Dorset County Museum awarded National Portfolio Organisation Status by the Arts Council

Dorset County Museum have been awarded National Portfolio Organisation status by Arts Council England. In doing so are set to share in a £1.2 million investment into the Museum of Dorset and Wiltshire.

Wessex Museums Partnership

The Wessex Museum Partnership, a consortium of four museums, led by the Poole Museum Service together with Dorset County Museum, Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum have been entrusted by the Arts Council to deliver their 2018-22 strategic plan entitled ‘Great Art and Culture for Everyone’.

The Arts Council has recognised 831 National Portfolio Organisations that meet and exceed its stringent standards of best practice, with 103 based in the South West region.

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said: “We are delighted to be able to renew our funding to organisations in Dorset and are proud to be welcoming three new and diverse organisations who will significantly widen the reach across Dorset and beyond”.

Dorset County Museum Director, Jon Murden, exclaimed: “We are delighted by this vote of confidence in the Wessex Museums Partnership and the Dorset County Museum. We will be enhancing our outreach and community offer across the county, developing our special exhibition programme and improving the conservation and care of our collections with this investment.

“The Museum’s ambitious redevelopment plan is to create ‘Tomorrows Museum – Making Dorset Proud’ and today’s announcement is a recognition that this statement. Everyone involved with the Museum should be congratulated as they are part of this success”. Jon added.

This award comes soon after the National History Museum confirmed that Dorset County Museum will be the first stop on Dippy’s National Tour, an event that is already looking to be a sell-out success.

Dippy arrives at the Museum in Dorchester on 10 February 2018. Tickets will be limited and launched in August but you can register your interest by visiting www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

Teapot from the Roof of the World by Duncan Walker

Tibetan Teapot © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum 2017

Tibetan Teapot © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum 2017

On Friday 28 April, starting at 7.30pm, come and join us for an interesting talk by the curator of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum on this amazing artefact.  This talk will cover the history of this amazing teapot and how it came to Bournemouth.  There will also be a brief exploration of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum – including some collection highlights that are on display.

Duncan has been at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum since 2007 and worked with an internationally significant collection which ranges from fine art to ethnographic material from across the globe. His current role involves everything from collections management and research to income generation and exhibitions. Duncan has been ‘in’ museums since 1993 and his previous museums include Portsmouth, Wakefield, Corinium, Nottingham, Devizes, Chippenham and Malmesbury.

Over the course of a year, five leading museums of the Wessex Museums Partnership Dorset County Museum, Poole Museum, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, The Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum will be sharing the story of Wessex in the wider world by showcasing an artefact from their own outstanding collections to the other partner museums.

Wessex has a rich history connecting the region to countries around the world. Our links to Europe and Asia date back to prehistory. An eventful maritime history connects our ports to North America and beyond. Local collectors brought back to Wessex exotic treasures from their journeys of discovery around the world. The story of Wessex is a truly global one.

Until 4 June 2017, the Tibetan Tea Pot will be on display at Dorset County Museum.  Come and listen to Duncan Walker’s talk and find out more about this beautiful and unusual artefact.

The forthcoming lecture will take place on Friday 28 April 2017 in the Dorset County Museum’s Victorian Hall and is FREE to the public; however a donation of £3 encouraged to cover costs. Doors open at 7.00pm and talks start at 7.30pm.

For further information contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter


About the Wessex Spotlight Loan: Tibetan Teapot

This Tibetan teapot was given to our co-Founder Sir Merton Russell-Cotes (1835-1921) by the explorer Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Younghusband (1863-1942). In 1903-4 Younghusband led a controversial military expedition into Tibet. He became interested in Spiritualism, wrote extensively and became involved in the attempts to climb Mount Everest. World travellers themselves, Sir Merton and his wife Annie (1835-1920), collected items related to famous or infamous people, using them to attract visitors to their luxurious hotel, the Royal Bath and what is now the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum.

An Evening with the Curator Speed to the West: A Railway Journey in Art

‘Speed to the West:  A Nostalgic Journey’ by Paul Atterbury and Richard Furness

‘Speed to the West: A Nostalgic Journey’ by Paul Atterbury and Richard Furness

This Thursday, 24th March at 7.00pm at Dorset County Museum in Dorchester, Richard Furness will talk about the development of the humble railway poster, and give a tour of the West Country using a series of stunning railway posters to coincide with the Museum’s extensive poster exhibition which runs until January 2017.

The talk will cover the historical development of railway posters over 130 years from the early Victorian lithographs through to modern digital images.  It will be based on the five south-western counties of Somerset, Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, which will be used to illustrate the enormous change in styles before we tour the region with some of the finest pieces of commercial art ever produced in the UK.

The talk is a stunningly visual introduction to the extensive poster exhibition being hosted by Dorset County Museum, which the BBC Antiques Roadshow expert Paul Atterbury and the Speaker have jointly curated.

Available to buy on the evening at £9.99 will be the brand new book ‘Speed to the West:  A Nostalgic Journey’ by Paul Atterbury and Richard Furness.

For further information contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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Museum launches a new exhibition of stunning railway advertising posters of the 20th Century

Nothing is more evocative of the golden age of travel than the railway poster, and Dorset County Museum is thrilled to be staging an exhibition featuring over 50 famous examples that opens on 19th March. These beautiful works of art were created between 1916 and the 1970s with one aim in mind: to encourage holiday makers to escape the humdrum of every day life and travel by train to the resorts, towns, countryside and special places of Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

A truly classic railyway poster advertising the trip to come: GWR poster from 1938 by Charles H. J. Mayo

A truly classic railyway poster advertising the trip to come: GWR poster from 1938 by Charles H. J. Mayo

The posters conjure up a bygone age of steam engines and old fashioned bathing suits, sunny beaches and the gentle clinking of boats in harbours. There are stunning and iconic landscapes too, immediately recognisable, painted in wonderful colours and promising days out filled with sunshine and relaxation. Town and city views are populated with elegant people, a streamlined locomotive heads a Pullman train – these images bring together the excitement, spectacle and nostalgia of the age.

On display alongside the wide range of posters are some 21st century items that use classic poster design principles, locomotive nameplates, old station totem signs and diverse railway publicity materials and ephemera celebrating the great holiday routes in the West of England. Together they will, without doubt, provoke many nostalgic travel memories.

Speed to the West has been curated by Antiques Roadshow expert and writer Paul Atterbury and Richard Furness, collector, writer and publisher of the Poster to Poster series that have become the definitive books on the subject, supported by the staff of Dorset County Museum.

Paul Atterbury said “During the interwar years the ‘Big Four’ railway companies found that art sold tickets, and between them commissioned an astonishing range of posters from the leading artists and designers of the day. This tradition was maintained, even expanded, in the 1950s and 1960s by the newly nationalised British Railways, whose legacy is a second golden age of posters. This is a wonderful collection that is well worth coming to see, and I’m very pleased to be involved with this exhibition.”

Richard Furness said “Dorset is a beautiful county whose coastline is the subject for some wonderful artwork. Having been studying, collecting and writing about railway art for many years, I am delighted to be playing a part in bringing this unique collection to Dorchester. This exhibition brings together posters spanning a century, and is rounded off with the latest GWR poster which demonstrates that the slogan ‘Speed to the West’ is still actively in use today. Visitors should have a lot to see and reminisce over. Do come and see us!”

Dr Jon Murden, Director of Dorset County Museum said “I’m really excited about this exhibition. The posters and railway memorabilia we’re exhibiting are within living memory for many people, forming a direct link to the past. Added to that, the posters are, of course, things of beauty in their own right and it’s great that they will be here in Dorset for people to see all year.”

A book, illustrating in colour the posters in the exhibition plus others that enrich the story, will be on sale throughout the exhibition priced at £9.95.

  • The exhibition ‘Speed to the West’ A Nostalgic Journey opens at Dorset County Museum on Saturday 19th March 2016 to Saturday 7th January 2017

For further information contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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Jurassic World – Come and see the World’s Biggest Bite!

Jurassic-WorldJurassic World has been released this weekend – and if you’ve enjoyed the film, now come and see the enormous 150million year old skull of the Weymouth Bay Pliosaur at Dorset County Museum!

The fossil bones of this pliosaur skull were recovered by amateur fossil collector Kevan Sheehan between 2003 and 2008, as they were washed out of a landslide on the coast in Weymouth Bay. The largest piece weighed over 80 kg, and the skull itself is a massive 2.4 metres long. Featured recently as one of National Geographic’s Top 10 Biggest Beasts, the pliosaur was the ‘T Rex of the ocean’, an 18metre long ferocious predator of the seas. Known as ‘The World’s Biggest Bite’, the Weymouth Bay Pliosaur would have been capable of biting the biggest great white shark alive today clean in half.

The Dorset specimen is one of the most complete and best preserved skulls ever found, and as a result it has provided new insights into our understanding of how these enormous animals evolved.

Richard Edmonds and Kevan Sheehan with the Pliosaur skull © DCM

Richard Edmonds and Kevan Sheehan with the Pliosaur skull © DCM

Since its discovery, hundreds of hours have been spent carrying out a detailed analysis and cleaning away the rock to expose the detail of the fossil underneath. Alongside this conservation work an intensive programme involved the Jurassic Coast team and Dorset County Museum working together to produce an exciting, interactive display showcasing the fossil with the theme ‘The World’s Biggest Bite’. Mounted dramatically on a specially constructed plinth that shows the jaws in an awe-inspiring open-mouthed position, the story of the fossil is interpreted through a series of film presentations accompanied by a life-size model of the pliosaur’s head.

Dr. Jon Murden, Director said “It’s amazing to see this skull up close in the Museum – standing next to it you can really appreciate its enormous size, and get a feel for the terrifying predator it once was.”

Related Link:

A Poetic Eye: John Craxton on Cranborne Chase and Crete

Figure in Tree Lithograph by John Caxton (1944)

Figure in Tree Lithograph by John Caxton (1944)

John Craxton (1922-2009) was one of the most interesting and individual British artists of the 20th century. His life story, starting with wanderings on Cranborne Chase, was as colourful as his later pictures of the light, life and landscapes of Greece.

A new exhibition at Dorset County Museum in Dorchester will chart Craxton’s journey from Cranborne to Crete, from early paintings of dark and menaced war-time landscapes to joyful scenes painted under bright Cretan skies.

“John Craxton was one of the art world’s best-kept secrets, but his reputation has surged since his death,” said exhibition curator Ian Collins.”The retrospective exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge earlier this year attracted a huge number of visitors and we are hoping for a similar reaction here.”

“This exhibition will bring together many paintings and drawings never previously exhibited,” said Jon Murden, Director of Dorset County Museum. “It covers an extraordinary range of work from his early life in rural Dorset to Greece where he lived after the Second World War.”

Born in London into a large, musical and bohemian family, Craxton’s nomadic habit began early – staying lengthily with relatives and family friends and briefly at school after school until being pronounced unteachable.

From an early age Craxton lodged with an artist uncle and aunt in an ancient cottage, a short walk from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Farnham. Within this Aladdin’s cave of treasures from all periods and places, Craxton educated himself in art history and archaeology while revelling in untamed Dorset.

At 14 he saw Picasso’s Guernica in Paris with the paint still wet, and at 16 he was drawing in the French capital until forced home by looming war. Rejected for military service, he drew his first masterpiece at 19 – heralding a long series of haunted paintings and drawings which were studies in entrapment. A procession of solitary figures in dark and threatened landscapes were all emblematic portraits of the artist himself.

Mentored by Graham Sutherland, and enjoying a close friendship with Lucian Freud, Craxton won youthful fame with pictures hailed as highlights of the Neo-Romantic movement (a label the artist hated). He had great charm and luck. In the week that the Craxton family home was blitzed, his textile designer friend EQ Nicholson was moving into Alderholt mill house, on the Dorset-Wiltshire border. Craxton moved in too, and reflected the surrounding scenery in many of his war-time pictures.

In the first post-war summer, of 1945, John and Lucian went to the Scilly Isles as stepping stones to warmer climes. A year later John Craxton led the partnership to Greece, where, while always travelling widely, he would be based for the rest of his life.

Pictures initially inspired by Samuel Palmer and William Blake, and then by Picasso and Miro, finally owed more and more to Cretan frescoes and Byzantine mosaics as Craxton developed a linear colour language all his own. His singular art evolved from dark to light and from disquiet to joy. But to the end he visited Cranborne Chase – with late elegiac paintings and drawings of dead elms which seemed to come full circle with his war-time pictures of six decades earlier.

The new exhibition at Dorset County Museum, curated by Ian Collins, John Craxton’s biographer and executor, will explore Craxton’s journey into light and colour – following his travels from Dorset to Greece. The exhibition will run from 28th March to 19th September 2015, moving to Salisbury Museum early in 2016. The Museum is open from 10.00am to 4.00pm, Monday to Saturday.

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Bodies in Trenches 2013

Archaeology National Trust SW

A good time to review some of the discoveries of the past year. Much of what we have written here is to do with work that National Trust archaeologists have carried out themselves. However, resources dictate that I usually need to a ask archaeological contractors to carry out recording work.

Here are some of the discoveries from repairs, developments and service trenches that needed excavating this year. At some places, a trench can be dug where there is a near certainty that archaeology will be affected…even when the location has been chosen to avoid it. At others, we do not have enough information to know what will be discovered. Geophysics can help… but often it is difficult to know what lies beneath the ground.

In January, trenching for a new drainage system and fibre-optic cable line around the house at Montacute, Somerset was watched by Mike and Peter of Terrain…

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John Meade Falkner and Moonfleet

John Meade Falkner

John Meade Falkner © DCM

John Meade Falkner was born at Manningford Bruce, Wiltshire, the son of a curate. He spent his childhood in Dorchester and Weymouth. (His father later became curate at Buckland Ripers, close to the landscape of Moonfleet.)

After taking an Oxford degree, Falkner became a tutor. He was later a business man, and then an academic. He wrote poetry, guides to the counties of Oxford and Berkshire, and three novels: The Lost Stradivarius, Moonfleet and The Nebuly Coat, He lost the manuscript of a fourth novel on a train.

The Rat’s ‘Tale‘, an extract from a typescript account of his childhood by J M Falkner. The scene is the dining room of St. Mary’s Rectory, Weymouth…

“The room was by no means ill-favoured, it was warm, had always plenty of light, and in the evening found the amenities of sunset and a view of rising ground on the far side of the Backwater. But in it was enacted the first scene of a overwhelming family tragedy. We were dining one day about 1.30 (I think that was Thursday March 2nd 1871) and there was on the table a glass water-bottle cylindrical in shape with a flat under-side.

Taken in 1876, John Meade Falkner canoeing on the Backwater at Weymouth, Dorset

Taken in 1876, John Meade Falkner canoeing on the Backwater at Weymouth, Dorset © DCM

Someone noticed that there was something, like a piece of thick black sting, coiled round the bottom inside, and it was fished out.

It was fished out with one of our good old silver forks, and proved to be the tail which had dropped of a decomposed rat.”

The rat was a typhoid rat, and the disease afflicted all the family (except the father). Falkner’s mother died of typhoid ten days later.

MOONFLEET

Moonfleet is a tale of smuggling by John Meade Falkner first published in 1898.

Fleet Old Church, Moonfleet

Fleet Old Church, wrecked by the Great Storm of 1824. In the story of Moonfleet, John Trenchard is trapped in the vault underneath this church. © DCM

One frosty, moon-bright evening in 1758, John Trenchard discovers a secret passage leading from under a churchyard tomb down into the darkness of the Mohune family vault. There he finds not only coffins, but also casks of brandy, hidden by the village smugglers. John is in search of Blackbeards’s diamond, and this is the start of a cliff-hanging adventure which takes him halfway across the world. As in all Falkner’s novels, the finding of a lost object leads to terrible consequences. Heraldry, too, is a recurrent device. The Y of the Mohune’s shield is the mark with which John is branded at the hands of the Dutch – however faraway, John still remains the property of the Mohunes.

Sky1 TV adaptation of ‘Moonfleet’ starring Ray Winstone, Aneurin Barnard and Karl McCrone

From Mud and Bones to a Museum Specimen

Richard Edmonds and Kevan Sheehan with the Pliosaur skull © DCM

Richard Edmonds and Kevan Sheehan with the Pliosaur skull © DCM

The fossil bones of this pliosaur skull were recovered by amateur fossil collector Kevan Sheehan between 2003 and 2008, as they were washed out of a landslide on the coast in Weymouth Bay. The largest piece weighed over 80 kg. Kevan missed only four pieces, three of which were recovered by two other collectors.

In 2003, Kevan found three massive sections of the jaw lying at the base of the cliff, freshly washed out by the sea. Over the next five years he returned to the site after rough weather and rain, patiently recovering the pieces as they became exposed. This is an incredible achievement for an individual collector, and a sign of his dedication to the recovery of something that would otherwise have been lost to the sea. The three smaller pieces were found by other local collectors, Patrick Clarke and Shirley Swaine. One small piece at the back of one jaw is lost, while the front of the jaw was probably uncovered many years ago. It could have been washed away or it could be lying in a collection somewhere not yet linked to this find.

Funding

The specimen was purchased by Dorset County Council’s Museums Service, half its initial cost going to the collector and the other half to the landowner. Preparation (cleaning) and piecing the bones back together took 18 months of skilled, professional work. Funding has been provided by the Heritage Lottery Collecting Cultures programme, with match funding from Dorset and Devon County Councils. The restored specimen was formally unveiled here by Sir David Attenborough, on 8th July 2011.

About the specimen

As yet, the skull has not been allocated a formal name. It is currently being studied by research groups at several UK Universities, and it is thought probable that the pliosaur will receive a species name new to science (probably crediting its finder)

The skull is 95% complete, but there was no sign of the body at the find site. Entire skeletons are rare as they tended to be broken up before burial. The massive skull probably fell off the decaying body as it rolled about in the Jurassic sea, being ripped apart by scavenging creatures, possibly even other pliosaurs. The complete animal would have measured between 15 and 18 m in length.

Its skull is 2.4 m long, and is believed to have possessed the biggest bite of all time – powerful enough to sever a small car in two! Although they never lived at the same time, it could have torn the biggest great white shark alive today clean in half.

Pliosaurs lived during the ‘Mesozoic Era’, the age where reptiles dominated the animal kingdom. Dinosaurs patrolled the land, pterosaurs soared the skies, and a variety of large aquatic reptiles (such as plesiosaurs, pliosaurs, ichthyosaurs and mozasaurs), ruled the seas. Both the dinosaurs and the marine reptiles died out at the end of the Mesozoic Era, 65 million years ago, when a massive extinction event wiped out two thirds of life on Earth. The bones of this pliosaur were found in Kimmeridge Clay sediments (deposited during the Upper Jurassic Period), and are about 155 million years old.

Pliosaur

The Sea Dragon – Pliosaur

Scientists have been able to build a picture of how a complete pliosaur would have looked from various fragmentary remains. Living pliosaurs were air-breathing marine reptiles. They are considered to be a subfamily of the plesiosaurs. Unlike some plesiosaurs, they had short necks with just a few vertebrae. Pliosaurs’ barrel-shaped bodies were equipped with a powerful tail and often a huge skull. The creatures swam by means of two pairs of paddle-shaped limbs (for example the forepaddle on the eastern wall of this gallery). The main identifiable differences between skull specimens are the jaws and dentition, which probably reflect different types of prey favoured by each species. They were able to catch and dismember large prey as they had powerful jaws capable of opening wide, and strong, deeply rooted, conical teeth. There is a model of the head as it perhaps looked when alive, hanging in the window of this gallery.

Ongoing research

Scientific study is underway to discover how the animal lived and died, and how its bones became a living reef for encrusting animals. The specimen has already been scanned at the University of Southampton using its high-energy, micro-focus CT scanner – one of the most powerful of its kind in the UK.

The results have been used to reconstruct a three dimensional digital model of the entire skull, revealing fine details of the creature’s internal structure that would otherwise remain a mystery. The University of Bristol are using this CT scan data to understand just how powerful the bite may have been. Experts from the University of Portsmouth will study the fossilisation process, while mud associated with the bones has been sent to the University of Plymouth, to see if any fossil plankton were preserved. Sediment removed from the bones will be studied by experts in the Natural History Museum in search of bones and teeth of animals that may have hunted around the dead skeleton.

Other examples

The Weymouth Bay Pliosaur skull is exceptional because it is 95% complete, but it is not the biggest in the world. Fragments of larger specimens have been found in the brick pits of Oxfordshire. The skull of Kronosaurus, from Australia, was possibly up to 3 m long. Specimens of comparable size have been found in northern Norway, on the island of Svalbard, and in Colombia, South America.

Other pliosaur specimens are on display around the world at

  • Queensland Museum – an example Kronosaurus found in Queensland, Northeast Australia.

Plesiosaur and ichthyosaur specimens are on display in the UK at