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!

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