Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Hummingbirds and the Greenish Puffleg

As a volunteer involved in the Skin Deep project, I have had the opportunity to handle rare, sometimes even extinct birds from the collection. As volunteers and interns, it is our task to catalogue the mounted bird and bird skin collection.

Each drawer contains a range of specimens. Some of the drawers I have catalogued contained wading birds, common British garden birds, birds of prey to exotic colourful birds that have beautifully vibrant plumage.

I was fortunate to get a drawer of hummingbird specimens, which, from the perspective of a recent Fine Art graduate, were the most stunning.

The Greenish Puffleg (Haplophaedia aureliae) originates from the humid climate of South America. Its name refers to the pure white down feather tufts found on the legs of both the male and females, like little white trousers. The image shows one a little worse for wear from our collection.

I have been very lucky to be involved in this project and I'm looking forward to discovering the next exciting drawer. Why don't you come along on one of the next Behind the Scenes tours to take a look for yourself?

By Hannah Tiffany, Natural Sciences volunteer, 2014.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A Work Placement at Leeds Museums and Galleries

Eilis enjoyed a work placement at Temple Newsam House
As a history student at Northumbria University I was encouraged to undertake a two week work placement. I was intrigued to learn more about history related jobs, and after contacting the Leeds Museums volunteer co-ordinator I was placed at Temple Newsam House  – a Tudor-Jacobean mansion.

The team were extremely accommodating – on my first day presenting me with a two week timetable of assorted activities and projects, to provide me with an insight into every aspect of museum work, from curatorial research to house tours to shadowing visitor assistants.  

Le Tour De Musée:
On arrival I was given a project to complete in-between activities. The project was called ‘Le Tour De Musée’ and was designed to engage Leeds Museums with the Tour De France (coming to Yorkshire in the summer), by creating a bike tour of the nine venues and their picturesque surroundings. 

My task was to research and analyse any similar projects already in existence, taking the best ideas and adapting them for this project. Next I was asked to review ways to make the Leeds Museums and Galleries more bike-friendly, both physically and virtually – through changes towards the website, for example to include near-by cycle routes and also suggesting the installation of bike racks/cycle lanes in the venues. Lastly I was asked to design a mock up resource for the ‘Tour De Musée’, including cycle routes and scenic areas around the sites. 

A historical make-up workshop at Temple Newsam House

Another task which I greatly enjoyed was taking part in the carers group, a community group whose members are all the primary carers of a family member. I took part in activities such as tours around the house, aromatherapy, and workshops about the art of Tudor make up.

Museum Education:
I also took part in a ‘Tudor Dance Workshop’ that the museum held for local children and observed a school trip at Temple Newsam. In both workshops the children were given Tudor costumes to dress up in and enjoyed authentic Tudor dances and songs. The school group also had a lesson in the Tudor manor of dress and were educated about the house’s Tudor connections. 

In both situations they were so enthusiastic, engaged and intrigued by the historical aspects. It was a testament to the effectiveness museums’ work with schools. It was also wonderful to see the enjoyment these classes brought to the groups, and the way in which museums interact with the local community, its school and its organisations.

Research at Discovery Centre:
On two days of my placement I explored a more research-based approach to museum work and was based at the Discovery Centre and Leeds University Special Collections Archives. Here I was involved in research for the World War One Centenary exhibitions, accessing war time letters and newspaper clippings and selecting the best material - an experience which was extremely useful as it allowed me to access a different part of the museum industry and actively participate in the research process. 

This experience has been educational, insightful and extremely enjoyable. I would highly recommend anyone interested in a historical line of employment to seek a work placement with Leeds Museums and Galleries - not only for the invaluable experience and knowledge to be gained about possible careers in the museum service, but also for the friendly and welcoming staff who provided such an informative and gratifying experience. 

By Eilis Boyle, History, Placement Student, 2014.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Red-billed Oxpecker: The rhino’s guard

​I’ve been working as an intern with the bird collection for the past six weeks. I was quite excited to find in the collection a Red-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus). Unfortunately, the specimen (see image left) looks rather drab as it has lost its magnificent yellow and red eye. The colour has also faded from its bill, although it retains its distinctive shape.

I was particularly pleased to see this bird in the collection because of the mutualistic relationship it shares with Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis). In Swahili, oxpeckers are known as “askari wa kifaru”, which means “the rhino’s guard”. This is because they warn rhino of approaching danger. 

Rhino have very poor eyesight and rely on their excellent hearing and sense of smell. Oxpeckers, like many birds, have excellent eyesight. They often perch on rhinos to feed on ticks and other skin parasites of rhino. However, when they spot a potential predator, such as a lion, they will fly into the air screeching. This warns the rhino that something might be up, and they had better be on the look-out.

What is really interesting is that, if the parasites weren’t present, the oxpeckers wouldn’t sit on the rhino’s back and provide this service. Hence, in a roundabout way, the presence of the parasites may be actually helping, rather than harming, the rhino.

By Andrew Stringer, 
Natural Sciences intern, 2014.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Tracking down a tailor - researching historic Leeds businesses

A history placement student’s perspective 

Photograph of the uniform worn by the Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire

Leeds tailors John Wales Smith & Sons made
Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire's  uniform
During my time at Abbey House Museum I was asked to research the history of various Leeds businesses. For this I used many fantastic resources, such as the massive collection of street directories. 

These allowed me to track the businesses and find when they first opened and closed, changed hands or address. I was able to answer quite a few of these questions but some companies were more difficult to find in the directories.

One problem that I faced was that some directories are missing leaving gaps in the dates I had found. I found that you could be closely following a successful business when it would disappear and I wouldn’t be able to track the exact date that it closed down.

Another resource that I used was I used this website to find information on individuals such as business owners. This sometimes gave me more in depth detail such as who founded the business or why a business shut down, such as death of the owner. 

This receipt revealed that John Wales Smith and
Sons were undertakers as well as tailors

Case Study: John Wales Smith & Sons

One business that I found interesting was John Wales Smith and Sons Ltd, the tailors who made the uniform for Sir Edward Baines when he became Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire in the 1890s (see above). I discovered that they were more than simple tailors, they were also undertakers (see right). 

I found an advertisement in Leeds and District trade directory 1857-1858 part 2 which said that they specialised in Lady’s riding hats, boy’s dresses, commercial and official robes and military uniforms. The business also rented out mourning coaches and hearses. 

The first information I found was that it was first listed in 1837 and was then called Joseph Smith & Sons, located at 1 Briggate. By 1857 it had become John Wales Smith & Sons with two branches: 32-33 Commercial Street, Leeds and 8 Piccadilly, Bradford. In 1867 there was another branch at Hall’s End in Halifax. The reason I found this business so interesting is that it was always adapting, changing its locations and widening its market in order to survive and become successful.

I found going to Leeds Local Studies Library to research these businesses hugely enjoyable and highly educational. It has taken me away from the restrictions of simply doing limited research for essays and has given me the freedom to build upon each fact I learn and draw up a greater knowledge of the Victorian and Edwardian businesses in Leeds. I have found that as a student this boosted my confidence and given me some much needed experience in the workings of an academic library.

By Placement Student Tom Bamford