Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Dawn Stones

As a curator new to the collections at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre, sometimes enquiries lead me to parts of the collection that I didn't know were there, to look at objects I know very little about. A recent enquiry was whether we had any eoliths in our collection.

Eoliths were identified in the nineteenth century as pieces of chipped flint that had been worked by humans. They were used as part of a debate to 'prove' that humans were living in what is now Britain in the Plesistocene era 1.8 million years ago. They were seen as a missing link in tool lineage - simple tools that gave a 'descent' to more complex stone tools such as handaxes. The name eolith translates as 'dawn stone'. They fed into a broader debate between English and French experts as to where 'early man' lived first, inferring it was to be hoped an English supremacy.

Today, many see eoliths as geological debris, formed by water movement and glaciation.

My experience with eoliths was quite limited, I'd read about them, but hadn't really thought about them. So I thought I would share our compact eolith collection and my findings with you. They fall into four provenances. The largest group come from Kent. Then there are four from France. Single examples come from Aldborough and Cromer.

Cromer Eolith

The Kent eoliths are particularly interesting as they belonged to the collection of Benjamin Harrison (1837 - 1921) who championed eoliths as evidence of human tool-making. He lived in Ightham and found many of his examples across the South Downs. Harrision was instrumental in deriving a classification for the eoliths. The classification he produced was dependent on presumed function of the 'tool'.

It is this process of classification that is so fascinating today.
A selection of Leeds Museums' eoliths are currently on loan to the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, for their new exhibition Indifferent Matter: From Object to Sculpture.

Other inspiring blogs about eoliths come from Manchester Museum include: "Is it a bird?" and "Every Rock is a River". Eoliths are seen as tools by some still today. A really interesting project has been undertaken at Kent University about the controversy of eoliths. What do you think?

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Eskimo Curlew and Cake.

Above is a picture of the study skin of an Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis), but it isn't any ordinary skin, this is a cake, made by the very talented Curator of Natural History Clare Brown!

Study skins of animals can be used by researchers to look at features such as colour and shape and it can be very useful to have more than one skin of each species as you can compare them with each other. Just like people, animals in each species have differences and it can help to know how different they can be when you are trying to identify them. Also the collection information attached to the skins can be useful, as it can tell you where they were collected and when. A specimen may have been collected from a place where that species is no longer found, so you can see that their distribution has changed due to things like hunting, habitat loss or climate change.

Eskimo Curlews used to over winter in the Argentinean pampas and then come up to North America to breed. Sadly, Eskimo Curlews were shot in their millions in the late 1800's, so from being one of the most numerous shorebirds in the of western arctic - around Alaska and Canada -they are now thought to be extinct, with the last reliable sightings being in the 1980's. They used to eat a mixture of berries and small insects and they could use their long curved beaks to probe for food in the soil.

This is the start of the Skin Deep project, funded by the Arts Council, England. There are over 3,000 bird study skins in our store and within the next year they are going to be put into new drawers and made more accessible with a view to showing people how interesting and beautiful they can be. Watch this space! 
Arts Council England Logo

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

No silver lining for Edward Penty (all that glitters is not gold)

I asked one our research volunteers, Becki Robertson, to investigate the history behind this advertising card in the museum collections. 

She writes "Edward Penty produced a flier advertising his business. We knew from the pamphlet that he was an electroplater, that he had taken over the business from one Henry Burgess, and that he was based at 10, New Briggate. As to when the leaflet may have produced, he had, most uncharitably, left us no clues at all. However, the directories of Leeds Library have not let me down yet. Without a definite starting point to work from, I grabbed the nearest directory to hand, which proved to be 1878. There was no mention of Edward Penty in 1878, but I found the business at 10 New Briggate. At this time it was still owned by Henry Burgess. Therefore it was fairly safe to say that the pamphlet had been produced some time after 1878. I then jumped ahead a few years, to 1881. In 1881, I discovered that the business was now listed in Edward Penty’s name, but he had moved premises, and was now practising from 79, New Briggate. This was incredibly kind of him, as it meant I could date the pamphlet as having been published sometime between 1878 and 1881, after he took over the business, but before he moved premises (10, New Briggate being the address he advertised). I was intrigued to see how Mr Penty had fared in his trade, but sadly it seems to have been less successful then his advert would have us believe. I happened upon an announcement published in the London Gazette, dated 2nd February, 1883 which runs as follows:

The Bankruptcy Act, 1869; In the County Court of Yorkshire, holden at Leeds

In the Matter of Proceedings for Liquidation by Arrangement or Composition with Creditors, instituted by Edward Penty, of 79, New Briggate, Leeds, in the County of York, Electro Plated Goods Manufacturer and Electro Plater and Gilder.”

There is no reference to Edward Penty in later editions of the directories."

Closer examination of the advertising card reveals that it has some testimonials inside dated 1878 and 1879 all addressed to Henry Burgess.  His clients had included the Queens Hotel, Powolny's restaurant and the New Theatre Royal and Opera House, Leeds.  Becki is right that the card must have been made to promote the business under the new management of Edward Penty and it states "Edward Penty has specially fitted up extensive premises of Electro Plating in all its branches, and has laid down the most modern and improved Machinery for Stripping, Buffing, Plating, Polishing and Burnishing".  Sadly it seems that all this investment came to nothing and the business folded in just a few years - an all too familiar echo of the current economic climate.

Kitty Ross, Curator of Leeds History, with research by Becki Robertson.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Collections through Cake 2

Last week we enjoyed gobbling down a chocolate West Yorkshire Hoard garnet ring cake.

This week we've moved from archaeology to art and are enjoying a fantastic Victoria Sponge of Anish Kapoor's Void Stone, which proudly stands in the recpetion area at the Discovery Centre.

'Void Stone' is one of a series of sixteen roughly cubic stones which Kapoor created for his installation 'Void Field', with which he represented Britain at the Venice Biennial in 1990. Anish Kapoor has often explored the idea of 'the void' in his work, creating mysterious spaces. Here, he uses coloured pigment to fill the void in this roughly cut block of sandstone.

 (In case you are wondering, the cake is the one above!)

The cake was created by our Site Development Officer Gemma, and like Kapoor, she too used pigment to create the void - in this case black buttercream. Delicious. 

If you'd like to see Void Stone, please get in touch with the Discovery Centre (we can't promise there'll be cake though).

Friday, 5 July 2013

Finding Mr Shah

Leeds Museums have had a collection of glass plate negatives from the Yorkshire Post sitting for many years in our stores, safely preserved but uncatalogued and inaccessible.  As we begin the daunting task of cataloguing many thousands of images, we are also trying to research the hidden stories of the people captured by the Yorkshire Post cameras.  Often we only have a few (or no) clues scratched onto the negative or written on the box or envelope. Researchers, such as Melyssa Dawson (who has written the blog below), have been ferreting in the local history archives to try and find out more.  This photograph of Mr Shah just recorded his name, address and a date in 1964.  

Mr P.G.A. Shah, Copyright Yorkshire Post Newspapers Ltd.
It turns out that Mr Shah was one of the early pioneer Muslim settlers in Leeds, arriving in England for the first time in 1924 before returning to the Punjab in 1925. He arrived back in England to study in 1933, moving to Leeds in 1943. He then returned to the newly founded Pakistan in 1951 however he came back to Leeds permanently in 1953.

Mr Shah studied engineering in London in 1933 and qualified as a civil engineer, becoming an Associate Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (AMICE) and having Membership of the Institute of Structural Engineers (MIStrE), the letters of which he had after his name in the 1964 South and West Yorkshire and Lincoln telephone directory. Upon qualifying, he moved to Leeds in 1943 to take up work as a mining engineer. Whilst he initially only intended on staying in England to study, he decided to stay, believing 'English women were much nicer than Indian women'. His studies and work in England led to him becoming a successful architect.

When Mr Shah moved to Leeds in 1943, he moved near the University of Leeds which began a Muslim Community in the area which was short lived. Mr Shah helped in the founding of the Pakistan Muslim Association in Bradford. Alongside this he became the chairman of the Islamic Society in Leeds. As far as the religious beliefs of Mr Shah are concerned, he considered himself as a part of traditional Islam believing that regardless of who you are you should come together in prayer at a mosque. Despite this, his children attended a christian church on Sundays (as well as practicing Islam within the home) and were involved in church activities like the scouts and brownies. His children ultimately married English partners and are agnostic.

In order to find research on Mr Shah I began by going to the local history library in Leeds library and looked through the phone directories for South and West Yorkshire and Lincoln for 1964 where I found his full title, his address and phone number. Once I had done this in then researched the acronyms after his name to try and discover what they stood for. Whilst I was successful in finding one of them by doing a general internet search, the other was slightly more difficult which led to me liaising with curators within Leeds Museums and Galleries. Once I had this information it became much easier to understand what line of work Mr Shah was in. After doing further research using the aforementioned resources, I discovered a paper titled 'Muslims in Leeds' from the University of Leeds which discussed the Muslim community in Leeds from when it began. Within this paper, Mr Shah was discussed by way of his qualifications, his reasons for coming to Leeds etc where the vast majority of this research came from.

Researched and written by Melyssa Dawson, research volunteer