Leeds City Heritage Weekend - Travelling At Abbey House

By Becky Taylor | 16 April 2004
Shows a black and white photograph of a man on a camel. There is another man standing on the ground beside the camel. Both are wearing cowboy-style hats.

Photo: members of the West Yorkshire Regiment, possibly the Leeds Rifles, in Egypt, 1917. Courtesy of Abbey House Museum.

In April 2004 we offered 24 Hour Museum readers a taste of the forthcoming Leeds City Heritage Guide.

With the help of local student journalists, we picked out a few slices of museum and gallery life in the city.

Becky Taylor packed her bags and headed to Abbey House Museum to hear some Travellers' Tales.

Travellers’ Tales at Abbey House Museum, on show until December, explores the development of travel over the last century and incorporates unusual and mind-boggling inventions developed for the cosmopolitan traveller.

Far from a history lesson, the numerous floor to ceiling glass cases include objects such as children’s board games, family photos and items of clothing which show the impact of the development of different forms of transport.

Shows a black and white photograph of an old-fashioned car. On the bonnet is a woman contortionist, lying flat with one leg pulled over her head in splits position. Standing next to the car is a man in a suit.

Photo: Patricia Dearlove (nee Gruneklee) born in Australia, who came to England as an Adagio dancer with her brother in the 1930s and married a Leeds musician. Courtesy of Abbey House Museum.

Each presentation takes the viewer through the phases of evolution residents of a thriving city underwent.

A quotation on display, spoken by Sir Henry Rider Haggard in 1902 when he visited Leeds, helps the viewer to form the opinion that such changes were not welcomed by everyone:

"All night long, trams ran, engines shrieked, and carts rattled in a fashion that made sleep almost impossible. Never have I visited a city that was noisier, or one more busy and thriving."

In the first display there is a huge decorated elephant tusk among family photos and letters. This piece, confiscated from a Jewish family fleeing from the Islamic revolution in the 1980s, typifies the great diversity of exhibits on show.

After some memorabilia belonging to the fortunate few who survived perilous journeys, the viewer moves on to collections, which display travel as a part of daily routine.

Shows a black and white photograph of a man and a woman in period costume on a what looks like a reverse tricycle. At the front are two large wheels and at the back is a single smaller wheel.

Photo: Aunty Emily and Uncle Joe on a new machine, about 1888. Courtesy of Abbey House Museum.

Many of the items on show aren’t a million miles from today’s travel essentials like folding cups, cutlery and toothbrushes. However, the circular knitting needles and British Boudoir iron, heated using a solid fuel tablet, may look out of place on your average campsite or express train to London.

Travelling for pleasure wasn’t the only reason for such inventions. Jumbled together on stands and in presentation cases are items like the 'bone-shaker', the first ever bicycle, ginger beer bottles from food delivery services, and war memorabilia.

The objects bombard the viewer, allowing us to envisage the many changes our relatives had to absorb. Playful family games by Waddingtons, aptly named Rush Hour and Excuses, Excuses, are arranged alongside a metal fragment from a German plane kept by two RAF men for luck and an escape map embroidered on a handkerchief for prisoners of war.

The exhibition seems to have been set out with a family visit in mind. It combines facts and dates with some more interesting inventions like bathing machines and crinoline dresses with ties so they could be hoisted up on the beach.

Travellers' Tales is light-hearted, mixing humour with the history of the evolution of transport.

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