From the Archives 2016

Bob Hale YPS Hon Archivist

150 years ago: 1866

George Leeman, one of York’s two MPs, met Council in January to discuss a grand exhibition to be staged in York. “The want of a large building capable of accommodating three or four thousand people was much felt” in the city, he said, and Bearpark’s Garden behind St Leonard’s Place and the abbey walls along Bootham, leased at the time to the YPS1, would make an ideal site for one. He promised to use his influence to help the Society to purchase the land. In the event, however, the Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition ran from July to November in a large temporary building, erected in the grounds of Bootham Park Hospital.

Thousands flocked to York to see it, almost 400,000 in total, among them the Prince and Princess of Wales, who arrived on the afternoon of Thursday 9 August. Council had met a month earlier, “to consider the advisableness of decorating the Entrance Gates to the Museum as they were on the line of Procession from the Railway Station”. York architect Frederick Bell was engaged to build an ornate wooden arch inside the gates “at a cost not exceeding £25” (it came, of course, to much more, £33 17s 10d).  Four other ceremonial arches were being erected in the city, on Lendal and Ouse Bridges, in St Leonard’s and in Bootham. Perhaps Council did not wish to be outdone. The Yorkshire Gazette, in its lengthy coverage of events on Saturday 11 August, would describe it as “a pleasing design, consisting of a Pompeian arch, which is chastely decorated. The summit of the archway is embellished with plants of various descriptions, and on the one side is the motto ‘Salvete’, and on the other, ‘Imperii spes2’”.

The royal couple stayed at Bishopthorpe Palace. Despite drenching rain, cheering crowds lined the route of their carriage, over the new Lendal Bridge, past our gates, up to the Minster, right into Petergate, then via Church Street, Ousegate, Ouse Bridge and Micklegate into Blossom Street, and out to Bishopthorpe.

After lunch next day at the Mansion House, and perhaps because Archbishop Thomson was the YPS President and the Lord Mayor was YPS member James Meek, they drove into the Museum Gardens. They were presented with bound copies of the Guide to the Antiquities of the Museum, but “owing to the pressure of time, they were not able to alight” (Yorkshire Gazette). Council minutes recorded that “the Prince and Princess had not time to pay a visit to the Museum but expressed themselves gratified with the appearance of the grounds”. The signatures of Princess Victoria and her mother, the Duchess of Kent, from their own visit to the Museum in 1835, had been cut out of the old visitors’ book and pasted into a fine new one specially obtained for the signatures of their Royal Highnesses to be inscribed underneath3. They duly signed, and honoured the Society by agreeing to become patron and patroness, before driving on to the Exhibition amid a throng of spectators.

Royal signatures                                                              Bob Hale

Other people attracted to the exhibition did visit the Yorkshire Museum, and in great numbers. In November, Council accused William Dallas, the Keeper of the Museum, of serious failings in his work: specimens newly donated had not been labelled and exhibited. He vigorously defended himself against the charges, having been disturbed for weeks, he said, by “the noise and bustle of excursionists”.


1) In 1876, the YPS finally bought the site of Bearpark’s Garden and leased it to the Exhibition trustees, and the second Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition opened in 1879 in the permanent building that is now York Art Gallery; hence the name of Exhibition Square.

2) ‘Salvete’: Greetings; ‘Imperii Spes’:  (You are our) Hope of Empire

3) We still use the visitors’ book containing the signatures of Victoria, her mother (also Victoria), Albert Edward and Alexandra. It was last signed by Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and Princess Beatrice on Maundy Thursday, 5 April 2012, and by Prince Andrew visiting York three months later.


100 years ago: 1916

As the war dragged on, the YPS nevertheless tried to provide for members as usual. A dozen lectures were delivered on Thursday evenings, and papers were read at monthly meetings. Work continued on the Museum collections, with classification and labelling of specimens still the priority.

On a sadder note, the Annual report stated: “An interesting link with the past history of our Society was severed by the death of Miss Baines on the 22nd May 1916. She was born in the Museum basement where her parents resided, and almost the whole of her long life of over 80 years was spent in the service of the Society. She well remembered Professor Phillips, the Rev C Wellbeloved, and Rev J Kenrick. Her father, Henry Baines, was Sub-Curator of the Museum from 1829 to 1878, and Miss Baines delighted to recount how in the early days of our Society a small menagerie was kept in the Gardens, including a bear, a golden eagle, and several monkeys. The bear got loose and chased Professor Phillips and the Rev Vernon Harcourt into an outhouse, and was afterwards sent by stage coach to the London Zoological Gardens in charge of Henry Baines.”

After her father’s death in 1878, Fanny Baines had taken on the role of gate-keeper, living in the Lodge (now our headquarters). She had retired only in 1914, at the age of 81. She was buried with her parents in York Cemetery.