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A History of the World in Lancashire
This Roman Cavalry tombstone had been lying beneath the Lancaster soil for 2,000 years
This Roman Cavalry tombstone had been lying under Lancaster soil for 2,000 years

A History of the World is about how objects in museums and galleries can tell local and global stories and engage everyone with history in new ways.

It is a public service partnership between the BBC and the British Museum.

The aim is to create a digital museum with objects from across the UK.

As part of the project, we've got together with our local museums to find ten objects that tell the story of the county's history.

Emma Heslewood, Keeper of History at the Harris Museum in Preston, says they had a hard time narrowing their search down to just ten items out of the thousands of historical artefacts in Lancashire's museums.

Story behind another story

She says: "We finally chose these ten because of the fascinating stories they reveal. Their historical significance simply cannot be underestimated because they have all had a huge impact, not only in Lancashire but in the rest of the world.

Emma Heslewood says it was hard to select just ten items
Emma Heslewood says it was hard to select just ten items

"Some of these stories were already known about, such as the teetotal movement, but people didn't realise it originated in Preston.

"Other items like General Scarlett's sword reveal a story behind another story. The memory of that particular battle, which of course they won against the odds, has been obliterated by the more famous but doomed Charge of the Light Brigade, which has inspired poetry, films and books and is still so famous today."

One of the most important events highlighted by many of these objects is the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

The effect on the socio-economic and cultural conditions sparked a major and irreversible change for life in Britain, soon spreading to Europe, north America and eventually the rest of the world.

Arkwright's waterframe

Emma says: "The invention of Arkwright's waterframe in 1769 transformed spinning, enabling 96 threads to be spun at once. Cotton production leapt in Lancashire as some of the first factories were built for mass production of cloth, making it available to the masses rather than just the upper classes."

She says many people believe that India stole our cotton production when in fact in the 18th Century the upper classes were already wearing cotton undergarments made in India.

Arkwright's waterframe
The invention of Arkwright's waterframe transformed spinning

The effect of Arkwright's invention was two-fold. Cotton production in India shrunk back and Lancashire became the world's number one producer for cotton, eventually peaking in its 1913 heyday.

Then in 1866 John Forbes Watson brought back his pattern books from South Asia filled with beautiful designs meant to inspire designers in Britain, with Preston one of just 13 towns to receive a copy.

Emma says: "An example of the Asian influence is the creation of paisley - a much-used design that most people believe originated in the UK but actually came from India."

Social problems

Meanwhile the British Northrop Loom Co Ltd started being distributed around the world in the early 1900s. Produced in Blackburn and exported worldwide, they had a huge impact on developing countries but, ironically, also added to the decline of the Lancashire cotton industry.

With the advent of mass production in the 1800s Lancashire workers began to suffer. With machines taking over human work, jobs were lost or downgraded and many skilled artisans became at best factory workers and at worst unemployed.

Poverty followed, with its associated issues, including social problems brought on by alcohol.

British Northrop Loom
The British Northrop Loom was made in Blackburn and exported worldwide

Emma says: "Back in the 19th century alcohol was unregulated and widely available. More importantly, people didn't drink water because they were scared of it.

"Industrialisation meant the towns had grown so rapidly that the water supplies never caught up. Water quality was poor - smelly and discoloured and thousands were dying of typhoid and cholera."

In the meantime beer was handed out freely outside the mills at the end of shifts, and where machines had taken jobs, alcohol provided a sedative against the misery of poverty.

Emma says: "Back then, as today, pubs offered more than just beer. They were friendly places for people to meet and get warm.

"Where nowadays most of us also have cosy houses with central heating, back then living conditions were cramped and cold so going to the pub was very attractive."

Founder of abstinence

The Teetotal Teapot reveals a huge amount about the impact of the industrial revolution on the working classes, says Emma.

Joseph Livesey, a Baptist born in 1794, became known as the founder of abstinence.

Born into poverty in Walton-le-Dale, near Preston, he was acutely aware of the damaging affects of alcohol on the working classes, setting up the temperance movement which he promoted for the rest of his life.

Emma says: "The term teetotal was actually coined in Preston by Temperance Society member Dicky Turner who stuttered over the word "tee-tee-total".

Livesey spent his life campaigning for the working classes - despite becoming rich selling cheese - opposing the workhouses in favour of giving the poor the chance to better themselves through education and abstinence.

"He urged breweries, families, employers and the government to take responsibility for the problems caused by alcohol - broken homes, orphaned children and overflowing prisons.

"His campaign ultimately failed," says Emma, "but he had a huge influence on the temperance movement both here and abroad because of his skills as a publicist and journalist."

At Towneley Hall in Burnley a Peruvian mummy from the 1100s lies surrounded by the objects it was buried with. The mummy was discovered by Burnley man WT Taylor as he travelled the world installing hydroelectric dams in the early 1900s.

Dave Anderson, of Towneley Hall, says Taylor was an amateur archaeologist who sent so many artefacts back from his travels "by the tea-chestful" that he used to have his own room in the museum.

Indiana Jones

As well items such as embroideries from Kashmir, and a Himalayan bear from Nepal Taylor sent a Peruvian mummy along with the artefacts with which it was discovered, including the Chachapoyan huaco, a stone figure thought to have been used during communication ceremonies with the dead.

Dave says: "The Chachapoyans were the main enemy of the Aztecs and the reason we know anything about what they got up to is drawings made by the invading Spanish depicting these ceremonies held by shaman-type figures.

Chachapoyan huaco
The Chachapoyan huaco was sent from Peru by WT Taylor

"We think the huaco may have been used as a vessel to be used by the spirits when communicating with the shaman."

Dave says they chose the huaco because it represents a part of history that very little is known about - and also celebrates Lancashire's answer to Indiana Jones.

"Taylor wrote a lot in his journal about the dangers he faced lowering himself down into crumbling tunnels to retrieve these objects."

Towneley also holds General Scarlett's sword, a symbol of the Crimean War.

General Scarlett led his Heavy Brigade into the battle of Balaklava against the Russian cavalry and, outnumbered and against the odds, defeated them. Revered by the people of Burnley on his return they clubbed together to buy him the sword that sits in the museum today.

However the more well-known story is the charge of the Light Brigade and their dramatic defeat. Somehow this eclipsed General Scarlett's earlier successful foray.

Systematically destroyed

Dave says: "We chose the sword because the Crimean War was very important globally. It was the first war in which modern tactics and communication were used, such as trains and telegrams."

It was also the first one to be documented photographically, making it the first war where people back home could see what it was like for their sons, husbands and brothers.

In contrast the Whalley Abbey Vestments shine a light on a battle closer to home when Cromwell had defeated the Royalists and the dissolution meant Catholicism and its associated churches and objects were systematically destroyed.

Dave says: "We chose them because they were made in the Middle Ages in a very important style of English ecclesiastical embroidery known as Opus Anglicanum.

"They were the only pair to survive Cromwell's dissolution, including the destruction of Whalley Abbey itself. The Towneleys, a wealthy Catholic family, hid them safely while keeping their faith secret." See: Vestments in Whalley Abbey

On a lighter note Elizabeth Gifford's workbox, made for her out of woods collected from across the world by Gillow of Lancaster, was chosen as one of the most beautiful examples of the famous cabinet maker's work.

Jayne Mansfield: Picture from From Lamp to Laser: The Story of Blackpool Illuminations by Terry Regan and Andrew Hazlehurst
Jayne Mansfield used the Blackpool switch to turn on the lights in 1959

Anthea Purkis, assistant keeper at Lancaster Museum, said: "Its global significance is so important because it shows how wide Gifford's global reach was.

"When you think how long it used to take to get to London form Lancaster, a trip to Australia, which has only been discovered a few decades before, was not only very long but dangerous. Many people died on the way through disease, or being blown off course and getting lost."

By far the most ancient object chosen to represent Lancashire's place in the history of the world is also the most recently discovered.

The Roman Cavalry tombstone had been lying beneath the Lancaster soil for 2,000 years and was only discovered in 2005, to the excitement of historians and archaeologists across the country.

The Blackpool switch provides excitement of another kind for a different group of people - anyone who has ever watched a celebrity switch on the illuminations.

The switch-on switch has been used by a whole host of stars over the years including Gracie Fields, Les Dawson, Frank Bruno, Tom Baker and even Red Rum. However, probably the most glamorous was Jayne Mansfield in 1959.

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