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