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‘WESSEX WOMEN’ Museums celebrate the region’s inspirational women

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

Wessex-Women-Lace-making-cushion-Dec-2019‘Wessex Women’ is the theme of the latest objects tour between Poole Museum, Dorset County Museum, The Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum. Each has chosen an item from their collections to tell one of the many untold stories of the region’s women.

The Salisbury Museum has chosen a fascinating Downton Lace Pillow from its collection of Downton Lace and lace-making equipment. Downton Lace is the name given to the type of lace made for edgings and inserts made in the 19th and 20th centuries in the area around Downton in Wiltshire. The pillow, which is like a hard bolster cushion, includes patterns, prickings, pins, threads and bobbins. Seeing this object, it immediately becomes clear that making lace is an intricate and calculated process. Evident also is the level of skill and time required to create a piece of lace. The lace bobbins which hold each thread, are made of wood and were often hand-carved, sometimes by the lace-makers’ sweethearts and could probably tell a fascinating tale or two of their own.

The women of Downton played a large part in this local trade, earning a little extra money to support their families. For the most part, all that remains of their stories are the items like the lace pillow, samples and bobbins. However the museum collection does include photographs of the old lace-makers, giving faces to the women from this part of Wiltshire’s history. This includes Mrs Robinson, who revived the tradition and created the 20th century Downton Lace Industry, which finally closed in 1965. Happily many of today’s lace-makers continue to make these special patterns from Downton.

The other museums focus on a Victorian ‘knocker-upper’ who walked the streets of Poole, waking people up in time to go to work; a pioneering Dorset-based artist who carved in Purbeck stone; and a ‘trowel-blazing’ archaeologist who became famous for her excavations of prehistoric sites in Wiltshire.

All the objects are currently on display at their home museums, then after three months they will rotate around the others in turn until October 2020. The tour is just one of the joint projects between the partners of Wessex Museums, working together to bring exciting new events and exhibitions to the region.

Chasing The Light

Thursday, February 14th, 2013


A brief encounter with the Aurora Borealis

In early December, we packed our suitcases with all manner of warm clothing and thermal underwear, in preparation for our trip to the stretch of Norwegian coastline within the Arctic Circle. First of all our party of six took a flight to Tromso, before embarking on a boat that would ferry us to the most northerly town, Kirkenes, close to the Russian border. Some might question our decision to visit this country in the biting cold winter when there is little or no daylight, but we had a clear mission in mind, we were hoping to see the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights in common parlance. We were literally chasing the Light!!!

Northern-Lights-ferryWe were not undertaking our voyage on some grandiose cruise ship. We were actually on one of the passenger and car ferries that deliver post to all the outlying communities strung along the coastline. However, these days the ferries are predominantly used by tourists, enjoying the Land of the Midnight Sun in the summer months and Chasing the Light in the winter. In reality, the ferries do act like mini cruise ships, with spacious cabins, a full restaurant and cafeteria service, a lounge and bar, library and lecture room with the opportunity to watch short informative films and listen to some live music! You can learn about the Sami peoples that inhabit the Northern regions with their reindeer herds and how in the 40’s there was a government initiative to discourage them using their own language. Now however they are proud of their own language and cultural heritage and have their own governing body. There is also the possibility of going on short excursions or stretching your legs at one of the many ports of call. It is strange initially, finding yourself walking around in the dark in the daytime and can deceive you into thinking it is getting near bedtime!!

There is a clear sense of camaraderie on the boat as everyone is of one mind -they want to see the lights. You can be sitting in the restaurant eating your evening meal when an announcement is made that the Northern Lights can be seen out on deck. Suddenly there is a mad rush to put on as many layers as possible to cope with chilling winds and a mass exodus to get a good view. The poor waitresses are left patiently standing until their guests reappear at the table. Or an announcement might be made in the early hours, and bleary eyed passengers start excitedly emerging from their cabins, cameras in tow, in the hope of capturing a lasting image of the lights.

Clearly the Lights have a mind of their own and there is no guarantee of seeing them in all their splendour every night. On our first night, they appeared rather like a grey yellowish mass in the sky and were fairly non-descript and frankly rather disappointing. However on the next two occasions we saw a large bright mass hovering above the boat, with hints of green and pink and striations of light shimmering and moving like curtains in the sky. Apparently on a scale of one to ten, these displays were fairly low down but they were still an amazing vision to see, which is indelibly fixed in my mind. Interestingly, photographs show the green light more than the naked eye could see at this time. Some people do manage to have a spectacular colourful light show, lasting for several hours; but none of us felt cheated ,we were happy with the light we had chased! It is the kind of holiday I would certainly consider doing again. It is an experience of wonderment for young and old alike and the boats are fully equipped to take on board disabled passengers too. I would thoroughly recommend this voyage of a lifetime……

Enjoy the Chase!!!!

Queen Elizabeth’s maiden voyage

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Queen Elizabeth leaving Southampton

Despite the November issue print deadline being 24 hours away we managed to dash over from Ringwood across the Forest to Calshot on a beautiful sunny autumnal 11th October evening to wave farewell and good luck to the newest Cunard cruise ship which was due to leave Southampton at 5pm. We arrived in the nick of time to see her in the distance moving serenely towards us along the Solent surrounded by an amazing flotilla of vessels who were also there to give her a good send off. The Queen was closely followed by the PS Waverley which is the world’s last ocean going paddle steamer built in 1947 so my husband reliably  informs me courtesy of google! Photo shows it dwarfed by by the stern of the Queen Elizabeth.Paddle Steamer Waverley

We were amazed at the turnout and the exciting atmosphere but since the first Queen Elizabeth sailed on her maiden voyage in 1938 and the QE2 back in 1969 it isn’t an everyday occurrence!

The ship’s horn brought back many childhood memories for my husband who thought it was very reminiscent of the first Queen Elizabeth’s which he remembers hearing as a child on New Year’s Eve at his parent’s home in Eastleigh – around eight miles from Southampton Docks!

Included in the crowds were quite a few hardy beach hut owners who seem to have made an evening of the whole event with BBQs and a glass or two of shampers to toast her – all very civilized! I think we all felt very proud!