Museums Work

Museums Work Blog

Collaborative doctoral award PhD studentship on offer…

The School of Education and Social Science at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in Preston is inviting applications from modern historians and political scientists for an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award between UCLan and the People’s History Museum in Manchester on the subject of ‘Patriotic labour in England in the period of the Great War’. In the words of a press release:

‘The central aim of the project is to enhance our understanding of the nature, extent and political influence of working class and labour movement patriotism generated by World War I in England during the period c.1914–c.1930. The study will be built upon relevant and underutilised archival and visual material at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre, in the People’s History Museum. The patriotic tendencies of the overwhelming majority of working class people in Britain in the early twentieth century have never been adequately explained by historians. Labour historians have largely been embarrassed by the enthusiasm for war demonstrated by the working class during World War I, preferring to study oppositional groups like conscientious objectors or strikers. Mainstream economic, political or military historians have rather taken working class support for granted and have not studied its socio-political impact and influence in detail. Yet within ten years of the outbreak of the Great War, the fledgling Labour Party had formed a minority government and within fifteen years it was the largest British political party.

‘The student will be expected to construct and produce a viable and coherent research project, assisted by the supervisory team that analyses the extent to which working-class and labour movement patriotism overlapped in England and the scope and influence of this patriotism on the Labour Party’s policymaking, campaigning and electoral performance. As such, it will be driven by a number of key themes and questions relating to the topic, including: the labour movement’s active role in the 1914–16 military recruitment drive and subsequent reluctance to accept the introduction of industrial and military conscription; the labour movement’s cooperation with the corporate state; the relationship between working class patriotism in England and the Labour Party’s post-war policymaking and campaigning; patriotic labour and the growth of working class conservatism and nationalism; differences between working class and labour movement patriotism in England and elsewhere in the UK.

‘This collaborative project offers the opportunity to join a lively community of scholars at both institutions and the chance to make a unique impact on the forthcoming commemoration of the centenary of the Great War. Applicants should have good first degree and have completed or be in the process of completing MA study. The studentship is tenable from 1 October 2011, all fees are provided and an annual stipend of around £14,000 is payable for three years. The closing date is 31 August 2011, and the interviews will be held on 12/13/15 September’.

Further information from the Principal Investigator for the project, Dr Nick Mansfield,


Guardian of the ‘forum’…

Mr Walter Cross

As a footnote to Kathleen Kenyon and the excavation of the Jewry Wall site in Leicester between 1936-39, much of the actual work of excavation was done by workmen employed by the Borough Council rather than archaeologists – a common enough practice at the time. I recall seeing a photograph of Miss Kenyon surrounded by her workforce, all wearing flat caps except the foreman or ’gaffer’ in his trilby hat. I’ll see if I can track down a copy – but they included a stonemason, George Kilworth, whose job was to restore the stonework as it was exposed to prevent it from crumbling.*

I also came across an old newspaper cutting about Mr Walter Cross, the man appointed by the Museums & Libraries Committee to act as ‘guardian’ of the site from 1937. According to this, the work involved the repair of fences, laying and cutting the turf that covered parts of the site, and various unspecified ‘preventative measures’ to keep it in good repair. He was also responsible for the care of the Roman mosaic pavement beneath the Great Central Railway station, discovered in Jewry Wall Street in 1832 during the digging of foundations for a house, and bought by the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society for £100. This was paid in annual instalments of £5 to the owner, Mr Willey, ‘who offered the Society the first right of purchase… although he might have sold the pavement to the Crystal Palace Company’. When the Great Central railway was built over the site in the 1890s, the pavement was preserved in a chamber below the station to which the public could be admitted for a small charge. In 1977 the Blackfriars pavement - as it is known - was removed to Jewry Wall Museum in a delicate and complex operation involving much archaeological expertise. Mr Cross himself retired in 1946 after working for the Council for a total of 35 years. 

* Leicester Mercury, 29 April 2006


A suitable career for a woman…?

As you may well know, the Council for British Archaeology Festival of Archaeology started this weekend and runs until the end of July. This is always a great opportunity for volunteers such as fieldwalkers and local heritage societies to display their finds in museums and other venues, and you can search for information about events in your area at

Anglo-Saxon display at Melton Carnegie Museum

On Saturday, for instance, I went to see ‘Found in Melton’ at Melton Carnegie Museum, a Community Showcase exhibition by Melton Fieldworkers and the Melton and Belvoir Search Society, celebrating some of  their own finds from the Melton area. There are similar displays at weekends this month by the Hinckley Archaeological Society at Hinckley & District Museum, and by the Hallaton Fieldworkers at The Tabernacle in Hallaton, where on Sunday 31 July there will also be a demonstration of flint knapping.

Volunteers such as these play a crucial role in museums across the East Midlands region. In fact, around half of all our museums are run entirely by volunteers, and this is a subject to which I will return again and again in the future. In the meantime, Melton Carnegie Museum also features an exhibition entitled ‘In Search of Leicestershire’, which runs until 18 September and focuses on some of the archaeologists – amateur as well as professional – at the centre of discoveries in Leicestershire from the 18th century.

The former include A. J. Pickering, a newspaper proprietor and philanthropist from Hinckley, a pioneer of fieldwalking who also used aerial photography and test pits to explore the Roman settlement at High Cross on the Leicestershire/Warwickshire border. Among the latter were Kathleen Kenyon, Dame Kathleen as she became in 1973, who led the excavation of the Jewry Wall site in Leicester in the 1930s, and became a Trustee of the British Museum in 1965. The Jewry Wall was believed at the time to be the site of the Roman forum, but was later identified – ironically enough, as the Borough Council had planned to build a municipal swimming pool there – as that of the baths of the Roman town. 

Kathleen Kenyon’s subsequent career included excavations at Jericho in the 1950s, but as a female archaeologist she was something of a novelty in Leicester in the 1930s. This is is clear both from contemporary accounts and the memories of local people interviewed by History students from De Montfort University in the late 1990s for their research into the site. Alas, most could actually remember little or nothing about her beyond the sports car that she is recalled as driving: either red or green, depending on who was recalling it, but seen as a bit ‘racy’ at that time for a woman – any woman – let alone one in a profession generally regarded as on the staid and stuffy side.  

Jean Mellor was appointed as the first ‘field archaeologist’ for Leicester Museums in 1965, but even then, as the ‘In Search of Leicestershire’ exhibition notes, many people still thought that ‘archaeology was not a suitable career for a woman’. All that ‘roughing it’ on digs, no doubt… Be that as it may, I recall another interview, recorded in the 1990s by a student from the Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester on a work experience placement at Jewry Wall, in which a local archaeologist recalled how Jean Mellor had inspired his own choice of career while he was still at school. I’ll track it down and come back to it another time…


What is the dead rabbit made of?…

Not a dead rabbit - but the same principle...

Some years ago now I worked as an Education Officer for Leicester City Museums. One of the joys of the job was the letters we used to get from children after they had been to one of the museums on a school visit. Very often these were obviously written to a formula provided by the teacher: what I liked best, what I didn’t like, what was most exciting,  and so on. Someone being sick on the bus on the way back featured quite often in the latter category. Difficult to compete with that – but sometimes we would get letters with extra questions inspired by their visit. One such letter stands out in my memory. It went something like this:

‘I have been thinking about what we saw at New Walk Museum and I have some questions I would like to know the answers to so please write back to me. How did you get that dinosaur through the door? Why don’t you get the coffin lids painted on the Egyptian mummies as they look a bit faded? And don’t you think you should cover the toes up on the mummified cat? They look gross. And what is the dead rabbit made of?’. 

Well, most of that was straightforward enough. The dinosaur was basically taken to pieces and then put back together inside the museum. A very good question, though (and remind me to tell you one day how the museum staff got the giraffe into the building back in the 1920s – an even better one). We don’t repaint the mummies’ coffin lids, I wrote back, because… well, they are thousands of years old and it would sort of spoil them. I tended to agree about the cat’s toes. My granddaughter said much the same thing when she was about three and visited the Egyptian gallery for the first time, as in ‘I don’t like that cat. And don’t be silly, that’s not my Mummy. Can we go now?’.

‘I know what you mean’, I wrote to the schoolchild, ‘but some people think the cat’s toes are really interesting as they like to see a bit of what’s underneath the bandages. And the dead rabbit is…’. Just a minute though. Can the answer to what the dead rabbit is made of be as simple as ‘it’s a dead rabbit’, or was there a deeper question here? I decided to play safe and ring our Natural History conservator, just in case. ’Nigel’, I said, ‘I’ve had a letter from a child who wants to know what the dead rabbit is made of. Can you help?’. Well, he said, after a pause long enough to suggest that it’s a bit obvious isn’t it: ‘Basically it’s a dead rabbit – but tell him it’s been freeze-dried and stuffed with sawdust. They love the bit about the freeze-drying’.

So there you are. Not such a simple answer, and perhaps not such an unusual question either – though maybe not quite as common as ‘Are the animals dead when you get them, or do you kill them?’. Another very good question, but best left for another day… In the meantime, do let me know if you’ve been asked any interesting questions by children visiting your own museum – and how you answered them.

(The above image is from the natural history display at Wollaton Hall, one of the museums operated by Nottingham City Council).