Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Drawing on Memories

Guest blog by Helen Thomas

I’m a visual artist based in Wakefield. I’ve worked on several projects with Wakefield Museums and Wakefield Libraries. In autumn 2017 Wakefield Museums asked me to work with communities as part of an Arts Council England funded project to deliver activities in the South East of the district.

I started the project by catching the train to South Elmsall and walking to Moorthorpe station. Along the way I took photos to use in the project. I visited South Elmsall Library to see the museum case that Wakefield Museums installed in 2017. If you haven’t seen the display yet, do check it out next time you’re in the area. This micro museum features a fascinating collection of ancient and modern objects specific to the area - from Anglo-Saxon archaeological finds, to original John Godber scripts.


South Elmsall Library is staffed by a great team who make it a welcoming place where people can socialise, learn, relax… and even borrow books. In January 2018 I invited people to two ‘Drawing on Memories’ sessions at the library: one for the regular Monday Crafternoon group and a drop in session on a Saturday for families and anyone who wanted to come along.

The South East of the district area has a rich history that is well documented thanks to the work and generosity of local historians. For this project I was interested to hear people’s memories stories of everyday places and things they care about.

I invited people to share their memories through a range of activities. Some people brought an object or photo with them and told us their story - we were surprised and delighted when one participant brought in a miniature bronze statue of a miner, by sculptor Graham Ibbotson. The piece was one of an edition made in memory of the miners who lost their lives in the South Kirkby mining disaster.  Wakefield Museums were interested in objects from the area that they could loan or that could be donated. The event generated donations to the museum service, from a 1970s Christmas Decoration given to a child at school, to one resident’s 1950s TV licenses, nostalgic old money and working man’s club vouchers. One visitor even donated a Bronze Age axe head found locally that is thousands of years old.

John Welding  https://johnwelding.blogspot.co.uk has worked on several illustration projects for Wakefield Museums including: The Battle of Wakefield, Stanley Ferry Log Boat, and ‘The Extraordinary Life Of Charles Waterton’ comic book. John is great at bringing people’s words to life through pictures. At the two ‘Drawing on Memories’ activity sessions John made wonderful quick sketches of people’s memories that they were able to keep and take home.

There were objects from Wakefield Museum’s handling collection, themed around leisure & celebration. We chatted about what you might find in a museum… is it just old valuable things? Is there a place for new things? How do we know what to keep for future museums? We talked about our favourite things, drew pictures of them and made our own mini museum on the library wall. We stuck photos and wrote memories on a large hand drawn map of the area.


Participants were invited to visit Wakefield Museum with me. The visits were a wonderful opportunity for both museum staff and visitors to swap and share stories sparked by objects in the collection. During one visit we noticed a map showing an artefact that had been found in South Elmsall. When we noticed that object was missing from the accompanying display case we were pleased to learn that the object is now displayed in the museum case in South Elmsall Library.


In March 2018 I took one of Wakefield Museum’s Memory Boxes to Westfield Centre Children’s Day Care. I chatted to parents and carers about the free children’s activities on offer at the district’s museums. The toddlers had lots of fun dressing up, playing picnics, taking pretend photos on the old camera, dancing and singing to the vintage radio and looking at things (and at each other) through the magnifying glass. Children had a great time drawing and sticking things in their ‘my mini museum’ books and everyone went away with a little Wakefield Museums goody bag and a copy of the latest museums ‘what’s on’ guide.

I really enjoyed meeting people and hearing their stories through this project. I learned about dolphins in the swimming pool in the 1970’s. I heard stories of discos and beat nights at The Chequers, playing billiards before going to ‘2nd house’ at The Palace and, of course, where to get the best fish and chips in the area and I learned that trying on a 60’s Crimpolene frock made toddlers, parents and staff giggle at me. I’ve realised that, for me, it’s people’s stories that make museums interesting, that help me understand and connect with the displays.


I’m writing this at in the final week of ‘Mini Museums & Drawing on Memories’. I’ve just had a lovely conversation with my contact from the Crafternoon group. A combination of bad weather and winter flu meant that several people missed out on the original dates that we’d arranged to visit Wakefield Museum.  Group members were very keen to take up the invitation, so we’ve arranged another date. I’m really looking forward to meeting them all again later this week at the museum, hearing stories inspired by the museum displays… and rounding the project off with a cuppa together at Create Café.

It’s clear that people welcome the opportunity to get involved, to try something, to share and to learn. People responded to an informal approach, to being invited. It’s also clear that Wakefield Museums are looking to find ways to reach beyond the district’s main Museum sites, and I hope they find ways to continue and extend the reach of these activities.

Very big thank you’s:
Arts Council England - for funding the project
Wakefield Council - for securing the funding and offering activities in the South East of the district. Particular thanks to Steven Skelley for limitless enthusiasm.
South Elmsall Library and Westfield Centre Children’s Day Care - for a warm welcome, hosting workshops and supporting the project.
John Welding - for drawing unseen memories in mere moments
Special thanks to everyone who took part - for sharing research, stories and memories. For donating an object. For drawing a picture, reading an old newspaper or sticking a photo on the map. For playing, for listening for visiting the micro museum in South Elmsall or the museum in Wakefield One, for taking an interest.

Some feedback from the project:
“The children were amazed at the camera and other interesting items”
“The children loved it”
“I plan on visiting the Wakefield Museum with or family”
“I love these ‘little’ events whereto can speak to museum staff - and learn from other people there”
“The concept of jointures of library/museum is a good one. It enhances both genres”
"I really like the idea of museums in libraries"
“Having history to look at is great. It should always be passed on for our children to learn”
“We would like more information on other events like the one today”

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Family fun across West Yorkshire museums and galleries

February half term is nearly here.  We are extremely lucky in West Yorkshire to have a fantastic range of museum and gallery sites run by Local Authorities.  There are castles, art galleries, museums,  a watermill, an abbey and more! Many have free entry and those that charge are extremely good value for money. You can see penguins, half a pig, a caiman under the floor, a ferocious tiger.  There are indoor and outdoor sites, spend an hour or a whole day.  You can take part in organised workshops, play in family friendly interactive areas, get crafty, learn something new and see amazing treasures.

Bradford Museums and Galleries

Cartwright Hall Art Gallery

Cliffe Castle Museum

Bradford Industrial Museum

Bolling Hall

Find out what's on at Bradford Museums and Galleries: http://www.bradfordmuseums.org/whats-on

Example event:

Mask Making Workshop With Artist Becky Truman

Cartwright Hall Art Gallery

18 February, 1pm – 3pm

Celebrate 250 years of Circus with aerial artist, costume designer and sculptor, Becky Truman.
Places are very limited. Cost £10 per person. Suitable for 5 years plus. All children to be accompanied by an adult. Please book on 01274 431212 or e:

Calderdale Museums

Bankfield Museum

Heptonstall Museum

Shibden Hall

Smith Art Gallery

Find out what's on at Calderdale Museums: https://museums.calderdale.gov.uk/whatson

Example event:

Sparks! Half Term Fun – Potion making

Bankfield Museum

21 February, 11am – 12pm; 1pm – 2pm; 2pm-3pm

Find out about the healthcare of the Victorians and create your own special potion. £3.50 per child book: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/calderdale

Kirklees Museums and Galleries

Tolson Museum

Oakwell Hall and Country Park

Huddersfield Art Gallery

Bagshaw Museum

Batley Art Gallery

Find out what's on at Kirklees Museums and Galleries: https://communitydirectory.kirklees.gov.uk/communityDirectory/whatsOn.aspx

Example event: 

Half term activities – bird theme

Bagshaw Museum

20 February, 11am – 1pm, 2pm – 4pm

Be inspired by the objects on display and get creative with our bird themed children’s activities and crafts. Don’t forget to stop and say hello to Snowy the Snowy Owl.
£2 per session. All ages welcome. No booking required.

Leeds Museums and Galleries

Abbey House Museum

Leeds Industrial Museum

Kirkstall Abbey

Leeds Art gallery

Leeds City Museum


Temple Newsam

Thwaite Mills Watermill

Find Leeds Museums and Galleries Visitor Information here:  https://www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/home  

Example event:

Explore Wildlife World at Lotherton

The first areas of Lotherton’s new wildlife park opened on 21 November. Meet playful Humboldt penguins as they splash about in their pool. See our flamingos in their new habitat and say hello to newly arrived tapirs and capybaras. Enjoy a great value family day out, with a country house, fashion galleries, bird garden, café, woodland walks, adventure playground, and much more!  [There is an entry charge to Lotherton and bird themed half term events:  http://www.leedsinspired.co.uk/events/love-birds-lotherton-0]

Wakefield Museums and Castles

Castleford Museum

Pontefract Castle

Pontefract Museum

Wakefield Museum

Find out what's on at Wakefield Museums and Castles: www.experiencewakefield.co.uk/februaryhalfterm

Example event:

Iron Age warriors
22 February, 10am - 3pm
Castleford Museum

Meet an Iron Age warrior and scare your enemies with celtic style face paint.  All ages welcome, free, no need to book

With such a variety of venues and activities everyone will find something fun to do over the February half term.

To find out more about these venues and keep up to date with news follow us on Twitter




Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Women Who Want Votes

100 years ago today the Representation of the People Act was passed. This meant that women over 30 who owned property were given the right to vote .

This is a photograph from The Express, Saturday July 1913, showing a large crowd in Outwood.  The newspaper article sates:

"The non-militant suffragette pilgrims belonging to  the National Union of Woman's Suffrage societies are progressing on their long tramp..... After a brief halt at Outwood they made their acquaintance with Wakefield, which possesses a very active band of women workers, who will never be happy until they get the vote which has been so long denied them."

The article goes on to talk about banners along the route:

"All along the route there were large crowds of people, and the women displayed all kinds of banners and devices.  On one were the words 'Law Abiding' on another 'Justice for Women'"

The crowds made their way into Wakefield:

"...the crowds got denser, and nearly all the space available was occupied in the Bull Ring"

This is a copy of the full newspaper article:

In celebration of the Vote 100 anniversary we'd like to highlight two objects from our collections that we are very proud to display in our museums. The objects are very different, but represent campaign for change:

A woman’s right to cues!

Sheila Capstick achieved national fame in the 1980s when she took action against Wakefield City Working Men’s Club. Women were not allowed full membership at working men’s clubs and when Sheila was banned from playing snooker it was time for action.

Campaign T-shirt, Wakefield, 1979.  This  is on display at Wakefield Museum.
Along with reporter Brenda Haywood they started ERICCA  - Equal Rights in Clubs Campaign for Action, which began by picketing Wakefield City Working Men’s Club and sparked a national campaign which ran throughout the 1980s. Campaigners picketed clubs across the country and eventually Wakefield City Working Men’s Club lifted the snooker ban.

Despite ERICCA’s efforts in the 1980s, the Club and Institute Union (CIU) only changed its rules and granted women equal rights and full membership in 2007.

Pontefract’s Secret Ballot
Pontefract took centre stage on 15 August 1872 when it held the first parliamentary secret ballot in Britain. This was the first time that people had voted for a Member of Parliament by marking an ‘X’ on a ballot paper next to the candidate of their choice - the system we take for granted today. Until then voting had been a public act which allowed corruption and intimidation.
Edward Leatham, Pontefract-born banker and MP for Huddersfield, led the campaign to reform voting after outrageous corruption in the 1868 General Election. In July 1872 the Ballot Act introduced secret voting. Three weeks later a by-election was called in Pontefract.
One of Pontefract’s two MPs, Hugh Childers, was promoted to the cabinet and so stood for re-election. Unusually he was challenged by the ambitious, young Lord Pollington.

The election attracted national attention, especially when Josephine Butler – feminist and social reformer - took advantage of the parliamentary election in Pontefract to further her aims to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts (which allowed the police to detain women they suspected of prostitution to control venereal diseases in the armed forces – no evidence was required).  It was the first female-led feminist campaign in Britain.

The election was hastily organised, but polling day went smoothly with none of the drunken and riotous behaviour that usually accompanied elections. Childers was victorious and Josephine Butler eventually succeeded in getting the Contagious Diseases act repealed. We still use the same secret ballot voting method today.
We have two of the ballot boxes used in these elections in our collections:

One of the ballot boxes used in the first secret ballot.  You can see the remains of where the box was sealed shut with wax and a Pontefract cake stamp.  You can see the boxes on display at Wakefield Museum and Pontefract Museum (Pontefract Museum is currently closed for redevelopment - it will be reopening in May 2018)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Treasured Ring

We are very excited to have acquired a stunning gold ring.

It is a late medieval gold ring from the 15th/16th century AD. It has an inset garnet and 9 further lobes with a letter inscribed on them. These are probably to help the wearer keep track of the 10 prayers that make up reciting the Catholic rosary.

The ring was found by a metal detectorist near Pontefract and acquired under the Treasure Act.

The Treasure Act sets out a clear process to save treasures for local people. Local museums are notified of all potential treasure finds in their collecting area. If the museum wants to save the find for the local community it can by paying the finder / landowner a reward based on the market value of the find. Last year saw the 20th anniversary of the Treasure Act

For more information about 20 Years of Treasure and some of our other objects acquired this way, see our previous blog : 20 Years of Treasure blog

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Walls, walls, walls!

Redevelopment work at Pontefract Museum is cracking on and it's all about the walls!

All of the old exhibition structures have been removed, as has the glass partition, leaving the space looking huge...

There were blinds at the windows these have been taken down.  The windows will be decorated with vinyl designs by artist Fabric Lenny, his work can be seen on other windows at the museum.

The old blinds
The glass partition is being replaced with a stud wall. 

The new wall will give us lots of extra display space in both the main gallery and the special exhibition gallery.

The existing gallery walls are being boarded over to provide a solid and plain backing for the new displays.

The museum exhibition team is also working on the interpretation, providing  graphic designers InchPunch with content for the exhibition panels and preparing the objects for display.

Work left to do includes painting the ceiling and new walls, building new display structures and installing new museum cases.

Pontefract Museum will reopen in the spring.  Follow @WFMuseums for updates.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Pontefract Museum Gallery Redevelopment

Pontefract Museum is currently closed to enable us to carry out some exciting new gallery redevelopment work.

The museum closed on 23 December and after the staff had had a nice Christmas break work has now started in preparing the spaces for building work.

The first stage of the process is to wrap and protect all of the elements of the display that are remaining in the gallery (about two thirds of the gallery was redeveloped in 2016)

Elements of the display are covered for protection

Cases and parts of displays have been moved

A quick sweep up

Bit by bit objects are carefully removed and packed.  Some of the larger objects need specialist removers who will use lifting equipment.

Objects are packed on to crates for removal to the museum store

The next stage will be the removal of the green display structures you can see in some of the above photographs and the remaining elements of the old displays.  The ceiling will be painted white (it is currently black) and the gallery walls will be boarded out. 

As Pontefract Museum is  listed  we have been granted listed building consent to do this work.  All work has to be carried out so as not to damage any of the remaining original features of the beautiful art nouveau building.

Check back soon for more updates and follow @WFMuseums on Twitter.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Castleford and the After Eight Mint Factory

Our Contemporary & Diversity Collecting Officer, Steven Skelley, has been working on a new exhibition at Castleford Museum:
Over one billion After Eight mints were made in Castleford every year at the Rowntree’s (and later Nestle) Factory on Wheldon Road. Thousands of workers, mainly Castleford women, toiled away making these wonder mints and other confections for the world, until closure in 2012.

To mark this significant industry and the lives of the amazing staff at the Castleford factory, the museum service undertook a project to record this history for the future. As well as developing a collection of fabulous After Eight packaging, factory tools and photographs, the service took a series of oral history recordings with ex-workers at the factory. These recordings, from contributors who generously shared their time and memories, have formed a vivid history, in which these ingenious mints are just the tip of the iceberg.
Originally invented by Rowntree’s in 1962, these after dinner mints were a marvel of chocolate technology. The workers used a secret recipe and enzyme that ensured the mint fondant centre only melted after the wafer thin chocolate casing had dried. ‘They were a hard mint to master, as the chocolate was so thin and the quality had to be top-notch’ one worker stated. They originally used special hairdryers to create the signature chocolate ripples too. The mints became an overnight sensation and are still sold in their billions all over the world.
By the 1970s After Eights were synonymous with Christmas and dinner party culture, as many families had more time and money to spend on fashionable dinner parties. After Eight sales boomed thanks to marketing targeted at the growing middle classes. Iconic television advertising made jokes about class elites and gender roles, while sales of these ‘posh’ mints continued to grow. But in becoming such a success the mints lost a little of their exclusive image.
Against the backdrop of glamourous dinner parties and cutting edge chocolate technology the lives of the factory workers and their families played out. This is a history of friendships, camaraderie, hardships, royal visits, industrial unrest, but mostly graft and raising families. All of which form the rich tapestry of factory life in Castleford.

There were many stand out memories in the oral histories, now saved for future generations. One night team broke the shift record, producing the most After Eights, only to discover that they had forgot to put in the mint centres in and they were all hollow. The unusable leftovers went to feed pigs, nothing was wasted. There were stories about Christmas cheer in the factory, where men would don green tights and offer out a sherry. One thing is certain, everyone interviewed agreed it was a good place to work for and you made friends for life. One worker stated ‘it takes hours to walk into town as I always end up talking to the other ex-workers, we are still a community’.
Visit Castleford Museum to see our new display; all with thanks to the people who worked minty chocolate magic down Wheldon road.

If you have a story to share about Castleford’s great mint factory then please do get in touch.