Curator's Choice: The Abingdon Museum

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
My first choice is a fragment of a lyre, dated between 450 and 550 AD, which consists of a very small piece of slightly bowed bone with six peg holes for holding the strings. It was part of the grave goods of an Anglo-Saxon warrior uncovered in 1935 in Abingdon.

It completely changed our idea of the 'Dark Ages'. Previously we had thought the Romans had left and then, to use the style of 1066 and All That, nothing much happened for a few hundred years. But this excavation proved that the people who carried on living in the area were actually quite sophisticated and did not live a barbaric way of life. I have the impression of a man who was not only a fighter but someone who was sensitive enough to enjoy music.

The second object is a smock (detail shown above) commonly worn by men while working on the land and gives a similar glimpse into someone's life. It is made of linen and is very highly embroidered with different kinds of imagery, including flowers, national emblems and mottos. It was designed for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and was sewn by two sisters called Esther and Hannah Stimpson. What always strikes me is how close all the needlework is without the aid of electric light. It makes me curious about these two ladies. Both the lyre and the smock give snapshot pictures into people's lives and make them rounded characters instead of just stereotypes.

Emily Leach is the Senior Museums officer in the Vale Area. The Abingdon Museum (in association with Oxfordshire County Council), the County Hall, Market Place, Abingdon, Oxfordshire (0235 523703). Tues-Sun 11am-5pm