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/

 

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Shoe of the Month – Clown Jam Shoes

Clown Jam

This pair of customised bright pink glitter shoes were worn by Clown Jam. Clown Jam was one of Northampton’s most popular faces.

Clown Jam was a member of Clowns International for 40 years. He worked with many famous circuses including Zippo Circus and Billy Smart’s Circus. He regularly undertook charity work, entertaining children here and abroad. He appeared at the Lord Mayor’s show every year and was a member of the royal variety club of Great Britain.

Clown Jam Shoes

Clown Jam Shoes

 

We also have Clown Jam’s outfit in the collection too.

Shoe of the Month – Red or Dead

Red or Dead

In 1982 Wayne Hemingway and his wife rented a stall on Camden Market selling second-hand clothes and footwear. Their selling was a success and within a year they had expanded to 16 stalls to be followed by a string of shops. At first they sold 1950s and 60s canvas shoes and Dr Martens.

In 1986 Red or Dead launched their first original footwear range. This included the ‘Watch Shoe’ which was made popular by the boy band Bros. In 1989 they produced their ‘Space Baby’ range.

Red or Dead Space Baby Shoe

Red or Dead Space Baby Shoe

Red or Dead is a reference to Wayne Hemmingway’s ancestry. He is the son of Billy Two Rivers, a Mohawk Indian chief who became heavy weight champion of the world in the 1950s.

Shoe of the Month – Happy Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year

Among some Chinese people, particularly in Southern China, it is believed that children wearing shoes with faces on them hold evil spirits at bay. These faces fool the spirits into thinking that the child is a powerful tiger and so cannot be harmed. The faces not only repel evil spirits, but also provide the wearer with greater strength and protection. These tiger shoes date to 1900.

Tiger Shoes

Tiger Shoes

The Chinese New Year is the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. In 2017 the Chinese year starts on 28 January and it is the year of the Rooster

Shoe of the Month – Child’s Leather Polish Kierpce Shoes

Shoe of the Month – Child’s Leather Polish Kierpce Shoes

Child's Leather Polish Kierpce Shoes

Child’s Leather Polish Kierpce Shoes

These traditional Polish shoes have an 18th Century style design known as Kierpce. They are made from one piece of cowhide and handcrafted by individuals of the Górale tribe, from the southern mountainous region of Poland, who are famous as expert craftsmen in leather and wood. The Górale footwear is specifically designed to be comfortable in both flat and mountainous terrain.

This pair of handmade children’s brown leather Kierpce moccasin style shoes have a bar strap fasten with metal buckles. They have been decorated with fire branding and are hand-embroidered whipstitch around the toe in traditional Polish designs.

These shoes were donated in 2012 by a local resident, Kate, who bought them for her three year old daughter during a trip home to Poland. Kate has been volunteering with the Virtually Shoes Project and got a lovely surprise when she unpacked the shoes she had donated to the museum.

Kate said: “These shoes are every day for me, I have bought lots. It will be exciting to take my daughter to see her shoes on display in the shoe galleries at Northampton Museum.”

These shoes, which are part of the World Footwear Collection, have now been photographed from eight different angles and will be included in the online Virtually Shoes database when it launches in Spring 2016.

If you would like to volunteer with the Virtually Shoes Project then please visit the volunteer opportunities page.

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)