Thanks to Claire, one of the volunteers, for researching this post.

It’s National Insect Week!

Interestingly, over one million species and insects have been described and named worldwide. The UK in itself have more than 24,000 species and we can find insects in almost every habitat. They can be pollinators, predators, pests, parasites and prey.

We have, for many years now, had the benefit of a wonderfully active Natural History Society with many facts, figures and information having been collated.

Eyed Hawk Moth Cropped Eye Hawk Moth Pupa State Blackheaded Bunting Red Admiral

The Ringlet

 Images of butterflies drawn by students – various species including: Eye Hawk Moth, and drawings of the same in pupa state (H Richardson 1878), Blackhead Bunting, Red Admiral and a small Tortoiseshell butterfly, The Ringlet (from an album probably assembled by Hugh Richardson between 1876 and 1884)  

The Ringlet has to be a personal favourite, the detail is astonishing, as are most within this “scrap book”.

The Natural History Journal of 1892 has an interesting piece relating to dragonflies, a lovely story of EW Allen shouldering his satchel and venturing on a 4 mile hike on a hot day to his chosen hunting ground. Interestingly, he states the New Forest as being a very rewarding area to investigate. At Brockenhurst he managed to add 200-300 specimens to his collection.

1947 saw the creation of a wonderful set of Butterfly records, including details of some rare finds. This was the culmination of a 2 year study by the Natural History Society incorporating contributions from new boys, senior boys, Old Scholars and teachers. A very thorough and detailed account including some lovely photographs of paintings by C.J.S of the Comma and Camberwell Beauty. A painting by Douglas. M Sloan of a Brimstone, of the family Pierdae, sub family Coliadinae stands out also as a rare find even though “it lives the longest of all British butterflies”. It has become less rare over the recent years and can be seen reasonably frequently at Askham Bog.

Male Comma from Butterfly Book Camberwell Beauty from Butterfly Book Bootham Butterfly Records 1947 Butterfly Diary Brimstone

 Clouded Yellow

In 1948 a visit to Hutton Le Hole was arranged. 12th – 19th April 10 boys stayed at Barmoor, looked after by Mr and Mrs Happold. Whilst lovely pictures and much research took place, the boys were particularly interested in remaining well fed and “taking their candles with them at 10.30pm and shortly after not a sound was heard”. John Mounsey created an interesting report on butterflies and moths which was incorporated into the National History Club magazine.

John Mousey Butterflies and Moths

1951 – 20 boys visited Borrowdale and stayed at CHA Hostel detailing their finds in a log book. We find the following in relation to a stonefly, and their habitat details.

Borrowdale 1951 Stonefly Diagram and Notes

Also in 1951, a visit to Askham Bog gave us a wonderful drawing of the life cycle of pond life in stagnant water.

Death and Decay Stagnant Stream Life Cycle

The Natural History Junior Diary 1969 holds interesting accounts relating to all nature projects at the time, the care of which was managed by the school children. They made diary entries to capture detail. One such account is that of the locust: on the 23rd January PJ Higson noted the progress the locust had made in terms of development ,feeding habits and “lights out” at 6pm. Following on, MB Barber noted that they were transferred to the adult cage and fed their “white worms”.

Junior NH Diary 1969 Locust Report M B Barber

May/June1970 saw a visit to Strensall Common. A very intricate and interesting hand drawn picture of a hoverfly along with detailed observations are available “3 pairs of legs like all insects, one pair of wings and a stump of hind wing like all flies”.  Also picture is the head area of a Wolf Spider, apparently “Strensall is particularly good for spider enthusiasts”.

Hoverflies Station 7 Head Region of Wolf Spider

The swimming pool is 100!

Swimming Baths Opening 1914

The official opening on 1st June 1914. Those standing at the front are (l-r): R.W. Thorp (Architect and Bootham Old Scholar, 1899-1900), Arnold S. Rowntree (Secretary of Schools Committee and Old Scholar 1883-89), Francis C. Clayton (Old Scholar 1855-58) and T. Edmund Harvey (President of OYSA and Old Scholar 1887-91).

The Bootham swimming pool will be one hundred years old on Sunday. On 1st June 1914 the new Bath was handed over by T. Edmund Harvey, President of OYSA, to the school. According to the magazine, Arnold S. Rowntree ‘was glad…to have the opportunity of embracing the bath to his bosom, and of thanking as heartily as possible all those who by their generous contributions had enabled the Association to make this noble gift to the School.’ He hoped the the bath would be of help ‘in increasing the health and vigour of all those who passed through its doors.’

Swimming Baths 1914To finish, here is the first verse from a poem by Alfred Morgan Hughes (Old Scholar 1905-07) about the appeal to Old Scholars. The poem is called ‘The Building of the Bath’ and it was published in ‘Bootham’ magazine in March 1915.

“Frank Clayton, good old scholar,

By John Ford’s tomb he swore

That the ninety boys of Bootham

Should suffer dirt no more.

By John Ford’s tomb he swore it,

And named an opening day,

And sent blank banker’s orders forth

East and west and south and north

To summon in the pay.”

Digital Cultures 2014

On Monday I attended an interesting event in Newcastle, ‘Digital Cultures: Future Thinking and Innovation for Arts and Heritage’.

The post has ended up fairly long, so here are the top questions that I took away:

  1. How can I plan projects to make sure that I am thinking about the audience/end-user and how I can make it easier for them to find what they are looking for?
  2. How can our collections be used in creative ways, and how can I encourage this?
  3. How can online and offline work well together for us?
  4. How can I use digital to start conversations?
  5. How can I tap into the wealth of knowledge that Old Scholars and others will have about the collections?
  6. How can the material be used to bring together different groups of people, to create something new and see what emerges?

Here are a few points that I took away from each talk (as opposed to summaries of the talks).

1. Nora McGregor talking about digital collections at the British Library

  • When you have large amounts of data, ways of finding information that is relevant is crucial.
  • The British Library have made more than 1 million images available on Flickr, and Nora talked about the wide range of uses to which the images have been put, and about how crowdsourcing has been used to tag the images. There are more details on their blog
  • British Library Labs – encouraging people to work with their digital collections.

2. John Bowers from Culture Lab (talking about a project using a collection of natural history artefacts to create an artistic response)

  • Seeing objects as raw material for artistic response.
  • Using different senses, e.g. sound
  • A ‘living exhibition’ – creating the exhibits on site and working openly, enabling people to see how things are created
  • People learning by working alongside others
  • Curiosity, and finding the detours and interesting routes.

3. Annette Mees from Coney (which mixes theatre and digital in various settings)

  • Digital creates new ways of talking to people, and can expand the experience of the audience – conversations before and after an event.
  • It’s always about the audience
  • Creating live events that people can also engage with online.
  • Using technology to make inaccessible spaces accessible.
  • Start by asking what you want to achieve – who is the audience, what are they already asking about, what kind of experience, what stories are the focus?
  • People want things that they know how to use.
  • Working quickly and cheaply, getting feedback as you go along and telling people that you’re testing and developing.
  • The first stage of discussing a project is really important.

4. Martha Henson (a freelance digital producer) talking about the power of play

  • Games can be used in a way that is co-operative, and that is about the interaction between players.
  • Putting people in a situation is more powerful that just telling them about it.
  • Games must be fun!

5. Dominic Wilcox and James Rutherford talking about an installation they had done at the Sage

  • A map of sounds (again using different senses)
  • Using something that looks analogue as the technology is hidden.

6. Olga Mink from Baltan Labs

  • Enabling collaberations
  • Creating a space for experimentation
  • They engage with a wide range of sectors: industry; education; art and design; science and technology

7. Alan Smith from Allenheads Contemporary Arts

  • Digital issues in rural areas. Context in terms of location is important.

8. Irini Papadimitriou talking about digital programmes at the V&A

  • Annual events and monthly meet-ups that create an opportunity for artists, designers and members of the public to make things together.
  • Problem solving events, that bring together diverse themes (e.g. fashion and climate change)
  • Exhibitions created by an artist and group of participants.

9. Dr Noel Lobley talking about ethnographic sound galleries at the Pitt Rivers Museum

  • Bringing sound into galleries that are very object based.
  • Taking sounds out of the archives into the communities that created them, to get contextual information.
  • Links with composers and artists to create new work
  • Event with soundscape and a torch to explore.

10. Marialaura Ghidini from

  • A mixture of online and offline curation, integrated together.

11. Panel Discussion

  • The curator enabling work to happen, rather than dictating what it will be.
  • Bringing worlds together that don’t normally meet.
  • Issue of how the languages used by different groups/industries/sectors translate.

Expedition Recipes

Last weekend I was helping with the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme training expedition, and inevitably the conversation turned to food – what they had eaten (and how well or badly it had gone), what they would be eating soon, and what they might eat (some of the suggestions were worthy of a certain TV programme based in the Australian jungle). Inspired by this (perhaps inspired isn’t quite the right word), I found a Bootham magazine article from 1993, about the Basic Term Expedition. Basic Term was an introductory course to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and it seems that points were given for inventive recipes, some of which were included in the article….

Chocolate Apple Segments
It turned out the one Yorkie bar wasn’t enough to cover pieces of apple, so shelled Minstrels had to be added (apparently the shell of Minstrels doesn’t melt). They also learnt that melting chocolate directly in the pan risks burnt chocolate!

Fried Bananas
Best when cooked in a very greasy frying pan. For an extra challenge the pieces of banana could be laid North-South, to help with navigation after breakfast.

Chocolate Ambrosia
The ratio of rice pudding to chocolate powder was crucial.

As anyone who has done expeditions will know, any cooking done in a damp field when you are starving and have no other options tastes pretty good (perhaps not very crunchy pasta though)!

A week in Bootham Archives

So what goes on behind the scenes in the archives? To give you a taste, here are a few of the things I was involved in last week…

  • Trying out the software for a new catalogue of the archives. I’ve spent a while playing with the software, seeing how it works and seeing how best we might use it. It’s very exciting to get to this stage, as it’s been a long time in the planning! Next week I’ll start to put the first ‘proper’ records in the catalogue. Eventually the plan is to make the catalogue available online, along with some digitised records, such as photographs – watch this space…
  • I’ve also been discussing the records retention policy with our administration manager. Each year it evolves slightly, especially as more of our records are now just held electronically. Making sure that we don’t have a big gap in the archives for the first part of the 21st century as a result of electronic records not surviving is a challenge. There’s lots of discussion in the archives sector about digital records. Part of the problem is that software and hardware very quickly goes out of date. Someone can find some photographs from their schooldays fifty years ago, and there’s a good chance the photographs will be in good enough condition to look at. If someone finds digital records fifty years from now, there’s a good chance that they won’t be able to look at them.
  • We often use images from the archive for greetings cards, and it’s time for a new design, so we’ve been choosing a new photograph and I’ve been designing the card.
  • I’ve been continuing with the research for a project about the First World War, linked with the history department. We’re hoping to be able to track a number of Old Scholars who were involved in the war in different ways. I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading through the magazines from the period, which had a lot of news about what Old Scholars were doing. I’ve been struck again by how powerful the stories of individuals are – events that can seem distant and inaccessible come to life when you read letters and start to see the individuals behind the numbers.
  • I’ve also been researching Old Scholars who died during the First World War for a researcher who’d seen the ‘Subtle Resistance: Scraps from a Bootham Diary in the Great War’ play (the play was written by Morven Hamilton and performed by Bootham students).

John Firth Fryer 1840-1914

John Firth Fryer

Today (28th February) marks the 100th anniversary of the death of John Firth Fryer, Bootham’s headmaster between 1875 and 1899. He started as a pupil at the school in 1854, and apart from a year at the Flounders Institute at Ackworth training to become a teacher, he remained at the school until his retirement in 1899. During his headship, he oversaw changes including teaching becoming departmentalised, permission being granted by the committee for the hire of a piano for practice during leisure time (which rapidly became the purchase of two pianos, hymn singing on Sunday evenings and the introduction of concerts), and the end of earlier customs such as no plates at breakfast or tea. Unfortunately his headship finished with the fire in 1899 which destroyed much of the school.

He seems to have been a keen footballer for a while, according to his obituary (in ‘Bootham’ magazine, May 1914): “When, however, the game [football] was sanctioned and John Ford himself gave the initial kick…in September 1862, no one proved a more enthusiastic player than J. F. Fryer, until an unlucky kick under the knee temporarily incapacitated him and made it undesirable for him to keep it on.”

His poem about football, ‘A Lay of Modern York’ was reprinted with his obituary in 1914, and its ending is particularly poignant considering what would follow later in 1914. Here are the last two verses:

“Thus onward speeds the conflict,

With various fortune blest;

First one side – then the other –

The poor ball gets no rest!

First to left and then to right,

Now here, now there, the ball is sped.

Anon one side the victory sees

An then its hopes are all but fled.

In short, so various is the scene

In this so happy, playful strife

As not remiss to represent

The strange vicissitudes of life.


Would that all strife as harmless were as this,

Would that all sanguinary war would cease,

All kingdoms of the happy earth rejoice

Beneath the reign of universal Peace.

The man of war his sword to ploughshare beat,

His deadly spear to pruning hook would turn;

Nations in battle fierce no more would meet,

No more with rage against each other burn;

And thus no longer war, but Peace delight to learn.”

J. F. Fryer

4th November 1862, 20, Bootham, York

James Backhouse and West Bank Park

It’s really good to hear about the West Bank Park Heritage Project (, particularly as the Backhouse family had Bootham connections. The James Backhouse who first set up the nursery sent his son, also called James Backhouse, to York Friends Boys School in Lawrence Street between 1834 and 1841 (the school in Lawrence Street moved to Bootham in 1846, and later became known as Bootham School). The younger James Backhouse sent his sons, James and William, to Bootham (James between 1874 and 1878, and William between 1876 and 1880).

James Backhouse


Photograph: James Backhouse, born 1825, at York Friends Boys School 1834-41.


The youngest James Backhouse (grandson of the first James Backhouse) wrote an obituary for his father, James Backhouse (son of the first James Backhouse) in ‘Bootham’ magazine in May 1903, and it talks about everything from York’s first station to an underground cavern! Here are some extracts…

“On the introduction of a railway into York in 1839 the business premises were transferred to Fishergate, and later still to their present position at Holgate, one mile away. The original Passenger Station building, which may be spoken of as little more than a wooden shed, outside the City walls, was, in a very brief time rebuilt within the walls upon the old garden site. This new erection, when in the course of time a further new and enlarged station was required, became the North Eastern Railway offices. It is said that when the first station was opened, one porter attended to all the luggage and issued all the tickets. Today about 450 officials and porters are required to cope with the traffic of the seven different railway companies which run their trains to York.”

“About 1859 the careful observations made during his previous botanical excursions bore fruit in another way. He constructed in the Nurseries his well-known imitation Mountain Tarn and surrounding crags, on purpose to shew how Alpine plants might be artificially cultivated. His success in the cultivation of these plants was largely due to a scientific knowledge of soil requirements and other local conditions necessary to the growth of each species. As pioneer of a new departure in Horticulture the fame of his work soon spread, and hundreds visited York to witness the novel sight of this Alpine model, correct in every detail, and no mere accumulation of material.”

“Another monument to his memory at York Nurseries is an underground cavern, so arranged and artificially lighted that filmy ferns, which are by no means easy subjects to deal with, flourish there in great perfection; though denizens of various parts of the globe.”

Good luck to the West Bank Park Heritage Project!

  1. James Backhouse’s obituary is contained in ‘Bootham’ magazine, Vol I, p280-284.
  2. The photograph is taken from an album presented in Silvanus Thompson in 1874, held in Bootham School Archives.

Sledging in 1981

Inspired by the Winter Olympics and the dusting of snow at home this morning (now replaced by lots of rain), I had a look through the photograph scrapbooks and found these two photographs of the Junior House outing to go sledging at Terrington in 1981.

Sledging 1981 1 Sledging 1981 2

Centenary of Physics Opening

The physics laboratory at Bootham is 100 years old this week, if you go by the official opening date. It was opened on 27th January 1914 by Professor Silvanus Thompson, a well-known physicist who went to Bootham between 1858 and 1867, and was science master between 1870 and 1875 – look for the blue plaque on Bootham. According to the account in ‘Bootham’ magazine (Vol VI, March 1914), when the building was declared open, it was “received with loud and prolonged cheering by the pupils.”

Physics opening 1Physics opening 2







Silvanus Thompson went on to make a speech on ‘The Place of Science Teaching in Schools’ which was reported in ‘Bootham’. With all the debate about curriculums now, it’s interesting to see a perspective on what should be taught, and why, from a hundred years ago.

Here are some of his points about what should be included in the curriculum:

  • “Chemistry, because a little knowledge of it would save them from many absurdities of thought.
  • An intelligent understanding of the principles on which machinery was constructed and on which it operated. He had no doubt that a considerable percentage of the boys in Bootham School would in the future, as they had done in the past, enter into industrial life where machinery was used.
  • A fair grounding in physics, which dealt in detail with the properties of matter. There was a vast difference between the lives of the people in the age before steam engines and steam boats were introduced.
  • Astronomy…would give them a sense of the proportion of things.
  • Geology was a thing they might study with great advantage, without going outside their own country.
  • A study of human physiology might not solve the problems of life, but it was useful so far as the great laws of health were concerned.
  • By a careful study of the sciences they got training in measurement and accuracy which could not be got in any other way.
  • Classification and verification were necessary in everything, and science would teach them that.
  • As well as science, they should learn history – he did not mean the learning of dates, and the accounts of battles of great generals and admirals. There had been too much of the beating of the big drum in the past. What he meant by history was a true account of the progress of the human race.
  • In addition they could not separate history from economics, for economics was the experience of the past classification.
  • It was also necessary to learn geography.
  • Mathematics must not be overlooked.
  • With regard to languages, they should above all learn some language which was not too closely akin to their own, and he believed educationally the best language to learn would be Greek.
  • In conclusion, the speaker said they should in addition to all those things he had enumerated cultivate their hobbies, for they were well worth cultivating.”