Christmas at the Castle

Here at History Team HQ we’ve been working really hard to make Christmas at the Castle Museum even better than ever.

sign on kirkgate

Earlier on this year we tasked student Andrew Hartley to research Victorian Christmas and in particular what Christmas would have been like for some of the shops we have on Kirkgate and he found out some really interesting and surprising stuff. Yule log

For example, did you know that Leak & Thorp Drapers would have sold an array of items in their Christmas bazaar including Chinese lanterns, palms and even pampas grass that would be used for decoration?

leak and thorp fake fruit

We’ve attempted our own take on what their shop window would have looked like and we think it looks pretty good!

Why don’t you come down to Kirkgate and have a look at the rest of the things we’ve been up to and let us know what you think!

Merry Christmas!!

The History Team


To see what the History Team gets up to all year round follow us on Twitter @YMT_HistoryTeam


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Museum Computer Group Conference

Arriving at the Tate Modern on London’s southbank was, I must admit, a unique way to begin a Friday morning for me.

Before you ask, no I wasn’t going to elaborate lengths to skive off work by hiding in our fair capital; I was attending the Museum Computer Group Annual Conference earlier this month with Digital Team Leader Martin Fell (he can corroborate my story anyway).

As it was my first year at the conference I was keen to not only hear the thoughts of those speaking at the event but equally to take the opportunity to talk with my colleagues from various museums and institutions across the country to grasp what the current state of play is across the museum community.

Walking into possibly the reddest room I’ve ever seen in my life (the colour scheme was a shock to the senses at that time on a Friday) it was great to feel the buzz of conversation that you wouldn’t normally associate with a full day’s conferencing.

Tablets and smart phones were being feverishly tapped as twitter feeds were updated in anticipation of the day ahead.

I got the impression that the day was going to remove itself from the stereotypical image of a conference and I was looking forward to the old grey matter being well and truly put through its paces as thought provoking topics were floated around the room.

And so it proved as the day went on, from the opening speech by the Guardian’s Hannah Freeman on increasing community engagement online to crowd sourcing and an insight into the efforts by the BBC’s Research and Development team to archive its infinite archive of radio broadcasts with the help of the online public, the day whizzed by and created some great talking points with other delegates in between the sessions.

Having the opportunity to speak with counterparts from organisations such as English Heritage, Tate Modern and even the Eden Project I was eager to find out what their future plans were from an online and digital perspective.

It was particularly encouraging to realise that the plans we are putting in place at York Museums Trust are actually on a par with them.

In the next nine to twelve months we are hoping to take a big leap forward in terms of our digital output so to hear that we are on track with what’s happening across the industry is greatly reassuring.

Back to the conference and the day concluded with a fascinating and highly entertaining closing keynote speech by Michael John Gorman of the Science Gallery in Dublin.

Michael alluded to some of the fantastic ways in which they are not only attracting visitors to the Science Gallery but also how they contribute to the exhibitions and also return to see their contributions time and again.

As Michael so humorously put it:

“We manage to extract something from all of our visitors,” by which he was referring not only to money, saliva, DNA…the slightly disturbing list went on!


With the day more or less wrapped up it was time to head across the Millennium bridge to catch the tube, taking in the dazzling London skyline. Heading back across the city it was great to think that our plans are really starting to take shape and it won’t be long before we can start to show off some exciting new initiatives to the online public.







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Starting my placement at Yorkshire Museum

Anna Walter
MA History of Art student at York University

“Five weeks into the project and I still cannot believe I have this amazing opportunity at Yorkshire Museum. I have had little experience with archaeology in the past but I love working from the object in art history, it is a privilege to be so close to the artefacts. I have held my first ever human skull of a Roman and nervously cradled prehistoric pottery.

I have been trying my hand at archiving and learning the process of identification. Archiving involves describing the object in front of you, using the correct terminology, determining its material and origin if possible. Then using a calliper to measure its length, width, height, weight, diameter or thickness and finally taking detailed photos and adding all this information together onto the database.

My project is on the stonework from St Mary’s Abbey and I am closely working with the beautiful catalogue by Walter Harvey Brook, 1933. The catalogue was his life‘s work and is all hand written and illustrated with stunningly detailed watercolour drawings.


Through his writing and clear passion for the artefacts I feel I am getting to know Harvey Brook’s personality a little. He expresses his frustration with having to compile such a disorganised system of stonework in the undercroft of the Anderson Hall (now the medieval exhibition in the Yorkshire Museum). However there is a delicate care and attention gone into his reproductions on the page.

I shall be connecting his catalogue with the Yorkshire Museum’s database and a paper archive started by Christopher Wilson in 1980. It is difficult to separate the architectural pieces from St Mary’s abbey and York Minster but I am finding some beautiful treasures of stonemasonry in the Yorkshire Museum stores. The aim is to produce a piece of work to go online by September 2014.I am looking forward to the process of completing this project and excited to discover more about the people involved and the stunning piece of architecture that was St Mary’s Abbey.”

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Starting out as the Wikipedian in Residence

So, three weeks into my role as York Museums Trust’s (YMT) I already feel like things are more complicated – but more exciting – than I’d imagined they could be.

I’ve been learning a great deal about the character at the centre of our test collection: Tempest Anderson. Doctor, gentleman, explorer, volcanologist and the owner of York’s first telephone. Dial 1 for Anderson.

Pat Hadley and Stuart Ogilvy looking over the Tempest Anderson slides in the YMT stores

Pat Hadley and Stuart Ogilvy looking over the Tempest Anderson slides in the YMT stores

We will be uploading a few low-resolution scans of Anderson’s fantastic photographs in the near future as a teaser before the main release of ~300. These are being specially cleaned and scanned in the next few weeks.

All the while, I’ve been at least as excited about the scope for other elements of the project. I attended a meeting with the curators and am beginning to get a feel for the vast and fascinating collections the Trust cares for. Learning this from the expert curators is a real bonus!

I’ve been excited to learn that there will be a forthcoming partnership with the Google Cultural Institute on the trust’s fantastic studio pottery collections. The images will be uploaded with rich accounts written by curator Helen Walsh that will be great for the public and excellent source material for Wikipedia articles.

The Trust is going to be hugely involved in York and Yorkshire’s reflections on 1914 as the centenary comes around. The buzz generated in the run up to the 1914: When the World Changed Forever exhibition will be a great help in getting local volunteers and Wikimedians to help connect the trusts excellent military history and social history material to the wider world through Wikimedia projects.

More generally, there is a huge number of images already digitised – officially or otherwise – that will be useful for the partnership. For starters, thousands of collections images – objects in the archaeology, fine art, social history, studio pottery, numismatics and more – will be going into an all new online collections system by Christmas. Many of these images will have licenses that also make them suitable for transfer to Wikimedia Commons.

Further, there are hundreds of images already on Commons, Flickr or elsewhere that are (or should) be linked to YMT and can be used to enrich Wikipedia articles on many topics.

We’re also exploring a few ideas which we think might be new to GLAMwiki partnerships: Uploading video and how-to content on handling and other curatorial best-practice to Wikiversity and searching images of decommissioned exhibitions for explanatory diagrams – one of the most useful but least well-covered areas on Wikimedia Commons.

It’s great to be in a position where the ideas seem limitless and we’re almost overwhelmed by the possibilities. Keep an eye on the project page – – for news and updates as the project progresses.


Ask the Expert: Andrew Woods, Curator of Numismatics (Coins, Medals, Tokens and Banknotes) for York Museums Trust (YMT)

Money, Medals and Museums in the Twenty-first Century

Most museums will have some form of numismatic collection. This might be Roman coins in an archaeology collection, tokens in social history or medals in military museums. However, numismatic collections are relatively seldom utilised. Cabinets of coins, medals and tokens sit unused in a variety of stores. There are reasons behind this. The antiquarian nature of collections, with large numbers of coins from areas remote in space and time from the modern museums, present problems. Similarly, the challenges of classification (is it sub-class 10a or 10b?) have put many off numismatics. Finally, the inherent challenge of displaying objects that are small and round must be acknowledged, in addition to the fact that money is something so everyday that we seldom stop to think about it.

Image from Guardian, 9.i.1996

Image from Guardian, 9.i.1996

It is a pity that numismatic collections are not utilised more widely. In the brief time that I have been based in York I have seen some fantastic things in collections within the region. Craven have an excellent Roman hoard, Sheffield an incredible array of industrial tokens/medals while York can boast the rather fabulous Vale of York Viking hoard. When I have been out and about visiting museums I like to say that every numismatic collection has something of interest, it is just a matter of finding out what it is and how to make the most of it.

An awareness of the potential of numismatics can be seen with some major museums devoting whole galleries to its display. Refurbishments of the BM, Ashmoleon and Manchester Museums have all devoted large spaces to Money. Closer to home, we have found in York that numismatics can work well in a number of contexts. We have material integrated into a range of exhibitions (The head of Constantine alongside his coins) but numismatics also stands on its own as can be seen in a ‘travel money’ display. It pops up in our Richard III handling sessions and even in our volcanoes display. Our work with WW1 medals has proved to be one of the most rewarding volunteer projects.

‘Travel Money’ display, with coins donated by visitors in August 2013, at the Yorkshire Museum

‘Travel Money’ display, with coins donated by visitors in August 2013, at the Yorkshire Museum

A realisation that there is enormous potential in numismatic collections is one of the reasons for YMT’s appointment of a Curator of Numismatics. My role is to provide advice, support and help to Museums within the region. If you fall under the remit of MDY then I am here to help. I am planning to host regular training on a range of topics, can provide specific advice – on identification, documentation, display, handling, interpretation or whatever you can think of! – if desired and am currently working on trying to ‘map’ the numismatic collections of the region. This mapping will feed into a national scheme which aims to quantify the scale and type of numismatic collections across the whole country. This will allow for more effective planning of training and the connection of collections with local specialists/volunteers.

In sum, money and medals have huge potential within a Museum environment. Handled appropriately and with a little imagination there are few things that they can’t be utilised for. In my blog, I’m happy to field queries about all things numismatic so please use it as an opportunity to take a look in that dusty cabinet and see what you have!

Andrew Woods, Curator of Numismatics, York Museums Trust

You can post questions before the Q & A session, on 29 November, 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  #mdyaskexpert.

If you have a problem submitting questions, either in the comment box, or via twitter, please email your questions to  

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 contactwith us and let us know.


Coins, Cheese and Charles I

‘An army marches on its stomach’ – Napoleon Bonaparte

The challenges of feeding an army were well known to Napoleon and we can imagine that they were equally relevant 150 years earlier when Charles I was engaged in war with Parliament during the English Civil War. How (and what!) the soldiers were fed is demonstrated in a number of fragmentary receipts which are within the Trust’s collection.


Gold Unite of Charles I (click for larger image)

These receipts were found as a part of the enormous Breckenbrough hoard. This hoard contained over 1552 silver coins in addition to 30 gold coins. One of the coins, a gold ‘Unite’ of Charles I is illustrated above. The hoard represents a huge accumulation of wealth, more than many would have seen in a lifetime. It was put it into the ground during the unrest of 1644 when Parliamentarian forces were active in Yorkshire, possibly in the period immediately before the Battle of Marston Moor. In a period before the advent of banks, a pot in the ground stuffed full of coins represented one of the more secure ways of burying your wealth.

Receipt for purchase of 10 1/2 stone of Cheese from 'Woodall Field'

Receipt for purchase of 10 1/2 stone of Cheese from ‘Woodall Field’ (click for larger image)

Hoards of civil war coins are not particularly unusual. We have others, such as those from Grewelthorpe and Middleham in our collection. What marks this hoard as very unusual is the fact that four fragments of paper were concealed alongside the coins. These fragments record the fact that John Guy, the ‘deputy provider general’ for the Royalist forces, had requisitioned 12 stone(!) of cheese to feed Charles’ army. These are dated to 17 January 1643 although this would be January 1644, as we would reckon it, given the different way we calculate dates. The date is visible at the top of each receipt and you may just be able to make out the curvy ’1643′ on the image below.

Receipt 2

Receipt for purchase of 1 1/2 stone of Cheese from ‘Brekenbrough’ (click for larger image)

So why would you include receipts alongside your coins? Well, it is perhaps best to think of them as ‘IOU’s. The king had taken the cheese to feed his army but had not yet paid for it. Whoever buried the hoard would have been able to claim payment for this whenever Charles won the war. The receipt were thus valuable commodities and were saved alongside the coins. Now we know that Charles did not win the war but it is likely that whoever buried the hoard did not think that they would be leaving it there for any length of time. It is likely that they were killed during the Civil War’s fighting and could not go back and dig up their wealth, leaving it to be found in modern times.

The grand total of 12 stone (about a medium size person) of cheese and the enormous pile of coins suggest that there was significant wealth in the region during the Civil War. Much of it was lost, gobbled up (literally or metaphorically) by competing armies or hoarded in the ground never to be seen again. The receipts show the human side of this war and also that cheese could be as valuable as coinage!

Receipt 1:
Dat’ 17 January 1643
Rec’ from Woodall Feild 10 stone
1/2 of Cheese for the use of

John Guy
Providere [gen]erall

Receipt 2:
dat’ 17 January 1643
Rec’ from Brekenbrough 1 stone
and 1/2 stone for the use of

John Guy deputie
Providere generall

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Pop in to a Pop-Up Gallery

As a long-term resident of York with a passion for art, I love to see projects that give budding artists in the city the opportunity to develop and explore their own abilities, and share it with art fans like myself.

You may have recently read our blog by Mike Linstead, our E-Communications Co-ordinator, on the pop-up art project developed in conjunction with York College, giving students the opportunity to respond to York Museums Trust’s current exhibition at York St. Mary’sArtist Rooms: Bruce Nauman.

La Brea/Art Tips/Rat Spit/Tar Pits 1972 by Bruce Nauman born 1941

The exhibition has been hugely popular, so the students were thrilled to be given the chance to use Nauman’s work as inspiration. One of the participating artists, Jade Bull, said:

“Working on the pop-up gallery opened my eyes to the work of a curator and spurred me on to research and learn about many artists.”

To find out more, you can follow the project on Twitter via @PopinYork or @YorkArtGallery, or add us on Facebook –

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Spode Work

We at YMT are paying a lot of attention to ceramics at the moment, so many of us have made our way to the British Ceramics Biennial.  The main event is based in the disused Spode Works in the centre of Stoke-on-Trent.

To reach the site from Stoke station is only a five minute walk, but it’s a that walk takes you under a branch of the West Coast main line, over the Trent & Mersey canal and across the A500 dual carriageway. Your trip into economic history has already begun.

Spode needed excellent transport links because its workers used to turn large volumes of raw materials into large volumes of high quality, mass-produced, ceramic commodities. The biennial uses the same site to show high quality, hand-made, contemporary ceramic art.  The fuzzy line between the factory-made and the hand-made, and our confusions around work, craft, labour, economic value and artistic values are underlying themes of the whole show. One of the central exhibits, for example, is Clare Twomey’s ‘Made in China’, which comprises 80 giant red vases ordered by email from Jingdezhen, China, and one nearly identical British-made vase decorated with real gold leaf.

The Chinese pots have particular resonance in a factory closed due to global competition. It’s worth remembering too that one of Josiah Spode’s main technical achievements was, in the early 1790s, perfecting the formula for imitating Oriental porcelain and so beginning the successful production of ‘Bone China’ in Britain.  Which was, of course, a mixed blessing for the people of Stoke:

“The potters as a class, both men and women, represent a degenerated population, both physically and morally. They are, as a rule, stunted in growth, ill-shaped, and frequently ill-formed in the chest; they become prematurely old, and are certainly short-lived;” Dr. J. T. Arledge, senior physician of the North Staffordshire Infirmary 1863

The main exhibition space is a well worth a visit in its own right for its range of work by established and emerging artists, together with the best of British student talent.

For me though, the experience took on a different and unexpected aspect when I began to explore the wider site. The factory closed only five years ago after more than two centuries of continuous production. It is derelict and largely abandoned, but still just about habitable and still full of remnants of the working life it contained.

For this Biennial a series of 40 different researched and thoughtful artistic interventions and re-presentations of these remains are scattered throughout the buildings. Visitors are invited simply to explore. The result is a game-like experience which works on all sorts of different levels and plays on all your senses.

The interventions are very individual but also feel very connected, part of a whole piece. They are collectively titled ‘Vociferous Void’ and, thinking about it afterwards, it probably is their response to the void, the absence of the workers, their activity and their noise, that helps to tie these works together.

Anyway, the Spode Works has been brought temporarily back to life with a magical combination of art, heritage, curatorship and pies.  If you’d like to read up more there are lots of materials available online, but if you can, do get yourself along to the factory before it closes its gates, once again, on 10 November.

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Linked by Design: Textile collections of York Castle Museum and the Board of Trade Design Register

On Friday 12 October 2013, I spent an enthralling afternoon at the York Castle Museum’s stores examining handkerchiefs recording historic events ranging from World War 1 to the building of Manchester Ship Canal as well as Royal jubilees and coronations. This is part of a project aiming to link objects in the museum collection with the extraordinarily rich evidence contained in the Board of Trade Representations and Registers of Designs 1839-1991 held at The National Archives, London.New Picture (22)

This set of records, known widely as the BT Design Register, contains nearly three million designs which were registered between 1839 and 1991. This vast record contains the name and address of each proprietor who registered a design and a representation of the registered design as a drawing, photograph or sample. I’ve been working with Dinah Eastop, Curatorial Research Fellow, The National Archives, and we have already established that a printed cotton handkerchief named ‘A Souvenir of the Record Reign of Queen Victoria 1897’ with the Registration number 292206 appears in the BT Design Register.

New Picture (23)

This made it possible to identify the manufacturer as Aitken Campbell & Co., a Glasgow firm founded in 1847.

Mary M Brooks, Director, MA International Cultural Heritage Management, Durham University.

This research is supported by The Textile Society

For the Guide Reference to the BT Design Register, click here.

For an online exhibition of 300 Victorian-era ceramic and related designs from the BT Design Register, click here.

For links to interactive images of some of the designs in the BT Design Register, and a medieval seal, see the following links:

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Drawing Inspiration

photo 01

I’m willing to admit that I’m not exactly the foremost authority on studio ceramics; far from it!

I suppose like many people I can appreciate the work involved and the thought process behind many of the works, but my knowledge thereafter is somewhat very limited.

However, in my role here at York Museums Trust I have been asked to support a new exhibition relating to our extensive ceramics collection.

Now I can’t go into too much detail about said exhibition at this stage, as it’s under wraps for the time being, but what I can say is that it is going to be a very exciting new venture for the Trust and I’m keen to ensure I can provide as much of a useful contribution as possible.

In an effort to expand my knowledge in this area I recently joined a marketing delegation – well, ok, a delegation may be exaggerating a little – but myself, Head of Communications, Charlotte Dootson, and Communications Manager, Lee Clark, travelled to Stoke-on-Trent to take in the British Ceramics Biennial that is taking place from 28 September – 10 November.

photo 18

The festival is showcasing work from the UK’s leading contemporary ceramic artists in a series of new exhibitions and special events across the city.

As well as The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery we also visited the Original Spode Factory Site.

As the main hub of the exhibition during the biennial celebrations, we were greeted by a looming space which, through its fading white interior, echoed its more functional 8

It was a great opportunity to see such a diverse array of ceramic art and what I found most useful was having the experience of seeing how they were 14IMG_2674IMG_2661

York Museums Trust has possibly the best and most representative collection of UK studio ceramics anywhere in the world and in particular an amazing collection given to the trust by the late Bill Ismay, an inspirational figure in the world of ceramic art.

When York Art Gallery opens we will be able to showcase the collection in our wonderful purpose-built centre for ceramic art. Until then however much of Ismay’s collection has been loaned to The Hepworth Wakefield.

In the meantime the next step for us is to bring this collection together in a brand new exhibition space for us: online.

Perhaps I’ve given too much away by letting that point slip, but we are about to enter the realm of digital exhibiting on a formal level for the first time.

These are exciting and challenging times as we seek to maintain the traditions of the physical exhibition whilst embracing the many wonderful opportunities that the online world presents.

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