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Hertfordshire Year of Culture 2020

Museum Object of the Year

During September you could vote for your favourite object nominated by one of Hertfordshire’s fantastic museums.

Staff and volunteers have taken the opportunity to spend time finding out more about the objects they care for and adding to their collections and have each nominated an object they think will capture the public’s imagination.

Voting for the Hertfordshire Year of Culture 2020 Museum Object of The Year has now closed.

We are counting the votes and will announce the winner shortly. Follow us @hertsmuseums on Facebook and Twitter.

Victorian Toy

British Schools Museum

We’ve been going through the Jill Grey Collection, looking for new, yet-to-be discovered stories. Little did we know that the act of curating would become the story with this object!

More about the Victorian Toy

From the 1950s, Jill Grey (1919-1987) collected anything on early education and the social history of childhood. 1970s radio recordings have her speaking in the ‘proper’ accent of those times, and her hair was always tied up in a bun.

In a box full of marbles, clay balls, spinning tops and other children’s toys was this weird-looking item. Jill Grey describes this as “Toy. Made from bone. Holes all over with spikes that protrude, but keep changing position as it is rolled along.” A fun toy, indeed…

We were intrigued by this unusual object and did a Google Images search, only to find that actually it is part of a 19th century Chinese ivory ball for use by adult females, for their personal pleasure.

Jill visited antique dealers up and down the country. We can imagine her asking the proprietor what the item was, to be told it was ‘a toy’ (with little further details, saving her blushes).

Or perhaps she’s looking down on us, having a bit of chuckle.


Straw Plaiter Peg Doll  - Peggy Straw

The Dacorum Heritage Trust Ltd

As working from home has become the ‘new normal’ we are reminded of Peggy Straw our straw plaiting peg doll who is constantly hard at work! Straw plaiters were ‘outworkers’, making their intricately woven lengths of straw from their own home.

More about Peggy Straw

Peggy Straw represents the largely forgotten but once prevalent industry of straw plaiting which is an important part of Dacorum’s heritage. This trade was rooted in the Chilterns during the 19th century as the unique chalk fields of the area were said to have produced Britain’s finest straw. Plaiting was a big part of every day rural life and in the mid-century plaiters were found in nearly all households in Hemel Hempstead.

The majority of plaiters were women and children and their work provided much of the household income. Children attended plaiting schools, which could be found in every town and village in the area and were often the only form of education on offer for the labouring poor who learned little else. The plaiting schools persisted even after the Education Act of 1870 and teachers were said to hide children from the education inspectors. Despite the lack of education and often strict and cramped conditions in the schools, the additional income children in rural areas were able to earn often improved the overall quality of life for their families and prevented them having to seek help from the parish.


The Ackroyd Scone

Harpenden Museum

Scone, baked in Harpenden in 1915, sold to a soldier who gave it to his landlady. Returned to the baker about 1935.

More about the Ackroyd Scone

In 1915 the Harpenden baker, Thomas Ackroyd, sold scones to the Notts & Derby troops training on Harpenden Common. This scone was given by the Tommy to the lady with whom he was billeted.  She was a customer of Ackroyd’s. Some twenty or so years later when Ernie Ackroyd came with her bread delivery she gave him the scone and told him the story. Ernie’s son, Geoff presented the scone to Harpenden Local History Society.

The scone is past its “best before” date by about 105 years and looks it. Like Ernie, it survived both world wars, but we don’t know whether the Tommy who bought it in the first place was so lucky.


Wigram Family Print

Much Hadham Forge Museum

Curator’s chance 99 pence eBay bargain could shed new light on the art history of miniaturist John Smart!

More about the Wigram Family Print

This period print of the Wigram Family was recently acquired on eBay for the princely sum of 99 pence, including P&P! The seller was generous enough to honour the sale and included the added bonus of a list of all the sitters in the print, including the lady and infant depicted in a portrait hanging on the wall in the scene! We believe that this list of names adds new knowledge to the art history of this print; the engravings having been taken from miniatures of the Wigram family by John Smart. It may even help to identify some of Smart’s miniatures currently labelled “unknown sitter”.

It's a great addition to our museum collection; shedding new light on the fascinating story of Money Wigram. One of 22 siblings, Money was a shipping magnate and at one time owner of Moor Place, Much Hadham. The family story takes us through the naval supremacy of the late Georgian era, when the Wigrams were both ship builders and involved in South Sea whaling. Their trade provided the oil to fuel the Industrial Revolution which characterised the Victorian era. The museum has plans for an exhibition about the fascinating Wigram family in the future.


Record Peter and his young cousin Speedy Steven

North Hertfordshire Museum

Record Peter, the cycling monkey, was made by Steiff in the 1920s. His interactive cousin Speedy Steven entertains children of all ages, cycling many miles, though he has had to sit still through lockdown.

More about Record Peter and Speedy Steven

This cycling monkey, called Record Peter, was made by the German company Steiff in the 1920s. As you push him along, his legs move on the pedals and he rocks back and forth on his seat. Steiff is best known for its teddy bears, but still makes other character stuffed toys. The company is celebrating its 140th anniversary in 2020, and its motto is ‘Only the best is good enough for children’. Though Record Peter has retired from his century-long cycling career, his young cousin Speedy Steven, who was specially made for the museum, has taken up the mantle. He has entertained children of all ages, cycling many miles as you turn his handle. Though virus safety restrictions have meant he has been furloughed and is currently unable to continue his travels, Steven hopes to get back to cycling again soon! Vote for Peter and Steven, the amazing cycling duo!


Lever Frame

St Albans South Signal Box

The levers that worked signals and points (distinguished by the different colours) at St Albans City station from 1906 to 1979. These controlled the trains safely, and were manned ‘24/7’ as we now say. They form the heart of our museum.

More info about the Lever Frame

The ‘Lever Frame’ is the heart of the manual signalling system demonstrated at the preserved St Albans South signal box. The levers are coloured red for Stop and Shunt signals, yellow for Distant signals, black for Points, blue for Point Locks and chevroned for emergency signal placers. The levers are ‘interlocked’ by mechanisms under the black covers behind the levers to prevent the signalman from making mistakes. The lever frame was installed in 1906 when changes were made to the lines running through the City station and more signals were needed.

The frame was left in the box when it closed in 1979 when new electric signalling was introduced as part of the electrification of the line. Many hours of voluntary work were carried out from 2008 onwards to clean and repair the frame, repaint the levers and get it working again. A computer simulator connected to the levers and the instruments above them allows us to show how the box once used to work in the 1970s.

The restoration of the box and frame won us the 2010 Invensys National Signalling Award and two local awards from the Civic Society and the Mayor of St Albans.


The Watford Observer Clock

Watford Museum

The Watford Observer Clock is an icon of the history of Watford Football Club and its bond with the town. It once dominated the Rookery Stand at Vicarage Road and is still much loved by fans since finding a new home at Watford Museum

More about the Watford Observer Clock

The Watford Observer Clock is the most loved relic of Watford Football Club’s Vicarage Road Stadium. It was the ‘O’ of an advert for the Watford Observer on the old Rookery Stand, and is now on permanent display at Watford Museum. Fans sum up why it is so special, “No design classic, no masterpiece, but a chunk of metal. OUR metal. An icon, not of minutes and hours, but of years. Glorious years of devotion, toil and unwavering love”.  “The clock was a constant presence in our home away from home, showing the link between town and club”. Now it demonstrates the bond between Watford Football Club, the fans and Watford Museum, and our work together to celebrate football and community heritage.