Monday, November 25, 2019

Much Ado About Nothing?

This is the second blog from our brilliant Volunteer Cataloguing Assistants. Angie has recently finished cataloguing a fascinating local theatre collection.

Much Ado About Nothing?

At first glance, what may seem like simple personal memorabilia, upon closer inspection reveals a record of people, pride, respect and a rich engagement with the arts in Castleford and Glass Houghton during the post war years. This is what I have learned from cataloguing a collection of around 40 programmes, tickets and photographs of amateur dramatic and musical performances carefully kept by a Castleford resident and kindly donated to Wakefield Museums & Castles by his daughter.

The productions included works by Gilbert and Sullivan, Noel Coward, J.B. Priestley and G. B. Shaw and were mainly the work of Castleford Dramatic Society, The Old Legiolians Dramatic and Operatic Society and the Castleford Grammar School Dramatic Society, and span the decade 1946-56.

As I’ve worked through the collection, I’ve been struck by the detail and respect in each one; being sure to thank every member of the production and support, giving information about how to get home on the bus, remembering past productions and looking forward to forthcoming shows, providing story lines or potted histories of the productions, all of which gives a lasting impression of a huge pride and enjoyment of being part of a community organisation and a dignity in offering quality information and entertainment for the local area. Even the production of each programme is impressive with front page designs and boxes for hand written row and seat numbers. An intriguing element about the collection is that most programmes have been folded in the same way, making me wonder if the collector always wore the same jacket when he went out and popped the programme in his top pocket to be stored away later.

The programme for Mr Cinders by Normanton and District Amateur Operatic Society in February 1949 is a historic record in itself.

It contains over 60 advertisements from local business mainly centred on High Street, Wakefield Road and Castleford Road in Normanton, including numerous butchers, drapers, florists and grocers. A picture of a pre-supermarket, pre-chain-store and pre-retail park era is conjured up with a bustling town where people bumped into neighbours and friends as they did their daily shop.

Another diversion was provided by the programme for The Lady’s Not For Burning.

With no date or society name or location, I was interested to dig around to try to establish some information. Inside the programme, the name Fothergill Hall was mentioned as the location of the play so after a little internet research I discovered that Ackworth School, founded in 1779 by Dr John Fothergill and local Quakers, had a 400 seater hall built in 1899 and named after their esteemed founder. A connection between the dramatic society and Ackworth seems likely, although not proven. Whilst reading the programme, one name jumped out at me as unusual for the local area, Casto V. Alonso. Spurred on by the discovery of the site of the hall, I googled this name and came across a published memoir written by a former post-war pupil of Ackworth School, Joe Frankl. Mr Frankl remembers a temporary Master of Spanish, Casto V. Alonso, appearing at the school (hardly unimaginable that this is not one and the same person that appears in the programme). Mr Frankl recounts a wonderful story around this teacher who, appearing exotic and being accomplished at almost every endeavour, including beginning a drama club, turned out to have come from London’s East End and not to have escaped the Spanish Civil War, according to popular reputation! After his 25 year sojourn in Ackworth, Mr Alonso’s rich story ends in a headship in Lahore, Pakistan. Aside from his role as a teacher, in the programme he is listed as a cast member, producer and tutor of drama appreciation classes in the local vicinity which seemingly paints him as a local cultural beacon. (Joe Frankl, Under the Castle: Growing Up Between the Swastika and the Cross, p.185-186)

It only begs the question, how many other fascinating personal stories, perhaps wartime, perhaps local mining stories, are woven into this wonderful, unassuming collection of local amateur productions?

Around the World in 50(ish) Toys

Our latest blog comes from Rebecca, one of our fantastic Volunteer Cataloguing Assistants, who has been supporting us with the collection behind the scenes at our museum store.

Around the World in 50(ish) Toys

Hong Kong, Chicago, Milan, Japan and… Thorpe Audlin!

What connects these places across the globe?

A collection of mid-twentieth century toys, games and activity books that I’ve been helping to catalogue. They were found in the loft of what was Thorpe Audlin Post Office by the new owners of the property. 5 miles south of Pontefract, and with a population of less than 700, I was struck by the connection between the local and the global.

Here I want to explore two examples to give a glimpse into the collection. I’ve chosen Kalkitos (action transfer or rub-on transfer sets) and a Pac-Man bubble blower, for the sheer amount of related locations, and because of my own interest in video games and printing.

Kalkitos is the brand name for a series of action transfer sets made in the late 70s and early 80s. A background scene on cardboard (for example a park) came with a sheet of images which could be transferred to the background. By rubbing with a stylus or pencil, characters and objects could be placed in any configuration, I’m sure often with comical results. There is a sense of nostalgia with these transfer sets. The physical process visibly links the action (rubbing) with the result (transfer), and they allow freedom and creativity. We have four Kalkitos in collection, including ‘Fred Flintstone at the Pool’ and a Looney Tunes scene.
But what journey led these objects to our museum store? The story actually begins elsewhere in England.

The transfer technique was developed by Letraset, who produced them first in London, then in Kent. However, our selection was manufactured in Italy, in a joint venture with Gillette (yes, the razor company!) As I understand it, the factory in Milan used a different printing method, and so the Kalkitos came to us via the continent. However, there are bonus connections: the titles are also in French, German, Dutch, Danish and Swedish, to increase the market and audience without having to print each separately. Funnily enough, it’s not in Italian despite the Milanese origin. Plus, of course, Warner Bros and Hanna Barbera are quintessential American animation studios.

So we’ve already been round Europe, but our next example goes further afield…

Pac-Man is an iconic character, universal in its simplicity. From his debut in the 1980 arcade game, the circular yellow munching-machine represents the influence of Japanese video games and media. Here, Pac-Man himself becomes a bubble blower, and the packing is charmingly illustrated (although there are some interesting fashion choices by the ghosts!)

With no mention of developer Namco, I initially thought it was unauthorised, but in fact this was another example of the global links.

All the way in Chicago, Illinois, Bally Midway had the Pac-Man licence for everywhere outside of Japan. This included merchandise, and the bubble blower is an example of the Pac-Man craze that swept America. In spite of all of these links, the toy was actually made in Hong Kong, where the vast majority of the toys in this collection were manufactured.

Both of these items, like all the toys in this collection, are interactive, and demand to be played with. The joy of playing is universal, and it has been fascinating going through the collection, and seeing all different paths leading back to a little hamlet in West Yorkshire. The global traces the toys have left ultimately led to creating delight and entertainment for the children (and perhaps adults!) of Thorpe Audlin.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Surrealism x visual impairment

Artist Cerys Dyson is currently exhibiting her photographic project ‘surrealism x visual impairment’ on ‘The Wall’- Wakefield Museums and Castles mini gallery- in Create Café at Wakefield One.

Photophobia, by Cerys Dyson

We asked Cerys about her work:

"My name is Cerys Dyson, I have studied a HND in photography at Wakefield College which is where the idea & project of ‘surrealism x visual impairment’ came from for my final major.

As well as just a project it has a deep sentimental value for me as I was born with nystagmus - living with it means I know what it’s like, but I wanted to push my boundaries further to investigate different conditions and raise awareness of how visually impaired people see!

Pictures within my project cover conditions such as photophobia, diabetic retinopathy, cataract, macular degeneration, tunnel vision and of course nystagmus! I also made a book which explains the conditions in detail to match the pictures.

Diabetic Retinopathy, By Cerys Dyson

Further progression for this project's audiences could ideally be in eye clinics, hospitals and other photographic galleries! "

Surrealism x visual impairment will be exhibited at Create Cafe until 11 November.
See more work from Cerys on Instagram: @cdysonphotography

Cerys Dyson

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Sandal Castle Illustrations

Wakefield Museums and Castles are looking to commission a number of illustrations for use at Sandal Castle.

Sandal Castle has been undergoing conservation works, totaling £734,000 funded by Wakefield Council, to preserve the heritage for current and future generations.  As part of this work we are looking at how to tell the fascinating story of Sandal Castle.  These illustrations will form part of that on site interpretation.

General requirements

-          Illustrations will need to be provided digitally, in full colour and high resolution.
-          Wakefield Museums and Castles will have full use of the illustrations for purposes of interpretation and marketing.
-          A brief will be provided but some historical and contextual research may be required.
-          All illustrations will be checked by the project team for historical accuracy.
-          Finished illustrations will be required by Friday 10 January 2020

The Illustrations

1.      A brief history of the castle since 1066
-          ‘Comic’ style illustration layout
-          Outlining 6  key periods / events at the castle:
o   De Warennes; Battle of Wakefield; Richard III; The English Civil Wars; Picturesque Ruins; Excavations.

2.      A castle in ruins
-          Illustration of ruins as we see them today
-          Main ruins that can be seen labelled and with an interesting fact highlighted with detail image (this will relate to finds and / or documentary evidence)

3.      A day in the life of a medieval castle
-          Recreated drawing of the castle from 1275
-          Cut a-ways into rooms
-          Animated with people
-          Reference to finds and documentary evidence

4.      The Battle of Wakefield
-          A recreated view of the Battle of Wakefield
-          To feature weaponry, armour, the Wakefield Sword, Richard Duke of York

How to submit a proposal

If you are interesting in one or more of the illustrations please provide the following information to by Tuesday 5 November.

-          Which illustration/s you are interested in.
-          A sample of your illustration style.
-          Your fee.
-          How you will ensure the deadline for finished illustrations is met.

If you require further information please contact

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Ancient Egyptians across West Yorkshire

Wakefield Museum has recently opened a new exhibition about death and the afterlife in ancient Egypt. Gateway to Eternity invites visitors to step inside a recreated ancient Egyptian tomb.

Treasures on display include grave goods borrowed from The British Museum and National Museums Liverpool, World Museum. These are displayed alongside the mummy of a woman named Perenbast, a temple singer who lived over 2500 years ago, on loan from The Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester.

The exhibition also features objects from Wakefield's own collection, including a mummified baby crocodile. These were collected by local merchant, William Fennell, who helped fund some of the first scientific excavations in Egypt in the 19th century.

Wakefield Museum is on the lower ground floor of Wakefield One, Burton Street, Wakefield, WF1 2DD. The exhibition runs until July 2020 and is free to visit.

We aren't the only museum in West Yorkshire with exhibitions about ancient Egypt! Why not go on an intrepid journey to discover more fascinating collections. From fashion and jewellery, to writing and art work.  Meet Nesyamun and see the sarcophagus of Ta-di-ta-nebet-hen. Can you visit them all?

Bagshaw Museum
Wilton Park Batley WF17 0AS

Tuesdays to Thursdays 11am - 5pm 
Saturdays and Sundays 12noon - 5pm
[From September Bagshaw Museum is open on weekends and Kirklees school holidays - 12noon - 4pm]

Free entry

Ancient Egypt: the Kingdom of Osiris

Discover this stunningly atmospheric gallery where dramatic lighting effects help you to imagine exploring the interior of an ancient Egyptian tomb.
  • Marvel at a very rare complete cartonnage mask, the face an Egyptian woman presented to the gods in the afterlife.
  • Find the mummified human hand and learn about the process to preserve the body after death.
  • Admire the jewellery, cosmetics, mirrors and containers the dead considered essential to accompany them into the next life.
  • Discover the sarcophagus of Ta-di-ta-nebet-hen with all its intricate and mysterious decoration.
  • Learn what ancient Egyptians ate, the textiles they wove, and how they recorded their lives.
For more info visit: Bagshaw Museum 


Bagshaw Museum: Cartonnage Mask
Bagshaw Museum: Mask

Bankfield Museum
Boothtown Road, Halifax, HX3 6HG

Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 4pm
Free entry

The Fashion Gallery

Showcasing Calderdale Museums’ fashion and textile collections from ancient Egypt to modern day.

Calderdale Museums has one of the best but little known textile collections in the country. There are 17,000 objects, collected from all over the world. The collection began when the museum first opened in 1887. It represents the influence of world textiles on local production as well as how local textiles have been exported around and influenced the world. The collection includes significant objects from Ancient Egypt, The Balkans, China, Japan and the Indian Subcontinent. A range of English embroidery, samplers, costume, court dress, military uniforms, pattern books from West Yorkshire manufacturers and the design archive of Crossley’s Carpets. On display in the new Fashion Gallery are highlights from this fascinating collection.

For more info visit:  Bankfield Museum - Fashion Gallery


Bankfield Museum: Fashion Gallery poster

Cliffe Castle Museum
Spring Gardens Lane, Keighley, BD20 6LH

Tuesday to Friday 10am - 4pm 
Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays 11am - 4pm
Last admission 3.30pm
Free entry

Cliffe Castle Museum has a small dedicated ancient Egyptian Gallery whose centrepiece is the black sarcophagus (coffin) made of sycamore fig, probably of a Pharaoh or nobleman, dated around 800 BCE. This came from a collection at Penrhyn Old Hall, Llandudno and was gifted to Keighley Museum in 1948. Cliffe Castle Museum also has its own mummy that was found at Thebes. It is of a young girl from the 4th century, thought to be the daughter of a temple priest. The mummy was donated to Keighley Museum in 1901 by Sir John Briggs who had a passion for Egyptology. There are also many hundreds of ancient Egyptian artefacts on display in the gallery including, jewellery, beads, amulets and cartonnage masks.  

For more info visit: Cliffe Castle Museum 


Cliffe Castle Museum: sarcophagus
Cliffe Castle Museum: Cartonnage Mask

Cliffe Castle Museum: Gallery displays

Leeds City Museum
Millennium Square, Leeds, LS2 8BH

Monday: closed
Tuesday to Friday: 10am–5pm
Weekends: 11am–5pm
Free entry

Ancient Worlds Gallery

Find out how the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks lived and died through investigating objects in the Ancient Worlds gallery.

Visit the final resting place of Nesyamun, the 3000 year old Leeds Mummy, and the only known mummy from the 20th Dynasty. Discover clues to the past in art and architecture, objects in the earth, ancient writing and burials.

The Ancient Worlds gallery is located on the third floor of the museum.


Leeds City Museum: bead collar necklace c.728-663 BC

Leeds City Museum: outer coffin of the mummy Nesyamun

Let us know how many of the above you have visited @WFMuseums #Perenbast #GatewayToEternity

The loans in Gateway to Eternity are supported by the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund.

Created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund, the Weston Loan Programme is the first ever UK-wide funding scheme to enable smaller and local authority museums to borrow works of art and artefacts from national collections.

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!