Sheringham Museum discovers forgotten human bone fragment from WW1

The Sheringham Museum has uncovered a surprise in a forgotten piece of its collection re-discovered during an archive store move project. Simply listed in the museum collections database as “newspaper scrapbooks” it was overlooked for 25 years.

The museum has since found that the “scrapbooks” were in fact five volumes of newspaper cuttings and mementos spanning the full 1914-1918 First World War painstakingly collected by Doris Hewitt, sister to Cecil Hewitt, a disabled photographer whose glass plate negatives came to light in January 2013 at the museum.

This new discovery was donated to the museum long before the Hewitt Glass plate negatives and provides a new piece to the puzzle of this fascinating Edwardian Family who lived in the town during the early 1900s.

The scrapbooks ended up being stored in Sheringham Town Hall attic, which was being used as an overflow of the museum store. Thanks to Heritage Lottery Funding, the museum has been able to build a new dedicated archive store at the Mo Museum site in the past year and has spent the winter moving its collections from the Town Hall and its existing store, into the new state of the art archive space.

Museum manager Philip Miles said: “In 1993 the museum did not have access to a computerised database so all objects were listed in large books making it difficult to know what we actually had in the archive. Listing an object as ‘Newspaper Scrapbook’ didn’t really make it a priority to be researched when we have 10,000 other objects in storage.

“Thanks to the funding received from the Heritage Lottery Fund we’ve been able to rediscover this important piece of First World War history and make sure that it is now stored in state-of-the-art research facilities at the museum and never forgotten again.”

As if discovering these precious items wasn’t enough excitement for the museum team, upon opening Volume Three (covering 1915-1916) the museum discovered a small envelope with “Piece of Bone from Lionel’s Leg, 18.10.16” written on it with a hard object within. To open the envelope to verify its contents would be damaging to the integrity of the object and destroying history – like unwrapping an Egyptian mummy.

When museums like the British Museum want to x-ray a mummy to verify contents they get to use state of the art CT scanners in hospitals. When you are a small independent charity-run museum in rural North Norfolk, you turn to your local vet for help. Vet Michaela Bone at Miramar Vets on Weybourne Road, Sheringham, kindly x-rayed the envelope at the surgery and the contents were verified to be bone fragments.

The museum wanted to find out more about who the mysterious “Lionel” was. Doris Hewitt had a brother, Graily, who also went to war. Museum volunteer Jane Crossen researched the names in the scrapbook and determined that the bone fragment belonged to Captain Lionel Ensor of the Suffolk Regiment. He was awarded a Military Cross for bravery in the field, rescuing an injured comrade during the Battle of the Somme and getting himself shot in the legs during the process.

Further research showed that Cecil Hewitt had photographed Lionel in the hospital with Doris in 1916. Lionel went on to marry his nurse Mabel, who could also be in the photographs, although the museum suspects he must have had a soft spot for Doris to present her with a piece of his leg bone and she thankfully went to the trouble of preserving it in her scrapbook to be discovered 100 years later.

The scrapbooks will go on display from March 1 when the museum reopens and Sheringham residents can view them for free during a special locals-only museum open day on Monday, February 27, 11am-7pm.

Vet Michaela Bone Xrays the scrapbook and envelope

Vet Michaela Bone shows the result of the Xray

Trustee Ron Wiebe and Vet Michaela study the envelope page

Lionel Ensor and mystery Nurse 1916

Lionel Ensor and Doris Hewitt 1918 note walking stick

Lionel Ensor and Doris Hewitt 1916

Doris wearing her brother Grailey Hewitt WW1 uniform

Doris Hewitt 1910

Doris Hewitt 1908

Doris and Cecil Hewitt 1911

Close up of envelope

Close up of Nurse and Lionel 1916

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