(Read Part 1 HERE.)
3: Salford Museum and Art Gallery.
In 1850 Salford Museum opened as the Royal Museum and Public Library; it was the first free public library in the United Kingdom. Its popularity was so high that at first, even though entry to the museum was free, you could only visit via a guided tour. In 1851 Queen Victoria came to visit. To celebrate this Matthew Noble erected a statue in front of the museum of Queen Victoria (one of her husband Albert was built facing her following his early death in 1861) and still stands there today. Noble also had statues in Peel Park behind the museum but they have since been relocated. Other work by Nobal can be found around Manchester, including the Duke of Wellington monument in Piccadilly Gardens.
When Victoria made her visit 80,000 children from various Sunday schools around Salford gathered in the park to greet her. Each child was allocated a small amount of bench to sit on while they sang songs as the Queen passed by. To cover the whole event only 16 toilets were put on location! This scene (minus the portaloos) is depicted in a painting that now hangs in the Victorian Gallery, upstairs at the museum. Painted by George Hayes in 1851, the painting, aptly named ‘Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in Peel Park’ was gifted to the museum in 1885.
In addition to this the Victorian Gallery is home to many huge and impressive paintings, from ‘Famine’ which is a haunting scene depicting the starvation of the human soul, to ‘Aesop’s Fables’ which shows Aesop surrounded by many of the animals from his tales, including a fox and a stork sharing some soup. The Victorian Gallery contains almost all Victorian age paintings and objects and is a permanent display. However, upstairs there is also three other galleries that house changing exhibitions.
When we visited the exhibitions on show included the Salford Art clubs annual display, showing some of their best works around the theme of ‘Salford: urban and rural’. Following this we viewed a collection of work in the Langworthy Gallery by artist Harold Riley; his work from 1947 to 2012. I have had the pleasure of meeting Riley on various occasions so I do not want to sound bias but he is an exceptional artist and is really able to address the themes of his work, drawing you in. Some of his work is raw and some of it is warm, but all of it captivating. Definitely worth a visit!
The final exhibition we saw was ‘Reggie’s Roller Palace’ by ceramicist Olivia Brown. Upon walking into the gallery we were taken aback. It is not often you see over 100 ceramic, life-size dogs on Roller skates now, is it?!
Downstairs at Salford Museum and Art Gallery is the Local History Library. It is home to 65,000 local photographs and all the resources you would need to explore your family history. This floor is also home to Lark Hill Place.
In 1957 buildings in the Salford area were being demolished to make way for new developments. In an attempt to preserve architectural features at a period of rapid urban development the curator of the museum at the time saved the fronts of some of the houses and shops and they stand in the Victorian street of Lark Hill Place today. The wooden frames and the fragile glass are all authentic and the rooms have been fitted out with Victorian objects to ‘set the scene’, and with the sounds of violin practice coming from the music shop, men working from the Blacksmiths and jolly tunes ringing out from the Blue Lion pub, it certainly does that.
With the option to dress up and walk along the cobbled street, it is literally like you are walking back in time; as you walk through the door you are walking straight in to a summer’s evening in 1899 (the year which it is aimed to represent). With a penny farthing propped up against a post box and the washing hanging out across the street, Lark Hill Place really does deserve the title of a hidden treasure; tucked away in the middle of Salford, it is like a secret world.
Find out more about Salford Museum and Art Gallery HERE.
4: Manchester Museum.
Our final stop was at Manchester Museum. They were offering various workshops throughout the Hidden Treasures event, unfortunately we could only make one day, however, there were two workshops on this day.
The first was ‘Conservation in action: Taxidermy’. I hoped this would be quite useful to me to pick up tips and such. We met a member of their conservation team and she told of the basics surrounding how Manchester Museum acquires their specimens. Of course, no museums will stand for the killing of animals for display, they generally deal with taxidermy specially made for their collection via a local taxidermist who sources the animals from natural deaths or road kills.
She spoke of various issues surrounding taxidermy but it was the same issues we deal with here at the Curatorial Services, mostly relating to pests. Depending on the age of the specimen the risk can be considerably higher. Nowadays the animals skin will cover a mold of the animals shape, possibly plastic or foam, but older specimens would be on a chicken wire shaped model with its insides stuffed with sawdust, paper, or pretty much anything that was at hand. This then is loose and has lots of space for the bugs to hide and not only in their fur or feathers. To try to over come pest problems earlier taxidermy was often treated with arsenic. Of course, this then causes further issues now as these should not be handled.
When Manchester Museums Living Worlds gallery was renovated in 2011 the large collection of taxidermy on display was tested for chemicals and a lot of them came back positive, this meant that full safety precautions were put into place to avoid any problems. Much like us, they tackle their pest issues via freezing. When the gallery was being redone most of their specimens were moved to the National Conservation Center in Liverpool as they have walk in freezers and its was proving quite difficult to fit a tiger, a baby elephant and a gorilla in a standard chest freezer.
This was bad news for us as recently Janny and I had recently been talking about the peacock I currently share an office with. He had come from Vernon Park and needs to have a stay in the freezer before he can be introduced into the collection, just in case. We have a chest freezer but the peacock’s tail is just too long, and we had hoped that Manchester might have a bigger freezer due to the larger scale of their collection. I broached this subject and asked just how large their freezer is. It was difficult to know if our peacock would fit so she said if I measure him and email her the details she would check and would be happy to have him if he did. Which was great news and awesome of her to say so. Fingers crossed he can squeeze in!
We had a look at a few small handling specimens but saw the larger, more impressive animals on display in the galleries. The various types of preservation alone on display at Manchester Museum is great. Of course, there is the taxidermy earlier discussed, along side skeletal specimens, preserved specimens in jars but also animals preserved via freeze-drying. This is when they are frozen and the moisture is extracted meaning they wont decay even though the flesh that is usually removed to avoid this is still intact. This is useful on small animals, like a Vole for example, as it would prove quite difficult to remove the organs without causing damage.
Finally, we heard how small improvements can make a big difference; for example, how just dusting off the hair on top of the baby elephants head and re-colouring a bit of his skin that had started to fade away made a massive difference to the quality of the specimen. Originally the elephant was meant to be facing the opposite way than it stands now in the gallery but that would have exposed his stitching; even the way the animal is standing can make all the difference!
The second workshop of the day allowed us to look at the museums recent Ichthyosaur donation. The fossil was found, excavated and donated by a Mr. Howard Turner, he found it on the beach at Port Mulgrave, near Whitby. Mr Turner named his find Sisyphus after the man from Greek legend. Sisyphus was cursed by the gods for eternity to roll a boulder up a mountain. Mr Turner said he felt his pain after dragging the fossil back to his car from the beach.
This fossil was a huge example and it was great to see it as it is not currently on display. It was interesting to compare it to the example we have in the collection here. (You may recall I did a Find it Friday about the fossil and what exactly an Ichthyosaur is HERE.)
After this we had a walk around the Paleontology gallery at the museum and saw various other great marine fossils, from Ammonites to Plesiosaurs. And of course we made a visit to see Stan the Tyrannosaurus Rex. How could we not?!
Find out more about Manchester Museum HERE.
Overall, the Hidden Treasure events at all the museums and libraries we visited were interesting, enlightening and inspiring. It was an excellent way to allow for the collections to become available to people who otherwise wouldn’t have that access. The only disappointment I had with the whole event was the amount of people in attendance; one of the events was attended by about 15 people, but the others seemed to have the same at about 4 or 5 people. Which was a shame as the event did not at all fail to live up to its name; we, without a doubt, found hidden treasures at every site!