The Chiddingstone Chronicles: What do a castle, collector, countess & our Hall of Ancient Egypt have in common?

Pour yourself a spot of tea, loves, have a biscuit and brace yourselves for a story of utmost British-ness.

If you’ve visited our esteemed new Hall of Ancient Egypt, you may have noticed that many of the items on display are on loan from Chiddingstone Castle in the United Kingdom.

The historic house is the former home of antiquarian Denys Eyre Bower, an avid collector and consummate gentleman, as you’ll soon see.

Bower bought the castle and its surrounding 35 acres in 1955 for 6,000 British pounds. Although the castle was rundown, Bower — 50 years old at the time — was attracted to its potential. It had the space to house and display the many artifacts he’d collected over the years, and before long, he had made it something of a local destination, opening a makeshift ticket window for passersby and manning tours himself.

Chiddingstone Castle

By and by, Bower found himself in love with a young girl who lived a few miles way. She was only 19, but she managed to convince Bower that she was a French countess.

When he sensed that her affections might not match his own, Bower brought an antique revolver from his collection ’round to her apartment and threatened suicide if his love wasn’t reciprocated. During the ensuing confrontation (these things are always dramatic), the revolver went off and the “Countess” was wounded. Beside himself with grief and ever the gentleman, Bower shot himself to even things out. Neither were mortally wounded.

When he had recovered, Bower asked how his Countess was faring and was informed that she was neither dead nor a countess — she was the daughter of a Peckham bus driver.

A six-year stint in a notorious London prison — Wormwood Scrubs — followed on charges of attempted murder and attempted suicide (a punishable crime in those days), but it was during this time that Bowers befriended a woman named Ruth Eldridge.

Over many visits, Eldridge worked on Bower’s behalf to organize his release from prison, recruiting her sister to restore and guard the castle at Chiddingstone in the meantime. Bower and Eldridge remained friends until Bower’s death in 1977, and it was Ruth and her sister who set up the trust that still exists today — from which all of our objects are on loan.

Pretty crazy story, isn’t it? Just the sort one can’t make up.

Emails from the other side: The Museum Mummy flatters a staffer

If you’ve been following along as our veteran Museum Mummy, Ankh Hap, prepares to adjust to his new living quarters, welcome back. If you’ve not, you’ll probably want to catch up here and here.

The gist is this: Our previously singular mummy will be gaining several new roommates when he moves into the new Hall of Ancient Egypt, and he was not. having. it.

Photo courtesy of the Mummies of the World exhibition.

Luckily, thanks to the delicate nudging (and maybe a bit of virtual eyelash-batting) of our marketing department, Ankh Hap seems to be coming around:

Emails from the other side: Our correspondence with a corpse continues

Emails from the other side: Our correspondence with a corpse continues

To take a gander at the above-mentioned ’90s brochure, one simply has to click here.

For more from the original, check back Mondays here at BEYONDbones.

Kid Curators lit up the mic at Wednesday night’s Intellectual Insights Q&A

On Wednesday evening, we hosted the inaugural Intellectual Insights, an innovative lecture/question-and-answer session helmed by Hall of Ancient Egypt curators Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout and Tom Hardwick, with the Carlos Museum’s Dr. Peter Lacovara joining remotely via a video call.

We took questions from a members-only live audience and from our HMNS Twitter feed, so our online friends could join in the fun. It was all pretty nifty, but the highlight had to be our Kid Curators: Jacob Blackman and Abby Myers.

KidCurators

Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout, Abby Myers, Jacob Blackman, and Tom Hardwick.

We revived our Kid Curator program earlier this week by asking young Egyptology fans to submit a one-minute video explaining why they’d be best suited to help us open up our new Hall of Ancient Egypt alongside our bona fide big-guy curators.

We were so inspired by our young fans that even with our Museum President weighing in, we had a two-way tie between four fabulous finalists, which led to the selection of two Kid Curators. Both Abby and Jacob were on-hand at Intellectual Insights to grill our curators with their questions, and had the chance to show off a few objects to our live studio audience that’ll end up in the new Hall of Ancient Egypt. In the coming weeks, they’ll also get to bask in flashing lights at a press opp, get a personal guided tour of the new hall and earn their very own Museum memberships.

In appreciation of all our entrants (more than 40!), each hopeful Kid Curator received tickets to Intellectual Insights, with the finalists also receiving family tickets to view the Hall of Ancient Egypt when it opens later this month.

Check out our super-talented finalists, below:

Kid Curator: Abby

Kid Curator: Jacob

Runner-Up: Marcel

Runner-Up: Lorena

Field Notes: Egyptologist Peter Lacovara takes us back to Abydos

Editor’s Note: Peter Lacovara, Senior Curator at Emory University’s Carlos Museum, has worked on numerous expeditions in Egypt and published several books on his work and experience, including The Pyramids and Sphinx, Tombs and Temples of Giza, and Excavating Egypt: Great Discoveries from the Petrie Museum of Egyptology.

Dr. Lacovara earned his Ph.D in Egyptian Archaeology from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. He will be filing periodic reports directly from the field as part of an exciting partnership between HMNS and the Carlos Museum to bring these incredible artifacts to audiences via HMNS’ upcoming Hall of Ancient Egypt.

Peter Lacovara, Senior Curator at Emory University's Carlos Museum

I am back here at Abydos working with Dr. Janet Richards of the University of Michigan on her excavations at the Middle Cemetery, finishing up the work we started during the Egyptian revolution in January and February 2011. I had come here initially to study the mummified remains from Michigan’s excavations in order to figure out some of the details of the wrappings, which we needed to know to complete the restoration of Emory’s Old Kingdom mummy. In looking through all the material that had been discovered, I realized how important the artifacts were from the tomb of Weni.

Everyone who has studied ancient Egyptian history is familiar with the autobiographical inscription of the official Weni the Elder, dating to Dynasty VI (ca. 2323-2150 B.C.) who, at the end of the Old Kingdom, led an expedition to Nubia. The inscription, carved on a limestone slab, describes Weni’s service under three kings, culminating in his appointment as governor of Upper Egypt. The objects that had come from the burial, though now all sadly in a very fragmentary state, confirm how important an official Weni was and that this was, indeed, his burial place.

offering cups from Umm el Ga'ab

By this time, Abydos had grown to be an important cult center, as the worship of the god Osiris had become popular throughout Egypt. As the god of the dead, he played the pivotal role in everyone’s hopes for an afterlife. Being the Mythic first king of Egypt, Osiris was associated with the First Dynasty Royal Cemetery at Abydos. Pilgrims came from all over and left so many small votive cups and jars at the site that its name in Arabic is “Umm el Ga’ab,” or  “Mother of Pots.”

People estimate that there may have been as many as 8 million offering vessels brought here.