Author Archives: kiaracwhite

Natural History Collection Research


Dr Peter Mill and Dr Sandy (R.A.) Baker have both visited the museum recently to conduct research on our collection of parasite wet specimens, c.1950-1980. These samples previously belonged to their former colleague, Dr. R Wynne Owen (d.1985) who was a lecturer in the University of Leeds’ Deparment of Zoology. Wynne Owen’s specialism was fish parasites, but he also collected parasites from other hosts, including invertebrates, amphibia, reptiles, birds and mammals. Peter and Sandy have also been working with Wynne Owen’s collection of microscope slides, which are now housed in the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre

In addition to helping their own research to progress, Dr Mill and Dr Baker’s continuing work on these specimens will provide us with important knowledge about our collection. Their article on will be published in a forthcoming issue of Nature.

Last Friday we were also visited by Clare Brown (Curator of Natural Science at Leeds Museums and Galleries), who kindly offered expert advice regarding the care of our natural history collection.  We’re very pleased to see things progressing so well with this collection, and hope there will be more exciting work in the near future.

Visit from the Scientific Instrument Society

The Scientific Instrument Society (SIS) visited our Museum this past Saturday, as part of their 2013 Regional Study Tour which also included trips to Armley Mills Industrial Museum, the Thackray Medical Museum and the Royal Armouries.


Since forming in 1983 the SIS has developed an international membership consisting of historians, museum professionals, collectors and general enthusiasts with an interest in scientific instruments ranging from antiques to recent electronics.   

After viewing our Gillinson Room and Hidden Histories displays, members enjoyed a campus tour that featured exhibits in various University departments, including Earth and Environment, Physics, Dentistry and Business. They expressed appreciation for the diversity of the collections we work with, which suited the group’s wide-ranging interests. For many a particular highlight was the chance to view the MONIAC, or Newlyn-Philips Machine; the University of Leeds holds the only Mark I version that was ever made.     

The morning concluded with a trip to our museum store, where members of the Society shared with us some of their specialist knowledge about the scientific instruments we hold.

Previously, the SIS Grant Programme has kindly provided financial support for our Magic Lantern project. Images from a selection of lantern slides digitised using this funding will soon be available to view via the University’s Digital Library.

Domesticating Electricity Project at Lotherton Hall

Lotherton Hall Drawing Room

Lotherton Hall Drawing Room. The Perry & Co electrolier in the centre of the room was hung when the electricity supply was first installed in 1903.
Copyright: Lotherton Hall, Leeds Museums and Galleries

For the past few months, I have been working on the second stage of our project with Lotherton Hall, part of Leeds Museums and Galleries. This project is funded by the Creative and Cultural Industries Exchange and inspired by Professor Graeme Gooday’s Domesticating Electricity: Technology, Uncertainty and Gender, 1880-1914.

Lighting homes electrically became possible in the late 19th century, following the invention of incandescent carbon-filament bulbs suitable for use in domestic settings and technological improvements in dynamo generators. However, the success of domestic electricity relied on homeowners being convinced that this was a safe, reliable and desirable technology.

Promoters of electric lighting faced issues such as safety fears and objections to the garish and unflattering nature of electric light; problems which were exacerbated by the then still uncertain scientific nature of electricity. Clever advertising which anthropomorphized electricity as an obedient helper, publications advising on how to make electric light aesthetically pleasing, and the introduction of new safety regulations all featured as strategies in the challenging and slow process by which electric light was integrated into domestic settings.

Lotherton Hall, near Aberford, is an Edwardian country home that was owned by the Gascoigne family before it was donated to Leeds City Council in 1968. Frederick Trench Gascoigne and his wife Laura Gwendolen inherited Lotherton in 1893. Making it their family home, the couple began a series of extensions and home improvements.

The generator house at Lotherton Hall, which was demolished in 1968. Copyright: Lotherton Hall, Leeds Museums and Galleries

The generator house at Lotherton Hall, which was demolished in 1968.
Copyright: Lotherton Hall, Leeds Museums and Galleries

These included the installation of a private electric generating plant in 1903, which consisted of a dynamo generator powered by a 15 h.p. Blackstone & Co oil engine, and 53 glass storage cells. This addition made Lotherton one of the first houses in the Leeds area to be lit electrically. Never having had a gas supply, prior to this the house was lit by candles and oil lamps. A number of the original electric light fittings – many of which were designed by the London based Perry & Co – are still lighting the house today.

The main aim of this project was to engage a wider audience with academic research in the history of science by contributing to the interpretation and events programme offered by Lotherton Hall. The first part of the project, Lights on at Lotherton was for school groups, while this second stage is aimed at adults and families.

The outcomes include:

  • An interpretation panel (soon to be installed outside the Servants Gallery) and ‘Find out more’ information sheet on the introduction of electricity to Lotherton Hall and domestic settings in general.
  • A digital story based on an oral history interview with relatives of an engineer and electrician who was employed by the Gascoignes at Garforth Colliery and at Lotherton.
  • An Early Electricity at Lotherton Hall house trail using objects from around the house to explore the issues raised by Graeme’s research.
  • A talk by Graeme as part of Lotherton’s Adult Learning programme.

Biz Horne has also produced a short comic about the Gascoigne family and their staff might have reacted to the introduction of electricity at Lotherton Hall.

The talk took place on the 24th May, and a video can be seen below.

The event seemed to be a success. Half of the attendees asked had visited Lotherton Hall before, but none had previously been to one of their Adult Learning Programme events. They all said they would attend a similar event in the future. Everyone agreed that the talk was understandable and accessible, and for most the afternoon changed the way they think about the history of electricity, suggesting that the aim of engaging a wider audience with Graeme’s research was achieved. The comments we received on the feedback forms were very positive, and showed that people particularly appreciated the fact that the talk was held in historically relevant surroundings;

  • “Having the talk in this venue helped to make the subject matter interesting and add to the atmosphere.”
  • “Excellent, interesting & thought-provoking talk. Great venue and very well organised – perhaps one of the best public talks I’ve been to given the content and location (and thank you for the hospitality…tea & cakes). Nice to attend an event in a heritage location.”
  • “An excellent, accessible talk in a beautiful setting; being in the house made a real difference.”

Hidden Histories: Junior Praestantia Lantern

Image - Junior Praestantia Lantern

Junior Praestantia Lantern
Photo by Esther Lie

A significant amount of work has been carried out recently on documenting and researching our magic lanterns and slide collections, and it therefore seemed appropriate to reflect this in the 2013 Hidden Histories display. While this Junior Praestantia Lantern might not be as visually interesting as some of the other lanterns in our collection, it demonstrates specific aspects of the history of these instruments and the heritage of the University.

Magic lanterns are considered a predecessor to the modern slide projector. They function by using a condenser lens to focus artificial light (e.g. candle light, limelight or later electric light) onto a glass slide, the light rays then passing through an objective lens system which projects an enlarged version of the slide’s image onto a screen or wall.

Image - Lens Arrangement in A Magic Lantern

Lens Arrangement in A Magic Lantern

The historical development of these instruments dates back to at least the 17th century, with the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens often being cited as a key figure in their invention. The peak of their production was during the second-half of the nineteenth century. They provided a popular form of entertainment in both public and domestic settings. Combining slide projection with live narration, music and other special effects, magic lanternists delivered highly successful entertainment spectacles, including phantasmagoria (gathering of ghosts) shows. Slides could have moving parts, and the use of two lanterns in conjunction with pairs of slides could produce ‘dissolving’ (transforming) effects.

It was this ability to produce projection effects that in the days before moving film would have appeared miraculous to audiences that gave magic lanterns this moniker. In scientific or educational settings however it was more common to refer to them as optical lanterns, or simply lanterns. After the moving picture was introduced in the late nineteenth century the popularity of magic lanterns began to decline, but in educational settings their use continued for longer; we think that the use of magic lanterns continued in the Biology department at the University of Leeds until as late as the 1960s. They provided a convenient way of displaying images to a large audience. Ready-made educational slides featuring a wide range of topics could be ordered from catalogues, or lecturers could have them specially produced using images of their own work.

This particular lantern previously belonged to the collection of the Museum of the History of Education which used to exist at the University of Leeds. Before this it was used in lessons at Thornton School in Bradford. It was sold by the Riley Brothers, also of Bradford, who sold lanterns, slides and readings from the 1880s until 1914. The Riley Brothers also gave Bradford its first ever cinema performance on 6th April 1896, at the People’s Palace theatre, on the site where the National Media Museum now stands.

Praestantia Lantern Advert, Ashburton Guardian, 2nd May 1894

Praestantia Lantern Advert, Ashburton Guardian, 2nd May 1894

‘Praestantia’ is a Latin term used to denote superiority and excellence. While this lantern has previously been dated to 1914, models of this sort were available earlier than this, as evidenced by this newspaper advert from 1894. The advert also shows that it was targeted towards schools and churches, rather than professional entertainers or lecturers in larger educational establishments like Universities, who would use larger lanterns with more complex features.

Educators in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were growing increasingly interested in the value of sensory perception in aiding the process of obtaining and retaining knowledge, and the use of visual aids was common. In school classrooms, a popular way of incorporating these was to give each pupil a lantern slide and ask them to prepare a talk about it, which they delivered while the image was projected. This activity therefore also helped develop oral communication and presentation skills. It was also thought the element of fun provided by this hybrid of entertainment and education would be conducive to learning. This “school-room” method contrasted with the “lecture-room” method, where the slides served as accompanied the instructor’s lecture. In churches, lanterns were used during services or Sunday school classes, to display biblical stories and hymn lyrics, and to warn people of the dangers of various ‘immoral’ activities. They were also popular with travelling missionaries, who could use illustrations on lantern slides as a way of overcoming language barriers.

One of the main reservations schools and small institutions had about using lanterns was the cost involved, and this is addressed in the advertisement above, which emphasises low-prices and the ability to hire equipment or pay in monthly instalments. Other concerns included the need to train teachers how to use this new technology. However, as mentioned in a previous blog post, we think that the particularly successful use of lanterns by professors at the University of Leeds and its predecessor the Yorkshire College may have inspired primary and secondary schools in the area to take up the use of this educational tool with an unusually high level of enthusiasm.

Currently displayed alongside this lantern are two c.1880 rack and pinion turning slides by Newton & Co, London. These coloured slides would have been used to teach pupils and public audiences about phenomena such as the rising and setting of the sun. Turning the handle rotates one sheet of painted glass over the other, moving one part of the slide’s image in relation to the rest and allowing such phenomena to be demonstrated ‘in action’.

Newton & Co rack and pinion slide, c.1880

Newton & Co rack and pinion slide, c.1880
Digitised by Liz Stainforth


Anon. “How to Utilise the Magic Lantern; Some Valuable Hints for Teachers”, The Review of Reviews, May 1890, pg.404

Riley Brothers, “Advertisment: Improved Praestantia Lantern”, Ashburton Guardian, Volume XV, Issue 3268, 2nd May 1894, p.3

Greenacre, D., “Optical Systems in Magic Lanterns”,

Newton & Co, “New School Lanterns for Class-Work”, in Newton & Co, Catalogue of Lantern Slides Part II., London, 1906, p.901

Lucerna: The Magic Lantern Web Resource, “Organisation: Riley Brothers, slide manufacturer and dealer”,

San Diego State University, “Peabody Magic Lantern Collection, Online Presentation”, 2010,

Special Collections, J.B. Priestly Library, “The Joseph Riley Archive: Collection Description”, University of Bradford, 2008

University of Leeds Museum of the History of Education Catalogue

Visual Studies Workshop – Exhibition Monograph, “Travels in the Limelight: Projections of the World Through the Magic Lantern, 1880-1930”, in The Magic Lantern Bulletin, Vol. 8, No. 1, April, 1988, pp. 9-12 (

Yorkshire Film Archive, “Film No. 3428, Bradford Town Hall Square. Context.”,

For a bibliography of further reading on the use of magic lanterns in education, see The Magic Lantern Bulletin, Vol. 8, No. 1, April, 1988, p. 7. (

Further reading on the Riley Brothers:

Copeland, D.M., “Joseph, William, Herbert, Arnold and Bernard Riley”, Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema,, 2013

Gordon, C., By Gaslight in Winter: A Victorian family history through the magic lantern, London: Elm Tree, 1980

Further blog entries on our lanterns and slides:

Handling collections

Museum Practice have this month been exploring the role of touch in museums, and the various ways in which handling collections can be developed and used. To promote the work of our museum in this area, Liz Stainforth and I submitted a case study, which you can read here.

We focussed on our History of Medicine workshops, but other recent exciting activities have used objects selected from across our diverse collections. We are also working on enhancing the History of Medicine workshop, by researching specific cases of patients who underwent amputations in Leeds during the late 18th and 19th centuries, and developing realistic props.