Category Archives: The project

Unrealised Proposal for Cadavre Piece, 1970

Myna Trustram writes…

David’s post about the display of dead bodies – whether animal or human – put me immediately in mind of a possible future exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery where a dead human body will be displayed.

Those of you who saw the 11 Rooms exhibition in July this year at Manchester Art Gallery (part of Manchester International Festival) will know that the Gallery hopes to present a work by John Baldessari called ‘Unrealised Proposal for Cadavre Piece, 1970’.

The Gallery intented to present this work as part of the 11 Rooms exhibition but; it was not possible to secure consent to display a corpse within the exhibition planning timeframe. So the Gallery presented the documentation of this process to demonstrate the effort that had been made to realise the concept in a sensitive and respectful way. The Gallery also stated its commitment to continue dialogue with the artist and to realise the work in the future.

Baldessari’s proposal is to present a corpse in the Gallery. The work will be presented in a way that recalls Andrea Mantegna’s painting The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, 1500, in the Brera Gallery, Milan, which is a very realistic representation of Christ. It also refers to a work that the French artist Marcel Duchamp constructed over 20 years; it is called Etant Donnés – and is a large wooden door with two peepholes: looking through the peepholes you see a naked body lying in a landscape.

In Baldessari’s work the body is seen through a viewing hole from the same perspective as the Mantegna and Duchamp works, from the feet upwards.


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Who Cares? Natural science and health and wellbeing

The NLOB blog has been quiet for a while, but that will be changing. First up, we have a series of blog posts by guest authors looking at the recent Who Cares? research, with an emphasis on how natural science collections can feed into this work. We’ll have new posts the next four Mondays, starting on the 4th July. So please subscribe, read the posts, and comment on them.

If you want to read the Who Cares? report, it’s available here:

Who Cares? report

David Craven


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A passion for plants

Over the years, I’ve often been asked about the attitude of working men and women to science. There is a perception that in the 19th Century, the sciences were the preserve of the middle and upper classes. To an extent, this is true. To really pursue any science then, before “professional” science even existed, you had to have a decent income and plenty of free time. Ideal for the clergy, and local doctors, but not so much for millworkers. But this didn’t mean they couldn’t take an interest.

In the 19th Century, the population became more literate, and libraries began to appear, allowing the working classes access to scientific literature, manuals, and other materials. But was this opportunity taken up? Mark’s work, particularly at Rossendale, has suggested it was. But I’m always keen for first-hand sources.

I was talking to a friend about this, and they recalled a passage from a book called “A Cotton-Fibre Halo”. The book is an account, written in 1849, of the conditions for textile workers in Manchester and surrounding districts. The book was written by Angus Bethune Reach, a journalist. It was published as a series of articles in the Morning Chronicle between October 1849 and October 1850. Reach spent most of 1849 in with the millworkers, getting first-hand insight into their lives. In 1972, Chris Aspin of Helmshore Local History Society edited the articles into one text for publication. It was republished by Royd Press in 2007 (ISBN: 978-09556204-4-7).

Cotton-Fibre Halo (Royd Press 2007)

It’s a fabulous book, well worth a thorough read by anyone interested in the lives of millworkers in the mid-1800s. The book looks not only at life in the mill, but also at their homes, health, education, religion, self-improvement, and entertainment. With it being a first-hand account, it is worthy of real attention.

Among my favourite sections of the book, it looks at their reading habits. Unfortunately, far from the mass-consumption of scientific literature I was hoping for, cheap and tacky novels and romances seem to dominate the market. In that aspect, it seems little has changed in 160 years!

But the book contains one passage that really resonated, and was why it was recommended to me in the first place.

In truth the Manchester operative is amongst the most industrious and patient of citizens. He toils cheerfully, and is by day learning to read more, and to think more. If he has a turn for study, he devotes himself, in a few cases, to mechanical science – in the great number to botany. The science of plants is, indeed, a passion with the Manchester weaver. Every holiday sees hundreds of peaceful wanderers in the woods and fields around, busily engaged in culling specimens of grasses and flowers; while, generally harmless and industrious as the present generation are, there is good hope for expecting yet better things at the hands of their successors.

This passage is exactly the kind of first-hand information that fascinates me. The workers were indeed taking an active interest in natural history; in particular botany. What is particularly interesting, and this connects to some of Mark’s earlier posts, is that this was not just about getting out of the mills. It was not just a matter of an interesting hobby. The study of plants seemed to represent an opportunity for self-limprovement, and perhaps a route to a better standard of living. Because Botany connected to medicine, to dying, and to design, it presented multiple routes out of the mill. It’s a fascinating insight into the mind of the millworker.

There is so much more I’d love to quote from this book, but I’d far rather you all went and found a copy yourself. It’s a rewarding read. Although I should warn potential readers, Reach is not always complimentary. Towns like Bolton and Stockport do not come out of it in a good light!


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New Light on Old Bones – Report

We’ve produced a report summarising the findings of the first stage of NLOB. The pdf can be downloaded here:

NLOB Report

If anybody has any comments, questions etc, feel free to leave them in the comments section here. Alternatively, you can email me at david.craven (at)

This is by no means the end of NLOB though. We’ll be doing some dissemination work throughout the year, and the blog will continue to update you on the work we are doing. There’s plenty more still to learn. It’s a path that is only just being trodden, and I think there’s rich pickings here if a University is interested in further work. There’s more in that in the report.


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Rossendale’s new medicinal herb garden!

A student from Alder Grange planting one of the herbs

On Wednesday the 29th of March a new medicinal herb garden was planted next to the Rossendale Museum, with the help of a group of students from Alder Grange School, the Whitaker Park gardeners, Incredible Edible, and local herbalists Tim Cappelli and Tracey Humphries.

We have concentrated on plants that can be easily harvested to make herbal teas, all of which can be found growing in the hills and valleys around Rawtenstall, and used as natural remedies to treat a wide variety of complaints. They are referenced in herbal guidebooks that were owned by local botanists and chemists in Victorian Lancashire, currently archived at the Rossendale Museum and Rawtenstall Library.

The garden needs time to establish itself. The first harvest should be possible in the summer, but some plants need a little longer. A DIY medicinal tea kit, alongside instructions on how to pick the herbs and detailed information regarding their medicinal uses, will be available in the museum shop and the museum kiosk from the beginning of July. Temporary labels will be replaced by permanent signage in June, and throughout the summer Tim Cappelli and Tracy Humphries will be on hand to offer guided wild-herb walks from the museum.

Herbs include: Agrimony, Alchemilla, Blue Vervain, Burdock, Chickweed, Cleavers, Comfrey, Dandelion, Dead Nettle, Elder, Elecampane, Garlic Mustard, Hawthorn, Herb Robert, Honeysuckle, Meadowsweet, Mugwort, Plantain, Red Clover, Sorrel, St Johns Wort, Sweet Cicely, Valerian, Wild Garlic, Wild Mint, Wild Strawberry, Woundwort, and Yarrow.

Red Clover waiting to be planted

One of the things we have been interested in, as a way of linking the NLOB research and the natural history collection with the day to day running of the museum, is the idea of souvenirs. In many ways we haven’t been able to push this as far as we would have liked, but the DIY tea-kit visitor packs do at least offer an alternative, unique, and site-responsive souvenir at the museum that has been planted and maintained by the local community.

The Rossendale Museum’s new medicinal herb garden and the DIY visitor packs aim to re-establish the recreational link between Whitaker Park and the museum, encouraging a form of physical interaction between the two spaces, while raising awareness towards the value of indigenous plants that are often regarded as weeds, and the history of botanical practices in Lancashire. Records suggest that Lancashire was a hotbed of amateur botanical activity, with ‘working class’ enthusiasts meeting in pubs to share notes, rare finds, books, and maybe a beer or two. The Bacup Natural History Society is probably a good example of this, and one of the few that is still active in Rossendale today.


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The Museum Monthly

The first Museum Monthly in action at Tony’s Fresh Fishmongers

On the 1st of April we published the first ‘Museum Monthly’, a newspaper of general interest from the Rossendale Museum, used at Tony’s Fresh Fishmongers in Rawtenstall to wrap up the fish & chips.

Each month a collage of texts and images will be selected by a group of enthusiasts or young people in Rossendale, that in some way reflects their relationship to nature. This information is then compiled to create a limited edition newspaper that playfully links the museum with the local community, while extending and contextualising the new light on old bones research.

We felt that it was important to take a look at today’s attitudes alongside historical analysis and research, as only then can we start to understand how things may have changed, and how our perception and understanding of historical contexts, is informed by contemporary contexts and attitudes. We wanted to spend time looking at current parallels to some of the impulses that writers and readers of this blog suggest may have led to the collection and presentation of the natural history collection in Rossendale.

How does our current (social) condition affect the way we relate to and value the natural world? Do we still collect and archive nature in the same way that we have in the past? If the collection and display of nature, and a fascination with the exotic, was a response to life and a reflection of social values during the industrial revolution, then what are the contemporary equivalents? What is the new exotic? What is now valued in a similarly nostalgic or romantic way? Has a nostalgic view towards nature and rural life within an industrial age, been superseded by a nostalgic view towards the idea of community in today’s semi-urban Lancashire, or even, for some, by a sense of nostalgia towards the industrial period?

When the Rossendale Museum first opened it was referred to as a ‘museum of general interest‘, housing and presenting predominantly contemporary exhibits that revealed (and politicised) something about the world and attitudes of the time. Today the majority of the museum is devoted to the display of historical artifacts, perceived and experienced as a site that preserves and documents the past. With the Museum Monthly we would like to start challenging this perception, suggesting that the role of a museum (including a museum that specialises in social or natural history) should be as much about looking at and studying the present than the past. In many ways it already is, and always will be (in terms of how the experience might lead to reflection on one’s situation and the human condition), but it seems that traditional research and curatorial processes sometimes bypass their own subjective position, or that of the ever-changing viewer. If we root our curatorial response in the present, it will help us connect and make the collections feel relevant. Our understanding of today’s enthusiasts, collectors and archivists will inevitably inform the way one chooses to expand upon the existing NLOB research and engage with the local community.

All of this brings me to ask the readers of this blog: ‘what should the function of a museum be today, or even tomorrow?’

The press and participants from Belmont School arrive for a photoshoot with Tony outside the chippy.

The first edition: “Dust never hurt anyone”

The first edition, titled ‘dust never hurt anyone’, is a collage of responses from a group of year 9 students at Belmont School. The material and content for the paper was collected during an afternoon workshop at the school. Initial discussions focused on the school allotments, which were clearly very important to the pupils we were working with, before moving on to earth, fire, being outdoors and getting your hands dirty. ‘Nature’ was not about mountains, forests, lakes or seas, but about more elemental and physical experiences, placed as much in domestic or cultivated settings, as out in the ‘wild’. The students went on to build a temporary sculpture garden that illustrated some of their ideas, using materials that could be found on the allotments.

We’d like to thank all the students from Belmont School for sharing their thoughts with us, and Orbital Design for sponsoring the project. We look forward to future editions of the paper, including contributions from local mountaineering enthusiasts Diana Maddison and Robert Macdonald, the Rossendale Rugby Club, and the East Lancashire Railway Preservation Society. The next Museum Monthly will be published on the 1st of May. A framed copy of the paper will be kept at the museum.

(Before anybody complains about readability it has been written in four directions to account for the way the paper is folded in the chippy!)


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The Manchester scans

The Cobra and Mongoose waiting to be scanned in Manchester

We’ve been asked how things went in Manchester, so here are some images of what was revealed. We’ll keep adding more as soon as we have them ready, and ask Pat Morris to take a look at them for a bit of expert analysis. Thanks again to the staff at the Henry Moseley X-Ray Imaging Facility for making this possible.

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