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The curious incident of the dog in the Billiard Room

6 October 2011 by Sam

skeleton of a dog with the head and one leg missing,laid out on a table

Here’s an interesting tale from senior organics conservator Tracey Seddon about one of the unusual objects that she has prepared for display in the Museum of Liverpool:


“If you live in Liverpool you will be familiar with the stunning Tudor mansion Speke Hall, south of the city next to Liverpool John Lennon Airport. The history of the families that lived there, from the Norrises who had it for nearly 400 years from the 1300s, to the Watts from 1795 to 1943, is well documented. But the Museum of Liverpool is soon to introduce a previously unknown member of the 1550s household – the pet dog.

In the late 1970s repair work was carried out in the Billiard Room of the Hall and the opportunity was taken to carry out an archaeological excavation under the floor. Amongst the archaeological finds here was the skeleton of a mediaeval dog, dating from around 1550. Sadly, the dog had no head (after it died obviously!) and only three legs. The circumstances of the lost body parts are something of a mystery. We cannot tell whether these horrible injuries occurred before or after the dog died, and if after death, whether before or after burial. One theory is that they may have been lost during later alterations to the house.  

The remains of the skeleton were recently  brought into the organic objects conservation studio for some care and attention, ready to be displayed in the final phase of the Museum of Liverpool later this year.  I was fortunate to have lots of help with the current treatment from conservation student, Nikkita Walker, and archaeology student, Elizabeth Hardwick. However the bones had survived pretty well since 1979 due to initial cleaning and repairs carried out soon after excavation. This work was in fact carried out by Dr Clem Fisher, who still works here as our eminent Curator of Vertebrate Zoology, more than thirty years on!  

Find out more about how the skeleton was conserved in this new feature on the website.”

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