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Ten Minute Tale On Victorian Pot Lid Brings Unexpected Result

Local historian David Rose’s Ten Minute Tale at Guildford Museum on Tuesday (August 29), in which an object from its collection is given a closer look, proved to be a success.

Descendants of the Savages, who were barbers in Guildford, came along and were not only impressed with the information David gave on a late Victorian ceramic pot lid used by their forebears, they have old family photos and information that they are willing to share with him.

David Rose pictured with John Savage and his daughters Veronica Keywood and Carolyn Foster at Guildford Museum.

David said: “John Savage and his daughters Carolyn and Veronica were clearly delighted with the information I was able to give them about the pot lid, which once topped a small dish that contained what was claimed to be a hair restorer called Peruvian Balm.

“Usually made from animal fat and perfumed, it was also known as bears’ grease. At one time grease from slaughtered Russian brown bears was imported into Britain. These products were a popular choice for well-to-do men whose hair was thinning.

“Claiming that genuine bears’ grease was the main ingredient, it probably worked as a sales ploy, as you rarely seen a bald brown bear! I do wonder whether any old animal fat was actually used in times gone by, when contents of such products did not have to be disclosed on the packaging.

Guildford barber John Savage’s Celebrated Peruvian Balm ceramic pot lid.

“It’s unlikely that the product ever worked, but it may have given some ‘body’ to the hair on a man’s head – perhaps like today’s hair gels and mousses.

“I have also recently found some census information on the Savage family in Guildford, and it appears there may have been up to four generations of them (all called John Savage) who were barbers in the town.”

John Savage and his daughters have invited David, along with Dragon editor Martin Giles, to visit them as they have more family information and old family photos.

David added: “I enjoy researching people who were in business in Guildford and whose old bottles and pots have survived – often dug up by collectors such as myself from long-forgotten rubbish dumps.

“It’s great to learn the Savages appear to be a family whose roots in Guildford go back many years.”

Savage’s barbers was at 103 High Street (before renumbering), one down from the building on the corner with Quarry Street. This picture, from the collection at the Guildford Institute, dates to about 1922.

Objects to be featured at Guildford Museum with a Ten Minute Tale on Tuesdays at 1pm, through to September 26, by staff and guest presenters, include a wassail bowl on September 5 with the museum’s Andrew Longwoth, then, Dresden work embroidery, a season ticket to Guildford Lido from years ago, and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll’s sketch book.

A representative selection of these objects forms the heart of a current exhibition Take A Closer Look, and museum staff have focussed on the stories that they have to tell in this display and in the associated programme of Ten Minute Tales.

See more objects from the collections on line by clicking here to the museum’s website.

Entry to the museum in Quarry Street is free.

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One Response to Ten Minute Tale On Victorian Pot Lid Brings Unexpected Result

  1. Ben Darnton Reply

    August 30, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    I am so glad I told John Savage about this talk. He’s currently trying to locate an old photograph of his uncle’s shop.

    It really meant a lot to him to hear David Rose’s talk at the museum yesterday.

    Thank you David.

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