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A History of the World: Leeds

Reclining Figure, Henry Moore
Reclining Figure (Henry Moore) is one of Leeds' 10 objects for the History of the World website

Camilla Nichol is Head of Collections at Leeds Museums and Galleries.

Camilla describes the 10 items selected by the museums in Leeds to feature on the A History of the World website. Have these objects changed the world?

Here is the choice of 10 significant items with her short description (follow the In Pictures link to see an image of all the chosen items)

Harrison precision pendulum-clock No. 2 (Leeds City Museum)

"This clock is part of the story of John Harrison's relentless quest to develop a practical method of determining longitude at sea.

"It was important for clocks to keep good time because setting a reliable timekeeper to the time at a known longitude (say, a ship's home port) and comparing this to local time, determined by observation of the sun and stars, meant that the time difference could be converted to an east or west distance from home.

"Not being able to fix location accurately was the cause of much loss of shipping, cargoes and lives, and a real impediment to economic growth.

"The clock was made in response to The Longitude Act of 1714, first Harrison achieved extraordinarily accurate timekeeping on land and then set about making a portable version, H-1, the world's first successful marine timekeeper. The eventual outcome was H-4 the acknowledged winner of the Longitude Prize.

"The importance of Harrison's clocks echo down the years. At a dinner at 10 Downing Street astronaut Neil Armstrong, not long after his walk on the moon, gave a toast to John Harrison."

Nesyamun, the Leeds Mummy (Leeds City Museum)

"From the inscriptions on Nesyamun's coffin and the objects left with him, we can say much about his life.

"We know from a leather ornament in his bandages that he died in the reign of Ramesses XI, who ruled Egypt 1113-1085 BC. Nesyamun was a priest at the temple of Amun in the Karnak complex at Thebes (modern day Luxor). He was a 'waab priest', which meant he had reached a certain level of purification and was therefore permitted to approach the statue of Amun in the most sacred inner sanctum of the temple.

"Nesyamun is very important as the only Mummy to have been dated to this period, as well as explaining Egyptian culture. His coffin gives an insight into his daily life and his beliefs and scientific analysis of his remains has contributed to a greater understanding of ancient Egypt.

Nesyamun's place in our history of the world is as someone who has passed through it, but who continues to have his name remembered by people today."

Dragon Robe (University of Leeds International Textiles Archive)

"This highly embroidered silk dragon robe was made according to the imperial clothing regulations of the Qing dynasty, where civilian and military officials were required to wear cloth rank badges to denote their social class.

"This robe, part of the collection of Chinese textiles held by the University of Leeds International Textiles Archive was brought to the University in the 1930s by Professor Aldred Farrer Barker, the then recently retired Professor of Textile Industries.

"Barker travelled widely during his time at Leeds, visiting Australia, South America, Japan and China where with his son, he advised on the establishment of an educational institution dedicated to the study of textiles in Shanghai."

Waddington's Monopoly (Leeds City Museum)

The game of Monopoly
The game of Monopoly is part of the story of Leeds

"This special limited edition based on Leeds was published by John Waddington Limited, to celebrate the centenary of the City of Leeds in 1993.

"John Waddington started off as a theatrical printer in Leeds in 1896 and the firm began printing playing cards in 1921.

"The game Monopoly owes its genesis to an American Quaker woman who believed in the common ownership of land. By 1935 when the Parker Brothers in Philadelphia acquired the rights to the game, it had become the embodiment of capitalist speculation.

"The British rights to the game were acquired by the Leeds firm of Waddingtons in 1935 and the slightly bizarre choice of London streets was based on a flying visit to the capital by one of the firm's employees.

"Since then the game has been customised to many cities and institutions, including this Leeds edition. Waddington's are also reputed to have smuggled silk escape maps to British prisoner's of war inside Monopoly sets during the Second World War.

"Waddingtons were taken over by the US firm of Hasbro in the 1990s."

Burton's Demob suit (Leeds City Museum)

"At the end of the Second World War, all soldiers returning home were issued with a suit, shirt and tie and trilby hat made by the Leeds firm of Burtons.

"The company was founded at the start of the 20th century by a Lithuanian Russian migrant Jew, Montague Burton (1885-1952), who initially established shops selling bespoke and ready to wear suits in Sheffield and Mansfield. As the business expanded Leeds became the manufacturing centre for the company.

"Montague Burton was knighted for services to industry in 1931, going on to endow chairs at several universities including Leeds.

"During the Second World War Burton's firm made a quarter of all British military uniforms. But when war was over they switched production to the civilian suit, variations of which men still wear today."

Earl of Southampton's Armour (Royal Armouries)

The Earl of Southampton's armour
The Earl of Southampton's armour is held at the Royal Armouries.

"Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton was an important Elizabethan military and political figure. Campaigning in Cadiz, the Azores and Ireland, he also secretly married one of Queen Elizabeth I's maids of Honour in 1598.

"He was a patron of Shakespeare who dedicated several poems to Southampton

"After supporting the insurrection of 1601, he was sentenced to death and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Pardoned in 1603 following Elizabeth's death, he was made a Knight of the Garter.

"Southampton played an important role in the early settlement of America- serving as Treasurer of the Virginia Company in the 1620s. Southampton may have obtained this armour when in Paris in 1598 on a diplomatic mission. The armour's fired blue surface is acid etched and guilded with a design of entwined snakes and vines in the style popular in northern Europe in the 16th century."

Reclining Figure, Henry Moore (Leeds Art Gallery)

"This is one of Henry Moore's (1898 - 1986) earliest sculptural achievements (1929). It shows the essential ingredients of his work including his passionate committment to the principle of 'truth to materials', his diverse range of artistic influences and his creation of a special relationship between the human figure and landscape.

"Reclining Figure was carved by the artist in Brown Hornton Stone. Its simplified forms show the influence of non-western carving, that Moore discovered in the British Museum, and of the early work of Pablo Picasso.

"The 'bumps and hollows' of the figure and the markings of the stone recall the undulations of a natural landscape. Moore was born in Castleford and after war service he became the first student of sculpture at the Leeds School of Art in 1919."

Artificial hip (Thackray Museum)

"The association between Chas F Thackray Ltd, of Leeds, and John (later Professor Sir John) Charnley, began in 1947 and lasted until Charnley's death in 1982. It is one of the great partnerships between medicine and commerce.

"Charnley was a highly skilled orthopaedic surgeon and his total hip replacement procedure, developed in the 1960s, has benefited hundreds of thousands of patients.

"This object is known as a 'femoral component prosthesis' and is made of stainless steel. It was fitted into the top of the thigh-bone and the ball-joint engaged in a hollow dome in the pelvis, enabling the leg to articulate.

"This type is the 'Mark 1 Standard', etched on the stem as 'MK 1S' and is one of three initial designs devised by Charnley. The ball-joint's diameter 7/8" was favoured by Charnley as giving few problems resulting from wear through friction."

Astbury's camera (University of Leeds)

"Knowledge of the double helical structure of DNA is the basis of modern molecular biology and a range of applications, scientific, medical and forensic have grown up around it.

"The discovery of the DNA double helix was made in 1953 by James Watson, Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins. But they were dependent on the work of X-ray crystallographers, skilled in the taking and interpretation of patterns created when X-rays diffract though biological fibres in crystalline form.

"William Astbury, who coined the phrase 'molecular biology', pioneered X-ray studies of this kind at the University of Leeds throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The camera featured here was used in the 1930s to take the first X-ray photographs of DNA, in a collaboration between Astbury and his student Florence Bell."

English Bronze Ewer (Leeds City Museum)

"It is amazing that this 14th century English jug was rediscovered at the Asante court in the late 19th century (modern-day Ghana). We do not know how it came to be there but we can guess that it was traded over long distances as a stunning piece of bronze work, either as a diplomatic gift or as war booty.

"Maybe it went all the way from England to the Crusades, and then along the coast of North Africa, before crossing the Sahara to one of the ancient sub-saharan African kingdoms, and then later down to the Akan kingdom of the Asante.

"This jug was taken from the Asante royal palace by the Prince of Wales Own Regiment in 1896. It is one of three similar jugs preserved as sacred vessels by the Asante. "

If you have an object with a story to tell you can contact BBC Leeds

Or you can add your object to the A History of the World website



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