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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Colchester Museum: Connections (2)


Part 2

Eric Rudsdale wrote a series of articles for the Essex Review (Vol LVI Nos 221-224, 1947) commemorating the centenary of the Colchester Museum (1846-1946).  Continued ….

“In 1891 Alderman Wilson Marriage became chairman of the Committee, and for the first time the Essex Archaeological Society exercised their right to appoint representatives, choosing the Rev J T Armfield, President of the Society of Antiquaries; Alderman Henry Laver F.S.A., and Mr George Joslin, the Colchester ironmonger, who had amassed a collection of Roman antiquaries rivalling or even excelling that in the Museum.  It is not clear why thirty years had elapsed before the Society’s representatives took their seats on the main Committee, especially in view of the fact that during those first thirty years of the Museum’s existence the Society has supplied all the enthusiasm and a good deal of the money necessary to keep the Museum going.”

The town was inevitably changing in the late Victorian era.  The Museum decided to make purchases of finds as well as accept donations. 

“Mr P G Laver, F.S.A., joined the Committee in 1897 as a representative of the Essex Archaeological Society.  Together with his father, the late Alderman Henry Laver, F.S.A., and his brother, the late Capt. H E Laver, he was actively associated with the Museum for nearly half a century, during which time he was instrumental in acquiring many of its most valuable accessions.”

Alderman Gurney Benham became a Committee member in 1900. His brother, Charles Benham, was one of the Society’s representatives from 1895.

Between 1902 and 1926 the Museum almost doubled in size.  The first Annual Report was produced in 1903.  During the early years of the century the respective roles of the Corporation and Society changed: “The Museum became more and more the responsibility of the Corporation, with the Society acting more in an advisory capacity.”  Partly, it seems, because the Museum had grown in size and also employed a professional curator, the Society could no longer part fund its operation but “gave an annual grant of £35 towards the Curator’s salary, although as late as 1910 they bought a new exhibition case for the Iron Age pottery.”

Giving a lead in scientific archaeology, “in 1903 the Society issued an appeal to all members to report to the Curator of the Museum or to the President of the Society any archaeological find, no matter how unimportant it might appear to be, and to collect all fragments of ancient pottery, however badly they might be broken.”

In 1906 the drought revealed the existence of Roman houses in the Castle Park.  In the same year, in the garden of 18 North Hill, a fine mosaic floor was found.  Two notably accessions just before the First World War were the “Daniell Collection of Domestic ‘Bygones’” and “the great Romano-British glass bowl found in the Mersea Barrow when the tomb was opened by the Morant Club [an offshoot of EAS] in 1913.”

“In 1917 Dr R E M [Mortimer] Wheeler carried out further important excavations at the Balkerne Gate, where work had been begun by Mr Ernest Mason three years before.”

In 1920 Viscount Cowdray purchased the Castle and presented it to the Corporation.

In 1924 excavations were carried out on the Lexden Tumulus: chain-mail, bronze figures, pottery and iron work were found and exhibited at the Museum. 

To be continued

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