There are mice in Gold Hill Museum. And the Museum Chairman would like your children or grandchildren to try and track them down!
“There are only six of them. And they have little Dorset buttons on them. That’s what makes them special,” said Elaine Barratt.
The museum’s team of volunteers have decorated toy mice with the type of buttons that dozens of Shaftesbury workers would have made in the 17th and 18th centuries. Elaine says the soft toys have been hidden all over the museum, to create a fun activity for younger visitors.
“We have a really good quiz to enhance the experience for 7- to 12-year-olds who come to the museum but we didn’t have anything for younger children, so one of our stewards, Lyn Pergano, came up with the idea to make these little mice and dot them around the museum in different display cases. Then young children, even toddlers, can go around and find them. All of the six are different designs and the children will be given a sheet with a photo of each, that they can tick off when they find them.”
While the youngsters search for the mice, adults can learn about button making, which was once a significant Shaftesbury industry. “A gentleman called Abraham Case started making them in the 1620s, we believe. It became a huge industry for Shaftesbury over 250 years until the Industrial Revolution and the machine completely killed the industry. It was a cottage industry employing a lot of women, children and probably men. They earned their living making Dorset buttons,” said Elaine.
The buttons are very different from the fasteners we know today. “Originally, there were a lot of sheep locally and they used a sheep’s horn and linen. Then the buttons developed into metal rings, which were sewn and blanket stitched around spokes with a little cross stitch in the middle. That secured them. They would have a shank put on them. The modern equivalent is much more decorative because those who make them have a lot more time. There’s a lovely display of them in Gold Hill Museum including the original ones. Some of them are so tiny they must have been made by children,” Elaine said.
The museum mice are wearing handmade Dorset buttons. “I made them,” said Elaine. “I couldn’t get rings small enough so I used florist wire around a pencil to form the rings.”
Gold Hill Museum is open every day between 10.30am to 4.30pm until Wednesday, 31st October. Admission is free but donations to help fund the maintenance of the historic building are gratefully received.