Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Flaxman Charles John Spurrell

 Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi for the Guardian
This story about how an ancient piece of Egyptian pottery turned up in someone's garden shed arrived in my Facebook page via a friend and reminded me of a voluntary project I was involved in many years ago.

I along with a small group of others were trying to catalogue a large number of geology and archaeology specimens donated to Bexley Museums over many years.

In truth, the whole collection was something of a shambles; very little of it had been catalogued or even identified and there was little evidence as to where much of it had come from. This wasn't really anyone's fault. When Bexley Council was created in 1965 with the formation of the Greater London Council, their museum department became responsible for all the collections of the old boroughs amalgamated with it. This included not only their own collection, mostly stored in the attic and cellar of Hall Place, but also the collections belonging to Erith Council which were kept above Erith library and the Crayford collection, held in various buildings on the site of the old Town Hall. 

By the 1980's most of this stuff was still where it had been left when the old Urban District Councils were closed down, unknown and unloved. Any records that did exist had been scattered by the passing of years and the disruption of two world wars.

Shortly before my arrival, a new museum curator (who's name I sadly cannot remember) was something of an Egypt specialist and had discovered a large collection of pre-dynastic Egyptian pottery in boxes marked 'medieval pots'.

No-one had the slightest idea how the museum had come into possession of such valuable items but my theory is that they arrived via Erith Museum and had probably been donated by FCJ Spurrell. Spurrell was a close friend and associate of the famous Egyptologist, William Matthew Flinders Peitrie

Spurrell lived in The Priory, Picardy Road in Upper Belvedere (now the home of the local Conservative Association) for many years and may well have donated some of his collection to his local museum which at the time would have been Erith.

He was almost certainly responsible for the large collection of flint objects also held by the museum; much of which came from excavations in Gravel Hill, Bexleyheath that had been the site of a Paleolithic Stone Age settlement dating back to before the last ice age. 

I don't know where any of these are displayed now. You would have been able to see some of them on show at Hall Place a few years ago but I haven't been inside the house since they decided to start charging for entry so I don't know if they are still there.

I have to wonder how many treasures are still waiting to be found, hidden away and forgotten in cupboards and boxes around the country.

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