Gallery not afraid to display its charms

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A DEAD kingfisher, a donkey’s shoe and a sea urchin’s jaw are just some of the unusual charms owned by fishermen that have gone on display at Scarborough Art Gallery.

The items were among a number of amulets and good luck charms that fishermen would keep on their trawlers to protect them while out at sea, or to ensure a good catch, and would often be passed down through the generations.

The gallery’s new exhibition, Fears, Foes and Faeries, features a large collection of objects gathered in the early part of the 20th century by the famed Scarborough naturalist, collector and amateur folklorist William James Clarke.

Mr Clarke, who died in 1945 at the age of 74, also collected an extensive number of health charms used by fishing communities before the advance of medical techniques against the ague (cholera), rheumatics (various forms of arthritis) and oral infections.

The medical charms, which include bags of corks to be kept in bed to prevent attacks of cramp, a piece of string to cure warts and a toad skull to cure bronchitis, will also feature in the exhibition, which runs until September 30.

Karen Snowden, head of collections at Scarborough Museums Trust, said: “This is a very quirky and eccentric collection. Charms and amulets are basically about managing fear, the thing we find most unmanageable in our everyday life.”

Fears, Foes and Faeries is part of a major heritage project to collect these artefacts and folklore beliefs and preserve them for future generations.

The trust secured nearly £50,000 in Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) cash for the project and has worked with the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Group and Hull University to collect stories associated with local fishing industry superstitions and beliefs and develop unique interactive displays for the exhibition.

A themed programme of events will run alongside the display.