Counting Culture: Uncovering Lancashire’s Hidden History

On Friday the 17th November we had a fascinating talk by Heather Davis, the county conservation officer which was further to our visit to the conservation centre in September.

First of all she introduced us to certain buildings and objects which the conservation centre has responsibility for. Helmshore mill which is still open for group and school visits despite the county council cutbacks is an outstanding example of a mill run by water frames invented by Richard Arkwright and there is a working example there. This frame mechanised the spinning process and thus could be worked by one man where previously to achieve that output 73 women would have had to hand spin.
Queen St. mill in Burnley is totally closed at the moment because a brick fell from the top of the mill chimney and it became apparent that the top section would have to be replaced, which is going to be done, and that in 2018 the mill is scheduled to re-open.
Other parts of the industrial collection include references to the Lancashire motor industry. They have a Gordon produced by Vernon and Priestley which because it was so light being made of aluminium it did not need a reverse gear because it could be easily lifted up and turned around.

The conservation centre is housed in a redundant church in Preston built in 1836 in the North Italianate  style. It has been sensitively converted to allow the architectural details to be visible and accessed. There are 7 different studios that include paper, painting and textile studios. In fact they house the costumes used in the last tour of the Supremes. She also went into detail about the wonderful 17thc. embroidered work box which contains a relic of the Boscobel oak, which was a symbol of royalist support at the time. The box had been preserved by being stored in a Georgian wooden box. Having been stored in this box the colours of the embroidery have remained vibrant to this day.


Heather Davis then took us to the location of the discovery of the Roman cavalryman’s tombstone by the Lancaster canal. It was discovered by accident by a forklift truck. She went into detail about it’s recovery and subsequent conservation and how it was gradually brought to the exquisite condition it is in to day. There were many steps in it’s conservation , initially by letting it dry out away from heat and then being removed to a store which had limited  heating. It was then carefully cleaned, one step being the use of porcupine quills to get directly into the carving. The conservation of the stone took well over 3000 hours. She also explained the difficult procedures they had to go through, ultimately by removing a Georgian window in the Lancaster museum and delicately transferring it through the aperture to where it is displayed upright and upstairs. [The historic window was reinserted.] The total weight of the stone, which had broken into two parts, was 840 kilos!.


Heather Davis then concluded this most illuminating talk by discussing the Silverdale Hoard. This hoard ,whose exact findspot has never been disclosed for security reasons is a Viking era hoard consisting almost entirely of silver objects with the exception of one copper coin deduced by a verdigris stain. One of the objects seems to be stylistically Syrian whilst the majority seem to have an Irish provenance. The hoard also contains Arabic coins. Silver used to be polished by using “rottenstone” which can leave traces. It may be possible by finding a DNA marker in the stone to deduce where the material actually comes from .It also seems possible that there are links between the items in this hoard and the Cuerdale hoard which, if so, would be very exciting and greatly increase our knowledge possibly leading to finding out who deposited  these hoards. Many of the objects had been broken up so that they could be used for barter. It would appear that many of the items were originally jewelled and that the bracelets, which were intact, were for men! There will be a major exhibition of the Silverdale Hoard at the Atkinson gallery in Southport in 2018.

This was a very detailed and illuminating  lecture which took us behind the scenes and through the meticulous processes which are carried out to conserve Lancashire’s rich heritage.

Posted by Jeannette Dobson

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