Henry Crowther’s lantern slides

For some time I’ve been trying to track down a collection of glass lantern slides of the Museum’s Cypriot pottery, taken at some point between 1893 and 1928 by Henry Crowther, then Curator of the Museum. Eleven have now come to light, and they provide a fascinating window on the earlier history of the collection.

Crowther image of Cypriot ceramics
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

Most of the Cypriot artefacts shown are still in the collection today, and it’s great to be able to witness this earlier stage of their history. These images were of course taken before the 1941 bombing, and some of them show artefacts which were later damaged. One of the most interesting is this bull askos, which has the figure of a small dog with long ears and perky tail perched on its handle.

Crowther image of bull askos  Leeds Museums and Galleries

I’m not sure, but I think it’s the same one as this askos currently on display in the gallery; still an appealing and intriguing piece, but much of the humour and liveliness has been lost along with the dog.

Bull askos  Leeds Museums and Galleries

One of the most striking things about these slides is that almost all of the images are coloured. The slides were taken in black and white, with each pot (and the background) carefully coloured in appropriate shades by hand. This is more successful at some times than others; the opiate juglet has a slightly strange marbled appearance, which is rather misleading.

Crowther image of opiate juglet  Leeds Museums and Galleries

This black-and-white slide, showing a bowl and a white shaved juglet which appear to be missing from the current collection, is more in keeping with modern aesthetics of ancient art, although, as we are constantly reminded, ancient Greek temples and statues would have been brightly coloured. The hand-coloured slides bring out the vividness of the Cypriot pots, which is a large part of their identity and appeal. It’s interesting that this colour was felt to be important for Mr Crowther’s late 19th/early 20th century audiences.

Crowther black and white image.  Leeds Museums and Galleries

Over at the blog for the Leeds University Museum of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Mark Steadman has written about the evocative quality of the magic lantern slides in that Museum’s collection. These images of the Cypriot collection help to put the age of the ceramics in context; the slides seem antiquated in the light of current technology, but in relative terms the images were taken only recently.

Henry Crowther, who took these images, was a hugely significant figure in the development of the Leeds City Museum.

1923 portrait of Henry Crowther.  http://www.leodis.net

He began work at the Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society in 1875, had a stint away at the Royal Institution of Cornwall from 1881 to 1893, then returned and stayed until his eventual retirement in 1928 at the age of eighty. He was hugely enthusiastic and hard-working, constantly seeking and implementing new ways of improving the museum. Most significantly from the point of view of the Cypriot collection, he took the opportunity of buying for the Museum a collection of ancient Cypriot pottery after the close of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.

The innovation for which, above all others, he will be remembered is the development and delivery of Schools Talks and Christmas Lectures on the Museum collections. The figures involved are amazing – over forty years he delivered lectures on a huge range of subjects to hundreds of thousands of children and teachers. His ability to make his subjects come alive was warmly praised:

“The reports from the Supervisors invariably speak in the highest praise of the Lecture, the beautiful slides and the large and varied collection of objects gathered by Mr. Crowther to illustrate the subject.” (Report of Council of LP&LS, 1915).

The Council of the LP&LS ensured that he was remunerated for his efforts, voting that he should receive half, then all of the profits accruing from the Schools Lectures. He himself was proud of their success, as evidenced by his letter of 1902 to Dr Murray at the British Museum, expressing thanks for a donation of Cypriot antiquities:

“We are always thankful for these recognitions by the British Museum and we, I may fearlessly say, do our best to teach the people their value. For eight years I have given Christmas Museum lectures, our average attendance being 250; last year I gave 20 lectures to 7,000 children and 250 teachers; we are to begin in October with another series to 10,000 school children; your kind gift is, therefore, an appreciable one to us.”

The fame of his lectures evidently spread, and he was in some demand as an itinerant lecturer, as this ‘Syllabus of Lectures’ shows.

Henry Crowther lecture syllabus

From this we learn that the colorist of the lantern slides was Miss Violet Crowther, Henry Crowther’s daughter, who was the first Curator of Abbey House Museum and its collection of ‘bygones’. It’s not clear which lecture the Cypriot slides belonged to; possibly the Christmas lecture for 1897, on ‘Pots and Pottery’. In any case, it’s good to know that around the turn of the century the Cypriot ceramics were reaching large audiences in and beyond Leeds, and inspirational to think of the opportunities technology affords to put them before even larger and more widely spread audiences today.

The beginnings of the Leeds Cypriot collection

The earliest Cypriot donations I have traced to date were given to the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society in 1870, by two influential members.

Cypriot amphora donated by William Aldam
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

This large amphora, 65cm tall, was donated by William Aldam (1813-1890). It comes with a provenance, though rather a shaky one: the 51st Annual Report of the LP&LS, for 1870-1, describes it as a

“Very fine Graeco-Phoenician Vase, 2 feet 2½ inches high, found among tombs in Laimia, Cyprus”.

A note with it gives the provenance as ‘Laimia Island, Cyprus’. Unfortunately ‘Laimia’ is untraceable, as far as I can make out; it’s possibly a mistake for ‘Lania‘, though this seems unlikely. The amphora, of Bichrome ware, dates from the Cypro-Archaic I period (750-600 BC). It is currently on display in the Ancient Worlds gallery at the Leeds City Museum, and seems to have been a focal point of the Cypriot displays for some time, as this photograph, apparently from mid 20th century, shows. In 1979 it was featured as ‘Object of the Month’ at the Leeds City Museum.

Cyprus display
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

William Aldam was one of those 19th century figures who seem to have crammed in more than one lifetime’s worth of experience, punctuated by several reinventions. He read mathematics at the London University, and studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, but as a Quaker he was not allowed to matriculate or graduate. In 1839 he was called to the Bar, although he never practised. He changed his religion from Quaker to Anglican, and was MP for Leeds in 1841-47. Having married in 1844, he began a new phase as a member of the landed gentry at Frickley Hall near Doncaster, taking a particular interest in local canals and railways. He took a full part in local affairs, working as a JP from 1842 and serving on county committees. In 1889, shortly before his death, he became a County Alderman. He was evidently popular; the Leeds Mercury report of his funeral (1st August 1890) commented

“It was beautifully fitting that he who had cast so much gladness on all around should be borne to his last resting-place under kindly sunshine.”

Aldam inherited his father’s proprietary share in the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, and remained a member until his death in 1890, subscribing generously to appeals for the improvement of its premises. It’s not clear how the amphora came into his possession. He was an enthusiastic traveller, keeping diaries of extensive journeys through Europe, and is known to have travelled to North America, Italy and Albania, though there is no indication that he ever went to Cyprus. Besides this amphora, his donations included specimins of lead ore from a mine at Castleton; glass apparatus for chemical experiments; and zoological specimins, including Echinoderms, Magpie, Jay, Sparrow Hawk, Honey Buzzard, and the Great Kangaroo (it appears he provided the means to purchase this last, rather than sourcing it personally).

The other donation in 1870 forms quite a contrast – this bowl, plainer and rather damaged, donated by Joshua Ingham Ikin (1844-1887).  It has a small, low foot and is decorated inside with further bands of brown/black on white slip. The remains of two handles are visible.

Cypriot bowl donated by Joshua Ingham Ikin
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

Ikin was similarly a prominent figure in Yorkshire society. A Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, he studied at Leeds, Edinburgh, London and Paris before establishing his practice in Leeds. He was a key promoter of the new Women and Children’s Hospital at Leeds, and during his term of office as Surgeon to the 4th West Yorks Regiment of Militia, he was responsible for assessing the fitness of around 13,000 military recruits. He played a more active part in the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society than Aldam, being a member from 1837, and giving lectures on a wide range of subjects, including ‘On the Geological Features of the Swiss Alps’, ‘On the Voice’, ‘Physiology and Phrenology Contrasted’, and ‘On Man’s Favourites, The Dog; The Cat; The Horse’. Again, nothing is known of how Ikin came by this bowl. His other donations were mainly zoological, including fossilised fish and specimins of Dotteril.

J.I. Ikin served as President in 1875-6. During this period he was responsible for raising the sum of £100 as the ‘President’s Special Fund’, which funded the purchase of the Cypriot items from the Sandwith collection. Unusually, Ikin’s two Addresses to the Society as President were circulated in pamphlet form, from which we learn that the cost of the Sandwith acquisition was £14. He also published prolifically, mainly on medical matters, including subjects as diverse as infant mortality, the branding of deserters and the translation from French of a biography of Baron Guillaume Dupuytren, physician to Napoleon Bonaparte.

Both Aldam and Ikin are good examples of the early supporters of the LP&LS, described by E. Kitson Clark as

“…men who had leisure to demand culture and had the means to promote it, men who while they were engaged with the problems of a vigorous practical life, had also the capacity to devote earnest attention to the furtherance of science and letters.”

(E. Kitson Clark, History of 100 Years of Life of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society (1924), p.2)

It’s thanks to their wide-ranging, eclectic interests that these Cypriot artefacts survive in the collection today.