There’s a little museum tucked away in a tiny corner of Purbeck, nestling on the crossroads of time at a place called Worth Matravers. Some say the ages have passed it by; that civilisation wreaks havoc like a whirlwind while here it remains serene, in the eye of the storm, becalmed in oceans of eons, oblivious to the tumult of technology, trumpery, gim-crackery or endless innovation swirling around it.
Its owner is a genetically-driven hoarder who supplements the free admission fee by conducting a little business on the side, serving refreshments to weary pilgrims and wandering minstrels at what’s usually called The Square & Compass. It’s been coaching-inn to the curious for three hundred years or so. Like his father, Raymond, and his father, Charles, Charlie Newman continues to display to the public a rich and evolving store of Purbeck’s archaeological heritage – all without charge and open for longer hours than the British Museum which is notorious for not letting you enjoy a quiet pint alongside the exhibits.
Welcome to this, the first, in our series exploring, piece by piece, this amazing collection in…
Museum Piece – The Square & Compass Pub
Words by Catherine Newman, photos by Mike Deane.
SAMIAN WARE FRAGMENTS
a tantalising taste of upper class Roman living
Terra Sigillata, otherwise known as Samian Ware, was made in the potteries of Italy and Gaul. It first arrived on these shores during the Iron Age, possibly traded in exchange for hunting dogs and wool, our main exports at the time. But the bulk of fragments found on archaeological sites were most likely transported to these shores as earthenware during the main Roman Conquest of Britain in 43AD; along with thousands of swarthy Italians and their enormous storage containers of wine and olives.
It could have been worse …..
Samian Ware is some of the finest table pottery ever made and is wonderful to behold when unearthed intact. These little fragments give a tantalising taste of upper class Roman living. The highly decorative designs often reflected natural scenes of flora and fauna – some of the pieces in our private collection are decorated with swans, hunting dogs on the chase, stags and hinds. Enough to brighten up your evening meal on a misty, moisty night guarding Hadrian’s Wall.
The ultimate biodegradable, disposable pipe!
Many of the clay pipes in the museum were found packed in sawdust in the attic of The Square and Compass. These days we don’t even sell cigarette papers, but in Charlie’s great-grandfather’s era it was possible to buy a clay pipe over the bar, ready-stuffed with a pinch of tobacco. The smaller bowls were filled with finer and more expensive tobacco. Local ball clay could have been used in the manufacture of some of these pipes, although they come from far and wide. One bears the insignia of the 17th Lancers regiment (1759–1854) with a skull and crossbones motif (perhaps an early example of a Government Health Warning?). Another has the unlikely decoration of a woman giving birth and was found on the banks of the Thames. Many of the pipes were found in Victorian rubbish dumps just behind the pub: the ultimate disposable, biodegradable smoking device.
The depth of tinkle depends upon the size of the bell
Crotal bells are beautiful horse-harness embellishments made of pewter or copper alloy and were in common use between 1500-1700 (approx). Charlie believes the bells were also used on ‘lead sheep’ of flocks to assist shepherds. They were usually highly decorated and often bore the initials of the maker or owner. People’s dependence on and love of their horses was reflected in the care taken to display them at their best on high days and holidays. The depth of tinkle depends upon the size of the bell; just imagine the jingle from a fully-decorated horse! The smaller bell was found locally, on the footpath to Seacombe; the other, a little further out at Piddletrenthide.
300 years… pounded and polished by wind and wave
Pulley wheels are often the last remnants to survive from 17th and 18th century sailing vessels. All those in the museum were found washed up between Chapman’s Pool and Kimmeridge. They are made of resilient wood that was soaked in tallow (animal fat) to preserve them – which may be why many of the pulley wheels collected by Charlie were first sniffed-out by Fat Dog on their many walks together. Even after lying on the sea-bed for 200 years or so, they retain the scents of wood and tallow. They are as tough and durable as the sailors who depended on them to secure rigging and sails. Made of apple and tropical hardwoods, they have spent over 300 years, in some cases, being pounded and polished by wind and wave.
The stater was originally a Macedonian coin, minted in the reign of Philip II. In a process akin to Chinese whispers, the original design of a chariot, horse and rider drifted across continents, evolving and arriving on these shores in a much simplified, some say ‘bastardised’, representational form. The photo of the tile (a reproduction, found by chance by photographer Mike Deane shortly after this shoot) shows the original design.
Charlie found these staters locally in Worth Matravers, Church Knowle and Encombe. They were minted in Dorset, or on the Dorset borders, and used by the Durotriges (one of the Celtic tribes living in Britain prior to the Roman invasion) who inhabited West Hampshire, Dorset and adjoining parts of Somerset and Wiltshire. They are made of silver and have fantastically fresh, chunky and interesting designs – such as geometric patterns, starfish, bulls, wolves and horses. The preservation is remarkable and, as well as being incredibly beautiful to look at, they are lovely to hold; they have real substance to them.
I asked Charlie about the value of a single stater in those days; he estimates it would probably have purchased two wives, a sheep, a goat and a holiday. That’s Christmas sorted then…