Merlins are the UK’s smallest bird of prey, small enough to hover in the breeze, and very speedy. Historically they were used by noblewomen to hunt skylarks for sport. A lark could then be kept in captivity to admire its song.
This female merlin is in Worcester City’s collection, and is a taxidermy mount from the 1970s. Museum taxidermy specimens like this enable us to appreciate up close quite how small and delicate this now red-list endangered species is.
In the Worcestershire County collection is a complete C17th silver hawking vervel, found in 2014 and acquired by the museum through the Treasure process. Vervels were used to attach a hawk’s leather jesses to a leash, which, held in the hand, enabled the bird to be trained in short distance flight. The leash could also be used to fix the bird to its block or perch. Vervels were usually inscribed or otherwise decorated to allow for the bird to be identified with its owner.
This vervel is a D- ring shape, comprising a flat silver ring inscribed with E. EYTON OF and with a shield soldered to the front. The design on the front of the shield is of a fret: knot, saltire within lozenge. Clive Cheesman (Richmond Herald, College of Arms) commented when it was evaluated as treasure: This coat of arms (Or a Fret Azure – i.e. a gold/yellow shield with a blue fret) is the arms of the Eyton family of Eyton-on-the-Wealdmoors in Shropshire (as opposed to Eyton on Severn in the same county, and several other places called Eyton in the Welsh borders). “E. Eyton” is hard to identify: I suspect it is an as yet unidentified member of the Shropshire family.
Vervels were used to attach a hawk’s leather jesses to a leash, which, held in the hand, enabled the bird to be trained in short distance flight. The leash could also be used to fix the bird to its block or perch. The Eyton family were Royalists from Shropshire in the Civil War.