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History at your feet

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings have just launched a rather eye-catching initiative to encourage us to look at interesting floors. Their blog has a rather wonderful call to arms to appreciate historic flooring more:

and have released their list of Top 20 Floors, including the Chapter House steps at Wells Cathedral and the black and white marble floor in the chapel at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich.


One of my own favourites which is not on the list is the mosaic floor in the main entrance of the National Gallery in London – everyone goes to see the great art, but the mosaics, begun in 1933 by the Russian-born artist Boris Anrep, are witty and colourful, depicting Winston Churchill and Greta Garbo.


Photo of steps at Wells Cathedral from SPAB; of mosaic of Churchill as Defiance from National Gallery



One in an occasional series on interesting sounding jobs in the museum sector

Today, freelance project conservator for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, working at Horseshoe Island in Antarctica..




Russia and the Arts at the NPG

This is a really excellent exhibition, small but perfectly formed, and introducing the ignorant visitor (me) to a time and a place about which I know very little – late 19th and early 20th century Russia, before the Revolution. It includes this gorgeous portrait of the poet Anna Akhmatova  and many others.


State Tretyakov Gallery


Thomas Becket’s elbow

There has been a lot of media coverage in the last few days of the return to England, after 800 years, of what is alleged to be a bone fragment from Thomas Becket, the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in his own cathedral in 1170. The relic is thought to have been obtained by two clergy who were present in Canterbury Cathedral when Thomas Becket’s body was reburied in 1220 and his tomb opened, and who took it with them to back to their native Hungary.

Becket was made Archbishop by his close friend, Henry II. The friendship unravelled when Becket defended the church in disagreements with the king. On 29 December 1170 four knights killed Becket, believing that the king wanted him out of the way. It is unclear whether Henry actually directly ordered the murder or not. Becket was made a saint and his shrine in Canterbury Cathedral became a focus for pilgrimage, until it was completely destroyed during the Reformation.

The first exhibition on which I ever worked was to display the Becket Casket in Canterbury Cathedral. It is a beautiful Limoges enamel reliquary, pictured below, made shortly after Becket’s death to contain his relics (now lost), owned by the V&A and loaned to Canterbury for a short period in 1997.


There is no way of proving if the Hungarian relic is actually is a fragment of Thomas Becket, but nevertheless it’s a fascinating reminder of the man and the period.


Obituary: Rose Klepfisz

Warsaw Ghetto survivor Rose Klepfisz, who later became an archivist of Jewish history, died recently in New York at the age of 102.

Obituary: Trevor Miners


Trevor Miners was one of the last surviving members of Churchill’s wartime Auxiliary Units, who were trained to carry out guerrilla warfare against the Germans should they have invaded Britain. Many, like Miners, were recruited from the local Home Guard. They were issued with explosives, guns and hunting knives and in the event of an invasion would have moved to Operational Bases where they would have waited to  come up behind the invaders lines and attack troops, supplies and communications. More extraordinary than this was the fact that each was to be issued with a list of potential collaborators, including some senior policemen, who might have to be executed if there was a risk of them helping the Nazi occupying forces.–obituary/

Shakespeare 400

William Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, and a huge range of events and exhibitions are going on to mark this anniversary. I’ve been doing some work for exhibition designers Real Studios who are helping the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust transform the site of New Place, Shakespeare’s last home in Stratford-upon-Avon and the place where he died.

There are many, many other Shakespeare related activities going on (a rather welcome break from the First World War centenaries), including the conservation of his will at the National Archives. Read this blog post about re-interpreting Shakespeare’s will, including a new view on his intentions in leaving his wife his second best bed, until now regarded as rather insulting.