All posts by Steven Franklin

A blog from our new Gallery Volunteer Facilitator, Usman Mahmood

Today’s blog is written by our new Gallery Volunteer Facilitator, Usman Mahmood. Usman reflects on his first weeks in his new role, some of the work he’s been doing, and the behind-the-scenes tours he’s been lucky to have had.

A full circle!

The first time I visited Cartwright Hall Art Gallery (CHAG) was part of a school trip, and even though I wouldn’t have imagined the lasting influence which Literature and the Arts would have on me – I still remember the tell-tale signs of being somewhere special while walking through its doors.

Was it the warm, bright colours of the building or the towering portraits hanging on each corner?

Years later, as I meandered past familiar flowers and entered CHAG as Bradford Council’s new Gallery Volunteer Facilitator, I couldn’t believe the same emotions remerged.

I was back!

Introductions at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery

On the ground floor in CHAG, I met with Sonja Kielty, Bradford Museums Volunteer Coordinator and David Knowles, Visitor Services Supervisor. Ensuring our COVID protocols were being followed (face mask and distance), Sonja introduced me to the rest of the team before asking me to fill in a COVID safe document.

 Afterwards, when there was nothing else for me to do, I was given the green light to explore the sleeping building with David and I did so with delight! Scuppering across to the closest painting while probing him with questions. This went on for quite some time, I must admit. Poor David traipsed up and down Cartwright with me until my curiosity was satisfied.

When he had enough and disappeared, I prepared myself to leave but for some strange reason found myself staring into the face of a Victorian woman. The portrait was dated hundred years ago against the backdrop of a wedding. In the background, the bride and groom were visible. In the foreground, she stood dressed in black, her hand holding a glove and her face a picture of a thousand words.

Suddenly, Sonja threw a question to the fore.

“Is she mourning or enraged?”


Usman pictured here receiving a tour of Carthwright Hall Art Gallery

Hello 😊

I am tasked with creating a pilot model of volunteering which is to be used in Cartwright Hall and then for later use at: Cliffe Castle, Bradford Industrial Museum and Bolling Hall. Volunteers will welcome visitors in the Bradford District through facilitating programme visits, tours and activities as soon as restrictions are lifted.

Initial interviews for the post will be conducted online before successful candidates will be invited to an informal group meeting to discuss their role, their influence and their ideas!

But wait, there is more…

Youth development is an important aspect of the pilot I am leading, aiming to prepare the next generation of leaders, thinkers and innovators in each of our four sites: Cartwright Hall Art Gallery; Bolling Hall Museum; Bradford Industrial Museum; Cliffe Castle Museum

Volunteers needed poster, Cartwright Hall Art Gallery

Training will be provided to help ease volunteers into their role as well as implementing an intergenerational and cross cultural approach with current volunteers. There will also be scope for volunteers to take on leadership positions such as team leaders and supervisors which we will encourage and support. And thanks to initiatives such as Citizen Coin, we are able to offer volunteers rewards via virtual coins which can be redeemed at their local businesses!

Volunteering isn’t just undertaking unpaid work. Volunteering can offer experiences which are invaluable and life changing. From someone who has volunteered in the past and benefitted from being able to develop existing skills or gaining new skills, I am grateful to be waving the flag for this and looking forward to the challenge of translating ideas into practice.

At Bradford Museums, opportunities are endless and volunteering is just the beginning of something magical. Please visit: to learn how to get involved or contact 07971030168 to learn more.

I hope to welcome you soon!


After the visit to Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, I was invited to visit Cliffe Castle Museum.

David Knowles again provided the commentary, this time on Butterfield’s Victorian home which was complete with a suspended chandelier and dining tables. The look and smell of the place felt too real even if the showpiece was supposed to imitate past life.

Amazed at the colours around me, I snapped a few pictures of the décor and then followed David through the corridor of the taxidermy collection, where various stuffed animals with lifelike effect were on show. When my musings stopped, I noticed I was alone…

Just then, he asked me to come towards him –  and I did just that, finding him on the opposite side, staring precariously at the glass in front of him. Curiously, I moved closer to where he was and as he moved to give me full view of the glass, I stopped in total awe.

The nine-year-old in me whispered, “Good God.”


Usman, receiving a tour of Cliffe Castle

‘Spring’ by Samar Shahdad

Today’s blog has been written by Samar Shahdad, an exiled Iranian poet and a researcher whose work explores the themes associated with exile such as language, identity, and belonging. Samar holds an MA in Middle East Politics and Security Studies, and her literary research explores Portuguese and Spanish literature.  

Samar is currently volunteering with Bradford Museums and Galleries on “Our Street Gallery” project, and this blog is an attribute to those who departed in the winter of the pandemic, and to those who are left behind to remember them in Spring, and with Spring. 

Everyone at Bradford Museums and Galleries loves keeping in touch with our volunteers and hearing how they use their skills during lockdown. We hope you enjoy reading Samar’s blog.

From the chirping of birds sitting on the naked branch of the tree outside my window, I hear her light footsteps.  I see her dressing up in the green sprouts, the colour that suits her most.  I am conscious of days lasting longer, preparing the  mother-sun  to shine upon her forehead when she arrives. I know she is coming – my heart has promised me that – although she never left. I can feel her close to my face, although winter has pushed her away, and facemasks walled up between our faces.

I  have tried all the past eleven months,  to remember her face and the fragrance of her breath. I glanced at every flower I encountered in my wanderings, to not let her memory slip my mind, and this is what I could afford to face the world taken over by cough,  and fever…. and cold.

I have greeted her 36 times,  in two countries and in two continents, but there is only one place that she left a mark – or I’d better say she left light – on my heart and that place is Lister Park. In Lister Park, where the sky and the lake meet, the mirror is big enough to see the details of her beauty.  She never poses for any camera, confident she is in her appearance. But all eyes beg for her smile when she grows tall in flowers in Lister Park, when she climbs the trees in Lister Park, when she spreads her arms on the wings of birds that fly over your head.

Lockdown means locked, and down ….. and in lockdown, I long for freedom, and for flight and it is only when she arrives in Lister Park I know that the winter is over, and the icy feeling of being alone is melting away.

They call her “Spring,” but I know she is “our Spring,” the world’s Spring ….. my very own Spring.




Tokens of Affection

In today’s blog, Assistant Curator, Kirsty Young, delves into our collection for this Valentine’s Day inspired blog, tracking the evolution of love and relationships from wooing to marriage using items from our collection.


Today in celebration of Valentine’s Day I am going to delve into the collections of Bradford Museums and Galleries and pick out a few of my favourite pieces that have been designed as tokens of affection. We will effectively go on a romantic journey from courtship, to proposal and ending in marriage. From the humble to the elaborate each piece that I am going to share with you today has its own unique beauty. 

As I have already mentioned Valentine’s Day I thought I should share some objects that are directly linked to this celebration, and they also start us on our romantic journey with some innocent wooing; I am of course referring to Valentine’s Day cards.

It was during the 1700s, that we first saw cards that are truly recognisable as Valentine’s Day cards. These early cards were handmade, and they were usually delivered anonymously by slipping them under the recipient’s door, a little bit like at primary school when you would slip your handmade cards into each other’s work trays! 

From left to right: Embossed Valentine’s Day Card with feather detail c.1860 (BH.50.1952.2.i1); Handmade Valentine’s Day card c.1830 (CC.49.1952.i1)


The oldest known printed Valentine’s Day card is housed close by in the collections of York Castle Museum. It was printed in London in 1797, and although it was printed it still has a handmade element to it. As colour printing was not yet available the sender of this card has hand coloured the card which portrays an element of care and effort. 

The modern Valentine’s Day card gained popularity during the Victorian era. With the printing process becoming more affordable it opened up the possibility of purchasing them to a much wider audience. In 1835, in Britain approximately 60,000 Valentine’s Day cards were sent by post. After the introduction of the penny post five years later, that number jumped to over 400,000.

We have a really beautiful selection of cards in the collection that would have been sent around the mid to late 1800s. These include complex cards which fold out, ones with embossing and fringing, ones with ornate cut paper and foil decoration and some which were even designed to be hung up as decorations. This little selection will hopefully give you an idea of the vast array of cards available, the range of techniques used and tastes catered for.

From left to right: Fold out valentine’s Day card 1878 (BH.20.1958.1.i1); Fold out valentine’s Day card 1878 (BH.20.1958.i5); Valentine’s Day card c.1870 (CC.72.1952.7.2.i2); Hanging valentine with fringed edging C.1870


With cards and their postage now being far more affordable there was a shift in cards being sent for purely romantic purposes, and people began making and sending cards that were also humorous and insulting! Although the postcard below may not have been intended as a Valentine card it certainly gives you a taste of the humour involved.

Anti-Valentine’s Day card

Taking a step away from Valentine’s Day and moving towards other tokens of affection, this one is perhaps one of my favourite objects in the collections of Bradford Museums and Galleries. It is a mangle board which was designed to be used alongside a rolling pin to press and smooth laundry. These boards originate from Scandinavia. The oldest known mangle board to be found is Norwegian and has been dated to the early 1400s. Mangle boards which predate the 1600s all have a simple shape, discreet ornamentation and plain handles. This simple design suggests that at that time, the boards were purely domestic tools with a utilitarian purpose only.

Mangle Board, 1833 (CC.9041.i1)


It was in the 17th century that these boards went from being purely functional objects to an item that a man would offer as a gift of courtship to his bride to be. You may think hang on I don’t think I’d be that impressed if I was gifted an iron as a sign of love and affection but when you look at our example you may change your mind. During the 17th century mangle boards began to be decorated with elaborate carvings and handles shaped into the forms or horses, mermaids and lions. The workmanship and time that has gone into this one here is outstanding, with its handle carved into the shape of a kelpie and its top surface so ornately carved that there is hardly any space that has been left undecorated. I think I would definitely have been impressed if my partner brought it home for me. This bat has the recipient’s initials and the year 1833 carved into it which helps us easily date the piece but also adds that extra romantic touch which is what I love about these pieces.

There is another collection of objects that we look after which have many similarities to the mangle boards but their roots lie much closer to home. Those objects are knitting sheaths. Like the mangle boards they have a practical, domestic use. They were designed in the early 17th century to allow the user to knit while standing or walking, and helped to free up their right hand allowing them to produce knitted wears which could be sold whilst carrying out other income generating tasks such as carrying produce to market. 

Knitting sheaths have been found in various districts across the country but we have a strong tradition of them here in Yorkshire. Sheaths were made in many different forms with each region developing their own favoured shapes. Many of them were made of wood, and like the mangle boards they were often carved by young men as love tokens for their sweethearts. We have a wide range of knitting sheaths in our collection, some are adorned with dates and initials, some have inlaid panels of mother-of-pearl, and some have glass panels which hold written verses on paper. Again it is the time and skill and personalisation that went into carving these pieces that makes them so endearing. 

Knitting Sheath

The final selection of items bring our romantic journey to a close as we have a look at some of the beautiful wedding thali pendants in the collection. Out of all the objects that I have shared with you so far these are definitely the most elaborate. 

Tiger claw shape Thali with the image of Ganesh (DA116.97.i1)

Thalis are an important part of wedding ceremonies in India. They were traditionally part of Hindu ceremonies but later became a part of converted Christian ceremonies too. They are usually tied around the bride’s neck during the ceremony and the three knots that are tied represent Urimai the power a husband gives his wife, Uravu which strengthens the relationship of the bride’s and groom’s family, and the third knot symbolizes that the bride is an important member of the groom’s family, although these meanings and traditions can differ between regions. The thali is a sign that the woman is now married in a similar way that a wedding ring does.

Christian thali (DA11.97.i1)

The design of the thalis can vary greatly depending on the religion and the districts that the families come from. Traditionally the thalis would not have had precious stones set into them, but this extra adornment is something that has become popular amongst contemporary brides. 

vaishnavite tali in the form of a shrine, worn by worshippers of Vishnu (DA119.97.1.i1)

We hope that you have enjoyed this journey from wooing to marriage through this selection of love filled objects.

The ‘Meg’, the huge toothy shark

Today’s blog is has been written by Dr Gearóid Mac a’ Ghobhainn, Collections Curator at Bradford Museums & Art Galleries, on the subject of the ‘Meg’ – the largest known shark to have ever lived on earth and subject of many a Hollywood film.


During Covid-19 lockdown. Your wonderful museums with all your glorious treasures have had to remain closed to help prevent the spread of this particularly dangerous SARS virus. To give some respite I hope this short blog on a particularly toothy treasure helps fill this gap in your heritage needs.

An interesting specimen from the Geology Collection, specifically from the Vertebrate Palaeontology section, is a rather large fossil tooth. This particular tooth is from an ancient shark unfortunately no longer with us. It belonged to the largest known shark to have ever lived on Earth, Otodus* megalodon. Commonly just called Megalodon. (Mega = big and odon = tooth), or the very informal Meg.

This particular specimen, NS.49.76, comes from the Miocene rocks of County Durham. In geological terms the Miocene is not that long ago; from 23 million years ago until only 5.33 MYA. Fortunately, or not, no modern humans ever met with this huge shark since the earliest modern human is estimated to be from only 200-250,000 years ago.

Fig. 1. Photo of Megalodon tooth in the author’s hand for scale.

Ancient Seas

Sharks have been in Earth’s oceans for hundreds of millions of years. The oldest fossil shark teeth date to the early Devonian Period (the Age of Fishes) more than 400 MYA. However, these very early sharks look quite different from modern sharks. It was during the following period, the Carboniferous (359-299 MYA), when sharks diversified greatly and were prominent predators in all the world’s oceans and seas that the typical shark appearance can be seen. One of the most well-known is Cladoselache from about 370 MYA.

Fig. 2. Artist rendition of Carboniferous shark, Cladoselache.

In the late Devonian period sharks would have shared the oceans with the great armoured fishes, the Placoderms. One of the most ferocious of these was Dunkleosteus terrelli, which could reach almost 9 m long and weighed in at around 4 tonnes.

Fig. 3. Dunkleosteous and shadow showing scale.

Most sharks that lived between 350 and 150 million years ago can be placed in two large groups; the Xenacanthidae, fresh water sharks that became extinct at the mass extinction at the end of the Permian 250 MYA, or the hybodonts that first appeared around 320 MYA. These were primarily marine but had a few freshwater forms.

Modern sharks can be traced back to a common ancestor that inhabited the oceans about 100 MYA in the early Cretaceous period.

Fig. 4. Evolution of modern sharks.

Size Matters

The Megalodon sharks could grow up to 18 m long and weigh up to 60 tonnes. However, a recent 2019 study, using Great White (Carcharodon sp) shark proportions as a correlation, suggests a more conservative 15.3 m long as more typical (Shimada, 2019). Male Megalodons are estimated to have been slightly smaller at 12.5 m long and 40 tonnes. The largest estimates are the equivalent of two buses long and the combined weight two and a half African bull elephants (6.5 tonnes each), not the skinny Indian elephants (a measly 5 tonnes). It is estimated that these giant sharks could have swum up to 11 km/hour.


Fig. 5. Megalodon scale to other sharks and humans

The teeth of the Meg can reach 18 cm or 7.1 inches in old money. They are the largest known shark teeth. Reconstructions suggest a tooth formula of: top row and bottom row with five rows of teeth in a 2-metre wide mouth of over 250 teeth. Very bitey. They had a similar number of teeth to today’s Great White shark. The Great White teeth are, however, significantly smaller at less than half the size of Megalodon.

Fig. 6. A reconstructed jaw of the Meg from 1909.

In modern oceans, the largest shark is famously the Great White, Carcharodon carcharias, once thought to be closely related to Meg based on superficial characters of their teeth. Recent studies suggest that Meg is a member of the Otodontidae family of sharks and the Great White belongs to the Lamnidae family, their sister group. Great Whites have been around for over 16 million years so would have swum in oceans inhabited by Meg. Megalodon is thought to have become extinct around 3.5 to 4 MYA.

Food for thought

Megalodon has been shown to have been an apex predator, higher even than the Great White. Due to its sheer size and power, the Meg was able to feed on cetaceans such as dolphins and smaller whales like bowheads, sperms and rorquals and the extinct cetothere whales and squalodontids (shark-toothed dolphins). During the Miocene, they would have faced competition for food from other huge whale hunting sea creatures like Livyatan a cetacean hunting sperm whale, and the squalodontids.

Fig. . Livyatan melvillei. Cast of skull with teeth and mandible, on display at the Museo di Storia Naturale e del Territorio, Calci (Province Pisa), Italy (copyright; Wikicommons)

Some recent studies have suggested that Megalodon gradually became extinct due a combination of factors including cooling oceans, a change in the habits of their favoured food source the baleen whales, which began to favour colder polar waters, a reduction in diversity of their prey (a number of baleen whale species became extinct). With these changing environmental factors driving evolution and behavioural changes Megalodon would have switched prey to those found in warmer waters and thus would have faced increased competition with the smaller Great White that was more expert in hunting the smaller prey.


The Megalodon fossil tooth is on display in the Understanding Fossils case in the Airedale Gallery at Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley. Come visit your museum once we reopen after lockdown. Dates and times of opening will be posted online when we are ready to reopen.


Fig. 7. Understanding Fossils Case in the Airedale Gallery at Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley.


* N.B. The genus name of Megalodon is disputed. Some prefer to use Otodus while others use Carcharocles. The older Carcharodon has dropped out of use by all serious shark enthusiasts since it is assigned to white sharks from a different family. As currently defined I have used the Otodus genus name as the most recent published articles of 2019 and 2020 have favoured this name.


Shimada Kenshu. The size of the megatooth shark, Otodus megalodon (Lamniformes: Otodontidae), revisited. Historical Biology 1-8 (2019)