Seven weird and wonderful objects from our collection

This is just a snippet of some of the weird and wonderful objects that can be found in the stores at Bristol museums. From cats, veils and severed limbs to a bush called Jack who gets torn apart.

I find myself in the collections stores of our museums a lot! Up in attics, down in basements and behind those doors you see that people can’t normally go through.

As I work across all the stores I get to dip in and out of the incredibly diverse collections we look after. The objects themselves are fascinating and the stories that accompany them bring them to life.

I come home nearly every day to tell my family and friends about a new fun, exciting, sad or poignant story I’ve learnt. Here are just a few of the stories that have entertained me over the past five years.

Linda Gordon, Amber Druce and Lee Hutchinson

Curators of history

Jack in the Green

Jack is a celebration of the coming of summer. He is a May Day spectacle, dating back at least 200 years, to when surviving winter was a real cause for celebration, especially among the poor. People still enjoy the arrival of summer – and Jack makes a break from our daily routines, reminding us of the changing seasons.

At almost three metres tall, Jack is an impressive sight as he dances through Bristol. He is covered with native greenery and his crown is decorated with flowers, particularly May (hawthorn) blossom.

Jack’s attendants play music, dance and sing. They are completely disguised in green rags and vegetation. The Bristol Jack in the Green appears on the first Saturday in May starting from the historic Harbourside (outside M Shed) and leads a procession through the streets of Bristol, eventually ending the day on Horfield Common where he is “slain” (and ripped apart by onlookers) to “release the spirit of summer”.

Photographer: Caroline Brewser

Severed limbs

This one never fails to shock people when they see these for the first time. These are two props given to the museum from the BBC series Casualty, a drama about the staff and patients at Holby City Hospital’s emergency department.

Most of the exterior shots were filmed in Bristol between 1986 – 2011.

Little Lord Fauntleroy

The novel Little Lord Fauntleroy by the English-American writer Frances Hodgson Burnett, was published in 1886 and had a big effect on the fashions of little Victorian boys.

The title character is a young boy who is taken from gentle poverty to become the heir to his grandfather’s fortune and become Lord Fauntleroy. He teaches his grandfather to be kind and good.

These virtues along with the stylised drawing published with the book influenced Victorian parents to dress their little boys as the good natured child.

Boys aged between 2 and 8 would be dressed up in a velvet cut-away jacket and matching trousers worn with a fancy blouse and a large lace or ruffled collar.

Little Lord Fauntleroy's outfit

Can you imagine a 2 year old playing in this?

Some parents even went as far as recreating the same hair curls for their little Lords (seen in the illustration from the book above).

This outfit is from around 1890 and looks like it has never been used.

I can imagine the parents got their boy to wear this once and never again.


A set of cat tiles

A set of tiles painted with the image of a cat with a human-like face.

While this object does not have any particular story it always catches my eye…

Why does it have a human face?! I would be scared to meet this cat in a dark alley is all I’m saying.


Straw trimmed veil

Across the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago, wedding veils were worn to hide the bride from evil spirits. In Europe during the 1600s and 1700s veils were worn occasionally but came back into fashion after Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840. It only became usual to wear them over the face from the mid 1800s.

On her wedding day in September 1962, Patricia wore two veils. One was a contemporary shoulder length version, the other a 150 year-old family heirloom trimmed with gold straw.

“The veil came from my mother’s family who in earlier generations were farmers in Somerset. As far as she knew it had not been used for many years. The veil was a difficult thing to incorporate into my own veil but it pleased my mother greatly that we succeeded.” – Patricia.

Straw trimmed veil with floral decorations.

Rock Around The Clock

When Mary Craddy was aged either 14 or 15, her mother Winifred designed and made this Rock & Roll outfit for her. Mary wore it to Colston Hall when she went to see Cliff Richard, then later at St Marks Church Youth Club, Easton- where it was much admired.

She remembers seeing Cliff wearing a white suit. She sat in a balcony seat on the aisle. She was so excited to see her idol that she ran down to the front and one of the ushers had to send her back to her seat, which was ‘not like me at all, always so reserved’.

She caught the bus home afterwards from the centre and remembers spreading her skirt out on the seat (she went on her own, which she was very proud of) and people grinning at her. Her mother had sewn the faces of all the famous Rock and Rollers of the day to her outfit. What an unique and special outfit.

Click the images below to expand them…

Prince and the Bristol General Hospital

This dog is called Prince. He raised money for Bristol General Hospital in the days before the NHS. His owner was Mr A Collins.

In a letter from the Secretary at Bristol General Hospital to Mr Collins he says:
“Dear Sir, I have very much pleasure in giving below the record the good work performed by your intelligent dog Prince for the benefit of the Hospital since 1915. These splendid figures, the result of Prince’s tenacity in getting your customers to put ‘a copper in his box’, go to prove both his cleverness and intelligence and also your skill and patience as a trainer.”

Prince raised money from 1915 to 1923 and collected 37 pounds, 7 shillings and 2 pence in total. That is the equivalent of £2,315 today. What a good boy!

This is just a tiny number of weird and wonderful stories from the collections. There is always more to explore and enjoy. Our online collection can help you discover more of these stories from home.