Over the last few weeks I’ve posted a number of blogs about the campaign waged by Thomas Sheppard, Curator of Hull Museums, against the Morfitt family of Atwick in East Yorkshire. Although Sheppard was initially a friend of the family, in 1903 something changed. I believe that the rivalry over collecting objects for their respective collections was so strong that William Morfitt and Thomas Sheppard had a violent falling-out, which seems to have had rather painful consequences for the Hull curator! Whatever happened Sheppard never forgot it. It is striking that after 1903 the Morfitt family, if it is mentioned at all, is often referred to in an oblique or coded fashion. In this way Sheppard disguised what were snide and dismissive remarks. In 1922, however, Sheppard had his best opportunity yet to belittle the family way, as we will see….
In the autumn of 1922 the British Association of Science held its annual meeting in Hull. One of the speakers was Albert Leslie Armstrong, the enthusiast who had continued Prof.William Boyd Dawkins’ work at Creswell Crags and so someone who is well-known in Manchester and elsewhere. Armstrong gave a paper about two serrated bone points that he had seen in the Morfitt family’s collection. Armstrong knew of, or had seen, very similar points from sites in Denmark that had been dated to the Mesolithic period about 10,000 years ago. The Danish examples had been found at a place called Maglemose or ‘Big Bog’ and Armstrong referred to them as Maglemosian. Armstrong argued that the serrated bone points found by the Morfitt family in Holderness in East Yorkshire were so similar that they must be of the same date. If so they were some of the oldest archaeological discoveries from northern Britain! It was quite a coup, or would have been, had Thomas Sheppard not spoken out against them, saying that the discoveries were not as old as the speaker…
In the reporting of the conference in the local newspapers this satirical poem appeared:-
Long years ago – so long – none knows,
There came a man from Maglemose,
(How he got here without clothes,
From Maglemose to Holdernose,
Without the frost bite in his toes,
Is more than we can dare suppose).
This man a long bone harpoon throws,
Just like those found at Maglemose.
He aimed it an elk (or deer),
The harpoon pierced him like a spear;
It no doubt killed that elk (or deer)
In what was once called Skipsea Mere
From long ago, in silt (or clay),
The harpoon and the elk did stay,
Till Mr Morfitt passed one day,
With iron rod to find his way.
For fourteen feet it penetrated,
And then it stopped, or so ‘twas stated.
The rod touched something firm and bony
(So different from an object stoney).
Then Mr Morfitt dug deep down,
For fourteen feet and got renown,
By finding something quite unknown,
(Except for one in Hornsea town).
How he dug, well, no-one knows,
But he found trace of Maglemose.
He got it in his small museum,
Where “with the other” all could see ‘em.
They rested there for years and years,
Until the British Ass. Appears.
Came an Armstrong long and weary,
With a most enthralling theory;
About the man from Maglemose
(In the Baltic, that, one knows)
Came to Atwick, or quite close,
While in search of food and clothes.
When a Sheppard roared like thunder,
“There has been a fearful blunder,
The harpoon from Maglemose,
Is not as old as you’d suppose”;
And in a manner most indecent,
Said the harpoon was quite recent!
This is great fun and whatever one says about Sheppard no-one can deny he had a great sense of humour! Though I’m not sure he wrote the poem. As a result of the controversy arising out of this very public challenge to the integrity of the Morfitt family, many letters appeared in the local press and two committees of enquiry met to decide whether the ‘Holderness harpoons’, as they became known, were authentic.
To find out what the committees of enquiry said visit this Blog next week!
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