Expert baffled by ‘odd’ feature on 100-year-old Winston Churchill artefact ‘Intrigued’

Expert intrigued by mystery part of Winston Churchill’s box

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During Tuesday night’s Secrets of the Museum, viewers got to go behind the scenes at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The BBC series follows a number of experts as they conserve and care for a number of rare antiques so that they can be showcased at the museum. Tuesday’s instalment saw the conservators restore a bag that once belonged to actress Vivien Leigh and a 17th-century German doll’s house. However, it was a 100-year-old dispatch box that once belonged to Sir Winston Churchill that left one expert baffled.

Curator Lucia Savi came across the box that belonged to the former Prime Minister while looking through more than 2,000 briefcases and bags at the museum.

“We have around 2,000 bags around the museum,” she began.

“Virtually every department has at least one bag so I’ve been thinking about bags more than I thought I would.”

Lucia hoped to showcase Churchill’s leather dispatch box in the museum’s first-ever exhibition.

“It’s really rare,” she continued. “I am really excited as it’s the one thing I wanted to be here.”

She later said: “I am so thrilled. It’s exciting for us because you can just close your eyes and imagine what this box represents.”

The box would have been used by royalty and senior government figures to transport confidential documents.

As they handled the box with care, Lucia commented: “It’s actually a very odd box as you can see the handle and the lock are not together.”

“They’re opposite sides,” she added as her colleague Jane Rutherston chipped in: “That’s not what you’d expect, is it?”

Lucia explained: “It’s actually like this so you don’t forget to lock it when you close it.

“So, you can’t actually go away without locking it. It’s part of the security feature of such boxes.

“It’s such a simple thing, but it’s actually so clever.”

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Before Lucia could showcase the box, conservator Jane had to inspect the item.

“Wow,” she exclaimed as she opened the box. “I am slightly nervous, I think.

“Winston Churchill’s dispatch box is quite an extraordinary piece to come through to the studio.

“It was never something I expected to come across in my life as a conservator.”

 

However, during Jane and Lucia’s inspection of the box, the duo came across a feature that left them stumped.

“I just noticed, is this part of the inch…the lock?” Lucia asked as she pointed to the case.

“I don’t know,” Jane simply replied before adding: “I’ve never seen anything like this before on the side.”

Speaking about the “surprising characteristics” of the box, Lucia added: “This metal element. I am quite intrigued to understand, what was the purpose of it.”

Despite never discovering what the metal element was used for, after cleaning the item up and making it more stable for the showcase, Lucia was thrilled to see Churchill’s box at the museum.

Secrets of the Museum is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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