Climbing heaven and gazing on the earth

Summer 2019 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Moon landings. Earth’s only satellite has been humankind’s constant companion, and its regular phases of waxing and waning inspired some of the earliest ways of measuring time and setting calendars. Its gravitational forces combine with those of the Sun and with the rotation of the earth to create the tides, setting the biological rhythms of sea creatures and the conditions of human navigation.

Depictions of the Moon go back thousands of years and it has played a part in many cultures’ mythologies and religious beliefs and practices; the Moon has also inspired artists and poets from Shakespeare to Shelley. To celebrate one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind, we present a selection of images drawn from College Library and the College Collections.



Parlez-vous anglo-normand?


Indenture of agreement concerning tithe rent, Stogursey, Somerset. 3 August 1394 [ECR 06 078]
(Close-up of the document’s text)

Anglo-Norman French, not something I had ever really come across until hearing Dr. Heather Pagan’s talk at Magdalen College. In fairness, I had only come across the Anglo-Normans briefly when in primary school, which was a fair few years ago, and being about 7 years old, always presumed they spoke modern-day English. But of course they wouldn’t speak this modern English! It was 1066, England had just been conquered by William the Conqueror, and we now had a Norman King! After the invasion of 1066, the Normans brought with them many things, motte and bailey castles, their own names – Richard and Robert rather than Æthelwulf and Beowulf -, and of course, they brought their language, French.


Indenture of agreement concerning tithe rent, Stogursey, Somerset. 3 August 1394 [ECR 06 078] (Full document)

If you’re like me, you would think that all medieval documents were written in Latin, but this is not true. When documents started to be created by the government in the 12th century, Latin was the language of scholars, whereas “French” was the language of management. I say French, but this was the Anglo-Norman language, a type of French which had an Anglo influence. Whilst similar, this was not the same as continental French. It was mainly used by the noble class from the 12th century to the 15th, up until the Black Death and the increase in use of English.

Identifying Anglo-Norman is not the easiest of tasks, we can look at the phonology, such as consonant substitutions, such as “K” being used rather than “Qu” (Ki/Que). But there are also vowel differences, which you can see if you compare Parisian French Profond with the Anglo-Norman French Profound. Anglo-Norman would use the –ou rather than just –o.


Evidences to a rent from the lord of Wotton, Stogursey, Somerset. 14th century [ECR 06 257]

But whilst we may think that the use of Anglo-Norman French died out centuries ago, this language had such a great influence on English, that in a way, Anglo-Norman French is still in use today. About three-quarters of Norman-French words are still used in the English language today, such as castle (old French: Castle/Chastel), forest (old French: Forest), and as seen above profound (old French: profound). Modern English still uses some old French words which have disappeared from the modern French language, such as dandelion, solace and gone.

It’s certainly not something you come across every day, but it is interesting to see how Anglo-Norman French was the main language in administrative England from the 12th century, died out in the 15th century only to live on through its influence on the English language and in a way, is still seen and used today.

Eliza Kettle

Archives Assistant

Death and the Doctor: Dying, Burying the Afterlife in the Seventeenth Century

Death & the Doctor Exhibition_Email Invite

The exhibition Death and the Doctor: Dying, Burying the Afterlife in the Seventeenth Century curated by Dr Lucy Gwynn is now is display in the Tower Gallery until 1st November 2019.

This exhibition looks at the experience and ideas of death, the corpse and posthumous life in seventeenth–century England. Its starting point is the writing of Norwich physician and author Sir Thomas Browne, whose extraordinary essay Urne-Buriall is an extended meditation on death, and particularly on what is left of us after we are gone: decaying remains, scraps of memories, and the possibility of eternal life. The exhibition looks at deaths, funerals, and resurrections as described in the sonorous language of the Book of Common Prayer, and in the works of Browne, Shakespeare and Donne.

Alongside these, it presents the seventeenth-century fascination with the funerary customs of other cultures, from pyramids to catacombs to funeral pyres. Through contemporary illustrations, it explores the use of the dead body in the rapidly developing science of anatomy and it introduces Browne’s remarkable writings through Eton College Library’s fine collection of editions of his works.

Displayed in the exhibition are the following four visually exciting works which we hope will entice you to book a visit…

5Lachrymae 2

Lachrymae lachrimarum, or, the spirit of tears by Joshua Sylvester et al. (London 1612)

A compilation of poems mourning the death of Prince Henry that includes verse by John Donne. This volume was designed to emphasise the shock and grief provoked by Henry’s sudden death. Each right-hand page is bordered with grinning skeletons, and each left-hand page printed entirely in black except for Henry’s crest.


STBL Skull on plinth

© Sir Thomas Browne Library, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital

Wax cast of the skull of Sir Thomas Browne, on loan from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital

‘To be gnaw’d out of our graves, to have our sculls made drinking bowls, and our bones made into pipes…’

Browne’s coffin was discovered in the 19th century in the church where he was buried. The sexton took the skull and sold it, fulfilling Browne’s fear of his remains being exposed to undignified display. The skull was reinterred in the 1920s, after several casts, including this one, were made.



Detail from Cerebri anatome by Thomas Willis (London 1664)

Willis’s study of the brain is one of a genre of meticulously detailed anatomical studies produced in England in the late 17th century. In focussing on single elements or organs of the body, Willis and his colleagues continued the trend begun by Vesalius, finding marvels in anatomical details rather than treating the whole as an indivisible microcosm of God’s creation.



Omnia opera anatomico-medico-chirurgici by Frederik Ruysch (Amsterdam, 1737)

Ruysch was a doctor in 17th-century Amsterdam who specialised in the wax preservation of soft tissue for medical study, crucial in an age when specimens were rare and refrigeration non-existent. He arranged his specimens in artful tableaux which were, he claimed, meant to persuade people to overcome their natural revulsion towards the dead body. Like the display of Browne’s skull in a pathological museum, Rusch’s tableaux occupy an uncomfortable – even distressing – territory where scientific investigation and morbid exploitation overlap.

Death and the Doctor: Open until 1st November 2019. To book a free appointment to visit Monday-Friday, 10-4pm, contact us at or 01753 370590.

Lucy Gwynn, Deputy Librarian and Deputy Director of Collections

Lucy Cordingley, Exhibitions and Access Co-Ordinator

#Archives30 Day 30: Why Archives?

#Archive30 list created by @ARAScot

Day 30, the final day of the @ARAScot #Archive30 twitter event. This event has lasted for the 30 days of April and each day is given a theme. We then post something from our archives which fits best with the theme! The twitter event is an Archive Awareness campaign to give an insight into our collections and our jobs. For today, the theme is Why Archives? I could not answer this question with 280 characters, so instead I shall answer fully here!

For the past 30 days, Eton College Archives have been able to show off the weird and wonderful items which we hold in our collections, from seals of kings, signatures of Queens to records of boy’s attendance and house books, the archives here are certainly varied in its material. There’s a selection of the items shared below (hover over each picture to see which theme each item is a response to):

But back to the question, why archives? For this, perhaps a better question would be why not archives? Well, to put it simply, without archives, I would not be writing this post. I wouldn’t have a job, there would be no archives assistant here!  There would be no #Archive30 Twitter event, as there would be no material to show off. We wouldn’t be able to show you the signature of Queen Elizabeth I, or the entrance books, or anything for that matter!

Without archives, we wouldn’t know that items were given to the barber in the 16th century, to wipe over the imagery upon the walls of the church, with the intent of removal. But after 300 years they were able to be restored and are now the most considerable work of art in the College. We wouldn’t know the names of boys who attended the school from the date of its foundation (We can partially understand this, as no record survives of the Oppidans who attended before 1792, we only have the names of the Kings Scholars. But without the archives, we wouldn’t even have these).

Heck, without the archives, we wouldn’t know that F. C. Lacaita was able to drink a yard of ale in 19 seconds!

It’s clear to see, that without archives, important pieces of history would be lost, stories and tales would be unheard and memories would be forgotten.

So, why archives?

Archives allow people to feel connected to the past. To understand how people acted, what they ate, what they learned, how they dressed. Through diaries we can see the personal life’s of people who lived hundreds of years ago, what went on during their day, who their friends were, where they spent their youth. Through Housemaster’s papers, we can see what money was spent on, what activities boys took part in. Society books allow us to see what went on in meetings. Sports books show us who trained when and who won what. All these items allow us to see a piece of history which would otherwise be lost.

Whilst we use archives now to look at the past, the material of today shall be used in the future, to see what our lives were like in 2019, to give an insight to how times have changed, the same way we use the archives to compare the modern day to a period which can stretch from years to centuries ago.

Why archives? Because archives allow history and the past to live, and without the past, there is no future.

Eliza Kettle

Archives Assistant

Why Archives? Responses from around the Collections

You can’t respect the past unless you know about it, and if you don’t respect the past you won’t understand the present.

Roddy Fisher, Archivist, Photographic Archive


Archives are the threads that stitch everything together.

Bryan, Foundation & Collections


Archives make memory, and memory makes identity.  Archives define who we were and who we are.

Lucy Gwynn, Deputy Librarian & Deputy Director of Collections


They provide endlessly fascinating glimpses into the past! They make history tangible, and give access and evidence of the everyday life of people – not just kings and queens (although seeing the signature of famous monarchs always gives a thrill!).

Rebecca, Museums Officer


We’d love to hear your thoughts and responses to Why Archives? in the comments box below!


You can hear more from Eliza Kettle, Archives Assistant, who will be sharing another look into Eton’s Archives in July’s blog post.

Easter Egg Hunt!


Tray of eggs from the Newall Egg Collection


Four-legged duckling

I once had to disappoint a very excited young Etonian who came into the Museum asking me where the four-foot duck was on display.  He had misheard one of his peers, of course: we don’t have a duck which is 1.2m tall!  But one of the most iconic specimens in Eton’s Natural History Museum, and certainly the most inquired after by Old Etonians who return to the Museum, sometimes after many years, is our duckling with four feet!  The duckling is an example of a conjoined twin, as is our equally iconic two-headed kitten.  Both are examples of what used to be known as Siamese twins but are now more properly referred to as conjoined twins.  This phenomenon occurs when a single embryo divides partially but not completely.  In humans this is a very rare event (say, 1 in 100,000 or so) but it is reported to be more common in ducks.

As we approach Easter, we might reasonably turn our thoughts from emblematic ducklings and kittens to eggs.  The Museum’s Newall egg collection dates from the last quarter of the nineteenth century and is drawn from around the northern hemisphere with eggs from Alaska to Archangel down to the Bahamas, Astrakhan, Texas and Southern Spain.

Data-rich historical collections such as this are especially important to scientists as a source of information on the lives and past distributions of bird populations.  Oologists use these collections to study phenology, the timing of the seasonal laying of eggs in relation to climate change and other factors.  Collections can also ascertain whether a species’ range has changed by examining where the nests were found.

Guillemot Eggs

Guillemot Egg display

Egg collectors were fascinated by the variety of sizes, shapes and patterns seen in eggs.  Guillemot eggs in particular were noted for their variability, and it is said that variations in pattern and colouring allow adults to recognise their own eggs within a dense colony of sea birds.  The Eton Natural History Museum has a collection of over 90 such eggs to make precisely this point.

You can watch the Curator talking about eggs on the link below.

Have a Happy Easter!


George Fussey

Curator, Natural History Museum

The Eton College Natural History Museum in South Meadow Lane is open to the public on Sundays, from 2.30pm until 5pm; we are closed Easter Sunday. It is Berkshire’s only dedicated Natural History Museum, a family friendly museum with over 17,000 objects and features numerous displays showing the wildlife of the Thames Valley.

Contact us: or by phone on 370602.

Collections Learning: Victorian Children at Eton

These students at Eton are not Eton students. They are four to seven year olds visiting for a school trip, to learn more about what life was like for Eton boys one hundred and fifty years ago.  As part of a new offer from Collections, local primary school students are being invited in to discover history through the lives of Eton students.

We started the session by trying to decipher an object from the collection of the Museum of Eton Life that even Collections had misidentified until recently.  With some observation and careful thinking the children were able to decide that the object had something to do with lights – it was indeed a rush light holder (and not for pinching people). This began a discussion of candles, rush lights and life before electricity, letting the children display their prior knowledge.

Now that their brains were warmed up, students divided into small groups for various hands on activities, investigating the clothes, living conditions, leisure activities and education of Victorian Etonians. They had the chance to be creative, designing their own pop waistcoats. They practiced their skills of observation with the period schoolroom. They used primary sources with photos and excerpts from the Chronicle about different sporting events. As the children rotated around the activities, they gained an idea of what life was like for Eton students of that time period, compared to the Victorian children they had already learned about in class.  When we came together at the end, the general agreement from the children was that although they liked the idea of having cake in their rooms, they would not have liked the birch!


Completed Waistcoats worksheets

This session is part of an exciting long term process of making Eton’s extensive and varied collections more accessible to local schools by turning the previous informal service into a standardised programme. Although it might seem counter-intuitive that the history of Eton, a fee-paying single sex secondary school, could be relevant to co-ed state primary schools, in truth the population of Eton has one great characteristic in common with these visiting students – they are all children. The boys who attended Eton were still just boys, living through the turmoil of their time. Thus Eton is a perfect example of the home front during the Second World War, with rationing, air raid shelters and even bombing raids. Old Etonians sacrificed themselves during the Great War, Tudor students toiled at their Latin, and Victorian boys were bound by the expectations of their class. This programme is not limited to history sessions. With two other excellent museums at hand, primary school students can also investigate various aspects of natural history as well as the Ancient Egyptians!

Looking at House Life in a historic boy's room display

It is recognised that learning done outside of classrooms and through the medium of original objects is unique and different to that done in the classroom. These education sessions, using replica images and objects and containing activities to appeal to different learning styles, allow students from age four to 11 to access some of the collection’s rich resources. Once the primary programme is up and running, we will develop and expand our offer to secondary schools, focussing upon exam level students and the unique opportunities the Collection can offer them.  These sessions make our objects accessible to more people, benefiting not only the students who attend but also the Collections.

Saskia Nesja

Education Officer

For more on Collections Learning, see the latest Collections Journal Summer 2019 for Saskia Nesja’s article on Outreach and Engagement

Conservation of Ancient Egyptian mummification: call the specialist!


A highlight of the popular Antiquities collection at Eton College is the mummification display. Recently we noticed that some of the wrappings on the mummified heads were starting to shed and come loose. To understand why this was happening and to repair the damage we brought in Jenny Mathiasson who specializes in the conservation of antiquities and human remains. Over two days we worked together treating every object in the display. After initial examination of the objects we determined the likely cause of the deterioration was due to extreme changes in the humidity within the case. Organic specimens can react quite violently to humidity changes. This coupled with their age and fragility meant interventive treatment was necessary to stabilize them for the future and prevent the permanent loss of any original material.

The stabilization was carried out in two parts. First, areas of flaking linen wrappings were consolidated and once completed the larger strips of linen could then be relaxed back into their original places and re attached. It was important to work with adhesives that would complement the original materials and to test a variety of strengths until the best solution was found. In our case we chose to use cellulose based adhesives such as 2% methylcellulose in a 50/50 solution of IMS (alcohol) and deionized water and wheat starch paste in deionized water. The methylcellulose adhesive was low tack and could be wicked up easily by the linen so it was ideal for consolidating the flaking edges of the wrappings. The wheat starch paste was higher tack and more viscous so it was ideal for re-adhering the larger strips of linen back in their original positions.

The final stage of the treatment was to re-position the object on their mounts as some had shifted slightly over time. Overall we were able to stabilize three mummified human heads, a mummified falcon, a mummified kitten and two mummified human hands.


To prevent damage like this from reoccurring there is a humidity control system installed within the case, which will keep our mummified objects comfortable for years to come.

A huge thanks to Jenny Mathiasson for her expertise and to David Goode and Hawtrey House for hosting Jenny during her time at Eton.

Aimée Sims

Conservation Steward