Unlocking the Past: Hidden Museum Collections

Historic books, CHAC, Yeovil
Historic books, CHAC, Yeovil

In the real world I work in museums and travel across the county of Somerset visiting its many historic sites on a weekly basis (I’m pretty lucky to be getting paid to do something I love). One day a week I work at Yeovil’s best-kept secret, the amazing Community Heritage Access Centre (CHAC). Basically it’s a museum store and research centre and it welcomes visitors for tours around their collections, which are mostly on open display.

Working boots, CHAC, Yeovil
Working boots, CHAC, Yeovil

I love nothing better than going into the stores with my camera and getting some inspiration from its historical collection. Most museum collections are made up of about 90% everyday objects, and a small number of really high-value or significant items. At CHAC the everyday objects can have a real beauty of their own.

Glove stretchers, CHAC, Yeovil
Glove stretchers, CHAC, Yeovil

These curious items are actually glove stretchers, they would have been used to open up the fingers of gloves before they were put on. Many of them were highly decorated and CHAC even has some silver ones in there too. Yeovil plays a very important role in the gloving industry and pretty much until the 1960s it was still the major industry. Now only handful of the old companies, such as Pittards, remain open. It’s industrial past is remembered mostly by the nickname of its football club ‘The Glovers’.

Official measures, CHAC, Yeovil
Official measures, CHAC, Yeovil

These impressive looking brass buckets are actually official measures which were made for the ‘Borough of Yeovil’. They would have been used by inspectors to check whether traders weren’t skimping on the quantities they sold people.

Pharmacy collection, CHAC, Yeovil
Pharmacy collection, CHAC, Yeovil

One collection in CHAC is particularly fascinating is the pharmacy collection. This consists of all of the original bottles, ingredients and medicines from a family pharmacy that closed down. Many of the bottles still had the original medicines in, which included very strange things like opium eye-drops! There’s certainly a lot of poisonous things amongst the medicine.

Poison bottle, CHAC, Yeovil
Poison bottle, CHAC, Yeovil
Arsenic bottle, CHAC, Yeovil
Arsenic bottle, CHAC, Yeovil

If you live in or around Somerset I would really recommend booking a visit to CHAC and exploring the collections yourself. You can find all their contact details here.

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