Archaeology meets ‘Living History’

Milestones Museum's costumed volunteer David P. Whithorn discusses his archaeological background and how he uses objects and an extensive historical knowledge to help families understand the story of their ancestors.

Part Two

‘Living History’

Sadly, I do not know what other objects turned up in this survey, only the objects I was given, these had been either quite common finds or not wanted. Yet, those two broken spoons, even without their identification marks, would possibly turn out to be some of the most interesting items – if they only knew...

...Evidence from field walking archaeological sites will generally turn up objects that have been broken further over the years by agricultural vehicles etc. and these two ‘broken’ spoons might very well fit this concept. However, spoons from this period tended to contain nickel, this makes such an alloy quite malleable and easily able to be stamped into ‘flatware’. Running over such an item with a tractor or hitting it with a plough would certainly bend one – but there would be little chance indeed of snapping the off the bowl of the spoon...without repeated bending.

Given the fact that this had happened to two such spoons found in the same area, as well as both of them being bent did raise the question to me as to whether these items had been ‘deliberately’ damaged and modified by human action.

I have undertaken ‘Living History’ of the Great War soldier for many years. In younger days, I met and talked with veterans of the trenches and well as reading books of soldiers’ accounts. The veterans are all gone and reading books will only take you so far... Collecting, putting together and wearing the ‘full kit’ of a ‘Tommy’ teaches you more about the ordinary life of a soldier (when not under fire!) than reading any amount of books will – I was actually taught how to put puttees (soldier’s leggings) on by a veteran who did it for real – now I could compete with the best!

In the camps at Winchester, soldiers lived for the main in bell tents, each housing eight men. These tents were held up with a central pole around which they slept, feet to the pole. Usually on the pole itself was a fitting placed at a sensible height to hold both the tent lantern and clothing etc. Such items have survived to this day (though most would not recognise one!):


‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, then as now, and soldiers of all periods have had to improvise with what they could - when short...

Army camps 1914-18 as a rule were kept tidy; waste collected and disposed of regularly. Some items that had been found in clear ups, and might yet serve a purpose, would be retained e.g. spoons - in case someone had lost theirs.

Someone at Morne Hill camp, Winchester may well have found himself billeted in a tent with no lantern/coat hook – but he had an idea... He looked at the tent pole, acquired some old spoons and bent/broke them to shape. He then took a salvaged 18” utility strap and did this (excuse my garden furniture):

Tent hook 2 002.JPG

And before anyone wonders if these are strong enough and actually work – this same set up with an original 1916 British army encampment lantern (and that is no ‘light-weight’ item!) and ‘greyback’ (shirt):

Tent hook 2 001.JPG

Now that is some of the skills ‘Living History’ can give text books – but it works!

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Hampshire Cultural Trust

From museums to galleries to arts centres, we manage and support 24 attractions across the county, welcoming over 740,000 people each year. Our charitable purpose is changing lives through culture.
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