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Curiosities and inventions in our collections

Electric jewellery at Cragside in Northumberland
Electric jewellery at Cragside in Northumberland | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

The National Trust cares for one of the most significant collections of fine art and heritage objects in the world. Hidden within these collections are little-known but remarkable curiosities and inventions that puzzle, intrigue and enchant visitors, volunteers and staff alike. Take a look at some of the items that featured in the book 100 Curiosities and Inventions from the Collections of the National Trust.

Home comforts

A black and white life sized wooden cat stands next to it's saucer of milk at Snowshill Manor in Gloucestershire
Charles Paget Wade's life-sized wooden cat stands next to it's saucer of milk at Snowshill Manor in Gloucestershire | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Charles Paget Wade's wooden cat

Charles Paget Wade filled Snowshill Manor in Gloucestershire with his collection, preferring to live in a small cottage in the courtyard. His friend Professor Albert Richardson felt that Wade needed company, but didn’t think his friend was responsible enough to look after a real pet. Instead, he presented Wade with this life-sized wooden cat, which stood on a rug next to the fire. Despite his friend’s doubts, Wade looked after his wooden pet well, replacing its whiskers every year.

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Human touch

A prosthetic arm made from metal. I has fingers that are moved and locked via a system of small buttons and was made for an injured soldier
An armoured prosthetic lower arm on display at Cotehele in Cornwall | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

A prosthetic lower arm

This prosthetic arm displayed at Cotehele in Cornwall is a remarkable invention. Terrible injuries were inflicted on the battlefields of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, leading surgeons and armourers to collaborate and produce pioneering prostheses. This mechanically functioning hand and lower arm prosthesis has moveable fingers that can be individually locked into place with tiny buttons, allowing a soldier to grip his reins or sword.

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Claim to fame

A spiralled golden winkle shell sits on a white background, with the letters 'HWC' engraved on the flat surface where the shell entrance would be.
The golden winkle shell given to Winston Churchill by the Hastings Winkle Club, Chartwell, Kent | © National Trust Images/Leah Band

Sir Winston Churchill's golden winkle shell

In 1900, a group of local fishermen founded the Winkle Club of Hastings. To this day, every member (or ‘Winkler’) is obliged to carry a winkle shell with them. After his retirement in 1955, Sir Winston Churchill was offered countless honours from organisations around the world, many of which he declined. But when his invitation from the Winkle Club arrived, he accepted straight away, saying: ‘This is one thing I want to do.’ He was presented with a golden winkle shell, now kept at Chartwell in Kent. 

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Tools of the trade

A green antique Perrier bottle with a rolled up message protruding from the top
A message in a bottle found beneath Knole's floorboards, Kent | © National Trust Images/Leah Band

A message in a bottle

In 2017, archaeology volunteers at Knole in Kent spotted this Perrier bottle under the floorboards. It contained a note, written on Knole paper: ‘Sept 26th 1906. This bottle was dropted [sic] here in the year AD 1906 by S.G. Doggett when these Radiators were put in, also the Hot Water Service.’ The author was identified as Sidney George Doggett, born at Knole and a carpenter there for 62 years. Later, his family generously donated his original toolbox with more than 100 of his tools to the National Trust.

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Understanding the world

A black and white photograph of a man dressed in a tweed suit, waistcoat and cap, sat inside a very early car with M1 painted on the front.
Maurice Egerton, 4th Baron Egerton of Tatton with his 1900 Benz 'Comfortable' at Tatton Park, Cheshire | © Tatton Park/Cheshire East Council

A 1900 Benz 'Comfortable'

With leather upholstery and a 3.5 horsepower engine, this Benz was cutting-edge technology for its time. Steam-powered road vehicles had been used since the 1700s, but in 1886 Karl Benz patented the internal combustion engine – changing transport for ever. This Benz was bought in the early 1900s by Maurice Egerton, 4th Baron Egerton of Tatton, who gave it the first registration number in Cheshire: ‘M1’. In 2005 the right to use this registration was sold to support conservation at Tatton Park.

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Feeling playful

A neckless made of letter and symbols created from colourful beads and small objects against a white background
A recreation of the alphabet necklace from 'How the Alphabet was made' written by and presented to Rudyard Kipling, Batemans, Sussex | © National Trust Images/Leah Band

The necklace from How the Alphabet Was Made

How the Alphabet Was Made is one of the Just So Stories written by Rudyard Kipling in 1902. It’s the story of how a girl named Taffy and her father Tegumai created the first alphabet, which Tegumai then made into a magic necklace. Sir Percy Bates commissioned a jeweller to create a necklace based on Kipling’s original illustration. In 1928 he gifted the finished necklace to Kipling, who called it ‘absolutely the prettiest and cleverest bit of work I’ve ever seen’.

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A Dalek from Doctor Who

It isn’t every day you see the Time Lord’s greatest enemy in a National Trust house. In 2018, a full-size Dalek glided into the collection at the Children’s Country House at Sudbury in Derbyshire as an example of the impact of television on childhood experiences. Daleks first appeared on screen in 1963 and were an instant hit. Over the years, these extra-terrestrial menaces made regular appearances in the BBC science-fiction television series Doctor Who, becoming a familiar feature of many childhoods.

Landscape mural of Italian seaport showing a harbour scene in the dining room by Rex Whistler at Plas Newydd House & Gardens, Anglesey

Art and collections

We care for one of the world's largest and most significant collections of art and heritage objects. Explore the highlights, our latest major exhibitions, curatorial research and more.

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Two conservators working on various blue & white porcelain at the Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio at Knole, Kent

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