on the grounds that it would release another man to fight and kill.

Once again, I am grateful to everyone who attended my talk, especially on such a fine evening, and for the interesting questions raised and answers suggested. Thanks are also due to the family of Wilfrid, William and Wesley Church for permission to use photographs and diary extracts.

 

The War Memorials of Northampton Town

The War Memorials of Northampton Town

Reflections of the talk by Angela Malin

I think everyone who attended, enjoyed the talk on the War Memorials and Rolls of Honour that can be found around the town.  Some are obvious such as the Cenotaph in All Saints’ churchyard but did you know that the side chapel at All Saints was also built as a memorial to those who served and died?

It was interesting to see in the newspapers that once the idea for a memorial was proposed, various architects came up with some rather grandiose schemes.. One even looked like the Admiralty Arch in the Mall in London, others involved the demolition of the top of Guildhall Road and part of St Giles Square!   I was also amazed at how quickly the funds within each church or parish were raised to pay for these memorials, especially as many of the veterans found it hard to regain employment after the war.

Abington Square War Memorial

Abington Square War Memorial

On a reflective note, it is humbling to see that all the memorials are well cared for and that 100 years on, the men who gave their lives for our freedom have not been forgotten: we have and will continue to remember them