From the Archives 2019

From the Archives, 2019

Bob Hale (Archivist)

150 years ago

1869 was a year of change. William Dallas, who had been Keeper of the Museum for a rather fraught decade – there had been several criticisms and even a reprimand for neglect of duties – left for London at the start of the year to be assistant secretary of the Geological Society. His fulsome letter of thanks for Council’s acceptance of his “rather sudden resignation” and “the great liberality” which they had shown him in granting him £100 on departure, half a year’s salary, was copied into the minute book. If he could be “of any service to the Institution with which [he had] now been for ten years connected” it would give him “much gratification”.

Then in April, after 40 years caring for the Museum Gardens, Henry Baines, now nearly 76, “asked that he might be relieved of his duties in respect of the superintendence of the Grounds”. His suggestion that John Fielding, the head gardener, take charge of them was adopted. A year later Baines also gave up his role of sub-curator of the museum, but was granted his full salary of £100 per annum as a pension for life.

Dallas’s replacement as Keeper, Percy Ullathorne BA, of Exeter College, Oxford, left in June after only three months, being “at present in a very unsatisfactory state of health”.  He was replaced on a temporary basis by Mr Charles Wakefield, who was to be ‘acting Curator of the Museum’ until the next AGM. The temporary basis lasted in fact for another ten years.

This was due in large part to Council’s generosity to Dallas and the much-respected Henry Baines. Only when Baines died in 1878 would another qualified keeper be afforded.

100 years ago

After his ten years as Keeper in all but name, Charles Wakefield resumed his profession as a teacher of drawing, living with his parents and sisters in Heslington. In the early 1900s he was elected to Council and then served as Honorary Curator of Numismatics until his death in November 1918. On 3 February 1919, “the Secretary reported that the modern Gold and Silver Coins collected by Mr C Wakefield had been acquired by the Society at face value with a view to completing and improving the specimens in the Society’s Collection”. From his estate they also were able to buy “nearly half of the well-known Bishophill ‘find’ of 1881” from the time of Edward the Confessor, the other half already being held by the Museum, together with “the Bootham ‘find’ of 1896”, principally pennies of Edward IV.

War was over, and spirits were revived, as was membership. This had risen to 515, the highest ever, drawn in part by the lectures delivered twice monthly in the Tempest Anderson Hall from October to March. In the summer the YPS acceded to a request from the Town Clerk that the Museum Gardens might be thrown open to the public on the 19th July, the date fixed for the peace celebrations, “provided that the Corporation supply adequate protection for the flower beds and antiquities. The use to which the gardens would be put to be submitted to and approved by our Garden Committee and Secretary. Hours 10 am to 6 pm. Holiday to be given to as many of our staff as possible.” The Annual report later said, “In the evening the grounds and St Mary’s Abbey were illuminated most effectively, but unfortunately the night turned out very wet”.

Once again the Society lost its Keeper, Mr Oxley Grabham, a native of Pontefract and “a keen and capable naturalist”, who had served for 15 years. An attack of influenza [was he a victim of the Spanish flu pandemic?] was followed by a nervous breakdown from which he failed to recover.

50 Years Ago

It was only in 1969 that the plaque commemorating the transfer of the Yorkshire Museum and Museum Gardens to the citizens of York on 2 January 1961 was affixed to the Museum frontage. City and Society shared the cost equally.

At the AGM in May, George Howard, descendant of the 5th, 6th and 7th Earls of Carlisle under whose patronage the Society prospered in its first four decades, became our new President, having succeeded Sir Herbert Read who died the previous year. Mr Howard reminded members that the “exceptional historic monuments and ancient buildings” that York still possessed “might be lost forever, through neglect or indifference” but that “by following Lord Esher’s plan, York [had] the chance to preserve the best of its past”. Members duly approved the following resolution: “That the Society warmly welcomes the Esher Report and urges the City Council to implement its proposals as soon as possible”.

As early as 1841 the Annual report had started printing a summary of the year’s meteorological observations, with barometer, thermometer and rain-gauge readings taken at the museum and in the gardens*. In the 1960s, readings began to be taken for the YPS at Archbishop Holgate’s School. Although 1969 began with snow, ice and freezing fog, it turned out to be the warmest January for 12 years; by contrast February was as severe as in 1947 and 1963, with 6 inches of snow cover for 15 days in York (Whitby was completely cut off for several days), and a monthly average temperature 8°F below normal. March was little better: the TV mast at Emley Moor collapsed under a one-sided build-up of ice and 110 mph winds. Both April and May were wet and cool, whereas June, July and August saw temperatures for sustained periods in the 70s and 80s – a summer comparable with that of 1959. “St Swithin’s day occurred in the middle of a hot, dry spell and the Mystery Plays were rained off on only one evening.” September and October were warm and dry, with “excellent conditions for harvesting potatoes and sugar beet”. But November’s average temperature saw a drop of 14°F from October’s, with snow returning to Yorkshire in the first week, “and on the 28th a belt of snow, 100 miles wide, swept from Scotland to the south coast”. December was little better and this year of extremes ended as wintrily as it had begun.

*Annual report for 1891 pp 43-76 has an article reviewing “50 years of York meteorology, 1841-1890”. That, and the yearly weather reports 1841-1959, can be accessed by following the link to Historical Annual Reports Online from the Resources tab on the YPS website home page.


YPS archives, including Council minutes and annual reports, held at the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York.

David Rubinstein, The Nature of the World, the Yorkshire Philosophical Society 1822-2000 (2009)