Objects in Focus



The rattle: neither beautiful, nor complicated, nor pleasing to the ear.  But dig deeper into the history of this unassuming piece of wood, and you will find its first impressions deceiving.  Today, we associate its rapid clicking sound with excitement.  Hence the reason the rattle has been reproduced into countless plastic copies for sports matches all over the globe.
Yet from 1939-45, it was the notorious sound – and silence – of this very object which helped it to play one of the most vital ongoing purposes on the Home Front.  It acted as a gas rattle, to raise the alarm that poisonous gas was spreading through the air. The First World War of 1914-18 had seen chemical weapons heavily utilised with horrifying effects.  As a result, during the Second World War, the prospect of a German chemical weapon attack hung over the British population as a constant threat.  Gas drills were carried out across the entire country, and Air Raid Precaution (ARP) wardens were issued with the duty of supervising the British Blackout. 

‘Hitler will send no warning – so always carry your gas mask.’

Thankfully, Hitler’s chemical warfare never materialised, and the rattles didn't come into practical use.  Because of this, it’s hard to say whether the provisions made would have worked in practice.  But the silence of this simple warnig siren didn’t render it useless.  It was undoubtedly among one of the most important pieces of equipment in an ARP warden’s toolkit, and this one could have saved innumerable lives in Elmbridge had its time ever come. 

Kellogg’s Coco Krispies Cereal Packet Featuring Sweep from The Sooty Show, 1972


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You are more likely to recognise this popular Kellogg’s cereal as ‘Coco Pops’. The brand underwent a name change in the UK in the late 1960s to bring it in line with the so-called ‘Coco Krispies’ marketed in America. This box was produced in 1972 and reflects the ‘Coco Krispies’ re-brand. However, the name change was not a success here and, by the mid 1970s, Kellogg’s reverted to calling the cereal ‘Coco Pops’.

You might recognise this sweet little dog as the glove puppet, Sweep, from the children’s TV series, The Sooty Show. Sweep is shown enjoying eating a bowl of the chocolate-flavoured popped rice cereal.

The panels on the box side depict Sweep’s routine to stay healthy and explain why Coco Krispies are his favourite breakfast. Kellogg’s used the back of the box to advertise the free gifts which were available, and the initiative of a ‘Free Crazy Canine’ encouraged shoppers with children to buy the cereal.

At only 10½p in the 1970s, this cereal seems like a bargain – inflation has meant the cereal is now sold for around twenty times this!

This object was featured at Brooklands College in ‘An Advertising Evolution’ in Autumn 2017.

Anchor Stone Bricks


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Construction toys, such as this example from the late nineteenth century, were first introduced in the late 1700s and are still popular to this day.


Although the lid is missing from the box, the contents are in fantastic condition and boasts inspirational illustrations for children to follow. The 100 or so bricks are made of stone and are in three colours. The three colours represent popular building materials: red brick, tan limestone and blue slate of European buildings.

Educational toys such as this have a rich and interesting history. Sometimes referred to 'Froebel Gifts' after the German educational theorist Friedrich Froebel, basic toys that deal with shapes and colours are aimed at heightening a child's understanding of the world by recognising their unique needs and capabilities through 'free play'. Froebel invented both the concept and coined the word "kindergarten" which is now used in both English and German.


Learn more about childhood in the Victorian era through our online exhibition.




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Fanny Kemble was a stage actress, novelist, diarist, abolitionist and social reformer. After her education in France she returned to the family home, staying at Eastlands, Weybridge.

During a tour of America, starting in 1832, Kemble met Pierce Butler, a slave-owner who was – at the time – one of the richest men in the United States. The pair married in 1834. After viewing the conditions that Butler kept his slaves in, Kemble and Butler had repeated arguments; she kept a diary of her experiences on the plantations throughout 1838-1839. The couple divorced in 1849 after a messy separation and ensuing court battle.

It was during this time that Kemble received the Apocrypha from her friends, the Banisters, whom she often stayed with while in the United States. Dating from November 1841, it would have been in Kemble’s possession throughout her disagreements with her husband over slavery.

The Apocrypha is a book of religious texts that are not included in the standard bible, usually because they would cause internal contradictions.

The word ‘apocrypha’ translates from Latin to the adjective "secret" and from a Greek verb "to hide away". This is exactly what Kemble did with her own journal. Kemble’s journal remained unpublished until the American Civil War (and until her children were aged 21) and was not released until 1863. Kemble delayed publication in the hope that her journal would help crystallise political movements against the southern Confederate states.



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The Romans not only built a lot during their stay in Britain, but they seemed to reuse quite a bit as well! This tile, found at the bath house at Chatley Farm, is a great example of a patterned tile. Tiles were cast in 'dies' - and patterns from eight separate dies were discovered at the Chatley Farm bath house. This number is incredibly rare as most sites unearth no more than five.

Designs have been found in an Ashstead villa and brick-making site that was abandoned 150 years before the bath house at Chatley Farm was built. This suggests that patterns were kept, rediscovered or reused by both Romans and Britons.






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Rosemary Wren (1922-2013) was well known for her animal creations. Despite the fact she grew up around clay, living next to the workshop of her mother Denise Wren, Rosemary turned to a very different type of pottery from her mum. Whereas Denise threw clay, producing vessels on a wheel, Rosemary learned to make hollow creatures purely by hand, pinching out shapes and creating invisible seams so her finished animals were both solid and remarkably airy.

These long-tailed tits date from 1987 and were made as a pair. They are typical of Rosemary’s work, because of its animal form, and extraordinary, because of the shape of their amazing tails.

Rosemary and her partner, Peter Crotty, drew animals from life before executing their studies in clay. Oxshott Pottery, the house and studio where Denise, Rosemary and Peter lived and worked until 1978, had an aviary full of birds as well as rabbits, bees, dogs and cats. 

For Rosemary, the internal space of her hollow clay animals was just as important as the finished surface. The only openings in the whole construction are the eyes, and this is important for two reasons: not only does it let the steam out when the clay is in the kiln but, as Rosemary said, "it also allows the animal to look out. It’s fascinating; as soon as they have their eyes, the animals turn round and look at you!"  

Eighteenth Century Silk brocade Pompadour shoes


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Madame de Pompadour, the French King Louis XV’s official mistress, was known for being curvaceous and alluring, as well as fashion forward. The ‘Pompadour’ style of shoe has a heel that bends sensuously under the wearer, making the footwear unsupportive and difficult to walk in. The high heel under the instep made the foot look small, which was seen to be desirable.

This pair of pink and white brocade Pompadour shoes date from around 1760. The elaborate pattern may have matched a woman’s dress and the two flaps which cross over the tongue would have been held together by a buckle. Fashions changed and from 1790, buckles lost popularity and shoe flaps were tied with ribbons instead.


English Struwwelpeter, and Swollen Headed William, children's books


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English Struwwelpeter, Heinrich Hoffman, first published 1845

This edition of the famous Struwwelpeter book was the first one published in English. Supposedly, author Heinrich Hoffmann was inspired to write the book for his children after complaining about the lack of quality children’s books in the middle of the 1800s. Hoffmann certainly produced something with mass appeal.

The ten cautionary tales collected here not only tell of the gruesome ends of misbehaving children, but also show them with graphic and, somehow, comedic effect. Struwwelpeter was one of the first books that combined original stories and images together, paving the way for comics as well as a number of parodies.

The unkempt children of Struwwelpeter are broughtinto contact with the haughty world of international politics in wartime parodies (such as WW1’s Swollen Headed William, and WW2’s Struwwelhitler). These new stories utilise both broadsheets and comic books to create a new type of literature aimed at adult audiences.



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This 'Maltese Toy' dog in the glass dome was once a pet of the Duchess of Wellington, Elizabeth Wellesley who lived at Burhill House in Hersham from 1887 until 1904. She bred Maltese Terriers and this little one was her favourite.

Her coachman, riding a bicycle accidentally ran over the dog and the Duchess had her beloved pet stuffed by Queen Victoria's ornithologist, John Leadbeater.






Kenneth Maynard Wood sold his first Kenwood Chef in 1950 at the Ideal Homes Exhibition. Despite its steep £19 price tag (£600 in today’s money), the Chef stole the hearts of housewives nationwide, promising to be a time-saving and "life-changing" device. Harrods sold out of the product in just one week.

Ken Wood was an inventor and businessman who developed his products from his garage in Woking. The Kenwood Chef was a literal culinary revolution: the unique planetary movement of the mixing paddle and sleek, yet robust, design meant that it could deliver all the saved time it promised, be adapted to undertake the most unpleasant of tasks (like peeling potatoes), and last an age!

The Kenwood Chef is still present in department stores and kitchens the world over, proving its success.  


Pygmalion Compact Mirror 1815



Contrary to first impressions, the scene on this mirror is less than innocent. The young female orange seller is offering her fruit to a rich, young gentleman. The vendor’s seated position in the cobbled alley and her simple, figure-hugging attire suggest that she is lower class. The well-dressed gentleman towering over her leans in for a closer look, his menacing smirk suggesting he has dishonest intentions.

Between the 1600s and 1800s, young female orange sellers could be spotted in England at markets and the theatre. During plays, orange sellers would sell their produce between acts. So-called ‘orange wenches’ acted as intermediaries between actresses and powerful high society men, arranging dressing room meetings with the stars of the shows. In this context, the lewd connotations of an orange seller could suggest the looseness and immorality of an individual. In fact, Nell Gwynne, famous actress and mistress of Charles II, started out as an orange seller!

Whoever owned this beautiful little mirror was probably very stylish. The deceiving date of 1815 is printed on the puff on the inside, but the compact’s 1950s plastic cover gives away its relative youth! Regardless of its age, this image is certainly a strange choice for a compact mirror!