Jarrow Hall Museum loses its marbles at the Big Local Jarrow’s Mental Health Day with our Curious Collection!  

What can we learn about our mental health from these cool, curious objects? 

Two of our volunteers (Amy and Maria) sat at a table covered in items from the collection such as a glass bottle and pieces of broken pottery padded in a storage box. They also have a laptop open showing off the website.

Jarrow Hall Museum is well-known for its Anglo-Saxon history which is exciting to learn about in its own right but today we shine the spotlight on some of our lesser-known and more modern items from the collection. We hope that these items from the collection make people ‘curious’ about the museum and inspire them to learn more about the local history of Jarrow. 

Big Local Jarrow put on a spectacular event for World Mental Health Day that gave us a perfect opportunity to let local people get up close to these really interesting objects and talk about how objects from our past are important to our present.  

Here are only some of the items we presented, as well as a few suggestions on what we can learn from them about Jarrow’s history and improving our mental health. 

A lot of people recognised this modest material was actually a piece of a slate tablet with a matching stylus pen- the kind that was mostly used by younger school children to practice writing on before whiteboards became more practical and popular. The stylus was used exactly like a chalk pen to write on the slate tablet- and the tablets were easier to use as they could be wiped clean and written on again. So much cheaper than paper!  

However, one reason why slate tablets became less popular was the issue of hygiene. For instance, it was not unknown for children to spit on their slate before wiping the slate in order to clean it!  

Slate Boards have been called the tablets of the 19th century. In modern times, it can be very therapeutic to write your thoughts and feelings onto a piece of paper, a whiteboard or even in an app on an electronic device and then erase it as an emotional outlet and a healthy way of releasing ‘cluttered’ thoughts and feelings. 

These marbles were certainly a hit as people remember playing marbles as a very fun memory of childhood. Marbles are so widespread that we are lucky to have to types in our collection.  

Our clay marbles were probably made and used for playing. In fact, clay marbles have been used in games for over 2000 years! Clay marbles are also nicknamed “commies” by marble players and some people insist they are better than glass ones for playing.   

The history of our glass marbles may surprise you as they probably did not start out as playing marbles- rather they might have come from the inside of a bottle! The playing coloured glass marbled were usually-well- colourful, as you can see! Sometimes they even had swirls or even miniature figures inside them as they were specifically designed to appeal to children. Our clear greenish marbles are pure plain glass and seem to have been designed for function rather than aesthetic. 

Therefore, it is much more likely that those ones are the last surviving remnants of codd-neck bottles. These were particular ‘fish-shaped’ bottles that were first patented in 1872 as a way to keep soft drinks from going flat. The marble would be used as the ‘lid’ of the bottle, which would then be pushed down to release pressure and allow the person to drink from the bottle. 

Over the years these bottles are considered a collector’s item as many were smashed by children who wanted to get the marble inside to play with, therefore making them increasingly rare. The marble from the Codd-neck bottle was commonly referred by children as an Ali Bop. 

Millions and millions of marbles have been produced which makes distinguishing the marbles practically impossible. However, we do know that a Victorian school existed in the Jarrow Monastic Buildings so we can question whether a school child might have brought them in to show their friends?! However, it is equally possible that a child from the houses surrounding the site such as the miners’ white cottages might have lost them while playing around the area.  

By the time of a map, surveyed in 1856, Jarrow had riverside staithes, an engine works, a pottery and a small chemical works as well as a colliery. Could these marbles have been produced at Jarrow? What do you think? 

The survival of these marbles represents the hardiness and ‘can do’ attitude of the people of Jarrow, who had to have found happiness in the littlest things, as well as the resourcefulness to turn the mundane and everyday into things of joy. This spirit survives in Jarrow to this day, especially in the feeling of community that manifests in events such as this. 

Furthermore, marbles are particularly useful as sensory objects that can be used much like ‘worry stones ‘. Picking a marble up and feeling its smoothness or concentrating on its patterns and colours can help calm and focus. 

Lastly, we have some items that look very different to one another, but when put together they tell an inspiring story of using imagination and creativity to get through tough times. 

In the humble-looking box we have a little porcelain face- the only surviving piece of what was probably a larger (but still rather small) porcelain doll. These dolls were typically made in the 19th and early 20th centuries out of a single piece of porcelain- so they were cheap and easy to make and therefore cheap to buy. As such, they were popularly marketed as ‘penny dolls’ and were played with by children of the era who could often buy them with their own pocket money.  

In the mid-20th century, these dolls started to become increasingly popular and sought after by collectors. The dolls were renamed and sold as ‘Frozen Charlottes’- as the most common type of white porcelain, the doll was dramatically linked to the folktale/popular folk song of a girl named Charlotte who froze on her way to a ball as she was not dressed warmly enough in her carriage. 

Meanwhile, In the 1930s Catharine Chaytor who lived at Jarrow Hall House, opened a wooden toy manufacturer in the hope of creating work for Jarrow’s’ unemployed, moved by the plight of local people. The animal designs were drawn and redrawn on whatever paper could be found- even bits of scrap in order to save on costs, as seen above. This venture lasted only about a year but the toys her factory produced went as far as America and are now seen as collectors’ items, much like the Frozen Charlotte. Once strictly practical and build to cater to the working-class demographic, these toys are now seen as pieces of history and prized for their rarity. 

These items show that making things and being creative can help a person be grounded in the present and to see the beauty in the future. It doesn’t necessarily need to be fancy or complicated but doing a simple craft such as shaping a bit of clay or even drawing can help improve mood. 

Written by Volunteer Maria Ciortea

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