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Alan Machin: Tourism As Education
Home page: blogs, introductions, links to main pages
Berlin: Editing a Townscape
... and reading a city that has had many rebuilders
Making Sense of The Travel Learning Experience- 1
1 Information Streams
Making Sense of the Travel Learning Experience - 2
Some basic theories
Back to Basics: Presentation given at the Cuba EduTourism Conference
The CETA Conference in Havana, Cuba, 8/9 November 2010
About the author
Comments - CV - photos
At the heart of the tourist experience
Learning through Landscapes
Exploring Oxfordshire (and a bit of Gloucestershire!)
The Environment As Data: Building New Theories For Tourism
How tourists relate to places
Sail Gives Way to Steam
A return visit discovers just how much has been achieved in this iconic restoration
Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth Reenactment
Visits to Leicester and the battlefield event, 2013
Along The Way
Recollections and Reflections of 60+ Years' Learning about the World and its Ways
On the Edge of the New World
Shaping New England
Exploring Holderness in East Yorkshire; October 2012
Past Historic
Graf Zepplin, Spain 1968, OS History, Much Wenlock Olympics, Chatham Dockyard, Hawes Tourism, Colonial Williamsburg,
A Summer of Travelling / Matthew Starr
Three months' backpacking in Africa, Asia and Australia
East Anglia
The Broads, Pensthorpe natural history, Radar Museum, Caister Lifeboat Service and more!
A Richer Earth
Discoveries in the landscape and attractions of Shropshire
Blog Index Page
Blog pages from 2009 listed
From Strip Map to Sat Nav
'Finding the way' aids to exploration
Showcasing the World
How the Tourist Microcosm took centre stage
Doing A Dissertation
Notes to help students preparing their proposals
The Japanese Tsunami Destruction at First Hand
Sarah and Tom Wadsworth saw for themselves
Showcases: Examples
The range and variety of tourism's focal points examined
Jigsaw: Frameworks of Knowledge
The tourist jigsaw puzzle of - knowledge
Books and other works useful in studying tourism as education
Tourism's Educational Origins: Part 2
The development of tourism as education, 1845 -
Tourism's Educational Origins: Part 1
Tourism's educational origins and management
Impressions of Tourism in Cuba
Thoughts on having seen some of the country myself
Captain James Cook: North Yorkshire Days
Tracing the early life of Britain's greatest maritime explorer
Hunting the Hound of the Baskervilles
Tracking down places that inspired the famous detective story and moulded Dartmoor's image
Exploring the Idea of Dark Tourism
What is it? Is it a useful idea?
Talking to Tourists
Visitor interpretation - guide books, visitor centres and other media
Shades of Light and Dark in the Garden of England
An exploration in East Sussex and Kent, June/July 2010
Hunting the Gladiator and the Gecko
A thirteen-year search for a wartime adventure
Steam Up For A Famous Film's Birthday Party
The Railway Children weekend on the Worth Valley line raises questions about heritage presentations
Anne-Marie Rhodes: Making a Difference in South East Asia
Leeds Met graduate of '07 describes her activities
Discoveries in Northumberland, April 2010
Alnwick Gardens; Winter's Gibbet; Holy Island, Cragside, Wallington Hall
Discoveries in the Midlands, March 2010
Bletchley Park National Codes and Cipher Centre; and the Rollright Stones
Alan Machin's Blog - April 2010
The development of tourism as education continued
Jigsaw Puzzle!
The Adventure of the Timely Tourist
Leaders Into The Field
People who inspired everyone to explore
Alan Machin's blogs - February and March 2010
Postings on the history tourism as education - redirection
Alan Machin's Blog - January 2010
Tourist photography and souvenirs
Earlier front-page blog postings - January 2010 onwards
Archived after being on the Home Page
News from higher education and - beyond
The Development of Educational Tourism
Key dates in the development of educational tourism
Alan Machin's Blog - December 2009
Christmas Quiz and other postings
Analysing Heritage Tourism
Ideas and perspectives on a hugely important sector
Alan Machin's Blog - November 2009
Visitors' Views of Stonehenge, West Sussex - and other Postings
Are Universities Losing Their Way?
Reflections having retired
Teaching Tourism At Leeds Met
Remembering the Best
Alan Machin's Blog - October 2009
Thoughts about university life and discovery by travel
Alan Machin's Blog - September 2009
Further postings about a trip last month to the USA, and about higher education
Alan Machin's Blog - August 2009
Postings about a trip this month to the USA
Alan Machin's Blog - July 2009
The Story So Far reaches the summer
Alan Machin's Blog - June 2009
The Story So Far looks back on seventeen years at Leeds Met
Alan Machin's Blog - May 2009
Another month of The Story So Far
Alan Machin's blog - April 2009
Yet more of the Story So Far
Alan Machin's blog - March 2009
More of The Story So Far
Alan Machin's Blog - February 2009
The Story So Far - pioneers, people and places
Alan Machin's Blog: January 2009
The Story So Far .... first postings of '09
Alan Machin's Blog: December 2008
The Story So Far .... latest postings
Alan Machin's Blog - November '08
The Story So Far.... continued
Alan Machin's Blog: October 2008
The Story So Far....
No Place Like Rome
The eternal city with the eternal tourists
Charleston, South Carolina
A photo essay about a fine historic city
Idealog - December 2007
Ideas, notes and comments
Idealog - November 2007
Ideas, notes and comments
The Educational Origins of Tourism
Discussion paper
Idealog - October 2007
Coton Military Cemetery; Education and Tourism; Chatham Maritime; Dickens World; Quiz Answers; Tourist Guides; Mediation In Tourism
Idealog - September 2007
Plane Paradox;Tour Guiding; Where in the World?; Do Tourism Students Know Where They Are?; Leeds Met's Wow!; Sea Harrier; Scarborough and Tourism As Education; Doing A Dissertation; Types of Tourist; A Media Lens; Cost of Travelling Alone; Risk of Bias?
Idealog - August 2007
A People Industry; Heritage Interpretation; Lud's Church; Tourists Go Home!; Stone Gappe YHA; Insight Guides; Eyewitness Guides; Bramhope Tunnel; Elizabethan Progress; Information Quality Matrix
Idealog - July 2007
Hidden Heroes, Health Tourism, Holme Fen Posts; Harrogate (again); Whitby Abbey; Dramatic Interpretation; Harrogate Interpretation, Attractions and Royal Hall
Idealog - June 2007
Christian Pilgrimage; Cincinnati Museums Centre; The Coming of the Guide Book; Talking to Tourists - Media, Stages of the Visit, The Service Journey; Tourism's Missing Link; The Final Call; SATuration level; Halifax's Edwardian Window on the World
Idealog - May 2007
Martin and Osa Johnson, Wensleydale Creamery, Malham Tarn, Thomas Cook, Northern Ireland's Tourism Rebuild, Jamestown Festival Park, Cite des Sciences
Idealog - April 2007
The Promenade Plantee, The Jardin des Plantes, Environmental Data, Victorian Beauty Spot Rediscovered, Jamestown, The Anglers' Country Park, Children's Museums, Fairburn Ings
Idealog - March 2007
A Sense of the Past- The 'Amsterdam', The Outdoor Classroom, Film-Induced Tourism, Making Tracks for the Coast and Country, Pictures, Context and Meaning, Classics-on-Sea, Hi Hi Everyone!, Dark Side of the Dream, Holodyne - The Action Cycle
Idealog - February 2007
Don't Go There!, Space Tourism, The Crystal Cathedral, New Books on Tourism, Dark Tourism - Undercliffe Cemetery, Showcase - The Louvre, A Class Act, First Impressions Count, Postal Pleasures, Canaletto in Venice, Serpent Mound, Capsule Culture etc
Idealog - January 2007
Capsule Culture,Seaside Style, Poble Espanyol, Mallorca, Edgar Dale, Children's Holiday Homes, Representations of Reality, Outdoor Education in Germany, Baedeker Guides, Geography Textbooks, Environmental Data Theory etc
Idealog - December 2006
Writers on Landscape, Story Books, The Deep, Flour Power and the Archers,Showcases: Grand Tour, Halifax Piece Hall, Books of Concern about Tourism, Tourist Traces, Tourist Typologies, The Growth of Educational Tourism, The Field Studies Council, etc
Idealog - November 2006
A blog of ideas, comments and notes
Travel To Understand: Belfast
Telling the stories of troubled times
World Quiz 2010
Geography with a tourism angle
The Monterey Bay Aquarium
An outstanding educational facility in California
Chicago: Tourism Re-Imaging
A closer view of an iconic city
Colonial Williamsburg
A Virginia history showcase
A Social Club Outing By Train, 1935
How to do Scotland in 30 hours flat
Going Dutch
Presenting the past in the Netherlands
Keukenhof: Business is Blooming
Using tourism to promote an industry
A View of Italy for the City
Trentham Gardens Revived
A Case Study in Heritage Management
A curious tale of misleading publicity
Old Rice Farm
The story of the house in the 'holler'
Perfection in Paradise: The Eden Project
New page being added: The Eden Project's design for success
Escaping From Slavery: Facing Our Past
The US National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Prague Tourist Shows
Outstanding showcase attractions in the city
Retracing the Steps: Tourism as Education
ATLAS Conference paper given in Finland, 2000
Tourism and Historic Towns: The Cultural Key
A background paper for a Council of Europe Conference
The Social Helix
Visitor Interpretation as a Tool for Social Development, 1989
Malta Residential, 14-21 Feb 2006 - Page 1
Reports and Pictures
Malta Residential, 14-21 Feb 2006 - Page 2
Photos and reports of Friday 17 Feb onwards
Malta Residential, 14-21 February 2006 - Page 3
Reports and pictures from Sunday, 19 February onwards
Tourism Alumni Reunion, 8 March 2003
Leeds tourism students reunion 2003
World Geography Quiz 1
A test of your knowledge
The Adventure of the Timely Tourist
The answers
Tall Ships Race 2010 Converged on Hartlepool
A major event-based boost for tourism in the town
Plymouth: From the Tamar to the Sea
Starting point for explorations round the globe
Plimoth Plantation
A reconstruction of the Mayflower settlers' village of the 1620s on the north east coast of North America
World Geography Quiz 2010 - Answers
Geography with a tourism angle
World Geography Quiz - Answers
Christmas Quiz 2009 - Answers
A day in the city including the Botanic Garden
Tourist Showcases
Examples from around the world

Showcases: Examples

Lucerne - Chapel Bridge


This is Lucerne in Switzerland.

It could hardly be anywhere else. The combination of architecture, apparent climate and distant deciduous woodlands suggests a temperate zone and central Europe. With its distinctive covered bridge zig-zagging over the river, angular tower alongside and tall church towers nearby the view is identifiable: the Kapellbrucke ('Chapel Bridge') across the River Reuss.

It is the sense of place that travellers absorb in order to know where they are, when they are, even - who they are. The clues here are for Lucerne, for the late twentieth century, and for anyone able to recognise that place and that time the clues also suggest that the viewer is knowledgeable, worldly wise and history wise.

The good people of Lucerne have not smashed down the bridge in favour of something bigger, wider and more modern. They have such a bridge close by and another covered bridge like this one anyway. Pride in their past and their place makes them spend money to maintain it in the way to which it has been long accustomed. Tourists stop (like me) and photograph it - probably many more than photograph the modern road bridge. They may not know it is called Kapellbrucke, or that it has a particular history: what matters is that it is memorable, that it is a visual reminder of this attractive town called Lucerne.

It's an icon. In fact, it's a showcase, and showcases of all kinds are essential in relating people to places. Further thoughts on showcases will follow.

Biltmore House


A European great house - from its style a chateau, unmistakeably French; perhaps a scene on the Loire.

Except it isn't. This is Biltmore, an American great house deep in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. Appearances are misleading. This was the home of George Vanderbilt, grandson of a fabulously wealthy shipping and railway magnate in New York. George inherited money but was interested in art, literature and horticulture. In 1888 he had visited Asheville, North Carolina, with his mother as a tourist. Falling in love with the area he began to buy land and employed Richard Morris Hunt to design the house, and Frederick Law Olmsted to create the gardens and estate around it. Both men were steeped in European styles and culture, having travelled themselves extensively to further their knowledge. It was Hunt who designed the sone pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands.

Biltmore was occupied on Christmas Eve 1895 and became the home of George Vanderbilt, his wife Edith and their daughter, Cornelia. It was the daughter, who, with her husband, English-born John Cecil, opened the house to the public in 1930 when local community leaders suggested it would help counteract the effects of the depression.

So an American built his home to express his love of European culture, impress his neighbours and acquaintances, and thereby created a showcase of the lives of his people which today attracts thousands. Biltmore stands in stark contrast to the rest of the Blue Ridge country of the Appalachians where it stands.


The Acropolis


If Biltmore in the previous posting was a late nineteenth century statement of American wealth and culture, then the Acropolis in Athens was one of the earliest examples, at least within the western classical tradition.

Biltmore was a showcase and so was the Acropolis. The Athenian 'high city' stood over the centre of Greek civilisation as a focal point of worship of Athena Parthenos, Athena Nike and other goddesses. These were the deities who watched over the city and had ensured its victories over her enemies. As such it had to act as the setting for festivals and processions of citizens who gathered on the hilltop. When there were no great events in progress the architecture with the figures of the goddesses had to proclaim the same beliefs and values to the ordinary traveller. At a distance the Acropolis symbolized Greek strength and culture. Careful use of proportion and colour, as well as naturalistic carved figures, meant that this great monumental collection succeeded in communicating effectively through stunning images. It was a showcase of Greek ideology and achievement.

So influential was it on the course of European history that succeeding generations through to today have made the journey to Athens to view the temples. It was one of the great goals of the Grand Tour, a notable stopping point on Cook's Tours, and a favourite destination within the eastern Mediterranean for tourists today. The styles of architecture it embodied were copied in thousands of places around the globe by people anxious to claim that they were also successors to the revered Greek civilisation. In the right-hand picture above, the City Hall of Leeds in the UK, built in 1932, carries the columns and pediment drawn from classical antiquity: industrial Europe paying homage to its ancestry.

Churches composite


In Christian churches from the medieval period onwards the tradition of highly symbolic architecture grew and grew. They communicated on many different levels. Going beyond the idea of a sheltered space for religious observance, they became narratives in stone, 24/7.

They grew in height, to become landmarks to guide travellers to their doors. Important churches grew in size, to accomodate people gathering to worship. Their decoration grew: painted murals were common, illustrating the themes of the bible. Statues in wood and stone, tomb figures and engraved brasses told of religious leaders. Later, they gave their accounts of more secular individuals such as soldiers, doctors, teachers and others. Tombstones began to record brief lives in their listing of births, deaths and the good opinions of contemporaries.

Above all, as stained glass became available, great windows, backlit by the sun on its daily journey across the heavens, were installed to recount the cycle of bible tales. Indeed, the custom began, though by no means in all churches, of Old Testament stories being told in the glass on the north side of the church; the life of Jesus appeared behind the altar at the east end; the New Testament followed on the south side and finally the Revelations of St John the Divine were depicted above the main entrance doors at the western end. The pattern can be seen still in places like Fairford Church, Oxfordshire, and King's College Chapel, Cambridge, but usually this system has gone, replaced where it did exist by later memorials to local people, groups or events.

To a population which, hundreds of years ago, was largely illiterate and might not understand the language of the church service, the visual image provided learning and some form of entertainment. At the same time those churches which practised ritual, procession and performance were adding further visual interest and considerable verbal and musical elements into the communication mix.

We would not call church goers tourists, but travellers. Their journeys were not undertaken for purposes of leisure. Yet the church fulfilled many functions that we recognise in tourist attractions - focal points for visitors, heritage centres, places of entertainment and education. They had to communicate their messages just as the modern heritage centre or performance stage must communicate with the people of our times. And the churches happened to pioneer so many of the techniques employed by tourist attractions today.

Photos, left to right: stained glass in St Vitus's Cathedral, Prague; York Minster; the Carmelite Church, Valletta, Malta.

Stokesay Castle

Stokesay Castle

In the middle ages one of the pillars of the state was the church, the other the monarchy. While cathedrals and churches were placed around the land to supply the church infrastructure, castles and manor houses set up that of the monarchy. The king granted his nobles and others the rights to exercise power on his behalf from a castle or fortified manor house. In later years with the fading away of chances of revolts and invasions and the establishment of civil law enforcement the fortifications disappeared. Great houses such as Chatsworth and Longleat and smaller versions of them in greater numbers took their places.

Still with a law-enforcement role at one level or another, all these structures, from castle to local hall, had to display their aims and functions through architecture. Fashion and the demotic language of building design interplayed in each age. Height and extent, proportion, features and decoration all played their part, as did the design of the surroundings as gardens replaced moats and parkland introduced pastoral scenes. The manor house was a showcase for the state at local and national level. Its very position and quality spoke of the relationship between the governors and the governed. Power was seen to reside within the very profile of the lordly home.

Stokesay Castle in Shropshire is a remarkable survival of a 13th-century manor house. Not given the label of 'castle' until the 16th century, it is basically a manor house with some defensive features. A fine gatehouse from the 17th century is very domestic in style, though acting as a gateway like the entrance to a 'proper' castle.

The house was built by Lawrence Ludlow, a wealthy wool merchant, who could have good windows set into the outer walls because Edward I had defeated Llewellyn the Last and thereby removed the threat of Welsh attacks. Yet the stone-built hall and three-storey tower are structured in many ways like parts of a castle, for both practical benefit in case of renewed hostilities and just to remind neighbours and travellers just who helf power in those parts.

In time the Ludlows passed the property on to the Cravens (of Craven Arms fame) and they in due course to the Allcrofts who restored it after a period of decay. It was opened to the public in 1908. After Lady Allcroft died in 1990 Stokesay Castle was taken over by English Heritage. It now acts as a tourist showcase illustrating the nature of the life and times of a prosperous merchant family and its successors over more than 700 years.

Medieval and Tudor entertainment

Medieval Performance

Buildings which acted as showcases did not just present objects. Performances were popular in the form of music, story-telling, dance, acrobatics and juggling. In the early medieval period when groups of people occupied large huts there would have been entertainment in the form of performances of this kind, especially indoors in the winter. The larger house or hall of the chief would have been even more accommodating, and entertainment required as part of the social interactions of the ruling group.

Epic poems such as "Beowulf", written perhaps as early as the 7th century, not only would hold an audience spellbound, fearful and celebratory in turn, but would reinforce the sense of shared experience and racial pride. The long epic tells the story of a Nordic prince who slays a fiend named Grendel who had been terrorising Denmark, bafore also dealing with the monster's own mother who comes seeking revenge.

Stokesay Castle would have been a typical place for jugglers, singers and musicians to perform before the lord and ladies and their retinue. Storytellers would have had their place. They were the keepers of oral traditions, and have their equivalent even today around the world: Susan Strauss in the west of the USA performs stories from native American culture and the 'griots' of west Africa keep alive strong traditional themes within their peoples.

In the Christian church, where ritual performace was essential to worship services, the bishops had banned drama around the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire. During the tenth century however it was the church which sowed a seed of a reborn theatre. Some text became added to church services at Easter in the form of a three-line question and answer between angels guarding Christ's tomb and a group of women coming to embalm Christ's body. They are asked "who do you seek" - "Quem Quaeritis" in Latin. They answer "Christ's body" and are told "He has risen". What is known now as the "Quem Quaeritis trope" ("text") was kept, and indeed expanded into a performance by players given suitable costumes. As it grew it became a full retelling of the Christian Easter story, acted out at set points around the church interior. When it became too big for the building and its audience it had to move outside, becoming in different places like Chester and York the Miracle Plays. A full cycle of the York Stories would last 22 hours.

By the end of the middle ages and the Tudor period in Britain - the age which also saw the start of what became known as the Grand Tour - secular, theatrical drama was blossoming forth. Shakespeare was only one amongst many who wrote for theatres such as the Curtain and the Rose, and of course the Globe. This theatre-in-the-round, semi-open air performance, carried on a tradition begun by wandering players in the courtyards of coaching inns where the audience could stand in galleries at different floor levels.

The George Inn in Southwark is the last remaining galleried inn which London has, even though dating from a rebuiuld in 1676 and having lost two of its frontages to railway builders two centuries later. It is cared for by the National Trust and still a popular pub.

The Globe Theatre of Shakespeare's day has long gone, but the close-replica now standing on the south side of the Thames (seen in the photo during construction) once more sees performances much as they might have been in the dramatist's own day.

The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour

The tour of European cities undertaken by the sons of properous landowners (see 03.12.06) was the earliest form of educational tourism. Although the pilgrimage was earlier, and undoubtedly had an educational effect, it was not embarked upon in order to learn new things but to strengthen pre-existing religious beliefs. Grand Tours could last two or three years. Young men learnt about the culture of France and Italy and occasionally Greece: about architecture, history, government, representational and performing arts. They were often accompanied by an older man who acted as a tutor and tried to keep them in order, away from the mischief of bars and bordellos. And yet a certain degree of licence was accepted in the male's behaviour: it was a way of sowing a few wild oats before returning home to cultivate more respectable habits.

Returning Grand Tourists usually brought back works of art, a few books and their own journals of the time abroad. Once home it was time to impress the neighbours and other visitors to their houses. As prosperity increased during the late 17th and 18th centuries so landowners rebuilt their houses and redesigned their estates. In towns and countryside the pediments, columns and decorative features copied from Italy and Greece became common sights. These were showcases set up to impress visitors with the culture and wealth of the established upper classes.

In the illustrations above are Queens Square, Bath; an engraving of a classical figure, a statue in the grounds of Chatsworth House and an engraving from a book of architectural styles.

Halifax Piece Hall composite

Halifax Piece Hall

As the commercial life of Britain grew stronger in the eighteenth century the availability of finance allowed for more investment in building. Some of it was connected with the industrial revolution, but other construction served the older systems. It is an interesting coincidence that the year 1779 saw the building of the iron bridge in Shropshire as one of the first great symbols of the new economic order at the same time that one of the most magnificent architectural productions of the old was being completed, in Halifax. Tourism played a part in the story of both of them.

The Halifax Piece Hall was simply a market for the sale of pieces of cloth, each traditionally 30 yards long, as much as a handloom weaver working along the valley of the River Calder could produce in a week while at the same time having to look after a small farm. Cloth was taken there on a Saturday and sold to visiting merchants during a two-hour trading period on that day. The goods were then transported across Britain and often into Europe for buyers to turn into clothing. Apart from space for merchants to trade with the weavers the building was for hardly any other purpose than to store cloth which might have to wait for the next market session. Small rooms were used by the traders, but with 315 of them ranged around the galleries of the hall the building had to be big.

More than that, it had to advertise the prosperity and wisdom of those who used it. Like many another trading hall or exchange building, the Piece Hall had to impress. What better to do the job than a refined, classically-inspired edifice which proved what worldy-wise men these were? They might be two hundred miles away from the capital and situated in the Pennine hills, but they knew a thing or two about culture as well as about commerce.

Their cloth hall was built around a giant, rectangular space upon which all the rooms and galleries looked out. Only three great gateways made openings through the high walls so that when closed the whole building was secure. The carefully-proportioned galleries giving access to the store rooms were punctuated by dozens of columns in different styles, strongly arched at the lower level, sturdily squared above them, and gracefully rounded and tapered above those. A cupola above the main entrance contained a bell which marked out the start and finish of the trading periods.

This commercial showcase of the eighteenth century was produced from the mould given by the Grand Tour and its partakers. It is not known for sure who the architect of the Hall was - a Thomas Bradley or one or other of the Hope brothers, Samuael and John. It is clear that whoever designed it was working from information given in architectural books of the day which communicated the secrets of the buildings seen by travellers from Britain in Italy and Greece. Writers such as Batty Langley and William Pain had published books with descriptions and drawings of the principles laid down by classicist architects like Palladio and Alberti. In Halifax there was a very well known bookseller and published named Edwards. It might not have been from his shop that the Piece Hall architect obtained whatever pattern books he was using, but it is highly likely that the local merchants who employed that architect were familiar with Italian and Greek desings through books bought there.

The flow of knowledge from Europe, and the Mediterranean region in particular, into Britain, was through three main communication channels: the published work in books and engravings, the fine art of the painter, and the memory and notebooks of the tourist. And it was only the tourist who was able to see for himself the stupendous effect of the great buildings of Athens and Rome upon those cities, an effect that they wanted to bring to bear upon their own communities back home.

Piece Hall - Halifax

The 94-page book on the design of the Halifax building is by a practising architect who was born in the town. It was a private publication and should still be available through bookshops or web-site dealers.

Smithies, P (1988) The Architecture of the Halifax Piece Hall, 1775-1779; Halifax, Philip Smithies. ISBN 0 9513935 0 2

Pictures above: The hall glimpsed within the modern town and seen from Beacon Hill; an illustration from George Walker's 'Costumes of Yorkshire, 1814' showing merchants at the Leeds Mixed or Coloured Cloth Hall; some suppliers of the raw material; and part of the inside of the Hall in 2006.

Cabinets of Curiosities

Cabinets of Curiosities

With journeys of exploration came collections of the unusual, curious and beautiful objects that were found. Picked up, purchased or plundered, these formed interesting and instructive show pieces that prosperous home owners could use to impress their guests. Some of the artefacts would be considered appropriate for museums today (and that is where many of them are now kept) but others were just curiosities, such as an animal killed by lightning. A number of them were fakes, often quite openly presented as such: Charles Waterton used the taxidermist's art to create strange concoctions at his house near Wakefield. Yet even some of those survive as examples of a former practice.

The great collector of the seventeenth century, John Tradescant, had his Closet of Curiosities, which became known also as Tradescant's Ark. It became the main collection in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, where the first catalogue issued, in 1656, showed that anything and everything was collected by the enthusiastic amateur curator. The Ashmolean moved into a special building in 1683. The collection was then reorganised to be useful to the Oxford college tutors in their teaching. It was also regularly opened to the public.

Three important collectors of the following century gave their treasures to the British Museum, which was created by Act of Parliament in 1753. They were Sir Hans Sloane, Sir Robert Cotton and the Earl of Oxford, Robert Harley. Cotton and Harley had amassed manuscripts, Sloane a varied hoard of objects. At first the British Museum was run on the proceeds of a lottery and allowed in only a maximum of 60 visitors a day. Kenneth Hudson in his book 'Museums of Inlfluence' has recounted how the porter who looked after the building was the centre of power and able to decide who could get in and who could not. At least by 1810 on three days a week "any person of decent appearance" was admitted. Britain's great museum tourism had begun.

Hudson, K (1987) Museums of Influence, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Leeds City Museum - Collectors' Cabinets

Examples of ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’

One of the galleries in the excellent Leeds City Museum is devoted to “A Collector’s Cabinet”. It shows some of the early days of museums in which prosperous individuals made private collections of all kinds of ‘curiosities’. These might range from the shoe of a child killed by lightning (now shown in Cannon Hall Museum I believe) to fake animals made by taxidermists stitching together bits of a number of dead creatures (such as those by the explorer Charles Waterton and shown in the Wakefield Museum). Other items collected were kept for more serious research purposes. The Leeds merchant Ralph Thoresby (1658-1725) filled his house on Kirkgate with objects that represented as much of the world and its history as he could muster. Geological specimens, coins, items of clothing and accessories, ornaments and pictures and even, according to the Museum guidebook, the severed arm of the Marquis of Montrose. When Thoresby died his collection was dispersed. The Leeds gallery has tried to bring together from its own collections artefacts of the kind Thoresby would have displayed in his house, as well as more representative of the collections of other Leeds people.

Some collections became the bases of pioneering public museums – in Oxford Elias Ashmole’s (1617-1692) treasure trove became the foundation of the world-famous Ashmolean Museum. That of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) in London became the start of the British Museum, part being later transferred to the Natural History Museum. Another museum open to the public today is that of Sir John Soane (1753-1837) in London. He was an avid collector too, as can be seen in the house that he designed for himself – he was an architect – and his private museum. Just before his death he was able to obtain an Act of Parliament that, on his death, set up a trust to preserve his house and contents for the public to use and study.

Most people have museums at home, though they might not call them that. They keep souvenirs, interesting and nostalgic objects, sometimes on open shelves and sometimes in cupboards or cabinets. They also have libraries. During the nineteenth century there was an explosion of activity setting up both libraries and museums in just about every town in Britain (and abroad, of course). Knowledge, based on books, artefacts and, indeed, the excursions that most people were beginning to make out into the countryside and to nearby towns, was becoming the staple of national life. The Information Society had its foundations not in the modern world of IT but the much older world being powered by the Industrial Revolution. So educational tourism was on the way, but tourism as education was already with us as an essential to getting on in the world.


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