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From Rubble to Splendor

This week I joined what is affectionately referred to as a ‘hard-hat tour’. Yes, I swapped my stylish beret for a hard-hat, high-vis vest and toe-capped boots to explore York Art Gallery under construction.

On the last tour I attended the work had only just begun, with floors and walls ripped out to make way for diggers – a far cry from the tranquillity when I was there as a Casual!

York Art Gallery

On today’s visit, there was still a vast amount of rubble, but also new structures – you can see where exhibitions will take place, where the new café will be situated, and even where the toilets are going to be!

My personal highlight was seeing the original architectural features of the ‘hidden gallery’ – a space previously closed to the public. It is a beautiful room and, once the scaffolding is gone, will be full of light.

It’s such an exciting project, both for York Museums Trust and for the city itself, and I know it will be well worth the wait once it re-opens next year – watch this space!

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Join the Team

This week we welcomed new employees to the team at York Castle Museum in preparation for the increasing numbers of visitors we have at this time of year.

We have all sorts of roles, including Guides, Admissions and Retail, each with its own set of skills needed to do the job well! As the HR Assistant, I’m involved in spotting the right kind of people for the demands of each role.

Ever wondered what it takes? Here’s a taster…

Admissions – the first person you’re likely to meet on your visit, our Admissions staff are friendly and helpful and provide information on your visit.

Guides – knowledgeable and enthusiastic, our Guides are there to answer your queries – even the challenging ones! Want to know the time period of an object, or where to get a good coffee? These are the people to ask!

York Castle Museums shop

Retail – once you’ve toured the museum, you can treat yourself to a memento or some gifts for friends and family – our Retail staff are happy to advise your selection.

If you think you’d like to join our team, visit the Job Vacancies section of the website for the latest vacancies.

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Rediscovering Amazing, Anglian Uncleby.

Abigail Hansen
PhD Student at York University

“Archaeology is the search for fact, not truth….Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library. Research. Reading.” –Indiana Jones, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

As a research student in the Archaeology Department at the University of York, I can tell you that this is probably the most accurate thing that the world’s favourite archaeologist said. In addition to the library, I spend a fair amount of time in the Yorkshire Museum’s research room examining the goods of some of Yorkshire’s previous inhabitants.


An Anglian workbox – a container for sewing threads, buried in the cemetery.

YORYM : 1947.200.6

Very rarely do we archaeologists encounter double agents, bad guys with ancient weapons of mass destruction or pits full of snakes, but we do encounter mysteries and puzzles everyday that we want to solve. We take the bits and pieces of information available to us and strive to piece them all together to create a larger picture of history.

Working with the Yorkshire Museum I am attempting to solve a mystery of my own involving seventy-two Anglo-Saxon graves, a pre-historic burial mound and close to two hundred objects. The site is known as Uncleby, and when it was excavated in 1868 it was considered one of the most important Anglo-Saxon finds of its time. The grave goods weren’t rich and intricate like those from Sutton Hoo, but the collection that was found was interesting nonetheless. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw a boom in Anglo-Saxon archaeology, with each excavation outshining the last. Eventually Uncleby became a footnote to the field, with very little work done on the collection since.

As there is very little information on the original excavation, I have to turn to the surviving evidence to begin to understand the lives of the people that were buried over 1,200 years ago. The Yorkshire Museum has most of the collection in its trust, which is where my investigation began. Just like the contents of your desk top or bookshelf can say a lot about you, the objects that were buried with the Anglo-Saxons can tell us a lot about their owners and their lives.


A guilded buckle.

YORYM : 1947.220.3

Boxes and boxes of beads, knives, buckles, swords and other goodies were examined, measured and photographed. We were able to increase the catalogue of known objects from 85 to 115, and in some cases associate the objects with the graves that they came from. The collection of grave-goods will soon be part of the YMT’s online catalogue, bringing Uncleby and its eternal inhabitants into the twenty-first century.

The objects help to tell a fraction of the story that has been buried for centuries, but a lot of work and research is needed before anything can be said with any amount of certainty. While I don’t have any rapscallions or miscreants lurking in dark corners to thwart my quest for answers, there are some obstacles ahead and some questions that may never be completely answered. But with a little luck, a lot of reading, some perseverance and a dash of imagination I will be able to help solve some of the mysteries of the Anglo-Saxons of North Yorkshire, and find out a little more about the people who were laid to rest at Uncleby.

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York Art Gallery – Progress on Site April 2015

Spring is well and truly here and work on site is springing forward with great speed!

The physical changes to our new building are really beginning to show. New spaces are developing and the expansion into the secret gallery space is amazing. We are also on the threshold of creating the new south gallery extension, it is really exciting!

South Gallery Roof

South Gallery Roof

The South gallery roof has literally been raised to make way for the new South gallery extension that will feature more of our ceramics collection including a rainbow wall of pots and the Anthony Shaw collection.

Main Gallery

Main Gallery

The main gallery is really taking shape the mezzanine floor is now in creating the 1st CoCa gallery above.

Mezzanine Gallery- Coca 1

Mezzanine Gallery COCA1

The web of scaffold hides the original windows what will be the first gallery space of CoCa – The Centre of Ceramic Art.

Façade Features

One of my favourite parts of the redevelopment is having the opportunity to go up on the scaffold with the stone masons and Simpsons and look at the progress of the restoration works. It is such a rare and great opportunity to get up close to the façade of the building.

Crumbling Stone

Crumbling Stone 2Crumbling Stone 1

The façade was completed in 1878 -79 in sandstone, without the statuary, relief carvings and additional decorative features the architect had initially planned. As you can see from these pictures some of the original stonework was in poor repair this was due to the stone literally being sand blasted away by over 100 years of wind and rain. The current stone masons have replaced the stonework just in the nick of time!

Tiled panels

In 1880 two mosaics were purchased showing “Leonardo da Vinci expiring in the arms of Francis I” and “Michelangelo showing his Moses”. These are the two mosaics currently decorating the building, this one pictured is of Leonardo.

Tiled Panels 1

A detail below from “Leonardo da Vinci expiring in the arms of Francis I”

Tiled Panels 2

We hope to achieve a programme of restoration for the tile panels with a view to protect them for the future.

We still have a way to go and a huge amount to complete but I am sure you will agree we’ve set the pace and we are really forging on.




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A belated sciencey post…


It’s taken a while to put up but here is a link to a write-up of the event held at the Yorkshire Museum for International Women’s Day 2014, on the 8th March. A group of female scientists from the ScienceGrrl organisation took up residence in the museum for the day, both in the central hall and the galleries, speaking to visitors about their day jobs and demonstrating some hands-on science.

The day was a great success – have a look at Gemma’s blog, who organised the day. Thanks to all involved – and I hope some budding scientists were inspired by the enthusiastic people there! ScienceGrrl exists to show that anyone can get into science – it doesn’t matter what gender you are, no one should feel held back.

I hope the museum can inspire people every day of course – but having some scientists on hand makes all the difference!

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York Art Gallery – A Brief Look Back

As York Art Gallery enters its second year closed due to its major redevelopment, it may be interesting to look back to the last time the gallery was closed for a considerable period of time to also reopen after a major facelift: during and after World War II.

Space can only permit a mere glimpse at the gallery during the war and its reopening, though I am sure a more generous look would be of interest. The information largely comes from the York Corporation’s official printed minutes and they certainly offer a very rich source of information on York Art Gallery.

The Corporation minutes state that on 1 September 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland, the ‘military authorities commandeered the Exhibition building’ and thus the gallery remained closed until it was partly reopened on 15 January 1948.

The ‘military authorities’ seem to have only used the buildings as and when they needed as the minutes of 7 May 1941 say that the military authorities ‘formally gave up possession of the main hall’, but by September the Art Gallery Committee are recommending that the Council accept an offer by the military to rent the buildings.

In May 1942 the military again partly moved out and in June it was noted that the Housing Committee were using these areas in connection with ‘war damage repairs’, whilst other areas were being rented by a furniture company for storage.

One interesting nugget from the war years comes from the minutes of June 1943, a recommendation from the Art Gallery Committee that the gallery be renamed the ‘YorkshireArtGallery’ – possibly to align itself to the nearby YorkshireMuseum? This recommendation was indeed adopted by the Council, but it seems that this decision was then simply forgotten.

By September 1944 it was agreed that the military would leave the buildings no more than 6 months from the end of the war, and indeed by October 1945 it was noted that they would be gone by the end of the year, and that paintings stored elsewhere (including a ‘Hall, outside York’) be returned to the gallery when room is available, and that plans to make the gallery weather proof, to decorate, and add heating and lighting to the gallery were underway.

Plans to reopen the gallery after 5 years are clearly being undertaken.

A major part of this process, and a catalyst for much that was to follow, was the appointment of a new curator.

Albert Finney was appointed temporary curator of the art gallery and Castle Museum in April 1943 (in effect having three jobs as he was also the City Librarian), and he retired in March 1947 when it was recommended that a full time curator of ‘the art collection and gallery be appointed’ and one whose duties were separate from the Castle Museum.

By July the committee were happy to recommend that ‘Mr Hans Hess of Leicester’ be appointed, and by September it was noted that the committee were considering a report by Hess on ‘the reconstruction and development of the gallery and recommend that suggestions contained therein be carried out and that application be made to the appropriate Government Dept. for sanction to borrow £5,000, the estimate cost of the recommendations so far as they concern structural works’.

In November it was agreed that the gallery be partly reopened in January 1948, which indeed it did, but this was in fact only the entrance hall, ‘sufficient to arrange small exhibitions and just enough to let the public know that the York Art Gallery has come to life again’ as the Art Gallery Committee Chairman JB Morrell stated in the first issue of Preview, a newsletter on the gallery published by the Corporation. The first exhibition focused on the paintings of William Etty.

The Yorkshire Gazette reported the reopening, noting Hess as saying that the role of a municipal art gallery was two-fold, ‘to present the art of the city to the world’ and to ‘bring the art of the world to York’, quoting Hess as saying that ‘it should not be necessary to go to Rome, Venice and Paris to see what has been painted in the past; it should be accessible here’.

What fine words, and ones that were vindicated through Hess’ direction and collection policy, culminating in the Lycett-Green bequest in 1955.

Hess went on to say that the gallery would be a lively place with lectures, concerts and other social activities, Morrell adding that Hess’ aim was to make the gallery as ‘outstanding among galleries as the Castle Museum was among museums’. By 1951 the whole of the gallery as we have until recently known it was open to the public, and Hess’ aims seem to have been realised as recorded in Preview.

One of Hess’ ideas was of course the instigation of a York Art Collection Society, and indeed this institution was in place by the time of the gallery’s reopening, and had 170 members by the end that year.

The first report of the renamed Friends of York Art Gallery, published in 1956, details their activities and the purchases made by them for the collection. By this time no less a renowned figure as Herbert Read was the President of the Friends, and he noted in his preface to the report that York Art Gallery had by 1956 become ‘one of the most rapidly expanding and most lively institutions of its kind in the country’.

Jonathan Peters completed a MA dissertation on the history of York Art Gallery in 2003.

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The unusual suspects…..

A volcanologist, watercolourist, botanist and forger….walk into a bar? No, in this case the unlikeliness of our characters was not the set up for a bad joke.

In fact, we had an even larger cast of York’s luminaries as the focus for our Wikipedia edit-a-thon at the Hospitium on March 16th. This public event was the culmination of Pat Hadley’s role as Wikipedian-in-Residence; a sixth-month residency helping the trust to share it’s collections through the online encyclopedia.

Tempest Anderson

Tempest Anderson   


Mary Ellen best

Mary Ellen Best



Flint Jack

Edward Simpson (Flint Jack)


16 keen participants and eight members of YMT staff gathered on a surprisingly spring-like Sunday with the aim of improving content on Wikipedia – the world’s sixth-most popular website – using content from the collections and archives of the Trust. The event attracted keen York historians, experienced Wikipedians and those new to both. Curators had prepared lots of resources, participants brought their laptops and we had plenty of tea and biscuits to fuel us through the day. Groups spontaneously gathered around articles they wanted to tackle and could get help with resources or the technicalities of editing.

The day was themed around the lives and work of York’s Luminaries who lived between 1800-1950. We were fairly broad with our definition though and wanted to encourage people to document some of York’s lesser-known figures. These included:

Editathon 3


  • Editathon 2 


Editatho 1

Mary Ellen Best – A key female Victorian artist. Best painted domestic interiors, in contrast to many of her contemporaries.

Best has a number of works in the YorkArtGallery but had no biography on Wikipedia until the edit-a-thon. A few days later, her article featured in a Did you know? on the front page of Wikipedia, creating 3500 views!

  • Walter Harvey-Brook – Was the YorkshireMuseum’s honorary curator of Medieval Archaeology and designed much of the MuseumGardens.

Brook’s paintings, sketches and archaeological notes are key parts of the collections. His article was created during the edit-a-thon.

Anderson’s images have been uploaded by the museum for use on Wikipedia. Some of his best are now available to use. His biography was significantly updated.

  • Edward Simpson – less of a ‘luminary’ Simpson was an itinerant archaeological forger known as ‘Flint Jack’.His biography was substantially improved during the edit-a-thon


Click through for a full report of the days edits

It was great to have curators on hand to help with references and context for these topics. After lunch, they also treated us to talks and handling sessions with some fascinating artefacts and information. Though we got a huge amount done, these made it clear how much more fantastic stuff there was in the collections and archives at YMT. There’s plenty of scope for going much further!

Everybody had a great day and we’re really hoping that we can get together again soon to make even more improvements and that more people have the confidence to continue editing in their own time. Maybe we could have another theme next time? We’d love to have more people along – so perhaps your ideas will help share the next set of unusual suspects across the world!


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York Art Gallery Project Update-Onwards and Upwards!

After so many dark miserable days it was so nice to go up onto the scaffolding in the sunshine today and get a really close look at the south side of the gallery. Many of you will have seen the canopy of scaffolding and screening that is creeping over the roof of the gallery looking a lot like the pyramid stage at Glastonbury! This canopy is to protect the gallery spaces underneath as the roof is being stripped ready for the steel work to be installed for the new upper south gallery extension including ceiling and glass works to the mezzanine gallery (secret gallery). The pitched roof to the south gallery is almost removed and the ornate victorian trusses have been carefully removed. The trusses come apart in three parts below is the central part which holds the truss arms together.

The Central axis of a truss

The Central axis of a truss

The South gallery pitched roof removed

The South gallery pitched roof removed

The mezzanine gallery (secret gallery) is really taking shape the steelwork has been installed and the steel decking has been laid. It won’t be long before the concrete floor is pumped in and once set  a scaffold birdcage will then be erected to allow the workmen access to the ceiling to make good the plasterwork and replace the glazing.

The mezzanine steel decked floor

The mezzanine steel decked floor

The mezzanine floor from reception

The mezzanine floor from reception

Hard hat day for the Art Gallery Welcome Team!

We had a lovely afternoon spent on site with the guides last week showing them the new gallery spaces. Everyone was bowled over by the spaces and could really see the galleries taking shape. It really brought home how nearly 3 years of working very hard towards our new fantastic gallery will all be worth it in the end.

A hard hat day for the Art gallery welcome Team very excited about our gallery!

A hard hat day for the Art gallery welcome Team very excited about our gallery!



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Ask the Expert: Andy Robertshaw, Military Historian

Andy Robertshaw, Military Historian

Andy Robertshaw, Military Historian, will be answering your questions on World War One on Monday 14 April 2014 between  2-3pm BST.

Andy Robertshaw

You can post questions before the Q & A session, on 14 April, or you can converse in real time with our expert. You can use the comment box below to post a question, or you can use twitter with the hashtag  #mdyask.

Comments have to be moderated, to protect the blog from spam, so if your comment doesn’t appear straight away, don’t worry. We’ll get to it as quickly as we can.

If you have a problem submitting questions, either in the comment box, or via twitter, please email your questions to gillian.waters@ymt.org.uk

If you have ideas for subjects you’d like to see us cover in future, or would like to take questions yourself, please get in contact with us and let us know.