I love things with history; the feeling that something has a story to tell and past before it came to me. I love showing people my ‘cello and telling them that it’s over 100 years old and that I often wonder who had played it and where had it been in those years. I have my great grandmother’s chair sitting upstairs in the landing and the boys love to hear about how small she was (just over 4 foot, that might explain why I’m short!) and that the legs have been cut down so she could put her feet flat on the floor and you can see all the flecks of paint on it where it has been used over the years as make do step ladder letting my relatives reach those hard to get to places that they’ve painted. I love things with a story imagined or known, who has sat at this desk before that I am sitting at to type this..?
When we first found out I was expecting our first son (after the many pregnancy tests with various feint lines and learning that a feint line is still a line!) we found an amazing old box in an antique shop and bought it as a toy chest. We were living in Hungerford at the time and Hungerford is known for 2 things; antique shops and the awful incident where Michael Ryan went on the rampage with guns. My wedding ring came from the same shop and though Hubbie was a bit dubious of having someone else’s ring (what if has had bad luck?) he loved me enough to agree. It’s a 1920’s wedding ring and I love it. We saw the box sitting in a bay surrounded by other assorted ‘stuff’. It’s made from simple wood with a chest like lid and iron straps and nails. I noticed a brass plaque on the front that said ‘Captain Armstrong’ and read the information label which said ‘Ship’s Captain’s chest. £90’ I was one over and it came home with us.
It has been a toy chest but has since become too fragile as the iron is as thin as paper and the nails are starting to come lose. I was worried that Ollie would get splinters from it so it was moved from his room into the top floor landing and there it sat, empty. It was moved for the space behind to be dusted and the carpeted underneath to be hovered but it had become an ornament; just something to make your house look pretty.
We’ve moved and the chest has come with us and there was a little debate as to which room it would live in. We thought of upstairs in the room like space outside the bathroom. The sofa there with the tiny window overlooking the fields is a lovely place to sit and stare at the view. We felt that the chest wasn’t quite ready for complete retirement and eventually decided it would go in the sitting room (or the ‘posh room’ as the boys call it. Why? I have no idea…) so there is sits, by the TV and under the large oil painting. It still looks fab and I still love it.
The boys were running cars up and down the lid –I can’t blame them it does make the most amazing rumbling sound – so I went over to make sure it was okay. I lifted the lid and looked inside and saw for the first time a maker’s label and it read ‘Widdowson and Veale, The Strand, London’. I did a little research online (I ‘googgled’ it!) and I found out that Widdowson and Veale were a respected Jewelers and were sword Cutlers to H.R.H Prince Albert. The plaque on the front had the name ‘Captain Armstrong’ and this gave me an idea for Henry’s party…
Henry wants to be a pirate. The idea of not washing whilst wearing stripy rags with a possible parrot on his shoulder and being in charge of a gun really appeals to him. I can see him in the 1700’s on board ship being part of the crew with his wild hair and loud voice. Joining in with the fight and downing his grog would suit him even as a four year old. I knew instantly that a pirate party was the one for him.
I took the idea of there being a Captain Armstrong who had left old stained scrolls around the house (we had it at home) that directed the children where to go. On arrival they had to go into the garden to find the 244 gold chocolate coins that we had hidden in it and return them back to his gold box. This the children did with great excitement and although I don’t think that we found them all I know that a lot were. Another scroll as found and they had to come and ‘walk the plank’ aka walk along our wooden bench and jump into the paddling pool filled with sea monsters (sweets). Another scroll asked them to come into the galley for lunch, go and play some party games and toast marshmallows on the open fire. This they did with gusto all in costume and in character.
The last scroll asked them to go and find Captain Armstrong’s treasure chest that was hidden in the garden. My brother had taken out the old chest that I had filled with their party bags (drawstring bags I made with skull and crossbones for the boys and red polka dots for the girls) and all the other usual pirate loots – gold coins, stolen pearls, rings and crowns. This was booty worth finding. We gave all the boys a torch (25 boys were there!) and out they went into the pitch dark to search for the treasure chest. Excited giggles and shouts were heard and when they finally found the chest overexcitement overtook them all. They opened it up to find the glittering jewels and shiny gold and all of their party bags.
The boys got to keep their drawstring bags, their torches and their memories of being allowed to run around in the pitch dark with their mates at the age of 3 and 4. Their parents told me that for weeks they talked about that night and remembered the excitement they felt about the treasure chest. A captain who bought his chest probably over 100 years ago had died many years before but his chest ended up with a family who loved it dearly. I’d love to know what he was like whether he was even a ship’s captain. The box has now gone back into the posh room and sits quietly remembering the past and the night it was the centre of attention. We loved using it, bringing it back to life and making 25 little boys very happy. Old things can bring new life and therefore should be cherished. Don’t be afraid to use them if you can as they are beautiful with their age marks don’t let them sit in their quiet museums of the corners of your house. We have another son who will have his 4th birthday in a year and a half’s time and we’ll do the same party for him with the same drawstring bags and torchlight search for the treasure chest. It will be another memory for us in the history of our family and also the history of the box so I thank you Captain Armstrong, whoever you are…