22 November 2016
Pop-up tribute to 18th century Leverian collection and our impulse to collect
A ‘Cargo of Curiosities’ has gone on show in the original exhibition rooms of Sir Ashton Lever’s extraordinary natural history collection – the biggest natural history museum outside London. This tribute to the 18th century Leverian Collection features the collections of the people who now live in and around the shadow of Alkrington Hall near Manchester and examines the human impulse to collect.
By the early 1770s such was the fascination with Lever’s collection of over 25,000 rare and exotic exhibits that on Sundays the public would flock in their thousands to Alkrington Hall to see what became known as the Leverian Collection.
Nearly 250 years later, the hall’s current owner Chris Salt, has thrown open the doors of the hall once again for the pop-up museum - ‘Cargo of Curiosities’. It features well over 20 extraordinary but treasured personal collections belonging to local people – including collections of Y Fronts, ladybirds, matchboxes and trench
A celebration of collecting
Lever’s huge ‘cabinet of curiosities’ included stuffed animals, and hundreds of glass cases housing rocks, gemstones and shells. This month’s celebration of collecting has been brought together by Chris who is an applied film and theatre maker/writer and Karen Hayes, a poet and arts practitioner.
Their ‘Cargo of Curiosities’ has unearthed the passions and stories of local people who collect and categorise their collections in meticulous attention to detail. The exhibition has been stitched together with an interpretation of verbatim accounts recorded during visits to their homes through poetry.
Chris said: “Lever’s collection emerged at a time when the world was just opening up the imagination of ordinary men and women. Our exhibition reflects that wonder, at a time when the world seems more open that ever before.”
It is astonishing what people collect and why
A call went out to local people in July this year and Chris and Karen were astonished at the response.
Karen said: “The impetus to collect and to categorise seems to be a fundamental human impulse and one we wanted to capture – and where better than in the unique surrounding of Alkrington Hall first converted to a museum by Lever himself.”
Among the exhibits are; a collection of matchboxes found under the lino of an attic; a collection of 1970s miniature wooden elks which the owner knits jumpers for in her spare time; a family archive of letters and documents discovered in a rubbish bin and lovingly restored in chronological order; a collection of ladybirds of all shapes and sizes and materials; and Indian figurines collected and dressed by a couple who use them to educate local school children about the cultural traditions of their native India. There are shells, pieces of broken pottery, postcards, glass clowns, and trench art crafted in the trenches during the First World War. There’s even a collection of 300 pairs of Y fronts!
The ‘Cargo of Curiosities’ is open to the public free of charge – but visitors are asked to bring along a small item which they are happy to donate to the collection. The project is supported by local interest groups, Arts Council England, the University of Manchester Centre of Museology and Chethams Library.
The pop-up museum is open Friday to Sunday, 1pm to 4pm, from the 11 to 27 November 2016. Admission is free. The address is: Alkrington Hall East, Manchester, M24 1WD. Find out more @edgewaysarts or Edgeways Productions on Facebook.