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!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Job Opportunities at Wakefield Museums and Castles

We are looking for two posts to join the Collections and Exhibitions team:

Grade 8, 18.5 Hours per week, £13,679 - £14,954

We are looking for an enthusiastic and self-motivated individual who is passionate about museums and heritage.

Wakefield Museums and Castles are committed to reflecting and celebrating Wakefield District's diversity by developing opportunities for everyone to experience culture and engage with our heritage.

This post will play a significant role in our aims to diversify, enrich and rationalise our collections, ensuring they are fit for purpose in the long term. We are looking for someone who can demonstrate they have significant experience and knowledge of collections management systems and processes, such as database management, movement control, and the smooth running of loans paperwork and is able to come up with imaginative and thoughtful solutions to challenges.

The post is 18.5 hours per week, temporary for 12 months (there will be a 3 month notice period from either party within the duration of the contract of employment).

For full details and to apply visit: Registrar

Documentation Assistant
£18,870 to £20,541 full time 37 hours per week

We are looking for an enthusiastic and self-motivated individual who is passionate about museums and heritage.

Wakefield Museums and Castles are committed to reflecting and celebrating Wakefield District's diversity by developing opportunities for everyone to experience culture and engage with our heritage. This post will play a significant role in our aims to diversify, enrich and rationalise our collections, ensuring they are fit for purpose in the long term.

We are looking for someone who has experience in collections management work, who can work methodically and accurately, is capable of wrestling with unruly museum collections, sniffing out context, tracking down rogue accession numbers and making sense of decades old typos, whilst being able to come up with imaginative solutions to challenges

Closing date is 29 June 2018

For full details and to apply visit: Documentation Assistant

Friday, May 4, 2018

Come and work for Wakefield Museums & Castles

Collections Officer

G7 23,866 to £26,470 full time 37 hours per week

We are looking for a people person. An enthusiastic, personable and self-motivated individual with museum's collections development experience and strong networking skills. The Collections Officer will work with a wide range of partners to forge strong links between Wakefield's museum service and the varied, developing and diverse communities and cultures across the whole of the Wakefield district.

The post holder will help to shape the direction of the objects we collect, focusing on material that is more representative of diversity within the Wakefield district and reflects local life as it is today - a broader snap shot of 'now'. Based at Wakefield Museum, but working across our museum and castle sites as well as district wide community venues, the post will organise and deliver consultation events that will engage a diverse range of audiences so that local people have a voice in how our collections are developed. This engagement will lead to new acquisitions and loans, and will influence future displays and exhibitions.

The post is full time (37 hours per week) and permanent position.

To see the full job description and to apply for this job visit the Wakefield Council job site:  Job Profile

Monday, April 30, 2018

Pontefract Museum reopens on 14 May

Pontefract Museum is reopening on May 14 - with new displays and a new photographic exhibition featuring 100 years of shopping in the town.

The Museum has undergone a £65,000 refit funded by the Arts Council England, which is in addition to £120,000 that has been invested in gallery redevelopment and upgrades since 2015.

The work, made possible with grant funding from Arts Council England, has transformed Pontefract Museum. The new displays are exciting, accessible and tell wonderful stories of Pontefract’s rich and diverse past.

The new displays tell the story of Pontefract from the Georgian period up to the present day. The ballot box used in the first secret ballot to elect an MP in 1872 takes prominent position, with new comic book style interpretation. There are also new interactive and family friendly elements.

Also opening on 14 May is a new special exhibition, Sale of the Century - 100 years of Shopping in Pontefract.  This photography exhibition takes visitors on a shopping trip down memory lane exploring nostalgic images and contemporary views of the shops at the very heart of Pontefract.

Pete Massey, Director North, Arts Council England said

“We are delighted to welcome Wakefield Museums into our National Portfolio for 2018-22.The Museums service has planned even stronger community engagement and it is very exciting that Pontefract Museum is reopening after undergoing vital refurbishment work. I’m sure that the new displays will attract both local and visiting audiences to learn more about Pontefract’s history.”

To mark the reopening a celebration event, open to everyone, takes place on Saturday 19 May, 12.30 - 2.00pm.  For more information visit

Arts Council England is the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives.  We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, we will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country

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 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”