Wheatfield WayKingston KT1 2PS
Thursday 25 February 2016
On this lovely sunny (but chilly) day, Linda and I met at Waterloo to catch a train to Kingston. The half hour (ish) journey gave us plenty of time to chat, and then it is a short walk to the Museum. I mention these travel details because we think this place is well worth a visit.
We spent a little time at the reception desk, discussing whether this blog counts as 'publishing'; but you can tell from Linda's photos that we were deemed to be OK to take and use pictures. (We do like to ask, in case...)
First we came to the community case, where local groups can display their treasures; these included a ribbon threader and a charming cork with a sailing ship on it, from South India. Next door was a case of Martinware, made in Southall at the time of the Arts and Crafts movement, but we were not very taken with the dense shades and thick encrusting of the pots.
The Museum clearly has a trail for small people, with occasional labels to point in the right direction.
The main body of the museum is about the history of Kingston. from neolithic flints to the Second World War. What impressed us most was the signage, which was clear and readable. The staff obviously followed the principle that, if you know about archeology, carbon dating, the names of historical periods and so on, you will just ignore the captions, but if you don't they are useful.
Compared to Hampstead, where we were a couple of weeks ago, Kingston has more 'history', as you might expect from the site of a major river crossing. There was a case of weapons recovered from the river (or rather from a silted up branch excavated when the shopping centre was being built. Were these carelessly lost overboard? thrown in for religious reasons? dumped because they were damaged? Looking at the remarkable Saxon logboat which is on display, I thought capsizing might have been a real risk, weapons and all! The logboat was dated in the 1990s, using the master sequence of tree ring data through hundreds of years with which archeologists compare whatever wood they find (I didn't know about this method)
If there were Roman buildings in Kingston (and there must have been, since they used the Thames crossing) they do not survive, but we saw a few pots and coins and an altar. Kingston is one of the boroughs with treasure trove rights, and on display were some gold coins from the Chessington Treasure.
Linda was very taken with the early 20th century stained glass windows. They have motifs from the past life of Kingston, and embellish the rooms from the earliest human inhabitants through into Tudor times.
There was a brief account of Ethelred 'the Unready'. Linda preferred the 1066 and All That image of him effectively still in his pyjamas when the Danes landed though I did try to persuade her that he was merely 'badly advised'.
As the Middle Ages got going, Kingston became very busy. Ship building was an important industry, and some timbers were on display, together with brick fishing net weights and an artist's impression of the bridge which spanned the Thames here from at least the 1190s. We admired the way that photos and drawings, as well as the useful captions, were used to fill out the limited objects.
During the Civil War, Kingston sided with the King, only to be defeated by the Parliamentarians. But trade and commerce continued to be the key to the city's fortunes, and there was an interesting case about trading standards and weights and measures.
Possibly the least attractive object we saw was a huge novelty vase, made of crazy paving bits of ceramic by Thomas Abbott for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. He offered a prize to anyone who correctly guessed the number of pieces.
The theme of boatbuilding led us to the story of the Watermen, and swan upping, as well the Doggett's Coat ad Badge race, run every year since 1715.
There was also a display about the Surrey Yeomanry, and the militia, which was a kind of Home Defence Force, with handsome uniforms, but exemption for anyone who could pay £10.00. Since militia men were promised that they would never have to serve overseas, the force was never really tested in combat.
More recent combat methods also played their part in the story of Kingston, since both Sopwith and Hawker had factories and research establishments nearby. So we say models of the Camel and the Hurricane, as well as some photos of the assembly plants.
There were some photos of the bomb damage inflicted on Kingston by the Luftwaffe, and a case with gas masks, ARP labels and so on.
But the museum does not ignore the domestic side of life and there was a case about how laundry was done until the twentieth century. Just as we forget to be grateful every time we drink straight from a tap or flush the loo, so I think we need reminding that it really used to be wash DAY, with the hard labour boiling and scrubbing and mangling and starching and drying, not to mention ironing. There were some flat irons and some gophering irons for all those sweet middle class victorian frills.
The other domestic interior displayed a truly terrifying pressure cooker, looking like an overgrown hand grenade, and perched on an early electric cooker.
We saw the symbols of Mayoral authority, and then there was a case about the schools of the Royal borough, originally set up to teach 'honest poor men's sons to write, read and cast accompte' but now an Academy and a great deal more complicated than that!
At this stage, in an area about spare time, we met one of Kingston's world famous sons, the HMV dog Nipper, who was owned by artist Francis Barraud.
We also learned about Jack Keen, champion cyclist of the 1870s, and saw some examples of his cycle manufacture.
Here we found 20 objects, some very valuable, others precious is a more homely way. each had its story on a nearby poster. They were all from Kingstonians of what one might call the South Asian Diaspora: people whose forbears had come from India though their own families had come from Uganda, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and so on. As well as wedding saris, there were domestic implements like steamers and coconut graters, several more than a century old, but still useful and used today.
We found it both interesting and moving.
And finally, we headed back downstairs to meet another of Kingston's globally famous sons, though I will say it took us some time (and an excursion into the shop) to find that Eadweard Muybridge was indeed born in Kingston - in 1830. This is the only tiny flaw we found in the signage throughout the museum!
I do hope you're not saying 'who?' since you have heard of him, or at least his works: he was the man who finally demonstrated how horses really move, using his technique of multiple photographs and his zoopraxiscope. He also took some amazing early pictures of American sights, including some of the Yosemite National Park in1867, having mooved more or less permanently to the USA.
Pausing in the shop, to learn that the Museum was opened in 1904 with help from the Carnegie fortune, we were delighted with one more extraordinary exhibit: the specially made pewter dish on which a baron of beef weighing 200lbs was served to 700 children to celebrate the coronation of George IV. I expect the King would have been pleased as he was certainly one who enjoyed his victuals!