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South Yorkshire's History of the World
Italian miners sent food to show their support of the striking miners in South Yorkshire
Italian miners sent food to show their support of the 1984-5 Miners Strike

An exciting new collaboration between the BBC and the British Museum have created an online museum of world history.

From armour plating for battleships, to Italian sugar in support of the Miners Strike, South Yorkshire can certainly be said to have played its own unique part in the history of the world.

Now the county's role in history is being revealed as part of a huge project - and we want you to help tell that story through your objects.

Curators from museums in Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield have chosen objects from their own collections to tell the history and story of South Yorkshire as part of A History of the World.

At the same time, BBC Radio 4 is taking a look into the stories behind 100 objects in the British Museum over the next year.

In the end it is hoped that - with help from the British Museum and museums across the UK - we can create the world's biggest online museum.

South Yorkshire's objects

The oldest piece in South Yorkshire's list of objects is a silver coin which dates from 1066 - the year of the last successful conquest of England. The most recent is a group of necklaces brought to Sheffield by a Burmese refugee in recent years.

Kim Streets, Director of Learning & Knowledge at Museums Sheffield, helped choose the final list:

"We have tens of thousands of objects in South Yorkshire's museums - collections of archaeology, natural and social history, decorative and visual arts - all sorts.

"We had to whittle the long list down to 10 objects. They have to be man-made with a real story to tell, and we wanted them to represent the people of South Yorkshire - their endeavour, skill, determination, family, industry and community."

1066 coins, a painting by Canaletto and a Sheffield-made knife with a Native American Indian sheath
1066 coin, painting by Canaletto, and Sheffield knife with a Native American sheath

The 1066 coin could have been looted by King Harold II's army when they were fighting Harald Hardrada and the Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. It then may have been dropped near Conisbrough when King Harold II's army rushed down the Great North Road to Hastings on their way to fight William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

An important piece in the art collection at Barnsley's Cannon Hall Museum is one of the later works by Italian artist Canaletto, called Capriccio: A Colonnade Opening. It dates from the 1760s and came to Cannon Hall as part of the William Harvey Bequest in 2003. William Harvey was a 19th century Barnsley businessman who made his fortune in the linen industry.

Representing Sheffield's cutlery industry is an object which travelled the world and came back again. A knife made in Sheffield in the early 1800s was exported to America and traded to the North American Indian Sioux tribe before being collected again and brought back to Sheffield by John Stuart Wortley (2nd Baron of Wharncliffe, based at Wortley Hall) during his travels in the 1850s.

The Rhinoceros Vase, the 1864 Flood Bible and the River Don Engine
The Rhinoceros Vase, the 1864 Flood Bible and the River Don Engine

Rotherham has the Rhinoceros Vase, a huge and gaudy item which was claimed to be the largest piece of porcelain fired in one piece in England. It was made in 1826 at the Rockingham Works near Swinton and represents the important ceramics industry in the area.

When floods hit South Yorkshire in July 2007, two people died and thousands of people were made homeless. Sheffield's museum collections were also flooded, including a Bible which was given to a family who lost their belongings in 1864 when the Dale Dyke reservoir north-west of Sheffield burst its banks and many people died.

By far the largest object on South Yorkshire's list is the River Don Engine, a 12,000 horse power engine built in 1905 which now takes up three storeys at Kelham Island Industrial Museum in Sheffield. The engine powered a rolling mill to produce armour plate for battleships, and in later years made the heavy plate for oil rigs and reactor shields. It represents the central part that Sheffield's industry played in Britain's history and economy.

The bronze by Jagger, the Doncaster rail painting by Cuneo, and beads from a Burmese refugee
Bronze by Jagger, Doncaster rail painting by Cuneo, and beads from a Burmese refugee

Rotherham Museum holds a bronze figure of a World War I soldier, created by local sculptor Charles Sargent Jagger who was born in 1885 at Kilnhurst near Rotherham. Jagger sculpted many other war memorials, including for the Royal Artillery Memorial in Hyde Park.

Giants Refreshed is a painting at Doncaster Museum by steam rail artist Terence Cuneo. Cuneo was commissioned by LNER to depict the inside of Doncaster Locomotive Works (known as The Plant) in 1947 for a set of publicity posters. Many world-famous engines - including the Mallard and the Flying Scotsman - were built in Doncaster.

2009 was the 25th anniversary of the 1984-5 Miners Strike, a year-long struggle between the National Union of Miners, and Margaret Thatcher's Tory government. The strike elicited support from people across Britain and from across the world. A sugar bag is one of the objects on the South Yorkshire list; it was sent by Italian miners as part of a food consignment for striking miners at Bentley Colliery, to show their sympathy.

The most contemporary item on South Yorkshire's list is a collection of colourful bead necklaces brought to Sheffield by a refugee from Burma called Ruby. Ruby and her family came to the city in 2006 and these necklaces remind her of the journey she made - via a refugee camp in Thailand - which led to her new life in Sheffield.

Add your object to the collection

Over the coming weeks and months we want you to help the BBC create an online museum by adding your objects which help tell A History of the World.

Kim Streets of Museums Sheffield
Kim Streets of Museums Sheffield helped choose the initial objects

South Yorkshire's museums will also be adding plenty more objects, as Kim Streets explains: "Just fom my experience of Museums Sheffield's collection I can think of lots of immensely powerful objects which give me a real shiver to think about them.

"One of these objects is a pair of small, pink, fluffy rabbit slippers donated to Weston Park Museum in the 1980s. The lady who donated the slippers was given them when she was pregnant but she never had occasion to use them as she had a little boy and never a girl," says Kim.

"Behind them is a story of human life and family. I find them very powerful and lots of other parents will connect with them too.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what people nominate too, not just objects in our museums but things they have in their homes, on the streets, everywhere around us are objects which tell fabulous stories."

On the BBC

BBC Radio Sheffield will be adding to the History of the World project too. Each week, Gareth Evans finds out the story behind one of the South Yorkshire objects, while Rony Robinson is looking for your objects for his Show and Tell feature. Tell Rony about your object by contacting the programme.

Gareth Evans added a railway badge as his BBC History of the World object: "It was from a collection of railway badges I had when I was about 10. Some of the badges were donkeys years old - this one is quite modern but what it depicts for me is the sad end of an industry that historically was as synonymous with South Yorkshire as mining and steel.

British Rail InterCity APT badge, 1980s
Gareth Evans' British Rail InterCity APT badge, 1980s

"The badge depicts the Advanced Passenger Train, British Rail's tilting High Speed Train which was developed in the 1970s. It was much trumpeted at the turn of the decade as the future of rail travel and then it was promptly abandoned in July 1986 when C.F. Booths in Rotherham scrapped several vehicles from the APT fleet."

Rony Robinson's knitted character, made by a listener
Rony Robinson's knitted character, made by a listener

Rony Robinson's object was a knitted version of him, made by a listener in 2000. Rony Robinson has been a presenter on BBC Radio Sheffield since the early 1980s and in that time he has broadcast thousands of important events and heard thousands of stories from his listeners. The knitted Rony 'mini-me' is complete with microphone and headphones as well as his trademark beard and waistcoat. The Rony teddy represents the special relationship Rony, and the rest of BBC Local Radio - has with its listeners.

The BBC Radio 4 series runs throughout the year, looking at 100 objects from the British Museum. At Easter, a BBC Inside Out documentary looks into the most important objects from across Yorkshire, and how they shaped the history and development of the county.

To find out about all 10 South Yorkshire objects, and hundreds from the rest of the country, go to the BBC A History of the World website. You will also be able to add your own objects to the digital museum.

Listen: Ruby Zan's Burmese necklace
04 Mar 10 |  History


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