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Past Matters

Past Matters

By Ploy Radford
Museums, galleries and historic houses are treasure troves of items from the past. But how easy is it at these sites to unknowingly just walk straight past an object with an incredible story to tell? In this podcast series host Ploy Radford talks to the experts at different museums, galleries and historic houses about the most underrated objects in their collection, and unveils some fantastic facts.
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Currently playing episode

2021 special - interview with Dr Ellie Woodacre

Past Matters

Christmas 2021 special episode - interview with Lucy Jago
Lucy Jago, author of 'A Net for Small Fishes', explains how a painting of Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset, resonated particularly with her as she was writing her novel, which follows Frances' involvement in the Overbury murder scandal that rocked the Stuart court.  
December 22, 2021
Christmas 2021 special episode - interview with Annie Garthwaite
In one of three Christmas 2021 special episodes, host Ploy Radford talks to author Annie Garthwaite, about an illustration in the Neville Book of Hours that helped her capture the personality of Cecily of York,  the titular character in her debut novel 'Cecily', and an influential figure in the Wars of the Roses. You can see an image of the illustration on or the Past Matters social media channels. 
December 19, 2021
Christmas 2021 special episode - interview with Jennifer Saint
In one of three Christmas 2021 special episodes, Past Matters host Ploy Radford talks to author Jennifer Saint about an ancient Minoan object that helped inspire her debut novel Ariadne, which retells the famous Ancient Greek myths of Theseus and the Minotaur and Phaedra and Hippolytus from female perspectives. You can see an image of the object on or the Past Matters social media channels.
December 12, 2021
2021 special - interview with Dr Valerie Schutte
In this bonus special episode, host Ploy Radford talks to Tudor queenship expert Dr Valerie Schutte about that most underrated of Henry VIII's wives - Anne of Cleves and a book of hours she gifted Henry VIII in 1533 (now in the Folger Shakespeare Library). Listen in to hear more about how Anne actually had a quite powerful status in England post divorce, her relationship with Henry and his children, and about monk who really wanted Henry to take her back. 
June 10, 2021
2021 special - interview with Dr Ian Mortimer
In one of three special episodes, host Ploy Radford talks to Dr Ian Mortimer, historian and author of the hugely popular 'Time Traveller's Guide...' series about the rediscovery of the mirror in medieval Europe. This most basic of objects led to a revolution in the sense of self and can even be linked to a decrease in crime for a period...
May 18, 2021
2021 special - interview with Dr Ellie Woodacre
In one of three special episodes, host Ploy Radford talks to royal studies specialist Dr Ellie Woodacre about a collection of books that belonged to Joan of Navarre, wife of Henry IV and stepmother to Henry V, of Battle of Agincourt fame. The books provide a fantastic starting part for a wider discussion about this little known English queen who left her children from her first marriage to move to England, had French royal blood, and was imprisoned by her stepson for witchcraft. 
April 30, 2021
2021 special - interview with Kelcey Wilson-Lee
In one of three special episodes, host Ploy Radford talks to Kelcey Wilson-Lee, historian and author of 'Daughters of Chivalry', a biography of the five daughters of Edward I (aka the king in 'Braveheart'). Kelcey picks the Alphonso Psalter as her underrated historic object and reveals what it tells us about life and death in medieval England as well as its owner, Edward I's youngest daughter, Elizabeth. 
April 10, 2021
The prisons - Colchester Castle
Season 2 of Past Matters ends on a gruesome note with Ben Paites, Collections and Learning Curator at Colchester & Ipswich Museums, discussing the history of the prisons at Colchester Castle. Not for the squeamish this episode covers prison conditions, witch burnings and the over zealous pursuit of justice.  As ever you can see a picture of the objects discussed on the podcast on or Past Matters' social media channels. 
September 02, 2020
A pair of huia birds - The Horniman Museum & Gardens
In this episode, host Ploy Radford talks to Jo Hatton, Keeper of the Natural History Collection at the Horniman Museum & Gardens in South London. She picked a pair of taxidermied huia birds from the collection as her underrated objects. What makes these sadly now extinct birds particularly remarkable is that they represent the most pronounced example of sexual dimorphism in bill shape of any bird species in the world.  So keep listening to learn more about these fascinating creatures from Jo, as well as what they tell us about emerging interest in natural history in Victorian England.
August 01, 2020
Two swords - Ipswich Museum
For this episode, host Ploy Radford revisits a museum featured in season 1 – Ipswich Museum. This time, Tim Rousham from the visitor services team at the museum discusses two pattern-welded swords from the 9th century AD. Tune in to this episode to learn more about designing beautiful and effective swords and how their shape changed over time and why.  You can see an image of swords on or by following Past Matters on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. 
July 26, 2020
1960s clock - Museum of the Home
Vanessa Meade, Curator of Exhibitions and Interpretations at the Museum of the Home, talks to Ploy Radford about a humble yet special 1960s clock for this episode of Past Matters.  You can view a picture of the clock on or by following Past Matters on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. 
July 18, 2020
'Schooner approaching the harbour' - Compton Verney
Compton Verney in Warwickshire has one of the finest collections of folk art in the UK. In this episode Director Julie Finch tells Ploy Radford why 'Schooner approaching the harbour' by Alfred Wallis, which is painted on a tea tray, is a piece of folk art that particularly resonates with her during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic lockdown.  You can view an image of the painting on 
June 16, 2020
Two smocks - The MERL
When you're asked to imagine an iconic item of clothing the humble smock probably doesn't come to mind. However, in this episode, Dr Ollie Douglas, Curator at The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), convinces podcast host Ploy Radford as to the importance of the smock to English identity. Design, how we align stories with historical objects and ferrets all feature too.  As ever you can find pictures of the objects discussed on this podcast on 
June 04, 2020
A patera - The Roman Baths, Bath
In this episode, Zofia Matyjaszkiewicz, who is the Collections Assistant at the Roman Baths in Bath, tells Ploy Radford why a patera - a shallow libation bowl - is her underrated object at this world-famous site. This one object sets off a whole discussion about Roman lives and passions, how design can let us date an object, and the concept of pilgrimage.  You can view a picture of the patera on the website 
May 21, 2020
Three ceilings - Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery
While the previous episode reminded listeners to look down when visiting historic houses, in a pleasing symmetry, this episode reminds them to look up. Podcast host Ploy Radford talks to Clare Gough, Director at Pitzhanger Museum & Gallery, about three beautiful ceilings in the building, touching on subjects of family fallouts, the use of light in architecture and clever restoration tricks along the way.  You can view pictures of the ceilings on 
May 13, 2020
Axminster carpet - Harewood House
This episode of Past Matters should encourage visitors to England's finest stately homes to look down as well as up for future visits, as Assistant Curator and Archivist at Harewood House, Beckie Burton, describes the significance of a grand Axminster carpet for social standing.  You can find a picture of the carpet on 
May 07, 2020
'Colt hunting in the New Forest' - Palace House
To kick off season 2 of Past Matters, podcast host Ploy Radford talks to Dr Steven Parissien, CEO of Palace House, Newmarket, about a painting by Lucy Kemp-Welch - 'Colt hunting in the New Forest'. Kemp-Welch was a highly successful artist and illustrator - which was rare achievement for women in the late Victorian/Edwardian era - download this episode to hear more about this feminist trailblazer.  For copyright reasons, a photo of the painting cannot be shared via as usual, however you can view it here:
April 30, 2020
Christmas 2019 special: Margaret Beaufort's tomb - chosen by historian Nicola Tallis
As a special Christmas treat for you, my listeners, I have done something a bit different for this episode of Past Matters. Instead of asking a museum, gallery or historic house what their most underrated item is, I have instead asked historian Nicola Tallis, what historical object she thinks is underrated. Her choice? The tomb of Margaret Beaufort at Westminster Abbey. So download this episode to hear more about this ultimate Tiger Mum. And, if you want a more in-depth analysis of her life, I recommend you buy a copy of Nicola’s latest book which is about Margaret and called ‘Uncrowned Queen: The Fateful life of Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Matriarch’. As ever if you want to see a picture of the objects featured in my episodes, you can find them on my website, Enjoy and have a fabulous festive season! Music credit: Jingle Bells Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
December 15, 2019
Christmas 2019 special: Torcheres - Apsley House (with added bonus audio)
Apsley House (also known as No.1 London) is the home of the Dukes of Wellington and for the first time has extended its opening times to the 22nd December 2019 and decorated the house in 1840s style Christmas decorations. Visitors can therefore experience this already beautiful building as it may have looked for a Georgian Christmas. It therefore seemed fitting to feature one of the Christmas special episodes here. Jospehine Oxley, Keeper of the Wellington Collection, talks to Ploy Radford about a pair of easily overlooked torcheres, AND, as an extra Christmas bonus for listeners, she also discusses a rather more hard to miss object, if you keep listening to the end of the podcast.  Merry Christmas! Music credit: Jingle Bells Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
December 10, 2019
Christmas 2019 special: Two clocks - The Charles Dickens Museum
'A Christmas Carol' has got to be one of the most famous Christmas books out there, so it seemed fitting to interview Dr Cindy Sughrue, Director of the Charles Dickens Museum in London, for one of the three 2019 Christmas specials of Past Matters.  With Christmas as a key marker in time, that directly precedes New Year, a time when we reflect back on the last 12 months, it seems even more fitting that Cindy chose two clocks in the museum as her underrated objects.  So when you've got that post-Christmas lunch food coma, why not sit back with a mug of mulled wine and give this episode a listen?  Music credit: Jingle Bells Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
December 08, 2019
It’s not all about the mammoth! Visitors to Ipswich Museum should also take note of three frightening looking taxidermied gorillas in the corner of the Victorian Natural History Gallery there. This group were the first gorillas the British public would have ever seen and the story of their expressions and poses provides a crucial insight into Victorian thinking and involve a swashbuckling fraudster desperate to be accepted by moralistic Victorian society. You can view a picture of the gorillas on 
August 09, 2019
Madame de Pompadour snuffbox - Waddesdon Manor
Art, dogs, and a famous royal mistress... what more could you want from a podcast episode? To round off Season 1 of Past Matters, journalist Ploy Radford talks to Dr Mia Jackson, Curator of Decorative Arts at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, about a beautiful snuffbox depicting the beloved dogs and birds of Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV of France. Listen in to learn more about France's most famous mistress, the complicated art of porcelain making, and Mia's thoughts on the identity of the pampered pooches depicted.  You can view a picture of the object on 
August 08, 2019
Three tapestries - Hever Castle
This episode of Past Matters if for fans of the Tudors, Anne Boleyn and anyone who has ever wanted to learn more about tapestries, royal signifiers of power and historical fashion. Or those who enjoy looking for the comic scenes hidden in art.  Download to hear Alison Palmer, Conservation and Engagement Assistant, at Hever Castle talk about three very beautiful and entertaining tapestries that are currently hanging at the former seat of the Boleyn family.  You can view pictures of the tapestries on or via Past Matters' social media channels. 
August 01, 2019
Regency fan - The Holburne Museum
This episode takes us to the Holburne Museum in Bath, which runs an excellent programme called Pathways to Wellbeing whereby they offer art classes focusing on the objects in the museum to people with mental health issues referred by the local NHS trust.  Listen on to hear Louise Campion, Education and Outreach Officer at the Holburne, discuss the history of an object that was used in a Pathways to Wellbeing art class and why it was a helpful talking point for the session participants.  You can find a picture of the object in question on 
July 19, 2019
Roman jewellery - Colchester Castle
It can be very easy to walk by jewellery in an exhibition because these items tend to be very small. Don't skip by this episode of Past Matters though - in it journalist Ploy Radford talks to Colchester Museums' Senior Collections and Learning Curator Glynn Davis about some exquisite pieces of Roman jewellery that cast a new light on the inhabitants of Roman Colchester, show off the skill of the jewellers and gem cutters of the time and reveal more about Roman jewellery trends.  Pictures of the items can be viewed on 
June 25, 2019
Alfred Munnings' Newlyn sketchbooks - Munnings Art Museum
 This episode is for those people who love animals and art because in it, I interview Jenny Hand, curator at Munnings Art Museum. Alfred Munnings was a famous 20th century impressionist painter, particular known for his paintings of horses.  The objects Jenny picked though, are actually remarkably animal free - they are the sketchbooks from his years living in Cornwall. Listen in to learn more about a rather tragic period in Munnings life, and be reminded that he was rather good at depicting people and not just horses too.    To view pages from the sketchbooks, visit 
June 20, 2019
Regency dairy - Weald & Downland Living Museum
Nestled among the reconstructed low-status farm buildings in Weald & Downland Living Museum is an almost fairytale-like structure. It wasn't the home of fairytale heroine though - it's actually an ornamental dairy from Regency England. Although, there are marks within it to ward off witches and evil spirits... To learn more about this building which visitors have walked past but will only be able to enter in this summer, listen in to this episode of Past Matters with Weald & Downland Living Museum curator Julian Bell. You can view a picture of the dairy on   
June 13, 2019
Self-portrait of Emma Brownlow - The Foundling Museum
It would be very easy to walk by the small, understated self-portrait of Emma Brownlow at the Foundling Museum in London, but it would be a travesty to not pay more attention to someone whose works provide such an interesting insight into life at the UK's first ever children's charity - the Foundling Hospital. The daughter of a former foundling who then became the head of the charity meant Emma grew up with insider knowledge of what the hospital was like. She was also remarkable for being a female artist who supported her family with her work.  Guiding us through the life of Emma Brownlow and what her works tell us about Victorian morals and the life of foundlings at the hospital is Kathleen Palmer, Curator of Exhibitions and Displays at the Foundling Museum. 
June 05, 2019
Japanned Chinoiserie cabinet - Christchurch Mansion
Thought furniture was boring? Nonsense! Come and listen to episode 2 of Past Matters and learn about secret compartments and boudoir calendars in this interview with Bob Entwistle, Conservation Officer at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich.  The object up for discussion is a Japanned Chinoiserie cabinet that dates from the early 1700s. You can view a picture of it on 
May 22, 2019
Renaissance parade sallet - The Wallace Collection
Can weapons be art? How can you do armour - something worn to be admired from a 360 degree angle - justice in a museum? And did you know there were armour-making dynasties in renaissance Europe?  Download this first ever episode of Past Matters to hear Dr Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour at the Wallace Collection, London, explore these topics and more with journalist Ploy Radford. The Wallace Collection's underrated object at the centre of this discussion is a renaissance parade sallet (helmet) created by Kolman Helmschmid in Germany, circa. 1520.  For a picture of the item, visit Although of course, nothing beats going to see it in person. 
May 15, 2019
Introduction to Past Matters
Journalist Ploy Radford introduces herself and what Past Matters is all about. 
April 21, 2019