MIC Object of the Year 2019

Voting is now closed but don’t worry, you can still support Cambs Museums by reading the surprising stories and fascinating facts about our six Object of the Year nominees:

1. Anglo-Saxon Claw Beaker, Chatteris Museum – This claw beaker was the first of its type discovered in Britain and reported to the Society of Antiquaries of London by Dr William Stukley in 1757. Until 2016 this was the only one found in Cambridgeshire, one thousand years after it was placed in a tumulus. Found in pieces by workmen digging gravel for road repairs, this unique beaker was later restored at the British Museum. It was blown from a glass block brought from the Middle East  by a talented glass blower for an important pre-Christian, Chatteris man. The quality of workmanship was remarked on by Stukeley as one ” our [18th century] glassblowers cannot perform”. Today it is still beyond the skill of many glassworkers and stands as an iconic example of artistic and technical excellence. 10 claws like elephant trunks extrude from the body which has trails spiralling round the neck. An expert from the British Museum described the beaker as “one of the finest of the Anglo-Saxon claw beakers, and may be regarded as the highest point of the craftsman’s achievement in this form”.

2. Trumpington Cross, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology- The cross was found on a teenage girl alongside a set of gold and garnet pins and on what was once a beautifully carved wooden bed. Bed burials like this are extremely rare, as are pectoral crosses – there are only five other examples of pectoral crosses, and none of them were sewn directly onto the clothing like this was. As the majority of Anglo-Saxon bed burials are for young women and include valuable grave goods it is thought that they were wealthy and high status; perhaps serving as abbesses as they tended to come from noble families. Not only a stunning portrayal of craftsmanship in the early middle ages, it is also special because it marks this young woman out as one of the earliest converts to Christianity at the time. It also illustrates the breadth of trade and religious connections of the community.

3. Darlow Farm Cottage, Ramsey Rural MuseumDarlow Farm Cottage stood on Wood Walton Fen. It was built in 1935 for Mr H Papworth. Built of wood, with no electricity, mains drainage or running water it was typical of a fen worker’s cottage. Heat was provided by coal fires and water for cooking and washing was collected in rainwater tanks. It stood empty and abandoned for a number of years after the final family left, on land which was due to be flooded by the creation of the Great Fen Project, and was offered to Ramsey Rural Museum. The challenge was accepted to preserve a part of the working life of the Fens, and because the cottage was the birthplace of one of the Museum’s founding members, Marshal Papworth. In 2005 work began on the huge task of dismantling the cottage, preserving as many of the original features as possible, and subsequently transporting it to the Museum where it was lovingly rebuilt by a team of museum volunteers. They had reference to the original building plans in our collection and the many photographs taken before it was dismantled. It is a testament to how many rural families lived in this area up until the 1950s.

4. 3D model of the Jurassic plesiosaur Cryptoclidus by BA student and artist Emily Manning
A museum full of rocks and fossils may not be the first place you think of to promote artist development, but our collections here at the Sedgwick are doing just that. In the autumn of 2018, Arts University Bournemouth student and model-maker Emily Manning approached the Sedgwick Museum. The museum was a childhood favourite of hers and she wanted to know if we would like to collaborate with her on a module of her University course in modelmaking. The result of this collaborative art project is a 3D reconstruction of the Jurassic plesiosaur Cryptoclidus eurymerus. The final model is a detailed 30cm long resin cast created from a clay sculpture. We incorporated the latest research and theories to help us create a modern interpretation of this extinct marine reptile. The model is on display in the museum’s ‘Jurassic Seas’ cases, alongside the 160 million year old fossils it is based on. Our displays feature outdated reconstructions and the new model provides some new visual interpretation for our visitors.

5. Prototype of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, which pre-dates the Spectrum’s release in April 1982

The ZX Spectrum is an iconic machine in the story of the personal computer, which began in the mid-1970s. For many in the UK the Spectrum was their first experience of using a computer and it quickly gained a loyal following when released in April 1982. Its low price tag made the computer accessible and its introduction led to a boom in companies producing software and hardware for the machine. It was also the first experience many people had at writing their own games and software. The ZX Spectrum is often acknowledged as a catalyst in the development of the UK gaming culture and industry. The UK is now home to one of the largest videogame industries in the world. In 2018, games accounted for more than half of the entire U.K. entertainment market, 51.3%, outselling music and video combined, for the first time. This prototype of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum shows off the hand-built circuit board and a full travel keyboard. The layout has familiar components, but is very different from the final configuration of the Spectrum. The case for the Spectrum was later designed by Sinclair’s in-house industrial designer Rick Dickinson, and included the infamous grey rubber keypad. Sinclair Research was one of a number of British computing companies that was based in Cambridge during the 1980s. This one-of-a-kind object was donated by Kate and John Grant of Nine Tiles, the company who was sub-contracted to write the BASIC programming language for the Spectrum.

6. Anglo-Saxon female skeleton, Burwell Museum                                                             Belonging to a young woman living during the 7/8th Century, discovered between Burwell and Swaffham Prior. In the summer of 1947 after a long, hot and dry summer, many early settlements were revealed and an aerial photographic survey was commissioned over the whole country. Fast forward to the early 90’s, Brenda Wilson, Burwell Museum’s current Chair of Trustees was head teacher of Swaffham Prior CoE Primary School. She tells this story: One Thursday afternoon, long after the children had gone home, I received a phone call from a member of the Cambridge Archeological team saying that they had been working on a site in Swaffham Prior that had been identified from that survey. He said it had been an exciting site to work, and before they closed it the following day, suggested the children from school might like to see what they had found. With one of my teachers I walked up to meet him at the entrance of the site, expecting in all honesty, not much more than a bit of pottery! As we walked along he explained how they had used a digger to remove the shallow topsoil revealing the chalk underneath where they could clearly see any disturbance. And then we saw the grave. A small skeleton lying on her side, with remnants of a necklace among the bones and a brooch at her shoulder which had held her cloak which she had been buried in. A jaw dropping moment. We took all the children in two groups the following day. How many children have the opportunity to access a primary source of history?