Monday, May 20, 2019

Replication of Civil War graffiti at Pontefract Castle

The Key to the North Project is a £3.5 million project at Pontefract Castle which includes conservation work to the monument, a new visitor centre, café, gift shop and museum, and site developments that open up parts of the castle not seen by the public since 1649.  As part of the project new information panels have been added to the site.  One of which features a replicated piece of graffiti left by Civil War Soldiers as they were held prisoner.  This is a guest blog, by Peter Maris, a sculptor who created the piece of graffiti

Guest blog by Peter Maris

The dungeon wall at Pontefract Castle is really quite alive with names carved by prisoners incarcerated during the English Civil War. Access to the dungeon is very limited for safety and security reasons and so only a few visitors on guided tours are able to see the amazing collection of graffiti for themselves. However, so that more people could be informed about the prisoners, I was invited by the Wakefield Council Museums Service to recreate a section of graffiti that could be placed in a new display for visitors to see at the Castle.

My task, as I understood it, was partly to replicate how Captain Robert Brier carved his name in 1648 and also to replicate how it appears today.

The names carved into the wall are quite well preserved and form important historical evidence identifying particular people actually within the very small gloomy space that they were kept in. I was able to visit the space myself to take a number of good photographs for reference and also to realise  and absorb the very limiting and poor conditions the prisoners would have lived in.

It is very dark in the dungeon and it would not have been particularly comfortable especially as it’s a relatively small space which possibly held 20+ prisoners at any one time. The quality of the carvings are, therefore, all the more remarkable too given the lack of appropriate cutting tools and the lack of sufficient daylight in such a basic and over-crowded space.
The crowded graffiti wall
Certainly, the carving that Robert Brier made shows considerable evidence of a determined and skilled effort to make a really proficient job of the lettercutting. The original carving is partly eroded but it is still possible to see how the letters were constructed. Close scrutiny reveals that the letters were far from just scratched purposefully into the wall. In fact, one can see that the letters were cut to make a ‘v’ shaped groove as is the case with traditional lettercutting methods. Additionally, one may assume that the ‘tool’ used to cut and scrape the graffiti was probably also used in a rotary motion to make small rounded shapes to help form and give character to particular letters, especially the ‘i’’s, numeral 1 and with the vertical, stand-alone line forming part of the capital ‘R’.

Despite the discomfort that Robert would have felt, one can see the desire to produce some quite elegant letters as there are attempts to make some consistently smooth shaped curves to help form his name. It is also quite impressive to see that many of the prisoners tried very hard to carve letters complete with serifs as they would have known them from handwriting and printed letter styles of the time.

The dungeon wall though, is very congested with graffiti and so space to add another name was very limited. However, in an attempt to mark himself out from the others, Robert has also added a loosely drawn and achieved border line to give his name and rank some individual prominence within a kind of frame.

Prisoners in the dungeon would obviously not have had access to anything other than the few belongings that they had about them and so would have had to improvise tools and methods. For me, as a professional sculptor and letter-cutter, this made for quite an interesting exercise and project as I had to basically ‘unthink’ the way that I would normally go about carving letters and put myself into that same ‘improvisation mode’

Rough dressing to change the stone surface.

I was initially supplied with a piece of stone though which I needed to ‘dress’ very roughly with a mallet and chisel in order to transform the machine-sawn appearance but also to crudely emulate the uneven wall surface in the dungeon. However, for the actual lettercutting, traditional hammers and chisels needed to be put aside.

Tracing over a photo of the original.
Once the stone surface was prepared, I started to make a stencil of the lettering arrangement re-sized and traced from my photographs. This was then laid onto the stone so that I could draw out the design.

I then set about selecting a variety of ‘found’ implements that I thought could be useful for cutting, scraping, scratching etc. These comprised a few bolts, screws, nails, washers, a small brass tube, a couple of metal brackets and a modelling knife.

A selection of potential tools.
I tried them all out initially but quickly settled upon using a 4 inch nail which proved to be the most effective. It was probably the closest object and shape comparable to that part of a belt buckle which, I had been informed, the Civil War prisoners may have used as a scribing and cutting tool.

The nail was very good for scraping and pushing the stone material away to make the basic letter shapes especially when used with water – the prisoners would have used saliva. The stone though, is sandstone which is an abrasive material and wears the metal away quite quickly. However, because of this facility, it can also be used to sharpen up the metal as well and prisoners would have been well aware of that as a common method to sharpen knives, swords etc. Consequently, I was able to sharpen the end of the nail to form a small blade which made cutting far more effective and, with the addition of a small block of wood to hit it with, became more like a chisel rather than a scraper. The prisoners could quite possibly have used something similar too or perhaps used the heel of a boot as a hammer or a small rock from the wall or floor.

Work in progress.

This photograph shows the carving in progress with the stencil still attached, the drawn and part-cut graffiti with the nail and wooden wedge block

The completed replication.
As can be seen in this image of the completed carving, the nail was also perfect as the rotary tool to make the aforementioned rounded shapes, most noticeable on the letter ‘i’ and then, as a sharpened blade, to give a crisp, distinct line at the bottom of each ‘v’-cut line forming the letters.

As a project, this was also quite an interesting exercise reminding me just how much can be achieved quite simply through improvisation and determination when the ‘right’ tools aren’t available.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way”

Peter Maris
April 2019

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Work experience with refugee communities

We are happy to welcome a guest-blog post from a Leeds University work experience student, Yanlinyi Xia.

I am an international student from China currently studying Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Leeds. For my studies I am undertaking a placement with Wakefield Museums and Castles. The course I study covers different aspects of museum and gallery work including interpreting the past, engaging audiences and the history of museums. This provides me with a context and background in museum theory but my course also includes a work experience module, undertaking a placement with a museum to work on a project and get real world experience. 

My work experience project is with Wakefield Museums and Castles and I am supporting their work with Wakefield refugee communities. This project is a partnership between the museum service, World Jewish Relief for refugees (part of their Specialist Training and Employment Project (STEP) programme), and Horton Housing Association. I was so excited when I saw this, as an international student from China I am also new to the UK, and I think most of us have no idea about what happens to refugees in the process of resettling somewhere else. This experience has changed my thinking a lot. The STEP programme supports resettled Syrian refugees at the beginning of their journey into employment in the UK. This is a pilot project with the museum service and aims to provide a cultural and historic context, supporting the refugees to get to know the heritage of the local area where they are now settled. Tali Krikler, a freelance Learning and Participation consultant working for World Jewish Relief collaborated with the Museum Collections Officer to develop workshops in the museum exploring the local history and working heritage of the Wakefield District. Horton Housing, a not-for-profit organisation providing housing, training and support services to the most vulnerable people in society, supported the participants to attend the sessions and provided translation services.

In total five workshops were arranged over five weeks, meeting once a week on Wednesday afternoons. Each workshop covered a specific theme working with participants to investigate different industries and working life in Wakefield, historically and today. Tours were arranged around the museum for participants to see some of the displays and the workshops also featured hands-on sessions looking closely at different historic objects and discussing how they relate to work in Wakefield and their own working lives. I am still disappointed I could not attend on the “Food day” and taste the delicious cakes the participants brought in!

In total five workshops were arranged over five weeks, meeting once a week on Wednesday afternoons. Each workshop covered a specific theme working with participants to investigate different industries and working life in Wakefield, historically and today. Tours were arranged around the museum for participants to see some of the displays and the workshops also featured hands-on sessions looking closely at different historic objects and discussing how they relate to work in Wakefield and their own working lives. I am still disappointed I could not attend on the “Food day” and taste the delicious cakes the participants brought in!

I have really enjoyed recording all the special moments in this project, talking with participants and photographing the sessions. The handling objects sparked curiosity, and everyone had an opportunity to handle the artefacts and learn more about the heritage of their new home town. People also liked to link unfamiliar objects to what they are familiar with from their lives in Syria. We look forward to finding more links between Wakefield and Syria to help spark discussion and raise the confidence of those who attend. The workshops also helped the participants to develop their English language and learn new words.  

Seeing participants learning and exploring by visiting the museum was the best thing for me!

There were lots of things to consider when planning the workshops; how do we decide the weekly theme? What methods do we use to encourage engagement? How do we measure what they have learned and how much they feel the sessions were useful? We are now planning a small display to highlight some of the key objects and themes that sparked interest. Please check back here and other social media for more details coming soon!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Armistice100 at Wakefield Museum

11th November 2018 marks a hundred years since the end of the First World War. A century ago in northern France, Private George Kellett wrote in his 1918 diary,

We heard that an Armistice had been signed but we keep hearing explosions and cannot tell     whether it is gunfire or not.

Lett’s No 26 diary 2018 belonging to Private George Kellett
George was a joiner from Agbrigg Road, Sandal serving with the Duke of Cornwall regiment. He had received the diary as a Christmas present along with a Christmas cake, parkin and apples. His matter of fact account of such a historic occasion is typical of his stoic, often mundane diary entries that document a year at war. George began 1918 recovering from injury before rejoining his regiment. He writes of daily activities such as inspections and parades, writing letters and receiving news from home. When he’s not busy with tasks such as digging communication trenches and laying cabling, he enjoys games of cards, draughts and billiards, and training with a tug of war team.
In and amongst the daily routine though, there are reminders of the reality of war.

4 September 1918: Went out burying the dead today. 

11 September 1918: Packed our kits and went up the line at 9am, two guides of the Stafford and Bucks met us and took us into the front line. G.West and three more fellows in our platoon got killed and four or five wounded going up. We went over the top at 6:30pm [?] Burton, Bill Revitt and three or four more were wounded and three more killed. We reached a trench just over the canal and had to stand to all night.

George’s diary is a fascinating insight into an ordinary soldier’s experience of the First World War. We were honoured when his family donated it to our collections and are very proud to put it on display at Wakefield Museum as part of our Armistice 100 commemorations. You can also follow George’s year at war on Twitter: @WW1_Diary.

George scribbled this note to his future wife, Emma, upon his demobilization.

Hand-tinted photograph of Sergeant Arthur Cox during the First World War
George survived the war and was demobilised in 1919. He came home to marry his sweetheart. Tragically, Arthur Cox of Thornes Lane didn’t return to his family in Wakefield. A Sergeant with the Royal Field Artillery, Arthur earned the Military Medal for bravery in the field but sadly died just a few weeks after the government announced his award in the London Gazette. Unlike George, Arthur was an experienced soldier, having previously risen to the rank of Corporal with a volunteer regiment, the Queen’s Own Yorkshire Dragoons. He had fought in South Africa during the Second Boer War and been honoured with the Freedom of Wakefield.

A photograph of Sergeant Cox’s grave sent to his widow
Arthur was killed in action on 29th July 1917 ahead of the 3rd Battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele. He is buried at the Godeswaersvelde British War Cemetery in France, near the Belgian border. After the Armistice, Arthur’s widow received a photograph of his grave, his posthumous service medals, and a memorial plaque. Sometimes called the ‘Widow’s Penny, these plaques were sent to the next of kin of all fallen soldiers. Arthur’s family proudly displayed the plaque surrounded by his medals from both wars. Today, we have their collection on display in our Wakefield Museum Welcome Space to commemorate the service given by him and so many other local men. Alongside the objects are several hand-made poppies. These were contributed by our Young Curators (aged 8-13), who have been learning about Arthur and George and wanted to help honour them.

Arthur’s Military Medal (top left), service medals and memorial plaque
The commemorations continue in Create café, where we are also remembering Nurse Marion Walker and her colleagues and patients at the White Rose Auxiliary Hospital, Heath Hall. Many soldiers spent time there recovering from their injuries and illness before returning to the front lines. Volunteers like Marion helped to care for them during their convalescence.

Staff and patients at the White Rose Hospital
As the Armistice was signed in France, Marion was collecting signatures of her own from the soldiers in her care. Carrying an autograph book was common practice for auxiliary nurses. Patients passed away their time and showed appreciation for the nurses by leaving their names, mottos and messages, and often doodles and cartoons on the pages.

Leatherette autograph book belonging to Nurse Marion Walker
Marion’s book, compiled between 1917 and 1919, gives a moving glimpse into wartime resilience. Despite the hardships the men had endured, their entries are full of friendship and love, humour and hope.
We have reproduced a selection of our favourite pages to display in Create. We hope visitors will enjoy this selection and take some time to remember the men who produced them as well as Marion, George and Arthur.

‘If writing in albums remembrance ensures/ With the greatest of pleasure, I’ll scribble in yours./ Some write for pleasure. Some write for fame./ But I simply write to sign my name.’


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Monday, July 30, 2018

A History of the North in 100 Objects

Have you been to see the Great Exhibition of the North yet?! We recently revealed the seven objects from our collection that were chosen to feature in A History of the North in 100 Objects, a project that celebrates the impact of Northern inventors, industrialists, artists, entertainers and campaigners with a trail across museums from all over the North of England and an interactive online exhibition at The website was launched ahead of the start of the festival in Newcastle and Gateshead this summer. We’ve already introduced our winning objects previous blog but the project got us thinking about all the brilliant Northern innovations and pioneers featured in our museums. In this post, we thought we’d share some other highlights that you can look out for when you visit us.


At Wakefield Museum, we’re very proud to display this Snooker for Women t shirt from Sheila Capstick’s women’s rights campaign. Sheila was a pioneer of social change. She achieved national fame when she took action against Wakefield City Working Men’s Club for preventing women from playing snooker. Along with Brenda Haywood, she started ERICCA  - Equal Rights in Clubs Campaign for Action. They picketed Wakefield City WMC, sparking a nationwide campaign. Eventually, the club lifted the snooker ban, although the Club and Institute Union only changed its rules and granted women equal rights and full membership in 2007.

 Elizabeth Moxon is another of our female pioneers. A first class confectioner’s cook, this Pomfretian was a trailblazer in English cookery writing. Her book, English Housewifery, featured over 450 recipes for cooks in middle class Georgian households. It included a lavish dinner party plan for every month of the year with seasonal menus and suggested table layouts. The classic Yorkshire recipes were drawn from Elizabeth’s lifetime of experience; she is believed to have been around 50 when her book was first published. The book was very popular and ran to multiple editions. You can see a 13th edition at Pontefract Museum. Moxon’s work paved the way for future cookery writers like Hannah Glasse.

Our Waterton gallery at Wakefield Museum celebrates another local innovator. Charles Waterton created the world’s first nature reserve at his estate at Walton Hall. An intrepid explorer and campaigning environmentalist, he had his own museum designed to educate Wakefield’s residents about the natural world and the impact that humans can have on it. You can see some of the star exhibits from his museum in our gallery, where the caiman that Waterton captured in Guyana now takes centre stage.

Waterton also influenced modern medicine. He experimented with the poison curare, a powerful muscle relaxant that he obtained during his travels in South America. His work helped lead to its use in anaesthesia.


Our region also boasts many sporting legends. Rugby League player, Arthur ‘Brus’ Atkinson played eight times for England, toured Australia and New Zealand in 1932 and 1936, and led his Castleford team to their 1935 cup final triumph over Huddersfield in front of 39,000 Wembley spectators. In 1929 during Castleford’s victory against St Helen’s, he kicked this ball 75 yards, the longest successful goal kick in the sport’s history and a record that remains unbroken.

This football is another piece of history from one of the nation’s most iconic sporting achievements. The Slazenger Challenge 4 star footballs used during the 1966 World Cup finals were made at the company’s factory in Horbury. Slazenger beat over a hundred other companies to the World Cup contract, a huge honour with the flagship competition attracting a global audience.
In its heyday, the Horbury site was the largest sports equipment factory in the world. It had been founded by William Sykes, an ambitious and innovative former saddler’s apprentice, who became chairman of a major international company.
Who would you nominate as a pioneering Northerner? What innovative objects from the region would make your top 100? Let us know in the comments below or join in the conversation on our Twitter feed @WFMuseums with the hashtag #100ObjectsNorth. Don’t forget to check out A History of the North in 100 Objects online and at our venues.

Friday, July 20, 2018

West Yorkshire Museums

A new video has been launched to highlight the amazing local authority attractions across West Yorkshire, and of course, we are part of it! 

West Yorkshire’s museums, galleries and historic houses regularly feature in surveys of the most visited free and paid visitor attractions in the region.

West Yorkshire’s museums burst with world history, culture and local heritage, from prehistoric monsters and treasures of Ancient Rome and Egypt to a real Victorian street. From liquorice in Pontefract to the Duke of Wellington’s very own Wellington boots in Halifax.

Local art galleries house masterpieces by Moore and Lowry in Huddersfield, Hockney in Bradford and one of the best British art collections outside London in Leeds. Other attractions include historic halls and houses, watermills and ruined monasteries, castles and country estates, as well as beautiful parkland walks.


Video made by WYLAMP (West Yorkshire Local Authority Museum Partnership)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

A History of the North in 100 Objects

What does the North mean to you? What items would you choose to illustrate pioneering Northern spirit?

Get North 2018, the Great Exhibition of the North, is taking place in Newcastle and Gateshead this summer and will celebrate Northern innovations that have shaped the world.
As part of the festival, museums across the North of England were challenged to choose star objects from their collections that best represent social, scientific, industrial and artistic innovations. A History of the North in 100 Objects is an exciting multi-region trail with a virtual exhibition at

Here at Wakefield Museums and Castles we’re thrilled to be involved. All four of our sites feature in the trail.
In this post, we thought we’d introduce our seven winning objects. Visit your museums at Castleford, Pontefract and Wakefield and the Pontefract Castle Visitor Centre to catch them all!
Castleford Museum
Iron Age Chariot Burial

This elaborate chariot burial from 200BC was excavated near Ferrybridge Henge during work to upgrade the A1. A rare and exciting find, it is one of only 200 chariot burials found in Britain and the only one outside of Scotland or the East Riding. It is an especially important example as the chariot had been buried whole and not dismantled. As a result, it has shown us how Iron Age chariots worked.
Scientific analysis has revealed that the man buried with the chariot had moved to the region, probably from 40-50 miles away in the East Riding, no doubt bringing some of his cultural traditions with him.
Jumping a homemade hurdle, Jack Hulme

Jack Hulme was a colliery worker, hairdresser and renowned amateur photographer, an ordinary man who created extraordinary art out of the everyday. His black and white images captured the essence of life in Castleford in the mid Twentieth Century. They depict workers, family life, and the community, from everyday scenes of children playing and neighbours chatting, to celebrations like V E Day and the Coronation. This amazing action shot of a young boy mid leap is one of our favourites.
Pontefract Castle
Siege coin, 1648

During the Civil War, Pontefract castle was sieged three times. It was the last Royalist stronghold to surrender to the Parliamentarians after Charles I’s execution. Whilst they were cut off from outside society, the castle community adapted to siege conditions by creating their own infrastructure, including their own currency. With no access to money from outside the castle, the commanders melted down precious metals to make their own rough coinage to pay troops and buy supplies.

Pontefract Museum

Ballot box

This wooden box illustrates a landmark moment in British political history. It was used at a by-election in Pontefract in 1872, the first UK parliamentary election by secret ballot. This was the first time that British citizens voted for an MP anonymously by placing an X on a ballot paper. Previously, you declared your vote in public and elections were plagued by intimidation and corruption. The election was historic and attracted national attention. Today, we still use the same voting method pioneered in Pontefract.

Dunhill’s Ltd liquorice stamp

Stamps like these were used to make the iconic Pontefract cake. Pontefract is world famous for its liquorice. The herb was probably brought over from the Middle East by monks or medieval knights returning from the Crusades. It grows particularly well in Pontefract’s soil. Liquorice was originally medicinal but it was revolutionised in 1700s by Pontefract apothecary, George Dunhill, who first added sugar to make it a sweet. By 1900, Pontefract liquorice was sold all around the globe.

A stamp like this one was also used on the wax seal on the secret ballot box. At the start of the election, the empty ballot boxes were sealed shut so that the ballot papers couldn’t be tampered with.

Wakefield Museum

Astral Navigations LP, Holyground Records

This rare and collectable record was released by Holyground Records, the country’s first independent record label and recording studio. Holyground was established in Wakefield in 1966 by Mike Levon. They worked with and often introduced influential artists. This record features Bill Nelson, who later became part of Be-Bop Deluxe. Holyground production runs were small. Only 250 copies were made of the original Astral Navigations LP.
Rhubarb splitting tool used at Brandy Carr Nurseries in 2009

Wakefield is famous for its position in the Rhubarb Triangle, the land between Wakefield, Leeds and Morley renowned for growing forced rhubarb, a technique unique to the region. Forced rhubarb is produced out of season by growing roots very quickly in warm, dark sheds lit by candle. The industry first boomed in 1880s, with the Rhubarb Triangle supplying London and Europe. Special rhubarb trains ran overnight between January and March. Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb now holds the same Designated Origin protection as parma ham and champagne.


The #100ObjectsNorth website is interactive. Users can search for objects by time period, theme or size. Objects’ sizes are compared to animals. Our smallest objects like the siege coin and liquorice stamp are compared to a mouse but the chariot is as big as a horse! Some of the other objects featured are as large as an African elephant or even a blue whale! You can also explore by location using the map function. Look out for objects from other West Yorkshire museums like our friends at Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees.

Why not have a go at curating your own exhibition. Choose your favourite ten objects. We hope some of our objects will make your selections. What other Northern innovations will you pair them with? We can’t wait to see your collections- make sure you share them on social media and don’t forget to tag in @WFMuseums and use the #100ObjectsNorth so that we can admire your work!