5 Surrey museum curators share items that tell very different love stories

PUBLISHED: 20:32 13 February 2017 | UPDATED: 20:40 13 February 2017

Surrey curators share museum items with very different love stories

Surrey curators share museum items with very different love stories


Hearts, flowers and chocolates are a typical choice for Valentine’s Day but historically people have shown their affections in very different ways. Here, Claire Saul asks five Surrey curators to delve into their collections

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2017



Senior House Steward

Ham House & Garden

We are really proud of the Green Closet here at Ham House, which is a rare survival of a 17th century cabinet room, designed to display small oil pictures and portrait miniatures. The room dates from the reign of King Charles I and is part of the house renovated by William Murray in the 1630s. William was a childhood friend of the king and shared his great patronage of art.

The miniatures hung in here are largely portraits of the family, royals from the 16th to 18th century and notable figures from the period. Displayed just above a fine miniature of Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard is the striking A Man consumed by Flames, which was painted by Isaac Oliver and has been dated to 1610, the year Ham House was built.

It’s a fascinating piece of art, because no one can say who this handsome man is. His groomed appearance, his jewellery and the fact that this celebrated artist of the era has painted him, mark him out as a wealthy and well-connected man but his sadness and the dishevelled state of dress, which often symbolised melancholy, suggest that he is pining for someone. Not only is he depicted being consumed by flames of passion, but the inscription above his head reads, ‘Alget qui non ardet’ meaning, ‘He freezes who does not burn. I have spent many a cold winter’s day cleaning the collection of lacquer furniture in the Green Closet and pondering on the poetic eloquence of this tortured young man, whose identity we will probably never know.

Ham House, Ham, Richmond TW10 7RS. Tel: 0208 940 1950. Web: nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden



Collections Manager

Haslemere Educational Museum

In the late 19th century, artists and artisans, inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, gathered in Haslemere and created an artistic enclave in the town. They produced a wide range of hand-made goods from embroidered textiles to wooden furniture. To inspire creativity, members of the movement collected domestic objects from all over Europe and displayed them in the Peasant Handicrafts Museum, which opened in 1910.

The romantic notion behind the collection was to gather objects that were ‘made for love and not money’, a reaction to the mechanised production methods of the industrial revolution. The collection came into the possession of Haslemere Educational Museum in 1926 and a selection is still on permanent display.

Some of my favourite objects are the mangle boards. Before the invention of the mechanical mangle these were used with a cylindrical roller to smooth out creases in linens. However these everyday objects hold a hidden significance. They were made by a man to give to his beloved as a symbol of betrothal. The mangle board was also hung in the home as a decoration and passed down through generations as an heirloom. Each one holds within it the details of a love story and the forming of a family.

This particular Danish mangle board is the oldest example in our collection and dates from 1573. The dates of 1759 and 1820 were added later, showing how it was passed down through several generations of the family. Adam and Eve are depicted in the lower part and on either side of the handle is a tulip, symbolic of love in European folklore. The horse-shaped handle was a later addition and there are several layers of paint, showing how each generation restored and re-used this treasured heirloom.

Haslemere Educational Museum, 78 High Street, Haslemere GU27 2LA. Tel: 01428 642112. Web: haslemeremuseum.co.uk



Owner and curator

The Sculpture Park, Churt

The Sculpture Park has a romantic charm with its meandering pathways, babbling streams and viewing areas with cosy seating for two. Many of the works represent love, relationships and emotion, including those of internationally-recognised Mexican artist Maria Bayardo.

Maria’s sculptures explore Futurism, with rhythmical physical movements characterising her work. Organic shapes meet cubist concepts to produce her unique figures. A particularly sensual artist, she is the creator of a series of works depicting women who rise up from a stormy relationship or express the sensation of freedom. These experiences and emotions are drawn from Maria’s own past and being.

Perhaps portraying the most passion is Il Bacio (The Kiss), a sleek work depicting a couple in embrace although not quite kissing. Maria has deliberately kept them apart to express the tension in the moment, as well as representing a nod towards Michelangelo’s ‘Creation’ where the fingers do not quite touch. This work is a replication of a real life experience when Maria, having endured a year of painful separation from her husband, met and enjoyed a romantic relationship with a man in Rome. Il Bacio is inspired by the memory of an exceptionally passionate kiss they shared one evening while returning from a walk. This snapshot from the moment in her memory still stirs up the sensation in Maria, causing her to say that there is a little of her in each sculpture.

The Sculpture Park, Corner of Jumps and Tilford Road, Churt Farnham GU10 2LH. Tel: 01428 605453. Web: thesculpturepark.com




Collections at Historic Royal Palaces (including Hampton Court Palace and Kew Palace)

This very ordinary looking vacuum cleaner belonged to Lady Olga Manning, who lived in Grace and Favour Apartment 23 at Hampton Court from 1935 to 1992. It’s a Hoover 475, which would have cost about £1,000 when it was bought in about 1936 – extremely pricey! It’s very scratched and well worn, the bag is a replacement from a later model. Although it was hugely expensive, it was a good investment, because it was still working when Lady Manning left the apartment in 1992. It hasn’t been used since but I’m not brave enough to plug it in!

Four generations of the Manning family stayed in Apartment 23. We are very lucky to have been able to interview both her daughters and granddaughters for a recent oral history project we are working on at Hampton Court. They recalled that Lady Manning’s mother stayed in the apartment for a while - she was an archaeologist and was often to be found sitting amongst her books and papers. Her grandchildren remember playing with her dog and being very naughty, lowering it out of the window in a basket, so that it could play in the Hampton Court Moat below.

Each of the granddaughters were married in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court and stayed in the apartment where this vacuum cleaner once lived, getting changed into their wedding dresses and feeling rather nervous beforehand. Of the five daughters and granddaughters that we have interviewed, all of them remember this trusty vacuum cleaner. I’ve grown very fond of it too. It reminds me that although very grand things happen in palaces, for many people Hampton Court Palace was just a home where people lived, loved and did the housework!

Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey KT8 9AU. Tel: 0844 482 7777 Web: hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace



Curatorial Assistant

Guildford Museum

These are a pair of 1830s black satin children’s shoes with kid lining, made by Millidge of Guildford. They belonged to Maria Sparkes, born 1833, daughter of Henry Sparkes of Bramley and his wife Maria Molineux. The Sparkes were a significant Surrey family and Henry’s brother William owned one of Guildford’s first banks, as well as being mayor on several occasions.

Stored with these shoes are a number of locks of Maria’s hair, with accompanying messages, probably taken by Maria’s mother as a sentimental reminder of her growing daughter. The first set of locks was taken at six month intervals from the age of six months to two and a half years. Another is labelled ‘Maria Sparkes’ hair, July 3rd 1844’, taken when Maria was aged 10.

In 1860, Maria married Sir John Charles Kenward Shaw in Shalford. Another preserved lock of hair is undated but comes with the message ‘My dear Maria’s hair’. The final lock of hair was taken shortly after Maria’s death - she sadly died only three years after her marriage, at the age of 29. Her husband soon remarried and her mother died only three years later but the shoes and hair would have been a reminder of the wife and daughter they had lost.

These locks of Maria’s hair have survived over 150 years and are testament to the bond of love between a mother and her child.

Guildford Museum, Castle Arch, Quarry Street, Guildford GU1 3SX. Tel: 01483 444751. Web: guildford.gov.uk/museum

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