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