Wednesday, 10 December 2014

100 year old biscuit – a Christmas message from the trenches

You wouldn’t think that a museum would jump at the chance to add a crumbly broken biscuit into the collection, but this particular example has survived a century and began its journey amid the horror of the battlefields of the First World War. 

 It survives tucked inside its original wrapper, which was addressed to a Mrs Maxwell of Meanwood in Leeds. Written on one side in blue ink is the message: 

'Christmas dinner in the Army. 

“Give us this day our daily bread” and please put a bit of butter on. From Max.'

The sender is likely to have been Private William Maxwell (service number 4492) who served with the 9th (Queen’s Royal) Lancers and was the son of G.E. and Margaret Maxwell of Meanwood. He only saw one Christmas in the trenches as he was killed in May 1915 and is buried in Hazebrouck Communal Cemetery in northern France. He was luckier than his younger brother Arthur Maxwell who died on 30th August 1914 during the first month of combat.

The inked message is typical of the black humour of soldiers at the time and reflects a common criticism of the food that was offered to British troops on the Western Front. Although biscuits such as this were not the only food on offer, they did form a significant part of the diet alongside tins of corned beef and bread. It was difficult to get fresh food and these biscuits were usually stale.

This is not a unique object as many soldiers seemed to have felt that stale biscuits better served as a medium for writing messages home than as palatable food. Leeds Museums have another First World War biscuit in the collection which was decorated, sent as a Christmas card and subsequently framed.

Above all this is a poignant link to a very grim Christmas a century ago and a very timely addition to the Leeds collections.
By Kitty Ross, Social History Curator

Volunteers and the Grayson Perry Exhibition at Temple Newsam

A huge team of volunteers give their time to help support the work we do at Leeds Museums and Galleries. Here are some insights from volunteers involved in the 2014 Grayson Perry 'Vanity of Small Differences' exhibition.

The Grayson Perry exhibition opened at Temple Newsam House to great fanfare on 23 August 2014. There have been mixed reactions from different visitors but the majority are mesmerised by the bright colours; fascinated by the different stories and pleased that they have been afforded to opportunity to view these tapestries in the setting of a stately home rather that the white walls of an art gallery.

Talks and tours on the tapestries were conducted by a very able team of volunteers. Here are their comments about being involved in this project.

"I love Grayson Perry and I love his work. I think it was an act of genius to display his tapestries in Temple Newsam House. As a volunteer I have been impressed by the amount of time many of the visitors spend in front of each tapestry - unpicking the layers of meaning, finding the hidden jokes, recognising parts of themselves and generally marvelling at their splendour, detail and technical prowess. Many ask pertinent questions, demonstrating a genuine curiosity to access the work, both visually and technically.

One fun thing has been to point out that every tapestry has Grayson Perry's signature trade mark - an anchor with a W on top. Young and old, male and female, fans and critics have all enjoyed the anchor treasure hunt!"
 - Harriet Allen

"One of the great things about working on the Grayson Perry exhibition is the look of wonder, surprise and delight as visitors come into the first tapestry room and see 'The adoration of the cage fighters'. The best comment has to be from a little boy re tapestry 6, who said in an excited voice to his Mum, 'Look its Fireman Sam' and refused to leave the room for 5 minutes as he looked at the tapestry." - Janet Blackledge

"Does Vanity of Small Differences, represent an update of Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen Sketch?" I have only been volunteering a few weeks, helping to safeguard and with visitor “interpretation" of Grayson Perry's fantastically colourful tapestries.....but am losing count of the number of visitors who engage with it in competing for middle class-ness! 

What an absolute joy it is to come to work and hear visitors saying, “No, I'm not middle class because I don't have either an Aga, or a cafetiere" or ladies arguing about ownership of Cath Kidston items & Penguin book title mugs. It was ever thus, Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen sketch (preceded earlier by bowler hatted John Cleese, “I look down on him", also featuring Ronnie Barker, sketch). 

There is no doubt we Brits have an unparalleled streak for competing to parade our Class or Tribe credentials, and Grayson has "tapped" into it wonderfully. But how it makes us all laugh, thank goodness for self-deprecation and irony! A wonderful work within, or visit." - Sally Pickersgill

"Volunteering, what's in it for me, I got to meet lots of nice people including the staff at Temple Newsam House who made all the volunteers feel very welcome, as well as having the opportunity to see some fantastic tapestries and other great works of art." - Val Priest

"I also just wanted to thank you again for this volunteering opportunity. I thoroughly enjoyed my first day on Friday and had a wonderful time speaking with all the visitors. It was a very rewarding experience and I am very much looking forward to these next few weeks!" - Alexandra Anderson)

"It's proving to be a real privilege, stewarding - the team are great!" - Pauline Heywood

Comments from the general public also revealed how valuable the volunteers proved:

It was the third time I’d seen the tapestries and still found so much more in them thanks to the enthusiasm of the volunteers. 

The predominantly voluntary staff chosen to work at Temple Newsam during this superb exhibition are brimming with pride and enthusiasm in their role. 

As you can see volunteers and staff worked well together to provide a unique experience to visitors and we hope to recreate this sort of volunteering role at our other sites in the near future.

By Wendy Breakwell, Volunteer Coordinator

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Crinoid Cake

​To celebrate the arrival of our new Geology Curator, Neil Owen, Natural Science Curator Clare Brown created the Lemon Drizzle Crinoid Cake – celebrating a mysterious creature from the oceans.

Looks can be deceiving as crinoids are animals not plants. They are members of the phylum Echinodermata. This group of animals is made up of starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars, sea cucumbers and sea lilies. First appearing in the fossil record during the Early Ordovician, 480 million years ago and survived to present day. They were prolific from the Carboniferous to the Cretaceous with over 6000 species discovered.

The seas at this time would have been teeming with crinoids gracefully swaying in the currents, almost resembling plants in the breeze.

Unlike their relations, they developed a unique body structure with a body (calyx) was covered in a flexible membrane and was made up of interlocking plates, held aloft by a long stem made of individually stacked plates (ossicles)to form a column. At the base of this column they attached themselves to the sea floor with a root like structure (holdfast). On the upper surface of the body they developed arms (brachials) with tiny filaments (pinnules) to filter the passing water currents.

Unfortunately this body plan has been lost in time as modern crinoids have evolved to resemble sea urchins and are entirely mobile.

You can learn more about our Geology Collections over on the #GeoBlitz blog​.

By Lucy Moore, First World War Projects Curator

Monday, 24 November 2014

Un-locking a Korean Chest at Lotherton Hall

Last week we investigated the interior of the largest and most beautiful Korean chest or cabinet at Lotherton Hall. The Gascoigne family collected four of these, and we know from the furniture catalogue by Christopher Gilbert, published in 1978, that the insides have been viewed before.

We located some keys, and one let us unlock the outer doors, to see the 10 drawers inside.

 All four cabinets are from the late Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), and date from around 1800-1830. Their fairly simple decoration indicates that they are men’s chests rather than women’s chests (see the elaborate decoration on the women’s chest in the Philadelphia Museum for comparison).

The cabinet, of upright rectangular design, is attached to a low stand with shaped rails and bracket feet; and has flush-panel double doors. The door junction is masked by strip of bass finely engraved with pots of flowers while the circular elaborately lobed escutcheon, decorated with flowering trees and birds, bears six medallions featuring the six syllabled Sanskrit mantra ‘Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ’, well known from Buddhist scriptures. 

Because Confucianism was dominant in the Joseon Dynasty and it provided a unifying perspective for artistic styles, this Buddhist inscription is unusual. It may well mean that this particular cabinet was used by monks in one of the Buddhist temples. The outer door handles are backed by profiles of flying bats, symbols of good fortune, and the design detail also includes fishes (a symbol of wealth).

Normally these chests were made for the men’s study room (Sarangbang). In Korea the use of these treasure or seal chests was adopted from Japan, from where the name was also taken, Japanese Kap-kae-susuri became Korean Kap-kae-suri. In Korea the woods most commonly used are pine or paulownia. 

Korean traditional furniture was designed to be suitable for the lifestyle of sitting on the floor. This floor was warmed by under-floor heating, taking the heat from the slightly lower kitchen area and dispersing it around the house. Korean traditional houses, han-ok, had relatively low ceilings and small living spaces. Low furniture helped to give the interior more of a feeling of space, and also fitted with fashionable aspirations for a minimalist well-ordered look.

Find out more about Korean furniture:
  • Traditional Korean Furniture by Man Sill Pai and Edward Reynolds Wright, published in 1984. Wright’s collection is now in the Wiseman Art Museum in Minneapolis. 
  • Korean Antique Furniture & Accessories by Mathieu Deprez ,  published 2014.
  • gives a good overall impression of traditional Korean architecture and interiors.

By Myunghae Seo, Voices of Asia Intern

Friday, 14 November 2014

Contemporary Art Society Annual Award 2014: Becky Beasley

Leeds Museums and Galleries, Leeds Art Gallery has been shortlisted for the fourth time, this time with artist Becky Beasley, for one of the highest value contemporary art prizes in the country, the Contemporary Art Society Annual Award for Museums which supports a UK-based museum or public gallery to work with an artist of their choice to commission a new work that, once completed, will remain within the museum’s permanent collection.

The other nominees this year are the Harris Museum & Art Gallery with artist Nathaniel Mellors; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art with Marvin Gaye Chetwynd; and the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester with Martin Boyce. The award, worth £40 000, with a potential for major impact on both the winning museum and their chosen artist will be announced on 24th November at an event at The Barbican, London.

By Curator Theodore Wilkins

Friday, 26 September 2014

Mrs Montagu and the Chimney Sweeps

Towards the end of my internship here at the Leeds Discovery Centre, I have been focusing on the numerous boxes of books that form a substantial part of the Henry Collection of ‘sweepiana’ (anything and everything to do with chimney sweeps). 

 The collector, Dr. Henry was an avid and extremely thorough (some might say, obsessed) collector, with many books containing just a single reference to chimney sweeps or sweeping. The majority of the collection I have been documenting spans the 18th and 19th centuries and it is fascinating to delve into these books and magazines to catch a glimpse of the different facets of English society as it was back then. Many of the publications include beautifully crafted engravings, some of which (in the more expensive editions) were then painstakingly coloured by hand using watercolours.

One of the books I came across early on in my internship, was a volume entitled Mrs. Montagu 'Queen of the Blues'. This book lacked the usual handwritten note by Dr. Henry on the inside, indicating a reference to sweeps contained in the volume, and this omission left me wondering why it was included in the collection. A little research unearthed a story that started in York, ended in London, with wealth, philanthropy, personal disaster and rumours of a kidnapping worthy of any Hollywood drama, sandwiched between.

Elizabeth Montagu (née Robinson), was born to wealthy parents in York, moved to London after her marriage, and there hosted a group of intellectuals who became known as the 'Bluestockings'. This group included several prominent and powerful members of society and they would meet regularly In Mrs. Montagu's house and discuss and debate the issues and politics of the day. The hostess herself enjoyed a reputation for holding her own during these debates, not an insignificant feat considering the general position of women in society at that time. Elizabeth Montagu must have been a formidable woman indeed.

But where does the link between Mrs. Montagu and chimney sweeps come in? Right where the rumours of kidnapping abound... According to several (all slightly differing) accounts, a young nephew of Elizabeth Montagu’s disappeared one day. Sometime later, she hired a chimney sweep to come to her house, and who did the poor, dirty urchin whose job it was to crawl up that narrow, sooty tunnel turn out to be? None other than her own nephew who had been kidnapped and forced into labour! How accurate this story is, may never be known, but what is certain, is that Mrs. Montagu provided a May Day breakfast feast for chimney sweeps every year until her death in 1800.

I can imagine that May Day morning scene; a group of young boys, scrubbed as clean as they have been all year, sitting in Elizabeth Montagu’s beautiful garden, stuffing down as much food as their bellies could hold before heading out excitedly to take their part in the May Day celebrations – the only day’s holiday for the sweeps in the whole year.

Elizabeth Montagu undoubtedly played an important part in changing some of the attitudes of society at that time, showing compassion to those less fortunate than herself, and raising awareness in the upper class circles she moved in, of the plight of child chimney sweepers.

By Izzy Bartley, Social History Intern.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Passenger Pigeon - 100 Years On

September 1st 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), a stark reminder of the destruction humanity can inflict on the natural world.

It is estimated that when Europeans first arrived on the coasts of North America, the Passenger Pigeon was the most abundant land bird in the country, with numbers ranging from 3 billion to 5 billion individuals – accounting for over 25% of the entire bird population. For over two hundred years, there were dramatic accounts told of the dense clouds formed by migrating Passenger Pigeons, blacking out the sky for days at a time with flocks a mile wide.

Passenger Pigeons would migrate around the country, moving whenever weather conditions or food availability became unfavourable, settling down in forested areas to roost. The roosting sites were often massive; though no accurate data was collected, estimates place nesting sites as covering many thousands of acres. One report of a site in Wisconsin estimated the roosting area to cover 850 square miles, housing over 136 million birds.

The decline of the Passenger Pigeon:
Passenger Pigeons had always been used as a food source by both Colonialists and Native Americans, however this had no real effect on the massive populations. The real damage started in the 1800s, when professional hunters began to trap the birds for sale at the town markets. Because of the dense populations found at nesting sites, Passenger Pigeons were captured in the hundreds of thousands – young birds were knocked out of nests with sticks, and burning sulphur fumes used to daze the birds so that they fell to the ground. 50,000 birds a day were killed over a period of five months at one of the last large nesting sites in Michigan, 1878. Those that survived were quickly tracked to their new nest sites by hunters and killed before they were able to raise young.

By the 1890s the bird had almost completely disappeared. In 1897 a bill was passed asking for a 10-year ban on the hunting of Passenger Pigeons – unfortunately the damage had been done by this point. The success of the Passenger Pigeon depended on its large numbers, as massive flocks were relatively unharmed by predators and adverse conditions, whereas the few surviving individuals were simply picked off.

Martha: the Last Passenger Pigeon:
There were not enough birds left to recover the species, despite numerous attempts with captive animals – a common problem we’re facing with many endangered species today. The last known Passenger Pigeon, named Martha, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoological Garden on September 1st 1914 at 1pm. Martha was mounted and is now preserved in the collections at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

What can we learn from the Pigeon's fate?
The attack on Passenger Pigeons by humans was two-fold – the slaughter certainly hastened their extinction, though it is likely that they were doomed by the deforestation that swept across North America. The lesson of the Passenger Pigeon is a poignant one that we shouldn’t forget, and is a reminder that the destruction of a species should not be allowed to continue until they appear on the ‘critically endangered’ list – by that point it may be too late to undo the damage.

Today, the only way to see a Passenger Pigeon is by visiting a museum, as fortunately specimens have been saved by 19th century collectors. These skins and mounts are the last remnants of a once thriving species and must be preserved for future generations to appreciate – museums provide access to extinct and endangered species for education, research and to satisfy (and enhance!) curiosity.  If you’d like to see a Passenger Pigeon for yourself, why not visit Leeds Museum Discovery Centre to see one of the seven specimens in the collection?

Glenn Roadley, Trainee Curator of Natural Science


Friday, 29 August 2014

Collections through Cake: Feeling Bird-iful

Collections through Cake has been busy across the Summer, and in this post I'd like to bring to you egg-tention some fascinating objects from our oological collections ... Eggy, Steady - Go!*

Another question could be what comes first, the egg or the nest?

Kirsty, our Bird Skins Curator, previously #MusCake-d about a Barn Swallow's nest​ in the collection

*Puns will only get poorer from this point on

Friday, 22 August 2014

Choosing Leeds objects for ‘Roman Empire: Power and People’

As part of the British Museum touring exhibition ‘Roman Empire: Power and People’, which is at Leeds City Museum 20th Sept – 4th Jan, we decided to highlight some of our own Roman collections. 

 Many of our fantastic Roman objects are already on display in Leeds City Museum, both in the Ancient Worlds and the Story of Leeds galleries, but we have collected many more objects since these galleries opened and we want to tell different stories in ‘Roman Empire’.

Marble head of a satyr, 100-50 BC, collected in 1896
from Lord Savile’s excavations at Lanuvium, Italy
Firstly we integrated local objects into the existing themes of the exhibition, and objects from Yorkshire are highlighted throughout so visitors can easily spot them. A beautiful fantail brooch from Wattle Syke sits alongside several brooches from the British Museum’s collection. 

 Altars from Adel and Chapel Allerton fit into the wider theme of religious beliefs, as does a silver ring depicting Fortuna found by a metal detector user in Micklefield. These displays are also complemented by objects from The Yorkshire Museum’s collection, which root these larger ideas about the empire to Yorkshire objects.

Fantail brooch, AD 70-130, from recent excavations
at Wattle Syke, West Yorkshire
In the introductory area of the gallery there is also a display about the how Leeds Museums and Galleries collected all of this Roman stuff in the first place. It looks at 19th century collecting by the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, and at what Roman material we collect today.

We hope that by highlighting our local Roman heritage, visitors will engage more with the wonderful objects on display from across the Roman Empire, and embrace the Roman period as part of our shared history.

By Archaeology Curator Katherine Baxter

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Well Suited: The First Male Models

George Rutland riding a penny farthing on the street
in 1964 
(Hepworth Mercury Archive)

Do models care about what they wear? According to George Rutland, one of Britain’s first top male models, they absolutely do! 

From penny farthing-riding plus fours to groovy wide-leg flares with high-heeled boots to a canary yellow-coloured suit, Rutland had the opportunity to wear a wonderful array of fashionable clothing during his modelling career in the 1960s and ‘70s. 

In a recent interview, conducted as part of a research project exploring the fashion industry in Leeds during the post-war period, the Bermuda-native confirmed that models do indeed take an active interest in the pieces they showcase on the runway. Rutland reminisces how he swelled with pride when walking down the catwalk in a meticulously-tailored suit and firmly believes that a man never looks or feels better than when he is wearing a classic suit.

Group of models (Hepworth Mercury Archive)

Although he initially came to England from Bermuda as an aspiring actor, Rutland began modelling for Hepworths, a Leeds-based clothing manufacturer, shortly before the company’s centenary in 1962. As part of their fee, professional models received the suits they had worn the previous season when they attended their annual fittings, so Rutland amassed quite a sizeable wardrobe, including many bespoke suits created by Savile Row designer Hardy Amies. 

Rutland was so pleased with the quality of these suits that he wore them every day, not just on the runway. He was happily ‘plugging Hepworths the whole time’. This commitment to maintaining an impeccable, suited appearance proved highly beneficial for Rutland, as his Hardy Amies Hepworth’s suit won him a film role and earned the approval of esteemed photographer Sir Cecil Beaton. Rutland tells the story in his own words here.

A very stylish man: Tony Armstrong-Barnes

Tony Armstrong-Barnes, Rutland’s fellow model and close friend, received similar attention when wearing Hardy Amies’ suits. Upon encountering photographers and tailoring company executives around town, Barnes was often recognised and complimented for his stylish apparel. He fondly recalls the time that television producer Monty Berman saw him at the opera and complimented the young model’s ability to wear a suit. Listen to Barnes recount this moment here.

Unlike Rutland, who later became a fashion show director, Barnes devoted himself to professional modelling and worked for a number of companies, including Hepworths, Burtons, Alexandre and Marks & Spencer. Originally an aspiring dancer, who compares his childhood dreams to those of Billy Elliot, Barnes unexpectedly began modelling in the late 1950s after standing in for an ill friend at a photo shoot for a knitting pattern cover. 

Tony Armstrong-Barnes, 1965
(Hepworth Mercury Archive)
Due to the lack of young male models during this period, as well as his good looks and charm, Barnes quickly became sought-after by prominent London photographic studios and developed a large portfolio. Some of his most significant jobs included a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box advertisement with Patty Boyd (a famous model who later married both George Harrison and Eric Clapton) and Burton’s 1964 photo ad (the first colour advertisement in an English newspaper). 

Since models of the era were responsible for providing their own accessories and styling themselves at photo shoots, Barnes acquired a vast wardrobe consisting chiefly of suits, which he wore in his leisure time as well as to work. Indeed, he was so accustomed to donning formalwear on a daily basis that he even wore a pinstripe suit for his first meeting with photographer David Bailey, who is best known for capturing casual images. Barnes briefly describes this meeting here.

Due to changing fashions throughout his career, Barnes had the opportunity to wear a diverse variety of styles, ranging from the velvet suits of the Teddy Boys to the narrow trousers of Mods. Perhaps since he was expected to appear in contemporary fashions on the runway, Barnes preferred to imitate the classic, tailored style of actors like Cary Grant and George Pepard when selecting his private wardrobe. In contrast, his friend Rutland always embraced the latest trends and relished wearing flares and platforms in the 1970s. Rutland still laughs when he recalls tripping in a particularly expensive pair of trendy, high-heeled boots. Listen to this amusing anecdote here.

After more than 50 years in the fashion industry, both Rutland and Barnes continue to maintain substantial wardrobes that include starched cuffs, neckties, and waistcoats and, of course, high-quality suits. After all, as Rutland confirms, ‘You can’t get away from a classic man’s suit.’ Leeds Museums are fortunate to have several such fine suits in their collections, some of which will be on display in the newly re-developed tailoring gallery at Armley Mills.

By Curatorial Intern Katherine Young

(Images: Hepworth Mercury Archive)

Monday, 11 August 2014

A slug on a night out

I saw this lovely Leopard Slug on my path early this morning on my way to work. Leopard Slugs look rather like normal slugs on a night out, wearing fetching leopard-skin outfits. This one looked like it was on its way home after a big one.

One of the weird things about Leopard Slugs is the way they mate. Once paired up, they hang on a thick mucus thread, curled up together in a load of slime. I once saw a pair of them hanging from the corner of my bird table – it was quite a sight!

One of our previous curators here, Adrian Norris, is an expert on slugs, and he added many to our museum collection while he worked here. The best way to preserve slugs is to put them in jars of ethanol, as they are soft-bodied and can’t be taxidermied like vertebrates (animals with backbones, for example birds and mammals). We have several jars of leopard slugs, as well as other species, in our collection.  

By Natural Sciences Curator Rebecca Machin 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Sunny Sand Martins

I often see nice bits of urban wildlife on my walk to the Discovery Centre from the train station. Lately I’ve been cheered by the sight of Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) flying around over the River Aire by Leeds Bridge.

These are amazing birds, related to the more familiar Swallow and House Martin. They are called Sand Martins because they usually nest in holes in sandy banks, but these ones have been nesting in holes eroded in the sandstone walls of the buildings by the river. They were feeding on small insects flying above the river. Sand Martins are only in the UK over summer, and will migrate to Africa for the winter.

Here’s one of the Sand Martins in our collection (pictured above) at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre. It was an immature Sand Martin, collected in Arthington near Leeds in 1888 by F. W. Branson.

My colleague Kirsty Garrod and her team of volunteers and interns have been improving the condition of and access to our bird skin collection through the Skin Deep project, funded by the Designation Development Fund, part of Arts Council England. Our bird skins and other collections can be used to help conserve biodiversity, as well as being fascinating in their own right.

By Natural Sciences Curator Rebecca Machin

Friday, 25 July 2014

Collections through cake: Sowing Seeds

The weekend many people will be sowing poppy seeds as an act of remembrance. The poppy has become irrevocably linked to the First World War. We’ve posted before about poppies and their significance across time. 

In this post, Lucy our First World War Projects Curator wanted to think about what seeds the commemorations will sow for the future. Through cake, of course.

To get down to the Mary Berry-ness, Lucy made a simple sponge, but added two tablespoons of poppyseeds and two very ripe chopped pears. The very same poppyseeds which were used as an ingredient were also available for staff at Discovery Centre to plant and grow.

As we sow these seeds, as we plan our exhibitions and as we engage people all across Leeds with the First World War, very careful thought is given about what legacy of understanding we are creating. As a museum service, we will be using our collections and our sites as lenses through which we can encourage understanding of the war and the effect of it across the last century.

Through the sowing of these metaphorical seeds, we want people to question the past, to discover their own First World War histories and to look forward with a clearer understanding of our pasts and how they shape our futures.  

By First World War Projects Curator Lucy Moore

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Collections through Cake: The Outreach Box

At Leeds Museums & Galleries we adore it when people visit any (or indeed all) of our nine sites, but we do also take the museum off-site and out to schools, community groups, hospices and a whole host of other places!

This all about talking to people about the exhiblariting objects in our collections that tell stories about our city and our world. Recently, one of our much-beloved Outreachers moved on to pastures new and in true #MuseumCake style, we put together an outreach box to mark her departure.

To learn more about outreach possibilities for you and your group, please get in touch with Leeds Museum Discovery Centre, our Community Curators or with the start of the centenary of the First World War in mind, our Projects Curator.

Here's a couple more views of this awesome box:


What can you spot in our outreach box? Answer in the comments below ...

NB: The sides were made of thin fudge in cake form - our usual boxes are much, much sturdier!

By First World War Projects Curator Lucy Moore

Monday, 7 July 2014

Leeds helps in the fight for the endangered Tasmanian Devil

Leeds Museums and Galleries has three Tasmanian Devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) in its natural science collections. Their DNA has been taken and looked at by a team in Australia who are researching ‘devil facial tumour disease’ in the hope of finding a cure for this terrible condition.

One of the brilliantly stuffed Tasmanian Devils at
Leeds Museums and Galleries
Leeds, a large, rich, Victorian industrial city, spent most of the 19th century collecting scientific material from around the world. We had a ‘purveyor of Australian wildlife’ and acquired, amongst other things, two Devil mounts and a skeleton.

The study, also using specimens from Oxford, looked at genetic diversity in a group of molecules in cell membrane proteins called the ‘major histocompatibility complex’. Low diversity in this complex has been linked to the emergence and spread of devil facial tumour disease. The team needed samples of historical and ancient Devil DNA to see how diverse the populations were before European settlement and after. (Link to the article,published in Biology Letters

This is a great example of how museum natural science specimens can contribute to scientific research at the forefront of species conservation.

By Natural Sciences Curator Clare Brown

Friday, 4 July 2014

Jewish textiles in Leeds

Hannah Bloom kindly showed me several textile artworks at the Sinai Synagogue yesterday. They include pieces on Sukkot and Jerusalem done several years ago under the direction of artist Gillian Holding, in the main Prayer Hall, and more recent pieces on the history of the synagogue, including one made this year for this Reform synagogue’s 70th birthday.

In the stairway down to the children’s area there is also a multi-panel embroidery of the Hebrew alphabet. Many people have come together to work on these embroideries and their quality and vibrancy make them ideal as possible loans for any future Jewish exhibition.

Hannah  made the figure of the young girl in this family standing under the Sukkot temporary roof canopy, a feature of this harvest festival celebration.

Embroidery  by Hannah Bloom

It’s interesting to compare these modern embroideries, such as this Hebrew letter (also by Hannah) done on a patchwork background from fabric fragments saved from the making of Joseph’s coat  worn in a production of Joseph & The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, to the older embroidered details on Torah mantles, and prayer shawl bags that we have in the museum collections. These are mainly from the United Hebrew Congregation in Leeds, and came to us via the Manchester Jewish Museum in 1990.

Some of the older embroideries were done by professional firms, probably based in London, such as the green Torah mantle above), but others look more home-made, such as the red velvet Torah mantle (above) with its many sequins and the Star of David.

By World Cultures Curator Antonia Lovelace

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Hindu Bronze Inscriptions

 Small Indian lamp inscribed 'Guru Nanja Veru'

This morning dance teacher Devika Rao visited Leeds Museum Discovery Centre and was able to read and translate for us an inscription on a small lamp we have on display.

The lamp (pictured above) has five cups or dishes  for lighting oil, held up by a figure with a five-headed naga or serpant behind. The inscription reads: 'Guru Nanja Veru' in Kannada-Telugu script, a script used in southern India, particularly in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

In front of the five cups (pictured left) is a Makara guardian demon, seated with forelegs in centre and hind legs to the side. The name Guru Nanja Veru in this position on the lamp indicates that this lamp was reserved or particularly used for the aarti ceremony of this local Guru figure.

Objects used in worship:

In a small domestic shrine there is often only one lamp for performing aarti for all the deities represented, but in a temple particular lamps may be reserved for particular deities. 

This small lamp, pictured right, (11.6cms tall and 10.4 cms long) is on display at Leeds Discovery Centre in a case promoting the larger Hinduism faith case in Voices of Asia at Leeds City Museum.  There you can see a much larger lamp, in the shape of a shikara or Hindu temple dome, collected by Sir Stuart Mitford-Fraser around 1890-1914. The hanging leaves and Ganesha figures are typical of Nepalese Hindu craftsmanship.

Another bronze (pictured below) in the Hinduism display has an inscription we would love to have translated. A large ladle with a bell attached.  This was also collected by Sir Stuart Mitford Fraser. The inscription is on the side of the bell

 Can you help us translate the inscription on this bronze bell (above right)?

Bells usually hang in front of each deity in a temple, and devotees approaching chime the bell before and during their prayers. The ladle handle is decorated with the raised figures of a fish (the Matsya incarnation of Vishnu), the bull Nandi, a Shivling and a naga serpent.  Finding which Indian language this inscription is in will suggest where the ladle and bell were made.

By World Cultures Curator Antonia Lovelace

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Jim the Duck

Community History Curator Marek (right) & Jim
Its 1:00pm Wednesday 19th February 2014 and I’m sitting in a busy Starbucks on Albion Street waiting to meet the two lovely Debbies from Peer Support and someone I always look forward to seeing, my mate Jim.

I first met Jim a few years ago when he joined our Peer Support Cultural Partnership programme for people living with dementia. 

What is Peer Support?

The Peer Support partnership was formed nearly five years ago and I believe our work gets better with each new project. The organisations involved are Peer Support Services (Adult Social Care), West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds Libraries and Leeds Museums and Galleries. We normally run a two hour session on a Tuesday afternoon, over a 12-14 week period, twice a year. 

The sessions take place at our various sites and contain a mixture of performances, behind-the-scenes tours, object handling, reminiscence, and craft activities that all draw from our service strengths and follow a connecting theme. So far we have covered a variety of topics including: Thinking Arts, Playing the Part, Magic & Mystery, Performing Puppets, Musical Memories and recently Wild Worlds. What’s great about this work is that whatever we do, we all take part, services users, support workers and staff. It means everyone involved is treated the same.

When Marek met Jim:

During a puppet making session at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, I was paired with Jim to create a puppet, which was mainly made up of scrunched up brown paper. The beauty of the activity was anyone could do it; we were all ‘playing on a level field’. Jim and I had chatted a few times before, especially about football, after we found out we both share a love for the game, but during this simple activity we really bonded. 

The artist leading the session suggested the puppets could be animals or humans, so because I knew that like me, Jim was up for having a laugh about himself, I suggested we use him as inspiration to make an animal. Somehow we chose a duck and ‘Jim the Duck’ was born. It was great fun and since then we’ve had a real connection and laugh about it when we meet. On finishing the puppet, Jim said “well that’s my grandson’s Christmas present sorted” and when we met a week later he’d ask “where’s that duck?”

What I guess I didn’t realise until recently was how much he valued our chats and the difference our laughs made to his week. We were in between our two yearly programmes, when one of the Debbie’s from Peer Support contacted me to say Jim had been asking about me and wanted to show me his football trophies. He had brought them to other support sessions thinking he might bump into me. It was so heart-warming to hear that. The Debbies and I decided to organise a get together for a coffee so Jim and I could meet up. This afternoon we looked at his football trophies and a photo album he’d brought but most importantly we made each other laugh, slipping into the banter we share at our sessions.

The last time I had seen Jim before this meeting was at the West Yorkshire Playhouse when we went to see ‘The Jungle Book’ as a group, celebrating the end of the ‘Wild Worlds’ programme. As we were being ushered in to the busy theatre I didn’t actually get a chance to say “hello” but I saw him and his wife out of the corner of my eye and over heard him say “See that lad over there, that’s my mate Marek”.

By Marek Romaniszyn, Assistant Curator of Community History

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

History under the floorboards

Among the recent donations to Leeds Museums was this collection of “rubbish” which was found under the floorboards of a house in Roundhay.  The scraps of paper, torn-up letters and old cigarette packets might easily have been thrown away but the flat’s owners knew the history of the house and took a closer look.  Several of the torn envelopes had post-marks from 1943 and were addressed to officers of the 111 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery who had been billeted at the house during the Second World War. 

This small collection of discarded ephemera shines a small light on life in an officer’s mess in the summer of 1943.  They had time to go to the theatre, as there is a ticket from the Leeds Empire.  They got their writing paper courtesy of the YMCA and seem to have had to go as far as Batley to get their laundry done (there is a receipt from Batley Laundry Ltd.).  They may have had contact with G.I.’s as at least one of the razor blade packets is American.  Above all, they were heavy smokers and left behind large number of cigarette packets and matchboxes (Woodbines being the favoured brand).

There are many questions that we will never find answers to. The collection includes some personal letters from wives and family back home, which have been screwed up and thrown away rather than lovingly kept.  The letters themselves mostly talk of banal everyday life on the home front with bits of local gossip.

Perhaps this extract from a letter written by Ida (from Surrey) to her “Dearest Dick” may indicate why he threw her letter away:

“Marie says that I was to tell you she still likes Ann Shelton better than Vera Lynn. Well Dear I hope you will be able to get home soon as there is still quite a bit of rubbish needs clearing up in the garden.”

All in all, a fascinating little glimpse of life in war-time Leeds.

By Social History Curator Kitty Ross

Volunteer Excursion to the Leeds Pals Memorial

One volunteer project currently underway at Leeds Museums & Galleries is looking at histories of soldiers in Leeds Museums collections, in partnership with the HLF-funded project Remembering the First World War in Nidderdale.

The two projects have teamed up because of a shared interest in the history of the 15th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, known as the Leeds Pals. Recruited from within the city, they trained up at a camp in Nidderdale. By working in partnership we are able to pool our resources and some of our Leeds volunteers visited the memorial whilst archaeological work was taking place. Together they have put together this blog post.

Some of the Leeds Pals Volunteers (l-r
Amanda, Izzy, Josh, Tom, John, Majid)
Amanda Peacock, Project Officer for Remembering the First World War in Nidderdale, will introduce the site:

 "Breary Banks in Colsterdale is a windswept, northfacing slope 750 feet above sea level on the valley side of Colsterdale, a remote valley on the eastern edge of the Yorkshire Dales, and justifiably part of the area designated Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 

"Hard to imagine now, but for over 20 years there was a planned village here, comprised of rows of wooden huts and an itinerant navvy population. For five of those years, 1914-19, Breary Banks played an important part in the First World War: as a training camp, most memorably for the Leeds Pals, and later as a bleak Prisoner of War outpost for captured German Army Officers."

Terraced land at Colsterdale
Izzy, one of the volunteers had this to say: 

"When I found out we were going to see the Leeds Pals camp I was filled with excitement and intrigue. The landscape was so breathtaking and it really hit home how cut off from society the Pals would have been. Based the in the heart of Colsterdale, you can imagine what the arrival of the post must have meant to them. 

"Probably the only way to keep in touch with family members and loved ones as telephones were just being introduced. It was also apparent that some of the local farmers, when talking to some of the Pals, had no idea that the war was even on. Realizing how cut off the Pals where made me question why they chose this particular place for the camp. With it being so far from Leeds why didn’t they decide on somewhere closer? Perhaps to eliminate distractions from friends and loved ones?"

John S saw poetry in the landscape:

 "Arrived to the chorus sounds of the wild, lapwings and curlews crying over the fells, very atmospheric, our first view of the memorial, which stands so proudly, plainly distinctive within the landscape, an obelisk, a little worse for weather wear ...
 The area was previously surveyed and planned for local authority reservoir works, and navvies drafted in pre war  and a shanty town developed with facilities,  including a chapel built 1911 , which is still in situ, well utilised by the  PALS, used as a sanctuary, a place of refuge away from military life, what an atmosphere the interior must convey ...
​Many of their number would never have seen, nor experienced, such extensive countryside  witnessing what they may possibly have joked of as heaven, unfortunately for many and all too soon they would also witness the HELL of the Somme.

The monument bears a commemorative plaque in memory of the pals and at its base, smaller, now faded tributes, poppy crosses, and daffodils , it therefore seemed fitting to add our own tiny tribute this an individual poppy, I felt quite honoured, and humbled and privileged to be here."

Majid was similarly impressed: 

"It was a nice exploration trip.  I got some interesting   archaeological and historical information about what happened at the Colsterdale area in the First World War. In addition to this, Tim had added another  pleasant aspect upon the location of events when he read  some pieces of the novel that related to the memories of  German prisoner. It was a fascinating and spectacular scene that one can be imagined."

We were really lucky to have Jon Finch and Archaeology Students from York University working on site, who were able to interpret the ongoing excavations and landscape.

Tim found some excerpts from the diaries of prisoners of war who stayed at the Colsterdale camp:

 "I really enjoyed the trip up to Colsterdale, especially nice to meet with the archaeologists from York University and see the bits and pieces they've found.

 The account I read was from 'Escapers All' a collection of escape stories published by Bodley Head Ltd in 1931 and was by Heinz H.E. Justus, an Oberleutnant in 73 Regiment (Hanoverian Fusiliers) captured at Langemark on 31 July 1917:

‘The first English camp I was taken to as a German prisoner of war in July 1917 was Colsterdale, near Masham, up north in Yorkshire, and I hope it will be taken in good part when I say that I didn't want to stay there. I tried several times to get through the barbed wire and I also took part in one of the tunnelling schemes which was, however, discovered by the British just before the tunnel was completed. Then one fine day I hit upon the idea of just walking out through the gate disguised as our English canteen manager, who was about my size and figure - his name was Mr Budd… 

'So evening after evening I started observing closely his every movement on leaving the camp, and noticed to my satisfaction that the sentries never asked him for the password. Everybody knew Mr. Budd too well for that'. This was also, of course, rather a drawback; but my idea was to do the thing in the evening after dark. I'd been informed - I think quite wrongly - that every male passenger in those war days was supposed to produce a pass or other document when booking a railway ticket, particularly when travelling to London, and as I didn't feel like walking the whole way there I decided to travel as a woman.'"

Tom's reactions: 

"It is a very eerie place given not only its isolation but also combining that with the thoughts that many of the individuals that trained there may not have even survived the war. For many this may have been there one and only view of rural England as they all came from heavily polluted streets of Leeds. What was also amazing was when the site was used as a POW camp, why would any prisoner want to escape from there (even though the weather can be a bit harsh) to return to the mud, bullets and shelling of the battlefield."

Josh found the archaeology really intriguing and also took some great photos: 

The Camp during WW1 and today
"Trips like this are imperative because they bring the history to life! I was particularly intrigued by when you look at the field you can see the layers cut back still there...if you didn't know about the training camp you probably wouldn't think too much of it but it's actually really obvious it was man made and it helps you picture the place with the buildings there."

And to end again, with words from Izzy:

 "Overall I had such a great day out and feel so much more educated on the lives of the Pals. Being at the camp where they called home for the duration of the war really hit home what their lives were like. For many boys, being forced to be men to grow up and be soldiers. Life for them would never be the same again. I feel so much more excited to further our research on the Leeds Pals and I can’t wait to get more stuck in.​"

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Hats Off to Royal Ascot

Hat created by designer David Shilling, 1980s
It is that time of year again when fashion and sport collide at one of the most popular and colourful events in the British summer season – Royal Ascot. It truly is an event which sees people making an effort to get dressed up. The dress code at Royal Ascot requires all women to wear hats and all men, in the most prestigious Royal Enclosure, having to wear morning dress, including a top hat. Traditionally the third day of Royal Ascot, known as ‘Ladies Day’ is when race-goers really make a statement with the most flamboyant fashions, especially hats.

The Leeds’ dress and textile collection has lots of fantastic hats, including some amazing ones by top British milliners who will, in no doubt, have many of their creations on show at Ascot, this year. From the 1980s we have a hat by David Shilling (born 1956). His name has become synonymous with Royal Ascot, since he made his name designing and creating hats, from the age of 12, for his mother Gertrude to wear at Ascot. Although he did not have any formal millinery training his extravagant hats were an instant success.

Philip Treacy hat (purchased with help from the V&A
Purchase Grant, Leeds Art Fund, and Friends of Leeds Museums)

Another amazing hat is this one off couture hat commissioned by Leeds Museums and Galleries from the internationally acclaimed designer Philip Treacy (born 1967), in 2009 (purchased with help from the V&A Purchase Grant, Leeds Art Fund, and Friends of Leeds Museums).  The hat has a small central disk with knot design, from which radiate out antique bird of paradise feathers that give an overall delicate, smoky effect. The hat is currently on display in the Leeds Gallery at the City Museum.

 Smaller headpieces and fascinators have become increasingly popular recently. At Royal Ascot however, the organisers felt they needed to stave off this fashion and maintain a ‘proper’ hat dress code. In the Royal Enclosure it is now stated that a hat or headpiece with a disk of over 10cm in diameter has to worn.

This Philip Treacy hat is just about big enough and so would be allowed in the in the Royal Enclosure.

By Costume and Textiles Curator Natalie Raw

Friday, 23 May 2014

Collections through Cake: The Ding Propeller

Collections through Cake usually lives and is consumed at the Discovery Centre – quite rightly as there are over one million objects in store there. However, the majority of Leeds Museums & Galleries site have smaller stores, including Armley Mills. The time was ripe recently, for Collections through Cake to go on tour and so Lucy, First World War Curator, headed over there to create her current favourite industrial item from cake.

In store (but soon to be re-displayed), we have a First World War propeller with a fascinating history. This propeller was a memorial to the Leeds aviator Rowland Ding, who died in a crash at Roundhay Park in 1917 testing a new naval bomber. This one was installed as a memorial in the 1920s, but was stolen in the 1930s. In 1975 it turned up on the wall of the Nag’s Head pub on Vicar Lane and was donated to Leeds Museums

Check out the aerodynamics on that cake! Look at those slanted blades!

By First World War Projects Curator Lucy Moore

Monday, 19 May 2014

Collections through Cake: A Juvenile Giant Squid

Whenever I give a tour of the Discovery Centre, I always let visitors know that there is ONLY ONE object in our collections that isn’t the realest of real deals. In this case, I think we might be forgiven as it is a model of a juvenile giant squid. 

He was built for a temporary exhibition called ‘Slime’ which was in the Central Library in 2002 and now provides some jaw-dropping awe-factor to the Discovery Centre.

He is also delicious made out of cake:

Here are some #SquidFacts that I’ve come across:
  • The study of squid is called teuthology.
  • The earliest known ancestor of today's squid is Kimberella, a tiny mollusc that looked like a jellyfish and lived about 555 million years ago.
  • Yes, squid are molluscs, just like more familiar shelled sea creatures. Snails are also molluscs. Mollusca is a huge taxonomic family.
  • Giant squid have tentacles with suckers lined with teeth. These teeth chew prey so that it can then be swallowed.

  • Squid have beaks, rather than mouths.
  • Sperm whales prey on giant squid and often bear scars from the be​-toothed tentacles.
  • Some neuroscientists practice their surgery skills on the nerves of squid, as they are thicker than human nerves and easier to practice with.
  • Squid have an internal mineralised mass called a statolith which helps them to balance (like a counterweight I suspect).
  • Statoliths have growth rings (like trees) and can be used to measure age. They suggest that giant squid only live for up to five years.
  • Giant squid (along with colossal squid) have the largest eyes in the animal kingdom – up to 27 cm in diameter.

Interestingly, the squid probably has several brothers and sisters at natural history museums all over the world because it would cost manufacturers so much to make the cast, that they would make several models from it.

If you’d like to say hello in person, drop us an email, or telephone and we can show you around!

By Projects Curator Lucy Moore