Jenny Murphy ’15 with Leadenhall Market brick.
Gift of William H. Hunt. DU1945.59.6
Denison Museum Collection
by Jenny Murphy ’15
I started working at the Museum over a year ago now, at the beginning of my Sophomore year. As an English Literature major, being surrounded with Classics and Art History majors who already had experience working in museums was pretty intimidating. I felt a little out of my element. But we got to work immediately. I was partnered with a senior, Karly Etz ’13, and together we were assigned to work on the William Hunt Collection of ancient bricks. The bricks had previously been poorly labeled and stored, so it was our job to research the history of the collection and the story of each brick.
“Think of it like an investigation,” the Curator of Collections, Anna Cannizzo, told us. “You’re Sherlock Holmes – It’s your job to find out the mystery behind these bricks. Find evidence, connect the dots, solve the puzzle.” And with that, Anna wished us good luck and left us to the stack of documents.
We spent weeks reading through the documents and familiarizing ourselves with the bricks. At the same time, I was trying to learn all the museum jargon and cataloguing systems and protocol that my co-workers already knew. It was challenging, but fun. I had to keep reminding myself that one day I would be as familiar with museum work as I was with my books.
It wasn’t until later that semester that everything began to fall into place. It started with an unidentified brick. Not one of the “cool” bricks from Pompeii, or the Roman Coliseum, or even the Great Wall of China –we had already identified those. It was a small, brown brick, about the size of your hand, with a faded piece of paper on it.
The writing on the paper was nearly unintelligible, but after re-creating the letters over and over on a piece of paper, I was able to make out a few words. “Roman,” “Leadenhall Market,” and “1881 January.” From this, a quick internet search gave me my answer.
In London, Leadenhall Market stands as an ornate, colorful market with a glass ceiling. But before that, it was made of brick. Leadenhall Market itself dates back to the 14th century and was located in the center of what was Roman London. Architect Sir Horace Jones tore down and re-built the market using more modern materials in 1881. It is very likely that William Hunt, who himself lived in the late 19th century, may have picked up this brick from his contacts or travels. Who would have guessed we had a little piece of Roman London history right in Denison’s own backyard?
From inconsequential brick, to an important piece of London history. It’s amazing the new things I’ve been able to find out and learn by working in the Denison Museum. I may not be a Classics or Art History major, but being able to solve the mysteries of these tiny bricks makes my Literature heart swoon – my work was more like Sherlock Holmes’s investigations than I had thought.