Curator's Choice: A strapless dress, a shark off the Cumbria coast and a beer barrel

| 24 June 2015

Jill Goodfellow picks eight objects from the What's in Store exhibition at Tullie House in Carlisle

Jean Allen, Strapless Evening Dress (circa late 1950s)

A photo of a stuffed wolf, a deer's head mounted on a wall and a dress on a mannequin
© Tullie House Museum
This dress was made by the popular Jean Allen fashion house in London. They designed modestly priced good quality women’s clothes from the 1950s to the late 1970s.

Mrs Ann Robinson purchased this dress to wear at functions. She was a friend of Tullie House and collected costume and textiles, several examples of which are in the museum collection.
The dress is made from woven synthetic fabric printed with blue and black roses. The style is very feminine, with an ‘hour glass’ figure. This is achieved with a boned bodice and full skirt worn over layers of muslin.

This fashionable shape was inspired by Christian Dior’s New Look, which launched in Paris in 1947 and heralded a dramatic change in women’s fashions.

Shield Boss (Roman, 73)

A close up photo of some sort of gold and black circular disc inside a museum case
© Tullie House Museum
This object is a shield boss made of brass and would have formed part of a Roman shield. The domed part would have protected the hand of the soldier holding the shield. The rest of the shield would have been made of wood so would have rotted away underground, leaving just the metal parts.

The shield boss was found during excavations carried out by the Carlisle Archaeological Unit between 1973 and 1984. It was found on the site of the Roman fort on Annetwell Street, just outside the museum.

Material excavated by the Carlisle Archaeological Unit, which   operated between 1973 and 2001, is held by the museum and is used for research and exhibitions.

Costrel (Medieval, circa 500-1500)

A photo of a large stone circular jug with two handles from a museum display
© Tullie House Museum
This strange looking-bottle is called a costrel. Costrels were used to carry liquids, often by people working in the fields. The use of flasks like this was common during the medieval era, but continued after this period. It is difficult to date this piece more specifically.

The word costrel comes from the French word costerel, coste meaning ‘side’ – the flask would be worn to one side while the owner was working. This costrel was found in Alston between 1960 and 1970 and came to the museum in 1992.

Herbarium Sheets (Urtica dioica)

A close-up photo of prints of green plant leaves inside a museum display case
© Tullie House Museum
A herbarium is a collection of preserved plant specimens. Tullie House is home to a couple of herbaria collections, including the Lakeland Herbarium, which these samples are from. The Lakeland Herbarium contains thousands of specimens from Cumbria dating back to the mid-19th century.
Herbaria specimens are essential for the study of plants, used to catalogue and identify the flora of an area. Historical collections such as the one here at Tullie House also provide a valuable resource for those studying changes in plant life over time, tracking how changes in climate and human activity impact upon plant life.
The specimen sheets in this case are examples of Urtica Dioica, otherwise known as the common or stinging nettle. The earliest specimens were collected in 1878.

Nettles have many uses, including being used by fishermen to preserve their catch.

Porbeagle Shark (Lamna nasus)

A close-up photo of a shark inside a museum display case in front of a dress and a pot
© Tullie House Museum
The porbeagle shark is a species of mackerel shark found in many areas, including the oceans around the British Isles. The name porbeagle is thought to derive from the Cornish porth, meaning harbour, and bugul, meaning shepherd.   

The porbeagle is an opportunistic hunter, normally staying at least 10 miles off shore. But they are known to come much closer to feed. The porbeagle is fast and highly active and has been known to perform seemingly playful behaviour.

This shark is highly valued as a game fish by sport fishers in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Due to overfishing it is classed as vulnerable worldwide, and as either endangered or critically endangered in some parts of its territory.

This specimen was collected near the Solway Coast in Cumbria. The porbeagle is one of around 50 species of sharks present in UK waters.

Beer Barrel (circa 1916-1973)

A photo of a circular wooden barrel with an inscription on its top
© Tullie House Museum
This wooden beer keg was manufactured under the Carlisle State Management Scheme. State Management is a key part of Carlisle’s local history and has helped define the modern drinks trade in Britain.
During the First World War the construction of HM Gretna Munitions Factory led to the Central Control Board (Liquor traffic) state takeover of the city’s pubs, hotels and breweries. It also saw the creation of a new form of public house that promoted food, entertainment and soft drinks as well as moderate alcohol consumption.
This venture became the Carlisle District State Management Scheme which would not end until 1973. Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the State Management scheme within Carlisle City. This barrel came to the museum in 1982.

Haaf Net (circa 1980s)

A photo of a fishing net slung across a museum wall next to a fish and a framed picture
© Tullie House Museum
Haaf net fishing is a traditional Cumbrian method of fishing for salmon and sea trout in the Solway Estuary. The practice dates back to Viking settlers in the 9th century and was commonly practiced in the Solway region during the 19th century.

The word “haaf” comes from the Norse word ‘hav’, meaning “open sea”. The haaf net is mounted on a rectangular frame, supported by three legs. This frame is placed across the current by a fisherman standing behind the net.

Fishermen walk out into the shallow waters of the Solway sands and mudflats and place the haaf net facing the tide. Fish are trapped and disabled by a blow from a wooden club called a nep, priest or killer.

Haaf net fishing is still permitted, but only on the Solway. Today, haaf net fishermen and women are licensed, to restrict this ancient local practice to protect fish stocks.

This haaf net was used in Glasson and was brought to the museum in 1986.

George Vicat Cole, The Weald of Surrey (1869). Watercolour and gouache, purchased 1944

An image of a classic oil painting showing people standing around a field under a tree
© Tullie House Museum
The agricultural landscape became a major subject for artists from the beginning of the 19th century. During this time Britain was transformed from an agricultural to an industrial nation. Despite this, much agricultural work was still done by hand and was grindingly hard.
By the 1850s, romantic images of rural life were very fashionable. Vicat Cole’s paintings were particularly popular and earned him a good living.

He was an accomplished artist interested in painting nature and light accurately. He often painted entire scenes on the spot working from a hut.
In this idyllic scene, contented agricultural workers make hay on a beautiful summer’s day. A man and woman chat as she uses a pitch fork to turn the hay.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More from Culture24's Curator's Choice section:

The Roman Frontier Gallery, Tullie House

3D guns, Primark trousers and Katy Perry eyelashes at the V&A

The Happisburgh Hand Axe - the oldest hand axe in north-west Europe
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