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West Yorkshire's role in history
Percy Shaw and his cat's eyes
Percy Shaw and his cat's eyes: Part of West Yorkshire's history

From lifesaving cat's eyes to rugby league, West Yorkshire can certainly be said to have played its own unique part in the history of the world.

Now West Yorkshire's role in history is being revealed as part of a massive project - and we want you to help tell that story.

The big idea - and it IS a big idea - is to tell 'A History of the World' through 100 man-made objects.

And we're hoping you'd like to join in to tell the history of West Yorkshire.

In the end it's hoped that, with help from the British Museum and museums across the UK, we can create an online 'digital museum'.

Intrigued? Well, so are Debbie Hull and Heather Millard from Bradford Museums. They've selected ten items from museums across West Yorkshire which will feature as part of that digital museum.

Debbie Hill and Heather Millard
Debbie and Heather have chosen ten historical objects

Debbie explains how those objects were chosen to sum up the history of West Yorkshire: "We invited representatives from each museum across West Yorkshire and chose our objects from the discussions that we had.

"Our remit was to choose objects from the area that had changed the world.

"It took us two weeks to choose. We had a list of fifteen objects which we then cut down to ten."

Heather says it's a way of learning more about West Yorkshire and the role it played in shaping how Britain is today. Take, for example, just one of the objects that has been chosen.

Heather explains: "The 'Salt' dress is referred to as a wedding dress. It isn't. It's an evening dress.

"It was worn at the opening of Bradford Technology College and that's what was significant for us.

"They wanted something textile-based from Bradford to reflect where the wealth of Bradford came from."

So what have Debbie and Heather chosen? Read on - and then find out how you can get involved!

In pictures: Take a closer look West Yorkshire's ten historic objects

Pontefract's secret ballot box, 1872. Pontefract Museum

Pontefract was centre stage in August 1872 when this ballot box was used for the first secret ballot in Britain to elect a Member of Parliament. It was the first time that people had voted in secret by placing an 'X' on a ballot paper next to the name of their choice - the system that we now take for granted.

It represents a huge change in the way elections were arranged. Before the Ballot Act of 1872 those lucky enough to vote, had to declare their choice in public. This system was open to bribery and intimidation.

The box is still marked with the wax seals used to ensure the votes were not tampered with. The seal was made with a liquorice stamp, used to make Pontefract cakes from a local liquorice factory.

The votes were counted and the results announced at the Town Hall in Pontefract, where the Liberal candidate, H.C. Childers was elected MP for the town.

Challenge Cup Final Rugby League ball, 1897, Kirklees Museums - Bagshaw Museum, Batley

Challenge Cup Final rugby league ball
Rugby League: Part of West Yorkshire's history

This ball, generally considered to be the one used in the first Rugby League Challenge cup final, won by Batley, 1897. The League - then known as the "Northern Rugby Football Union" - had split from the RFU in 1895, at a meeting in Huddersfield.

The split had a number of causes, but chief among them was the RFU's insistence on the amateur principle preventing "broken time payments" to players who had taken time off work to play rugby. Northern teams typically had more working class players - coal miners, mill workers etc - who could not afford to play without this compensation.

Exactly a hundred years later, in 1995, the RFU allowed (legal) payments to players - "shamateurism" had been a murky feature of the game in some areas - and the Union version of the game is now professional at the top level.

The first Challenge Cup final was played at Headingley and Batley beat St Helens 10 - 3 in front of a crowd of 13,492

Percy Shaw's cat's eyes, 1934, Calderdale Museums - Bankfield Museum

"The most brilliant invention ever produced in the interests of road safety".

One dark foggy night in 1933 Percy Shaw was driving down the steep winding road from Queensbury to his home in Boothtown. He had made this journey at night many times before, using the reflection of his car headlights on the tramlines to help negotiate the hazardous bends.

Suddenly Percy was plunged into pitch darkness, the reassuring reflective light was no longer there, the tramlines had been taken up for repair.

Percy later recalled that out of the swirling gloom he noticed two points of light, the headlights had caught the eyes of a cat on a fence. Percy realised the great potential of improving road safety if he could create a reflecting device that could be fitted to road surfaces.

After many trials Percy took out patents on his invention in April 1934 and in March 1935 Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd was incorporated, with Percy Shaw as Managing Director.

The Skelmanthorpe Flag, 1819, Kirklees Museums - Tolson Memorial Museum

The Skelmanthorpe flag is one of the most impressive survivors from the early days of organised labour. It is believed to have been made in Radcliffe Street, Skelmanthorpe near Huddersfield in 1819. It was made to honour the victims of the Peterloo Massacre who were attacked by the Yeomanry during a peaceful demonstration at St Peter's Fields in Manchester.

The bound man is a depiction of the slave in chains, one of the symbols of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The image of the single eye was another symbol of justice, the eye of God keeping watch over humankind.

The flag was paraded at mass meetings throughout the area, including a Chartist rally at Peep Green near Hartshead, which was attended by an estimated quarter of a million people. It frequently had to be hidden from the authorities. It was rediscovered in a Skelmanthorpe warehouse in 1884 and given to Tolson Memorial Museum in 1924.

Vedica tombstone, AD200, Manor House Art Gallery - Ilkley Museum

Vedica tombstone
The Vedica tombstone is on show in Ilkley

As the Roman Empire expanded to take in most of the 'known World', it encountered many different cultures. Once they were defeated in battle, the true genius of the Romans was to then integrate them into a vast economic network of trade. Many were allowed to retain their way of life, and some Roman soldiers and officials married local women.

Vedica was one of them and was probably the daughter of a high ranking family who married a solider and moved to Ilkley. She died at the age of 30, and even though her tombstone is Roman in style it still proudly proclaims her tribal origins and is symbolic of that union between the Roman and Celtic worlds.

The Roman empire was eventually to fail but it left behind a legacy that has lived on in all those peoples it encountered, leaving many with the aspiration to recreate what had once been.

Bamforth & Co. Seaside postcards, 1950, Kirklees Museums & Galleries

Kirklees Museums and Galleries have a collection of over 1500 items linked to Bamforth and Company, one of the best known and loved publishers of comic postcards.

Founded in Holmfirth in 1870 as a photographic studio by James Bamforth, the firm expanded into magic lantern slides, film making and, in 1903, postcard production, which soon became the major part of the business.

Initially the cards used photographic views but from around 1911 to 1990 Bamforth & Co employed artists to draw designs. There were four main artists who were trained in-house, leading to a consistent style.

This style was established by Douglas Tempest. The two other main artists were Philip W. Taylor, from 1930s to 1950s, and Brian Fitzpatrick, who joined the firm after Tempest's death in 1954 and continued until he died in 1974.

Art Nouveau armchair by Pratt, c.1900, Bolling Hall Museum

This armchair is a wonderful example of the Art Nouveau style, with the curves, sinuous lines and nature-inspired designs that typified the style. It was made around 1900, prior to the Great War. It's part of a suite of furniture that also included a settee and additional chairs and it would have been typical furnishing in a well-to-do Edwardian house.

Styles changed after the War with a move away to the cleaner lines of Art Deco and Modernism. This chair design represents the brief period of that pre-War era.

Pratt was a local furniture company from where Bradford families would aspire to buy a piece of furniture.

The skills that the furniture makers used to shape the wood for making furniture for Pratts were transferred to making aeroplanes during World War I. They temporarily altered their aims - from decorating a room to defence of the realm.

The 'Salt' dress, 1882, Bradford Industrial Museum

Salt dress
The 'Salt' dress: Part of West Yorkshire's history

Mrs Salt was married to Titus Salt Jr, and the dress is typical of the lifestyle millowners were able to afford with the proceeds of the textile industry in Bradford.

It illustrates the current court of fashion of the 1880s, as it was worn during the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

They'd come to open Bradford Technical College to which the Salts had contributed funding.

Alumni of the college have gone far, such as Sir Edward Appleton (Nobel Prize winner) who helped develop radar during World War II, or the artist David Hockney. Titus Salt Sr. built up the business that allowed his daughter-in-law to buy such finery and sponsor the College.

It complemented the village, Saltaire (now a UNESCO World heritage site). He built it to provide better living and working conditions for the workers he employed.

It illustrates fashion and wealth but also attitudes of philanthropy through funding education for the poor.

Ambler Superdraft, 1947, Bradford Industrial Museum

Spun yarns consist of fibres spun into a thread of suitable thickness and twist.

Mechanical spinning is achieved by passing fibre strands known as a roving through the nip of a pair of back rollers on the spinning frame, then through the nip of a pair of front rollers driven at a higher speed.

This has the effect of drawing out the fibres thereby thinning the material which is then twisted into a yarn. The speed ratio between the back and front rollers is known as the draft.

Control of the fibres between the set of rollers had always been a problem, and limited the drafts achievable, commonly to a ratio range from six to ten.

In 1947, Air Vice-Marshall Geoffrey Ambler developed a precision unit to control and feed fibres between the sets of rollers making high or super drafts possible.

Using drafts of 100-150 the elimination of other operations was possible with a huge saving in overheads and tenfold increase in efficiency.

Bradford trolley bus, 1946, Bradford Industrial Museum

Bradford trolleybus
A Bradford trolleybus: Part of West Yorkshire's history

A trolleybus is an electric bus that draws its electricity from overhead wires using spring-loaded trolley-plates. Two wires and poles are required to complete the electrical circuit - unlike a tram or streetcar which normally uses the track as part of the electrical path and thus needs only one wire and pole.

Leeds and Bradford became the first cities to operate trolleybuses in the United Kingdom on June 20 1911. Bradford was the last to operate trolleybuses in the UK. The system closed down on March 26 1972. The last rear-entrance trolleybus in Britain was also in Bradford and is now owned by the Bradford Trolleybus Association.


Would you like to add your own suggestions and objects to A History of the World - things which you think tell us something more about the history of West Yorkshire? Click here to find out more and how to upload your objects to the History of the World digital museum.





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