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A History of North Yorkshire in 10 objects

By Carole Green
BBC York & North Yorkshire

The Middleham Jewel
Choosing just 10 objects from North Yorkshire's museums was difficult

A History of the World is a unique partnership between the British Museum, the BBC and museums across the world.

It celebrates objects which have a story to tell; even the most ordinary things can have the most extraordinary stories.

BBC York & North Yorkshire and museums across the county have produced a list of 10 objects that tell A History of the World for North Yorkshire - with stories that not only have an interesting local significance but also have an international connection.

Given the vast numbers of wonderful objects in more than 50 museums in North Yorkshire, the unenviable task of choosing just 10 fell to Mary Kershaw, the former Director of Collections at York Museums Trust.

Cocoa tim
Even the most ordinary objects can tell an extraordinary story

She says it was very difficult to decide which objects should make it into the 'top 10':

"We had such a wonderful group submitted and they all had wonderful stories so it was really hard. In the end what we decided to do was look at something that had a bit of a time frame, so we span from Ancient Egypt through to the Second World War, and things that each told a slightly different story.

"What I was trying to think of was what are the star items we have in North Yorkshire collections but also what of those collections connect us to other parts of the world, other cultures or other times."

Mary tells us a little about each object and why she choose it:

Head of Constantine

"The sculpture of the head of the Roman Emperor Constantine is a likeness of a Roman emperor who was actually declared emperor in the City of York. Constantine was a remarkable person with a remarkable association to York and this object was actually found in the city so that really is why it was a winner for us.

The York Helmet

"If I had to choose only one item from all of North Yorkshire, it would be the York Helmet because it is so complete, it is so enigmatic. It has a man's name on it, a wonderful inscription and it's a beautiful thing. When you look at it, you can see someone actually wearing it, so in terms of being in touch with those times it's just stunning.

Egyptian mask

"The Ancient Egyptian mask is in the shape of the jackal-headed god Anubis, and would have been worn by a priest during the ceremony of mummification. But it came to Harrogate's collections through the most unlikely source. Local farmer, 'Benny' Kent and his father were both collectors of antiquities and they amassed this amazing collection, much of it Egyptian material, including this marvellous mask that as far as I understand is unique in the world.

A Rowntree's Cocoa tin

"The tin of Rowntree's Cocoa might not look like much but the handwritten note with it describes why it's in A History of the World. This Rowntree's Cocoa tin from York travelled with Sir Ernest Shackleton on his Antarctica expedition and then made it's way back to York!

Faberge cufflinks
Faberge cufflinks
How did Faberge cufflinks from Russia come to be in Harrogate?

"The Faberge cufflinks are stunning. They're from the Imperial Russian workshop but why they're in a North Yorkshire story is because they were given by the Tsarina of Russia to a young Harrogate lad. The Tsarina had visited Harrogate when she was engaged to the Tsar and she stayed in a boarding house. The lady who ran the boarding house gave birth to twins. The Tsarina being a superstitious lady took this as a good omen for her forthcoming marriage and decided she would like to be Godmother to the twins. She stayed in touch with them and these cuff links went to Nicholas the boy twin and were given to the museum by Nicholas's grandson, who felt that they should have a place back in Harrogate where they were given.

The Middleham Jewel

"The Middleham Jewel is really special because it has so many different stories associated with it: How it was found by metal detectorists; the designs and beautiful artistry on it; the valuable materials it's made of and where they came from; then what it actually was. We believe it was a reliquary. Someone would have kept holy relics in it, which might have been to protect that person in childbirth, so it's a wonderful object with many stories.

St William's Tomb Shrine

"The section of St William's Tomb Shrine is unusual in that it's the only tomb shrine in a museum in England. St William was a really important figure in York and had connections all over medieval Christendom. His shrine was the centrepiece of the Minster and the tomb itself is exquisitely carved with all sorts of wonderful figures, not just saintly figures but also figures of musicians and workmen; it's just a wonderful piece of medieval artistry.

Sketch of Captain Cook's ship

"I think if you think of Yorkshire and its connections to the rest of the world, Captain Cook has to be one of the people who spring to mind most, so I thought it was crucial to have something associated with him. The sketch of the Resolution by William Hodges, the official artist on the voyage of discovery, is such a charming piece, and a lovely reminder of that connection that we thought it had to be in.

Gold Viking arm ring
Viking arm ring
Sometimes beautiful objects turn up in the most unexpected places

"The gold arm ring from the Viking period is firstly a beautiful piece and also being Viking it has those connections with Scandinavia and York which are so well known. But this particular item I think earned its place because of the story of how it came to the museum. When a York builder passed away and his son and daughter came to clear his possessions, they found amongst his everyday items this fabulous arm ring, which they took into the museum and, after it went through the treasure process, they were able to acquire it.

Halifax bomber

The Halifax bomber is really unique, of more than 6,000 that were built originally not a single one survived, which is amazing. The Yorkshire Air Museum shortly after it opened started a restoration project and, largely through volunteers and voluntary effort, this bomber was rebuilt and now is a major attraction for them and people who flew these bombers. Unfortunately this object's worldwide connection is a war, but it is a connection that a lot of people in this county still remember very vividly."

To find out more about these objects and A History of the World, visit the website.


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