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Building Britannia: behind the scenes at the Museum of Liverpool

31 October 2018 by Vanessa

man examining archaeological finds in a large room full of boxes on shelves

Luke selecting objects for display from the stores

Today we have a guest blog by Luke Daly-Groves. Luke is currently studying a PhD on Anglo-American intelligence relations in occupied Germany at the University of Leeds:

“For five weeks I have been working with the team of archaeologists at the Museum of Liverpool as part of a placement, in order to create a display about the Romans in Merseyside. My interest in Roman history was sparked by tales of Emperors and Empire, travels around ancient sites throughout Europe, and the works of Professor Dame Mary Beard. But studying the Romans is not all about those at the top but also about revealing something of the lives of ordinary people. This is why archaeology is so important.

Here in Liverpool, the smallest fragment of Roman tile is bagged and recorded because it may provide vital evidence. Context, in archaeology, as in history, is key. The North West was in the past considered to be an area devoid of Roman archaeology. I certainly had no idea of any Roman presence here prior to my work at the museum!  Read more…

Celebrating Angus Wood

11 October 2018 by Kay

group photo of men in suits

Angus Wood (with coat over his arms)

This Black History Month we celebrate diverse voices from Liverpool’s Black community. This second blog in the series celebrates the life of Angus Wood and his contribution to the war effort during the Second World War.

“Because I am from Jamaica, an engineer didn’t think I was capable of sharpening a drill, although after that you know we got on smashing. I was treated quite well, especially when they suddenly realised that everything in Kingston was the same as in England”

Angus Wood, speaking in 2002. Liverpool Voices, Liverpool Lives archive, Museum of Liverpool.

Angus was born in Kingston, Jamaica and came to Liverpool when he responded to the call for engineers to come and work in munitions factories here in Britain.  He left Kingston on 13 January 1940 with a large group of other skilled men.

After a long journey they docked in Scotland and travelled by train to Liverpool. Initially they lived at the YMCA in Birkenhead.

Angus was employed at ROF Fazakerley, a newly opened rifle manufacturing factory. Initially he was treated a little differently but once he proved that he knew his job he was treated the same as the other workers. His job, a protected occupation, was to set up machines that the women workers used to cut and grind components for rifles.

Angus also joined the factory’s own Home Guard, performing night fire watches and guard duty before and after a full days work.

The women workers in the factory helped them to find lodgings with local families. Angus lived for two years with the Roberts family, in Crescent Road, Fazakerley, before meeting his wife at the factory and setting up their own home.

Angus and his friends often went to the Grafton Ballroom in their free time. Here they experienced some racism from American GIs. Angus tells us more –

“The Americans didn’t want any coloured chaps in there, and we were British so they couldn’t stop us, and when they objected there was a fight.  I always keep clear of any fights. I was never personally involved in any of them”.

After the war the men were offered the opportunity to return to Jamaica, or stay in Britain. Angus, who was by then married with young children, chose to stay. He lived and worked in Liverpool, staying on at the factory until it closed in 1962.

Don’t forget to download our trail exploring how Liverpool’s Black community is represented in our displays and check out the Black History Month events across National Museums Liverpool’s venues throughout October.

Sir Francis Seymour Haden: Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 (1870)

24 August 2018 by Ha-il Kim

Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 (1870), by Sir Francis Seymour Haden, Walker Art Gallery

As a volunteer at the Walker Art Gallery, I have been helping Exhibition Curator, Alex Patterson, to digitise works related to the Whistler and Pennell: Etching the City exhibition, currently on display at the Lady Lever Art Gallery. This exhibition explores the role that James McNeill Whistler and Joseph Pennell played in the Etching Revival (1830-1940) in Britain. It also shows how their contemporaries, such as Sir Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), Charles Méryon (1821-1868), and William Strang (1859-1921), were influenced by their art.

One of the etchings that really caught my interest was Breaking Up of the Agamemnon by Sir Francis Seymour Haden, which was one of three works by him included in the exhibition. It shows a large hulk of a vessel being demolished. The vessel is HMS Agamemnon, the Royal Navy battleship moored at the Naval Arsenal at Deptford on the River Thames, seen against the setting sun. Launched in 1852, the 230-feet long Agamemnon was one of the most intimidating of all wooden warships and the first British steam-powered flagship. The Agamemnon saw action in many battles, including the Crimean War, and was the predecessor of iron-hulled ships, which were introduced in the 1860s.

Breaking Up of the Great Eastern, No 2, 1890, by Sir Frank Short, Walker Art Gallery

Breaking Up of the Agamemnon reminded me of another etching, Breaking Up of the Great Eastern, No 2 (1890) by Sir Frank Short (1857-1945), also in the Walker Art Gallery collection. I came across the etching when I was researching scenes of Liverpool Docks. Both ships had illustrious histories, and I felt that the images of their breaking up expressed a deep sense of loss and sorrow.

Haden’s etching of the Agamemnon was a spontaneous response to what he saw on the Thames one day in July 1870, but it became the most important subject of his career, which he continued to work on over the next 16 years.

Early in 1870 the art scholar, artist and etcher Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) asked Haden to etch a plate to be published in the first edition of his new art journal, The Portfolio (1870-1893). The journal, named after a folder in which collectors often kept valuable prints, championed etching as original art, rather than a reproductive medium. This concept played an instrumental role in the British etching revival during the second half of the 19th century. Haden, like the French Impressionists, always tried to work directly from life, and for this purpose, he always carried prepared copper plates wherever he went. He drew directly onto the plate to capture the movement of the light and its reflections in the sky, clouds, and water. The demolition of the Agamemnon may not have been a traditional subject for a study of ambiance, but Haden must have been entranced by its grandeur and spectacle.

In a letter to Hamerton, dated July 3, 1870, Haden wrote of the Agamemnon etching: “. . . I had thought of making the sun set behind the old hulk and the distant cupolas of Greenwich and of using the sinking luminary as typical of the departing glories of both . . . .” This shows that Haden indeed drew the initial sketch for Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 directly onto the copper plate. The sun is setting between the ship and Greenwich, conveying a poignant majestic reference to the glorious history of the Agamemnon. The rays of the setting sun rippling through the clouds are echoed on the stirring water in the foreground. Named after Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae who led the united Greek army to the Trojan War, the ship proudly displays the figurehead wearing a Roman centurion’s plumed helmet pointing towards the sun. The Agamemnon almost appears as if ready to set sail once again into the distant horizon. Although she is now tethered to a much smaller barge, with her ribs exposed and only one of three masts standing, the Agamemnon still looks magnificent. The image highlights the ship’s immense scale and power, but it also conveys a sense an ending.

Breaking Up of the Agamemnon was a very complex project for Haden. He said he had “never undertook a more perplexing job.” The initial spontaneity of etching was followed by many attempts at adding and deleting small details throughout the composition, resulting in 11 states (versions of the print) being made in total. However, the main image of the ship against a shimmering evening sun remained largely unchanged.

Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 was an artistic and commercial success. The plate was unfortunately too large to be printed in The Portfolio and instead was later published by Frederick Goulding, and sold through Colnaghi’s, bringing Haden a huge financial reward. The plate was so popular that he produced a second version of the subject Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 2 (1886) in mezzotint.

As for the etching Haden promised to Hamerton for the first edition of The Portfolio Hamerton instead selected another of Haden’s prints, entitled A Brig at Anchor (1870), which is also in the Walker Art Gallery collection. He etched it from nature by moonlight on the Thames.

A Brig at Anchor (1870) by Sir Francis Seymour Haden, Walker Art Gallery

To discover more about the art of etching and to enjoy Haden’s intricate works at first hand don’t miss Whistler and Pennell: Etching the City at the Lady Lever Art Gallery until 7 October and the fascinating video made by Liverpool John Moores University School of Art and Design explaining the process of etching.

 

 

 

Himalayan Objects on Tour!

16 August 2018 by Alex Blakeborough

Part of the ongoing work we do here behind the scenes at World Museum involves dealing with loan requests from other museums. This usually happens when a museum is putting on an exhibition and they need extra objects from other collections to help tell their exhibition’s story. Read more…

Sugar, tea and pottery – new archaeology displays at Museum of Liverpool. Part 2/2

9 August 2018 by Jeff

Pottery

Just some of the huge quantities of sugar refining pottery recovered in 2007

In the case under the stairs on the ground floor of the Museum of Liverpool you can see more of the objects recovered from the excavations on the site of the Museum in 2007. It’s the first chance we’ve had to show off properly some of the huge collection of sugar refining pottery that we excavated from this very site before the Museum was built . Most of it was badly broken but it is all that is left from the many small sugar refineries which existed right in the centre of Liverpool 200 years ago, long before the large factories like Tate and Lyle developed on Love Lane, now Eldonian Village. Read more…

Who was Artemis-Orthia?

8 August 2018 by Cicely Hill

When most people think of ancient Greece, the Classical city of Athens usually springs to mind. Yet, Sparta in the Peloponnese, is known as the military state and is the total antithesis of the city of Athens. This is where you would find the prolific Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, one of the most important religious sites in the ancient city and the centre of religious rituals that we still know very little about.

The World Museum has 83 lead votive offering figurines from the sanctuary in its collection. Other findings at the sanctuary – excavated by the British School at Athens in 1906 – included figurines made of terracotta and ivory, along with masks. The sheer number of offerings found at the site demonstrates the importance of the sanctuary.

A winged female figure votive offering

A winged female figure votive offering from the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia. Such representations are considered to be the goddess herself.

The lead figurines start to be offered around the 8th century B.C. The figurines at this time were well made, fairly thick and were cast in shapes that imitated expensive jewellery offerings, including earrings. In the following century (700-635BC) there was a boom in the different types of figurines being offered, including animals, both real and mythical, as well as representations of the goddess.

It’s at this time we see evidence of the goddess being addressed as ‘Orthia’ on pottery and tiles. Orthia is the Greek word for ‘standing’, but it also could have been the name given to the Spartan winged animal goddess of women and fertility.

Two main fragments of a decorative plaque

Two main fragments of a decorative plaque from a votive offering associated with the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia.

In later periods there is evidence of her being referred to as ‘Artemis-Orthia’. There’s a possibility that Orthia was merged with the Greek goddess ‘Artemis’, who has similar qualities being a mistress of the animals. However in Ancient Greek art representations, Artemis is often depicted as a maiden huntress in a skirt carrying a spear. In around 635-600 BC winged goddesses were popular, as well as women wearing skirts, suggesting that both interpretations of the goddess were used by different individuals at the same time.

Figurines dating to 600-500 BC suggest an ideological shift to the Greek style Artemis, rather than Orthia. In this period deer – Artemis’ most sacred animal – are introduced, and other animals decrease in number. Other gods, including Poseidon (Artemis’ uncle) and Hermes (Artemis’ half brother) also start being used along with warriors. This is also the peak time for the number of figurines found. The shift in figurines offered coincides with the building of a second temple around 570BC and an expansion of the old temple.

Fragments of a deer, a votive offering from the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia.

Fragments of a deer, a votive offering from the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia. Deer are associated with the hunting goddess Artemis.

The figurines gradually become poorer quality, and many of them have not survived. Around the 3rd century AD the Romans had taken over the region and built a theatre around the temple, welcoming tourists to watch ritual displays. It is probable that the figurines became more crude as the offerings became a novelty for tourists.

View our Artemis Orthia collection >

Carpathia’s role remembered

19 July 2018 by Sam

metal nameplate with embossed lettering: SS Titanic

This week it is 100 years since RMS Carpathia was lost. The ship is of course best known for the role it played in the rescue of survivors from one of a much more famous liner – RMS Titanic.  In this guest blog, student Hannah Smith from the University of Liverpool explores the story through the nameplate of Titanic’s lifeboat No. 4:

“It is 100 years since RMS Carpathia was struck by three torpedoes from a German U-55, amid the Celtic Sea on 17 July 1918. Just six years earlier, on 15 April 1912 under the captaincy of Arthur Henry Rostron, the Cunard liner undoubtedly experienced its most memorable voyage. When Carpathia’s radio received the Titanic’s distress signal at 12.25 am she turned off her course to travel the 58 mile distance to the wreckage. From 4-8am all 705 survivors were brought aboard the Carpathia. Although sadly 1,503 people were to lose their lives in the sinking, without the Carpathia’s sense of urgency, the cold would have ultimately claimed more.  Read more…

Happy 65th birthday Edmund Gardner!

11 July 2018 by Michelle

museum staff holding up a flag with 65 on it

This specially made pilot’s flag is now flying on the Edmund Gardner.

On Monday we celebrated the 65th birthday of the pilot vessel Edmund Gardner. To mark this fact we are holding a special open day on Saturday 28 July 2018. The ship will be open between 10.30am to 4.30pm for visitors to pop in and have a look around. Some of our award winning volunteer guides will be on hand to provide a unique visitor experience as you walk through the ship.

Step back in time and imagine what it was like to sit in the saloon trying to eat your tea in rough weather, or pretend to be a pilot waiting in the sun lounge for the next vessel to board. Seize the opportunity to view the world from the bridge deck and see up close the largest object in National Museums Liverpool’s collections.  Read more…

Walton Gaol force-feeding equipment on display

5 July 2018 by Kay

Suffragette Force Feeding Apparatus

Suffragette Force Feeding Apparatus. Image © National Justice Museum

Nothing quite brings home the horror of force-feeding than seeing the actual equipment; porcelain funnel, wooden mouth gag and long rubber tube, used to inflict torture on women. This set is even more disturbing to me as it was used at Walton Gaol, Liverpool.

When I first came across the items at the National Justice Museum, Nottingham, I knew we had to bring them home to be displayed here at the Museum of Liverpool. Read more…

Teens takeover Port Sunlight!

28 June 2018 by Ann

Kids in museums takeover day

Takeover Day is a celebration of children and young people’s contributions to museums, galleries, arts organisations, archives and heritage sites. It’s a day on which they are given meaningful roles, working alongside staff and volunteers to participate in the life of the museum.  This year the pupils of Bolton School, from art gallery founder William Hesketh Lever’s hometown in Lancashire will takeover the Lady Lever Art Gallery on Sunday 1 July.

Students from year groups across the school have planned a day of music, drama, craft and creative celebration as part of their ongoing Leverhulme Festival.

Read more…



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Welcome to the National Museums Liverpool blog! Written by our staff and volunteers, we’ll give you a peek behind the scenes of our museums and galleries.

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We try to ensure that the information provided on our blog is accurate and that appropriate permissions to use images have been sought. The opinions in each blog are very much those of the individuals writing.