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Jules Allen

'We can not rewrite history however regrettable, but art can challenge the way that we engage and interpret Museum collections' 


Museum Source Objects: Birch Bundle and Inventory of Benjamin Pygall

Title: Softening the Blow
(birch brushes) and In a Dark Time (artists' book)

A list of five possessions, a life lost...


In London, the Bridewell Palace was built as a royal residence around 1520 but due to social change relating to the dissolution of monastries (1553), the palace became a home for destitute children and vagrants.

This became a model for Bridewell's to be opened across the country and in 1585 this building which had once been a wealthy merchants house became a house of correction. With a fifth of Norwich's population dependant on charity the building soon became a repository or 'thriftless, sinful and destitute people, many of whom were abandoned women. Mental illness, illegitimacy and homelessness were all 'crimes' deemed worthy of imprisonment.

Corporal punishment was seen as a method of 'correction'. and flogging with birch bundles and whips was a regular occurance. Prisoners lived under the 'shadow of the birch', as they struggled to cope with harsh conditions, long working hours and little food.

For this work, the artist used birch to make paint brushes and ink extracted from bark to create endpapers. The poem 'In a Dark Time' by Theodore Roethke echo's through the pages. Words are repeatedly contained and then revealed, and shadows are cast.


The ghostly presence of the silver birch ever present to the last page and the last word...



Museum Source Objects: Illustration of Bridewell prisoners rasping logwood and Wherry Boat Model

Title: A False and Deceitful Colour

A river course to the open sea...


Rasping logwood was hard labour. Prisoners were given the task of rasping 56lbs of wood per day and if they failed to reach the desired weight they would go without food as a punishment for their 'idleness'. The wood came from two main sources, Black River in Jamaica and the logwood forests of Yucatan in Mexico.

The trade involved slavery at both ends of it's production, from the felling of trees to the rasping of the wood. It was the heartwood of the Logwood tree (Haematoxylum Campechianum) that was used to make a dye for the textiles industry. Due to it's instability through oxidisation, it was eventually banned from use in England and declared a 'False and deceitful colour' by Elizabeth I in 1565.

The wood produced a range of rich colours from purple through to greys and black and its use was later reinstated by Charles I in 1662. In the 18th century George Christian Reichel discovered that the dye had suitable properties for microscopic staining and is still used today in laboratories around the world.

The resulting book inspired by this one illustration, was made from logwood dyes formulated by the artist combined with documents and maps from the heyday's of the logwood trade. The book charts the trade route from the river Wensum in Norwich to the mouth of the Yare where it travelled on wherry's to meet the open sea.”

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