A Restful Retirement

Today we welcomed this lovely old teddy bear into our Museum Collection.

The bear was donated by a lady who grew up in Earls Road in Nuneaton. He originally belonged to her aunt but was passed on to her when she was a little girl in the 1940s. Always simply called ‘Teddy’, he was one of her favourite toys. ‘Teddy’ has been well loved over the years and has had his eyes replaced as well as various parts of his body re-stitched.

We hope he enjoys his restful retirement at the Museum!

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A Very Purple Hands on History

This month we returned to a colour theme for our monthly Hands on History and we would like to thank all of you who visited us us on Saturday the 16th of November. We had our usual wide and surprising range of objects and even had the good fortune to be able to share with you one of the dresses from our George Eliot collection!

It was in relation to the purple colour of that dress that I was able to share in some interesting conversations regarding purple dyes and why, at least before the late 19th century, purple was an uncommon colour in clothing.

Purple is a cross between red and blue.  Dyeing something purple is, however, a bit more complex than crushing up violet flowers or mixing red things and blue things in a vat. Purple is tricky.

Today, we use a variety of synthetic dyes to make things purple, fuchsia, mauve, and many things in between. One of the very first synthetic dyes was mauveine, created by accident by the British chemist William Henry Perkin in 1856. Fuchsine, created by the German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann in 1858, increased the demand for dyed purple items.  What could people do to dye things purple before the 1850’s?

In the ancient Mediterranean world, the answer was murex. Murex conchylium is a sea snail native in particular to the eastern Mediterranean. If you collect these snails, crack them open to get at them, soak them for a bit, remove and juice a tiny gland into a basin, and then leave this out in the sun for a very specific amount of time during which it would turn white to yellow-green to green to violet to red, you could make yourself some purple dye. In order to make even a gram of the dye required around 8,000 snails. That’s a lot of snails! Bear in mind, also, that ancient sources state that the snails needed to be dead before they could be processed. Imagine, if you will, the sight and the smell of a beach lined with thousands of rotting molluscs! As you may have guessed, the work was difficult and unpleasant, the result very expensive. You could, if you so chose, gently ‘milk’ the snails by agitating them!  This is not thought to have been done due to the extra labour involved!

This dye was known as Tyrian Purple, named after Tyre in Phoenicia, one of the major cities of production. It was more red than we would commonly think of purple, but that was the desirable shade. It features in works as old as the Illiad and the Odyssey and continued in use in Rome and the Byzantine Empire as a ceremonially important and even regal colour. By the 4th century, legislation forbade the wearing of purple by anyone except the Emperor. For this reason, and because of its expense, purple became almost synonymous with royalty in the West – at least until the 15th century.

Royal and religious colours then tended towards scarlet and crimson as purple became near impossible to attain. That is, of course, until we get back synthetic purple. Queen Victoria popularised the colour once again and, due to the way the dye could be industrially manufactured, purple was more accessible to the population – including Mary Anne Evans/George Eliot as evidenced by our lovely example.

So, the next time you decide to wear the colour purple, think about how novel it is to be able to actually make that choice and how uncommon it would be to see it even 200 years ago. Also remember the fantastic feats of human ingenuity and production….as well as thousands of sea snails!

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New Community Showcase Display: Mining Reminiscence

This week we launched our new Community Showcase Display, ‘Mining Reminiscence’ at Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery.

Earlier in the year, we had invited former local coal miners and their families to the Museum to attend a special reminiscence cafe. Attendees explored museum objects connected to mining and shared their personal stories of work in the borough’s coal mines. These reminiscences now form a key part of the new display.

Display 1

Yesterday, everyone who contributed was invited to a special Community Showcase preview event. We enjoyed a natter over a cup of tea and biscuits, and then went to see the new display of objects and quotes. We were delighted that so many people were able to come despite the pouring rain!

The Community Showcase provides an opportunity for local community and youth organisations to work with members of the Museum team to create their own display using museum objects. If your group would like to be involved in a future display, please contact the Museum for more information.

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Remembering Nuneaton Factories

“It was just our life, there were so many factories”, are the words one visitor used as she began to tell me her memories of Nuneaton factories at our recent Hands on History event on the subject.

In preparation for the session, it was exactly this, the multitude of factories, the variety of products manufactured in Nuneaton and the overriding sense of the hard work and enterprise demonstrated by Nuneaton men and women, that struck me as fascinating and deeply important.

To provide an impression of the number of factories and the variety of products manufactured throughout Nuneaton and Bedworth in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, I have listed those which I happened upon in preparation for the session:

Tansey’s Needle Factory, Corporation Street, needles for the hosiery industry
Courtauld’s Mill, Marlborough Road, rayon yarn
Toye, Kenning and Spencer, Bedworth, fraternal regalia
The Elastic Web Works, Attleborough Green, elastic webbing
Sterling Metals, Marston Lane, castings for the textile and motor industries
Nuneaton Flour Mill, Mill Walk, flour
Hall & Phillips, Abbey Street, hats
Alfred Connor & Co Ltd, Fife street, cardboard boxes
F.H.Biddle Ltd & British Trane Co. Ltd, St Mary’s Road, heating and ventilation equipment
Stanley Bros, Swan Lane (now Croft Road) bricks and building features and materials
Franklins (formerly Slingsbys & Sons), Attleborough, silk weaving
Moorhouse & Sons, Seymour Road, jam
Luckman & Pickerings, Leicester Street, Bedworth, hats
Fielding and Johnsons, Anker Mill, wool
Union, Wool and Leather Company, Vicarage Street, leather
Finn Shoes Ltd., Weddington
Listers, silk throwing, velvet weaving and dying, Park Street
Hall and West, Abbey Works, boilermakers
The Reliant, Queen’s Road, clothing
Jip Snuff, Attleborough Road, medicated snuff
The George Eliot Sauce Works, Bridge Street, Chilvers Coton, sauces
Nuneaton Co-operative Dairy, Merevale Avenue, milk
Intalok, Caldwell Road, spring seating and mattresses
Closiers, Avenue Road, shoes
Clear Hooters Ltd., Alliance Works, Leicester Street, Bedworth, car and motorcycle horns
The Abbey Hosiery Mills Ltd, Avenue Road, hosiery
Haunchwood Brick and Tile Company, Stockingford, blue bricks and tiles
Robinsons, lingerie and underwear
Midland Sheet Metal, Chilvers Coton, car bodies and sheet metal work
Judkins Ltd., Tuttle Hill, roadstone and railway ballast
Premier Stone, concrete goods
Jees & Man-Abbells, roadstone and railway ballast
Smith’s Ribbon Factory, Arden Road, Bulkington, ribbon weaving


Silk woven picture of Anne Hathaway’s cottage by Franklins


The exploration of Nuneaton factories evoked enlightening conversations with visitors. One visitor told me most Nuneaton families had members who worked in the factories, with men tending to work the day shift and women, the so-called twilight shift. In fact, the visitor’s mother had worked the twilight shift at Alfred Connor & Co Ltd. making cardboard boxes and jigsaw puzzles whilst her late husband and his two sisters all worked at Finn Shoes in Weddington.

Most factory workers were paid piece work, which as the term suggests is work paid according to the amount produced. This, one visitor emphasised, meant that factory employees worked hard for their pay. It was also highlighted to me, that there was an abundance of factory jobs available in Nuneaton. One visitor explained that after collecting weekly pay on a Friday, a worker who was unhappy with their current factory could very easily get a new factory job the following Monday morning.


Stanley Bros Brick Stamp


Working in factories was potentially a dangerous occupation, as stories shared at the session revealed. One visitor recalled an incident from her time working as a nurse in Casualty, in which a female factory worker from Intalok, a mattress factory based in Caldwell Road, came into the hospital with a bed spring “right through her hand”. The injured lady, was apparently anxious to return to the factory to finish off her shift after receiving treatment. Another similarly gruesome story, that one visitor recalled being told by her mother-in-law, who worked at Moorhouse & Sons jam factory, involved a factory worker being badly burnt by hot jam.

In preparation for this session, one of the connections to emerge that I enjoyed finding out about also relates to Moorhouse & Sons jam factory and additionally, to the entertainer Larry Grayson, who lived in Nuneaton for the majority of his life. Along with character inventions such as Slack Alice and Everard Farquharson, Larry Grayson also created a character called Apricot Lil, who worked at the jam factory in Nuneaton. In an interview televised on Anglia News in 1973, whilst Larry was performing in Skegness, he spoke of Apricot Lil and others from the jam factory in Nuneaton as follows:

Larry: Apricot Lil’s here you know. As a matter of fact they are all here from the jam factory today. It’s a treat and they’ve all come up and they’re coming in second house tonight.

Interviewer: Where did those characters come from?

Larry: From the jam factory…there was a jam factory, a very famous jam factory in the town where I live, Nuneaton, and all these people used to go to work there and I knew a lot of people there and they used to talk about them, and they’d say, “have you seen her again…Lil, y’know, her on the apricots, Apricot Lil.’

Larry Grayson released a song called ‘Apricot Lil’ on his 1972 LP, ‘What a Gay Day’, which included the lyrics: “Apricot Lil is the fruitiest girl in town/The jam factory’s sweetheart who never stands still.’

The Union Wool and Leather Factory, which stood on the current site of Sainsburys, was recalled by visitors from their childhood as emitting strange smells. However, one visitor recollected a pleasanter experience of going to the factory to choose a sheepskin coat for herself in 1972. She shared that she was able to choose the colour, style and fastenings for the coat, which was then made for her.


Needles for leather work


Whilst remembering Nuneaton factories, it feels important to mention Courtaulds Mill, which was located on Marlborough Road and manufactured rayon yarn. Designed by Harry Quick and built in the 1920s, the factory had an impressive clock tower that graced the Nuneaton skyline. The chiming of the clock was a significant and memorable feature of Nuneaton life. Even after the closure of the factory in the 1980s, the Gillet and Johnston made clock was kept going by its faithful caretaker, Harold Lapworth. In an article published in the Nuneaton Tribune, 1st February 1990, Harold Lapworth said: “I have lived 60 years within the sound of the Courtaulds clock”. One visitor to our Hands on History session also expressed the impression made by the Courtaulds clock, in her own words: “Of course, I must mention Courtaulds. The clock could be seen and heard all over Nuneaton – sadly missed”.


Nuneaton Factories objects with model of Courtaulds factory (centre)


Thank you to all the visitors who participated in the Nuneaton Factories Hands on History session and a special thank you to those who shared their memories of Nuneaton factories with us. Please feel free to share your memories of Nuneaton factories in the comments section. It would be wonderful to hear any further memories related to Nuneaton factories.

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Up up and away!

Charles Green

With the recent cinema release of ‘The Aeronauts’ starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, we thought you might like to hear about a local ballooning adventure which may have influenced the film! Below is an extract from the Nuneaton Diary of July 1825.
‘The whole of this month and even from the 26 of last up to the present time (28th ) has been free from rain and for many days the weather was excessively Hot. Thermometer stood in the Sun at 110 & 115. [degrees F]Shade 85-90 for many days. Wind northerly.
Green the Aeronaut ascended from Leicester and was seen from here for ab’t 40 minutes. He descended near to Atherstone and was accompanied on his voyage by a Miss Stocks of some notoriety as an aeronaut from her having been the companion in an aerial voyage with the unfortunate Mr Harris who was killed from the rapid desention (sic) of his Balloon.’

Charles Green (31 January 1785 – 26 March 1870) became one of Great Britain’s most famous balloonists of the 19th century and a pioneer of early aviation.

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A School Blazer

Today we added a new item to our object collection at the Museum! This blazer was worn by Desmond Stewart Martin when he attended King Edward VI Grammar School in Nuneaton in the early 1950s. It has been donated to the Museum by his son, Paul.


Desmond was born in South Wales in 1935 and was the son of a coal miner. He moved to Nuneaton with his family in the late 1930s and lived in Bracebridge Street, Nuneaton. Desmond attended Fitton Street School and then King Edward VI Grammar School. He became school cricket captain there (his captain badge can be seen on his blazer) and was a member of the school athletics team, throwing the javelin and running both the 100 metre and 200 metre sprints.

Blazer 2

Desmond was very involved when the school celebrated its 400th anniversary in 1952. He remembers one teacher in particular, Sidney Herbert, who continued teaching there when it became a sixth form college in the 1970s.

Do you have any memories of attending King Edward VI Grammar School?



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Not for the faint hearted…

Eeek, look away now if you don’t like spiders!

I’ve been thinking about Halloween this week and thought a blog about spiders would therefore be very fitting.

One of our less glamorous jobs at the Museum involves monitoring 26 insect traps that are located around the building. Insects ‘stumble’ onto these sticky traps and help show us what types of insects are present in the building and in what sort of numbers.

Many insects like spiders, flies, ants and ladybirds are pretty harmless to the objects in our collection. Yes, even really big, scary spiders! But other insects can cause damage. Moth larvae, for example, love to eat costumes and textiles, while beetle larvae munch on wooden items including furniture. So we need to know if these insects are in the building as soon as possible so we can do something about them before they start to breed.

Our insect traps are just part of an important Integrated Pest Management System that we have at the Museum. This system includes lots of different things that successfully restrict the number and variety of insects present in the building. It includes:

  • Regularly cleaning all rooms in the Museum
  • Emptying bins every day
  • Keeping food and drink to restricted areas
  • Controlling the environment to stop hot, damp conditions that a lot of insects like.
  • Inspecting all new object acquisitions for potential pests

So…in conclusion, finding just a really BIG spider on a sticky trap is actually a good thing!

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