Tuesday, November 23, 2021

We’re recruiting! Could you be our new Digital Audience Development Officer?

Are you passionate about culture and heritage?
Can you develop and deliver engaging stories using museum objects?
Would you like to create memorable digital experiences for all ages?

If so, then this job may be for you.

We are looking for a dynamic individual to develop, embed and expand our newly developed digital strategy and action plan within the operations of Wakefield Museums and Castles. You will be working across teams within the service. The role will see you taking the lead on implementing the strategy and action plan across the team and integrating digital into the ethos of the service.

We would welcome applications from people with proven experience in managing, producing, organising, delivering and evaluating digital engagement content. The role will require you to research and create new and innovative ways of increasing access, and developing engagement opportunities that showcase our sites and collections.

This role is essential to our vision of providing a representative, accessible and community-driven museum service, which engages and connects people of all ages with the varied and fascinating heritage of the Wakefield district.

The closing date for applications is Sunday 12th December 2021.

Interviews will be held in January 2022.

Should you wish to discuss this post, please contact Louise Bragan, Senior Officer: Programming and Learning 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Our Museums Change Lives!

Wakefield Museums & Castles have been shortlisted for the Museums Association's Museums Change Lives Best Project Award 2021, for our project A World of Good.

The Museums Change Lives awards are awarded by the Museums Association, the sector body for museums in the UK, to recognise and celebrate outstanding practice by UK museums delivering social impact. They promote the best examples of work by museums and individuals that support communities and engage with contemporary issues. Previous winners of the award include National Museums Northern Ireland and the Jewish Museum London.

We have been shortlisted for the Best Project award for A World of Good, a project designed to inspire positive action on the climate crisis. At the centre of the project is the A World of Good exhibition at Wakefield Museum, which uses sculpture, animation and sound to bring the work of 19th-century environmentalist Charles Waterton to life. It asks visitors to sign up to an environmental manifesto and make a pledge to take real and meaningful action on the climate crisis.

Gallery view of A World of Good exhibition at Wakefield Museum

Alongside the exhibition, we have produced educational resources for schools and communities, a social media campaign, and events and workshops designed to inspire and motivate you to make a change. We have also written our own action plan to reduce the carbon footprint of our museums and castles.

Councillor Michael Graham, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure & Sport for Wakefield Council, said “It is great to see the Museums & Castles team being acknowledged for this project, which addresses one of the most urgent contemporary issues we face. Museums play a vital role in engaging and educating people about the world around us and A World of Good is a perfect example of that.”

The winner of the Museums Change Lives award will be announced at the Museums Association annual conference on 8 November 2021 and we'll share the news on our Twitter account.

You can visit the A World of Good exhibition at Wakefield Museum until July 2022, or find out more about the project here

Monday, September 27, 2021

Cleaning up history

We're very lucky to have lots of brilliant volunteers help us with our projects. In this special post, Kylie tells us about her recent experience as a conservation volunteer and explores one object she found especially interesting during her time with us.

This summer preparations began for the Wakefield Museums & Castles partial store move, which meant dusting and packing objects that are not currently on display at any of the museum locations. Together as volunteers, under supervision, we were able to help review shelves of objects so that their documentation would be up to date and their condition for moving would be improved.

Objects kept at the store will typically have significance to Wakefield and the surrounding area. There were many interesting objects for us to clean. For example, typewriters could have dust settle under the keys whilst on open shelves. Using brushes, microfibre cloths, smoke sponges, or museum vacuums, they were returned to a clean state. These dry-cleaning methods will not always cause drastic changes in appearance, but it is still satisfying to know objects are cleaner and protected from damage by dust.

Some of the typewriters before we dry cleaned and repacked them.

An object of particular interest was a black case of entomology equipment, used to study insects. The donor information named Walter Fletcher as the former owner, which is corroborated by the ‘WF’ scratched into a magnifying lens in the kit. Unfortunately, not much else is recorded about him, but it is clear he had a passion for entomology and took time to curate the required supplies over a long period of time. 

Walter Fletcher's entomology kit

Inside there were 44 small empty boxes, some made of metal but most were paper. The majority also had labels for tablets from chemists. The size of these must have been perfect for storing insects. Discerning the exact date of the supplies and owner is difficult, but the labels of the various pill boxes  inside the case suggest it is from 1935-1968 due to the company name, Timothy Whites & Taylors. There are no objects made of plastic in the box, which may suggest earlier than the 1960s.  

Pill boxes from local chemists seem to have been repurposed to store insect specimens.

There were also wooden blocks with string wound around them that would have been used to hold insects in place while drying them. There were metal tools, scalpel blades and packages of pins to assist in this process. A large net that could be dissembled was also able to fit in one compartment of the case. Everything needed for this hobby or passion to be fulfilled.

There was care to detail in so much of what Fletcher kept. He had nine glass slides with different insects, each carefully labelled.

In conserving this case, all objects were removed and the interior cleaned by brushes and a museum vacuum. Some objects required wrapping in acid free tissue, which will help stop any reactions between materials. This included the metal boxes because they react to relative humidity more than other organic materials like paper. Objects that were loose, like two large feathers, were also wrapped in tissue. Other objects were put into zip sealed plastic bags. This included loose pins and other sharp hazards. The goal is that all the different parts of the kit would stay together if the case was moved and it would be unlikely for damage to occur.

There are many more interesting objects to be found in the store. Dry cleaning and improving packaging for storage is helpful so that the objects will remain conserved for study or display in the future.

Special thanks to Kylie and all our conservation volunteers for their help preparing objects for the move. To keep up to date with this project and see what other treasures we discover, follow us on social media. Look out for updates on the hashtag #WFWhatsInStore.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Collections on the Move

At Wakefield Museums & Castles, we hold over 110,000 objects, which tell the story of our district from prehistory to modern day. As with most museums, we only have space to display a small proportion of these objects in our museums – the rest are carefully looked after in our museum store. You can go behind the scenes at the museum store here.

Racking in the store, with furniture and larger social history objects

In the autumn and winter of 2021, we will carry out a partial move of our stored collections. We need to move around half of our collections to a new building. Thankfully, this new building is on the same site as our existing store, so we don’t have far to move. However, it’s vital that we protect our objects during the move, so that nothing gets damaged.

Racking in the store, with boxed objects

To protect our objects, we are currently re-packing them, using conservation-grade materials such as acid-free tissue paper. This involves making lots of tissue puffs and tissue sausages, which we can use to pad out the box, making sure that the objects don’t move around when the box is lifted or carried. This also prevents the objects from touching or rubbing against one another, which can cause damage.

A re-packed box, containing glass bottles

Larger objects need to be wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and bubble wrap, or secured in crates for moving. We’re also taking the opportunity to give everything a good clean. Conservation students Kylie and Zoe, from Lincoln University, have been helping us to clean our objects, using conservation cleaning methods.

All of this work takes a lot of time and effort. Our Collections team are working on this project almost full-time and we also have five amazing volunteers who are supporting us. Unfortunately, this means that some of our other services have been put on hold, while we focus our attention on the collections move. We are currently unable to respond to collections enquiries, image reproduction requests or offers to the collection, until further notice. If you have emailed us with an enquiry, we have noted it and we will respond to you as soon as possible once these services have been resumed.

It is our responsibility to care for our collections so that generations of people can enjoy, learn from, and be inspired by their heritage. Please bear with us while we work on this important project and stay tuned for more updates.  

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

On this day in history: telling the fascinating story of our medieval castles

Over the last few years, a group of volunteers at Pontefract Castle has been publishing ‘On this day in history’ articles for the castle’s Facebook page. In this special guest post, they explain how the project came about and introduce their exciting new website.

By Kevin Wilson and Alan Archer

This project developed out of a desire to bring the fascinating histories of both Pontefract and Sandal Castles to a much wider audience. The 'on this day' Facebook articles were tremendously well received, with at times more than 10,000 hits for any particular post. A good example of one of the most popular posts was in relation to the death of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster:

“Following the defeat of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, lord of Pontefract, and his supporters at the Battle of Boroughbridge on March 16th 1322, Thomas was tried and condemned in the Great Hall at Pontefract Castle. He was denied the opportunity to speak in his defence and was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The sentence was commuted to beheading because Thomas was the king’s cousin and, it is rumoured, due to the intercession of Queen Isabella. He was taken on a mule to St Thomas’ Hill - as it has since been known - and executed on the 22nd March 1322 in sight of his castle and whilst facing Scotland (symbolic of his alleged treasonable correspondence with the Scots.) ...”

Thomas, Earl of Lancaster being led to his execution
James William Edmund Doyle, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Similar interest has been shown in the history of Sandal Castle, with one of the most popular entries relating to the Battle of Wakefield on 30th December 1460:

“On 30th December 1460, the Battle of Wakefield was fought on the plain ground between Sandal Castle and the town of Wakefield i.e. to the north of Sandal Castle. This battle has often been overlooked in history mainly due to its short duration (one to two hours) and the number of combatants (about 30,000) when compared against some of the great battles of the era at St Albans, Towton, and Barnet. However, this battle changed the course of English history as the Yorkists were routed, losing 2,500 men. Richard, Duke of York himself was killed and his head subsequently displayed on Micklegate Bar in York …”
Richard, Duke of York memorial on Manygates Lane, Wakefield
SMJ / Richard of York Memorial

As a result of the interest shown in these articles, it was clear there was a real thirst for knowledge about the history of Pontefract’s royal castle and its neighbour, Sandal. In seeking to build upon this interest and provide a permanent and repeating record of historical events at both Pontefract and Sandal Castles, we developed www.pontefractsandalcastles.org.uk, which aims to tell a day-by-day history of both castles through the centuries. The entries on this site have been thoroughly researched through the reading of historical books and texts, articles, ancient chronicles, websites and the contributions of published historians.

The Keep, Pontefract Castle

Pontefract Castle was originally built in 1070 by the de Lacy family, who had journeyed to England with William the Conqueror. The castle was first built of timber but over time a stone fortress was constructed and added to.

The first castle at Sandal started to be built in 1107 at Lowe Hill by the de Warenne family, who also arrived with the Norman Conquest. In the early 13th century, a more defensible castle was built at the site we see today. The castle had a compact but very secure design.

Sandal Castle

The histories of the two castles are inextricably linked. Their story is the story of medieval England: from their initial development as motte and bailey castles built on lands granted to Norman barons who had supported William of Normandy in his conquest of England, through Magna Carta, the local and baronial wars of Thomas of Lancaster, the Wars of the Roses, the English Civil Wars, and the castles' destruction in its immediate aftermath. 

However, this is a story that has often been overlooked, and through the new website, we hope to bring the histories of these two great castles to a wholly new audience. With Pontefract being the ‘Key to the North’ and Sandal being the site of the death of the ‘heir’ to the throne, Richard Duke of York, as well as the site of Richard III’s ‘Council of the North’, this is a fascinating narrative that deserves to be more widely known.

We actively encourage feedback and contributions to our website through the ‘Contact Us’ button on the right of the front page of the website. 

A big thank you to Kevin and Alan and the fantastic volunteer researchers team for this guest post and all their work on Facebook. We wish them the best of luck with the new website.

To find out more about Sandal Castle's history and recent improvements to the site, including brand new interpretation, check out Sandal Castle: from noble beginnings to picturesque ruins

Sandal Castle: From noble beginnings to picturesque ruins

In recent years, over £700,000 has been invested in Sandal Castle as part of a project to share and preserve its fascinating heritage for current and future visitors. Essential conservation work on the ruins has helped to stabilise the stonework and protect it from the elements, whilst maintenance on the wooden walkways and bridges has improved access. Last year, we also installed new interpretation panels. Vibrant illustrations commissioned from Yorkshire based artists bring the castle's turbulent past and picturesque present to life. 

A brief history by Nick Ellwood

First built in the early 12th century, Sandal Castle has a long history. Award-winning York based illustrator, Nick Ellwood, introduces the key eras in this comic book style panel. The art work takes us from noble beginnings under the de Warenne family, when the castle developed from a wooden motte and bailey style to a stone keep and courtyard design; through trouble in both the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil Wars; to a space for exploring and relaxing today. 

Nick's other work can be seen in newspapers, on book jackets and across the museum and heritage sector. In his work Nick celebrates and explores both stories from today and from the past, observing and questioning people’s behaviour, actions, characteristics and quirks. Clients include The Guardian, English Heritage, Random House Publishing, The National Coal Mining Museum England, The Thackray Medical Museum Leeds, Arts Council England and the BBC.  Nick currently teaches illustration at York St John University and regularly exhibits across the UK.

The Battle of Wakefield by Tomekah George

This board looks out towards the scene of the Battle of Wakefield, a crucial part of the War of the Roses. Whilst today the scene is peaceful, on 30th December 1460, this was the site of a brutal battle in which Richard Duke of York was defeated and killed by the Lancastrians. Illustrator, designer and animator, Tomekah George has captured the carnage of the battle.

Tomekah specialises in bold collage and colourful illustration. She creates content for clients all over the world, from the USA to London, Manchester and more. Since graduating from an illustration degree in 2018, she’s worked on books, animations, digital illustrations and products, as well as being shortlisted in nationwide competitions and regularly taking part in exhibitions. She’s particularly interested in working on stories that promote a positive message or draw attention to sensitive topics such as inequality and representation, an interest that develops from a working-class upbringing, which influences her style and approach. Her work is emotive, colourful & warm at heart.

A day in the life of a medieval castle by Liz Kay

In the early 1480s, Richard III ordered improvement work at Sandal Castle to make it more comfortable and defensible as a permanent base in the north of England. This was a rare period of investment in the castle, which was largely left to decline from the mid 14th century. Liz Kay's illustration depicts the castle in 1485 after the improvements were completed. It offers visitors a glimpse into the bustling castle courtyard, kitchens, gatehouse and Great Hall. 

Liz Kay has been working for over ten years as an illustrator whose work has been used across children’s books, murals, maps, animation, magazines & newspapers. Liz lives and works in Wakefield, and loves to work on projects that involve aspects of her hometown. This project to show a snapshot of Sandal Castle in 1485 allowed her to explore her interest in the everyday lives of people throughout history and incorporate her passion for maps, architecture, calligraphy and period costume.  

A castle in ruins by Richard Bell

From October 1645, having been besieged three times during the English Civils Wars, Sandal Castle lay in ruins. Over the centuries, it became a place to take in spectacular panoramic views over the Calder Valley and towards Wakefield city centre. The castle has been excavated by archaeologists several times since 1893. Natural history illustrator, Richard Bell, here turns his hand to depicting the castle ruins as we can enjoy them today and gives a taste of what the different remains would have looked like in their heyday. The panel also highlights some of the key archaeological discoveries.

The Keep would once have stood four storeys high.

The discovery of ointment pots suggests that the kitchen was used as a field hospital during the English Civil Wars.

Richard Bell studied natural history illustration at the Royal College of Art. He writes a nature diary for The Dalesman magazine and his local publications include Walks in Robin Hood’s Yorkshire, All Sorts of Walks in Liquorice Country and a guide to Sandal Castle. His work features in the permanent collections of The Hepworth Wakefield and The National Coal Mining Museum for England.

See for yourself

If you live locally and would like to see the fabulous illustrations in person and tread in the footsteps of kings, you can find the latest visitor information for Sandal Castle at Experience Wakefield.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

“History opening up”: Transcribing the Sykes Visitor Book

In 2019, Wakefield Museums & Castles acquired a very special object: a Visitor Book from William Sykes Ltd in Horbury, Wakefield.

William Sykes Ltd was a sporting goods manufacturer, based in Horbury, Wakefield. In 1870, William Sykes used all his life savings to buy his own saddlery. After 10 years in business, he turned his leather working skills to making footballs and soon expanded into making goods for a wide range of different sports. William Sykes Ltd went from strength to strength and was soon selling equipment all over the world and supplying major tournaments like the FA Cup. William Sykes Ltd eventually merged with rival firms, Slazenger and Dunlop, but Horbury remained the centre of production until the factory’s closure in 1986. Find out more about William Sykes Ltd.

In 2021, Anne Dawson, one of our wonderful volunteers, took on the challenge of transcribing the Visitor Book and researching the names within it. After 6 weeks, and 12 pages, Anne shares what she has found so far…

Have you ever been asked to sign a Visitor Book?  Maybe you have been to another office for a meeting.  Perhaps it was that lovely little B&B where you flicked back a few pages to see what everyone else had written before adding your "great breakfast" to the comments section.

You probably didn't think that a hundred years later, someone would be trying to decipher your name and working out where you were from.

The Sykes Factory was a major manufacturer of leather footballs, expanding to golf and cricket and other sports - at one point making 21 models of tennis racket. During World War II, it switched production to the war effort. It merged with Slazenger it 1942 and in 1959 was bought by Dunlop. 

When I started to look at the Visitor Book, which started in 1930, I expected to see a list of (indecipherable) names, their hometown and the odd comment.

What I found was a truly fascinating historical document.  The first thing that struck me was that people had come from all over the world - South Africa, Australia, Canada. There were place names which we don't use now, like Bombay and Malaya... And the people......

The names on the page became real living people again.  The first page dated 1931 has a visit from H.R.H. George, Duke of Kent.  But you sort of expect royalty to visit factories - there are often plaques to visits from Dukes and Princesses, so that wasn't unusual.

Then names that I recognised started to appear. Len Hutton, who is described as one of the greatest cricketers of all time, and Dan Maskell, who I knew as a commentator, but he also played and coached tennis. Whole teams came to visit, including the Australian Rugby League Touring Club, Bristol City Football Club and the New Zealand Cricket team. Sometimes the visitors seem to have no connection to sports, such as a group from Castrop Rauxell, a mining town in Germany that was twinned with Wakefield in 1949.   

As well as signing their names, some visitors also made annotations in the book. Bob Andrews put an arrow up to the visitor above him with the words "what a great act to follow" – that previous visitor was Don Bradman, one of the most famous cricket batsman of his time. Sykes had a partnership with Bradman, who visited the factory in November 1934 and again in June 1948. They produced a ‘Don Bradman’ series of cricket bats and Bradman used a Sykes cricket bat to hit every one of his record achievements – something Sykes were keen to promote!

I think what really made me feel I was looking at history though was the comment made on 10 August 1945, when Japan offered to surrender to the Allies during World War II. The comment reads: "10th August 1945!  What a day!... we are going to start business again. I was lucky enough to be here that day and I'll never forget it..."  Unfortunately in his excitement, his name is illegible.

So next time you are asked to sign a Visitor Book, think of the person in the future trying to decipher your name and write legibly!

With thanks to Anne for all her hard work in transcribing the Visitor Book. If you're interested in volunteering with our collections, please get in touch with Leah Mellors, Collections & Exhibitions Manager, on lmellors@wakefield.gov.uk.