New accessions – November 2016

From the book collection of a political activist to the archives of a Russian opera singer, we have acquired a wide variety of new material this month.

We have been given a run of “The Owl“, the magazine of the City of Leeds Training College, part of Leeds Beckett University, for 1936-1940. The magazine includes articles on a wide range of subjects: “Finland – Democracy or Dictatorship?”; “Colour Photography”; “How to Press Wild Flowers”; “The Romance of Mining”.  It also contains stories, poems and artworks, and reports on the activities of various college societies such as the Art Club, Music Society, and sports clubs including lacrosse, rugby and hockey. The magazine presents a fascinating glimpse of an enclosed but outward-looking community.

Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein (1920-2002) was a prominent activist in the African National Congress and the South African Communist party. Bernstein was one of Nelson Mandela’s co-defendants in the Rivonia Trial of 1963, and the only one to be acquitted, following which he moved to Britain to continue campaigning at a distance. We have a small collection of books owned by Bernstein on the anti-apartheid struggle, including contemporary campaign literature and biographies of key players.

The Porton Collection began life as the library of Rabbi Moses Abrahams, which was given to the United Hebrew Congregation in Leeds after his death.  It was later augmented by the library of Joseph Porton, a Leeds printer. Given to Leeds City Libraries in 1938, the collection is now deposited in the University Library. It covers all aspects of the religion and culture of the Jewish people, including theology, history, biography, art, travel and society, with works in Hebrew, Yiddish and English. Treasures of the collection include a 1705 edition of the Jewish Bible; John Selden’s “Uxor Ebraica” (1673), a treatise on Jewish marriage law; “Sefer Me’amez koaḥ” (1588), a collection of funeral orations by Moses ben Baruch Almosnino, and “Tela Ignea Satanae” (1681), an anthology of Jewish anti-Christian texts collected by Johann Christoph Wagenseil.

The Leeds Russian Archive has acquired a collection of photographs, letters, printed matter and ephemera about the legendary Russian bass, Fedor Shaliapin (Chaliapine) (1873-1938), and his artist son, Boris (1904-1979), from the estate of the Israeli (originally Soviet) journalist, broadcaster and film historian, Shimon Chertok (1931-2006). Shimon visited Leeds in the 1980s and we acquired a collection of historical photographs from him then. LRA has material about Shaliapin in several other collections. We plan also to acquire Shimon’s fine collection of photographs by the Russian/Soviet portraitist of the famous, Moisei Nappelbaum (1869-1958).

Leeds General Cemetery burial records now online

Louise Piffero, our Medical Archivist, writes about the launching of the Leeds General Cemetery Burial Registers Index.

I’m very pleased to announce the launch of the Leeds General Cemetery Burial Registers Index  – a brand new Special Collections resource offering a unique insight into life and death in Leeds over the course of a century.

The Index contains over 96,000 transcribed entries from the burial registers of the Leeds General Cemetery, which have been digitised. The registers record details for each person buried at the cemetery, between 1835 and 1992. These are now openly available online for students and the general public to access and use for research.

In addition to the index, a new catalogue for the Leeds General Cemetery Company Ltd Archive has been completed. This work was undertaken as part of our Medical Collections Project funded by the Wellcome Trust.  Explore the Leeds General Cemetery Company Ltd Archive

The Index provides researchers with a new way to access the information the registers contain, which includes: the deceased person’s name, age, gender, dates of death and burial, cause of death, occupation, and details on their parents.

Not only will it be much easier for family historians to find information for individuals buried in the cemetery; the Index can also be used for more in-depth research into areas such as social or medical history. For example, you could chart the prevalence of a particular disease recorded in the registers.


Explore the Leeds General Cemetery Burial Registers Index

First Workshop of the Year

2017 Education Intern Dominika Blazewicz reflects on her first Footsteps into Art workshop with The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery.


On November 17th, Footsteps into Art ran not only its very first workshop of the year, but also its very first workshop for secondary school pupils. A group of year 9’s from Leeds City Academy met us in the Parkinson court for a two hour afternoon workshop with a freelance artist, Vinny James. Although most felt intimated by the building, they quickly settled in and quite happily got on with the workshop.
As a new intern, I was slightly nervous before the session, mainly because I did not know what to expect. What, or rather, who, calmed mine (and Lizzie’s, who was also new to her role) nerves, were Dominique, last year’s intern, and Penny, experienced Footsteps into Art’s volunteer. Both of them seemed very relaxed and excited about meeting the pupils, which helped tremendously.
The workshop was all about fabric and bold colours. After a short introduction to the gallery and general workshop outline, Vinny asked the students to pick a felt sheet, few scraps of material, scissors and let their imagination and fingers do the rest, with very interesting results.
The class was split into four groups, ensuring that each group also had a chance to have a go at creating a stop-motion animation using even more pieces of fabric on a black canvas. Each group came up with a completely different theme and storyline, such as season changes or people around them. All students enjoyed making the animation, especially when they were able to see the results of their work on a laptop at the end of the workshop.
As my role was more to supervise and support the artists during the workshop rather than delivering it, I went around the tables and chatted with the pupils, gaining an insight into their art pieces and general interest in art. Some struggled to come up with ideas for their individual felt sheet piece, as they were not used to think about art in such free and abstract terms. Without a clear objective in mind, and never working with felt before, some felt a bit lost. However, the students ended up helping and supporting each other, and after getting used to the presence of the artist and other workshop assistants, as well as becoming more relaxed, they created some lovely compositions, as seen on the Gallery website.
Overall, the afternoon, although very intense, went fast. According to our post-workshop evaluation sheets, all students enjoyed the workshop, and all students could not wait to attend another one next year, with the things we could improve on being, “Free food would be nice” and “More time for the workshop”.

Re-visiting the Romany Collections and YARN

Our Romany Archivist, Caroline Bolton, write about community workshops, YARN and the Romany Collection.

Recently with the help of Leeds GATE, (Gypsy and Traveller Exchange) we invited members from Gypsy and Traveller communities to come to Special Collections to have a look at material from the ‘Romany Collection.’ We wanted to gather their views to help us to improve the way that we describe these items so that we can better understand the collections.  We also wished to discover what is important to people from Gypsy and Traveller communities to enable them to find and use this material themselves.

We did this by running a workshop based on a revisiting collections toolkit  that was produced some years ago by the Collections Trust to help organisations to capture and share multiple perspectives on archive collections.

The session was well attended with members from a number of Gypsy and Traveller families looking at a selection of photographs, drawings and paintings.  They gave us an invaluable insight into the archives that would have remained hidden. The session was well received with requests for follow up sessions to look at more material.  It demonstrated both the interest within these communities and mutual benefits of community engagement with archives.


As a result of the workshop we wanted to look at how we could extend these conversations beyond the workshop format, especially for those who for a variety of reasons wouldn’t feel, or be able, to attend. For this we were able to pilot a community storytelling application called YARN which was recently designed and created during a research programme led by the University of Leeds.

YARN is designed to allow users to create their own stories using material from the web and from archive partners such as Special Collections. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to gather those parallel stories that exist around items in the collection. The results of this first venture can be viewed as Special Collections’ first story and we are hoping that it will provide a chance to showcase items from the collections and enable users to better engage with them. This includes academics, researchers, communities and members of the public.

The next step is how we capture these alternative narratives more permanently within the catalogue.  We are currently working on incorporating summaries of the feedback as ‘additional descriptions’ within the item’s catalogue entry. These will provide alternative access points and increase accessibility and understanding of the collections.  Crucially the summaries will be attributed to those that have provided them so future researchers understand the context of the comments. It is also an acknowledgment of thanks to those volunteers who have given up their time to contribute to the cataloguing process and help widen access to the collections.



Meet the Volunteers

Footsteps into Art offers work experience, volunteer opportunities and a paid internship for University of Leeds students.


This year a team of 21 student volunteers will support the Footsteps into Art workshops by working with children on tasks, taking photographs of their artwork and collecting feedback which will contribute to the project evaluation. These students are eager to work with children to share their passion about creativity and art and to gain valuable experience working in an art gallery.

Beyond their passion for art, they’re a varied bunch! We have volunteers from China, Canada and New Zealand, as well as Manchester, Newcastle and the Isle of Man. They come from a range of departments across the University including Biochemistry, French and Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies. The team of volunteers includes a power lifter, a former professional salsa dancer, and someone who completed the Three Peaks Challenge earlier this year.

Through the work based experiences offered by Footsteps into Art, students will add to their already considerable experience by making a difference to the local community, and developing transferrable skills including team work, problem solving, communication, time management and adaptability.

The Cultural Institute and Special Collections launch collections workshops

Joint initiative begins a programme of Collections focused workshops.

On the 9th November Special Collections and the Cultural Institute held the first in a series of collections focused workshops to help researchers discover new research and funding opportunities available through the unique material held by Special Collections.

The first ‘showcase’ workshop featured presentations from individuals who had already successfully worked in collaboration with Special Collections. Professor Alison Fell talked about the Legacies of War project and her use of Liddle Collection WW1 material in school education sessions. Professor Mark Westgarth spoke about the newly established ‘Centre for the Study of the Art and Antiques Market’ and the transfer of significant antique dealer archives to Special Collections. He was joined by Jane Whittaker of the Bowes Museum who highlighted the ongoing collaborative work between the University and the museum. PhD student Leonardi Costantini highlighted his groundbreaking use of UVF imaging to digitise, and enhance our understanding, of medieval parchment fragments from the Ripon Collection. Finally, Fiona Smith, recent Brotherton Fellowship recipient, discussed her work on the Freemantle Collection which led to a well-received performance of excerpts from Byron’s ‘Manfred.’

These lively and engaging presentations were followed by introductions to the sources of support and funding available. Louise Clare from Heritage Lottery Fund outlined the types of HLF funding available and how to approach the organisation for further information. Faye Robinson from the University’s Research and Innovation Service discussed the central research support offered by the University and Clare Pickerden, from White Rose University Consortium encouraged researchers to get in touch for advice on how their research could be taken forward in collaboration with the White Rose universities. Head of Special Collections, Joanne Fitton, talked about the Brotherton Fellowship scheme, inviting early career researchers to think how they could make use of fellowship funding to support new research into the collections.

The next four workshops will focus on the Medical, Performance, Romany and Coin collections within Special Collections. They will be hands-on, with archive material available and facilitated discussion to encourage attendees to generate new research ideas.

Sign up to the next workshops through the Cultural Institute:

VIPs and Visitors

The Treasures Gallery has received thousands of visitors since February and greeted some VIPs.


The Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery has welcomed nearly 17,000 visitors since opening in February this year. At the end of October we were honoured to receive a visit from The Most Venerable Phraprommasith, Abbot of the Golden Mount Temple (Wat Saket) in Bangkok. Wat Saket is the parent temple of the Wat Buddharam Temple here in Leeds, so we were delighted when the Abbot’s visit to the University incorporated a trip to the Treasures Gallery. The Abbot was accompanied by other dignitaries from Thailand as well as several monks and lay people.

Rhiannon Lawrence-Francis, Special Collections and Engagement Manager, conducted a tour for the visitors and said the monks were particularly impressed by “For All Time”, the special Shakespeare exhibition currently on display. The Abbot also enjoyed looking at the 15th century manuscript history roll and the 17th century playing cards depicting the counties of England and Wales.

Special Collections is renowned for the diversity of its material. In our BC 19c Clodd archive we discovered a fitting book to show our international visitors, The Buddhist praying-wheel: a collection of material bearing upon the symbolism of the wheel and circular movements in custom and religious ritual. This interesting 19th century item contains inserted letters from the author to Edward Clodd that provide a snapshot of how times and world views have changed over the centuries.

An enjoyable and culturally enriching experience was had by all. We look forward to welcoming our next VIP guests . . . and the next 17,000 visitors!