Lincolnshire’s links with the Islamic World

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 by Erik Grigg  | Category: Archaeology Exhibition 

 Lincolnshire's links with the Islamic World
ارتباط لينكولنشاير بالعالم الإسلامي

In May and June 2018 we put a display together highlighting Lincolnshire's links with the Islamic world using documents and artefacts that are not always on display. This blog was designed to complement that display and give some more information for the curious. The earliest artefact was a coin from what is now Afghanistan that came to Lincolnshire over a thousand years ago. In the nineteenth century Middle Eastern literature was influential on Lincolnshire writers like Tennyson and Lawrence of Arabia supposedly edited a draft of his Seven Pillars of Wisdom while staying in Lincoln. Today Lincoln has a vibrant Islamic community that has recently opened the doors on the city's first bespoke Mosque.

Thanks to Sara Basquill, Antony Lee, Dawn Heywood, Grace Timmins, Ray Hooley, Nicola Grigg, Talal Albacha, Louise Woolley and Adrian Wilkinson for help in preparing this blog and answering my numerous questions about the artefacts.

Pendant from a dirham

LCNCC : 2014.16
The earliest artefact we have is an Arabic silver dirham, subsequently pierced and gilded. It dates from the 10th century and was  found at Baumber, Lincolnshire. It probably represents Viking trade with the Muslim world.
The coin appears to be a dirham of the Samanid ruler Isma’il I ibn Ahmad. The date is year Hijra 293 (AD 905/6). There is usually a second, outer marginal inscription on the obverse of Samanid dirhams - unless the coin has been clipped. This could be an imitation, of a copper coin, with single marginal legends. It’s not possible to read the mint, as there is a hole pierced, but the mint name is short, so probably Balkh (which is in modern Afghanistan). Samanid dirhams were transmitted in large numbers via river routes from the Caspian Sea to Scandinavia, as a result of Viking-Age trade, and from Scandinavia in smaller numbers to the British Isles. A number of Samanid dirhams are recorded in Viking hoards from England dating from the first three decades of the tenth century, and since the find-spot is in an area of extensive Viking settlement, it is reasonable to assume that the object was deposited as a result of Viking activity in the area.

Denton Book

In Lincoln Central Library is a 19th century African book containing surahs from the Qur'an. The book was donated to Lincoln Central Library in September 1955 by Mr Denton of Lamb Gardens, Lincoln. In 1908 and 1909 he visited Lagos as part of his job as a fitter on a steamer; it was probably there he picked up this book.

The book consists of about 185 loose pages of text in Arabic with various diagrams. The pages are approximately A5 in size though there are four A4 pages folded in half. Most is in a single hand with a neat script in brown ink with key words or words at the end of a section in red. Most of the paper is thick, dark, slightly rough by modern standards and often rounded at the corners (possibly through wear), though some of the A4 pages are thinner, whiter and smoother suggesting they are later additions. The A4 pages and some of the A5 pages are in other scripts, some with black ink; if the whiter thinner A4 pages are later it is unsurprising the ink is blacker as it would have had less time to fade. The script on the pages that look later is less neat. It seems the book has been added to over time; it is also possible sections have been lost but that is impossible to ascertain.

The pages are contained in a folding cover or wallet, probably made of goat skin. The pages fit quite neatly into the cover suggesting that we have a similar number of pages that the cover was designed for.

The pages contain three types of text: extracts from the Qur'an, prayers and ‘mystical’ writing. The extracts from the Qur'an, which cover at least 14 pages, include the final surah of the Qur'an. These pages are in various hands and paper types including the most common and the probable later insertions. The prayers also include pages in different hands and on different types of paper.

Most of the text is what could be termed mystical. It includes examples of talismans, warnings about black magic, spells, attempts to ward off evil and other cryptic writings (such as an obscure commentary on Moses) designed to make the reader think the author had access to secret wisdom. Such mystical writings flourished from the thirteenth century onwards and the writers often drew on Syriac and Hebrew texts. Though magic is mentioned in the Qur'an, it is forbidden for a Muslim to practice it. Without much closer analysis of the text it is impossible to tell the motives of the author (or even authors) for including such work, though mystical texts in Arabic are not uncommon. Perhaps the author is trying to warn the reader about the dangers of the occult and/or warding off the effects of magic with the prayers and extracts from the Qur'an.

Book of this design were common in West Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The goat-skin wallet, the page sizes and the colours used in the script of this book are all reminiscent of such books; the fact Denton visited Lagos and the note found in the book with Denton’s name that also has the word ‘Africa’ pencilled on it seems to confirm a West African origin. These books are usually found carried in a leather satchel which is unfortunately missing. Most similar West Africa books simply contain texts of the Qur'an, perhaps we are lucky in having such on odd book in terms of its contents. In appearance it is similar to the Qur'an in the Regimental Display at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life, but which still has its original satchel.

Qur'an of Tennyson

Document reference: TRC/GCT/193.
In The Archives is a two volume edition in English of the Qur'an once owned by Tennyson. This version was translated by George Sale and dated 1801.

Tennyson shared and engaged with a general Victorian interest in the Arabic world and read many books that he would have termed Orientalist about the culture of the Middle East. The Qu'ran in Tennyson's library was originally part of his father's Somersby library and seems to have been important enough to him to take for his own library later on.  It is one of a number of books related to Arabian culture in Tennyson's library, pretty much all of them being translations, commentaries and travelogues. One of the latter was Ulysses, a collection of essays by the British writer William Gifford Palgrave who travelled extensively through the Middle East and wrote some very popular books about his adventures there. Tennyson also had a copy of the Rubaiyat published by Fitzgerald, a very popular work in Victorian Britain that purports to be a translation of the poetry of Omar Kayyam, a Persian poet, astronomer and mathematician (1048-1131). Tennyson's poem Locksley Hall was inspired by a translation by William Jones of the Mu'allaqat (a pre-Islamic Arabic poem). One of Tennyson's last works was the poem Akbar's Dream written about the 16th century Mogul Emperor. 

Thanks to Grace Timmins for much of the above information about Tennyson.

Three Syrian tiles

LCNUG : 1927/1815 LCNUG : 1927/1816 LCNUG : 1927/1817
 We also have three unglazed painted tiles are late sixteenth or early seventeenth century that come from Damascus, Syria.  They are in blue, turquoise and white glaze and contain flower motifs. Tiles of this kind were often brought to Britain in the nineteenth century and heavily influenced William Morris. These tiles were gifted to the museum by the late Mrs H.F Hole's executor's in 1947.

To learn more about the Damascus School, there is a very interesting blog from the Museum of the Order of St John:




 There is a medieval Spanish lusterware bowl normally on display at The Collection in the medieval section of the Archaeology Gallery. Although this early fifteenth Spanish lusterware bowl was not made in an area under Muslim rule, the design seems inspired by Arabic writing. Figurative representations of animals including humans are not allowed in Islamic art, so the decoration on objects is often geometric designs and calligraphy. This bowl quite clearly shows the impact Islamic art had on Christian Spain.

Jordanian knife

LCNCC : 2012.45
We have a Syrian or Jordanian dagger that has an ivory handle inlaid with mother of pearl and green and red pieces. It is in a textile covered wooden sheath and was brought to Lincoln by a soldier of the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment. It dates to between 1870 and 1900.

4 coins

Four coins were found in a box of coins in a cupboard containing resources used in the education sessions at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life (in this case, a box of low value recent coins). Although of no great age or value, they are testament to how Lincoln’s links with the Muslim could penetrate odd nooks and crannies! They are three 3 Baiza coins from 1960 (1380 in the Islamic reckoning) and a 5 Baiza coin from the following year. The 3 Baiza coin was first issued in 1960 (which explains why we have so many from the same year); they were made by the Royal Mint here in Britain. Around that time the Sultan was facing a rebellion and despite Oman obtaining its full independence from Britain in 1951, troops from the UK were helping him supress the rebels. Perhaps the coins came to Lincoln in the pocket of a British soldier on his return or an oil worker. Who knows.

Woodliffe Egyptian photographs

These pictures were taken by Neville Woodliffe's family in Egypt between the wars and were purchased by a member of the Heritage Service staff. One of them shows a steam engine being unloaded at the docks whilst another has engineers installing a Ruston’s stationary engine. As well as being an interesting insight into life in Egypt, they also highlight the close links between Lincoln and the rest of the world through engineering exports. The pictures are hard to date, but one in the collection (not shown) shows Vickers Valentinas, planes used by the RAF in the Middle East between 1934 and 1944, the lack of any troops in the pictures suggests they were taken before the outbreak of hostilities. One of the pictures, the shoe polishers, is exactly the same shot as a picture by Rudolf Franz Lehnert, an Austrian photographer who made his name taking pictures in Tunis and Cairo. Our version is quite clearly not a postcard or print, but a photograph, why it is in the Woodliffe collection I no idea.

One picture is of a Ruston's traction engine being unloaded while another shows a very large Ruston & Hornsby class ’H’ oil engine, c.1920’s being installed, probably somewhere in Egypt.  The bedplate and crankshaft have been installed; the massive flywheel is being lowered for sliding onto the crankshaft.  The job is being overseen by an engineer from Rustons. It is in the open, so probably a pumping station on the Nile. There were dozens of these pumping stations along the whole length of the Nile taking out water for irrigation systems. Almost exclusively, they used Ruston engines and either Ruston or Gwynnes pumps. The sale of these pumps was very good business for Lincoln. [Thanks to Ray Hooley for his expertise on this matter].   

Nahman Archives Photograph

Document reference: ROBEY 1/9/1/1/10.
 We have a photograph of the display stand of Eugene Nahman & Company in Egypt. The firm imported British-made machinery through its offices in Cairo and Alexandria. The left side of the stand is devoted to pumping equipment made by Gwynne & Company and the right side to machinery manufactured by Robey & Company. 1890s.

German-Turkish dictionary

LCNLL: 1987/743.1
 In the Museum of Lincolnshire Life are artefacts brought to Lincoln when British troops who fought on the Palestine Front in World War One came home. This item contains a slip of paper saying it was taken off the body of a fallen enemy soldier. Obviously nowadays museums do not take donations taken from the fallen on a battlefield, but in this case the item has been in our possession for some time and it would be impossible to trace the family of the owner. It was originally down in our records as an English-Arabic Dictionary, but is quite clearly German-Turkish. The Ottoman Empire was an ally of the Germans in World War One and the Ottoman Army was advised and often trained by German officers, hence the need for this dictionary.

Newspaper and book

LCNLL 1975/303
 Another exhibit from the same source was a copy of The Palestine News dated 1918 printed by British forces occupying Palestine. Found in the same box at The Museum of Lincolnshire Life was found a "List of useful Arabic and French words and phrases" issued to sailors and soldiers by the Institute in Alexandria, Egypt.

Plaque from Ahmed Mohamed Hemida

 A plaque was presented to The Collection by Ahmed Mohamed Hemida, General Director of the Akhenaten Museum in Minya (which is still under construction). He is a curator from Egypt who visited Lincoln as part of the British Museum's International Training Programme that The Collection is proud to be involved with.

For further details of his museum, visit:

Medal – Order of Turkey

LCNUG 1971 137

 The Order of Turkey was presented to Lt Col F.R. Waldo Sibthorp of the 97th Regiment by Sultan Abdul Medjid in 1858 (Sultan of the Ottoman Empire 1839-1861) and is now in our collections. It was presented to soldiers like Sibthorp who helped in the Ottoman Empire's struggle against the Russians in the Crimean War. This item consists of the box, medal and dress medal.


Objects at other sites

At the Museum of Lincolnshire Life there are a number of Islamic items in the cases that were obtained in campaigns in the Sudan against the Mahdist Uprising on the late nineteenth century  (in Arabic الثورة المهدية‎ ath-Thawra al-Mahdī) and in Palestine during World War One from the campaign against the Ottoman Empire. The items include a hand-written Qur'an and a flintlock pistol possibly of Turkish origin with a brass mounted Islamic crescent and president star motif on trigger.



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