Keep Dancing: The amazing career of a local stage star

Jean Daniel in wearing her ENSA uniform. Photograph taken in Paris, 1944.

Jean Daniel in wearing her ENSA uniform. Photograph taken in Paris, 1944.

In late 2016 the Museum acquired a new addition to its collection, a large framed handkerchief with embroidered autographs of some of the stars of the stage from the last century. Names include Gracie Fields, Jimmy James, Elizabeth French, Eamon Andrews, Bertha Williams and the Lantry Trio among many others.

The autographs were collected by Nuneaton resident Jean Daniel (1926-2016) over the course of her remarkable career. Jean Daniel, nee Raynor, performed in her first professional pantomime aged 12 with the Coventry Babes in 1938. During the Second World War she was posted in Paris with the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) where she helped to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel. In her early career Jean was a Tiller Girl, performing at the London Coliseum.


Jean danced in London with the Tiller Girls.

Jean’s career took her around the world on cruise ships but she continued to perform and contribute to the cultural life of the Borough. Jean performed in plays in Nuneaton, sometimes alongside her husband Ken, ran Miss Raynor’s Dance School and helped with the Festival of Arts. When Jean worked alongside a famous performer she would ask them to sign the handkerchief. These autographs were later embroidered, we believe by the artist Vera Hodgkinson, a friend of Jean’s.

Jean died aged 90 in 2016. We were very touched that she wanted the scarf to be given to the Museum and hope that it will evoke memories for those who see it. We would be interested to hear from anyone who has memories either of Jean or of attending Miss Raynor’s Dance School. Please email Becky at


Do you remember Miss Raynor’s Dance School?

Photographs courtesy of Josephine Birch.

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Unveiling our new George Eliot acquisition

Earlier this year we asked you whether you thought we should bid at auction for an object relating to George Eliot (‘To collect or not to collect’). We were really grateful for the feedback we received and are pleased to report that we were successful at auction. The new display will be unveiled on Friday 16th December to coincide with the 136th anniversary of the author’s death next week.

The object we acquired is a beautifully crafted and intimate sculpture of what is believed to be George Eliot’s left hand. We purchased it using visitor donations. The intricate, white marble sculpture depicts Eliot’s left hand resting on a cushion, which is entwined with a flowering plant. It has been incised ‘George Eliot’.

It is thought to have been made shortly after Eliot’s death on 22nd December 1880 as part of the Victorian tradition of remembering the dead through artworks, sculpture and jewellery known as memento mori.

We were struck by the detail of the sculpture when you look at it close up and feel it is a very moving and personal object. We would like to say thank you for the generosity of our visitors whose donations made this acquisition possible and hope that you enjoy the new display. We think it provides an exciting new opportunity to explore the personality and life of an inspiring Nuneaton born woman.

The sculpture will be on display for members of the public to enjoy from Saturday 17th December in the George Eliot Gallery.

Find out more!

If you would like to find out more about the Victorians and their relationship with death you might be interested in January’s lunchtime talk ‘Death and the Victorians’. The talk will take place on Friday 20th January, 12:30pm. Places are free but booking is essential. Please call the Museum on 024 7637 6158 for more information.

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Time travel through the sharing of objects!

During our next Hands on History session on Saturday 17th December we will go on a journey through the decades as we will share with you a selection of objects used to capture and record time from the museums collection, without which it may have been impossible to recollect these moments at all.

On display will be clocks, cameras, lantern slides, photographs and much more, including this beautiful Swiss calendar pocket watch, dated 1910.


The white enamel clock face has roman numerals and three calendar dials, one each for the month of the year, date of the month and day of the week.

The larger blue, forth dial circle is used to depict the phases of the moon. This lunar addition means the watch has more than one purpose and is able to tell us more than the current time. This is referred to as a complication.

The moon, sun and constellations were once the only means of tracking the passing of time. This watch is a perfect reminder of how our method of recording time have changed and progressed, putting into question what methods may be used in the future?

Please join us in the Picture Gallery between 11am to 4pm.

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Shopping in the Borough – a story told through photographs

This week one of the small displays in the Blab (Landing Gallery) will explore the Borough’s retail history.

A short film will show photographs from our collection taken of shops in Nuneaton and Bedworth. The photographs provide a fascinating glimpse into how the towns used to look and the changing nature of shopping in Britain. Some shops have disappeared from our streets but others are still recognisable today. Here are a couple of our favourite photographs from the film.

Nuneaton Market Place, 1920s.

Nuneaton Market Place, 1920s.

Shopping in Bedworth, 1970s.

Shopping in Bedworth, 1960s-1970s.

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A treasure in our stores

Last week in the Blab exhibition we presented the story of the train crash of 1975.

On 6 June 1975 a sleeper train travelling between London Euston and Glasgow derailed on its journey here in Nuneaton. Six people were killed and 38 people were injured.

The crash took place just before 2am. The train entered a temporary speed restriction too fast. There had also been a faulty light on the railway line as the train travelled towards Nuneaton.

This story was on display in the Blab for a week. During this time we collected feedback from visitors to help us decide if this is a story we should tell in the Local History Gallery. The story of the train crash was really well received so we placed it in the Blab’s story vault for safekeeping.

We were pleased that the story of the train crash resonated with visitors but we also had a problem. We didn’t think we had any objects in our collection that could help us to tell this story in the Local History Gallery.

Then, quite by chance, we discovered a real treasure in our stores. Our volunteer Marion was working on our ongoing collections audit when she came across an old sign from Nuneaton Railway Station. We believe it dates from the mid 20th century but would be interested in receiving more information about it.


Most museums have a documentation backlog and with the help of volunteers we are working hard to clear ours. The sign is a fantastic object but has probably never been accessioned so we weren’t aware of it. We now have a bit of research to do before we accession and catalogue the sign to make sure visitors can enjoy it in future.

The Nuneaton railway sign has been added to the story vault and will be on display on the Landing Gallery until 11 December 2016.

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Life in Miniature

Inspired by our exquisite collection of miniature portraits by May B. Lee, November’s Hands on History session explores the world in miniature.

One of May B. Lee’s beautiful miniature portraits of a young girl called Barbara will be presented for visitors to view.

I love the tenderness with which this portrait appears to have been painted and how carefully the artist has captured Barbara’s serenely thoughtful expression. The portrait offers a glimpse into a private moment of contemplation and as its viewer, I enjoy imagining what thoughts might be passing through the girl’s mind.

Born in Lahore, Northern India in 1884, May B. Lee grew up in luscious, colourful landscapes, summering in Simla, high up in the mountains of Northern India. The daughter of an acclaimed barrister and an accomplished artist, she had a contented and privileged early childhood.

The young May B. Lee’s life changed dramatically when, having lost her mother at age seven, she was sent to boarding school in England. By the age of fifteen, she was unable to continue her schooling as financial misfortune struck her family.

The artistic talent May B. Lee displayed at school, now became her means of supporting herself. She earned money copying Old Master paintings from The National Gallery and painting miniatures on ivory to embellish snuff boxes. Attending Lambeth School of Art in the evenings, she was encouraged to submit her work for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.

In 1905, The Royal Academy first accepted one of her miniatures, a self portrait. In 1907, the Salon des Artistes in Paris first exhibited one of her works. Throughout her life, she continued to exhibit at the Salon des Artistes and in 1950, she received the Salon’s high accolade, a Mention Honorable.


As her artistic renown developed, May B. Lee was able to earn a living from the growing number of portrait commissions she received from wealthy people, to paint either themselves or their loved ones. She also continued to paint her family, friends and people she saw in everyday life, whose faces inspired her.

In 1935, May B. Lee married Sir Phillip Stott, an architect and engineer and the title of Lady Stott was bestowed upon her. Her husband died only two years after their marriage. Lady Stott continued to live in London and to paint commissioned portraits, often forming friendships with her sitters.

In 1972, five years before the end of her life, May B. Lee, chose to entrust her personal collection of 36 miniature portraits to Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery. A selection of these is permanently displayed in our Picture Gallery.

Please do join us in the Picture Gallery from 11am – 4pm on Saturday 19 November to explore Life in Miniature.

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There’s no place like home: The story of housing in the Borough

Another two stories go head to head in the Blab exhibition this week. One of these stories explores how housing has developed in the Borough, looking in particular at the impact of the First and Second World Wars.

The buildings we build to live in have changed dramatically over the last 150 years. The First and Second World Wars both had a major impact on homes and house building in Nuneaton and Bedworth. The display asks visitors to consider what type of home they might have lived in at another time in Nuneaton and Bedworth’s history.

What were homes like before 1914?

Tenant's rent card issued by Bedworth Urban District Council, 1939-1940

Tenant’s rent card issued by Bedworth Urban District Council, 1939-1940

If you lived in the 1700s you might also have worked in your home. Weavers’ cottages in Attleborough had a ‘top shop’ on the highest storey with looms for silk ribbon weaving.

From the 1880s the population of Nuneaton grew quickly. The town had occupied the same area for around 400 years – now it needed more homes. You might have lived in a new terraced house in Dugdale, Alexandra or Victoria Streets. Building also took place in Attleborough, Coton and Stockingford. You might share facilities such as an outdoor toilet with your neighbours. Mining villages such as Bermuda were built so that workers and their families could live closer to the pits. If your family was wealthy you may have built an impressive villa, such as those on Manor Court Road. If your family fell on hard times, as a last resort you may have entered the Workhouse.

How did homes change between the wars (1918-1939)?

Conditions of renting a property from Bedworth Urban District Council, 1939

Conditions of renting a property from Bedworth Urban District Council, 1939

The government in the 1920s promised ‘Homes Fit For Heroes’ for the survivors of the First World War. You might have a new house provided by the Council such as the estates close to the centre of Stockingford and Attleborough. Concerns for public health led to slum clearance in Nuneaton and Bedworth in the 1930s. New, low-cost houses were sold to working class families. Houses in Weddington sold for £350. New houses on the roads out of town such as Lutterworth Road and the Long Shoot were popular with middle class families.

What happened after the Second World War?

Many people’s homes were damaged or destroyed in Nuneaton during the Second World War (1939-1945). There was a huge shortage of homes following the war. New houses were desperately needed. Demolition of older, unsuitable housing continued in the 1950s and 1960s with a programme of redevelopment in Bedworth. The Council joined with the National Coal Board to build Camp Hill with houses for miners and their families. Camp Hill was redeveloped again in the 1990s.

Photograph showing damage to homes on Manor Court Road. in 1941.  15 houses and a nurses' home were demolished. A further 27 houses were seriously damaged while 221 houses reported slight damage.

Photograph showing damage to homes on Manor Court Road. in 1941. 15 houses and a nurses’ home were demolished. A further 27 houses were seriously damaged while 221 houses reported slight damage.

After the Second World War more people wanted to own their own home. New private housing continues to be built on the outskirts of the Borough to the present day.

This mini display can be viewed until Sunday 13th November. Come along and tell us whether this story should be part of a future Local History Gallery!

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