Wonderful Watercolours Sneak Peek 1

Paul Sandby, Entrance to Warwick Castle, about 1775

Paul Sandby (1725 to 1809)
The Entrance of Warwick Castle from the Lower Court, No. 2
about 1775

This aquatint was made by Paul Sandby, the first artist in England to use aquatint printmaking. In fact, Sandby created the name aquatint after refining an earlier etching technique. Using the aquatint process allows artists to etch a range of tones and create tonal effects similar to watercolours.

This work and many others will be on display in Wonderful Watercolours: Views of Coventry and Warwickshire. The exhibition runs from 25 February to 22 July 2012 at the Herbert. Entry is free.


Celebrating the origins of public libraries in Coventry

This coming Saturday, February 4th, libraries all over the UK will celebrate the importance of libraries on National Libraries Day.

Many events have been organised in all different types of libraries across the country to support and raise the profile of libraries. Locally Coventry Libraries have organised several events.

Books and libraries have always been an important part of life in Coventry. Whilst there is evidence of earlier libraries the first public library in the city was created in the Old Grammar School in 1602. The library was open to both pupils and members of the public.

Gulson Library from Broadgate, 1905

Gulson Library from Broadgate, 1905

In 1791 the Coventry Library Society was established. The society met originally in a property near the Castle Inn, Broadgate and later at 29 Hertford Street. During this period there were other private, circulating libraries in the city and possibly a Ladies’ Book Society.

The Coventry Library Society flourished during the first half of the 1800s but went into decline during the 1860s, possibly due to the wider economic conditions in the city at the time (sound familiar?). It was decided the society could not continue so they offered their Hertford Street premises and collection of 17000 volumes to the corporation to a public library. The library was officially opened by the mayor John Gulson on 31st August 1868.

The Hertford Street premises soon became unsuitable and a new library, the Free Library was built on the site of the disused Coventy Gaol adjacent to County Hall. The library, opened on Wednesday 8th October, 1873, was funded by John Gulson, Samuel Carter, public subscription and the Committee of the Coventry and Midland Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition.

Just a year later another literary society, the Coventry Book Club, was formed in 1874. The club greatly supported the Free Library. They purchased books for their own use and then passed them on to the public library for a nominal fee.

Interior of Gulson Reference Library

Interior of Gulson Reference Library

By 1889 the number of volumes held by the public library had risen to 34,000 meaning yet again more space was needed. A new wing was built and opened in 1889 to house the reference library. The new wing was entirely funded by John Gulson and consequently the library became known as the Gulson Library.

The Gulson Library was badly damaged during the blitz of November 14 1940. However by keeping calm and carrying on a temporary library service was set up at the Methodist Central Hall in January 1942.

Ten years later the Central lending and reference libraries were moved back into part of the Gulson Library which had survived the blitz and had been renovated.

A new Central Library opened in Bayley Lane in 1967 complete with a new-fangled Gramophone Library! This remained the Central Library until the library moved to its present location at the former Locarno/Tiffany’s building in 1986.

Rayanne, Acting Librarian
Coventry History Centre

Object of the Month – February 2012

Coventry Blitz – General View, 1940,  By Ernest Boye Uden (1911 to 1986)

Coventry Blitz – General View by Ernest Boye Uden (1911 to 1986)

Coventry Blitz – General View
By Ernest Boye Uden (1911 to 1986)

This watercolour painting of Coventry in the Blitz is one of the Herbert’s newest acquisitions. It found its way to us in fairly unusual circumstances. The artist’s daughter got in touch with us from Canada where she now lives, to tell us that this painting was being offered for sale on a website run by an organisation called the Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum. She was really keen for the Herbert to purchase the work, as she felt strongly that it represents an important event in the city’s history and should be in a museum in Coventry where it could be seen and appreciated by Coventry people.

After a number of communications with the Anglo-Boer War Museum, we reached an agreement with them to buy the painting. Fortunately the sale price was not too high and we were able to use some of the funding we currently have from the Heritage Lottery Fund to purchase works of art on the themes of conflict, peace and reconciliation. This was an ideal use of this funding, as the Herbert’s focus on these themes stems from the experience of Coventry in the Blitz of 1940.

When we first heard about the painting, we didn’t know very much about the artist, but luckily his daughter was able to supply us with some biographical information. We also discovered that the Imperial War Museum has several works by him in their collection.

Ernest Boye Uden (known as Boye Uden to distinguish him from his father Ernest Uden, who was also an artist) was born in 1911 in Peckham in London. He studied at Camberwell School of Art and Goldsmiths College and by 1936 had exhibited work at the Royal Academy. When the Second World War broke out, he joined the Auxiliary Fire Service in London, and was on duty during the air raids on the East End and Docks. He was part of the contingent wetting down St Paul’s Cathedral when it was surrounded by fire.

In 1940 he became an official war artist, attached to the National Fire Service. When Coventry was bombed on the night of 14 November 1940, Uden’s division was sent to the city to support the local fire services. This painting records his view of the three spires as they entered the city. After the war Uden established himself as a successful artist, illustrator and watercolour painter. He was commissioned to produce work for a number of well-known companies, including British Gas, Daimler, Bass, Dunlop, Ferguson Tractors, ICI and the Radio Times. He died in Sudbury in Suffolk in 1986.

The painting has required some work by our conservation team to make it ready for display, including making a new mount for it and framing it. It will be on show for the first time as part of the Warwickshire Watercolours exhibition, at the Herbert between 25 February and 22 July.

Scary-hairy, beastly bugs…

Olivia, aged 6, with a Victorian stereoscope
Olivia, aged 6, with a Victorian Stereoscope

I recently attended some training about how museums can be places to improve people’s wellbeing. During the event I had the opportunity to hear some brilliant case studies from organisations across England and was touched by some of the outcomes they had achieved.  

The focus on the day was not about what people could learn from museums, or about how much success these projects bought to museum visitor figures or finances – it was about how museums can create happiness, peace of mind and in some cases a distraction for people going through difficult periods of their life.

This got me thinking about the work the Herbert do to help the wellbeing of others. For around a year now I have been going onto the children’s ward at Coventry’s University Hospital, taking with me a selection of objects from the handling collections. This initially got started through the MLA’s Learning Links programme, but has since continued, due to the positive outcomes we have seen from the work we do. I go onto the wards once a month, and spend the afternoon going around children’s bedsides, or working with them in the hospital classroom, to give the children a hands-on approach to learning and access to the museums collections during their stay in hospital. Before we launched the project I had concerns over whether or not the children would actually want to get involved with this. My feeling was that when you are in hospital you would probably want to avoid strangers because of the vulnerable state you get into when feeling ill or recovering from an operation. However, I also remembered an experience of being in hospital for the short space of a day when I was a teenager and remember it being pretty boring! So for those who are there on either a short-term or long-term basis, something a little different might just be what they are looking for. 

Luckily for me the patients, aged from 4 – 17, have really got involved with the objects I bring to their bedsides, and what makes it even nicer is that they get their parents and the hospital staff involved too. I’ve had some fantastic memories made from my time on the children’s ward, with one visit in particular standing out in my mind.

The scary-hairy tarantula

The scary-hairy tarantula

I had taken a collection of beastly bugs into the hospital (I thought this would be funny as it is what hospitals try usually to avoid at all costs), and was working with a teenage girl. She had been in and out of hospital for quite a while, and had sunk into a bit of a depression over being ill and being separated from her friends all the time. On this day, I went to her bedside and showed her the bugs I had with me. It took a bit of encouragement for her to hold the block that encased a scary-hairy tarantula, but eventually she started to explore its many qualities. After looking at this for a while she placed it down on her bedside table, at which point a nurse walked into the room to run some tests. Before she had the chance though, she spotted the tarantula and thinking it was real ran screaming from the room. The teenage girl burst into laughter, causing her mother to start laughing, then me and then the nurse who had bravely ventured back into the room realising what was going on. This itself made the experience brilliant, but what really moved me was that as I was leaving the ward for the day, the girl’s mother ran up to me to say thank you for making her daughter smile… it was the first time she had laughed in 3 weeks.

– Lisa

Object of the Month – January 2012

Piece of Acropora Palmata Coral

Acropora palmata coral

While cataloguing the coral collection in the Herbert museum, I came across this species of Acropora coral.

Acropora are a genera of coral that contains at least 149 separate species. Acropora palmata has been the subject of recent conservation efforts as its numbers have suffered dramatically in the last 30 years. Acropora palmata is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This is the tier before ‘extinct in the wild’.

Acropora palmata is found in the Caribbean Sea, Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the Bahamas. These corals primarily live in shallow waters with temperatures between 26 °C and 30 °C.

Corals rely on zooxanthellae, which are photosynthetic protozoa that embed themselves in coral tissue. The zooxanthellae receive protection from predators and in return supply the coral with approximately 90% of its energy from their photosynthetic byproducts.  These protozoa are extremely sensitive to variations in water temperature and will leave the coral tissue if long periods of temperature change occur. The result is ‘bleached’ coral as the colourful zooxanthellae leave. Global warming, the rise in sea levels and temperatures have massively affected the symbiotic relationship between corals and these protozoa.

Corals are also suffering world-wide because they are extremely susceptible to pollution, acidification of the sea and changes in ocean salinity. Human activities such as tourism and fishing also pose a threat to coral.

All these factors have affected corals on the global level, but the spread of an aggressive disease called ‘White band disease’ has hit the Acropora palmata species hard. It is estimated that 80-98% of the wild population has been wiped out in the last 30 years.

It is entirely possible that Acropora palmata could soon only be alive in cultivated aquariums.

Sam Caulfield-Kerney

University of Leicester work placement student

Acropora palmata in the wild

 Acropora palmata in the wild.

Photo by Nick Hobgood. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Painting Conservation

More on Cope’s ‘Martyrdom of Laurence Saunders at Coventry.’

This is a resumption of my blog after an interval when I was busy with exhibition work.

A little bit of history relating to the picture: Painted in 1851, the picture was exhibited in the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1867. Another label on the reverse relates to an ‘Exhibition of Works of Art’ in Leeds the following year, 1868.

The triptych was previously displayed in the Council Chamber in Coventry Council House. It was taken down in January 2000 for the repainting of the Chamber and was placed in an anteroom. On closer examination it was decided that the condition of the picture was such that it would be advisable to remove it from display and it was subsequently moved to The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

The picture had suffered much paint loss along the lower edges and other areas of paint were flaking and in danger of falling off. The reverse of the triptych had been damaged by the activities of a pigeon which according to reports had at one stage entered the Chamber and become trapped.

Emergency conservation carried out involved adhering a protective facing tissue onto the endangered areas of paint:

The damage to the reverse is shown here:

Label relating to Paris Exhibition on reverse of frame:

Jill Irving December 20th

Object of the Month – December 2011

Sampler by Mary Shipley, 1797Sampler by Mary Shipley, 1797

There are at least 60 samplers in the Herbert’s textile collection and this is a particularly beautiful example. As the Herbert has so many samplers and only a few in the galleries, we are starting a project to mount all the ones in store. This means they can be safely handled and much more easily displayed. Staff and a group of volunteers from NADFAS (National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies) were trained at the end of November and have started work on the project. A special mount padded and covered with acid free material has to be made before the sampler can be positioned and attached. With each mount taking about 2 hours to prepare and stitch the sampler to it, it may be some time before the project is finished!

Samplers began in the 1400s or 1500s as a way of remembering different types of stitches or patterns. Over time they evolved into a right of passage for young girls, proving their knowledge and patience. Ones like Mary’s – with an alphabet, picture, biblical verse and the girl’s name and date – are what most people imagine when they think of a sampler.

This sampler is has particularly fine embroidery in silk threads. Unfortunately with the fine background, delicate silk and existing damage, Mary’s sampler will not be able to be mounted as part of this project but will be kept safely in store as it is one of the nicest in the collection.

Object of the Month – November 2011

Radio, about 1940

Radio, about 1940

Arthur Noakes’ radio

This radio was used by Arthur Noakes, who was a secret listener during the Second World War. Secret listeners were amateur radio enthusiasts who were recruited by the government to listen to enemy radio messages. They passed the messages on to Bletchley Park where they were decoded. Bletchley Park’s success in intercepting and decoding German messages played a key part in winning the war.

Arthur was one of a handful of secret listeners in Coventry. He was already a keen amateur radio enthusiast and a member of the Coventry Amateur Radio Society when war broke out. At first the government took away all amateur radio sets, but soon realised that they could be very useful for the war effort. An official visited Arthur at home and recruited him to work for the government. He had to sign the Official Secrets Act and was then given a radio and asked to listen to certain frequencies.


At first Arthur struggled to pick up anything and was given this radio instead. It is a National Radio HRO set, made in the USA. The British government bought thousands of these high quality receivers during the war. With this new radio Arthur was able to listen to successfully listen to enemy messages. He believed the stations he listened to were in Belgium and Holland.

Arthur continued to listen to enemy communications throughout the war and often got feedback about how important the work was. He kept his work secret even from his family and it was not until many years later that his sons found out how he had spent the war. In the last few weeks two other people have come forward to tell us that their fathers were also secret listeners.

Arthur’s certificate of war service

We would like to thank the Noakes family and Coventry Amateur Radio Society for donating this radio and for recording Arthur Noakes’ story.

Huw Jones, Keeper of Collections

Wiki, water & watercolours

More routine, more roof repairs, more photography – more of everything, really, but some new themes as well, just to liven things up. On 1st October, two of us had groups round the conservation studio as part of the Wikimedia Back Stage Pass event. We felt this was very successful both for The Herbert as a whole, and for ourselves with the level of interest for conservation (not that it’s a competition…..). It was an enjoyable day, with an added bonus of finding the hairdryer and anti-static brush we though lost, whilst tidying. There’s still more to be done on that score, but sadly I don’t see where the (still missing) beam balance could possibly be hiding – that one must really be on loan, not just pretending like the hair-drier… In case you’re wondering, the hairdryer is for hot air, and the brush is for stopping dust getting over-attracted to nice clean flat plastic surfaces you’re about to shut away. You never know what you may have to do down here!

Talking of lost items, I raided the long-lost-property bag for a couple of emergency response training sessions. Add random items from home, out of date marketing leaflets and some apparently potential hazards, place in a large trough with water, and watch your colleagues retrieve them. Very interesting personality test – including on myself; by the third session I’d accustomed myself to deliberately tipping water over most things, but didn’t progress as far as dunking the much washed cute, cuddly leopard cub that some poor parent is bearing the brunt of loosing. I’ve never had to retrieve objects for real or run a practical training session before so we were all learning together, and now I’ve a pile more stuff to do to improve our emergency preparedness, and a leopard that keeps mysteriously moving around the studio…

Drying out after emergency response plan training

The next major project is to prepare for a large watercolour exhibition in Feb. This has rather crept up on me under cover from a number of unexpected happenings why have had to take priority, but really does have to be started – immediately after I’ve sent this. Work will involve cutting mounts, hinging watercolours, possibly dry cleaning and such like. My training is in archives conservation, so I’m not really used to playing about with pigments, but many of the techniques are similar, or require the same skills applied slightly differently. Even so, I was rather relieved that we managed to raise funds to have work on the William Brooke album done by a private Works on Paper conservator. 10 items were removed and cleaned by her, and I mounted a selection of these for an event a couple of weeks ago, re-acquainting myself with the mount cutter – I still need to learn its angle of minimum effort, but at least I know what I’m aiming at now! Many of the items are listed as only requiring a check over, but who knows what this will find – the first 2 taken at random have horridly acidic backboards which should really be removed, but I’d best see what the total of these is rather than diving in on those two and then finding there’s no time for ones which are discolouring the image. The idea is to use a poultice to hold moisture against the board, then strip it off in layers; usually the adhesives will be water softenable on older items. It’s a while since I’ve done anything of that nature, so I think a practice session is in order – there’s a nasty, mouldering apprentice indenture that’s been a skeleton in the drawer for years which should be just the job. Lovely!

‘From Highfield Road to Wembley Way’: Public Appeal

In April 2012, a new exhibition opens at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. ‘From Highfield Road to Wembley Way’ will celebrate Coventry City Football Club’s success in the 1987 FA Cup final. The unexpected win – the first in the Club’s 104 year history – brought together the whole city, who lined the streets to welcome the team back to Coventry. Whether you were a child, a teenager, or an adult; a staunch supporter or perhaps not even a football fan at all until that point; everyone remembers the day that Coventry City Football Club brought the Cup home.

Part of the exhibition will be dedicated to CCFC fans, and we are keen to gather their memories, stories, photos and memorabilia. A public appeal was launched in the Coventry Evening Telegraph and online from September 2011, and we have received a positive response so far!

Some of the memorabilia which has been offered for display include tickets and signed programmes from the final; a commemorative medal which was awarded to Coventry and District referees; a menu card from the celebration dinner held at the Club; and commemorative bottles of beer and wine. Home-made items include t-shirts, a scrapbook, and a banner made by Kay Preece (then Bridgland) which was displayed in the window of the Coventry Evening Telegraph. It is astonishing that fans have held onto these for 25 years!

Walsgrave Road house display

We are also building up an archive of home photographs. So far, these have mostly been of the Victory Parade through Coventry’s streets – which show houses decorated with flags, bunting, balloons and CCFC scarves. Sheila Basbrown sent us images like this of Walsgrave Road, as well as some of her and her colleagues dressed for work in ‘sky blue’ for the week running up to the final! Maurice Rattigan’s photos of his trip to Wembley clearly show the anticipation and excitement of the crowd, and the euphoria that followed. These photos are being uploaded to our Flickr site (http://www.flickr.com/groups/theherbert) and we are encouraging anyone else who has memorable photographs of the run up to the final, the final itself, or the Victory Parade, to do the same!

Crowds outside the Council House

It has been great to hear people’s memories, which really show what a momentous occasion the win was for the people of Coventry. Two fans have even sent us poems! Some of these memories will be featured in a short film in the exhibition. If you would like to share your story, please email us at skybluestories@theherbert.org. We would love to hear from you!

This post was written by Elizabeth Pratt, who is volunteering on this project.

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