The weird and wonderful happenings at Cawthorne Victoria Jubilee Museum

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Hundreds of tiny staring eyes, motionlessly transfixed around the room. Depictions of unfortunate game met with an untimely end. A collection of vivid pottery plaques with a history twinned with the village.

This is the tale of Cawthorne Victoria Jubilee Museum.

A village once overseen by the mightily wealthy Spencer Stanhope family of Cannon Hall, the museum is a fruit of the estate’s labour having been purpose built in the late 1880s from a Vicar’s gentle persuasion.

Encouraging young people to become fascinated with the workings of the world and natural history, Rev. Charles Tiplady Pratt set up a museum society in 1884, where those interested could study the collection of birds’ eggs, wild flowers, fossils and grasses in one of two old cottages in the village of Cawthorne.

Open Saturday evenings, the early museum became very popular.

Word of the amalgamation of wonderful finds quickly spread, with residents wishing to add their own curios from around the village to the collection. Paired with a number of treasures brought back from the Stanhopes’ travels, the collection soon outgrew its premises.

With Sir Walter and his brother John Roddam, a pre-Raphaelite artist, keen on the ideas of Pratt to build a new museum, work began from the craftsmanship of the estate workers during quieter times at Cannon Hall.

With the foundations laid in 1887, the Golden Jubilee year of Queen Victoria, the museum took two years to complete, using materials from around the estate; stone and timbers were taken from demolished properties, a 13th century crook included, and a fireplace came from an 17th century vicarage on Darton Road.

Opened in October 1889, the museum has continued to flourish ever since. Following a couple of extensions and a lottery-funded refurbishment of the timber and stained glass, the modern-day version of the museum still upholds many of the early visions.

Run a by a team of trustees and volunteers, including husband and wife Les and Mary Herbert and local historian, Barry Jackson, the museum has been owned by the village since 1953 after it was offered to the society for £100.

Building upon Rev. Pratt’s encouragement of natural history study, the museum is alive, or perhaps stuffed, with mammals, birds and reptiles gazing out from glass boxes.

A taxidermist’s dream, get a closer look at the likes of puffer fish, foxes and a whole host of birds.

A standout piece, yet somewhat gruesome to the girl who is scared of mannequins and such, is a two-headed lamb peering quietly from a corner. Although it frightened me to death, excuse the pun, the story behind the unfortunate fellow hails a little closer to home.

Whilst working on a local farm, Mary and Les’ son, Robin, witnessed the birth of this two-headed lamb. Fearing the worst, Robin asked for the ill-fated animal not to be destroyed, instead for it to be kept and used for taxidermy for the museum.

Many of the original collections still exists, with butterflies and fossils joined by rocks and precious stones from around the area.

One huge boulder-like object has been shrouded in controversy from its origins. Thought to be a horse’s nine pound gallstone, a visit from a vet one day quashed that theory in the simplest of ways – horses do not have gall bladders. Instead, it is now thought to be an intestinal calculus, or build-up of minerals and salts. Whichever function, the poor horse certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed passing the colossal stone.

Picking up on the agricultural industrial vein of Cawthorne, the museum also boasts many farming implements and blacksmith products; walls are covered in onyx-black pitchforks, rakes and sharp tools that would once have cultivated the vast farming lands in the area.

Stretching further afield, artefacts and implements have travelled from warmer climates, with many African objects brought back by the Stanhopes. Voodoo heads and wooden farming tools line the walls.

But poachers, beware. A snare has been set to catch unruly thieves. A man trap, found in an orchard in Cawthorne, if often used by Les for demos to travelling school children or visitors – we wouldn’t want to get our leg trapped in its piercing teeth.

Another prominent Barnsley industry, gleaming glass trinkets and bottles stand proud from the days of the glass blower. To commemorate Barnsley’s industrial heritage, a mighty coat of arms bears down upon the museum.

A central shield flanked by a miner and glass blower, Society President, Barry, tells us of his memories dressing up as the miner aged four and his friend the glass blower, armed with a shield between the pair.

Domestic and personal items such a razors and christening gowns are mixed with memorabilia from the wars, region, and Royal souvenirs.

And a village phenomenon, the boots of the absorbing tale of Tom Parkin stand battered and bruised on a windowsill. Those not aware of the story, farmer Tom was hit by lightning and lived to tell the tale. But his boots bore the brunt of his ordeal.

Wrecked and wrinkled by the elements, this pair of village legend were almost gone forever when a local school caretaker threw them in the bin, unaware of their past. Thankfully, these feet are now placed firmly in the museum for all to see.

And of course, who can say Cawthorne without the mention of art. Roddam was indeed known for his talents in the art world, putting Cannon Hall, his family and indeed the village firmly on the map. Due to his asthmatic condition, Roddam upped and moved to Florence, away from the cold climate of Cawthorne to improve his wheezy chest.

Whilst in Italy, Roddam’s work was used in a Florence church. An 1896 book of reproduction from inside the church is an almighty splendour at the museum. One of the first artists to make use of early photographers, the book is testimony to his magnificent work and ideas.

Along with his art, Roddam produced a number of muses and understudies, including his niece Evelyn. Following in her uncle’s footsteps, Evelyn became a successful painter, before marrying ceramicist William de Morgan. The museum is proud of its permanent display of De Morgan ceramics, known for their use of colour and spiritual backgrounds.

Away from the Stanhopes, another name need not be forgotten in the art world. An animal and game painter, Abel Hold had a penchant for dead birds and egg nests. A circle of life for a feathered friend, his detailed paintings depict so intricately the story of egg to end – resulting in graphic portraits of unlucky pheasants, partridge and game.

Although born in West Yorkshire, Abel moved to Cawthorne and struck up a friendship with the Stanhopes, with Sir Walter becoming his patron.

A proud inclusion by the trustees at the museum, The Girl with the Lamb is an 1842 painting that has recently made its way back to Cawthorne from America.

After years spent lurking in the depths of an American charity shop hoping to be sold, the exquisite painting was found and the new owner contacted the Midgley family whose roots lie in Cawthorne.

A girl in quite formal attire holding a lamb by a silk blue ribbon, Mary tells us she thinks the girl could have been from Cannon Hall due to Abel’s connections with the family.

With a new exhibition centre showcasing the works of various artists from Cawthorne and the surrounding areas, you can marvel at a whole host of interesting works. To mark Abel Hold’s 200th anniversary, this year’s exhibition will be devoted to his works and other local artists.

Open 2pm-5pm at weekends and Bank Holidays during the summer months, there is a small admission fee for the upkeep of the museum.

Open Palm Sunday to end of October

Taylor Hill, Cawthone, Barnsley S75 4HQ

For group bookings outside of opening hours, please call 01226 790545 or 790246 or 790375s

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