Hidden Treasure Trail 7 - The People's Museum In Yorkshire

By Graham Spicer | 15 May 2006
People's Museum logo

Welcome to the Hidden Treasure Trails on the Culture24, exploring the hidden treasures of the People’s Museum.

The BBC series People’s Museum explores the most fascinating objects on show at museums all over the country and asks the viewer to vote for their favourites - what they would put on display in a museum. A masterful portrait, a scientific first, or perhaps a touching journal? It's up to the people!

Culture24 is revisiting the featured venues and more, taking another look at at some of the amazing artefacts also featured in the People's Museum programme.

We have arranged them into region-by-region trails. Read on to discover some of London’s rich collections and surprising finds – we hope it inspires you to get out there and visit them for yourself.

Yorkshire has many fine museums, galleries and heritage sites - how about admiring Reynold’s painting of the scandalous Lady Worsley at Harewood House or marvelling at the house’s elaborate interior? Nearby at Haworth, fans of the Bronte sisters can see the coach where Emily may (or may not) have died and see just how petite Charlotte really was.

Over in Bradford, the National Media Museum holds more than three million items while Leeds’ Brotherton Library reveals the secrets of 16th century cooking and how to escape from a First World War POW camp.

Photo of an opulent hall with gilt framed masterpieces on tall deep red walls

The Gallery at Harewood House. Courtesy Harewood House.

Harewood House, is the Leeds home of the Queen’s cousin, the Earl of Harewood and is set in spectacular grounds. The grand building is filled with fine art, furniture and decorative features.

Built by Edwin Lascelles between 1759 and 1771 its interior owes a great deal to the Scottish architect Robert Adam, whose neo-classical style and elaborate ornamentations are found all over the house. Adam also commissioned the Thomas Chippendale furniture that complements the elegance of this stately home - an ornate Chippendale commode is up for nomination at the People's Museum.

A magnificent array of portraiture adorns the walls, dating from the Renaissance to the 19th century and including works by Titian, Thomas Gainsborough, John Singer Sargent and Joshua Reynolds.

Reynolds painted Lady Worsley, stepdaughter to Edwin Lascelles, some time between 1775 and 1779. She was famed for her rebellious antics and stories about her abound.

Oil painting of a woman in Georgian dress standing outside with a riding crop in her hand

Joshua Reynolds, Lady Worsley (c.1777). Courtesy Harewood House

Lascelles once refused her permission to take a coach into Leeds for a ball so instead the young lady took two carthorses from the estate barn and rode bareback into town for a night of revelry. She was later embroiled in a highly publicised divorce trial, which scandalised fashionable society.

Among all the old master paintings at Harewood’s there is a glaringly modern artwork – Jacob Epstein’s imposing alabaster sculpture Adam, made in 1939 and the most important 20th century item at the house.

photo of a wooden block with letters and writing implements on it

Charlotte Brontë's writing desk. Courtesy Brontë Parsonage Museum

The dust had long settled on Lady Worsley’s hell-raising antics when, not far from Harewood House, in the quiet village of Haworth, the Brontë sisters would create their own enduring stories.

Brontë Parsonage, Haworth - the former home of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë from 1820 to 1861 - is now a museum. It was here that Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre (1847), Emily Wuthering Heights (1847) and Anne penned The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). Charlotte's first book, a miniature creation she made when she was just 10 years old, is on the list of nominees to the People's Museum.

Full of personal effects, the house provides a fascinating insight into the lives of this remarkable literary family. Along with the family piano and Emily’s collection of sheet music (she was the most accomplished musician in the family) and Charlotte’s honeymoon dress and shoes, Charlotte’s writing desk is still there replete with inks, nibs, sealing wax and hand-ruled paper.

Legend has is that the sofa here is the one on which Emily died, refusing to see a doctor or even acknowledging that she was ill until her dying moments. It is more likely that Charlotte bought it after her sisters had died when she had enough money to refurbish the house.

photo of a smart navy settee with dark wooden legs

The legendary sofa at the Brontë home. Courtesy the Brontë Parsonage

In those days nearby Bradford was developing from a sleepy market town into a major textile and wool-producing centre. In later years, the city became an important hub for the development of British filmmaking and cinema.

The National Media Museum was founded there in 1983 as part of the National Museum of Science and Industry and has fast became one of the most visited museums in Britain outside London. It holds more than three million items, ranging from the very earliest days of photography to state of the art digital media. The revolutionary Box Brownie camera is one of the hopefuls for inclusion in the People's Museum.

Its Le Prince camera was used in 1888 to take the first moving images made in the UK – of a Roundhay Garden Scene and Leeds Bridge. It was designed by Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince at his workshop in Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, and is thought to be the second of two single-lens cameras he created.

It is unlikely that Le Prince could have imagined how the moving image would develop in the 20th century – he certainly wouldn't have predicted the Wombles TV series!

photo of an early camera that looks like a wooden cabinet

Le Prince's early single-lens camera. Courtesy NMM

Created by Elisabeth Beresford in 1968, the Wombles first appeared on television in 1973 and their environmentally friendly lifestyles on Wimbledon Common captured the imaginations of a generation of children, and led to a string of chart hits. The museum has several of the original models used in the animated series.

While the Wombles may represent mass entertainment, an archive of photographs in the museum tells a very different story. In June 1948, the troop carrier Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in Kent. On board were several hundred immigrants from the Caribbean looking for a new life in the ‘mother country’.

The voyage marked a turning point in British society, as the old empire crumbled and a new society began to emerge, which became reliant on immigration from the ex-colonies to help rebuild the post-war economy.

photo of a stuffed toy sitting in a rocking chair with a small table in front

Great Uncle Bulgaria. Courtesy NMM

Brotherton Library contains the University of Leeds' main collections for the arts, social sciences and law, and features several special archives, including the Brotherton Collection, Liddle Collection and the Leeds Russian Archive. One of its most important holdings is a rare copy of Shakespeare's first folio, which is in the running for the People's Museum.

The family of a certain Vincent Novello, a London musician and pioneer of affordable music publishing, donated several unusual locks of hair he had collected.

Novello visited Mozart’s widow in 1827 and she gave him a lock of the composer’s hair. At about the same time he also acquired a lock of Beethoven’s hair. Locks of hair were fairly common souvenirs in the 19th century, rather like a modern autograph.

The library also has a large archive of diaries, memoirs, maps and other documents from the First World War, including Bertie Ratcliffe’s escape map. Ratcliffe was the first British POW in Germany who managed to escape and get back home.

Using a sketch map he surreptitiously copied to guide him, he jumped off a train transporting him to a prisoner camp and made his way across the border to freedom. On return to Britain he became quite a celebrity and was even invited for tea with King George V.

illustration of a decorative raised fruit platter with a greek statuette holding it

Isabella Beeton, The Book of Household Management, (1869). © Leeds University Library

Brotherton Library also has thousands of cookery books dating back to the 15th century and some particularly fine examples from the 16th century, where recognisable recipes started to appear. Many used various exotic birds and fish, entrails and all manner of strange ingredients and subsequent editions chart changing culinary fashions.

Other museums to keep an eye out for...

There are many other museums and galleries across Yorkshire - the Yorkshire Museum and Garden in York, the Yorkshire Air Museum in Elvington and Cusworth Hall, the Museum of South Yorkshire Life.

Sculpture fans will not be disappointed either, with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds providing excellent permanent and temporary exhibitions. The Sculpture Park opened a Skyspace by renowned American artist James Turrell in 2006.

Click here to go to the BBC People's Museum website and find out more about the featured objects.

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The Hidden Treasure Trails have been produced for The Campaign for Museums by Culture24 with support from the Foyle Foundation.

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