Thursday, 30 June 2016

Medal For the Somme - Centenary Commemoration

As we mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, Emma our Conservator reveals the medal awarded to veterans of the battle.

Bronze medal with yellow and blue stripped silk ribbon.  Image shows two soldiers from antiquity holding shields and javelins.  There is a French cockerel and British Lion in the foreground.  Figure lying down at the top of the medal with a water jar above sumbolising the River Somme.
One side of the Somme Medal
- showing the symbolism
We have a very special medal on display within the In Their Footsteps Exhibition at Leeds City Museum. Our Conservation Volunteers cleaned the medal some time ago, ready for it to be displayed.

The Recipient

It was issued to Lance Corporal Thomas Hinsley Place from Leeds, who would have had to apply to the French Creux de la Somme Veterans Association to receive it.

We have items from Thomas and his brother Alfred in our collections, including medals and ephemera. Thomas was in the Leeds Pals Regiment, 15th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, whilst his brother Alfred was a Petty Officer in the Royal Navy.

How did Veterans Receive the Somme Medal?

Only those who were able to prove that they had been physically present and had participated in any of the battles that occurred in the Somme region from 1914 to 1918 were allowed into the association.  Membership was extended to those who had opposed the German invasion of the Somme region in 1940.

Simple inscription on the other side of the medal.
Other side of the Somme Medal
- with the plain text

Symbolism on the Medal

The medal is made from bronze with a silk ribbon. The ribbon is yellow with a central blue stripe.  The medal has the bronze assay mark of the Paris mint on the edge and the signature of M Delannoy.

One side has two soldiers from antiquity facing right with their cloaks flowing behind them and a shield in one hand and a javelin in the other.  There is a French cockerel behind the British lion in the foreground.  At the top there is a figure lying down with a water jar above them, this is symbolising the River Somme.  The translation of the inscription reads ‘Battles of the Somme, July-November 1916'.

The other side is very plain with a single inscription translating as ‘Combatants of the Somme 1914-1918-1940’. 

Thomas and Alfred Place's War Stories

Thomas Place survived the conflict, however, his brother Alfred did not.  Both brothers received commendations, Thomas the Meritorious Service Medal for gallantry and devotion to duty.  

Alfred received the Albert Medal for saving life with the loss of his own life in 1916.

You can discover more about both of their stories at the In Their Footsteps Exhibition at Leeds City Museum and on the Our First World War Guardians website.

By Emma Bowron, Conservator.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Conservation Volunteers prepare First World War objects for a new exhibition

Over the past few weeks our conservation volunteers have been hard at work at the Discovery Centre on some special objects for a new First World War exhibition. 

They have been preparing a number of objects selected by our youth curators group, the Preservation Party, for display in the upcoming In Their Footsteps exhibition at Leeds City Museum.

Volunteer Alexandra shown cleaning a piece of medical equipment for exhibition.  Wearing gloves and a lab coat, and using cotton swabs to clean.
Alexandra cleans a piece of medical equipment

The Conservation Process

Volunteer Jill wearing lab coat and gloves is cleaning a Commemorative Penny with cotton wool swabs and an appropriate polish.
Jill Cleaning part of the Medal Collection
All the objects were condition checked by myself and then the volunteers got to work on objects that need a little tender loving care before they can be displayed.  As you can imagine many of these objects are at least 100 years old.  

Some just required cleaning with cotton wool swabs and deionised water, others required a little more effort with conservation grade polish and microcrystalline wax. They all have a story to tell.

Conserving Medals 

We are also displaying some of our medals in the new exhibition. The medal cleaning and rehousing project was the first conservation volunteer project that we ran nearly five years ago. The team documented, photographed, cleaned and re-packaged the entire medal collection. 

We have managed to fill 34 albums with a vast range of medals from this country and worldwide. There are a lot from the First World War period, not just from this country but many from overseas too. 

The Conservation Volunteer Team

Some of the medal cleaning team showing holding cleaned Commemorative Penny from the First World War.  All wearing lab coats and gloves.
Some of the Medal Cleaning Team: Michael, Jill, Carol, David & Victor
The conservation volunteers have been working with me every other Thursday down at the Discovery Centre for nearly five years. They are a very diverse group of people with an interest in history and preserving the past for future generations.  

Michael is our longest serving member, having been here from the start. Jill, Victor and David joined about three years ago, when some of the original members went on to pastures new. In the last few months Alexandra and the two Lindas have joined the group.

Find out more about the In Their Footsteps exhibition at Leeds City Museum!

By Emma Bowron, Conservator

Friday, 24 June 2016

Delve into the Leeds Museums and Galleries collections on a study day!

Would you like to come and spend a day exploring an aspect of our collections? Assistant Social History Curator Nicola Pullan reveals how to do just that at one of our study days.

Like most museum services we have large amounts of collections that are not always on display or that are not suitable for being displayed in a traditional museum case. That doesn’t mean that the material isn’t interesting or important – but it does mean that people find it harder to know we have some items or to see them.

As a way to try and open up access to some of these collections some of the curatorial team have been running study days. I have found these to be particularly useful for social history – as people are able to bring their own memories with them to the sessions which they often willingly share with the rest of us. So far I have developed one looking at local suffragette Leonora Cohen, and another looking at the retail history of Leeds. Later this year I will be adding another topic to my list – childhood.

What do study days consist of?

Each curator has their own format, but I like to spend the morning giving an illustrated talk about our subject of the day using images from our collections to illustrate points in the discussion. This gets people thinking so they have lots to talk about when they head to lunch in the cafĂ©! 

For example, in the retail study day we start with a discussion on how shopping itself has developed in the last 150-200 years through looking at trends and technological changes. Then we look through a range of images from different retail spaces across Leeds from the museum collection – some more familiar than others. 

In the afternoon is an opportunity for people to explore a small selection of museum items related to the subject of the day. Depending on the topic I like to bring out objects including old photographs, postcards and catalogues, packaging or other material from the collections not currently on display for people to look at up close.

Upcoming study days at Abbey House Museum in 2016:

Places are limited so you will need to book before the event by calling us on 0113 3784079 or e-mailing 

Led by myself:
  • Shop til you drop: The changing face of retail in Leeds
    – Thursday 7 July and Thursday 22 September 2016, 11am – 3pm
    Tickets are £10, including lunch.
    (See our What's On website for more details)

  • Childhood – Growing up in Leeds
    – Thursday 17th November 2016, 11am – 3pm
    Tickets are £10, including lunch.

Led by my colleague Patrick Bourne:
  • Building Victorian Leeds
    - Thursday 8 September 2016, 11am – 3pm
    Tickets are £10, including lunch.
    (See our What's on website for more details)
  • Death and Disease in Victorian Leeds
    – Thursday 20th October, 11am – 3pm
    Tickets are £10, including lunch.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Leeds tailors who dressed the 1966 England football team

Football fever has once again taken over the country (or so the media would have us believe anyway). Three of the home nations have been competing in Euro 2016 and next month we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of arguably one of the greatest moments in English football: winning the 1966 World Cup.

One of the key photo opportunities during any major football championship is the team photo with all the players in their team suits. For the 1966 tournament the team suit was made by the Leeds tailoring company Burtons, who promoted themselves as 'the tailor of taste'.

1966 was an exciting year for Burtons, as not only were Burtons suits worn by sporting royalty but actual royalty came to Leeds! Princess Margaret received a tour of the Burtons Hudson Road factory.

Burton 1966 Brown piece dyed Glen check two piece suit
Burtons brown piece dyed Glen check two piece suit, 1966

Leeds has been known for its textile industry since before the Industrial Revolution and, although there was a gradual decrease in the second half of the last century, clothing manufactures still remain in the city today. Burtons began life in 1903 and was named after its founder Montague Burton. Although the company had offices in Sheffield the main hub of the company was its Hudson Road factory in the Burmantofts area of Leeds.

Aerial View of Burton Hudson Road Factory, Burmantofts, Leeds
Burton Hudson Road Factory, Burmantofts, Leeds.
(Image: Yorkshire Post Newspaper Ltd.)

Brian Rayner spent 52 years working in the clothing industry. He began his career at Burtons Montague in 1960, when he was 15 years old. In 2012 he gave an oral history interview to Leeds Museums about his time in the textile industry. Brian's history offers an amazing insight into clothing manufacturing and the changes in fashion, manufacturing techniques and the gradual move from bespoke tailoring to more ready to wear suits over the years.

The Cutting Room at Hudson Road - 1960s
The Cutting Room at Hudson Road - 1960s
(Image: Yorkshire Post Newspaper Ltd.)

What really struck me when I listened to Brian speak was the picture he painted of the social aspects of working for Burtons and the sheer size of the Hudson Road factory. There were 10,000 people working at the factory and the site included a canteen which could seat half the workforce in one siting. 

Brian described how the tea ladies came round with tea and sandwiches at 10 o'clock in the morning and took your lunch order (for which there were 3 choices ranging from 11 pence to one shilling and 3 pence). When you took your meal ticket along at one o'clock your lunch would be waiting for you. 

Inside the huge canteen at Hudson Road - 1960s
Inside the huge canteen in a Burtons factory - 1960s
(Image: Yorkshire Post Newspaper Ltd.)

If you needed to burn off that lunch there were on site sporting facilities. Brian remembers two football pitches, a cricket pitch with athletics track round the outside, a rugby pitch, a bowling green, a putting green, tennis courts and snooker tables. makes me feel tired writing the list let alone using the facilities!

Burtons workers enjoying the sports facilities at Hudson Road - 1960s
(Image: Yorkshire Post Newspaper Ltd.)

There were not only leisure and catering facilities on site but also free health care. As well as having a fully equipped nurses station, Burtons offered free dentistry, chiropody and free hairdressing for the ladies of the factory, of which there were many! Nearly all the sewing machinists were female compared to the predominantly male hand-tailoring and press room sections. Brian remembers the work force consisting of 1 man for every 10 women.

Burton workers clocking out of work - 1960s
Burtons workers clocking out of work - 1960s
(Image: Yorkshire Post Newspaper Ltd.)

This was not the only gender imbalance at the factory, as there was also a disparity in the pay – although perhaps not what you might expect! Brian remembers being paid £3 and 15 shillings a week when he first started working as an apprentice. In comparison the women who were fully trained in the sewing room were being paid £8 per week. 

Nevertheless, Brian says, if you took a female colleague out to the pictures the man was expected to pay! Brian also had to hand his wages over to his mother. She would take out what she needed for board before giving the rest back to him. 

Burton staff outing to Morecambe - 1960s
Burtons staff outing to Morecambe - 1960s
(Image: Yorkshire Post Newspaper Ltd.)

Walking into the huge Hudson Road factory with its 10,000 staff - 500 employed solely for cutting the fabric – 5000-seater canteen, social opportunities and sports facilities not forgetting a 10:1 female to male ratio must have been an amazing sight for a 15-year-old boy starting his first job.

Sources: Montague Burton: The Tailor of Taste (1990, Manchester University Press).

By Rebecca Fallas, Volunteer Blogger

Discover more:

You can see more on Burtons and the 1966 England suit, including an interview with Brain at the Leeds Discovery Centre on Living in '66 - Suits, Boots and Northern Roots. The programme is available on BBC IPlayer until 1st July 2016.

If you'd like to take a tour around the Discovery Centre store like Kay Mellor in Living in '66, our store tours take place every Thursday at 11am and 2pm. Visit the Leeds Museums and Galleries website for more details.

If you'd like to learn more about the textile industry in Leeds why not visit Leeds Industrial Museum or Thwaite Mills?

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Taking care of our taxidermy collection

Swallowtail butterfly

Museum collections require constant care and there’s a lot of conservation work going on behind the scenes at Leeds Museums.

Right now, some of the animals usually displayed in Leeds City Museum’s Life on Earth Gallery are being conserved. We’re taking the opportunity to reveal what goes on behind the scenes, following the animals from their case to our conservation department!


Dangers and Pests

Museums take plenty of precautions to prevent pests from accessing our collections. Simple things like avoiding food and drink on the gallery can make a difference.

Good environmental conditions, well-sealed cases, regular pest monitoring, and the chemicals used to preserve taxidermy specimens all reduce the likelihood of our specimens being damaged by pests.

Unfortunately, something will very occasionally slip through all our deterrents. Recently, we discovered moth activity in some of our Life on Earth Gallery cases.

The larvae of the Webbing Clothes Moth (Tineola bisselliella) feed on natural fibres, including fur and feathers, and we found adult moths and the dropping of larvae had made their way into the taxidermy case.

Moths have eclectic tastes, so to be safe, we have removed a large variety of animals, including our famous Leeds Tiger. His companions range from butterflies to bats; birds such as the Black-headed Oriole, Huia (now extinct) and Yellow-capped Mannakin; as well as an otter and a Grey Seal.

Yellow-capped Mannakin

A trip to ‘quarantine’

We have arrangements in place to deal with invading pests! In order to prevent further spread of the moth, and to protect the rest of our collection, we have temporarily removed the affected and vulnerable specimens to the quarantine facility at Leeds Discovery Centre, our museum store. There we will freeze them to kill all the moths and larvae.

We hope to return all the specimens to the gallery soon, and apologise for any disappointment caused to visitors

By Rebecca Machin, Curator - Natural Sciences

The Gallery at Temple Newsam on YouTube

The second of the new series of Temple Newsam videos is now available on YouTube and gives a tour of the grandest room in the house, the Picture Gallery or Long Gallery. Situated on the first floor in the north wing of the house, it is by far the largest room. Its great size allowed the family to hold gatherings and large parties or use the space to take a walk indoors in poor weather. Primarily the function of this spacious room was to display the family collection of paintings.


The interior of the Gallery was originally Jacobean, from its creation by Sir Arthur Ingram in the early 17th century. When Henry the 7th Viscount Irwin inherited Temple Newsam in the 1730s, the room was in decay. Henry’s finances had taken a big hit and he had to face up to restoring the Gallery on a relatively small budget. Consequently, instead of London craftsmen, he chose several of York’s finest artisans to create plasterwork reliefs.

In retrospect this appears to have been a lucky choice as the room is now considered one of the best examples of a mid-Georgian interior in England.

Pictures and Plasterwork

The plasterwork relief placed prominently in the centre of the ceiling is the King, George I. Other members of the royal family are similarly represented around the room. Henry was making a political statement of his loyalty to the royal house of Hanover. Paintings in this gallery reinforced this royalist message, but there were also portraits of Henry’s family and of himself and his wife.

In a large, bright and life-like portrait, Henry is shown standing before Temple Newsam House holding part of the plan for the restoration of this Picture Gallery, a task of which he was clearly proud.

Furniture and Decor

The family also displayed their fine collection of Italian cabinet paintings, seascapes, landscapes and battle scenes. Today, many of the paintings hang exactly where they were in 1730. Henry purchased from London two grand fireplaces and numerous fine chairs, couches, tables and candle-stands carved with classical scenes, much of which remain in the room today and give it the appearance of a truly comfortable space.

Words and Photography by Janet Tankard, Volunteer Blogger

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Becoming an Artsmark Supporter

Lifelong Learning Manager Kate reveals her team's Artsmark journey to help inspire and empower the next generation!

Can I tell you a story? Are you sitting comfortably, then let’s begin…

In this situation, most people have an expectation of what will follow next. There will be a story set out and told to an expectant audience. But what if the storyteller said ‘I haven’t written the story yet, would like to help me?’ Would that be exciting, or unnerving? Would it walk the fine line between the two?

Becoming an Artsmark Supporter

Earlier this year, Leeds Museums and Galleries was selected by Arts Council England to take part in a pilot project for becoming an Artsmark Supporter. Artsmark is a quality standard for schools who inspire young people through arts and culture. By giving children access to their cultural heritage through every classroom, we build fully rounded young people who are prepared for life, have creative problem-solving skills and artistic outlets and broad horizons. We build a creative society, and we build the audiences and the professionals of the future.

Our Artsmark Supporter journey has been rather like an unwritten story: an expectation altered and a shared journey. Our role in the pilot was to test what kind of support the schools would need through the two years of the Artsmark process. 

The schools we worked initially said a tiered approach of low, medium and high support packages would work on paper. It’s an easily explainable and promotable and would attract them to make an initial contact with an arts organisation. However, as one teacher said, "I just want someone to talk it through with, can you help?" The answer was, "of course!"

Museums + Schools = creativity

We found we both wanted a mutually beneficial ‘phone a friend’ relationship, where schools get the benefit of a friendly, quality assured, better-than-Google option for sourcing arts engagements and seeking best practice, and we get the opinions of a set of schools and a way into what formal education is thinking and feeling right now to help our wider programmes.

The first stage of the Artsmark process is for the schools to write their plan for what they want to do, called the Statement of Commitment. We helped the schools write the Statements and found we could gently question and challenge their definition of arts and culture (visual art is not just drawing!) and give the Statement robust artistic best practice.

We wanted to encourage experimentation and expression and the best way to do this is to give Heads and Arts Co-ordinators better information and confidence at using artistic processes.

But, writing the Statements of Commitment is just the start of the two year journey, so where the story will end, who knows? Shall we go on the journey together?

Watch this space for further updates on Artsmark and posts from the Learning Team!

By Kate Fellows, Lifelong Learning Manager, Leeds Museums and Galleries

Friday, 3 June 2016

Artists as Explorers

Part of the role of the Education team at Leeds Art Gallery is creating activities that align with schools curricula. We accept these challenges and try to work topics into exciting learning experiences outside the classroom.

‘All around the World’ was the latest topic a primary school asked us to work with. It would have been too easy to do a whistle-stop tour of artists who come from different countries or cover a stereotyped example of a specific culture. Instead, we understood it as explorers in their own right; with their investigatory processes of making artworks and wanted to address the journeys that lead viewers on when engaging with an artwork.

Inspiration: Chris Drury

Flicking through the gallery’s catalogue of artworks in the collection, I found 'Medicine Wheel' by Chris Drury (1982-1983) (View it on the artist's website). The large wheel shape contains one natural object for each day of the year, all collected by the artist on walks he took. It also contains twelve segments of paper, one for each month, made from the pulp of particular plants most evident during that month and a mushroom spore print at the very centre of the wheel.

Chris Drury is an environmental artist who makes site-specific nature based sculpture. His work makes connections between different phenomena in the world, specifically between nature and culture. He focuses on the environments in which we live, often using mapping to draw attention to how we use or abuse the landscape. Drury frequently collaborates with scientists, doctors and technicians to explore the sites he creates artworks about.

Journeys as artistic inspiration

Inspired by the artwork, we proposed a creative play space in which to explore the theme ‘Journeys’. We asked pupils to bring a photo or object from ‘all around the world’ to the activity, which would help showcase or add to the work that they had been undertaking in class. Young people used their imaginations and independent creative ideas to go on a journey with their object and to investigate what their object said about living in a particular place.

The play space was constructed as a large wheel installation on the floor with four sections of different activities. Pupils made new artworks that imagined the surroundings of the objects they brought through sound, 3D modelling, creative sorting and drawing. As an example, one pupil brought a picture of a landscape in Zimbabwe to the 3D modelling station; the pupil considered what else an explorer may see in the environment of the picture and made a model of an elephant.

At the end of the experience pupils shared their new creations, displaying the artworks in the wheel to make a collective artwork of imaginary journeys.

Taking an artist process and ‘reinventing the wheel,’ we created a learning experience that allowed children to go on their own imaginative journeys and making an artwork as a response. An artist and their working process provided inspiration for creative learning experiences. This also showcased the role an artist can play in communicating about the world, and how they question our surroundings.

By Lucy Courtney-Clegg

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Gertrude Bray ‘The Home Specialist’

We are currently cataloguing the Yorkshire Post Studio photography archive which is held at Abbey House Museum. 

Amongst the bonny babies, long forgotten musical hall turns & (very) young men in military uniform (often with an equally young bride) there appears some very interesting local characters.

Mrs Gertrude Bray, May 1938
Mrs Gertrude Bray, May 1938
One glass negative dated May 1938 simply states that it is a Mrs Gertrude Bray of Bray Homes. The only other information we hold on Mrs Bray is that she was a councillor with an address in Whitkirk. When I delved a little deeper I found that Gertrude was indeed a Labour councillor for the Mill Hill & South Ward & served on the housing committee, which was apt, as she is described as 'one of Britain's first women builders' (Yorkshire Evening Post 18th July 2007) and as 'The Home Specialist' (Yorkshire Evening Post 18th June 1937) who was described as 'Leeds best and busiest builder'.

Mrs Bray designed and built modern labour saving homes in new estates including the Pendas Fields 'garden village' in Cross Gates area and also houses on Selby Road, Halton, around Temple Newsam and the Vesper Gate Mount estate, in Kirkstall. By the outbreak of the Second World War she had built 650 small houses in Leeds.

Selby Road, Halton, 29th April 1937 with advertising sign for Bray Homes
Selby Road, Halton, 29th April 1937 with advertising sign for Bray Homes
(With kind permission of Leeds Library and Information Service,
An advertisement for Gertrude Bray homes which appeared in the Leeds Mercury on 8 April 1939 stated that they were ‘Houses of distinctive design and superior finish’ and showcased a Maisonette costing £385 which was described as ‘Ideal for bachelors, spinsters and the elderly. A unique design by Gertrude Bray, containing stainless steel sink and refrigerator. Something entirely new’.

It would seem that Gertrude’s interest in making life easier for women went beyond building houses with 'mod cons'. The Daily Mirror (14th March 1940) under the headline ‘Woman Builder is Snag Solver’ described a typical scene on one of the sites built by Bray Homes.

'[At] No. 11 on the housing estate at Crossgates, Leeds, is young, attractive Mrs. Gertrude Bray. In her little office she listens patiently while women sometimes twice her age ask her advice on domestic worries...[!]'

And there's more ... Gertrude was a prolific speaker & conference delegate. From municipal engineering to equal rights for women, she held robust opinions based on personal experience. In 1948 she spoke at an educational conference in London on equal pay where she said that she had experience prejudice against her in her career because she was a woman. She gave an example of a builder who tried to encourage a supplier to refuse to trade with her but further stated that she thought her sex was often an asset. In her speech she stated ‘How often, do we get the position where a woman in a good job, commanding a good salary has to be twice as good as a man to get his salary’. A view which would not be out of place today.

In the Yorkshire Evening Post (1953) she expounded on banking her family allowance in her children's names as 'nest eggs' for their futures & was awarding a trophy in her name for the best garden in Halton! She also held very modern views on childbirth which she explained in an interview with the Daily Herald (7th September 1945):

'Speaking of her own experience of painless motherhood. Mrs. Gertrude Bray pleaded that the veil of mystery about child-birth should be lifted. The scientific energy which goes to thinking out and manufacturing atomic bombs she said, should be put into making childbirth painless.'

I'd love to find out more about Gertrude who was obviously a great woman with a very modern approach to both business and family life. I know she had at least three children but have no more information about her family, education or how she became a true socialist, feminist, a visionary; as well as very practical enthusiast, politician & successful businesswoman!

If you have any further information which you would like to share about Gertrude Bray or Bray Homes we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us in the comments section below or via Facebook or Email.

By Stella Knox, Volunteer.