Month: October 2014

Trick or Treat!

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by Jemma.

It’s Halloween! A time for magic, spells and potions! We have many plants in the Materia Medica that were used for mystical purposes. So if you are a witch in need of ingredients for your flying ointment: we have belladonna, which you can mix with hemlock, wolfsbane and other such ingredients to make your broom fly high into the sky. We also stock Tonka beans, magic beans that are said to grant wishes! Or if you have been bitten by a werewolf and are in need of a cure: have no fear for we have Colocynth pulp, one of the cures for lycanthropy! We have everything you need and more to survive this night intact.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Flying ointment’s belladonna
Wish granting Tonka beans
Werewolf cure colocynth pulp
dragon's blood
Dragon’s blood


Russia study visit

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Palaeo Manchester

imageI am currently in Russia on a study visit with Janneke Geene from the People’s History Museum. The trip is funded by Arts Council England and organised by the lovely people at the British Council.

The idea of the trip is to put together a toolkit to help regional UK museum better cater for Russian tourists and to promote our museums over here. we have a packed schedule of visiting museums here in Moscow and and in St Petersburg and meeting
journalists, tour operators and Visit Britain colleagues.

After landing in Moscow our first visit was to the amazing State Darwin Museum.

We had a fantastic tour with the Director Anna Klukina.

The interactive gallery The interactive gallery


imageimageHere are a few things we learnt:

  • most museums in Russia charge an entrance fee (about£5 in this museum)
  • they generate a large income from hosting birthday parties
  • they don’t really get many foreign tourists…

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Old wives tales?

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Some of the Materia Medica jars have been dusted off and used for a creative writing session as part of the Manchester Science Festival 2014. Many lovely people turned up for the event and used the jars as inspiration to write some poetry. Here are some of the poems that were produced:


Cancer Defeated by Nick Duffy








The Old Ways: Alternatives by Diane Duffy

 What is left of the old ways?

 Old wives’ tales,

                                                     Old wives.

 Shrivelled nature dried under glass,

 Decayed matter on a shelf.

                                                      On the shelf

The woman and her cures become one

 A metaphor for the past.


 Alternative – no alternative.

 Wise woman translated into WITCH.

                                                  Which to choose?

 Now we have a choice!


The Materia Medica by Jemma Houghton

Down the spiral staircase

Through that old wooden door

Find yourself in a magical place

Strange looking jars from ceiling to floor


Through that old wooden door

Big jars, little jars, flat and tall too

Strange looking jars from ceiling to floor

Look them up and see what they do


Big jars, little jars, flat and tall too

Find yourself in a magical place

Look them up and see what they do

Down the spiral staircase


Thank you to poet Tony Sheppard, for running an interesting session, and to all who turned up to the event.

Jars from the Materia Medica
labels 2
Information about historic and current uses
Creative writers looking at jars


Writing creatively with help from poet Tony Sheppard


Old wives tales?

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Museum Meets

Old Wives Tales?

Thurs 23 Oct, 2-4pm. Taking inspiration from the Museum’s fascinating material medical collection, explore our relationship to medicine through conversation and creative writing. Chat about family remedies and whether there’s any truth behind natural cures. Take part in simple poetry exercises to compose your own piece about your experiences and memories. With poet Tony Sheppard and Curator of Botany, Rachel Webster. Part of Manchester Science Festival, supported by Siemens.

Price: Book on 0161 275 2648 or, free, adults

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Siberia: At the Edge of the World Oct 2014 – Mar 2015

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Tonight is the private view for our latest temporary exhibition, Siberia, after months of hard work by Dmitri Logunov and David Gelsthorpe (who have curated it) and a final few furious weeks of activity by the team who have installed it (many thanks to the collections care and access team!). There are many beautiful objects on show, but I thought I’d show a little of the preparation which went into getting one of the botanical specimens ready for display.

Dmitri brought some examples of Siberian pine (Pinus sibirica) to the Museum which had been collected in the Novosibirsk Region of Russia in August 2013. After a spell in the herbarium freezer to ensure that there were no insect pests, Lindsey and I put in a box for safe keeping where they waited their turn for almost a year.

A box of Siberian pine specimens in assorted Russian carrier bags

A standard herbarium sheet didn’t really seem to do justice to the many pieces of tree we had acquired and as they were destined for display before incorporation into the herbarium we decided to arrange them on something bigger. We like to re-use display boxes from previous exhibitions to increase the sustainability of our displays. An acrylic box which had previously housed a stunning fan coral in the ‘Coral, something rich and strange’ seemed perfect.

With the possibilities of several branches and pine cones to choose from, mounting the specimens onto something stronger than paper also seemed like a good plan, so we asked paper conservator Dan Hogger if he could find us a suitably sized piece of cardboard. One of our regular volunteers, Christine, then tried out various bits and pieces for size to find an arrangement which looked attractive.

The plan, the tools, the card and the specimens – ready to go for it!

The task of attaching a small tree seedling, a small branch, a group of pine needles, 2 whole cones, one half eaten cone, one sectioned cone and a series of pine nuts on to the card then fell to Jemma (our placement student from Life Sciences) and myself. We decided that a combination of glue, tissue papers nests and sewing would do the job better than our standard method of gummed paper slips. We wanted to be thorough as this display is going to be attached vertically to the wall until March 2015 and I didn’t want to find myself taking it down for repairs every other week.

Jemma glueing tissue paper ‘nests’ to rest the pinecones in

Then the finished piece was off to conservation to be mounted onto the backing board, and down into the exhibition space to be hung in it’s place amongst the other flora and fauna of the taiga.

Mounted onto the backing board by conservator Jenny
Waiting for attention from the workshop team
Done! Bring on the opening!

Visiting Liverpool World Museum

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Beautifully conserved illustrations in the Liverpool herbarium collections

This time last week we travelled over to Liverpool to catch up with colleagues who work in herbaria in the North West of the UK. It was lovely to have the opportunity to get together and discuss what we’re all doing (projects, aquisitions and the day to day) and it also meant that we got to have a good look round the Liverpool herbarium. With our storage looking like this:

Manchester’s General Flowering Plant Collection


………….Liverpool’s was a vision of order and function. Lindsey and I have got our eye on a few improvements to try out!

A green solander box! Home from home!


Lay-away cabinet with big, clear labels
Love these!

We also had a tour of the museum’s City Wildflower Meadow by Donna Young, Curator of Herbarium, . In prime postition right at the main entrance, the meadow is now in it’s second year and must have been a blaze of colour in midsummer. It had largely run to seed when we visited, but there were still a few flowers (such as yellow toadflax, the odd scabious flower and some dark mullein) making the most of the last days of summer. Donna explained that this year the yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) had really started to settle in and as it parasitises the more vigorous plants like grasses it will help to maintain the diversity of the meadow in future. We’ll have to come see it in all it’s glory next year!

Liverpool World Museum’s City Wildflower Meadow

NHM (part 1)…

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Adam, the (Trainee) Natural Science Curator

Last week, myself and the other 2 Natural History curatorial trainees (Glenn & Lukas) spent a week on placement at the Natural History Museum, London. It was a great week, and I’d like to start out by saying a huge thank you to all the staff that took time out of their day to show us around and answer our questions.

It started on Monday, with the 3 of us being met by Clare Valentine, the Head of Collections for Zoology. After Clare took us for our security passes we went to Clares office to have a quick chat and a cup of tea. Clare gave us a brief introduction to some of her responsibilities and an overview of the staff structure of the NHM (around 100 curators itself I found was an impressive number!).

Clare then took us on a brief tour of some of the Zoology stores. The spirit…

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