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Friday, 27 January 2012

New Jane Austen display in Lyme Regis

A number of new exhibits have appeared in Lyme Regis Museum over the last few weeks, most importantly the updated Jane Austen display shown above. As mentioned in a previous post, these are items that actually belonged to Jane and her immediate family. They were kindly donated to the Museum by Diana Shervington, a Lyme Regis resident who is a descendant of one of Jane Austen’s brothers.

One of the most interesting items, which you can see on the right of the picture, is a box of counters for the game of Merelles. This game, also sometimes called Nine Men’s Morris, was ancient even in Jane Austen’s day -- it dates back to Roman times!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Lyme traditions - Wassailing and the Mummer's play

On Saturday 14th January two Lyme traditions were played out before an enthusiastic crowd.

Wassailing and Mummer's plays are ancient traditions which until recently were lost to Lyme. Over the last few years, the Museum has organised wassailing to try and revive the tradition, successfully so it seems. This year, Harry Ford, one of the Museum's volunteers has created a modern Mummer's play and, after the wassailing, it was enacted around the streets of Lyme.

The picture to the right shows Sir George, the hero of the play on his gallant steed. The wonderful masks worn by Sir George and the local cast were made by local artists. The Uplyme Morris-men, having performed before and been a part of the wassailing then became part of the play.

Let's hope that both these traditions will continue in modern Lyme.

To see more pictures of the events click here.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Bioluminescent shellfish at a Roman villa

Here's an interesting story that links two different subject-areas covered by the Museum: archaeology and natural history. Starting with natural history, one of the many fascinating creatures to be seen in the rockpools along Lyme Regis beach is the Piddock (left). This shellfish is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it isn’t satisfied with having its own shell for protection: it also burrows into the rock for additional security! Secondly—and even more bizarrely—it exhibits the phenomenon known as bioluminescence... in other words, it glows in the dark!

Piddock shells were amongst the thousands of edible mollusc shells discovered at the Roman villa at Holcombe, about a mile outside Lyme Regis (this was the site where the Iron Age mirror was found). It’s quite common to find hoards of “used” sea-shells at Roman sites, because eating shellfish was very fashionable in those days. At Holcombe, the piddock shells were found in the vicinity of the bath-house, together with oysters, scallops and edible snails.

I came across the story of the Holcombe piddock shells in an excellent blog post by Ray Girvan, who describes how the Romans (and presumably the Romano-British) used to amuse themselves by eating the glowing shellfish while bathing at night. Pliny the Elder, in Book IX of his seminal encyclopaedia Natural History, makes two oblique references to this practice. The longer of the two, from chapter LXXXVII, is quoted in Ray’s article, while chapter LI also briefly mentions “...piddocks, which shine as if with fire in dark places, even in the mouth of persons eating them.”

We’re doing our best to produce our own photograph of a Piddock glowing in the dark... but hopefully it won’t be inside someone’s mouth!

I’m grateful to Ray Girvan for his original post and for a subsequent e-mail discussion last week, and to Marrina Neophytou (Devon County Council) and Claire Pinder (Dorset County Council) for help with the archaeological records.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

William Buckland: an eccentric geologist

William Buckland (1784 - 1856) was one of several nineteenth-century geological pioneers associated with Lyme Regis (the bust shown on the left is on display in Lyme Regis Museum). He was born a few miles away in Axminster, and visited Lyme frequently while studying as an undergraduate at Oxford University. In 1818 he became the first Professor of Geology at Oxford.

Buckland was the son of a parish priest, and in his early work he tried to reconcile his geological discoveries with the Biblical accounts of the Creation and the Flood, although later in his career he became a convert to the glacial theory. By all accounts he was an eccentric character, becoming famous in non-scientific circles as the man who ate everything!

Buckland was a pioneer of the experimental method in geology, and it was in this way that he made one of his most famous discoveries, concerning coprolites. On the Dorset coast, pebbles are occasionally found which when broken open contain a distinctive structure and what appear to be small bones and fish-scales.
Buckland speculated that these objects were fossilized excrement, deposited by large marine creatures such as ichthyosaurs—a theory he proved to his own satisfaction by dissecting a number of fish and injecting their intestines with quick-drying cement! Buckland coined the word "coprolite" to refer to these fecal fossils... and he liked them so much he had a special table made to display his best specimens. The table is now on display in Lyme Regis Museum.

Not all Buckland’s experiments were successful. Another topic he looked at was the phenomenon of “entombed animals”: trapped frogs or toads that are supposedly found alive when solid rock or masonry is broken open. An ideal topic for experimental research! Buckland's experiments were rigorous, using two types of rock and a selection of toads of different ages and sizes, but within two years all the toads were dead. You can read more about Buckland’s toad experiments here.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Wassailing at the Museum

3pm on Saturday 14th January 2012
Lyme Regis Museum’s annual celebration of Old Twelfth Night takes place on Saturday January 14, invoking the West Country custom of wassailing the apple trees to ensure a good crop. It will begin at 3pm with mulled cider or apple juice being served in the Museum. Outside, Uplyme Morris Men will perform their dances, including a new addition to the repertoire dedicated to the apple tree. Children are invited to take part in the ceremony of The Toast, and Adrian Pearson will lead the singing of the wassail song (song sheets provided).

Then comes the premiere of Mummer’s the Word!, Harry Ford’s witty revival of an ancient winter play with the comforting message that out of darkness comes light. With live music, grotesque masks, flaming torches and a real horse the mummers will perform then promenade along Coombe Street to George’s Square, with further scenes en route, finishing at St Michael’s Church with mulled ale.

Everyone is invited to wrap up warm and follow them through the streets of Lyme. Everything is free!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Museum Events in January

Mary Anning Walks:
  • Saturday 7 January 14.00
  • Saturday 14 January 14.00
  • Saturday 21 January 14.00
  • Saturday 28 January 14.00
Fossil Walks:
  • Sunday 8 January 2012 09.00
  • Monday 9 January 2012 09.45
  • Tuesday 10 January 2012 10.30
  • Thursday 12 January 2012 11.45
  • Friday 13 January 2012 12.30
  • Sunday 22 January 2012 09.00
  • Monday 23 January 2012 09.45
  • Tuesday 24 January 2012 10.30
  • Thursday 26 January 2012 11.45
  • Friday 27 January 2012 12.15
  • Saturday 28 January 2012 12.45
For more information, see the What's On page of the Museum website.