Friday, 23 December 2011

Scraping away the Past

As a recent graduate of Archaeology, I was very grateful for the opportunity to work with the prehistoric collections at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre. During my time here I have catalogued hundreds of flint and stone tools attributed to the the Middle Palaeolithic right through to the Bronze Age. That's over 25,000 years of human history from all over the world. I find it fascinating that over 95% of our lives as modern humans has been lived in the prehistoric period and yet there is still so much we don't know about this major part of our history.

After spending a few weeks looking at Palaeolithic flint hand axes, knives, arrowheads and scrapers (25,000-10,000 BC), I looked at some later artefacts from the Neolithic period (4,000-2,500 BC), and what did I find? More flint knives, arrowheads and scrapers! What struck me most was that, although technology had clearly improved, the types of tools being produced were more or less the same, and fulfilled the same purpose.

The artefact I am choosing to present here grabbed my attention for two reasons. Firstly, it has a unique shape, and secondly, it gives us an insight into life in Neolithic Britain and helps to dispel some common assumptions. The object is a Neolithic scraper from the Yorkshire seaside town of Bridlington (accession number LEEDM.D.1964.0011.005). It was donated to Leeds Museum in 1917 by James Edward Bedford and is a part of a collection of over 300 flint scrapers, arrowheads and knives from Bridlington.

This type of scraper is called a spokeshave, and would have been used mainly for woodworking to fashion tools such as arrows and spears. Scrapers have been used since the Middle Palaeolithic and were made by making a thick row of scars across a flake or blade in order to create a thick, wide angled edge. When the object became blunt they were re-sharpened until they were too small to use, and then discarded.

Spokeshaves would be used to hollow out wood or bone, and remove bark from wood. They could also have been used for hide working, where hides were scraped to remove meat and tendons from the bones of animals.

The Neolithic period is known for the 'Neolithic Revolution', when people first started to move from a hunter-gatherer way of life to a sedentary lifestyle , occupying year-round settlements and domesticating animals to become the first farmers. But this transition was not instantaneous, illustrated by objects like this. Tools like scrapers were multi-purpose, very portable and easily re-used, suiting a mobile hunter-gatherer society. This object is part of a huge collection of portable Neolithic tools collected from Bridlington, hinting at a permanent settlement here. But research presented by Professor Julian Thomas suggests that Bridlington may have been a place where people continued to return to cyclically or sporadically, perhaps to exploit local resources of stone and flint.

Ultimately what this small piece of flint has taught me is that spokeshaves (scrapers) were a very useful bit of kit for hunter-gatherers. We can infer that people in the Neolithic weren't ready to give up their mobile way of life just yet, and in fact farming probably took around two thousand years to spread across Britain, making the Neolithic the last major flint tool-making period.

Author: Amy Davies, Leeds Museums and Galleries Intern 2011

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Life before a txt msg.

The 21st century is most certainly a digital age. Almost all written communications are based around those transmitted electronically, through emails, broadcasts, printed letters, advertisements, and text messages. This is now the most common and accepted way in which to communicate with someone, taking over from the once preferred method of hand-writing documents that previously made up the basis of written communication in society.

It is due to this new age that I struggled when presented with boxes of handwritten letters, accounts and bills. Trying to understand and decipher the text on these was surprisingly a difficult task, as you can see from the image.


Thankfully I discovered that this one was actually written in Latin, nevertheless those written in English were almost as incomprehensible. I now understand why Kitty Ross, curator of Leeds Social History, mentioned that to work in this field a course in being able to read cursive hand writing should be given. However despite this, and the many fascinating objects within the ephemera collection at Abbey House museum, such as the newspaper that announced the death of Hitler to England in 1945, and references written from masters for slaves, it was these handwritten letters that fascinated me the most.

Communication is essential to civilisation, and just one of these documents whether small notes or large letters, personal or business related, give us a glimpse into the past.

(E.1968.100.1.3 )

This image is of a letter written from William Bailey to the recipient to ask her to pass the title of his house over to him, as further delay could bring damage in the future. Not only is the format and style different to today, including the use of parchment and writing with a quill, but the language is strikingly different - especially when compared to that of the common email or text message today! William Bailey not only apologies for having to bother her, “ I most humbly ask pardon for being troublesome to you at this time”, but he also reminds her that by doing this for him, it will “be ever acknowledged with the greatest gratitude”. Even the way the letter ends is extremely courteous “your most obedient and greatly obliged servant”. It appears today that the only letters that seem to reflect this language are those that are written in the context of a formal correspondence. However of the letters I have read in the ephemera collection, the majority seem to uphold this air of formality, respect and meaning in every genre of letter.

After researching written communication, it is interesting to see that the reason for such language was due to the great importance that was placed on being able to read and write. It was a status symbol, your reputation being judged through the way in which you presented yourself, this included letter writing. Guidelines to letter writing were even given, advising about how much content and how much of ones character should be given away, after all anyone could read them and make inaccurate assumptions. This is perhaps why the typewriter wasn’t as popular as the postcard and using lined paper, it was also seen as looking cheap! However letter writing was the most popular form of communication not only due to its implications on ones reputation, but also due to it being the cheapest form.

Reading such elegant letters and seeing how much effort and time was invested into writing to one another was moving, and it is sad to think that this importance has know been to some extent diminished. However being able to communicate quicker, and to almost anyone across the world is both more practical and less time consuming, elements required to accommodate the fast paced society that we live in today.

My time spent at Abbey House Museum has been both educational and enjoyable. Working behind the scenes in the museum and at the Discovery centre, working with the collections, and most importantly getting to know the team of people there, have really made this experience for me. An internship with Abbey House Museum has been an invaluable opportunity and I have enjoyed every part of it. Thank you.

Posted by Nicola, but written by Emily Gough, Abbey House Intern 2011.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Christmas cheer from 1873

To put everyone in the mood for the coming season of over-indulgence and indigestion here is a seasonal poem printed in Leeds in 1873.  It was published in a private magazine, Ye Quaynt, An Omnium Gatherum, distributed among the friends of Samuel Leathley Nussey of Potternewton Hall, Leeds.

A Dyspeptic's Morning Soliloquy

Oh! I was ill last night,
And Still it preys my mind on,
As Memory brings to light
The horrid things I dined on;
The roast, the boiled, that both were spoiled,
The fish so soft and flabby,
The poultry tough, the claret rough,
The whole affair so shabby.
Oh! I was ill etc.

The Champagne-cup was spiced, how wrong!
To taste it scarce I dare did,
The Punch Romaine did not seem strong,
But then, alas, the hare did!
The wines were hot, the soups were not,
The sauces quite distressing,
The peas were old, the gravy cold,
And oh! that salad dressing!
Oh! I was ill etc.

An oyster stale, though in a stew,
It very hard to bolt is;
The partridges were not done through,
The bread sauce like a poultice! -
The cheese was not the cheese, and what
Could make them call it Stilton?
The Mayonnaise seemed to my gaze
Like greens, with soft soap split on!
Oh! I was ill etc.

When I remember all
The flavours mixed together,
In the entrees great and small,
And cutlets hard as leather,
Had I forborne - 'tis thus I mourn -
Or sooner had deserted
That fatal feast, I'd then at least
Dyspepsia's pangs averted!
But I was ill etc.

Posted by Kitty Ross, Curator of Leeds History

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Window on the past

Temple Newsam House is a Grade One Listed building, and therefore has a very high heritage value. Its care, conservation and interpretation are driven by curatorial, conservation and education priorities, as important as the priorities applied to items in the collections. Indeed, Temple Newsam is the largest object in the collection, and the building, perhaps seen as a backdrop for the collections, the portable stuff, is in fact crucial for all aspects of service delivery. The Red Corridor top floor, west wing, has been the focus of attention for remedial works after plasterwork started coming loose. Excavations to see what the problem was also revealed an earlier window, possibly from the Tudor house, that had been filled in. Also revealed was some very early painted plasterwork applied directly to the brick, from the Tudor period, beneath a later layer of plaster laid on to laths. From visual records of the house it would appear that the window was filled in some time in the first half of the 18th century, before 1740, when there were a lot of alterations taking place elsewhere around the house.

The basic principles of repair and restoration to Listed buildings are straightforward, a primary one being repairs ought to be done on a "like for like" basis, materials and techniques, unless there are very good reasons not to exactly replicate the damaged parts. To maintain heritage value, therefore, in historic building repair and maintenance, quality control over the works is essential. The idea was suggested of leaving part of this wall exposed, for interpretation purposes, showing the various layers that have built up over time. Conservation and planning officers were consulted. Their enthusiatic support and guidance were the green light for the site team to develop, with corporate property management, a precise specification for both repair and for a "window on the past".

Unstable bricks were taken out, cleaned, and labelled so that they could go back in the same location they came from. The oak lintel had deteriorated so badly from Death watch beetle that it had to be replaced.

This is a picture of the plastered and painted window reveal, from Tudor times, one of the features that was going to be left revealed. The next picture shows the wall re-instated to within approximately 30 cm of the window, but leaving the various layers exposed, all behind plate glass. There is interpretation still to be done, but the installation is finished.
The next feature of display development in this area of the house is to create a small display using some of the artefacts from the Jacobean Chapel, a room that was turned in to kitchens in the late 18th century. These artefacts are the remnants of the pulpit, in oak, and very similar to the pulpit at St. John's Church, Leeds (right behind the St. John's shopping centre) and the painted softwood panels depicting the Old Testament prophets. These will form the core of this display; sadly there is not room for all the prophets, so it will be a selection of perhaps half a dozen. Along with these artefacts it is planned to display also the stone heads of the two larger-than-life Templar Knight sculptures, by Thomas Ventris of York, carved in the 17th century. They once adorned the pediment over the courtyard entrance to the Great Hall.

These sculptures were taken down in the 1880s. Perhaps their condition was poor, or they were unsafe. The torsoes of the sculptures are being searched for, and a lead is being followed up.

Remnants of the Jacobean pulpit now on display. It was given to Halton Methodist Church in the 19th century and heavily modified. Brought back to Temple Newsam in 1990 once all the Victorian additions were removed (and there were a lot!) all that was left was five oak panels.

Posted by Ian Fraser

The Great Padtoeski

The new "Performance" exhibition opening at Abbey House in January 2012 looks at aspects of sport, dance, music and theatre. The Great Padtoeski was a variety performer who embodied musical, theatrical and gymnastic talents within one eccentric act. Also known as "The Marvellous Toe Piano Player" he would sit on a high stool so that his bare toes could reach the piano keyboard, his hands being free to perform on a violin and sometimes sang a ballad at the same time. A variation on this act was to play the piano, concertina and cornet simultaneously. Padtoeski appeared frequently on the bill at the Stoll Moss Empire theatres, including the Leeds Empire, throughout the 1920s.

Padtoeski's real name was Mark Vincent Dearlove, a member of the large musical Dearlove dynasty of Leeds. He was the 3rd son of Richard Dearlove (born 1831) and thus a grandson of Mark William Dearlove (1802-1880) who's music shop on Briggate was lovingly reconstructed at Abbey House Museum for many years. The Dearlove collection forms a major part of the museum's musical instrument collection and archive. The descendents of Mark William Dearlove all seem to have inherited musical talent and learnt a wide variety of instruments, so that they were able to form orchestras and bands almost entirely from within the family. On the family tree Mark Vincent is listed as "conductor, piano and violin", with no reference to his unique speciality!

One of the joys of researching for an exhibition is stumbling across unexpected treasures and stories. The promotional advertisements for Padtoeski made no mention of his real name and it was only because of a paragraph in a 1950s newspaper cutting in the Dearlove archive that I was able to make the connection with Mark Vincent Dearlove. Without this chance find, the colourful Padtoeski would have remained hidden in store.

I would love to have been around to see Padtoeski in action (although I'm not sure that it can have been a very subtle musical experience).

The exhibition opens at Abbey House Museum on Saturday 21st January at 12.00 and runs until the end of December.

Kitty Ross, Curator of Leeds History

Sunday, 11 December 2011

A Triumph

"A triumph"

These are the words used by curatorial and conservation staff from Historic Royal Palaces, who visited Temple Newsam House on 7 December 2011, in reference to the conservation and re-construction works to the Queen Anne State Bed, and the associated exhibition, Bedtime Stories, now open to visitors. Many people have contributed to the success here, but I should particularly like to congratulate and thank my colleague Polly Putnam for superb leadership on this project. As resident expert at Temple Newsam House on furniture, joinery, and structures I had a major role in this project, research, design, conservation, re-construction, manufacture and installations. Everybody involved learned a huge amount, something we will be sharing at the upcoming conference at Temple Newsam in June 2012, Beds and Bedding in Britain, 1650-1850. A major project like this also reinforced to me just how much I value being of service to my colleagues in their wider mission of service delivery to all users of the heritage assets at Temple Newsam House.

But what is happening in this next picture? Who has been sitting on MY bed!

Is it that pesky Goldilocks, again? No, definitely not. Is it Sleeping Beauty? No, this beauty is wide awake, fully compos mentis, and much more than just a pretty face. In fact it is Temple Newsam's talented, energetic, dedicated and hard-working learning and access officer, Shelley Dring. Speaking of children's stories, writing and telling, a feature of Bedtime Stories, Parts One and Two, will be literacy initiatives, which could perhaps involve developing story writing skills as well as reading skills. So perhaps there will be some new fairy stories resulting from these initiatives. I am thinking about it already.......... maybe new takes on old stories, "The Princess and the Mushy Peas"......?

Learning and access are, for as long as I have worked there anyway, at the heart of Temple Newsam's service delivery, with site staff, curators, conservators, and education staff creating a multi-faceted offer for statutory education, tertiary education, and life-long learning. To help younger visitors with understanding bed construction and materials the mini four-poster bed, seen here, was made. Shelley Dring, Temple Newsam's learning and access officer, is here talking to school children about beds, bedtime, and reading. As well as activities like bed construction in this display area, there are also children's books, and comfortable areas for them to sit, read and play. Or even lie down, and read!

Keys open locks, obviously. They are also very symbolic, a tool to unlocking a barrier. Literacy is a key skill that unlocks the doors to all other learning. Poor literacy is a barrier to all learning. One good outcome from Bedtime Stories, and the related literacy initiatives is, hopefully (!), better bedtime habits, especially reading to improve literacy. So, televisions, computers, and X-Boxes out of bedrooms and turned off at a sensible time, please, and get hooked on books! That is an order from Mother Goose. There are, quite simply, a huge number of richly entertaining children's authors, all of whose books can be enjoyed by children, parents and carers alike. You will not regret it, the lifetime and life-quality dividends for all, children especially, are immeasurable.

Author Claire Tomalin articulates her worries about children's literacy in the link below:

These links are evidence of just how important museum and art gallery education services are:

Posted by Ian Fraser

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Anne Moen Bullitt

A tragically touching tale told through tasteful tailoring

On August 18, 2007 an old woman died in Kylemore Clinic in County Dublin largely unnoticed - with little indication that she was once an heiress with a taste for designer clothes (and hundreds of couture dresses to her name). However, this was in fact, Anne Moen Bullitt and she had a tantalizing tale to tell.

(1950-55) Printed silk dress, with full skirt - designed by Balenciaga but bought from the Madrid boutique, called Eisa.

The renowned American journalist and radical, Louise Bryant and the American diplomat and novelist - appointed by Roosevelt as the first US Ambassador to Moscow - William Bullitt, jr. married in 1924 and had a daughter, Anne. However, due to an alleged lesbian affair with an English sculptor (Gwen Le Gallienne) and problems with alcoholism, Anne’s father divorced her mother and won full custody of the child. Louise sadly died of brain haemorrhage in Paris in 1936 after spending her last years desperately trying to hear news of Anne. Due to the lack of her mother’s presence Anne therefore grew up close to her father, as they travelled around Europe together for his job. They were so close that according to Freud (a good friend of her father’s) she proved his greatest theory - when asked if she loved her father, she replied ‘my father is God’.

(1962-67) Wool tailored couture suit, designed by Christian Dior, London.

Anne’s adult life was to prove as eventful as her childhood! She very sadly experienced four unsuccessful marriages. However, she also proudly became the first woman breeder and trainer of thoroughbred horses in Ireland, managing the largest horse farm in Ireland and became chatelaine of a famous Irish estate where she lived for most of her life – and at Leeds Discovery Centre Anne’s memory lives on as they will always be thankful for her intense interest in fashion and what is described as Anne’s ‘‘amazing collection‘ of vintage clothes from all the famous Parisian designers from the golden era of haute couture’ (Jane McDonald). Especially a grey Carnegie suit in the ‘New Look’ style…

(1947-49) Tailored couture suit, designed by Hattie Carnegie. The jacket has a fitted waist with padding on the hips, to make it flare out over the full skirt, giving the suit a typical ‘New Look’ style.
The ‘New Look’ style was a name given to Christian Dior’s first collection at the fashion house he founded in 1946. His designs were much more voluptuous than the fabric-conserving shapes of the recent World War II styles and revolutionised woman’s dress. Dior is quoted as saying ‘I have designed flower women’ as his look used bustier-style bodices, hip padding , wasp-waisted corsets and petticoats to give his models a curvaceous form. Hattie Carnegie was a fashion entrepreneur based in New York from the 1920s to 1960, who also used this style. She was known for her elegant couture collection and secondary ready-to-wear lines – this was ground-breaking as she was one of the first to introduce ready-to-wear to the high end market.
At first Anne bought clothes in New York, mainly from Hattie Carnegie, while living the American socialite lifestyle. However, her second husband was vice consul in the American Embassy in Madrid which gave her access to Balenciaga’s couture clothes under the Spanish name ‘Eisa’. She then later lived in Ireland and moving in racing circles, increased her collection, buying clothes by Sybil Connelly, Lanvin, YSL and others. However, Anne was famously tiny with a remarkable 18-20 inch waist which made her clothes virtually un-wearable for anyone else! Hence the wonderful collection that now exists today of Anne’s fabulous clothes, partly stored in Leeds Discovery Centre!

By Rebecca Jenkins

Monday, 5 December 2011

Then and Now: Invasion By a Foreigner and Near Native Extinction.

Thomas Cockerline (9.6.1891 - 8.2.1979), was an only child who at an early age developed an interest in botany and started his own extensive herbarium collection, left to Leeds Museum when he died. He was a long standing member of the Leeds Naturalists' Club and during the late 1960s/early 1970s he was elected President of the Leeds Naturalists' Club, and held the position of Hon. Council Member until his death.

During my internship here at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre I have been helping to complete a photographic record of Thomas Cockerline’s herbarium collection. Throughout this I came across two specimens that particularly interested me, a Vicia bithynica specimen and an Epilobium pedunculare specimen.
Vicia bithynica (Bithynian Vetch) is and has been for some time a rare and declining species of legume. It is a scrambling annual found in rough grassland on coastal under-cliffs and inland in open hedges, scrubby grassland and on railway banks. The flowers are a beautiful purple with white wings and keel and this plant has distinctive toothed stipules (leaf-like structures at the bottom of the leaf stalk or petiole).

This particular specimen interested me because of the photograph and newspaper cutting attached. The photo of the footbridge, at Upgang Ravine near Whitby, is mentioned in the newspaper clipping, which states concern from local botanists about the development of a new footpath to the bridge that will destroy the habitat of this rare species, found in only a few places in the north of Britain.

Being a plant enthusiast I found this intriguing, particularly because this species is rare. After some further research I found that Vetch species have some very useful attributes, being excellent nutrient managers of the soil, which can benefit the growth of crops grown collectively. This is because they are legumes and can fix nitrogen, producing enough to support almost all of the needs of the subsequent crop, as well as making potassium more available.

I did find some excellent news online from the UK wild Flowers website, where someone has recorded (2005) a relatively large population of Vicia bithynica on a hillside by the sea at Upgang Ravine.

The other herbarium specimen that interested me was of the species Epilobium pedunculare, native to New Zealand but thriving in the British Isles, to the extent it is often referred to as a ‘garden thug’. This ‘little foreigner’ is considered a weed, but we have only ourselves to blame for its invasion into our countryside via dispersal of seeds from our gardens.

This species is excellently adapted to the British climate and as stated in the issue ‘The Naturalist’ from Oct-Dec 1947, it has a preference for wilder places amongst the hills and moor-lands and is also commonly found growing amongst Sedges.

Posted by Clare but researched and written by Hannah Yeadon who worked diligently on the wonderful plant collections at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre in 2011.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Conservation: furniture and related material

Conservation of heritage assets in museums is about the careful management of change. The default position ought to be, and largely is, to minimise rates of change in order to preserve the intrinsic value of the asset. This is in order to support the development of intellectual capital and narratives by curatorial and education staff, all part of service delivery to that key person in the equation, you the visitor. Conservation can be through preventive conservation, whereby each agent of deterioration is identified, the likelihood of its causing damage is assessed, and steps taken to avoid or mitigate its effects. It can also mean remedial works, anything from minor works, like re-attaching bits that fall off furniture (kind of the background hum to my work), to major interventive, and sometimes re-constructive works, such as that detailed about the Queen Anne State Bed at Temple Newsam House in earlier Secret Lives of Objects blogs, or the pair of Chippendale window pelmets from the Drawing Room at Burton Constable Hall, which were approaching the point of no return from extensive woodworm damage, various pictures below.

Conservation advice links

For advice on furniture conservation that you can download, or view online, I refer you to something I wrote for the Institute for Conservation, available via the following link:

The next link takes you to more explanations of conservation, collections, interiors, preventive and remedial treatments, etc. in the context of an historic house, and altogether more information about Temple Newsam's history, and the collections, than is available through the main Leeds Museums and Galleries website:

The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) has masses of easily accesible information of practical use in helping to make choices regarding preventive and remedial care of heritage assets, portable and built, and it ought to be referred to in more websites of museum services. The collection care advice given on so many museum websites generally tend to fall in to one of two categories, either so basic as to be essentially useless, or good information, but not well organised, and difficult to navigate. Why re-invent the wheel?

Posted by Ian Fraser

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Art Funded

The Queen Anne State bed at Temple Newsam House has made the front cover of the current issue of Art Quarterly, the newsletter of the Art Fund. In it there is a splendid article, written by Art Fund trustee Philippa Glanville, about Temple Newsam's achievements as one of the greatest non-national decorative arts museums in the United Kingdom. A shortened version of the article may be read via the link below. Given the Art Fund's status in the arts and heritage sector this is a significant citation, and very welcome publicity for Temple Newsam and the Bedtime Stories exhibition which opens to visitors on 08/12/2011.

Friday, 2 December 2011

A Victorian Christmas

I have really enjoyed my internship at Abbey House Museum where I have been cataloguing many of the items within the ephemera collection. I have been updating records of greetings cards and I became particularly interested in the vast and varied collection of Christmas cards.
With thousands of Christmas cards produced and sent every year I was curious to learn about the history of the humble Christmas card. I discovered that the first Christmas card was sent in December 1843. It was commissioned by Sir Henry Cole as an alternative to the usual Christmas letter and as a way of offering seasonal greetings without having to write lots of individual personal messages. The trend of sending Christmas cards soon became popular in the nineteenth century. Cards varied in shape, size and material, and they often featured flowers, children and winter scenes. Many were highly elaborate, and were often gilded, embossed, had fancy fringes, satin inserts, fold-outs, padded sachets, and paper lace features.
My favourite design that I have come across are traditional cards that feature intricate paper lace with painted flower panels that fold-out; quite different from the Christmas cards we find today. Dating from the 1870s, this example of a Victorian Christmas card features intricate paper lace, a chromolithographic printed oval tab with an image of lily of the valley and violets, that folds out to reveal the following Christmas verse:
Time of pleasure

and of mirth
Time when friends abound
Every blessing upon earth
In your home be found

It was also interesting to find out why robins were a popular image of many Victorian Christmas cards. Due to their red uniforms, the postmen who delivered Christmas cards were often nicknamed ‘robins’ and so the image became incorporated into designs.

Dating from circa 1900, this Christmas leaf-shaped card includes a hand-painted robin design, and interestingly is made out celluloid, with an intricate cut-out border.

I’ve enjoyed looking at the elaborate and varied Christmas cards that were designed in Victorian Britain, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to broaden my museum experience through an internship at Abbey House Museum.

Posted by Nicola, but written by Emily Ironmonger, Leeds Museums and Galleries Intern 2011