Television, History and Museums

17th September 20201:40 pm18th September 2020 7:23 amLeave a Comment

One of our curators, Peter, has been inspired by some of our favourite TV shows and has been digging through the collections to learn more.

The Crown

The Crown is a biographical costume drama, covering the life of our current reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Produced by Netflix and first aired in 2016 it has 5 Series which cover the Queen’s accession to the throne all the way up to modern times. This was an easy one to pick. There isn’t a place in England that doesn’t have a connection to the Queen. But each connection is somewhat unique and Doncaster has several interesting connections with Queen Elizabeth II. Heritage Doncaster is the home of the collections of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, a now defunct Regiment that is now part of The Rifles (formed in 2007). The Queen is the Ceremonial Commander-in-Chief of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

Doncaster has for a long time been a very proud military town and a very Royalist Borough throughout history and this is no less so today. The Queen also has a long connection with the Races at Doncaster and in particular the Grand St Leger. A race festival which she has on many occasions attended and which a number of her race horses have competed in. One of the Queen’s horses, Dunfermline actually won the St Leger on the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. Queen Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret, who also appears significantly in The Crown was also the Royal who opened the current Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery on Chequer Road on Friday 30th October 1964. This takes me to the object that we’ve selected from our Local Studies collections: a photograph of Princess Margaret at the opening ceremony. Just one of many Royal objects in our collections, but a particularly poignant one as we look towards the opening of our new Library, Museum and Art Gallery on the site of the Doncaster Girl’s School at the junction of Chequer Road and Waterdale.


Doncaster Cup, 1827

Belgravia is a period costume drama, created for ITV and based on a 2016 Novel by Julian Fellowes, creator of a previously popular costume drama – Downton Abbey. It is a story of love, loss, scandal and intrigue set amongst the Nouveau Riche (New Money) of London’s High Society, set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic War. One season has aired this year, with rumours of a second season to come. It begins on the cusp of the battle of Waterloo and covers a fascinating period of history. Whilst set in London’s wealthy Belgravia, the focus on a family of the new emerging upper classes during the 19th Century gives a taste of society and a period which is well represented in Doncaster’s heritage.

The 51st Regiment of Foot, an Infantry regiment formed in 1755; later to become the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, fought at the Battle of Waterloo. Doncaster, although a rural borough, a long way from London and Belgravia, had its own Nouveau Riche families, who at the same time were carving out their own futures and trying to emulate the landed aristocracy and secure their place in high society. In the early 19th Century Doncaster was still a very rural borough and Doncaster Town Centre was a very wealthy country town, which catered for the wealthy families who lived in the many country houses and estates spread across the Borough and beyond. In particular Doncaster Races and the Doncaster Gold Cup were the event that anyone who was anyone would want to be seen at. As much as a social event, it was also a place where the wealthy could do business and also make social connections with other families that might lead to marriage unions.

In the town centre, the Mansion House was the venue for lavish balls, just like the one which is where this costume drama begins. Next door to it, the Subscription Rooms (now the entrance to Priory Walk) was a Betting Rooms where the wealthy could gamble and bet on the horse races. This leads me to the object I’ve chosen to link to this programme. A Gold Cup, from the Doncaster Races, from around the period that Belgravia is set. Heritage Doncaster has the largest collection of Cups from the Doncaster races and they display the wealth and importance of the race. The St Leger Festival is still the one big event in the Borough’s social calendar, where Doncaster’s wealthy residents come to be seen.

Call the Midwife

Child’s feeding bottle

A BBC period drama adapted from the best-selling memoirs of Jennifer Worth; a midwife in the East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s, by Heidi Thomas. This is an emotionally charged look at family life, birth death and midwifery in the slums of London’s East End in the two decades after the Second World War. I chose this for several reasons, partly because of the period it covers and partly because of the subject matter.

Doncaster had its own poor working class slums in the 1950s and 60s, in the town centre. They were known as Yards. These were very cramped living spaces, often multi storey flats that were built in the back yards of properties fronting onto the main streets. They were often owned by and named after the people who owned the property in which yard they had been built. Many of Doncaster’s worst yards were in the area now covered by the Frenchgate Centre. These were demolished in the late 1960s to make way for better accommodation in the form of Hyde Park high rise flats, whilst the space formerly occupied by the yards was tuned into the Arndale Centre, a large shopping Mall which many may remember, which is now known as the Frenchgate Centre.

The 1950s and 60s saw huge improvements in Health care, following the creation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948 and midwives were a key part of the NHS provision. Call the Midwife follows the same improvements in Health and Family Life in the East End of London. Obviously the focus of the programme is on Midwifes, women and pregnancy. As my partner is a Community Midwife this is a subject close to my heart and one that I find fascinating.

In our collections at Heritage Doncaster we have a number of objects relating both to Midwifery in Doncaster and Childbirth and babies. Family life and children are, as you can imagine, a popular subject for our audiences, because we can all relate to these subjects from our own personal experiences. Visitors are often fascinated by objects relating to child birth, babies and growing up, because the objects are both familiar but often very different and reflect the way that we have developed and changed over time, both technologically and socially.

The object I’ve chosen to link to this programme is a child’s feeding bottle. This is instantly recognisable to any parent, but is also very different from the modern plastic feeding bottles which we use today as it is made from glass. It is also interesting because it can be used to explore the way in which feeding a baby has changed over time as well as the practice of bottle feeding as opposed to breast feeding.

Food Unwrapped

Sturgeon from the River Don

Food and cooking programmes are a staple of British TV, but this particular programme stands out for me as being particularly interesting, since it is not about cooking. This Channel 4 programme takes a look behind the scenes at how our food is produced and made, focusing on the modern science behind the food we buy and eat. Food is at the heart of our heritage and culture. What we eat today has been influenced by our history and by our relationships with other cultures. You are as likely to enjoy a Curry as you are Fish ‘N’ Chips and now more than ever before we have a choice of foods from around the world.

The Romans brought us various herbs such as Rosemary and Basil, The Normans introduced Rabbits and in the Tudor period we saw weird and wonderful foods like the potato and Pineapple brought from across the Atlantic Ocean. Series 15, episode 6 visits an ethical caviar producer, not far from Doncaster in South Milford, where they produce caviar ethically.

The Museum object I’ve chosen to link to this programme is our sturgeon. A large fish native to the Baltic Sea, whose eggs we know as Caviar. At one time sturgeon were native to these shores and before heavy industrialisation in our area saw the rivers polluted, sturgeon were often spotted and caught in the River Don. This sturgeon was caught in the River Don and was added into the Museum’s collections and is one of two in our collections. There was an attempt in 2016 by a local Doncaster businessman to try and re-introduce sturgeon into this country as stock in fishing lakes, but the Environment Agency denied the application as there were concerns over how these non-native predatory fish might affect native species if they were to get into the Rivers. Many museum visitors marvel at this huge, almost prehistoric looking fish.

The Detectorists

The Cadeby Hoard

This is a wonderful comedy written and directed by Mackenzie Crook, perhaps more famous for his part in the Blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean films. It is sadly only three short series produced and aired on BBC4. My reasons for choosing this will be no surprise, since the subject of the comedy is metal detecting, treasure and history. The programme won a Bafta and is Mackenzie Crook’s love letter to the hobby of metal detecting, his love of the British Countryside and his father’s personal passions and interests. 

The programme follows the lives of two metal detectorists, Andy (Mackenzie Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones), their relationships, their friendships, and their activities as members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club, in their relentless pursuit to find lost treasure that will cement their place in Metal Detecting History. It is a wonderfully British comedy which takes a very positive look at the hobby of metal detecting, whilst gently poking fun at it in a very light hearted way.

It has everything you might expect – Museums, mentions of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (a service for the voluntary recording of archaeological finds by metal detectorists and members of the public) and even archaeologists. Heritage Doncaster has a wonderful and extensive collection of objects and treasures discovered by local Metal Detectorists, without whom we’d be lacking some of the most awe inspiring treasures of Doncaster’s past. I’ve chosen a Hoard of Roman Coins and Jewellery, found near Cadeby Doncaster, by a Metal Detectorist in the 1980s to link to this programme as it represents exactly the sort of ground breaking discovery that the two main characters in this programme dream of discovering. The Cadeby Hoard is a very unusual hoard, in that it consists of both Jewellery in the form of two silver snake bracelets and two silver clasp bracelets with inset Carnelian gem stones, as well as a number of Silver Denarii.

Thomas the Tank Engine

A model locomotive named ‘John’

First adapted for television in 1979, Thomas the Tank Engine, has been a staple of children’s TV for decades. Adapted from the original books by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry, first published in 1945, the stories have evolved to become a huge franchise. Even the National Railway Museum in York has a section of its displays dedicated to Thomas and friends. Currently it is on Cbeebies, CBBC and You Tube, amongst other channels.

The original stories were based on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway E2 Class Steam Locomotives, which were used for short distance freight haulage. Over time new characters have been added and stories written, bringing it up to date and ensuring the appeal for generation after generation of children. There is something magical about Steam Locomotives and the Railways that children love and many grow up into adulthood still nurturing that passion.

The reason for choosing this programme was because of its links to Doncaster’s long and prestigious Rail Heritage. Edward Denison is credited as being the father of Doncaster’s Railway Heritage, having brought the railway to the Borough around 1848 as part of the Great North Railway line from London to York. By 1867 Doncaster had its own engineering ‘Plant’ Works and began to make its own locomotives.  The new Library, Museum and Art Gallery, currently being built on the site of the Old Girl’s School at the Junction of Waterdale and Chequer Road will have a Rail Heritage Centre, displaying two Doncaster built locomotives on loan from the National Railway Museum. The New Rail Heritage centre will showcase the incredible Hall Cross Railway Collection alongside other Railway collections from the combined Museums and Archives collections. It is from these collections I’ve chosen an object to link to this programme. A model locomotive named ‘John’, a scale model built by a railway engineer who worked at Doncaster Plant and would have studied at the Doncaster Engineering College which stood until relatively recently opposite the current Museum on Chequer Road, where the new housing estate now stands.

Postman Pat

The famous racehorse painter J.F.Herring came to Doncaster in 1814 and until 1821 drove both mail and stage coaches. One of his three routes was this one, the Doncaster to Halifax run. Photo: Courtesy of Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery.

‘Postman Pat, Postman Pat, Postman Pat and his black and white cat’.

Postman Pat, created by John Cunliffe, first screened on BBC 1 in 1981. Since then it has been a regular and well-loved children’s TV programme, which has also transferred to books an other media. Set in the fictional village of Greendale it was modelled on Cunliffe’s memories of living and growing up in Kendal, in the Lake District. Post Man Pat and his Cat Jess go on a series of adventures, all centred around Pat delivering parcels and other mail to his village inhabitants. I selected this programme because of its links to the Postal System and the Royal Mail.

The Royal Mail was originally conceived and established by King Henry VIII, with the creation of the position of Master of the Post, for the purpose of delivering his messages around the kingdom. James I established a mail run between London and Edinburgh to keep control of the Scottish Privy Council. It was Charles I though who can be credited with extending the postal service to the wider British Public. Doncaster, being a town on the Great North Road – part of the mail run from London to Edinburgh, has a long history and association with the Royal Mail. It was once, in the 17th – 19th Centuries full of coaching houses which would receive the mail coach and refresh its horses as well as act as an exchange for mail to be taken on parallel routes.

The object I have chosen from the collection to link to this programme is a painting of the Royal Mail Coach, by John Frederick Herring Senior, painted in 1841, depicting the Doncaster to Halifax Mail Coach racing along at speed at some unknown location. The painter lived in Doncaster for over 30 years and for a time drove the mail coach himself.

Horrible Histories

Egyptian Scarab Beetle amulet

Horrible Histories is a TV series adapted from the books by Terry Deary, a former actor, Playwright and Acting Teacher. He published his first books in 1993 and since then both the books and the TV show (On CBBC and BBC i-Player), first aired in 2009 has rocketed to international success. His aim was to educate children about the truth of history, focusing on the human experience side of history and connecting it to our modern experiences of life and avoiding the boring bits like dates, which he has often commented made learning history at school for him boring.

His books and the TV show cover everything from the Egyptians to the First World War and are a funny, witty and insightful take on the history we all know and love but may often have found a bit dull to learn or read about. As a Museum Curator my reasons for selecting this programme are very much based around my role of communicating history to the general public. I’ve always taken inspiration from and admired Deary’s skill in presenting history in a fun and accessible way that makes children want to learn it, but more than that helps them relate to it from their current experiences and environment.

The object I’ve selected to link to this programme is one from our Antiquities collection. The Antiquities collection is only small, but has some amazing objects from Prehistoric cultures, Egypt, Greece, Rome and even South America. The object I’ve selected is an Egyptian Scarab Beatle amulet made from a Carnelian Gem Stone. This amulet, along with many others would have been placed in between the wrappings as the Mummified body was wrapped up. The scarab was an amulet or lucky charm placed on the heart to protect it on its journey to the afterlife. The heart was the only organ left in a body when it was mummified. This was because it was believed that the heart stored the thoughts and memories of an individual that would be needed in the afterlife.

In the Night Garden

Ninky- Nonk toy

Those with very small children will probably be very familiar with this programme. Created by Andrew Davenport and first broadcast in 2007 on CBeebies, It is aimed at children aged 1-6 years and was specifically created to help parents prepare children for bed and sleep. There are a whole host of magical, colourful and fantastical characters with outrageous names such as Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka and Ninky Nonk to name but a few. It is set in a magical forest with trees, grass and flowers, to create a calming, relaxing environment. It shows just how powerful the natural world can be as an aid to soothing and relaxing children (and adults for that matter too).

The reason I chose this programme was to allow me to talk about Museum collecting. Heritage Doncaster, like all museums is constantly collecting to capture and reflect the heritage of the place it serves. In our case the Borough of Doncaster. As well as collecting historic items we also collect some very modern, current items. We have to ask the question – in 100 years time, what objects will help future audiences to understand their past, which is our present. We do this through working with the public to identify and select objects, but also as a museum team, we hold regular meetings and discussions to identify objects and other heritage (images, film, voice recordings etc) that we feel should be added into our collections.

This brings me to the object we’ve chosen to link to this programme, which is a child’s toy Ninky-Nonk. Many TV programmes now have merchandise associated with them and this is something we are very used to and stretches back decades. Toys like these help stimulate children’s creative play and sensory development as well as create a familiarity with the programme and characters that they watch. This toy currently belongs to one of our Curatorial Team’s child and, once she has grown out of it may be considered as an acquisition to be added to the collection.

We hope you have enjoyed learning more about the Doncaster connections to some of our favourite TV shows. Has it reminded you of any old favourites? Let us know in the comments!

Written by admin - Modified by Holly Langley

One thought on “Television, History and Museums”

  1. Mark Waterhouse says:

    The Yards/Slums 1840s, when the Wagon works came ro Doncaster drew workers into the Yards and cleared by the 1930s?.

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