Safety First: Spiritual Protection

This month’s Hands on History session ‘Safety First’ considers objects from the museum collections that were created and used to keep people safe. Objects which have protected people from adversity including extreme weather conditions, poor sanitation, war and disease will be explored.

In this post, I’d like to look at two pieces we will share with our visitors on Saturday 17 March, both of which express human inclination to seek spiritual protection.



A Soldier – His Prayer postcard


The first of these is a postcard originally sent to a Mr R Rowley of 132 Bucks Hill, Nuneaton. The illustrated postcard has a poem on the front called, ‘A Soldier – His Prayer’. This poem emerged during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War at the Battle of El Agheila in Libya.


Postcard addressed to Mr R Rowley, Nuneaton


During this battle,  Field Marshall Rommel of the German Afrika Corps advanced and forced the British Army into major retreat. The poem is reported to have fluttered into the hands of a soldier sheltering in a slit trench. It was written on a scrap of paper.


The opening lines of the poem reflect the soldier’s appeal for strength, companionship and protection from God:

‘Stay with me God. The night is dark, The night is cold; my little spark

Of courage dims. The night is long. Be with me God, and make me strong.’

The final lines of the poem similarly call to God for support and help in facing death:

‘Help me again when death is near,

To mock the haggard face of fear,

That when I fall, if fall I must,

My soul may triumph in the dust!’

This deeply emotive prayer-poem was first published in a collection entitled Poems from the Desert: Verses by Members of the Eighth Army in 1944.

The second object to contemplate embodies a wish for spiritual protection: a charm from our Islamic Treasures collection. The charm is a circular glass bead resembling an eye.


Evil eye charm


Charms of this type are referred to as evil eyes and their purpose is to protect their wearer or owner from the evil eye itself. The evil eye is a malevolent look, also referred to as a ‘death glance’, inflicted by one person onto another with the intention of causing them harm. The evil eye is especially attached to jealousy, wherein the purpose is to cause  injury or misfortune, to the envied person. Belief in the evil eye is widespread and appears in many cultures of the world. The evil eye is cited in Ancient Greek and Roman texts and is acknowledged throughout history.


Charm to avert the evil eye – to tie onto a lock of hair and dangle over a child’s forehead.


The evil eye charm from our collections is attached to a postcard on which it is written in ink:

‘Charm to avert the evil eye – to tie onto a lock of hair and dangle over a child’s forehead.’

This particular charm is therefore intended to provide spiritual protection for a child from the evil eye.

Drop in at Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery on Saturday 17 March, to discover more objects that have contributed to the protection of people, between 11 am and 4 pm.



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Collycroft & the Community Showcase!

Members of the Collycroft Residents Association have been busy in the Museum stores researching objects for our next Community Showcase. The group have had great fun exploring themes such as industry, education and geography in order to create their own exhibition within the  Showcase. The participants in this project have also found that by getting hands on with objects has also allowed them to share stories and memories which has led to some wonderfully entertaining workshops! It’s also been great for the Museum team to see how inspiring our collections can be and how enthusiastic people become when engaging with them.
You can see what our fantastic participants chose to exhibit when the next Community Showcase is revealed on Friday 23 March at 3pm.

If you would like to participate in our Community Showcase project, please contact Matt Johnson, Learning & Engagement Manager for more details.

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Reflections in a Secret Mirror

For February’s Hands on History session, ‘Looking Glass’, I have chosen several unique objects from our collections that incorporate mirrors in their designs.

A lovely one is this small enamel trinket box crafted in Bilston in Wolverhampton.



In the eighteenth century, throughout the West Midlands, decorative enamels were made in various locations. Bilston was the most prolific and well known place for enamel production, especially during the period from 1760 to 1790. Its thriving enamel industry was made up of many small, family run workshops.



The trinket box lid is decorated with a transfer of a travelling carpenter accompanied by his dog in a rural scene. The carpenter carries his tool basket hanging from an axe slung over his shoulder. He is smoking a pipe from which tiny plumes of smoke can be seen emerging.

This transfer would have been created from a metal transfer plate engraved by the artist. The attention to detail displayed by the transfer highlights what an intricate and delicate process engraving transfer plates was for the artists and craftsmen involved in the enamel trade.



Inside the trinket box, an oval mirror nestles within the lid. I particularly like this object because the mirror is hidden away like a secret mirror. What things might have been kept in this little container in the past? Perhaps, an item of jewellery or lock of a loved one’s hair.



In Georgian society decorative containers were very fashionable.  Snuff boxes, bonbonierres (for sweets) and especially, cosmetics cases were all popular. The inclusion of a mirror in our trinket box suggests that it’s use may have been cosmetic or vanity related. I wonder whose reflections the miniature oval mirror has contained over the years?


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A Bug’s Life

The team at Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery recently welcomed Jane Thompson-Webb from Birmingham Museums. She was checking out our knowledge of what sort of insects can damage collections.

In caring for the varied collections we have it is vital that we can quickly spot any evidence of pest damage, identify who the culprit is and do something about it quickly!

On your visit to the Museum you may notice little cardboard devices on the floor of our galleries. These are pest traps and are excellent for capturing Carpet Beetle larvae and Silverfish which can do damage to collections over time.

Destructive pests aren’t just attracted to museum collections either. When you are shaking out that winter coat from your wardrobe it might be worth just checking that a Clothes Moth hasn’t taken up residence!


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Our Art School Reunion – Memories from the Common Room

Our Nuneaton Art School Reunion event was a  heartwarming success. Former students fondly reminisced about their days at the Art School over cups of tea and broken biscuits in our pop-up Common Room whilst listening to the 1960s and 70s music of their student days.

Former students reminiscing about their Nuneaton Art School days


The Common Room was a regular hang-out at the Art School with a record player in situ. One pupil recalls taking in some rock n roll 78s which ‘went down very well until someone sat on them and broke the lot’. Another student remembers one of her Art School friends playing his guitar in the Common Room during breaks in between lessons.

The social side of Nuneaton Art School life, the friendships made and the fun had was very important to the students. At our event this was clear to see as old classmates greeted each other with hugs, chatted and laughed together and happily recalled their teachers, friends, the subjects they studied and apparently, ‘lots of romances and intrigue’!


Recalling Nuneaton Art School memories


For those happy to share their memories on camera for posterity, our museum kitchen became a mini film studio for the event. George Ratcliffe and David Cox, glad to be reunited, studied together during the Art School’s last year at Nuneaton Museum and chose to be filmed discussing their memories of that time together. David expressed how lively and inspiring the atmosphere of the Nuneaton Art School was.


Former Nuneaton Art School students David Cox and George Ratcliffe reunited


Work created at Nuneaton Art School was shared at the Reunion. Margaret Keeley’s beautiful watercolours were displayed in the Common Room as well as detailed pencil sketches by George Ratcliffe. Margaret also brought in some pieces of pottery she made at the Art School including a cleverly designed spice jar. David Cox shared one of his sketch books, filled with wonderful studies in various media and a portfolio displaying advertisements he created during his career in advertising.


Former Nuneaton Art School student Margaret Keeley with her painting and pottery



A study of Nuneaton Train Station from David Cox’s sketchbook


Our Reunion attendees also had the opportunity to flex their creativity with our artist led workshop in the Picture Gallery. It was great to see a group of former Art School students together again, making collages.


Former Nuneaton Art School students participating in our artist led collage making workshop


Rosalind Holmes expressed how appreciative she was of the broadening of knowledge she experienced during her ‘two short years’ at the Art School, which along with painting, drawing and sculpture encompassed costume life, natural form, dress, the history of art and architecture, jewellery making and even welding! Rosalind also recalled outdoor sketching in the grounds of Caldecote Hall and along the canal in winter. One of the oil paintings she made from those canal-side sketches went on to win First Prize in the Nuneaton Festival of Arts.

It was an honour to reunite former Nuneaton Art School students at the museum, to share in their memories of the Art School and to gather further history on the different ways in which the Nuneaton Museum building has served the community throughout the past 100 years.

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Museum Explorer Packs launched for Under 5s!

After six months of testing, Museum Explorers are here!

If you know young children who enjoy making faces, finding stories and discovering sounds, our Museum Explorer packs are a must!

In December last year the Museum and Art Gallery was selected for funding by Warwickshire Smart Start to develop a project to benefit young, their parents and carers.  Museum Explorers was the result, a new activity created specifically for children under five years old.

Working in partnership with Nuneaton Group Children’s Centres, the Warwickshire Community Development Officer and local parents and children, we looked at creating  activities that could be developed to help pre- school age children to become ‘school ready’. This is an emphasis on fun ways to promote listening, exploring, sharing and numeracy skills, whilst also discovering the Museum’s galleries and exhibits. 

Using our innovative ‘Scratch’ approach, the Museum team, including Museum volunteer Steph Broughton, repeatedly tested and evaluated different ideas, methods and resources alongside staff, parents and children from local Early Years Centres. This provided invaluable information in the final design and content of the activities within the pack.

We hope you enjoy them! Don’t forget to claim a free Museum Explorer badge and let us know what you think.

Museum Explorer bags can be borrowed free from Museum reception on deposit of a suitable piece of personal identification.



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Nuneaton Art School Reminiscence Café

On Sunday 10 September, we held a Reminiscence Café for former students of Nuneaton Art School, in preparation for our Art School Reunion on 12 October.

The Café gave former students an opportunity to meet, share their art work and exchange memories. We created a display of objects from our collections to evoke memories of the Art School.


Watercolour set, inkwell, drawing ink and drawing implements


Etchings by Miles Sharp, former Nuneaton Art School Art Master


Included in our display were beautiful art works by Nuneaton Art School Art Master, Miles Sharp and former pupil, George Ratcliffe.


Former Art School student David admiring sketches by George Ratcliffe, who he remembers from his time at the Art School


The Art School was based at the museum from 1923 – 1939 and from 1946 – 1961. One former student, who joined us for the Café, recalls that he attended the Art School during its last year at Nuneaton Museum from 1960 – 1961. Yet he initially attended Saturday classes in technical drawing at the museum from age fourteen. It was very interesting talking to him and discovering that during his time at the Art School, Life Drawing was held in our current Picture Gallery, the George Eliot Gallery was the Printing Room and Graphic Design courses were held in the space that is now our Local History Gallery.

Former students who joined us for the Café told us of the impressive creative careers they developed following their studies at Nuneaton Art School. Several students went on to study at Coventry College of Art, after completing the foundation course at Nuneaton Art School; and subsequently worked in the creative industries including publishing, advertising, textile design and fashion.


Carol and Margaret appreciate paintings in Margaret’s portfolio, which she shared with us at the Café


Each student credited Nuneaton Art School with having given them a comprehensive grounding in a wide range of artistic practices. Areas explored during their studies in Nuneaton included painting, life drawing, pottery, graphic design, 3D modelling, printing, photography, lithographic printing, silkscreen printing and silversmithing.


Former Art School students share their memories of former teachers, social occasions and fellow pupils at the Café


We really enjoyed meeting everyone who attended our Reminiscence Café and listening to their experiences of studying at Nuneaton Art School. Having gathered lots of fond and appreciative memories, we are excited to meet more former Art School students at the Art School Reunion on 12 October.

Former students can take part in an exciting afternoon of reminiscence and creative activities on Thursday 12 October between 1pm – 4pm. We look forward to seeing you there!

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