By Patricia Francis

Christmas gift tags from Gallery Oldham collection.

The Winter Solstice has been celebrated in many cultures for thousands of years. In our northern latitudes evergreens show how life continues even in the depths of winter.

In pre-Christian times evergreen boughs were hung in winter to encourage the return of the sun gods. Christians preferred holly with the red berries representing the blood of Christ amid eternally green leaves.

From Gallery Oldham’s Garden.

Today, images of holly are normally associated with the festive season, and are common on everything from bedding to stationery.

Flatters and Garnett educational holly specimen from Gallery Oldham collection
Flatters and Garnett advertisement courtesy of (

This example of Holly is number 17 of a collection of 29 similar boxes of specimens of British trees. Each glass-topped box contains two dried stems one with flowers and another with fruit; also individual berries and seeds and a cross section of timber.
The set was purchased by Oldham Museum probably sometime between 1930s and 1960s, although the exact date went unrecorded as these were acquired for the School Loans Collection. This was a scheme where objects were borrowed by teachers for classroom use.  These preserved specimens allowed botany to be studied all year round and at close quarters. The back of the each box has a stand as a picture frame does so that it can be easily displayed in the classroom. Although the colours have faded the specimens are in remarkably good condition and highlight a time when botany was an important part of the school curriculum.
These boxes, along with thousands of other biological specimens and specialist equipment were sold by Flatters and Garnett Limited who traded at 309 Oxford Road, Manchester until 1967.

Flatters and Garnett shop on Oxford Road courtesy of (

You can find out more about Flatters and Garnett on the Science Museum’s webpage:

Editor’s note

Holly is Day 20 of ~MuseumAdvent at Gallery Oldham – you can see more on Twitter and Instagram.

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