Venture Arts Venture Out

Venture Arts is an organisation renowned for providing high quality art workshops for adults and young people who have learning difficulties.

My name is Paul and I work for Venture Arts as a Support Assistant. Our volunteer experience came about from a phone call to Visitor Services supervisor Karen Brackenridge at Manchester Museum; we enquired as to whether it would be possible to undertake work experience so that we could learn what it would be like to work in a museum environment. Karen just so happened to be looking for volunteers to take part in an Enrichment Programme that she had created, so my phone call was exactly what she had been waiting for.

The programme allowed us to undertake a scheme of work which included an interview and induction day, how to prepare a gallery, helping others, learning about the Museum, Healthy and Safety, customer care/service, my favourite things, talking about my experience to friends and finally, social time.

                  Venture 1  Venture 2

Volunteer Comments

“I really enjoyed the work experience, as I had a genuine interest in Manchester Museum. I spent time researching coins, which was my favourite gallery. I got to know the staff and enjoyed the interaction. I was willing and very dedicated to taking on the role, as it made me feel good; I really liked seeing how busy museums are.”

“I found the work experience positive; I became involved with all tasks at hand, cleaning display cabinets, stocking up maps, and conducting health and safety checks; I loved helping out with the visitors.”

Venture 3

“Today I was able to see behind the scenes at Manchester Museum; I saw the crocodile mummy which looked quite ancient, and there was also a bison with its brown fluffy fur.  The Egyptian mummy was quite interesting to look at with its dazzling gold colours and its other colours like green and brown. There was the large stuffed alligator which was painted green.”

“Today I visited the conservation room and met the senior conservator; she told us all about the work that they do.”

We are working hard to establish and benchmark this scheme of work, which can be adapted and developed to meet the abilities of others with learning and physical disabilities; most importantly we aim to enhance a sense of personal achievement.

Art and the Modern Museum

A dead tiger shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde – museum exhibit or work of art?

I’m guessing the £8-million price tag for Damian Hirst’s infamous work (albeit a recreation) plonks it firmly in the vastly over-valued art world, but the point is that contemporary art and museums seem to be enjoying a cosier relationship than ever before.

Hirst even once said: “I always thought it would be great if art galleries were more like the Natural History Museum, where you go in and there’s this big wow factor, rather than having to ask yourself, ‘What am I supposed to be thinking?’”

And “traditional” museums have become venues where artists such as Grayson Perry want to display their works: “I wanted to find out how the context of such an august institution [the British Museum] affected the audience’s reaction to my art”.

Museum collections are also a major source of inspiration to many contemporary artists and the Visitor Services team regularly sees this in action on the galleries, so I thought I’d share some examples here.

George Burgess is a first-year photography student at Manchester Metropolitan University who visited Manchester Museum this month, seeking ideas and inspiration for an exhibition piece on the theme of ruins.

Below are some of the brilliant research photos he shot around the Museum and the Ancient Worlds displays in particular.

George Burgess

George Burgess

Visit George’s blog to see more of his research work.

Museums and their collections are also among the subjects of a new visual arts exhibition entitled Wundercamera, currently showing at Manchester’s Holden Gallery.

Mark Dion

Mark Dion

It features works exploring the nature of museum displays and includes photographs by Mark Dion, whose Bureau of the Centre for the Study of Surrealism and its Legacy installation once again proved a source of intense fascination to visitors of the recent Coral exhibition.

Traer Scott - Natural History

Traer Scott – Natural History

While visiting the gallery the pieces that really caught my eye were those of Traer Scott, who makes photographs of taxidermy displays in museums.

Scott puts the visitors right in the centre of her work by catching their reflections in the glass in order to merge “the living and the dead” – and thus juxtaposing tourists and tigers as here.

Feeling suitably inspired and creative after seeing all these great photographs, I went roaming around Manchester Museum on a mission to emulate Scott’s work in a single image.

Armed with a distinctly average digital camera and possessing (clearly) no photographic skills, I captured this meeting of minds on the Living Worlds gallery.

Maybe on your next visit to Manchester Museum you too could unleash your inner artist and see what you’re inspired to create – although I’m reliably informed shark pickling ain’t as easy as it looks.

And feel free to share the results of your artistic endeavours on the Living Worlds Flickr stream.

In the meantime, you can see how the professionals do it at the Holden Gallery on Cavendish Street, from now until May 9th (excluding April 14th – 27th when it’s closed for the Easter break).

The exhibition is free and is open Monday to Friday from 10am until 4.30pm and late nights on Thursdays until 7pm.

Holden Gallery

A Fistful of Dollars

I remember finding the first coin in my collection; I was nine-years-old and we had just moved into a new house where I found a filthy 10 pence coin from the Isle of Man. This led to me asking anyone who went abroad for their left over change to add to my collection.

Over the year I have collected quite a few interesting pieces, nearly all of which pale in comparison to what we have at the Museum and I would like to share a few of my favourites from the display with you.

Map of france

The first is this half penny token from 1794 Mocking France at the time of the French Revolution designed by a man called Thomas Spence. On closer  inspection you can see there’s honour trodden underfoot, the throne is overturned, glory is cast aside, religion shattered and divided, fire burns at every corner and daggers representing blood surround the country. On the back of the coin you can see a little play on words with “May Great Britain ever remain the reverse”.

The amusing thing I find about this coin is that in 1534 Henry VIII made a radical move separating the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. The other being the English Civil War, which ended in 1651 with the overthrowing of the throne, execution of King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell being placed as Protector of the Commonwealth.


This one is a 4 Daler coin from Sweden, and while this doesn’t look that remarkable on a screen it is actually the size of a large dinner plate, which is where it gets its name ‘plate money’.

This coin came in around the 17th Century due to a silver shortage in Sweden, so they started to make the coins from copper. However, because copper is not as valuable you would need much more of it.

The largest of these coins was a 10 Daler, which weighed nearly 20kg and was over half a metre long; this would afford someone a cow which today can go for £1200.


This one I used to entertain children in the Money Gallery, as they often think the coin collection is a little boring and they just want to go straight to the T.Rex!

It is a Spanish silver 8 Reales or “A piece of 8″, as you hear them being called in pirate films.

The reason for popularity with pirates could be down to the fact that they were made from Mexican silver and shipped back to Spain, making them a target for pirates operating in the Caribbean. Another thing was that they were widely used and became world currency, making them very easy to spend once they had been stolen.

Next time you visit Manchester Museum please do take a closer look at some of the coins in the Money Gallery, as they all have wonderful stories behind them.

Amelia B. Edwards – A Thousand Miles up the Nile

I have always loved books from the way they feel to how easily they can transport you to another world. This interest naturally led me to one of my favourite objects in the Museum collection, A Thousand Miles up the Nile (1877) by Amelia B. Edwards.

Image 1

I began working at the Museum in 2003, and during the early stages of this time the book was laid open in the Egyptian Gallery. I always wondered what the other pages might contain, which only added to the appeal of the book. So, I set about dispelling the air of mystery that surrounds this handsome looking woman.

Amelia Ann Blandford Edwards was born in London on the 7th June 1831. She was the daughter of a middle-aged couple; Alicia, an energetic and intellectual mother and Thomas, a retired army officer serving under Wellington in the Peninsular War, whom upon leaving the army became a banker. Alicia educated Amelia at home and encouraged her to be expressive and daring from an early age. She excelled in writing and showed signs of being very talented in many disciplines such as drawing, music and singing.

Image 2

Her mother realised this and set about encouraging her daughter to write. She had her first poem published when she was just seven-years-old and her first story when she was twelve.  Amelia wrote many successful books, many of which were ghost stories, including The Phantom Coach (1864). Her novels however, as popular as they were, would never be re-printed as often as her travel books. After her parents’ death Amelia was left enough money to do as she pleased and the idea of travel really inspired her. Her first book Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys (1873) told of her travels through the Dolomites.

Travelling alone as a woman was unheard at this time and instead, Amelia was accompanied by a female companion. This would not have been a trip that men thought women could or should have attempted to handle. However, the pair braved flies, mud, cold, poor – and often no roads – hostile environments and many other difficulties. In spite of this they seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves; it is clear that for Edwards the joy and excitement of travelling, the challenge of reaching areas that were almost entirely untouched and inaccessible, and overcoming obstacles that others would not face was a thrill.

After the cold mountain air of the Dolomites Amelia and her female companion chose to head to the warmth of Egypt. Her book A Thousand Miles up the Nile provides details of her travels around Egypt in great detail; a trip that was to become life-changing, as on her return she dedicated her life to the study of Egyptology. Amelia became a committed advocate, and it was around this time that Egyptology was beginning to become professionalised. She used her skills as a writer to help promote the subject and commenced a strenuous lecture tour around England and America.

It is curious how a book written by this formidable woman should bring about one of the founding collections in our Museum; A Thousand Miles up the Nile would be the instrument that would connect Manchester Museum’s Egyptian collection, which was donated by the wealthy cotton merchant Jesse Haworth and William Flinders Petrie – the man who was known as the godfather of modern archaeological techniques and Amelia Edwards.

It was Amelia’s book that inspired Jesse Haworth and his wife to visit Egypt, recreating Amelia’s journey in 1882. Soon after their return they began supporting Egyptology in Manchester with great enthusiasm. It was around this time that Jesse must have met Amelia whom at this point was supporting Flinders Petrie in his pioneering work in archaeology; she would later introduce Jesse to Flinders Petrie. This would lead to the Haworths helping to fund his excavations in Egypt at Kahun and Gurob, where a lot of the Museum’s Egyptian collection came from. Amelia would reassure Petrie that Jesse Haworth did not want to plunder the sites but to preserve them for the future and that he would not interfere with his work.

Later, Amelia and British historian Reginald Poole began planning and promoting the founding of an Egyptological Society. It would meet for the first time in June 1880 at the British Museum, and in 1882 became formally recognised as the Egypt Exploration Fund. However, as the field of Egyptology became increasingly male dominated Amelia found herself excluded from the British Museum; no longer consulted in decision-making or being asked to attend meetings. Despite this however, Amelia continued dedicating her life to the Egyptian Exploration Fund.

Amelia’s health began to decline while on tour in America (1889-1890), and in January 1892 she suffered a personal loss; the woman she travelled with and shared her home for thirty years passed away. Then on April 15th of that year, Amelia also died from influenza. In her will she left her Egyptology library and her collection of antiquities to University College London. She left £2,500 to set up the first Chair of Egyptology, which became the Edwards Chair of Egyptology. It was stipulated that the professorship must go to someone under the age of forty, but that no one at the British Museum must be considered for it; securing the chair for Flinders Petrie.

Amelia herself later signed her book A Thousand Miles up the Nile to Jesse Haworth, which he owned and loved. Along with Curator of Egyptology and Sudan Dr Campbell Price, it was possible to access the book which is currently on display in the Museum’s Manchester Gallery. We did not expect to see Amelia’s signature, but it was there along with her own skilful drawings. In conducting this research I found myself wanting to know more about Amelia and I would now really like to read the book from cover to cover, which may take some time as there are many, many pages!

Image 4 Image 5

The Museum Comes to You

Here at the Manchester Museum, engagement “drives everything we do” (Strategic Plan 2012-2015). We provide an outreach service, ‘Museum Comes to You’, which facilitates engagement with local people: this involves members of staff from the Museum conducting visits to schools and other groups, taking a variety of objects from the Museum’s collections for people to handle. I recently visited some students at Trafford College’s Altrincham campus with Andrea Winn, Curator of Community Exhibitions, and a box of objects relating to our Manchester Gallery.

The students we visited were 16-19 years old and studying ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) at the college. Talking about (and handling) objects can be an interesting way for people to develop their English skills, and this particular session explored the links between the Museum’s collections and the city’s history. The students saw a number of exotic insects found at Smithfield, a Manchester food market, reflecting global trade via the Manchester Ship Canal. This canal was opened by Queen Victoria in 1894, and the students were shown a commemorative medallion. There were also fossilised plants, an ancient Egyptian cosmetic artefact and some raw cotton. Manchester of course was famous for its cotton factories and warehouses during the Industrial Revolution.

The group had also planned a trip to the Museum, scheduled to take place soon after Andrea and I visited the college. As arranged, I greeted the students on their arrival and took them on a guided tour of the Museum. Having met the students previously and gained a sense of their interests as well as their English skills, I tailored their tour accordingly and enjoyed helping them to make the most of their day at the Museum. One topic which came up during the session at Trafford College was Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution, so as part of the Museum tour I took the students to see a display case containing some Peppered Moths. Scientists often use these moths to explain how evolution works, with advantageous features (in this case, colour) passing from individuals to their offspring.

Andrea and I were delighted to receive great feedback from Trafford College about our session and the subsequent Museum tour; the teacher contacted us to report that all of her students “really enjoyed it and were really engaged”.

By Daniel Kennedy

The Ancient Egyptians and Sexuality

The ancient Egyptians had a varied sexual life, which was not only practised but socially accepted in special circumstances. Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and Spartans accepted homosexuality, even encouraging it among soldiers at times. Homosexuality between women is sparsely documented; however between men, the evidence is apparent in paintings and hieroglyphs.

Egypt 1

The Egyptian God Min represented fertility, sexual procreativity (reproduction), rain, the desert, miners and travellers. He was also considered a God of regeneration, which is believed to symbolise the forceful renewal of the sovereignty of the Pharaoh. Min was honoured in the coronation rites of new Pharaohs to ensure their sexual vigour and the production of a male heir. Min was depicted as a human male with one arm, one leg and a long phallus.

Egypt 2

Homosexuality was not unknown in ancient Egypt by any means; for evidence of this fact, one need look no further than the humorous encounter of the Gods Horus and Seth, which led to a male pregnancy shocking the other Egyptian Gods.

When the tomb of the Two Brothers was excavated in 1964, it created quite a buzz amongst Egyptians. Questions have since been raised concerning the main portrait of the boys Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, showing the two nose to nose in a close embrace. They were buried together in 2400 BC, not unlike a married couple would have been.

Egypt 3

From evidence of close family relationships in ancient myths, the Egyptians did not appear to consider incest a taboo subject; in fact it was thought to have been rife in ancient Egypt. There were also likely to have been some brother and sister partnerships, with the royal family having known incestuous marriages. They believed that royal blood ran through females and not males, so to become a Pharaoh a man had to marry a royal princess who would be his sister or half- sister.

Rumours were created by means of the ancient Egyptian practise of dead bodies being turned into mummies; evidence suggests that embalmers abused the corpses of the most beautiful women. It was generally believed that a deceased person retained their sexual powers, as Osiris king of the dead had done; being able to produce an heir after his death. The sexual power of the dead was a significant factor not to be ignored.

The concept of marriage in ancient Egypt is not a straightforward one, as polygamy does not seem to have ever been in fashion. Man is known to have had several wives, yet from the 13th dynasty (1795-1650 BC), polygamy between kings was said to have been practised.

Sexuality in ancient Egypt was open and untainted by guilt; sex was an important part of life, from birth to death and again in rebirth. Single people and married couples made love, and the Gods were earthy enough to copulate. The Egyptians even believed in sex during the afterlife. Sex was not a forbidden subject; even religion in ancient Egypt was filled with tales of adultery, incest and homosexuality – with indications of necrophilia!

Maurice de Trafford: Hunter/Conservationist?

Many visitors ask about our stuffed animals – where did they come from? Are they real? Some believe the Museum itself is responsible for the animal’s demise. While Manchester Museum it now a bastion of conservation, it’s true that many of the fascinating items in our natural history collection date from a time when hunting was part of the lives for much of the British aristocracy, and indeed many of our displays were trophies these gentlemen had in their stately homes. For them it was a token of their status, proof of their manliness in a highly masculine society. For some it was also part of their interest in the natural world and their feelings of responsibility in enlightening those of a lower social status. This may seem patronising to us in 2014, but it’s important to bear in mind that a lot of our knowledge about such creatures has come from specimens that were shot, essentially for sport, no matter how anti-hunting we are now.


One such aristocratic gentleman was Maurice de Trafford, the 4th Lord Egerton. The Egerton family owned and lived at Tatton Park in Knutsford. Maurice inherited the title in 1920 after the death of his father as the sole remaining member of the family; his two older brothers having died. Though described as a shy, solitary man, Maurice was also a pioneer photographer and filmmaker, friend of Orville and Wilbur Wright (he had the 11th pilot’s licence in the world!) and owned the first car in Cheshire. He also founded a boys club in the village where according to The Spectator in 1909 the programmes were a combination of ‘military and moral discipline and sheer fun’. Maurice himself, developed and instructed classes in shooting and was nicknamed ‘Lordie’ by the boys.

Maurice was a keen hunter and spent a lot of time in Kenya, where he built a lavish estate for a prospective wife who spurned his proposal (for more see here). Far from being in opposition of hunting, museums at this time condoned and even commissioned the aristocracy to bring back items for their collections. Maurice developed a working relationship with William Tattersall, Curator of Manchester Museum, who suggested ‘it was vital that the spoils of Egerton’s effort in the field be shown on to the public’. Egerton also gave the museum financial support to develop a zoological collection ‘worthy of the city’. Maurice’s hunting also supplied Liverpool museums and the British Museum as well as collections in Zanzibar, Ngata and Bulawayo. Apart from the ‘big game’ pieces, Maurice also provided smaller specimens, from Canadian spring salmon to fruit bats. He had the only two large taxidermy tuna in England and insisted they should be displayed at Tatton and Manchester Museum.

However, despite this educational aspect to his hunting, Maurice could hardly be described as a naturalist. Like many of his compatriots, he opposed restrictions brought about by the 1900 Convention on Big-game Shooting and Lord Elgin’s move to limit hunting licences abroad to 500. His relationship with museums provided a convenient loophole that enabled Maurice to continue hunting in the name of science, asserting that ‘authorisation from the Museum was essential’. Whether scientific collecting was an excuse or a reason, he continued hunting into old age. On his last hunt, aged 81 or 82, he shot an Indian tiger on foot, still adhering to the ‘fair chase’ ideal popularised by American president Theodore Roosevelt.


There are over 200 trophies on display at Tatton, most of them shot by Maurice, and Manchester Museum still has many of his specimens on display including the Hyena and the Dama Gazelle in Living Worlds; a gallery dedicated to exploring our place within the natural world.

Maurice’s hunting relationship with the Museum is an example of how attitudes have changed since the early 20th century. However, hunting remains a controversial subject with many maintaining it is an essential part of rural life in this country and many around the world still using ‘the hunt’ as a leisure pursuit despite the moral and conservationist arguments against it. Whether we are ever successful in enforcing a worldwide ban on hunting for pleasure or not, it is important to acknowledge that hunters such as Maurice de Trafford have contributed to our knowledge of nature, the very ecosystem that we are now striving to maintain.


Militarism, Hunting, Imperialism: ‘Blooding’ The Martial Male – J.A. Mangan, Callum McKenzie (preview available here)

Cheshire’s first Lord of adventure – Peter Elson, Liverpool Daily Post, 16th March, 2005