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The launch: History of the World in Berkshire
This Roman eagle was found in Silchester.

Berkshire's history is bound up in beer, bulbs and biscuits, but scratch below the surface and you will find a wealth of ancient objects that help paint a fascinating picture of the county.

A new BBC project, in partnership with local museums, is telling the story of the county's history through 10 historical objects.

Museum curators have been searching their collections and archives. They have found the top ten objects that tell us about Berkshire's past.

Click here to view Berkshire's top ten objects.

The objects also have a wider significance in world history.

"With over 400,000 different objects housed at the museum, we really had to focus on our most iconic," says Reading Museum manager Matthew Williams. "It was almost impossible!"


The first object to be selected was a Roman bronze Eagle found in the Basilica of the Roman town of Calleva, now Silchester, in October 1866. The eagle, which is 15cm tall and weighs around 1.5kg, has been immortalised in several books and films and is seen as one of the most significant Roman sculptures in the country.

Another key object is a carved Caen stone from Reading Abbey dating back to the 12th Century. The Abbey was founded by Henry I and he had all of the stone imported from Northern France. It was transported across the English Channel by boat, and was then taken up the River Thames and Kennet. This was quite some undertaking in the 12th Century, and it shows how significant Reading was as a regional centre.

Huntley & Palmers

The name Huntley & Palmers is synonymous with Reading, so it's no surprise to see that a biscuit tin has been selected as one of the best objects to tell the story of the county's history. These tins were common in the 1900s but this one is rather special.

It was found in Africa where it was being used as the sound box of an early 20th Century African piano. At that time, Huntley & Palmers exported biscuits around Britain's empire and by 1900 it was the largest biscuit manufacturer in the world.

Huntley & Palmers' biscuit tins were reused in many different ways across the world. In Uganda, native bibles and prayer books had to measure three inches broad by three inches thick to fit into two-pound tins, which were about the only containers that would protect them against the ravages of white ants.

Victorian Mourning Brooch
This Victorian Mourning Brooch is one of the highlights of the collection.

It's believed a missionary in Congo found this tin and donated it to Huntley & Palmers' historic archive. This collection was donated to Reading Museum when the factory closed in 1976. The tin would have been made at Huntley & Palmers sister company Huntley, Boorne & Stevens in London Street. It's quite extraordinary to think that something as simple as a biscuit tin, made in Reading, ended up half way around the world being used for a completely different purpose than it was originally intended.

Romany Community

Reading was a centre for the Romany community in the 1900s, which is why an ornate Gypsy caravan has been selected as one of the key objects in the county's history. Housed at the Riverside Museum at Blakes Lock, the caravan was built in 1914 at Crane Wharf in the town. Reading had regular horse sales and was well known as a centre of excellence for carriage making. It was these factors that are believed to have made it a focus for the Romany community and there is even a type of horse-drawn carriage called a 'Reading'.

Sutton Seeds

It's impossible to write about Reading's history and not mention Suttons Seeds. The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) at the University of Reading houses a huge collection of Suttons ephemera. It has selected a dodder counter as one of the significant objects to tell Berkshire's history. This would have been used in the early 20th century as a hand operated conveyor belt which would check a seed's purity. Assistant Curator at MERL Oliver Douglas explains, "Sorting seeds was painstaking and eye straining work. It aimed to estimate the number of invasive weeds that

Biscuit tin
This Huntley & Palmes biscuit tin was found in Africa.

appeared in a given sample of flower, vegetable or grass seed." Oliver says it was a simple piece of equipment but it helped Suttons to become a global success. "It may be seemingly mundane, but such an object says important things about the hard-working local people who enabled Suttons to succeed in a global market."

History of the World Event

There will be a special History of the World event at Reading Museum on 15 February, click here for details where some of the objects will be on temporary display. They will then return to their respective museums.

A History of the World
10 Nov 09 |  History
Enjoy History of the World Day
15 Jan 10 |  History
Iron age town found at Roman site
15 Jul 09 |  Berkshire
Iron age finds at Hampshire town
15 Jul 09 |  England
Deal to save shut pub cancelled
11 Nov 09 |  Berkshire
Oscar Wilde and the Palmer family
24 Sep 09 |  History
Duke of York's wedding cake
12 Feb 09 |  UK
Digging vegetables for victory
15 Jan 10 |  People & Places
Romany memorabilia auctioned
18 Mar 09 |  England


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