‘Shields Lass’ to ‘Land Girl’ – guest post by placement student Christina Hamilton

During my time at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery as a history volunteer, I have come across some wonderful items. My favourite item was a Women’s Land Army and Timber Corps badge for a woman named Frances Blackburn (nee Shone). Although objects alone are lovely to work with, it is always nice when you get to know about its past and the people associated with it. The badge was especially interesting as the daughter-in-law of the owner was the person who donated the item, along with a newspaper article about her mother in law, Frances Blackburn, and her time as a ‘Land Girl’ in the Women’s Land Army (WLA).

Frances Blackburn, Women's Land Army. Taken from the newspaper clipping sent in with the badge.

Frances Blackburn, Women’s Land Army. Taken from the newspaper clipping sent in with the badge.

The Women’s Land Army

The Women’s Land Army was a civilian organisation which allowed women to take over agricultural work when the men left for war, during the First and Second World War. These woman were known as ‘Land Girls’.

Shields Lass

Frances was born in South Shields on Brabourne Street in November 1905 and died at the age of 102 in 2008, making her one of the oldest ‘Land Girls’. She went to Stanhope Road School and when she was a young women she worked in service for a family who ran a brickwork company in Boldon.

Land Girl

The newspaper article that accompanied the badge and certificate gave detail into the life of Frances Blackburn and her time in the Women’s Land Army. The article states that she became a land girl in 1943, during the Second World War, working on farms and other jobs on the land to replace the men who worked them, after they left to fight for their country.

Medal and Certificate

In 2008, her daughter in law applied on her behalf to receive a medal for her efforts as a ‘Land Girl’ which she received, accompanied by a certificate from the Prime Minister at the time, Gordon Brown. The certificate states;

The Government wishes to express to you its profound gratitude for your unsparing efforts as a loyal and devoted member of the Women’s Land Army/Women’s Timber Corps at a time when our Country depended upon you for its survival’.

The certificate to Frances, signed by Gordon Brown

The certificate to Frances, signed by Gordon Brown

The badge awarded to Frances Blackburn

The badge awarded to Frances Blackburn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Women’s Land Army

Obviously a very caring woman, after Frances left the Land Army, she stayed home to look after her ill mother, and when she died, Frances started working at Harton Dye Works, close to home in South Shields, until she married in 1964. In the article, Mrs Samanjoul said that Frances used to say, ‘what will be will be, always look on the bright side and keep the faith’ and she said that ‘nothing ever fazed her in life’.

Frances Blackburn certainly is a heroine of South Shields.

Frances Blackburn on her 100th birthday. Taken from the newspaper clipping sent in with the badge.

Frances Blackburn on her 100th birthday. Taken from the newspaper clipping sent in with the badge.

Happy Birthday to you….in 1942! – guest post by placement student Christina Hamilton

I am a museum studies master’s student, volunteering at the Discovery Museum for my work based placement as part of my Semester three module, ‘Museum, professional practice and research’.  During my time here I have been accessioning objects and adding them onto the online collections. During this process, I came across a collection of birthday cards from 1942, sent to a woman named Gladys Harrison to celebrate her 21st birthday; these included postcards and three telegrams.

Gladys Harrison

Gladys Harrison

Postcard to Gladys from her mother and father for her 21st birthday

Postcard to Gladys from her mother and father for her 21st birthday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gladys was born 15 March 1921 and died in 2016 at the age of 95. As the address on the telegrams and postcards suggest, she seems to have lived at Cullercoats at the time of her 21st birthday.

My 21st Birthday Key

My 21st Birthday Key

Whilst examining these, I happened to notice that many of them had a key adorning the cover. I thought this was interesting as I remember for my 21st birthday I received a key; rather than appearing on a birthday card it came in the form of plastic tat alongside a similarly tacky, plastic champagne flute. However, I’m sure the symbolism was well intended in its purchase and delivery, but I must admit that it was quite lost on me. I assume my mind was distracted by the thought of going out that night to celebrate. But now, three years later, the novelty of my 21st has worn off and I find myself referring back to this gift and comparing it to what I see displayed on these beautiful cards. The symbolism, I can assume in the images I see, whilst associated with special birthdays, also are related to wishing someone good luck and happiness, as can be translated by the horseshoes and messages of well-wishing strategically placed around the key.

21st birthday card to Gladys Harrison from 'Mr & Mrs Penney & Molly@

21st birthday card to Gladys Harrison from ‘Mr & Mrs Penney & Molly@

 

My particular favourite of Gladys’ 21st birthday cards is a white, red and silver card with a cheeky little cat jumping out of a flower basket. It is strange to see the message ‘To wish you good luck’ with a picture of a horseshoe, a symbol of luck, next to an image of a black cat, which are usually considered a symbol of bad luck. But the card is very sweet and clearly sent with the best of intentions.

After a bit of research on the subject I discovered that the ‘key’ was more than a symbol of good luck. The key is meant to represent a ‘key to the door’, what once would have been offered as a rite of passage, reaching the age of adulthood, the age of which it was appropriate for the recipient to freely come and go without parental consent. In this case, that age was 21, the age in which a person would be considered old enough to own their own key to their place of residence.

As my interest had been caught by the topic, I searched the museum’s collections for similar pieces and found more, all sent to celebrate a 21st birthday. One of the most interesting pieces I found on my search was a beautiful, large wooden key made at Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson’s in Wallsend in 1953, for a co-worker’s 21st birthday. It was apparently tradition for the joiners there to make these keys for the 21st birthdays of the women employees; this particular key was made for a woman named Margaret Nicholson who was the company’s secretary. To celebrate her birthday, they had a tea party in the office and after work they went to the pub. Unfortunately, poor Margaret was refused entry as she was said to have looked under 21. There is a message on the front of the key, ‘‘Margaret’ and ‘June 30th 1953’ and they have all signed the back, like they would inside a card. This is the only piece in the collections that I could find that replicates a birthday ‘key to the door’ in 3D form. Other examples of 21st birthday cards can be found in the collections such as these in the image below.

Margaret's 21st Birthday Key, front

Margaret’s 21st Birthday Key, front

Back

Back

A large number of Gladys’ birthday cards display an image of a key. Despite my experience of the tradition, it seems to be a dying trend, as my visit to various card shops discovered. Although cards with a key present are available, their numbers seem to be dwindling, and although the odd shop may still sell keys to give as gifts, they seem to be a rare find. The buyer would probably have more luck buying online than finding them on the high street.

Another 21st birthday card from the museum collections

21st birthday card from the museum collections

Another 21st birthday card from the museum collections

21st birthday card from the museum collections

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In honour of Gladys’ and Margaret’s 21st Birthday, although very belated, here is the chorus from a song written in 1912 by Alec Kendal called ‘I’m Twenty One Today’:

“I’m twenty-one today!
Twenty-one today!
I’ve got the key of the door!
Never been twenty-one before!
And father says I can do what I like!
So shout Hip-hip-hooray!
I’m a jolly good fellow,
Twenty-one today.”

(For the full set of lyrics see: http://monologues.co.uk/musichall/Songs-I/Im-Twenty-One-Today.htm)

Happy Birthday Gladys and Margaret!

Paul Nash, artist of powerful First World War paintings

Paul Nash, 'We are making a new world', 1918, © IWM (Art.IWM ART 1146) http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/20070

Paul Nash, ‘We are making a new world’, 1918, (Art.IWM ART 1146) © IWM
http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/20070

The fighting in the Ypres Salient in 1917 and the aftermath of the Battle of Passchendaele had a major effect on Paul Nash, and also made a big impact on his art. We are Making a New World is one of his most powerful paintings of the war, showing the sun rising on a scene of devastation. Red clouds symbolise the blood-letting, and the blasted trees stand for the dead soldiers. In addition, the semi-regular pattern of hillocks of mud carries a suggestion of graves. This picture was the centrepiece of Nash’s exhibition Void of War in 1918. Nash’s symbolic use of landscape (rather than showing dead soldiers) was admired at the time as a means of showing the ‘truth’ of war. We are Making a New World and other First World War paintings by Nash can be seen in the Laing’s new exhibition, Paul Nash, touring from Tate.

Paul Nash by Bassano Ltd, 29 April 1918, NPG x4084 © National Portrait Gallery, London https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

Paul Nash by Bassano Ltd, 29 April 1918, NPG x4084 © National Portrait Gallery, London https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

Nash arrived on the Western Front in February 1917 as a second-lieutenant with the Hampshire Regiment. At first he was stationed in a quiet sector and was struck by the green burst of spring where there had only recently been a shell-scarred wood. However, he subsequently experienced the desperate fighting taking place in the Ypres Salient (and also suffered from the effects of gas, which damaged his asthmatic lungs). The sights he saw at the front line at the Battle of Passchendaele traumatised him. He described it as ‘one huge grave, and cast up on it the poor dead’. In his letter to his wife in November 1917, he went on to say:

It is unspeakable, godless, hopeless. I am no longer an artist interested and curious. I am a messenger who will bring back word from men fighting to those who want the war to last forever. Feeble, inarticulate will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth and may it burn their lousy souls.

The Landscape, Hill 60 (Art.IWM ART 1155) Image: a battle scarred landscape with a small lake surrounded by hills. The water has been disturbed by multiple hits and smoke rises from explosions. A few biplanes are engaged in a dogfight in the sky above. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/20080

Paul Nash, ‘The Landscape, Hill 60’, 1918 (Art.IWM ART 1155)  © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/20080

The Ypres Salient includes Hill 60, which Nash depicted in this watercolour. Hill 60 gave artillery observers a good view over the flat land around Ypres, and it was fought over throughout the war. Nash’s picture shows a huge mine crater on the hill, with shellfire sending up a mass of waterspouts. The criss-cross patterns Nash has scratched in the paint perhaps represent scattered sheets of expanded wire from destroyed trenches, or paths up the steep sides of the cratered earth. Nash narrowly avoided being involved in an attack on Hill 60 that killed many fellow soldiers in his regiment. That particular attack, in August 1917, took place while Nash was away in England recovering from injuries from falling into a trench.

Hill_60_Ypres_Belgium_15_-_1917_deep_mine_crater_Hill_60

Hill 60, Ypres, Belgium. Deep mine crater from 1917. By ViennaUK – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40261479

Many mines were used in the constant struggles to take Hill 60, and the land remains heavily cratered. The remains of many British, Australian and German soldiers still lie in the ground (just as there are soldiers’ remains all over the Western Front), and there are several memorials in the Battlefield Park. This photograph from inside a large mine crater from 1917 on Hill 60 is from this battlefield tour site, and there are also details of Hill 60 here. Nash’s horror at the slaughter of the war prompted him to paint a rare watercolour showing dead soldiers in the ruined landscape, which is also in the exhibition.

'Ypres Salient at Night' b Paul Nash, 1918.© IWM (Art.IWM ART 1145) http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/20069

Paul Nash, ‘Ypres Salient at Night’, 1918. (Art.IWM ART 1145) © IWM
http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/20069

The Battle of Passchendaele (July to November 1917) was still raging when Nash returned to the Ypres Salient at the end of October 1917, this time as an official war artist. In his picture The Ypres Salient at Night, Nash conveys the disorientating effects of night combat as a star shell bursts over the zig-zag front line, causing the sentries to duck their heads to protect their night vision. Here, the ‘trench’ is raised, not dug in, because of surface water in this low-lying area. The earth walls are supported by frameworks of timber and expanded wire, with a base of curved corrugated iron.

The Ypres Salient at Night was also included in Nash’s Void of War exhibition in 1918. The powerful pictures in the exhibition brought Nash a commission from the Government to produce a large painting as a memorial to the soldiers who fought and died in the war. This is The Menin Road, 1918-19. Nash chose to paint one of the most dangerous spots on the Western Front, located on the main route from the city of Menin to the city of Ypres. Its dangers meant that it was almost deserted in daylight.

Menin Road

Paul Nash, ‘The Menin Road’, 1918-19, (Art.IWM ART 2242) © IWM http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/20087

In this huge painting, Nash used a fractured style influenced by Cubism and Vorticism to express the devastation of the landscape. Searchlights slash the sky, and the scene is fragmented by diagonal black shadows. Sharp-edged sheets of corrugated iron and angular concrete blocks from a destroyed trench or military post litter the earth. In the distance, columns of mud shoot up as shells explode. The only figures are a couple of soldiers in the centre of the composition, and another pair following on much further back, all of them almost lost in the huge panorama of desolation. Solid-looking dark clouds, infused with dust and smoke, add to the sense of menace. Comparing Nash’s painting with a well-known photograph of a similar scene from October 1917, we can see the way Nash has organised and patterned the landscape to create the effect he wanted. It’s also clear how he relied on the landscape itself, rather than figures, to represent the effects of war.

Australian gunners on a duckboard track in Château Wood near Hooge, 29 October 1917. Photo by Frank Hurley. Image: Collection Database of the Australian War Memorial, ID Number: E01220

Australian gunners on a duckboard track in Château Wood near Hooge, 29 October 1917. Photo by Frank Hurley. Image: Collection Database of the Australian War Memorial, ID Number: E01220

Even after Paul Nash returned home in 1918, the war was not completely over for him. Like many of the soldiers returning from the war, he suffered post-traumatic stress and depression. Echoes of the battlefront trenches and fortifications carried over into landscape paintings and coastal views he painted on the south coast of England in the 1920s.

Paul Nash is on show at the Laing Art Gallery from 9 September to 14 January.

First World War Talks at the Laing

18 October, 12.30-1.15pm: Paul Nash and Landscapes of the First World War in Literature, with Ann-Marie Einhaus of Northumbria University

29 November, 12.30-1.15pm: “The Personnel of Armageddon”: Politicians and Artists, 1914-1919, with Martin Farr of Newcastle University [@martinjohnfarr]

First World War paintings in the Paul Nash exhibition

Paul Nash 1889–1946, Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood, 1917, 1918,  IWM (Imperial War Museums)

Paul Nash 1889–1946, We Are Making a New World, 1918, IWM (Imperial War Museums)

Paul Nash 1889–1946, Wounded, Passchendaele, 1918, Manchester City Galleries

Paul Nash 1889–1946, The Ypres Salient at Night, 1918, IWM (Imperial War Museums)

Paul Nash 1889–1946, The Landscape Hill 60, 1918, IWM (Imperial War Museums)

Paul Nash 1889–1946, After the Battle, 1918, IWM (Imperial War Museums)

Paul Nash 1889–1946, The Menin Road, 1918-19, IWM (Imperial War Museums)

 

Toys in the TWAM Collections – guest post by placement student Gemma Ashby

I’m a Museum Studies student on placement here at Discovery as part of my Masters course. Some of the work I have been doing has involved looking at the presence of women and girls within the TWAM collections, in particular the social history collections. As part of this, I spent a lot time going through the toys and dolls collection housed at Discovery Museum.

Whilst there were some weird and wonderful items, what was immediately obvious was the great difference between the toys of the past compared to the toys of today. So many of the toys available today are highly gendered, split between a typical option of blue for boys and pink for girls.

I noticed that many of the older toys in the collection at Discovery were not gender specific: their colours, and that of their packaging, were full of primary colours and a lot of the boxes featured boys and girls evenly. When compared to some of the modern toys in the collection, the differences in the message being sent to the children and young people who these toys were designed for was obvious. For instance: two Lego sets collected were very clearly designed to be for girls and boys respectively. The one for girls is purple and pink and creates a hair salon, whilst the set for boys is blue and creates a fire rescue scene, complete with firemen.

LEGO toy set (TWCMS2015.2022)

LEGO toy set (TWCMS2015.2022)

LEGO toy sets (TWCMS2015_2023)

LEGO toy set (TWCMS2015_2023)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think that the best example for showing how toys have developed, however, is through dolls. Many of the older dolls focused on representations of different cultures, of different historical figures, or were traditional baby dolls.

Barbie doll (TWCMS: 2000.3712)

Barbie doll (TWCMS: 2000.3712)

In contrast, many of the contemporary dolls available to children are designed to focus on their appearance and are highly unrepresentative. Everybody knows about Barbie dolls; the brand, focused on the doll and her famous pink accessories, is instantly recognisable. But did you know that if Barbie’s proportions were that of a real person, her leg length would make her seven-feet-tall, her chest would be double the size of her waist and her feet would not be able to support the weight and size of her own body?

It is only in the last year, due to increasing pressure from the public, that Mattel have brought out a range of dolls with different body types, in ‘curvy’, ‘tall’ and ‘petite’, although other dolls are still referred to as being ‘original’. However, other dolls, like the Bratz doll in the TWAM collection, focus on unrealistic body standards for young girls. This particular series of dolls is based around their ability to ‘take selfies’ and their appearances.

Bratz ‘Selfie’ doll (TWCMS: 2015.2044)

Bratz ‘Selfie’ doll (TWCMS: 2015.2044)

 

But what about Ken and Action Man? A lot of the male toys available set fairly damaging standards for boys too. Mattel also brought out a series of alternative Ken dolls only within the last year to match their range of Barbie doll options. However, Action Man is typically paired with a series of weapons and is always shown to be large and muscly.

 

 

Action Man doll (TWCMS_2009_4255-b)

Action Man doll (TWCMS_2009_4255-b)

Action Man doll (TWCMS 2006.6175 (2))

Action Man doll (TWCMS 2006.6175 (2))Many of the Action Man dolls are made to be able to be moved at all of the joints, whereas Barbie’s can often only be moved at the arms, leg and head. One doll is clearly meant for activity, whereas the other’s movement is only to facilitate being dressed.

 

So what kind of message does this send to children? Many of these toys reinforce to girls that they should focus on their appearance over their other attributes, whereas many of the toys for boys teaches them that they must be active and masculine.

It is this kind of harmful message that Discovery Museum is combating with its learning series, Tiny Sparks. The sessions focus on utilising inspirational females, from areas such as engineering, medicine and technology, to provide role models for both young girls and boys. With such low numbers of young women applying to take up STEM qualifications and careers, Tiny Sparks is helping give children the confidence in their intelligence needed to succeed in these areas.
Keep your eyes peeled for the next series of Tiny Sparks sessions, held at the Discovery Museum…

Tiny Sparks, Discovery Museum

Tiny Sparks, Discovery Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More information:

Let Toys Be Toys is a national campaign which combats gendered toys, as well as gendered displays within shops. For more information visit their website: http://lettoysbetoys.org.uk/

For more information about the gendering of toys in the last few decades, have a look at Elizabeth Sweet’s Tedx talk on the gendering of toys in the last few decades: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdHJGH97vyo

On Placement at Discovery Museum – guest post by placement student Gemma Ashby

My name is Gemma Ashby and I have just completed a work placement at the Discovery Museum. I am currently a postgraduate student at Newcastle University, working towards my MA in Museum Studies, which I will graduate from in December this year.

I’ve been working at Discovery Museum for the last seven weeks and it’s fair to say I’ve had an amazing experience whilst I’ve been here, and the time seems to have flown by. I have learnt an incredible amount and thought it would be good to share some of those things, as well as some of the often understated work Discovery Museum is undertaking at the moment.

I have been working predominantly with the Keeper of Contemporary Collecting and it’s been so interesting to see what kind of things the museum is collecting in order to represent our current time, in the future. It’s great to think about what museum staff in the future will make of things that we take for granted as being commonplace now. That’s why you’ll find everything from Dominos pizza boxes to Elsa dolls from Frozen, as well as items like protest placards used in marches across Newcastle, within the collections now.

Singalong Elsa doll, TWCMS: 2015.2043

Singalong Elsa doll, (TWCMS: 2015.2043)

Newcastle Protest placard (TWCMS: 2017.277)

Newcastle Protest placard (TWCMS: 2017.277)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right now, it’s a very exciting time for the future of Discovery Museum. While I’ve been here on placement, it was announced that the museum has received Esmee Fairbairn funding, allowing it to create a women’s collection and festival of events, exploring issues of gender inequality and revealing women within the largely industrial and technological collections. Part of my placement has involved me finding and researching objects pertaining to women within Discovery’s collections that otherwise may not have been brought out of the stores. Keep your eyes peeled for further information on the exhibition and events that will come from the project in the next year – it’s set to be great!

Some of the objects I’ve been looking at:

Bus conductress (TWCMS: 2000.5151)

Bus conductress (TWCMS: 2000.5151)

1860s corset (TWCMS: G1054)

1860s corset (TWCMS: G1054)

WWII poster encouraging women to ‘Join the Wrens’ – the Women’s Royal Navy Service (TWCMS: 2015.1524)

WWII poster encouraging women to ‘Join the Wrens’ – the Women’s Royal Navy Service (TWCMS: 2015.1524)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From January onwards, Discovery Museum has been creating a temporary display, the ‘intervention’ wall, based in the main Turbinia Hall on the ground floor. The initial display focused on the topic of the Newcastle Protest in response to Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ and asked visitors who was welcome in Newcastle. During my time here I’ve been able to work on the production of some evaluative material on the display, addressing all of the responses left by visitors. It’s been great to see just how many people engaged with the museum on this topic (both in person and online) and to think about how many conversations may have potentially been started by one simple question.

Newcastle Protest installation, Discovery Museum

Newcastle Protest installation, Discovery Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discovery followed this up with an display regarding International Women’s Day and the topic of gender equality. Again, visitors were encouraged to answer questions about what the world would be like if men and women were completely equal. Currently, the intervention wall features a display based on the global issue of displacement, which tied into the If You Lived Here… events programme at Discovery which involved a UNHCR shelter being placed on Discovery Plaza. The installation asks visitors what they would pack into a bag to survive should they need to flee their home. If you’re planning on visiting Discovery anytime soon, definitely make sure to visit the installation and leave your thoughts.

Who Runs The World intervention wall

Gender equality intervention wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If You Lived Here, Discovery Museum

If You Lived Here, Discovery Museum

I think it’s very interesting to see how Discovery Museum is interpreting its place within current society and ensuring it continues to be relevant by representing its diverse audiences. I’d love to know if anyone had any opinions on what they believe museums should be displaying and what kind of work they should carry out?

Overall, I’ve learnt a lot in the last seven weeks: from accessioning placards from the Newcastle Protest into the collection, to researching some of the most incredible female scientists and engineers from across the UK for upcoming learning programmes. I’ve learnt how easy it is to get lost in the basement and attic stores of the museum and how many weird and wonderful things there are in them. I’ve got to see how hard staff work to continue to be able to deliver their projects and events, and how much planning it takes to make these successful.

Above all, I’ve learnt why it’s important that Discovery Museum keeps on doing what it’s doing, because it has so many incredible things happening and is pioneering big ideas right here in the North East.