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Further Curiosities from the Museum

Further Curiosities from the Museum

It always brings great excitement and even after 11 years there are still always new surprises for me, with more than 11,000 objects in the social history collection alone. This week we discovered that we have an unopened packet of face masks that was donated to the museum in 1994, might be useful!

However, not all items you come across in the museum collection have such an immediately apparent use, some are a little more curious.

All appears perfectly normal on initial inspection of this late 18th century beer mug. However, the inscription on the mug might suggest that all is not as it seems. If you were in an 18th century tavern and received your beer in a mug that read “Tho malt and venom seem united don’t break the pot nor be afrighted” perhaps some alarm bells would start to ring. And you would be right to be concerned.

Hidden at the bottom of the mug, waiting to be revealed as you drank the last of your cloudy beverage, was a ceramic frog. These are called frog, or surprise, mugs. The frogs in some mugs had small holes in them and were designed to gurgle or spit. We are lucky that the mug survived and made it to the museum collection, a lot of them were dropped in surprise and broken.

Why have we got this lump of metal in the museum collection we might ask? This is a fragment of the bomb which fell on the Majestic Hotel on 12th September 1940 and it represents the only occasion that Harrogate was bombed in the Second World War.

It is believed that the Germans were using out of date maps, and based on this information they wrongly thought that the Majestic Hotel was being used by the British Air Ministry and was an important target.

A German Junkers 88 plane dived over the Majestic Hotel, releasing 3 bombs.  The first bomb lodged in a staff bedroom without exploding. The second bomb landed in the grounds of the hotel and the shock waves shattered the 8,000 square feet of glass in the Winter Garden. The third bomb demolished a villa on the corner of Ripon and Swan Roads. It is once we know the story that goes with this piece of metal that we know it is very significant to the story of Harrogate’s past.

A bit of Victorian bling? What is this set of decorative chains suspended from a clip? It is harder to work out when the hoops at the ends of the chains are empty, but this is a chatelaine.

A chatelaine kept everything you might need to hand, perhaps the 19th century equivalent of a smartphone? This decorative item would have been worn at the waist of the head woman of the household. Attached to the chains would be all the items that she needed to deal with any problem she encountered during the day.

These things might include; scissors, thimbles, keys and household seals. Wearing a chatelaine, holding keys to all the secure areas of the house, clearly showed the power the lady held.

There are things that initially seem curious and strange, very much like trying to understand why the Royal Pump Room might have been overrun in the Victorian era with people travelling from far and wide to drink something as disgusting as the sulphur water. But by remaining curious about these curiosities we discover the background and fascinating stories that allow us to understand them and the era that they came from.

Read the first blog from this series here



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