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Friday 5th January 2018 until Sunday 25th November 2018

Made in Wessex

Discover the story of a region that has been a centre of making for thousands of years...

For the next twelve months four leading museums of the Wessex Museums Partnership Dorset County Museum, Poole Museum, The Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum will be sharing the story of Wessex in the wider world by showcasing an artefact from their own outstanding collections to the other partner museums.

A cradle of prehistoric society in England and today renowned for its arts and crafts, Wessex has been a centre of making for thousands of years. The downland, heathland, rivers and coast of Wessex have shaped the making and use of artefacts, from ancient flints to contemporary ceramics. This second series of Spotlight Loans between the four leading museums that tell the stories of Dorset and Wiltshire focus on this tradition of making and reveals some surprising and fascinating objects to illustrate the theme.

The Dorset Ooser

The Dorset County Museum is pleased to announce from the to 11 December – 25 November 2018, the Dorset Ooser will be touring the following Wessex Museum partners:

What is this magnificent beast?! This is a pottery representation of an Ooser, which is a figure from Dorset folklore used to scare people in midwinter and May Day celebrations. This one was made by Poole based potter Guy Sydenham in the 1990s.

19th Century Dorset dialect poet William Barnes defined Ooser, Oose or Wurse:  ‘a mask...with grim jaws, put on with a cow’s skin to frighten folk.  “Wurse” … is a name of the arch-fiend.’  Thomas Hardy refers to Oosers, in his novel The Return of the Native and in a scene from The Mayor of Casterbridge.  Hardy describes a custom known as ‘Skimity Riding’ or ‘Rough Music’ a form of public humiliation for those that were believed to have behaved immorally and the Ooser played a part in this.

The Ooser should terrify and glare menacingly, it is almost mythical or devil-like in appearance – half man and half beast, with its flowing locks, beard and bullock’s horns.  Oosers appear to have a lump in the middle of their forehead, not so obvious on this ceramic one, but it’s thought that this may be like a third all seeing “eye”.  When an Ooser mask is worn, the wearer can open and close the jaws and make you jump out of your skin! This one’s jaw moves as well: if you take a look round the back there is a string that can be pulled to do this

There may have been many Oosers around Dorset, but no original exists.  One was last seen in 1905 and belonged to a doctor in Crewkerne, Somerset, but nobody knows what happened to it once he moved house.

If you’d like to see a full-size Ooser, the wooden replica that is on display in the Writer’s Gallery at Dorset County Museum, Dorchester was made for the Wessex Morris Men.  It is still worn and used in their performances today.

Four Wessex Museums are working in partnership to inspire and engage people with the amazing story of our region in new and exciting ways through its outstanding art and heritage.

While you are here in Wessex…why not visit one of our partner museums? 



For further information contact the Museum on 01305 756827 or Contact Us

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Wessex Museums Spotlight Loan Tour