It’s that time of year when Manchester Museum hosts visits from Curators participating in the British Museum’s International Curators Training Programme. In previous years I have co-ordinated the curators’ stay in Manchester but this year I handed over to colleagues Campbell Price and Stephen Welsh to take the lead. My contribution was to take the international curators to York for the day. York is a premier destination for anyone interested in history and archaeology and must have more archaeological attractions per square mile than anywhere else in the UK. An opportunity to see Roman and Medieval museum collections and still standing architecture is not to be passed up easily.
Christine and I met the curators at York Railway Station just after 10am and we walked over to Lendel Bridge where we had a coffee. The international curators are from India, Pakistan and Armenia. Just over the road is the Yorkshire Museum. We spent a very interesting hour in the museum looking at the Roman and Medieval displays. The staff there were very helpful and one of the Visitor Assistants in the extinction gallery gave us a lot of information about the Great Auk and its egg. I loved the simple but effective display of a Thylacine skull behind a transparency mounted on the inside of the glass of the display case showing the animal when it was alive. A similar interest in facial reconstruction was evident in the archaeology galleries although for some reason only photographs of the faces of York people from various times in history were on show. And the facial reconstruction of Richard III had moved on since my last visit. A portrait of Richard III was recently selected for the British Museum’s Teaching History with 100 Objects initiative. We had an interesting discussion about revenue generation whilst we were in the galleries and noted the somewhat exploitative placing of a dispenser for fossil shark’s teeth in the fossisl gallery to tap the children’s pocket money.
Wasn’t this like placing a display of sweets next to the tills in a supermarket?
We called in briefly at York Minster but the entrance fee was rather prohibitive for the amount of time we had to spend and we moved on quite quickly for a photo call with the statue of Constantine the Great outside. We had lunch in a small cafe on Goodramgate nearby.
After lunch we made our way via the Shambles to the Yorvik Centre. It is always a great treat to sit in one of the cars and travel through the recreation of life in Viking York. I somehow think the animatronics distracts from the serious work of historical and archaeological reconstruction, making it seem more like a tacky Santa’s Grotto. the displays don’t take themselves too seriously and there was much hilarity as we passed the Viking man sitting on the toilet complete with sound effects and smells!
Clifford’s Tower is just a short walk away and although the staff weren’t able to offer us any discount (the Yorkshire Museum generously waived the entrance fee altogether) the 360 degree views of York from the top of the rampart more than made up for the dent it made in our purses. Again commercialism was on display with plastic knight’s swords and shields on display in the shop inside the tower. Somehow it seemed incongruous in the historic Medieval setting. I tried to explain that in this age of austerity with a reduction in that grants that English Heritage receives from government there is more emphasis on income generation, but the International Curators felt it detracted from the architecture and historical surroundings. It was nearly 4pm and we left our international curator guests to explore the centre of York for an hour or two themselves before they caught the train up to Newcastle, where they were staying overnight en route to Edinburgh. And a good time was had by all.