Wealthy Volunteers

Author 
Jeanette Elliott, Collections Relocation Coordinator

When I use the term “wealthy” I’m not referring to their financial situation, but rather the wealth of knowledge our volunteers bring to the Curatorial Department. Their past life experiences, educational background, or expertise in a specific field or topic has proven to be a source of invaluable research and knowledge. Whether it’s a tool with an unknown use, a strangely shaped wood object, or a uniquely stitched textile fragment, we can always turn to our “subject matter experts” to help us solve the mystery.

Many of you will know we are working our way through the identification, conservation, and cataloguing of the artifacts that were stored in the Labatt Brewery basement. Among the latest batch to be unpacked was an unusual looking brass object, cylindrical in shape with a hanging loop on one end and a hollow extension tube on the other. To the majority of us it looked like a whistle or steam valve from a piece of machinery, and without any markings it was difficult to positively identify.

Enter Brenda Fieldhouse, long-time volunteer and former employee, who has recently started to help out the Curatorial Department on a weekly basis. As she was surveying our eclectic group of artifacts waiting to be processed she casually pointed to the “whistle” and called it a meat rotisserie or meat jack. In her previous position as an interpreter at Eldon House she was familiar with this object and how it was used. Mystery solved!

Known as a roasting jack or bottlejack, this device was the most popular method of roasting meat in the 19th century. This convenient little gadget used a verge escapement, similar to a clockworks, which was wound by a key and would keep the meat rotating at a consistent and constant rate over the fire. Sometimes the jack was suspended inside a tin screen or hastener to increase efficiency and decrease roasting time. They were often equipped with a flywheel hung with cast iron hooks from which fat could be suspended to self-baste the meat. With the advances made in hot air ovens during the latter part of the 19th century the use of a roasting jack gradually died out by the start of World War One.

Brenda is one of many valuable curatorial volunteers I am lucky to work with, but she represents one of the reasons why I love the work that I do. There is a melting pot of wonderful people, of different ages, backgrounds and talents, all drawn to the Village because of a passion for history. And you can’t help but share the “wealth” when so many resourceful minds come together for a common cause - to be an advocate for and supporter of this wonderful Village!