What links the Norfolk Broads with the land of the pharaohs?
13:34 18 May 2014
Ancient scarabs and amulets will go on show at a famed Norfolk Broads residence next Saturday. Mark Nicholls explores the link between Egyptian artefacts and the historic property.
The cooling breeze drifting aboard the dabeayah as it sailed south along the River Nile to Luxor must have come as a welcome relief from the intensity of the Egyptian sun.
Aboard the private vessel admiring the view with his daughters Helen and Ethel, was Norwich mustard king Jeremiah Colman. A third daughter, Florence, focused her camera and recorded the adventure.
For his youngest son, Alan, this was a journey of recuperation having been recommended he take in the more amenable climate of North Africa to ease his ailing lungs. It was, tragically, his final journey as soon after arriving in the ancient capital of the Pharaohs, he was dead from his consumption (tuberculosis).
Jeremiah and his daughters left Egypt soon after, but not before they had acquired some 300 ancient Egyptian artefacts that were to form one of the private collections to be carefully stored at Carrow House, their family home in Norwich.
Later bequeathed to the city and now housed at Norwich Castle Museum and Gallery, they form an important collection, parts of which are going to be made accessible to visitors to How Hill, the former residence of renowned Norwich architect Edward Boardman overlooking The Broads near Ludham.
Today, the How Hill Trust based at the property is a small independent charity to promote, improve and advance public education of Broadland and provides residential environmental education courses for school children.
Faye Kalloniatis, a research associate at the museum who curates the Egyptian collection, explained there is a fascinating link between the collection and How Hill as Jeremiah’s daughter Florence later married Boardman and the property became the family home.
But the Egyptian Day at the property on May 24 will be the first time the collection has been on display at How Hill. Running from 11am-4pm, there will be a series of talks on the collection, a chance to see some of Florence’s photographs and the opportunity to handle some of the ancient artefacts, as well as learn more about How Hill and explore its grounds.
Ms Kalloniatis explained: “The day will explore the connection between the Colman family as donors of the collection and How Hill.
“One of the reasons for the event is to raise funds for the How Hill Trust and also for a project I am working on to catalogue the Egyptian collection, which has more than 500 objects in it including scarabs, amulets and a rare example of Egyptian linen dating from about 1550BC.”
Items visitors to How Hill will be able to see and touch include shabtis, which were small funerary figurines; a kohl pot used for balk or green eye make-up; jewellery and amulets.
She explained that the story behind how the collection arrived at the museum began in 1896 when Jeremiah Colman journeyed to Egypt with his daughters to join Alan who had been travelling through the country with his personal physician, a Mr Worthington.
“Jeremiah and his daughters went to Egypt to be with Alan and they travelled out from Cairo to Luxor, where Alan died there in February 1897,” she said.
“They left straight away but by that time they had bought nearly 300 objects from various dealers in Luxor at the time. When they came back to Norfolk they put the collection in their family home at Carrow House where it stayed for some time.”
Upon the death in 1898 of Jeremiah - who had six children in all – the Egyptian collection was bequeathed to Ethel and Helen who kept it until 1921 when they donated it to the City of Norwich and consequently the museum.
“The city was obviously very pleased to receive it,” added Ms Kalloniatis. “There was an inventory that came with it and all the items were listed. The sister were very good keepers of this collection, though many private collectors were not.
“Sometimes people bought collections which found their ways into attics and were handed down from generations of people and they would not know what these things really were so they would get lost.
“We were very, very fortunate that they had some foresight and understood that this was valuable and needed to be treasured.”
The Colman collection forms the larger part of the 528 pieces in the museum’s Egyptian Collection, which was originally displayed in the Castle Keep but following refurbishment a few years ago is now in the Egyptian Gallery. Some 250 items are on public display, with a small handling collection which will be taken to How Hill where museum educator John Barwell will talk through the items and allow visitors to touch them. The remainder of items are kept in storage, though accessible for people to view on appointment.
The writer H Rider Haggard, a regular visitor to Egypt, also gave some Egyptian items to the Castle Museum, as well as to the British Museum.
Florence Colman, later Mrs Edward Boardman, is the connection to How Hill, and as a keen photographer recorded the family’s visit to Egypt, which saw them ride out on donkeys to some of the country’s most famous sights.
“When I started working on the collection I found there was an archive of photographs that were taken by her in Egypt so we have a sense of the sights they were seeing,” said Ms Kallionatis.
“As a family they hired a dabeayah named Hathor, which was a luxury boat with servants and they travelled by it up the Nile and got as far as Luxor. By that time Alan was very poorly and died very soon after they arrived.”
(The name Hathor lives on in the stunning pleasure wherry built for Ethel and Helen Colman in 1905 as a memorial to their brother Alan, and which is currently being restored.)
Ms Kalloniatis’ work will see the museum’s Egyptian Collection comprehensively catalogued for the first time, though it was detailed by Egyptologist James Edward Quibell, who recorded the collection when it was stored at Carrow House.
Many years ago, there was an East Anglian Egyptian Society and, because of a record of the group’s minutes, it is known that members visited Carrow House for one of their meetings and were given a view of the exhibitions.
“I am researching this collection because it has never been properly researched,” she said. “I have translated the hieroglyphics and described the 528 objects, looked at the background of all the objects in the collection and offered an interpretation in the 21st century.
“The catalogue is for research purposes but also for the general public too, I am writing it for the interest lay person but with footnotes which will appeal more to the specialist.”
During her work, Ms Kalloniatis uncovered a rare item of linen, which she discovered was a shroud to wrap the body of wealthy Egyptian woman named Ipu.
“It is a rare example of a piece of shroud, dated to 1550BC and full of hieroglyphics and has the name of the person whose shroud it was and the name of her mother as well.
“It belonged to Ipu, who was a lady of the house and reasonably well-to-do, one of the elite, and her mother was Mutresti.
“We know there is a bit more of the shroud in the Cairo Museum,” she said.
“The shroud was just the most amazing thing, it was in a shoebox-sized container and was little more than a shrivelled piece of linen, it is part of the Colman collection, it is the most rare object of the Colman collection and so rare in worldwide terms that probably across the world that in all collections of shroud of that early date, there are only about 30 known pieces.”
The shroud, because of its fragility, is not on public display but visitors can make an appointment to see it but when spread out, it is the size of a large table.
It is work such as this that the event at How Hill will help to fund, as well as offering the opportunity for visitors to get close to ancient Egyptian artefacts and discover more about the intriguing link between the collection and a magnificent house set above The Broads.
The Ancient Egyptians at How Hill event takes place on Saturday, May 24, from 11am-4pm and offers a rare opportunity to learn more about Norwich Castle’s Egyptian collection and to find out about its connection to How Hill. Activities include: an illustrated talk on the Colman Family and the Egyptian collection, opportunities to handle real Egyptian artefacts, guided walks of How Hill gardens and refreshments. Tickets are £10 and visitors are advised to book by calling 01692 678555.
In addition, an Ancient Egyptian-themed evening is also taking place at Norwich Castle Museum and Gallery tonight from 5-10pm.