Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Joash Woodrow – A Hidden Life in Pictures (Part 2)

Liz Kay continues her series of posts about artist Joash Woodrow 

(Catch up with Part 1)

Joash Woodrow and Cyril Satorsky - ‘Student Drawing’, 1944
Reading about the discovery of Joash Woodrow’s art, never exhibited and packed into a modest Leeds house, it would be easy to imagine him as an ‘outsider artist’. His style was uninhibited and he often used scrap materials. No-one who knew Woodrow as a young man, however, would have been surprised by his eventual success.

Woodrow’s parents were Polish-Jewish immigrants who ran a bookshop and gave their son a lifelong love of culture and progressive politics. With his sights set on an artistic career, Woodrow enrolled at Leeds College of Art in 1942 and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. In a class alongside future greats like Frank Auerbach and Peter Blake, Woodrow’s tutor marked him out as a rising star.

Someone who knew Woodrow well during this time was his childhood friend and fellow art student, Cyril Satorsky. Describing Woodrow as ‘extremely shy and ultrasensitive’, Satorsky also highlights Woodrow’s ‘hyper-real’ sense of humour and elaborate practical jokes. On one occasion, Woodrow carved an enormous ‘Easter Island Statue’ at a quarry in Leeds and convinced Satorsky it was an ancient monument. As cash-strapped students, they spent their time debating politics, reading Russian novels and visiting Leeds’ museums.

Woodrow’s earliest drawings include this collaboration with Satorsky, made while both artists were at Leeds College of Art. The drawing was initially torn up, but then given as a memento to their friend, J. Clark. Fortunately, Clark saved the drawing for over 60 years before donating it to the gallery.
The two young artists have adopted a style in which it is difficult to tell their hands apart, and which is quite different from both artists’ mature work. The tight lines and careful shading are in contrast to Woodrow’s more expressive style, while Satorsky has gone on to focus on bright and bold abstract painting..

Joash Woodrow –
‘Nude Female Studies’, 1944

Wartime and Inspirations

To explore this drawing in context, Satorsky’s recollections give a flavour of the times. The Second World War provides the backdrop, a time when ideas carried great power, laced with a sense of danger.

Horror and absurdity can be felt in Woodrow and Satorsky’s drawing, where one man points a gun at another who has a noose about his neck. The drawing’s violent imagery evokes powerful artistic statements about the brutality of war. The stylised figures and wide angle composition suggest an appreciation of Picasso’s Guernica.

Another inspiration may have been the anti-war ballet ‘The Green Table’, which Woodrow and Satorsky saw in Leeds. The performance by German political exiles Joos Ballet featured a dance of death in which the characters meet with grim fates. Impressed, the two students talked their way backstage to draw the dancers. Jotting the German names in their sketchbooks, the pair left to continue sketching near some anti-aircraft guns in a park, unwittingly leading the nearby military police to mistake them for German spies!  

Tensions were running high and art could be seen as a weapon. Satorsky describes how Woodrow ‘loved the combat’ of making art and could ‘lay down a mark like Mohammed Ali’s punch’, using ragged old brushes to stab at his canvases with unexpected precision.

Life Drawing at Leeds Art Gallery

 At art school, Woodrow’s approach to life-drawing class also caused controversy. Perhaps feeling stifled by technical exercises, Woodrow would change all the models’ poses in his drawings. This process of re-imagined life-drawing may be what we see in his drawing Nude Female Studies at Leeds Art Gallery, made in 1944, at Leeds College of Art. In this pencil drawing, two figures are rendered sharply, but ghostly figures also merge into abstract mark-making alongside these.
Woodrow’s studies were interrupted by national service in 1945, when he was posted in Egypt for three years as a cartographer.

Graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1953, Woodrow worked in London as an accountant, painting only in the evening. During this time, Woodrow suffered with depression, and an argument with a friend brought on a crisis that led to his return to the family home in Leeds. The next post will explore his fruitful relationship with the city he came back to.

By Liz Kay, Volunteer Cataloguer, Leeds Art Gallery.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Dying Matters - New display and discussion

World Cultures Curator Antonia Lovelace gives a sneak preview of the new Dying Matters display at Leeds City Museum

Death is perhaps the one experience that unites people the world over. But even though every person experiences death and dying, we can often shy away from talking about it.

The curators and community team at Leeds Museums and Galleries have linked up with the Leeds steering group of the national Dying Matters initiative to bring this topic to the fore for a seven month display in the Leeds Gallery at Leeds City Museum. The topic of death and dying is a very sensitive one, so we are working hard to deal with it appropriately, and promote positive debate.

The display, situated at the contemporary end of the Leeds Gallery, will look at funerals, preparation, sorting the deceased’s effects, memorials and the afterlife.

The museum’s collections host a huge variety of material, from Neolithic cinerary urns to 19th century bier carts, wills and funeral tea adverts, Chinese ancestor tablets, Chinese dolls wearing straw and white funeral clothes (pictured above), African memorial figures, winged angels and Mexican Day of the Dead paper cuts.

The curators have also collected new items, and borrowed a contemporary basketry wicker coffin, to modernise the selection.

Community Curator Marek filming an interview for one of the new Dying Matters films.

Two new films have also been commissioned, one with interviews taken at St Gemma’s and Wheatfields hospices, the other showing five Leeds people talking about Death and the Afterlife, which includes interviews with Xina Gooding of Hugh Gooding Funerals, and with the humanist bereavement counsellor and funeral officiant Bob Bury.

See the Dying Matters display at Leeds City Museum, 16 Dec - 30 July 2017. 

Learn more about the national Dying Matters initiative.

(A version of this blog post was previously published in the Friends of Lawnswood newsletter) 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The Preservative Party's Top Ten Tips for Curating an Exhibition

Ellie Smith and D’arcy Darilmaz from the Leeds City Museum youth curators group the Preservative Party share their tips for curating an exhibition!

The Preservative Party, pictured at the opening of the In Their Footsteps exhibition (2016).

1. Get to know the people you’re working with
Play pictionary and eat cake!

2. What is your exhibition about?
Decide on the purpose of your exhibition. Do you want it to be formal and factual; fun and exciting; or emotionally evoking. Pick an interesting and relevant topic but also something feasible. Make sure you'll have enough objects and information to fill an exhibition.

3. Select objects and stories to display in your exhibit
Make sure to pick are a few key objects that really stand out.

4. Construct an identity
You need a name and initial design ideas. If you have the budget to hire designers write a design brief to send to out. The deigners will send back their initial ideas. From this you can select your design company and begin working with them to create the 'look' of your exhibition. Your final design should show what your exhibition is about and appeal to your demographic.

5. Research, research, research!
Explore the history of your objects.

6. Layout/curation
Decide whether you would like a led path which instructs visitors to go a certain route; or an open space. You will need to plan where all of your object cases, wall mounted objects and panels will go. Make sure there are enough display cases to fit your objects in. You may want to categorise your objects into sections. Your exhibition must be accessible to all members of the public, so plan enough space for wheelchairs and prams to move through with ease.

7. Write your object panels
All your text should read in the same voice so decide what tone you would like. Be sure to have a word limit as large amounts of text might intimidate your audience.

8. Interactives
Come up with some fun ways to engage your public with your exhibits. Try to include interesting pieces of research which you gathered that didn't make it onto the panels.

9. Install
Bring your creation to life! Learn how to use a paint roller. You'll need one! Decorate the gallery and arrange your objects.

10. Opening night
Plan drinks, caterers, speeches and performances. Open up your exhibition for a private viewing for all those invited to the night.

Find out more about the Preservative Party and how to join.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

A Kitchen Cabinet of Curiosity

 Pamela Crowe explores the contents of a 1950s kitchen cabinet
and the origins of museum collecting

The wooden space-saving kitchen cabinet at Leeds Discovery Centre (pictured above) dates from the mid-twentieth century and incorporates a fold down enamel worktop, ironing board and a series of green painted cupboards and drawers to store cutlery, table linen, tableware and food. It sits at the far end of the main corridor in the Discovery Centre, just slightly beyond the Store entrance. To find it you must postpone entering the store or remember to double back before you leave. 

Today we display a collection of food packaging from our social history collection within it. I’ve chosen three of my favourites items.

Dried eggs used during 1940s-50s food shortages

Label: 'This can contains 12 Eggs'
This is a small cylindrical gold tin containing 12 pure dried whole eggs in powdered form supplied by the United States and issued by the Ministry of Food for distribution in Great Britain as a response to a wartime shortage of fresh eggs, c.1940-50. 

Users were instructed to store them away from anything with a strong smell and when required, to mix one level tablespoon of dried egg with two tablespoons of water making sure to “work out lumps with a spoon against the side of the bowl”. 

The egg had to be used immediately after mixing and was most suitable for scrambled eggs or omelettes. Uptake of the dried eggs was slow and the Ministry of Food issued posters to promote their use.

Co-op Ground Ginger
 'Co-op Ground Ginger'

Dating from the late 1960s, this small jar of ground ginger features the distinctive ‘cloverleaf’ Co-op logo on the side. In 1968 The Co-operative Working Society (CWS) worked with the co-operative societies around Britain to rebrand under a single Co-op logo in a move to unify branding across all the retail shops. 
Stores that wished to use the new logo had to undergo refurbishment. In 2016 The Co-operative Group announced that it would return to a refreshed blue version of the cloverleaf logo.

Label: 'For the relief of Asthma, Hayfever & spasmodic affections of the respiratory tract'

Potter's Asthma Remedy
Potters’ inhalation products were well known and widely used throughout the early to mid 20th Century. Users were instructed to inhale a heated teaspoonful of the powdered herbal remedy on a daily basis. 

This product continued to be manufactured until 1988 when the UK’s Department of Health refused to renew the product licence. Recent research has shown that the products may in fact have posed similar health risks to smoking.

The Cabinet of Curiosities
Back in April 2015 I gave my very first tour of the Discovery Centre. Nerves aside, it was great fun but I recall spending too long talking about this 1950s kitchen cabinet. It still draws me in though, I think of it as a Kitchen Cabinet of Curiosities, the Discovery Centre's Küche Wunderkammer (Kitchen Wonder Cabinet).

Wunderkammer (translated, Wonder Chamber or Room) is a German term dating from the sixteenth century to describe a personal collection of extraordinary objects that was amassed by noblemen, men of science and the merchant class, cabinet then being a term for a room rather than a piece of furniture.

Drawers opened enticingly at Leeds Discovery Centre
From Renaissance times through to the late nineteenth century, men and women of stature could exhibit their knowledge and status by assembling all manner of exotic natural wonders, art, treasures and items from distant lands and cultures. 

These collectors believed that by identifying invisible and visible similarities between the objects they could arrive at a better understanding of God's purpose and man's place in the universe. 

Over time the significance of these Wonder Chambers grew, private spaces became public with the larger royal and aristocratic collections developing into grand public museums and institutions. Elias Ashmole (1617-1692) donated his library and collection to the University of Oxford and these formed the foundation of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, founded in 1683. 

Leeds Discovery Centre stores the Leeds Museums and Galleries collections

The awesome and the ordinary
It's not a huge leap to view the entire Discovery Centre as a vast Cabinet of Curiosities, after all we're still trying to make sense of our universe and our place within it. The most common reaction from visitors entering the store for the first time is one of awe and my own brain still emits a little 'wow' each time I enter. Our collections comprise both the familiar and unfamiliar: the pleasure in viewing the bones of a dodo or 4.5 billion year old iron meterorite can be met in equal measure by the sighting of a familiar washing machine from Grandma's house or a gold tin of egg powder.

The breadth and of depth of these collections provide each of us with an opportunity (conscious or otherwise) to evaluate our own very personal past within a greater, complex shared one - just as the Renaissance collectors sought to do with their Wunderkammers.

By Pamela Crowe, Volunteer Tour Guide and Blogger, Leeds Discovery Centre

Further Reading/Sources: on Cabinets of Curiosities 

British Library Learning: Cabinets of Curiosity
Cabinet of Curiosities and The Ashmolean Museum

Leeds Discovery Centre Store Tours
Come and explore our collections at the Leeds Discovery Centre every Thursday at 11am and 2pm in our Store Tours. For more information about visiting our store, please visit our website. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Joash Woodrow – A Hidden Life in Pictures

Joash Woodrow - ‘Three Figures’ c.1965

At the turn of the millennium, Joash Woodrow’s life’s work lay undiscovered in a house in Chapel Allerton in Leeds. For forty-five years he had lived and worked there, making art with a singular passion that eclipsed more everyday concerns.

Woodrow lived alone, becoming increasingly reserved after experiencing a mental-health crisis as a young man. For a long time however, he was content and purposeful in the pursuit of his artwork. Paintings, drawings and sculptures blossomed and came to rest in teetering piles, crowding every corner of his house.

Joash Woodrow -‘Female with Red Lips, Male in Black’
Woodrow grew into old age, surrounded by his art, until a house fire tipped his life’s balance precariously. Supported by his family, Woodrow agreed to move into sheltered accommodation, on one condition: his family must promise to take care of his art.

Never before exhibited, few had ever seen these artworks. His brother felt these paintings and drawings were almost as private to Joash as a diary. Now they were blanketed by dust; their colours obscured by smoke damage.

Many of the canvases were stacked so high they had become stuck together. The family’s promise to rescue this huge body of work posed a daunting challenge. Only a chance discovery would kick-start the chain reaction that snatched Joash Woodrow’s artwork from the brink of obscurity.

A year later, artist Christopher P. Wood was browsing a second-hand bookshop, when he stumbled across every book-hunter’s dream, something more unique than the rarest first edition. The issue of the Victorian ‘Magazine of Art’ that he picked up was intriguing in itself, but this copy had belonged to Joash Woodrow, who had reworked every page by hand. Using paint, collage and drawing, Woodrow had reinvented the old magazine as a book of completely original artworks. They were funny, clever and brimming over with personality.

Wood bought the unusual artefact and showed it to the conservator and gallery-owner Andrew Stewart, whose interest was piqued. Stewart contacted Woodrow’s family, who were shocked to discover they had accidently sold one of Joash’s artworks and explained the dilemma of the houseful of art that needed a new home.

Arranging to visit, Stewart found portraits, still-lifes, and landscapes of contemporary Leeds. Vividly rendered, their lavishly thick paint clung to all manner of rough-hewn supports. From sackcloth to advertising signs, anything Woodrow came upon could become part of an artwork.

As these unconventional pieces were brought out and painstakingly cleaned, brilliant colours emerged, to reveal a style that combined expressive vigour with insightful clarity of purpose. Woodrow’s work showed a deep knowledge of 20th century artistic movements, while his exuberantly direct approach animated everyday subjects in a way all his own.

Joash Woodrow’s first solo exhibition was arranged by 108 Fine Art Gallery in Harrogate in 2002, while Leeds Art Gallery was the first public gallery to show his work soon after. Further exhibitions crystallised Woodrow’s reputation as one of the great undiscovered talents of 20th century art. Though his health had become fragile, Joash Woodrow attended one of the first exhibitions of his own work, just a short time before his death in 2006.

Joash Woodrow -‘Leeds Landscape with Chimneys’ c.1980

Some of Woodrow’s drawings are now part of Leeds City Art Gallery’s collection and they span a wide period of the artist’s life. In my role as a volunteer cataloguer, I have been intrigued to study Woodrow’s drawings. He drew constantly - amongst the discoveries in Woodrow’s house, the kitchen table alone was submerged beneath over 1000 drawings.

In other ways Woodrow is enigmatic. He left little writing, joined no artistic groups and hadn’t attempted to exhibit his work since the early 1970s. Without these familiar building blocks it can be challenging to fit someone into a conventional art history, but Woodrow’s drawings give us a first-hand account of places he visited, people he saw and what was on his mind. This short series will highlight the illuminating details of Woodrow’s life and work that these drawings capture.

By Liz Kay, Volunteer Cataloguer, Leeds Art Gallery.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Childhood in the collections: New study days at Abbey House Museum

Next month we will be holding our first ‘Childhood’ study day at Abbey House Museum.

The day itself will be split between talks and presentations, handling sessions from the museum collections, and gallery tours – with an introduction to a variety of topics around the theme of childhood.

Researching for this day has been a lot of fun – with so many different avenues to explore and so many possible topics to consider. That has, however, also made it difficult to decide what we should include. For example, talking about the different types of schools in Leeds over the last 150 years is a massive subject – with so many changes to education over the years.

We will have a closer look at Reformatory schools in the area with a little help from Lucie Wade, PhD student at Leeds Beckett University, who will be coming to talk about some of her research, and there will also be a chance to browse images of a variety of schools in the area from the museum collections, including a few images from Leeds Children's Day.

Discover historical toys and games!

Not everything about childhood revolves around school, so we will also have a little look at toys and games, and how they have and haven’t changed over the years, with a chance to handle a few examples from our collections.

 We’ll also talk about the working life of children, particularly in the nineteenth century, including the factory children and the campaign for improvements to their working conditions by people such as Richard Oastler.

Book a space:

If you fancy joining us on 17 November, there are still a few spaces available. The day runs from 11am - 3pm, and costs £10 per person including lunch in the Gatehouse Café.

To book, either give us a call on 0113 3784079 or email us at If you can’t make it this time, we will also be running it again on 27 April 2017.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Matthew Murray's Beam Engine

On 27th December 2015, along with many nearby homes and business, Leeds Industrial Museum suffered its worst flood since records began. As part of the clearing up process it became increasingly clear that one of the badly affected ground floor storage areas at the Museum held an object in several pieces that had some question marks hanging over its identity. Following the initial clean up of the residual silt and flotsam washed into the museum site, we brought in specialist industrial machinery contractors to begin the process of treating the objects hit by the Boxing Day deluge.

By one of those strange co-incidences that seem to be a daily occurrence in working with collections, around the same time we had received a request from BBCs Antiques Road Trip to film any objects we had relating to pioneering Leeds engineer Matthew Murray.  Murray is probably best remembered for his achievement in developing what is widely regarded as the first commercially successful railway locomotive in the world for the Middleton Railway. 

A search of our collections database revealed several items including a brass lubricator recorded as having a connection to a beam engine by Matthew Murray 'at Queen St, York'.  An exchange of emails with the National Railway Museum revealed that the beam engine in question was listed in the catalogue for the Queen Street Museum, a predecessor to the current National Railway Museum.  The entry made interesting reading, especially its mention that the engine had powered sawmilling machinery at the Great Northern Railway carriage repair workshop at Kings Cross station engine shed.

Matthew Murray's model of 'Salamanca', the first locomotive to run on Leeds' Middleton Railway, patented in 1811

This key reference gave us more to go on.  Further database and file work led us closer to the probability that the large cast iron components lying in our ground floor store were indeed the engine designed by Matthew Murray.  Delving into the files, the journey of the object was confirmed.  This was indeed Murray's engine.  In 1966, as the displays at the old Queen Street museum were being prepared for clearing - and no space had been allocated at the new Leeman Road Museum - British Railways contacted Leeds Museum.  Curators at Leeds were initially reluctant to acquire the engine and little further happened until 1972, when on being asked for a second time, they agreed to accept the engine. 

Fast forward to 1979, and Leeds Museums finally took delivery of the object in question. Frustratingly, the files go rather quiet in recording what was being done with the engine following its arrival at Armley Mills, however it was clear that it had been at least partially erected for display.  Just as frustrating, next to nothing was recorded of the engine being dismantled again, presumably in order to improve a blocked access route.
In yet another co-incidence, on the first day of public opening after the flood, we were visited by a Mr Paul Murray Thompson with his brand new book 'Matthew Murray (1765-1826) and the Firm of Fenton Murray (1795-1844)'.  We were able to show the beam engine components to Paul, which set him on the trail to track down more details of the object's history.  Amongst the evidence gathered by Paul was an article from the Yorkshire Evening Post from 1926 highlighting the engine's 115 years of continuous use.

In July, as part of the post-flood action plan, we moved the Murray beam engine components from their previous location to a dry and secure store and laid the components out in a way that would help explain the construction of the object.  Up to this point, no usable image of the beam engine in its erected state had been traced.  However, as part of another project, Chris Sharp, our recently appointed Assistant Curator of Community Engagement, has just identified a good quality image of the engine - probably dating from the early 1980s - in its largely assembled state.

The four vertical columns of Murray's beam engine in their new store
Sections of the Beam Engine in their new store

Re-assembling the engine to display condition is undoubtedly likely to be a long and complex process.  But we have made great strides in a short time in firmly identifying the object, securing good storage and pulling together contextual material to enable us to set about the task as resources allow.  The name of Matthew Murray, one of Leeds most innovative engineers, is currently enjoying a well-deserved renaissance. We hope that Leeds Industrial Museum can make its contribution to telling his story.

The Murray beam engine in near-assembled state at Leeds Industrial Museum, probably in the early 1980s


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Museum Outreach: The power of interesting things

Learning Officer Andy reveals how museum objects can become part of the recovery process for children in hospital

At my last visit to the Leeds General Infirmary Learning zone, where I do museum outreach with children who are in hospital long term, I had one of my best experiences so far as a Museum Learning Officer.

I spend time with the children in the learning rooms, if they are able to make it, and then go to the wards with objects and do bedside sessions with those children not able to make it.

One child, A, was leaving the hospital to go home that evening. The staff from the Learning Zone said that he was 13 years old and had challenging behaviour and profound learning needs. They told me to explain carefully how he was to behave round museum objects. I felt some slight trepidation. When we got to the ward he was not there, then we heard loud screaming.

“That’s A, having his IV removed” said the staff member with me. My trepidation became a little more than slight at this point.

When A came back to ward he was clearly upset and crying a lot. The first object I showed him was a kaleidoscope, he had not seen one before and was mesmerised by it. The crying stopped instantly! He politely asked if he could look at the other objects I had and was very gentle with them without me having to explain how to handle them other than saying that they were very old and please be careful with them.

Andy (centre), pictured at Leeds Discovery Centre
He was very taken with the printing block from Hunslet Locomotives, being a 13-year-old boy and into trains. I explained that we have a museum in Armley with trains. As we were high up and had a good view out the hospital windows to the east, I pointed out the spire of St Michaels Church and tracked left to where Armley Industrial Museum is, “There is the museum. Why don’t you visit with your mum when you feel up to it,” I said. He ran off to tell his mum, and that was the end of that session.

From worrying that this session was going to be a challenging one to in fact being one with a polite, attentive and gentle child I put down to the power of interesting things. I am a firm believer that handling interesting things can aid in the recovery of many ills.

Andrew Kyrover, Learning and Access Officer, Leeds Discovery Centre

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Burn time: Light related objects

Pamela Crowe explores light conditions and objects linked to lighting in the museum store

In-store arm-waving illustrated by the author
The Discovery Centre is a purpose built museum storage facility with regulated temperature and humidity. It is also windowless so that we can control how much light the museum objects are exposed to. 

Any visit to the store usually involves a fair bit of arm-waving at the motion-triggered light sensors located throughout (see photo). These lights are on timers, eventually returning the store to darkness when the humans have left. 

Here, light is rationed, not just to save energy but because light exposure can significantly damage the objects within. In the Store, we have the luxury of choosing how and when we use light, we understand how to control it and can instantly illuminate or choose darkness. 

Searching the store and researching the collections is about giving as many items as possible a small spotlight – even if only briefly. It’s tricky to merely toe-dip into an object’s story and then quickly retreat. You feel you must stay for the duration, ask questions, look closely, ask more and look again. You have to allow it into the light long enough for it to glow a little.
This was the premise for my search today: I return to a particularly ill-lit passageway between the costume and ceramics cabinets in zone 4, scrutinising shelf after shelf in the semi-gloom. I look not so much for oddities but for the unremarkable. 

Shelf 2, Cabinet 12, Zone 4. Semi-gloom

I’m trying to re-train my eyes to see those artefacts that have no ego, the wallflowers that avert their gaze as mine skims past. I half-pretend my errand has an intrepid purpose, like Dorothy in Disney’s Return to Oz, tasked with three guesses for the true object in the room of antiques.

The 'Fairly' Fairy Lamp

Amongst a shelf of colourful glass I fix focus on a small amber cup with a diamond cut design in the glass. In our museum database it is described as a “Fairly lamp” which throws me initially. What is a “Fairly”? This turns out to be a typo, revealed when I go back to the real object and see the words “Prices Fairy Lamp – Glass Empire made” written on its underside. 

Two minutes of googling later and a whole world of Fairy Lamps has opened up. We would call them night lights or tea light holders now. This one (pictured below) dates from around 1900-1910 and was a very ordinary little object, mass-produced in a variety of shades (blue, green, red, amber) and intended to promote sales of Price’s candles.

Price's Fairy Lamp, night light holder c.1900-1910
Price’s Patent Candles Company began trading in 1830 and helped transform candle production away from a small workshop based enterprise with the wax chandlers and their apprentices overseen by the ancient City Livery Companies into production on an industrial scale. They revolutionised candle production by replacing traditional tallow and beeswax candles with a new Stearine candle made from a composite of refined tallow and coconut oil. Tallow candles, made from animal fat, were low-cost but smoked and smelled.

In contrast, beeswax candles were expensive and could only be afforded by the Church and the wealthy. Candles made from Stearine fat burned cleanly and brightly and were much cheaper to produce making them available to far greater numbers. Domestic light could be marketed to the masses, light became considerably more affordable and the impact on non-daylight hours must have been great.

Within twenty years of start-up, Price’s had become a household name and by 1900 were producing over 130 types of candles: candles for pianos, photographic darkrooms, carriages, dining rooms, ballrooms, nurseries, candles to deter intruders, edible candles for desperate explorers on expeditions and the army, candles for bedrooms, double-wick railway signal candles, miner's candles, beeswax candles for the Catholic and Anglican churches and smokeless candles to sit under shades.

The 'Servant's' Candle

Of all these I am most struck by the servant's bedroom candle. Distinct from the standard bedroom candle, it burned for only 30 minutes. It starkly illustrates the place of light as a commodity, the ownership and manipulation of which exposed and reinforced social hierarchies. If light gave liberty then that liberty could be rationed and controlled. Access to brighter light, longer light, cleaner light reflected social status and the opportunity to move more freely and productively, more socially through the darker hours. 

Servants typically received coals, bed and candles as part of their terms of employment but were instructed not to use their 30 minutes of light for reading. Later, when gas and electric lighting began to replace candles, employers could choose to install wiring so that servants' lights could be switched off remotely at their own, not the servants' convenience.

In our huge Store, I contemplate the small candle holder, sat light-less in the Glassware cabinet. Across the floor, high up in cardboard boxes in Zone 3 lie its counterparts, the candles. Most, unburned but held in appreciation, like so much here, of what they once represented. 

By Pamela Crowe, Volunteer Tour Guide and Blogger at Leeds Discovery Centre 

Store Tours
Come and explore our collections at the Leeds Discovery Centre every Thursday at 11am and 2pm in our Store Tours. For more information about visiting our store, please contact us on 0113 378 2100, email or visit our website. 

Sources/More info:

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Dennisons of Leeds: Pioneers of Penny Slot Machines

Curator Kitty Ross reveals the story behind the popular 1930s 'Murder in the Museum' penny slot machine at Abbey House Museum!

'Murder in the Museum' (1934 model made by Alice
and Eveline Dennison)

One of Abbey House Museum's star objects, the penny slot machine 'Murder in the Museum' has recently been restored to full working order. The comically macabre automaton is subtitled 'Who Killed the Man in the Chair?' and the suspects in this 1930s murder mystery include a woman with a large handbag, a man lurking behind a display cabinet and a man hiding inside the Egyptian sarcophagus.  

The Dennison dioramas and automatons 

The machine was made in 1934 at the height of the Golden Age of crime fiction and was the work of two Leeds sisters, Alice and Eveline Dennison.
The family association with macabre penny slot machines started with their father, John Dennison (1847-1924) who was born in Leeds. He displayed his first working his first working models, demonstrations of a drilling machine and a hand lathe, at the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition, which were well received by the public. He soon began building both mechanical fortune teller machines and working model dioramas for installation at exhibitions, fairs and bazaars. 

The French Execution, designed by John Dennison in 1894 and now
on display at Abbey House Museum (P
hotograph by Norman Taylor)

John Dennison 1917. (Copyright John

By 1884 John had a small exhibition (possibly already in Blackpool). His machines had melodramatic subjects, such as the Dying Child, Drunkard’s Delirium, Haunted Miser and of course the French Execution (now owned by Leeds Museums), pictured above.
John Dennison first exhibited in the old Aquarium in Blackpool in 1891 and he became a fixture in Blackpool Tower when it opened in 1894. It was a family business, including John’s brother William and his son George from his first marriage. 

The talented Dennison sisters 

The three daughters from John Dennison's second marriage, Florence, Alice and Eveline, started by helping their father with his models but soon began to develop ideas of their own. John Dennison valued their contribution and seems to have fiercely discouraged them from marrying out of the family business!

Alice Dennison (1890-1966) initially worked as a governess and then as a dress maker, and was the inspiration behind the costumes for the models. She also turned her hand to the machinery side of the business and was behind the decision to move from clockwork to electricity. 

Eveline Dennison (1896-1970) had been an art student who won a scholarship and she was the artistic one, intricately creating the models out of wood and clay. Their elder sister Florence seems to have been more in charge of the business of running the Blackpool enterprise.
Extract from Alice and Eveline Dennison's notebook

The Mechanics of Murder

The Dennisons left Blackpool Tower in 1944 and sold the machines to the Tower Company, from where they have been dispersed around the world. 

Quoted in the Blackpool Gazette in 1963 the Dennison sisters stated: 

“The most popular models we created were always those with a morbid flavour – “Supper with Death”, “Midnight in the Haunted Churchyard”, “Murder in the Museum”. Anyone who imagines that children prefer fairy stories are way off beam. During the 20 years we held the business we learned a lot about human nature”.

The cast of 'Murder in the Museum' in the Still Room at Temple Newsam House.
(Photograph by Danny Young of Target Productions)
You can try out 'Murder in the Museum' at Abbey House Museum, now lovingly restored by Robert Hind-Smith. An accompanying film which fleshes a live-action version of the story has been produced in collaboration with Target Productions and features local amateur acting talent. It can be viewed in the gallery at Abbey House museum, and also on the Leeds Museums You Tube channel

By Kitty Ross, Curator of Social History
(Unless otherwise stated, all photographs published here were taken for Leeds Museums and Galleries and are licensed under Creative Commons BY NC SA.)

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The Secret Life of the Leeds Tiger

The Leeds Tiger over at Leeds City Museum is one of our best-loved exhibits, but how did it get here and was it really once a rug?  

Thanks to some amazing research by Ebony Andrews, (in her PhD thesis ‘The Biographical Afterlife of the Leeds Tiger’), we have the answers to some of these questions!

The Leeds Tiger came from Dehradun in the Himalayas. It was shot in 1860 by an Anglo-Indian Army Officer, Colonel Charles Reid of thje Sirmoor Battalion (2nd Gurkhas) and sent back to Britain as a prize specimen.

This tiger is rumoured to have threatened the local population and may have been shot as part of a cull. Former curator Henry Crowther wrote of it ‘having destroyed forty bullocks in six weeks and was considered so formidable that no native dare venture into the jungle where this noble beast reigned supreme’ in a 1906 guide book.

Preservation – from skin to mount

The tiger would have been skinned in the field and then more carefully cleaned, with the head mounted by a taxidermist. At this point, Colonel Reid sent the skin to London, where it was exhibited at the 1860 International Exhibition in South Kensington.

By 1862, the skin had arrived in Leeds, where it was presented to the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society Building Committee. A local taxidermist, Henry Ward, was commissioned to shape the skin into a full body mount.

Emma, our Conservator, working on the Leeds Tiger.

It seems that Ward had a difficult task, as he wouldn’t have known exactly what the original tiger looked like. Researcher Ebony Andrews believed that the skin might have been trimmed after it was tanned, leaving missing sections underneath the tiger’s chin, neck and up all four legs.

Posing the Leeds Tiger

Henry Ward decided to present a ‘fearsome’ tiger, pinning the ears back, stretching the jaw wide and putting the claws out. We’ll never know for certain whether the Leeds Tiger really lived up to its dangerous reputation, but today it sends a shiver down the spines of visitors to Leeds City Museum.

By Jen Newby, Digital Media Assistant

Ebony Andrews, PhD thesis ‘The Biographical Afterlife of the Leeds Tiger’ (September 2009)

Work experience at Leeds Museums and Galleries

Every year, dozens of students do work experience with us. Here are accounts by some of them about their experiences of working with our team.

Adrian Derucki, Art & Design Student at Leeds City College

Placement: Leeds Art Gallery & Leeds Discovery Centre, 2016

I am a student at Leeds City College studying Art & Design, and I love art. From a young age I started to draw. I drew everything and anything. Since then I have got better and more intrigued by art and have experimented with using other art media. 

During my work experience I worked with the Learning team, which involved taking artworks into schools and working with young people and their teachers to think about and make their own artwork. As part of my formal learning experience I went to a primary school where pupils had to review an artwork and ask questions about it and to and answer the questions for themselves. They seemed interested and happy. I thought it was a good experience to see how they reacted to an artwork. 

 I helped to organise a gallery activity for children, which involved choosing some images (curating) to be used in the activity, speaking to and helping participants. I found it fun and interesting and observed that the kids were happy to take part. 

I also went to the Discovery Centre to learn about the Retail and Marketing department. There was a huge variety of interesting objects which I enjoyed as I learned about what Curators, security and marketing teams do there. Once I gained a bit of knowledge about the department I was able to design my own product that could potentially be sold in Leeds Galleries and Museums.

Overall my placement was a very fun and interesting experience. I have learnt things about myself I never knew and have been able to see different job activities that I had never heard of before. I think it is so important to try out new things as you can find something you really enjoy. Work experience is really good and useful for anyone’s future, it can be fun too.

How to get work experience with Leeds Museums and Galleries

Friday, 26 August 2016

Thomas Green, Member of the Friends Ambulance Unit - A WW1 Story

Amy, one of our youth curators has researched the story of Thomas Green, who served with the Friends Ambulance Unit in the First World War

Large amounts of our First World War archives are paper, or ephemera. This object is a certificate of wartime employment, given to Corporal Thomas Green. 

Serving with the Friends Ambulance Unit

This certificate states that Thomas, a former grocer's assistant, does not have to come and fight due to his essential war work. Green was part of the volunteer Friends Ambulance Unit. Perhaps he was unable to fight due to a medical condition, yet on the other hand, perhaps he chose not to fight due to moral or religious beliefs. 

Many Quakers, who did not fight due to their religious beliefs, served with the Friend’s Ambulance. This would have prevented social backlash. For instance many women would give men who were not serving white feathers to show that they were cowards.

Choosing a non-combatant role

However, we know that Green did serve as active member of the Territorial Force, part of the reserve army. He also took on a non-combat role here, with the Field Ambulance. Green was probably a conscript, because he took on the role in 1916, after the introduction of conscription. It is unlikely he would have volunteered at this late stage. In 1919, he was demobilised from the army.

This object is more interesting than it may first appear, due to the enormous impact that this simple certificate had upon Thomas Green.

By Amy, Leeds Museums and Galleries youth curator and Preservative Party Member.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Education in Victorian Leeds

Placement student Kaya Firth researched Victorian schools around Leeds

Playtime at Meanwood Road Board School in 1910.

The 1870s-1890s appears to have been a very popular time for schools to be built around Leeds. This relates to the Elementary Education Act of 1870, which enabled all children to have access to education between the ages of 5 and 13. It was also a way of ensuring that local councils had a School Board of Education in order to build and manage schools in areas where they were needed. Leeds School Board was set up in 1870.

Green Lane schoolchildren, pictured in 1906.

One of the schools I managed to find out about was Green Lane School. Using the Triennial Reports of Leeds School Board 1891-1900 I found that it had opened on the 11th November 1874.

The school was enlarged in 1894 for an additional 630 pupils, plus a workshop and cookery room, at a total cost of £11,300 (over £670,000 in modern day currency). Sadly the school closed in 1982 and the building was later demolished.

A great source of information about historic Leeds schools was Leodis, then an online photographic archive run by Leeds Libraries. Users can share memories and information about the images and there are some brilliant reminiscence stories of old school teachers, which helped to shape my own ideas of how many of the schools were run in the mid-20th century in particular.

By Kaya Firth, Placement Student at Abbey House Museum, History Student at Leeds Trinity University

WW1 Leeds timeline

Stephanie Webb reveals an online timeline charting key moments in Leeds' First World War history 

During the centenary of World War One, the Leeds Museums young curators group, the Preservative Party, has been committed to researching and commemorating the sacrifices made by the people of Leeds. We have created WW1 Leeds, an interactive Facebook timeline documenting the story of the city during the war.

Our research has revealed that Leeds and its people made a significant and varied contribution to the war effort both at home and overseas.

The WW1 Leeds timeline covers many different themes. One area is the military, covering recruitment and conscription and the experiences of the Leeds Rifles and Leeds Pals.

The Pals suffered terrible losses in the Battle of the Somme. On 1st July 1916, 24 officers of the Leeds Pals took their men over the tops into No Man's Land. At the end of the first day of the battle, only 17 of 900 men answered a roll call. 750 men had lost their lives and the battalion was all but decimated. Across Leeds, hundreds of grieving families closed their curtains in mourning. It is said that after the Somme, every street in the city had at least one house with its curtains drawn.

Personal War Stories

One of the aims of WW1 Leeds is to reveal the individual war stories of people from Leeds. We want to bring out the personal experiences as well as the overall events and statistics. One of the stories we follow is that of George Sanders of the Leeds Rifles. Sanders received a Victoria across for courage and leadership shown during the Battle of the Somme. Later in the war, he also earned a Military Cross and also spent some time as a prisoner of war.

Leeds and wartime industry

The timeline also covers the contributions and sacrifices that were made on the home front. Leeds was a key industrial centre, manufacturing, for example, munitions, aeroplanes, blankets and uniforms.

One of the most notable factories in Leeds was the Barnbow munitions works. Over 3 years, 36 million cartridges and over 24 million shells were produced at Barnbow. Barnbow's workforce of 16,000 people was 93% female. The so-called 'Barnbow Lasses' were well paid for their vital work, which was highly dangerous. Indeed, many of the women made the ultimate sacrifice.

During the night shift on 5 December 1916, the women in room 42 were filling 4.5 inch shells when a machine malfunctioned. A massive explosion killed 35 women. Such was the secrecy surrounding the work at Barnbow, the incident was covered up and the women were merely listed in the Yorkshire Evening Post as 'killed by accident.' It would be 6 years before the truth was revealed.

Lotherton Hall - convalescent hospital

Leeds also became home to many convalescing soldiers. Several military hospitals opened in the city, including at Beckett's Park teacher training college, which was given over to the War Office and treated 57,200 soldiers between 1914 and 1918. Country houses also became hospitals, including 2 Leeds Museums and Galleries sites. Temple Newsam housed recovering officers, whilst Colonel Gascoigne of Lotherton Hall insisted upon his property providing for other ranks.

Given the city's wide contribution to the war effort and its significant losses, it is little wonder that the announcement of the Armistice prompted mass celebrations. 40,000 people gathered at the Town Hall where fireworks were let off. Over the course of the war, from the 82,000 Leeds soldiers, 10,000 men had lost their lives.

Try out the WW1 Leeds timeline!

You can discover more wartime stories and experiences by visiting the WW1 Leeds timeline. Scroll through the years to explore the different themes. Like and follow the page to receive regular updates about centenary stories and projects on your news feed.

Why not share your own stories on the WW1 Leeds timeline? Please get in touch by posting on the page, sending a private message on Facebook, or emailing You can also connect with us on Twitter @PresParty.

Meanwhile, you'll find 'In Their Footsteps', a major temporary exhibition on WW1 Leeds, curated by the Preservative Party, over at Leeds City Museum until the end of 2016.

If you are aged between 13-24 and would like to become a youth curator, please email

Monday, 8 August 2016

Leeds Remembers: How the local community filled the museum with poppies

On 1-2 July 2016 the Brodrick Hall at Leeds City Museum was filled with poppies to remember those who lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme, and all the lives affected by the First World War.

©D’arcy Darilmaz
Thousands of poppies cascaded from the upper seating, down onto the giant map of Leeds. These poppies were red and white, reflecting remembrance as well as peaceful resistance to war. If you look carefully, you’ll see some shamrocks too, echoing the Irish roots of many soldiers from Leeds.

©D’arcy Darilmaz
Over 45 groups from across the city made the poppies. Many of the makers were people who are living with dementia – spot the really large poppies they made! One member of Peer Support was inspired to create this beautiful embroidery:

Inkwell Arts and Groundwork Leeds got sculptural creating these beautiful clay poppies:

In the days running up to the installation packages of poppies arrived from schools, day centres and individuals. One person made this beautiful poppy, showing Private Jogendra Nath Sen. Private Sen studied at the University of Leeds and joined the Leeds Pals in 1914. He was killed on 26 May 1916, from wounds to his neck and leg after an encounter with the enemy. His friends said “he was the cleverest man in the battalion”.


Another poppy included a beautiful poem that looks at the relationship between families and remembering:

I write this poem
to all the people
who died. and protected
us and didn’t even
fus. while you
were in the          
horrifying trenches

we sat on our
benches hoping you
would be safe
and sound and
hold your

and still fighting
till the end and
not being DeaD.
hoping you will
be next to me
in befo Day
After Day

even when it was
your birthday i
made a cake
with sauce

Remember when we met
at the lake when
you bought a
fake toy. Boy was
it funny the
teddy looked

Like bugs bunny.
I would tell
safe that daddy
would be
home and
you could

play with hime
then and both
act like a
ten years old
boy. So
Me and safe are missing

From Khabeer Fusev.

As part of the process, Curator Lucy visited several groups and schools, discussing the meaning of poppies and the effect of war on Leeds. East Leeds SILC made a heart-shaped arrangement of poppies, sewn and felted by hand by the class. One student said they’d struggled with the idea of poppies and remembering war, until they realised that “remembering is just loving”.

©Kirkstall Festival

On 8 July the poppies moved the Chapter House at Kirkstall Abbey for the Kirkstall Festival.

We’d like to thank all the people from across the city, including:

Agnis Smallwood
Alexander House
Apna Day Centre
Armley Grange Day Centre
Armley Mills Close Knit Friends
Bramley Elderly Action
Bramley War Memorial
Calverlands Day Centre
Calverley Brownies
Carr Manor Community School
Castleton Primary School
Cedars Care Home
CHIME with Leeds Irish Health & Homes
Cookridge Holy Trinity CE Primary School
Crossgates Brownies
East Garforth Primary Academy
East SILC Temple Moor Partnership
Elsie Ayre
Frederick Hurdle Day Centre
Groundwork Leeds
Holt Park Day Centre
Holy Trinity Church, Meanwood
Ingram Road Primary School
Inkwell Arts – Take Over Café & Craft Café
InterACT, Church & Community Partnership
Laurel Bank Day Centre
Leeds Concord Interfaith Partnership
Little London Arts
Middlecross Day Centre
Middlecross Residential Home
Morley Library
Peer Support Service for People Living with Dementia
Pool-in-Wharfedale CE Primary School
Rothwell Primary School
Royal Armouries
St Gemma’s Day Hospice
St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School
St Matthew’s CE Primary School
Suffolk Court Residential Home
West SILC at Farnley Academy
Westborough High School
Wetherby High School
Wheatfields Day Hospice
Whitecote Primary School
Wykebeck Day Centre
Zest Health for Life
… and many other anonymous donors

How to get in touch:

If you would like to contribute to the display in the future or would like them displayed near you, please email

By Lucy Moore, Projects Curator at Leeds Museums and Galleries