Monthly Archives: August 2015

Tullie House heads East … Part Two

Andrew, our Head of Collections and Programming recently traveled to China with our Learning and Engagement Manager Anna, who has written a blog about working with a couple of museums on how to engage with children and young people. 

After Anna headed back to the UK, Andrew stayed in China to experience some more of the country’s rich heritage and culture. He’s written a short blog to let us know what he got up to.

…after leaving Anna in Suzhou I traveled to Shanghai, then flew 856 miles to Xi’an, home of the famous Terracotta Warriors, and then took a five hour bus journey (of only 215 miles) through the mountains to the small city (only 3.5m residents!) of Tianshui in Gansu Province.

I intended to visit Tianshui to experience what was described as the ‘Silk Road Festival’ but what turned out to be an annual celebration of Fuxi (pronounced Foo-she), the ‘founder’ of Chinese culture. Fuxi is a cultural hero in China credited with creating humanity and the invention of hunting, fishing and cooking as well as Ying & Yang and the system of writing Chinese characters.

This Fuxi Festival included large, mass performing arts, demonstrations of ancient traditions, modern drama, music, song and dance performances.

This Fuxi Festival included large, mass performing arts, demonstrations of ancient traditions, modern drama, music, song and dance performances.

After the ceremony, the famous Ming Dynasty (15th century) Fuxi Temple is opened to the public for free, so that the masses of visitors can worship.

After the ceremony, the famous Ming Dynasty (15th century) Fuxi Temple is opened to the public for free, so that the masses of visitors can worship.

Because Tianshui is so isolated from the more industrialised east coast of China very few people have seen a western person. This made me extremely popular and a major draw for photographers, TV companies and even people wanting a ‘selfie’ with a visitor from the West!

Tianshui also has several museums and I visited three. The Folk Art Museum is located in a traditional Chinese house which comprises several rooms around open courtyards. The museum displayed historic artefacts in their original setting so the kitchen had material from the Quing Dynasty (nineteenth century) and the bedroom had a period box bed and so on. In addition to the roomsets the museum also had a room for showing shadow puppet performances and a theatre for showing traditional Chinese Opera.

The colourful Chinese Opera at the Folk Art Museum, where men dress as women and vice versa.

The colourful Chinese Opera at the Folk Art Museum, where men dress as women and vice versa.

The City Museum is linked to the Fuxi temple and has hugely impressive archaeology and history collections but has very little by way of interpretation or engagement – it seems that visitors are expected to know or understand a certain amount of history, which may be true for local people but is certainly not the case when it comes to international visitors.

I met with Mr Lee the museum’s Director and gave a presentation on Tullie House to his staff. Mr Lee explained that the museum (which is roughly the same size as Tullie House) has 200 staff (Tullie has less than 50) and attracts about 30,000 visitors per year (Tullie has 270,000). Mr Lee showed me the museum’s new temporary exhibition gallery which was displaying a collection of artwork from a famous but recently deceased Chinese artist (which I wasn’t allowed to photograph). The aim was to attract new or repeat visitors to the museum through the temporary exhibition programme. However, Mr Lee felt that this first exhibition wasn’t necessarily a success.

The third museum I visited was directly opposite the Folk Art Museum and was owned by the City Council but run through a management agreement by the Shan family. Mr Shan Snr is a highly regarded artist and successful businessman and his son (my host for the week) runs a business from Guangzhou promoting artists and cultural projects. Mr Shan’s museum is, like the Folk Art Museum, located in an historic house. It features artwork and a fabulous historic book collection but it is also significantly lacking collections and any real purpose. The Shan’s have therefore asked Tullie House for their ideas on how the museum might develop. There may well be more to report on this in the future…

Andrew Mackay, Head of Collections and Programming

Tullie House’s work with museums in China is ongoing – keep an eye out for exciting partnerships and events coming up!


#askthecurators One Week To Go!

There is only a week left of our What’s In Store: The Curator’s Choice exhibition and our curators Tim and Melanie have been answering some more of the great questions that we’ve been asked during the exhibition.

dinosaurGrace Clowrey asked “Why can’t there be an exhibition on dinosaurs?”

Hi Grace, thank you for your question – the simple answer is that unfortunately the Tullie House collection doesn’t have any dinosaurs in it. It is possible that there were dinosaurs in Cumbria as Britain was once home to around 100 different types of dinosaur. But there have not be any dinosaur bones found in the county, most of the dinosaur fossils in the UK are found on the South coast, known as the ‘Jurassic Coast’.

We would love to have an exhibition about dinosaurs and always keep an eye out for a suitable exhibition to bring to Carlisle.

One visitor asked “Why is it so dark in the corner?

Melanie our Curator of Fine and Decorative Art answers “Light levels are kept deliberately low to enable the museum to look after the objects. Some of our objects can be damaged by light which can cause them to fade and lose their original colours“

mortatariaNiamh Irvine asked “Did Romans eat pigs?

Our Curator of Archaeology, Tim answered this one “The short answer to this is ‘Yes, they did’.

The Latin word for pig is porcus from which we get the word pork. Study of the animal bones recovered in excavations at Castle Street, in the early 1980s suggested that the animals were slaughtered before reaching the age of three years old which shows that they were being killed for food.

There are also some recipes for cooking pork that have survived from Roman times. The cookbook by Apicius contains a number of these such as one for pork kebabs. Another recipe that survives is for a pork and fig pie. However, many of them state that you need wild boar, which was hunted regularly, but there is no reason why they couldn’t have used domesticated pigs instead.”

Sophie T asked “Why do you have so much Roman stuff? Why not Tudors?”

Tim, who looks after the Roman collection here at Tullie answers “The Romans were here for about 400 years (72/3 AD to 410) and the Tudors for only about 100 years (1485 to 1603).

The Romans also had a large Empire to get stuff from and made things, like pottery, and so there was a lot to leave for us to find. The Tudors didn’t make stuff on such a large scale and so there was less around.

Also much of the Tullie House Collection comes from Hadrian’s Wall. This was only used by the Romans and so there are no Tudor objects from the places like Birdoswald because they did not live there.

There are some items in the museum which date back to Tudor times though, our Reivers gallery contains some pieces from Tudor times, as does our Guildhall Museum – which is a Tudor building in the city centre.”


Abby and Rose Holliday asked “How long has Tullie House been around for, when was it built?”

Melanie told us “The old house was built for the Tullie family in 1689, with the later Victorian extensions added in 1892.”

Tim adds “When these extensions were added it opened to the public and became a museum and Institute for the Arts. The date, 1893, can be seen over the door into the building at the top of the ramp from the garden. Until 1990, it was also the home of Carlisle’s library, which can now be found in The Lanes.

Adam has asked a question about one of the objects on display which has a curious carving on it “What is the carving on stone 39?” The stone is Roman, so Tim has answered this one.phallus

The carving on the stone is called a phallus and represents male creative energy. The Romans believed that this energy could be used to stop bad luck, They carved them onto their buildings to make sure that the buildings would be protected. They are found on many of the surviving building in the forts along Hadrian’s Wall as well as in Roman cities like Pompeii.


christian diorAs Curator of Fine and Decorative Art Melanie looks after our costume collection and so answers some questions about the dresses on display.

Jess P asked “Why do you have dresses?”

“The museum collects dresses amongst other items of clothing because they were often worn by local people and are an important part of human history.”

Kath asked “Can I buy the Dior dress?”

“Sorry Kath, we cannot sell items in the collections. The collections are permanently owned by the city for the benefit of the community today and in the future.”

As ever on #askthecurators the Natural Science collections are making people curious.

Jessica B asked “Where was the shark caught?”

Good question Jessica, our little porbeagle shark was caught just off the Solway Coast in West Cumbria, not far from Carlisle. Porbeagles get their name from the Cornish word por meaning harbour because they are often seen very close to the shore or in harbours.

The porbeagle is native to all coastal regions of the UK. The largest one in Britain was seen just off the coast of Tynemouth in the North East and is thought to have been about 12 feet long, about 4 times bigger than ours!

Jenson asked “Where did the peacock come from?”

Another good question Jenson, this type of peacock is not native to Britain, they were originally from India and Sri Lanka. But rich people in the Victorian times (about 150 years ago) would bring the birds home to keep as pets.

This one was collected from Cumwhitton in 1990.

Thank you all for your great questions on #askthecurators over the last couple of months – we’ve really enjoyed answering them and we’ve even learnt some more things about our objects! We hope you’ve enjoyed reading some of our answers.


Volunteers – Archaeology Archives

The treasure trove store of over 7000 boxes of archaeological material has been the destination for our team of dedicated volunteers.07221506

Working alongside Tim, the curator of archaeology, the team are well underway with the huge task of creating a comprehensive inventory of this diverse material.

As well as displaying objects, Tullie House also stores for future reference and research finds from many of the excavations carried out in north Cumbria.  From boxes of animal bone and pottery sherds to the finest gold jewellery it all finds its way here, all providing the evidence for our unwritten past.07221508

Managing this volume of material is a big job and one that one archaeology curator cannot carry out alone, so this is why we are so grateful to the hardy team of volunteers who give up their time to assist with this task.  It could not be done without them.

I went down the store to meet up with the team to see their progress, and they showed me some of their favourite finds so far.

This “amazing find!”… “It’s so complete and readily identifiable as Mercury”.


Figure of Mercury in copper alloy, Roman


Brass coin, Roman

Brass coin of Trajan, 1st century AD

This coin is great condition, as you can see from its packaging it was found during the excavation of Annetwell Street during the redevelopment of Tullie House.

Roman lamp

Roman lamp

An almost complete Roman iron lamp from the Millennium excavations, again close to Tullie House.  Found from the area where the steps from the underpass come up in front of Carlisle Castle.

Tim, curator of archaeology

Tim, curator of archaeology

And Tim, with a relatively modern (19th century?) teaspoon proving that it doesn’t have to be 1000s of years old to be significant to archaeologists!.

Thank you Pam, Diana, Kath, Siriol, Chloe and Sally for all your hard work on this collection!

Get involved

Volunteer flyerIf you’ve been inspired and would like to get involved or find out more please visit our website.  I look forward to hearing from you.


Claire, Volunteer Co-ordinator

Tullie House heads East…

Since 2013, we’ve been working with the Zhou family, owners and operators of the Imperial Decree Museum (IDM) in Xuzhou and the No. 1 Scholar Museum in Suzhou, both in Jiangsu Province in China.

In June of this year we were invited over to show museum staff how objects from collections can be used to engage and inspire. Andrew Mackay (Head of Collections & Programming) and Anna Smalley (Learning & Engagement Manager) made the 7,700 mile journey to Shanghai and this is what happened on their trip…

Group pic

Han Tom picAfter a very long journey we arrived in Shanghai and hopped straight on the famous Chinese Bullet Train to Xuzhou, a relatively “small” city for China with a population of 10 million and rising! We spent the first few days of our trip getting to know the Guishan Hill Scenic District where the Imperial Decree Museum is located. Along with IDM, the area also has a beautiful garden sculpture museum and an amazing Han Dynasty tomb of national importance. The tomb dates back to 116BC and is the resting place of the Emperor Liu Zhu.

Kid pic 4On our fifth day we ran our object handling workshop for 21 local primary school children (10-12 years old) who luckily for us were selected for their English abilities! We created a session based around three activities: firstly, the children took part in an object handling session using the Roman artefacts from our collection which were split into categories of Technology (pottery, glass), Jewellery (brooches and bracelets) and Coins. Secondly, the children explored Latin and Roman writing using real wooden writing tablets and metal styli, having a go at writing in Latin and comparing the results with English and Chinese characters. Thirdly, the children looked at Roman costume, handling real Roman footwear and dressing up in replica costume. The pupils then created their own role play about daily life in Roman Carlisle, using the objects they had handled during the session as inspiration.

Kid pic 2The children found the experience of object handling incredibly inspiring: none of the pupils had ever handled real historical artefacts before, and the added factor of them being from a country thousands of miles away was even more exciting! We adopted the same object handling techniques as we would in our primary workshops in Carlisle, telling to the children not to worry about giving wrong answers: we wanted their ideas and to know how they felt about the objects. We encouraged them to use their senses, looking closely with magnifying glasses, feeling for different textures and even smelling the objects.

Tullie House China 4Next we travelled to Suzhou, known as ‘the Garden City’ and just half an hour by train from Shanghai. Our workshop here was for university students so we adapted our Romans workshop and added comparisons with Han Dynasty technology and costume. Once again the object handling was the most popular activity: the students loved wearing the gloves and handling the objects directly, and were particularly impressed by the jewellery. We also gave the students opportunities to try on the replica costume we brought, working with Han Dynasty re-enactors to compare the different types of male and female clothing. For the writing task the students wrote Latin and Chinese phrases on traditional fans.

As well as delivering workshops, presentations and meeting lots of new museum colleagues, we also worked on our plans for Chinese New Year 2016 – we hope to borrow items from the Imperial Decree Museum’s collection so keep an eye on the Tullie House website for more details!


Keep an eye on the blog for part 2 of our round up of the trip as Andrew continued to explore the culture and history of China, coming soon.

Object of the Month – August

The winner of this month’s object of the month vote is…


Flight Lieutenant Tadecusz Felc’s Royal Air Force Uniform

This object is an iconic symbol of allied forces in the Second World War and has a great story attached to it. Curator of Social History Edwin Rutherford gives us the low down on the uniform and the man who wore it.

“Tadecusz Felc (1919-1964) was a Polish Spitfire Pilot of 317 (Polish) Squadron. His squadron flew from many British airbases throughout the Second World War (1939-1945), but RAF Kingstown near Carlisle became its main base.

The bands on the tunic’s arm show his rank, while the coloured bars above the right pocket show which campaigns the owner fought in. The distinctive RAF eagle badge can clearly be seen above the the campaign bars along with the Polish Air Force medal below.

Tadecusz Felc’s war started in Poland when the airfield he was training at was attacked by the German air force, the Luftwaffe. as his home country was overrun he volunteered to join the allies, and completed his pilot training in Britain.

He joined 317 Squadron which had several duties:

  • Protecting convoys of supply ships to Britain
  • Provideing air cover against German bombing raids
  • Providing fighter protection to allied bombers

IMG_0190During one of these bomber escort missions his Spitfire was shot down. Captured by the Germans he was taken to the prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III where he assisted in the Great Escape by depositing soil from the tunnels Tom, Dick and Harry.

After surviving an infamous forced march Tadecusz Felc was liberated in May 1945. He went back to Cumbria to the Carlisle girl he had married three weeks before he was shot down.”

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