Friday, 28 May 2010

A wierd use for wish bones

Among the many curiosities and treasures in our extensive dolls house furniture collection are this set of miniature chairs made out of wish bones, with little silk cushions secured by dress-making pins. We are not sure of exactly who made them and when, but they are probably late Victorian.

As I was always brought up to break wish bones (and make a wish), I am not sure whether keeping wish bones unbroken will bring luck or misfortune, so it is a good thing that I am not really superstitious!

The chairs are currently on display at Abbey House Museum in our new doll's house display.

2010 Education Bill - echoes of 1902?

The eternal arguments about who should control and run our children's education will always be contentious and often seems to go in circles. The current proposals that schools should opt out of local authority control (and electoral accountability?) and that there should be state funding for a variety of different organisations, including faith groups, to set up new schools all have echoes in the uproar caused by the 1902 Education Act.

In 1902 it was again a Conservative government who introduced a bill to abolish the old School Boards and to allow the state to fund Church schools for the first time. The School Boards, which had been set up following the 1870 Education Act, were at the time seen by many as the most democratic and progressive organisations in the country - in particular they gave women the chance to vote and stand for election. They were also the first attempt to ensure that there was standardised good quality school provision for all, even in the poorest inner city areas, without depending on haphazard provision by charities and churches.

The bill provoked much outrage among the Liberal, Labour and radical opposition. In Leeds there was a huge rally and demonstration starting Woodhouse Moor on 20th September, with one of the speakers being the future prime minister David Lloyd George. The Bill's opponents argued that the proposals were non-democratic and potentially sectarian by encouraging separate Church of England schools. They argued that it would be costly and involve tax increases - one of the other proposals, which no-one is yet arguing to repeal, is that schooling would be free up to the age of 13.

The flyers and the campaign ribbon pictured are both currently on display at Abbey House Museum in the "Park Life" exhibition until the end of December 2010.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Harrison precision pendulum-clock x-ray

An x-ray of a wheel, in this case the great wheel, from John Harrison's precision pendulum-clock No. 2, reveals some interesting details about its construction, and some hints as to Harrison's roots as a joiner in a largely rural area. First, the movement is made almost entirely of oak. There are some small components made of lignum vitae, a very dense and waxy tropical hardwood from the West Indies and Central Amercia. Its waxiness means that it has a very slippery, smooth surface. Harrison used them for friction reduction without lubrication and he probably learned about this material from ship's carpenters in Hull and on the Humber estuary.

The picture above shows the use of lignum vitae in the mechanism of a wooden ship, in this case a roller pinion used to help ease the steering linkages to the rudder. The ship is a copy of the VOC Batavia, moored in Zuider Zee, the Netherlands.

The construction of the wheels of the Harrison clock movement is very similar to the construction of the wooden wheels seen in the machinery of wind and water mills.

The grain of the wooden teeth is aligned radially, like sunbeams. For Harrison's clock wheels and cogs this was done by gluing blanks of wood into a groove cut into the edge of the wheel, and then forming the teeth. If the wheel had been formed from one piece of wood, the teeth at the short grain parts of the wheels would have snapped off. Whilst there is no direct evidence that the Harrisons worked on windmills, the fact is Lincolnshire had hundreds of them, a good supply of wind readily available from the North Sea, to power the windmills that ground the wheat that grew in the flat lands of Lincolnshire. An interesting feature is that Harrison used very slow growing quartered oak for the main body of the wheels. The annual rings are very close together, so the wheel is both very stable and light. The wood for the teeth is, however, from fast growing oak. It is denser and therefore stronger, strength where it is needed. Harrison really knew his onions when it came to materials, an engineering approach to woodworking. My own tests comparing the weights of slow grown and fast grown oak show that the slow grown is a considerable 27% lighter than the fast grown oak. The picture below (picture credit Jeff Darken) is a cog from Harrison's precision pendulum-clock No. 2. The inner construction is shown in the x-ray at the top of this blog entry. The roller pinions are of lignum vitae. There is an earlier blog entry about this clock, search under Conservation.

Picture by Jeff Darken

A BBC documentary on John Harrison is available on iPlayer until 24/05/2010

And a Yorkshire Post article

The Science Museum's website included a section on Making the Modern World; the subject of navigation and the technologies developed to enable precise navigation and mapmaking features on the link below:

The Science Museum also has one of Harrison's earliest clocks, before he began his longitude experiments:

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Dummies' Guide to the secret compartments of the Channon bureau

This spectacular furniture treasure, from about 1740 and probably by John Channon, has a secret, concealed within a small carcase, itself held within the upper half. It has no fewer than 17 hidden compartments and opening them up safely requires some knowledge and practice. Last autumn I had a furniture conservation student, Anna Haas, from the University of Hildesheim, Germany, working with me and I set her a little task, to create a Dummies' Guide to this bureau's secret compartments. The task stretched her technical knowledge, and her language skills! Some minor conservation works to the secret compartments were undertaken at the same time. Anna duly created the Dummies' Guide, and trialed it on willing victims. The document is now with the other Housekeeping files and folders at Temple Newsam House. The following pictures give a sense of the types of secret compartments within the bureau.

Here the inner carcase has been withdrawn, and another carcase within (like Russian dolls) has also been taken out.

Panels, which run in tapered sliding dovetail grooves, slide out to reveal more secret compartments.

Another panel, whose catch is released by a pin through a hole, slides away to reveal another carcase.

You can appreciate that these secret compartments can only be demonstrated as a special offer, and by someone who knows what they are doing. Part of the point of the Dummies' Guide was so that more staff at Temple Newsam House would know how to demonstrate the secret compartments correctly and safely, so hopefully this will become a regular tour feature.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Royal Purple

This shell is known as the Purple Dye Murex Bolinus brandaris, and it produced one of the most expensive dyes found in ancient times. The colour is known as Tyrian Purple, and was used by the Phoenicians and Romans. This dye was used to create royal and priestly garments, as up to 10,000 shells would be needed to dye just 1kg of wool. In nature the mollusc produces this chemical to scare away predators, and is a milky colour when submerged in water. When dried in air it turns a dark purple.

Posted by Clare but written and researched by Lisa French (biology intern, Spring 2010) who worked diligently on the wonderful conchology collections held at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Time Out (from college)

Students from the clocks programme at West Dean College, near Chichester, have been undertaking condition assessments on clock movements at Temple Newsam House, under the guidance of their tutor Matthew Read. The plan is to get more of the clocks on display at Temple Newsam House into working order, to give visitors a richer experience when visiting the house.

Comprehensive assessment of the George Pyke pedestal organ clock. It is designed to play eight tunes, and there are automata figures on the dial face that move about when the music plays.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Leeds Savage Club relaunched

It isn't often that as a curator you get to see your collections inspire the rebirth of a long defunct organisation, but here in 2010 the Leeds Savage Club has sprung to life again. This seems to be in part inspired by display in Leeds City Museum's Collector's Cabinet gallery of memorabilia from the original artist's club which thrived in late Victorian and Edwardian Leeds under the leadership of their Chief Edmund Bogg (pictured left). The club brought artists, musicians and writers together to drink "firewater", dress up as "savages" and pool artistic ideas.

The new Leeds Savage Club has taken much inspiration from its precedessor, but dropped some of the less politically acceptable aspects (such as the "Red Indian" imagery and the ban on women members). They have also been very keen to avoid the fate of the original club which foundered when Edmund Bogg refused to retire as Chief. The new Chief will only be allowed to hold office for two years.

I was privileged to attend the launch party on Wednesday 28th April at Temple Mill to see the new savages at play. They proved to be very 21st century and involved in lots of new interactive projects - and not a feather head-dress in sight!

The venue, Temple Mill, was also another chance to step back into the City Museum Displays. The history of John Marshall's Egyptian-inspired flax mill is explored in the Leeds Story gallery.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Eggs and elections

This illustration just seemed too topical to resist, with its echoes of the last few weeks of election campaigning.
The original caption is:
Eminently Eloquent Electioneer Eliciting Extremely Exceptionable Egg
It appears in an illustrated book called "Alliterative Anomalies for Infants and Invalids" by John Cowie and William Hammond, published by Gay & Hancock Ltd, London 1913. Although it claims to be aimed at children, it reads more like an undergraduate bit of satire. It certainly would not meet current guidelines for reading ages (The caption for the letter X is "Xenephon Xenodochising Xerodermatic Xanthippe").

A celebration of Parliamentary Reform

In this time of general election excitement it seems apt to reflect on the past and those who campaigned for our right to vote.

This hanging from our collection is believed to celebrate the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832. The act was passed after many years of petitioning and popular agitation about the abuses and corruptions within the system for electing MPs. New boroughs were created, in the emerging industrial cities in the north, by taking away seats from the ‘rotten boroughs’, where hardly anyone lived. The act also widen the electorate giving more men the vote (No women quite yet!).

Although the origins of this hanging are unclear it is the imagery found on the hanging and also the history of these types of textiles that bring us to believe it is making a political statement supporting parliamentary reform. The central panel of the hanging appears to depict the heads of Lord John Russell and Earl Grey who pushed the act through Parliament. The hanging is made using a technique known as inlaid patchwork, whereby woollen cloth is inlaid and sewn together to make up the design. The technique was usually worked by tailors recycling the off-cuts of their trade. Tailors, in 1832, would had been one section of society that probably benefited from the Great Reform Act.

This hanging is currently in Bautzen, Germany as part of a touring exhibition of Inlaid Patchwork. But it will be returning to Leeds, as the exhibition is coming to the Art Gallery at the end of August.