Discover intriguing curiosities

We've unearthed some of our most intriguing curiosities, fascinating stories and unusual objects. From Churchill’s 'golden winkle' and the ring that may well have inspired Tolkien to write 'The Lord of the Rings' to a unique collection of silver chamber pots, there’s a curiosity to captivate everyone.

The south front of Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill between 1922 and 1964, Kent

Churchills Golden Winkle at Chartwell, Kent

The Winkle Club originated in Hastings in 1900 and was known for its work with many charities, with a particular focus on helping impoverished children. Members of the club had to carry winkles, which were in fact small shells and failure to do so involved a fine, with all such money being devoted to charity.

On receiving his invitation to join the Winkle Club Churchill accepted, saying ‘This is one thing I want to do’. Sir Winston became a member on 7 September, 1955 a great occasion in the history of the club. Visitors to Chartwell will be able to glimpse Churchill’s golden winkle in the Museum Room.

Needleword by Bess of Hardwick

Royal Needlework at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

Oxburgh Hall is the quintessential moated Tudor house, with its magnificent gatehouse and accessible Priest Hole. Between 1569 and 1584 Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner nearby and her warden was the Earl of Shrewsbury, Bess of Hardwick’s husband.

Bess and Mary spent much time together and passed the time stitching panels, which now reside at Oxburgh. Most of the panels depict animals and birds, many of which are symbolic. One panel contains a strong hidden message, depicting a hand cutting a vine and the motto, ‘Virtue flourishes with a wound’ and it is said to represent the fruitful Mary cutting down the barren Queen Elizabeth.

Part of the Pope's Cabinet and its restoration at Stourhead, Wiltshire

A cross and a cabinet at Stourhead, Wiltshire

In the 1940’s Henry Hoare II ‘the magnificent’, nicknamed because of his creation of the brilliant landscape garden at Stourhead, acquired The Pope’s Cabinet.

This monumental cabinet was made in Italy in 1585 for Pope Sixtus V from pieces of highly polished marble, porphyry, jasper and other precious materials. The detail on the Pope’s cabinet is quite extraordinary; the marquetry technique of pietra dura (which literally translates as hard stone) has been applied throughout and the result is a startling amalgamation of colours and patterns, resembling mosaic.

Visitors to Stourhead are able to not only view this stunning cabinet but also see the recent renovation process that has taken place to restore the beauty of this piece, through a series of videos and photography.

Silver egg cups from Dunham Massey

Egg cups and chamber pots at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

An early Georgian house built around a Tudor core, Dunham Massey was extensively remodelled in the early 20th-century. When the 2nd Earl of Warrington, George Booth inherited the estate at the age of 19, he discovered that there were huge debts owing. In managing to pay off the debts in 21 years, Booth decided to invest in vast quantities of silver as security for the future.

The Earl favoured the craftsmanship of the distinguished Huguenot goldsmith Peter Archambo. A shared religion and high-quality goods at a reasonable price mean that Huguenot silver can be found in a host of guises, from egg cups with silver frames to Lady Stamford’s toilet set - a gift from Lord Warrington to his daughter on her 50th birthday in 1754.

The egg cups and frames are particularly fascinating as they are considered to be the earliest egg cup frames in England. Other highlights of the collection include an unusually large number of silver chamber pots – 15 in total.

Visitors in the Cellarium at Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire.

18th-century graffiti at Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire

One of the most remarkable places in Europe, this World Heritage Site comprises the spectacular ruin of a 12th-century Cistercian abbey and watermill – not quite the place where you would expect to find graffiti, but apparently this ‘art form’ was rife in the 18th-century. So much so that William Ledley felt compelled to carve his name on the mill doors, which can still be seen today.

However, William was not the only graffiti artist unable to resist the urge of leaving his mark. In addition to erecting a tower in his honour, Abbot Marmaduke Huby carved his initials into the walls. Visitors to Huby’s Tower are able to see the initials ‘M’ and ‘H’ carved about half way up.

The ring said to have inspired Tolkien at The Vyne, Hampshire

The ring said to have inspired Tolkien at The Vyne, Hampshire

Perhaps the most interesting object in The Vyne’s possession is a solid gold ring dating from the 4th or 5th-century.

Discovered in the 18th-century, the faceted ten-sided band has a Latin inscription engraved on it, which reads: ‘O Senicianus, may you live prosperously’. The fearsome looking head once thought to be a lion has now been identified as that of the Goddess of Venus. Several decades after the ring was found a Roman lead tablet was uncovered at the site of a temple in Gloucestershire, bearing an inscription referring to this same ring, cursing the person who had stolen it.

There has been some suggestion that the story of this curse came to the attention of J R Tolkien, who had been advising on finds at the temple, and that this ring was the inspiration for his Lord of the Rings trilogy.