Memories good and bad
STEPHEN PULLINGER They normally become little more than the clutter which fills and helps to define every home. But the Time and Tide museum in Yarmouth has come up with a collection of souvenirs which is anything but banal.
They normally become little more than the clutter which fills and helps to define every home. But a Norfolk museum has come up with a collection of souvenirs which is anything but banal.
Demonstrating the eclectic taste and resourcefulness of Norfolk people on their travels through the ages, pieces range from an exquisitely-carved 3,000-year-old Egyptian figurine to a Buddhist Stupa looted from a Tibetan monastery.
A key theme in the Souvenir Exhibition, the latest in a series of European-funded displays at Yarmouth's Time and Tide Museum, is the rich influence of soldiers and sailors in garnering objects from all parts of the globe.
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Curator Samantha Johns, who has drawn pieces from across Norfolk Museums Service for the display that opens on Saturday, July 22, said: “Our last temporary exhibition focusing on the region's coastline drew about 15,000 visitors, and that was largely during the winter period.
“As this will be on during the peak holiday season we are hoping for even more interest.”
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She said most people's first impression of souvenirs was as tacky seaside objects without a lot of meaning, but they had striven in the exhibition towards a much broader and richer interpretation.
“The most important thing is that we wanted the stories about the objects that give them their value. Souvenirs are all to do with memories and they are something people can relate to because everyone has souvenirs.”
Her point is illustrated by the poignant story that accompanies one of the display's humblest objects, a not-surprisingly battered copy of the New Testament. She said: “It was found among bodies by a German soldier after he had blown up a trench during the first world war.
“After the war, using the inscription in the Bible, he contacted Yarmouth's town clerk to try to trace the family and it was eventually handed over to the widow of the soldier concerned, Charles Gunn.”
There is a pair of hand-sewn pants made by a Japanese prisoner of war to supplement his regulation-issue loincloth. Ms Johns said this illustrated that souvenirs were not always “nice” objects with happy connotations. “Sometimes people may have kept them for the purpose of historical evidence,” she said.
Some of the pieces on show were gathered during bygone travellers' “Grand Tour”, a concept favoured by the wealthy classes to extend their cultural experience.
One of the stars of the exhibition, on loan from the Castle Museum, at Norwich, is a Limoges enamel plaque, made in 1540, and brought back to Norfolk in the 18th century by redoubtable traveller Andrew Fountain, of Narford Hall.
The wooden Egyptian figurine was collected during author Sir Henry Rider Haggard's travels up the Nile in 1924 and donated to Norwich Museum after his death a year later.
His accompanying diary entry for January 29 1924 reads: “I obtained at Assiout a most interesting little wooden statuette of a naked girl, which from the tendons attached to the feet - broken, alas, when it was wrenched away a few weeks ago - was, I imagine, attached to the interior of a mummy case”.
A display of big-game trophies, dating back to a less politically- correct age, highlights the then- favoured sport of officer classes.
The tiger's head on show is thought to have been shot by Maj Francis Elliott Drake-Briscoe (1898-1985) of 1st Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment, while at Bangalore.
Among quirky items brought back by sailors to Norfolk's ports, most notably Yarmouth, are an ostrich egg and a carved coconut. There are also examples of the sailor's craft of making ships in bottles.
Visitors to Time and Tide receive free entry to the Souvenir Exhibition or they can pay £1.50 just to see the display. The exhibition runs from July 22 to December 10.
t www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk for details of opening times.