Fears, Foes and Faeries examines bygone British folklore at Scarborough Art Gallery

By Catherine Roberts | 09 March 2012


a close up of a stuffed tortoise
© Scarborough Museums Trust
Exhibition: Fears, Foes and Faeries, Scarborough Art Gallery, Scarborough, March 23 – September 30 2012

Examining British folklore through the ages, Fears, Foes and Faeries revolves around a collection belonging to local William James Clarke, a prominent amateur natural historian who had a love of weird and wonderful folkloric objects.

A keen angler and taxidermist, Clarke gathered more than 500 objects during his lifetime (1871-1945), including an 18-ft long squid from Scarborough beach.

While most of the objects stayed in Scarborough, Clarke donated the squid to the Natural History Museum in London, who named the species after him – Architeuthis clarkei.

The exhibition showcases the array of charms and amulets – from ivy root necklaces to mole’s feet charms – carried by people during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The charms were kept close for a range of reasons that inspired the main themes of the exhibition: protection at sea; warding off witches; and to cure illnesses.

A large number of the artefacts were gathered before the war, when collecting objects from British folklore was a national pursuit. Clarke, however, kept up his hobby long after the study of folklore went out of fashion.

After his death in 1945 the collection was accessioned to Scarborough Museum.

“This is a very quirky and eccentric collection,” says Karen Snowden, Head of Collections at the Scarborough Museums Trust.

“Charms are basically about managing fear, the thing we find most unmanageable in our everyday life.”

The interactive displays appeal to all ages, assisted by a packed programme of faerie workshops, goth makeovers and a witches and wizards academy.

Inspired by Clarke’s research, visitors can leave their fears and ills at a Charmacy, to be treated with an individually tailored charm.

An exploration of faerie mythology charts how the creatures evolved from dark beings into the whimsical Tinkerbells of today.

The exhibition is part of Precious Cargos, Stories of the World, a three-year project from the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

  • Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm. Admission £2/£1.80 (free for under-18s).
More pictures:

a photo of a stuffed owl
© Scarborough Museums Trust
a photo of a dried frog
© Scarborough Museums Trust
a photo of a bead necklace
© Scarborough Museums Trust
a photo of a taxidermied mole's foot
Mole's Feet hung above the fireplace to or worn around the neck in a bag to ward off toothache.© Scarborough Museums Trust
a black and white photo of a giant sea squid washed up on a beach
The squid Clarke found, and which was named after him.© Scarborough Museums Trust
a photo of a necklace made from snail shells
Acorn necklace.© Scarborough Museums Trust
a photo of a kingfisher skin attached to a mast
Nailed to the mast of a fishing boat, a kingfisher’s skin was believed to ensure a good catch – an example of the transference of skills through ‘sympathetic magic’.© Scarborough Museums Trust
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