Hands on History: Sounds Familiar

Can you hear that? What is it? Does it sound familiar?

This month’s Hands on History is titled ‘Sounds Familiar’ and in honour of that I would like to showcase a few of our items that we will be sharing with visitors to the Museum on Saturday 18th June. The collection consists of a range of items that make certain sounds including a variety of bells, each with a different purpose and therefore a different sound. We also have some everyday items that make distinct sounds that you may recognize such as jangly keys and tinkley glassware.

Celestion Speaker

Our senses are wonderful things, especially our hearing. One of the most enjoyable things we can do with our ears is listen to music. Music allows us to feel every different emotion possible and it enables us to feel connected. Our Museum has a collection of radios including a Philips 2 Valve radio and a ‘Celestion’ speaker. The first Philips radio was produced in 1927 and within five years Philips had sold one million radios. In the same year (1927) Philips aired its first radio station. Celestion is a British designer and exporter of professional loudspeakers. In 1925 they launched the first housed loudspeaker. This allowed people to listen to their music in their own home with an amplified volume and crisper sound. Do you remember the first song you ever heard on the radio?

Pray Ghanti bell

Sounds can be a very significant part of religious and spiritual practices. In our collection we have a Pray Ghanti bell. This is a handheld brass bell from Nepal. In Nepal, Hinduism is one of the most widely followed religions. On the bell’s handle is a representation of one of their principal deities. We believe it to be Vishnu, the God of Preservation. Ghanta is the Sanskrit term for the ritual bell used in Hinduism. Hindu temples usually have one metal bell hanging at the entrance and devotees ring the bell when entering the temple. This symbolises the summoning of gods, allowing virtuous and noble forces to enter and forcing out the demonic and evil forces. The handheld bell in our collection may have been used more during prayer as bell ringing is believed to help control the mind from wandering and make it more receptive. A ghanta bell is usually made from five metals – copper, silver, gold, zinc and iron – representing the Pancha Bhoota. This is the five basic physical elements of creation. Our Ghanti bell is made from brass which is an alloy of copper and zinc but could also contain elements of silver, gold and iron.

Underwood Manual Typewriter

One of my personal favourite discoveries for the ‘Sounds Familiar’ Hands on History session was this Underwood manual typewriter. The Underwood typewriter company was formed by John T Underwood in 1985 and was based in New York. The typewriter was designed by Franz Wagner. In 1960, the company merged with Olivetti. The way the typewriter sounds when in use is a very satisfying noise! And I’m sure many of you might have memories of hearing a typewriter being used. Let me know in the comments if you do!

Musical Box

For my final item, I would like to talk about an item that is part of the Museum’s ‘sounds’ collection but is unavailable to be part of the Hands on History session. This is because it is in a cased display in the George Eliot gallery which you can view when you visit the Museum. This item is a musical box. What is fascinating about this item is that it belonged to a local Nuneaton man, Mr Johnson, who was the inspiration for Uncle Pullet in ‘Mill on the Floss’ (written by George Eliot). In fact, the music box is mentioned in the book and I would like to share an extract with you;

the fact was the day had begun ill with Maggie. The pleasure of having Lucy to look at, and the prospect of the afternoon visit to Garum Firs where she would hear Uncle Pullet’s musical-box had been marred as early as 11 o’clock by the advent of the hair-dresser from St Ogg’s who had spoken in the severest terms of the condition in which he had found her hair, holding up one jagged lock after another and saying, ‘See here! tut-tut-tut!’

However, the reason why I have highlighted it here is because of the type of sound it would have produced. Some children might remember owning a music box or at least seen one from a friend or relative but it is the type of sound one might hear as a child as it is very reminiscent of a lullaby. This particular song appears to be Home Sweet Home with words by John Howard Payne and composed by Sir Henry Bishop. This song was first heard in public at the first performance of a melodrama. A melodrama is a play interspersed with songs and orchestral music accompanying the action. In this case the melodrama performed was either called “Clara” or “The Maid of Milara”. Although it is unclear what the actual title was, it was first performed on the 8th June 1823.

So come join us, if you can, at the Museum on Saturday 18th June. Drop in anytime from 11am – 4pm and find out whether any of these items ‘Sounds Familiar!’

There’s no need to book and it is free to join in.

Posted in Collections, social history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s in the box?

Yes, that’s precisely what I thought when I came across this little case today!


Our museum collection is digitally documented and individual items have unique numbers to enable us to locate exactly where they are stored. I am currently conducting an audit of the stores to check that what is recorded as being on each shelf IS actually on that shelf! This is quite exciting for a Museum Geek like me! It means that I look closely at the object first, then input its number into the computer documentation database to find out what the object is (especially if it’s a tricky one to recognise!). It means I am constantly surprised by what I find when I open each storage box.

Today I came across this little case in one of the boxes I was auditing. It is quite small, worn, and plain looking, but does have a really interesting shape! I opened it very carefully by the catch and was very excited by the contents!

The box contains an elaborately carved pipe-shaped object made of meerschaum and amber. Meershaum is a fine light white clayey mineral which was often used to make pipes and other smoking vessels in Victorian times as it provided a cool, dry, flavourful smoke. The item would have held a cheroot which is a filter-less cigar. These originated in India and Burma and became popular in this country from the 1830s onwards amongst the wealthier classes.

The object is intricately carved in the shape of an older woman’s head. You can see her curled hair, earrings, a feathered hat with a rose on the side, and a delicate lace collar. In fact, the carving is so life-like that you can even make out the lady’s double chin! Carvings of people’s and animals’ heads were very popular on cheroot holders during this period and ranged from bearded men to women, Greek gods, soldiers, dogs and lions.


I wonder if this carving is of a real lady, a mythological or an imagined one?

Whoever she is, it’s time to say goodbye for today and move onto my next object. I’ve put her back into her case, closed the lid and packed her safely back into her storage box. I really hope the case’s secret will also delight others in the future who also wonder what is inside!

Posted in Collections, Local history, social history | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hands on History: Journeys

Come with us on a journey through our collection! This month’s ‘Hands on History’ session is based around the theme of ‘Journeys’. We will be showing objects from the Museum’s collection that were used to enable people to travel. Some of these items have allowed people to journey through snow and ice! In today’s blog, I would like to highlight a few of the objects that we will be sharing with visitors to the Museum on Saturday 21st May.

kayak blog pic journeys

This model kayak is a representation of the type of transport the Inuit people most likely used during the summer seasons. It is made from ivory or bone whilst an original kayak would have been made using a wood frame covered with sealskin. This would allow the kayaks to be lightweight and have easy mobility in the water.

I-3-1972-172 blog pic journeys

To complement this model kayak, we also have an artic whip. Whilst the kayak represents the type of transport used by the Inuit people in the summer months, the artic whip represents the type of transport used during the winter. To travel great distances on the ice, they used sleds drawn by dogs.

Horses were a common form of transport in this country for hundreds of years. As well as being able to carry and pull heavy items, horses also had very high endurance (in fact third, losing to humans and then huskies). In the present-day, horse and carriage/cart are an outdated mode of transport and are only used on rare occasions. In our collection, we have a carriage wheel spoke brush and horse clippers. The horse clippers were important as they were needed in the winter as part of the grooming regime. They were used to shear the horses’ winter coats allowing them to work more comfortably and dry more quickly.

In the present-day, cars are the most common form of transports but how many modes of transport can you name?

Come and get hands-on with these, and other objects, on Saturday 21st May, 11am – 4pm. There’s no need to book, just drop in anytime!

Posted in Collections, Events, Local history, social history, World Culture | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

New Acquisition: Finn Shoes price tag!

Does anyone remember the Finn Shoes Factory on Weddington Road? It was located where Wicks is now.


Our newest acquisition to the Museum collection is this plastic price tag for a pair of Finn Shoes that were made at this factory, probably during the 1960s. The shoes cost 31 shillings and 6 pence (31/6).

This tag was rescued from discarded rubbish! The donor was building a fence for his garden in about 1984. He bought some timber from the site of the demolished factory and found this little tag amongst other rubbish on the ground. He picked it up and kept it and has now kindly donated it to the Museum!

The donor remembers a TV advert for Finn Shoes around 1960 that had a jingle that went ‘Finn Shoes, the fine shoes that kiddies love to wear. Finn Shoes, the fine shoes that never need repair’. In the Museum collection, we also have several printing blocks for adverts for Finn Shoes that were used in the Nuneaton Official Guide and Directory 1962/63.

Finn Shoes was started by two brothers from Bedworth. One opened a factory in Hinckley and one in Nuneaton. In the 1960s, the Finn Shoes Factory in Nuneaton was producing 10,000 pairs of shoes a week. However, space for expansion was limited at the Nuneaton site so the company opened a newly built factory in Penzance, Cornwall. In 1978, the company was taken over and became BLH shoes. The Nuneaton factory closed in 1981.

Does anyone remember having a pair of Finn Shoes? What were they like?

Posted in Collections, Donations, Local history, social history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hands on History: The Four Seasons

I am very fortunate to have a lovely walk through Riversley Park to the Museum in the mornings. At the moment, the blossom is out on the trees and beautiful crocuses are blooming at ankle height. When I think about which is my favourite season, I can never decide! I love the first sightings of snow drops and daffodils in the spring. I enjoy those lazy summer days when you can hear the buzz of bees and feel the warm sun on your back. There are the spectacular colours of autumn and I get very excited about a winter that has snow.

Today’s signs of spring have inspired today’s blog which explores objects in the collection that represent the four seasons.

Spring: Crocus Vase by Clarice Cliff


This lovely vase is decorated with beautiful blue crocus flowers. It is an ‘Art Deco’ style and forms part of English ceramic artist Clarice Cliff’s ‘Bizarre’ collection. Today, Cliff is regarded as one of the most influential ceramic artists of the 20th century.

Cliff was born on 20th January 20th 1899 in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent. She started work at the age of 13 in ‘The Potteries’ and moved to the AJ Wilkinson’s pottery factory in 1916. Her skill in pottery was soon recognised and she was eventually given her own studio. She starting creating her own patterns here and her famous ‘Bizarre’ wares were launched in 1927.

In 1928 Cliff created a pattern of crocus flowers made from individual brushstrokes. This was completely hand-painted in bright colours. The design was so popular that production couldn’t meet demand, so in 1930 a separate decorating department was set up to produce these lovely spring-time patterns!

Summer: Victorian Parasol


A parasol is a light umbrella which is used to provide shade from the sun. This parasol from the Museum’s collection is made from cream fabric and has a wooden handle. There is a slight indentation on one side of the handle, presumably for the user to rest their thumb on.

Umbrellas and parasols were introduced into Europe from about the 14th century. Early examples were large and generally carried by servants to protect their masters and mistresses from the sun and other elements.  Silk, paper and cotton were common materials.

By the 1700s, the parasol had evolved into a women’s fashion item. For wealthy women, a different parasol was made to match each of their dresses.

The collapsible parasol was developed during the 1800s but often rips or tears occurred. However, by the Victorian period, advancements in metalwork allowed improvement in design. At the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign, parasols were fairly plain in design. By the 1850s, tassles and frills had become popular decorative additions. The design and extravagance of the parasol was a matter of taste and ladies selected modest or extravagant versions for different circumstances.

Only the wealthy used parasols as a day-to-day accessory. Working class women would usually have owned a simple parasol for church or a Sunday afternoon stroll.

 Autumn: As Leaves Fall by Frank Spenlove-Spenlove.

‘As leaves fall’ Frank Spenlock

Just this painting’s name conjures up images of Autumn. Masses of brown and yellow leaves can be seen to have fallen from the trees. The women in the image are wearing caps and cloaks suggesting the lowering temperature of this season. I would love to know what the small girl in the picture is thinking. Is she listening to the noise of her shoes as they crush the crispy leaves underfoot?

Frank Spenlove Spenlove (1864-1933) was an English landscape and portrait painter. He painted in both watercolours and oils, and regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. This painting was painted in Belgium in 1915. All of his paintings show his particular skill in rendering an ‘atmosphere’ in a picture.

 Winter: Victorian Ice Skates


These nineteenth century ice skates are made of iron and are very heavy. They would have been fitted to the boots or shoes of the wearer and have an adjustable mechanism to fit them correctly. This pair, made for an adult skater, are marked with an ‘L’ and ‘R’ for left and right and has the number 12 which indicates their size.

Ice skating isn’t a new sport! At the bottom of a lake in Switzerland, a pair of ancient ice skates, thought to have been worn around 3000 BC, were discovered. Made from the leg bones of large animals, these skates were tied to the feet of the wearer using leather straps laced through holes made in each end of the bone.

The word ‘skates’ originates from the Dutch word ‘schaats’. In Holland, skating dates back to the 1300s, where it was used as a means of transportation over the frozen canals. In the mid-seventeenth century, during his exile in Holland, King Charles II was captivated by ice skating. On his return, he helped introduce it to this country, where it soon became popular.

In England, the first artificial, mechanically refrigerated ice rink was built in 1876. It was situated near to the King’s Road in Chelsea, London and named The Glaciarium.

I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring The Four Seasons through today’s blog.

Our ‘live’ Hands on History sessions will be restarting next month at the Museum and we can’t wait! Drop in anytime between 10am and 4pm on Saturday 16th April to handle and find out about objects related to ‘A Night on the Town’!

Posted in Collections, Local history, social history | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Acquisition: Coldstream Guard Buttons


Our latest acquisition to the Museum collection is a set of Coldstream Guard buttons.

The buttons belonged to John Carrol who was born in 1956 in County Durham. He moved to Nuneaton when he was an infant and grew up in a house on Spring Hill Road, Camp Hill. In 1974, he joined the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards and served for 7 years.

The Coldstream Guards are the oldest army regiment in continuous active service. They were founded in 1650 in Coldstream, Scotland, by General George Monck.  The Coldstream Guards are an infantry unit that specialise in light operations, including performing reconnaissance, operating machine guns and mortars, and engaging enemy troops on foot and in light vehicles. They also have a ceremonial role as protectors of the royal palaces.

These shiny buttons are from John’s red dress tunic which he wore when guarding the Palace.

He also did a number of tours of Ireland during his service. He was badly burned on one tour and spent time in the Queen Victoria Hospital in London.

This photograph shows John in his dress uniform, with his Mum and Dad, outside the door of his Spring Hill Road home.

2022-2-1-A_D Photo of owner in dress tunic

Posted in Collections, Donations, Local history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New Acquisition: Painting of a snowy Market Place, Nuneaton


A few weeks ago, we were delighted when artist Gerald Green approached us to donate an oil painting of a local landmark to the Museum’s art collection.

His painting, called ‘Towards Bridge Street from Market Place Nuneaton’, was painted in December 2010. It shows a snowy Market Place on market day, complete with shoppers, benches, trees and market stalls between the tall buildings. One shopper, wearing a wintery hat and scarf, and carrying a bag, can be seen heading straight towards the viewer!

Gerald says “I have always had a liking for winter subjects and, like most of my work, the subject presented itself as a result of a chance encounter. Turning the corner from Coton Road into the Market Place, I was attracted to the general character of the wintery view towards Bridge Street and framed by the tree on the right. (I was so sorry when the trees were removed as I felt they really added something to the feeling of the space).  This was a studio painting, produced from photos, with a few adjustments here and there. The dominant figure, for example, is an invention.  My aim isn’t to produce photographic likenesses but to try to get something of the character and feeling of my subjects.”

Gerald was born in Nuneaton and attended King Edward Grammar School. Rather than going to art school, he went to the School of Architecture, as he felt that being an Architect would be a practical thing to do with a creative ability. In the 1970s, he worked in the Local Authority Architects Department in Nuneaton, then for Coventry City Architects Department. At the age of 39, he gave it up to work freelance – predominantly undertaking architectural illustration commissions – and pursue his passion for painting.  About 15 years ago, he stopped the illustration work completely and has since been painting full-time.

More of Gerald’s paintings can be seen here:  www.geraldgreen.co.uk

This new addition to the Museum’s art collection compliments other artworks we hold of Market Place, Nuneaton. These include this 2019 multi-media piece by Leah Stuart that shows the same blue-white market stalls, and also several watercolours by Victorian artist, Patty Townsend.

Posted in art, Collections, Donations | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Hands on History: Crime and Punishment

You only have to look at Netflix to see a current widespread fascination with true crime. Documentaries and dramas based on real events are proliferating our TV screens. Some people watch these for the feelings of horror they bring. Others want to get under the skin of the perpetrators and try to understand how environment and personal circumstances may have influenced their actions.

While I’ve been working in our galleries and stores at the Museum, I have come across some fascinating objects related to crime and punishment in the borough. These range from a carving that relates to a nineteenth century murder, to a diary that records a stolen sheep!

In today’s Hands on History blog, I will be sharing some of these objects with you.

Polly Button’s stone

Polly Button Stone

On display in our Local History Gallery is a large, roughly carved stone showing a man and woman, apparently drinking. It is known as ‘Polly Button’s Stone’. Polly Button was murdered by her lover John Danks in Nuneaton in 1832.   He killed her in a row over a threatened paternity summons for her unborn child. Danks was a married man and the child was his. His wife had also found out about the affair. The murder happened at a barn, where allotments now stand, in Aston Road. He confessed to the killing and was hung in Warwick, watched by Nuneaton people who went by carriage to witness the public event. The gruesome story is even the subject of a children’s skipping rhyme, which begins:

Johnny Danks, he played his pranks

Upon poor Polly Button.

He drew his knife to please his wife

And cut her up like mutton.

Polly lived in Twitchel Yard,

To five she were a mother.

Wi’ men in bed and never got wed

And now she’ll have another.

“Pay me, Johnny, pay me quick

Or I will tell the Vicar.

Pay me one-and-six a week –

Me belly’s getting bigger!”

The stone carving in the Museum’s collection is said to be of Polly and John. We do not know the true origins of the stone though it may have been carved for the building it was removed from – a public house near the site of Polly’s former home. Or it may have been part of another previously demolished site, such as some of the Abbey buildings.

Mary Ball

Sadly, we do not have any objects in the Museum collection related to Mary Ball but her story is a notorious one. Mary was born in Nuneaton in 1818 and married Thomas Ball in 1837. The couple had 6 children, only one of which survived, and their marriage was tempestuous and stricken with poverty. Further rows resulted when Thomas discovered that Mary was having an affair with a local man. Thomas was also rumoured to have slept with other women. On the evening of 18th May 1849, Thomas came home and ate a dinner of bread and gruel. Soon after, he began to experience stomach pains. The doctor was sent for but his condition didn’t improve and he died on 20th May. Local gossip led the local constabulary to question Mary. She provided 4 separate statements that were full of inconsistencies. In her final statement, she admitted mixing arsenic with salts and adding these to the gruel eaten by Thomas. The autopsy revealed several grains of arsenic in Thomas Ball’s stomach and Mary was charged with her husband’s murder. Mary was tried in Coventry and was found guilty of wilful murder. She reportedly confessed to the Governor of Coventry Prison, “My husband was in the habit of going with other women, and used me so ill – no one knows what I have suffered.” Mary was executed by gallows on 9th August in front of a crowd of 15-20,000 people. Hers was the last ever execution at Coventry.



This fairly ordinary looking object in the Museum’s collection has an interesting story attached to it. It was donated to the collection alongside an original letter written by Mr H. Evans, a Superintendent based in Nuneaton in the early 1900s. He writes, ‘This crystal was found on a gipsy which was used by her for fortune-telling and was at Law Courts Nuneaton on July 1920’. We do not know the name of the fortune-teller to whom this crystal belonged but the crystal was confiscated from her and she was evicted from Nuneaton.  At this time, fortune-telling, astrology and spiritualism were deemed punishable offences under the ‘Vagrancy Act’ of 1824.

 John Astley’s Diaries

John Astley, a Nuneaton trader, kept a diary in the nineteenth century. He wrote about all sorts of things happening in the town, ranging from the ribbon trade to the local doctor, community meetings, local flooding, buildings being demolished and crimes carried out. From his writings, we learn that punishments were severe in the nineteenth century. On 15th April 1816, he notes that The man in prison for setting fire to Mr Wagstaffs stacks found guilty and sentenced to transportation.” This involved sending convicts abroad to carry out hard labour.

Robert Evan’s Diaries


Robert Evan’s was George Eliot’s father. He worked as Land Manager on the Arbury Estate. He kept a diary in which he noted his observations each day. On 15th November 1832 he writes, “I had a sheep stole last night. I went and got advertisements printed and offered a reward of fifteen Ginueas [sic].”



These handcuffs date to the late 18th century. The two wrist holes are joined together with a hinge on one side and a screw locking mechanism on the other. Throughout history, handcuffs or their equivalents have been used to restrain dangerous or disorderly people. In prehistoric times, strips of animal hide or rope made from vines was used to bind people’s hands. As time passed, metal cuffs were developed, along with manacles and shackles. Early restraints were not adjustable so prisoners with smaller wrists were often able to slip out and flee from their captors. However, in 1862, an inventor called W.V. Adams designed a ratcheting mechanism that is associated with modern police equipment. This allowed the cuffs to be adjusted to virtually any size wrist.

Police Helmet


In 1829, Sir Robert Peel, the prime minister and creator of the Metropolitan police, passed the Metropolitan Police Act. This act required the police force to wear a standard uniform that consisted of a blue swallow tailed coat and as well as a protective tall top hat. In 1863, a new style of helmet was trialled that was based on the spiked Pickelhaube helmet worn by the ‘Prussian’ army and was referred to as the “custodian” helmet. This helmet has seen many variations over the years but the basic shape has been maintained.

This police helmet above was worn during the Second World War. Police worked closely with other forces including the Home Guard and Fireman. Their usual tasks were increased as they were also required to enforce wartime blackouts, assist the rescue services during and after raids, check on enemies in the country and pursue army deserters. The helmet was made of tin which helped to protect policemen against falling debris or flying shrapnel as they were carrying out their duties.



A police truncheon is a short wooden club. Police have carried the truncheon since Sir Robert Peel’s 1829 Metropolitan Police Act. Truncheons have a practical purpose in the form of defence. However, they can also be decorated and used as a sign of authority. The short wooden club was carried by police and remained unchanged until the 1990s. In 1992, scientific testing was carried out on straight baton alternatives to the truncheon, measuring injury potential. After trials, the Home Secretary backed recommendations that the baton should replace the truncheon.

Magistrate’s Gloves


White gloves are traditionally presented to magistrates to mark days when no criminal business is brought before the courts. These days are seen as a positive sign that the locality is in a state of peace, order and prosperity. This pair of gloves was presented by Superintendent H Evans of Nuneaton to Edward Melly, the Chairman of the Bench of Magistrates. They marked the event that no cases were down for hearing at the Nuneaton Petty Sessions on the 13th March 1919.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hands on History: Time Traveller

Earlier this week, I was looking back through my photographs on Google Photo. I don’t know about you, but I could do this for hours. I love that sense of how photographs capture a very specific moment in time, sometimes happy, sometimes sad. This could be a first day at school, passing a driving test, a 10th wedding anniversary, recovery after an operation in hospital… The list is endless.

Today, with our mobile phones, we can capture these moments all the time. In the past, however, personal photographs were much rarer. They often showed an individual or family in a ‘formal’ pose rather than recording their activity or what was happening around them. We have many of these ‘formal’  photographs in our collection.

So this week, I’ve been investigating what items we have in the museum collection that can, like a modern photograph,  give us a similar ‘snap shot’ of a specific time, place and activity; objects that enable us to ‘time travel’ to a specific hour, minute or second.

During my research, I found a range of objects relating to the Second World War that fitted this brief. The objects inevitably record a lot of sad moments, although there is a happier one at the end.

Night of 27th/28th August 1940


This object was made to look as it does now at precisely 2.17 am on 28th August 1940. It is the tail end of a German bomb dropped in the garden of 244 Weddington Road, Nuneaton, during the Second World War.  Two neighbouring houses were destroyed by the bomb, three people were killed and six people were seriously injured.

Made of aluminium, the tail would have consisted of a cone with four evenly spaced fins extending from the sides (only three of the fins remain). These served to give the bomb stability as it fell through the air. The rest of the bomb, now gone, would have consisted of a cylindrical body filled with an explosive compound and topped with a smooth rounded head.


Night of 16th/17th May 1941


In the collection, we have several diaries belonging to local girl, Joyce Webb. These include a full set from the Second World War years. Joyce was born in 1923 and lived on Heath End Road. When War broke out in September 1939, she was 16 years old. By the time it ended, she was 22. She kept pocket diaries recording her activities each day, which offer valuable insight into teenage life during this turbulent period in the Borough’s history. Her entry on 17th May 1941 takes us back to 2am on the night of one of Nuneaton’s biggest air raids. “Stella woke me about 2.00. ‘Get up get up’. Incendiaries dropping all around. Several reports and bomb explosions. The phones failed. We had to depend on messengers…Walked up to Maria’s. The bottom of Manor Court Avenue is flat, Marie’s windows are out. Walked up home. Betsy’s windows are out and tiles are off”.

This tea set also bears witness to the bombing raids of 16th/17th  May1941 and the tragic loss of 15 members of a Nuneaton family. The tea set belonged to the great-grandmother of the person who donated it to Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery. It was kept at her home in Tomkinson Road, Nuneaton. On 17 May 1941, 3 generations of a family were sheltering in the air raid shelter in their garden at Tomkinson Road, when the garden was hit by an aerial bomb. The family home and air raid shelter suffered severe damage and all of the sheltering family members were killed. This tea set, once pristine, was damaged by the bomb explosion. It was found by the surviving family under the stairs of the damaged house. Some items of the tea set are now missing (as they were irreparable) and others, such as this milk jug, show visible restoration.

This first photograph has no date written on it but captures a specific moment  in time during the early 1940s. It depicts Edward Melly, founder of Nuneaton Museum &Art Gallery, in the garden of his house ‘The Close’ in Church Street, Nuneaton. He is with his wife, another lady and his 6 grandchildren. The conservatory of their house and a tree is in the background.

The photograph is especially poignant when considered next to the second photograph. This again captures a specific moment in time – on 7th June 1941. It was one of a series of photographs taken by Warwickshire County Police to record damage caused by enemy action on the night of 16th /17th May 1941. This photograph shows demolished and seriously damaged houses at the rear of Church Street. Mr and Mrs Melly were both killed when a bomb hit their house here on 17th May 1941.

Night of 8th May 1945


This painting by Miles Sharp is of a happier moment in time. It depicts the VE Night celebrations outside Nuneaton Town Hall on 8th May 1945. ‘Victory in Europe’ Day was the day on which the Allied Forces announced the end of the Second World War in Europe. In the picture, Sharp shows how the area in front of Nuneaton Town Hall was absolutely packed with people – you can even see figures standing on the window sills!  I think this painting really makes you feel that you are there, experiencing the jubilant atmosphere of the occasion. It is painted from the perspective of a person in the crowd. The artist has created a feeling of excited movement by showing people holding hands and dancing and musicians playing instruments.

Posted in Collections, Local history, social history | Leave a comment

Hands on History: Toy Story

My children have been busy writing their lists to Father Christmas this month. It reminds me of when I was younger – I remember highlighting practically the whole toys section of the Argos catalogue when I was ‘researching’ for my own list!

Can you remember what was top of your Christmas list when you were a child?

For today’s ‘Hands on History’ blog, I thought we would take a trip down memory lane and explore some of the toys and games from the Museum’s collection. Perhaps some of these items were once on somebody’s Christmas list !

This teddy bear was donated to the Museum 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.

Teddy bears date back to the early 20th century. On 15th February 1903, American toy store owner and inventor, Morris Michtom, put two stuffed bears in his shop window, advertising them as Teddy Bears. Michtom had earlier petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt for permission to use his nickname, Teddy. The president had refused to shoot a bear, which had been clubbed and tied to a tree, during a Mississippi hunting trip in November 1902.


This hand-made rabbit dates from the Second World War. It was created from old clothing; it has button eyes and a sewn nose. The person who donated it to the Museum remembers that the rabbit’s ears had to be re-stitched because she was always carrying it around by its ears! During the war, toys were often made at home using whatever materials were available, reflecting the ‘Make Do and Mend’ scheme introduced by the British government. The ‘Make Do and Mend’ pamphlet issued in the midst of the Second World War provided frugal advice and resourceful tips for households during strict rationing. Homemade toys, such as this bunny rabbit, must have been cherished by the children to whose lives they brought joy and comfort in times of scarcity and uncertainty.

This small-scale ceramic tea set was donated to the Museum by someone who grew up in Bull Street in Attleborough. She remembers that it was kept in a cupboard and brought out only occasionally for careful playing. Mini tea sets such as this are known as doll’s tea sets or toy tea sets. Often given specifically to girls as precious gifts, doll’s tea sets were usually reserved to be played with on special occasions under parental supervision. The tea set consists of six plates, six cups and saucers, a teapot, cream jug and sugar bowl with a floral design in pink, green and blue. It is Faience, which is a type of fine tin glazed pottery that, during the nineteenth century, was predominantly produced in England and France. Advancements in Faience manufacture broadened the scope of its use and it began to be used to make toys including doll’s tea sets and other doll’s accessories. Each piece of the tea set is marked ‘Foreign’ on its base indicating that it was not produced in England but imported from another country. It was not until 1923 that imported goods were required by law to be marked as made in their country of origin such as ‘Made in England’ or ‘Made in China’.


This photograph shows staff packing jigsaws at Alfred Conner & Co. Ltd. The company was founded in 1878 and had three factories and a warehouse in Nuneaton. Its Head Office was on Fife Street with further factories at Aston Road, York Street and Pool Road. The company was known locally as Conner’s or Conner’s Box Factory. In the 1970s, when this photograph was taken, it employed approximately 450 people.

The company manufactured a wide range of products but specialised in games and playing boards, jigsaw puzzles, rigid boxes, printed cartons and handmade boxes. It offered a full service from design to printing, cutting, finishing and packing. The company produced up to 3,000 piece jigsaws!

This doll’s house was donated to the Museum in 2002. It was bought in Lichfield in 1958 for a little girl. It then moved, with her and her family, to a house in Camp Hill Road in Nuneaton. The house is made of painted plywood and is in the form of a bungalow, with a kitchen, living room and bathroom. It has a removable roof so the rooms can be accessed and it contains lots of little pieces of furniture. The lino on the floor, and the house’s rugs, have has been made from off-cuts from the Camp Hill Road house.

Miniature homes, furnished with domestic objects, have actually been made for thousands of years. The earliest known examples were found in Ancient Egyptian tombs and probably had a religious purpose.

In Europe, hand-made ‘baby houses’ were made from the 16th century and showed idealized interiors. They were a symbol of status as they cost a lot of money to furnish and the miniature accessories were hand-made with exquisite craftmanship. As a result, they would have been display items that were completely off-limits to children!

It is only since the early 20th century that doll’s houses have been specifically made as a plaything for children. Many are now mass-produced although I love the fact that people still sometimes make them out of old shoe boxes!


This ‘Shell’ petrol tanker is made of painted tinplate. It dates from the 1930s. Tin toys have been popular since the middle of the 19th century. Early tin toys were painted by hand, but by the 1890s, lithography made it possible to print designs on the metal. Tin toys were cheap and more durable than wooden toys. We have other tin-plate toys in the Museum’s collection including another tanker, a car and a steam roller.

This game of ‘Snap’ was produced by the English and Scottish Joint Co-operative Wholesale Society in the 1930s. It was made to promote C.W.S tea.

Snap was invented by Jaques in the 1880s. Jacques is a games company that has been handed down from father to son for 8 generations. It has been responsible for the invention of many well-known games including Croquet, Ping Pong, Snakes and Ladders, and Happy Families. The original ‘Snap’ cards featured illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, a Victorian illustrator and political cartoonist. Today, 1000’s of different versions of Snap cards are in existence.

I hope these toys and games have brought back some fond memories of your own childhood.

Posted in Local history, social history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment