The Phoney War

The Phoney War (French: Drôle de guerre; German: Sitzkrieg) was an eight-month period at the start of World War II, during which there was only one limited military land operation on the Western Front, when French troops invaded Germany’s Saar district…   While there was no large-scale military action by Britain and France, they …  created elaborate plans for numerous large-scale operations …

We are nearing the start of our building works, and it feels rather like the lull before the storm.  The museum yard is now clear of boxes and rubbish, offices and galleries that will be affected by the building works have been packed up, and the tea-room and temporary exhibitions gallery are full of all kinds of remarkable things.  Here are two of our volunteers, Sue and Joy, packing up our insect corridor and the Victorian Gallery for safekeeping.  In just two weeks time the builders will arrive.

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As we have moved and cleared things, we have uncovered some surprising bits of our building’s past.  This is a safe in the old Athenaeum Board Room (previously the Undersea World) which we didn’t know was there!  It’s locked of course, and we are looking to see if we have a key – who knows what might be inside?

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Another exciting discovery was a big wooden box with brass handles, which we found on top of the false ceiling above the staff toilets.  Inside were seven very dirty glass jars, with what looked like lead foil wrapped around and inside them.  What can they be?

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The jars have now been identified, and to give you a clue, we think from the style of the brass handles on the box that they date back to the heyday of the Barnstaple Literary and Scientific Institution, established in 1845 as a fore-runner to the North Devon Athenaeum.  Our next problem is how to clean and conserve them – we don’t want any more of the foil falling off!  Conservator Neil Bolland has been over to have a look and we are waiting for his thoughts.

Of course, as well as packing up the museum, we are also busy collecting stories at the Pop-Up Museum in Bridge Chambers, for the new 20th century galleries that will open next year.  I’ll tell you more about that soon: right now I have lots of  “elaborate plans for numerous large-scale operations” to work on.

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