Explore Your Archive: A biscuit tin from Reading Museum

By Rosemary Collins, 21 November 2017 - 10:11am

Explore Your Archive ambassador Miranda Gore Browne discusses the personal meaning behind a Beatrix Potter biscuit tin from the Huntley & Palmers collection at Reading Museum

Tom Kitten tin, 1955. Image courtesy of Reading Museum/Reading Borough Council. Frederick Warne & Co is the owner of all rights, copyrights and trademarks in the Beatrix Potter character names and illustrations.

Explore Your Archive is a campaign coordinated jointly by The National Archives (UK) and the Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland), with and on behalf of the archives and records sector, across the UK and Ireland which aims to raise awareness of archives, their value to society and the impact they have, every day, on individual lives.

The campaign runs from Saturday 18 November to Sunday 26 November with archives all around the country putting on exhibitions, having open days, hosting seminars and talks and allowing communities to "explore" the amazing things they hold.

As part of the campaign, Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine has teamed up with The National Archives to bring you a week of interviews with some of the archivists taking part around the country to discover just a few of the fascinating historic gems they hold.

Today, The Great British Bake Off's Miranda Gore Browne explains why she's an Explore Your Archive ambassador and why a biscuit tin featuring Beatrix Potter's Tom Kitten, held at the Huntley & Palmers archival collection in Reading Museum, holds personal significance for her.

What gem have you chosen?

I have chosen a Tom Kitten tin from 1955, which is held at Reading Museum within the Huntley & Palmers archival collection.

Why did you choose it?

I love storybooks, and have a passion for Beatrix Potter in particular. My mother has some emotional memories of my grandmother in the short 15 years they had together, which have been recounted to me on many occasions. The first was of my grandmother taking her to the library to collect a book she had pre-ordered for her, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and her five-year-old self clutching it tightly in a brown paper bag as they carried it home together. The other is of the beautiful rabbit-shaped biscuits she made for my mother's birthday parties with homemade, velvet party bags and ribbon trimmings, no doubt treasured scraps and remnants of her working life as a milliner. Biscuits are clearly in my genes. I often like to think how I would have loved to bake with this granny I never knew and how she would have been proud of me baking my biscuits on The Great British Bake Off. She died in 1961 and on seeing this tin, I immediately wondered whether she might have had one and whether she would have used it to keep her beautiful ribbons or sewing pins safe, or indeed perhaps to store her treasured rabbit-shaped biscuit cutter.

Tell us more about the archive...

I was utterly bowled over by the Huntley & Palmers archival collection at Reading Museum! The biscuit tin collection, which charts the history and events of British life through the eras, was so inspiring.

I couldn't stop thinking about who had eaten the biscuits, where the tins had ended up and what they might have been used for after all of the biscuits had been munched. I was fascinated by the stories of where the biscuits had travelled and the scope of their influence across the globe. To see real biscuits posted home from the war, biscuits framed as love tokens and tins turned into musical instruments by African tribes made me wonder at the adventures the biscuits and their tins had been on.

I imagine many of those tins are still in existence, hidden in lofts or under beds, hiding treasures, secrets, memories, sewing kits and so many other possessions and stories. I am hungry to find out more!

Reading Museum’s Huntley & Palmers Gallery tells the story of Huntley & Palmers, Reading's world famous biscuit makers who pioneered mass production. You can see and hear what factory life was like for Huntley & Palmers' thousands of workers, through oral history, photographs and historic film - including the earliest surviving film of a British factory. Admission to Reading Museum is free and open to the public Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm.

Nurses with a guy
Miranda Gore Browne, Explore Your Archive Ambassador. Image courtesy of Miranda Gore Browne.

Miranda Gore Browne is a cookery writer, home-baking expert, director of The Kitchen School and foodie entrepreneur. She achieved widespread acclaim as a finalist on the first series of The Great British Bake Off, where she was highly praised for her beautiful and delicious baking. Miranda is passionate about history, and the power of memories through food and is thrilled to be an Explore Your Archive Ambassador. 

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