Hapy by name, happy by nature

The West has enjoyed a lengthy fascination with ancient Egypt, from its contributions to architecture and science to the mystery of its tombs and treasures.

But if you would like to expand your knowledge then why not join the Hapy Egyptology Society.

The only society in Yorkshire dedicated to Egyptology, the Hapy Egyptology Society meets every other month for a guest lecture at the Cooper Gallery in Barnsley. Their annual lecture programme is broad, with topics about everything from life in ancient Egypt and the afterlife to the dynasties and deities of that fabulous culture.

The society was started at the end of 2019, stemming initially from the idea of Andrew Ward, who had recently retired from his role as head of sixth form at Ackworth Quaker School near Pontefract.

Having had a life-long interest in Egyptology, he was keen to take this more seriously in retirement.

“Why wouldn’t you want to study one of the world’s earliest civilisations? Why wouldn’t you want to read humankind’s earliest attempts at spiritual writing that date back nearly 5,000 years? Why wouldn’t you want to learn about the dawn of religious thinking and consider how Egypt’s religions might have had a long-lasting impact, even on the religions of today?” Andrew said.

Surprisingly, though, while many other counties had their own Egyptology Society, there wasn’t one in Yorkshire.

He approached Barnsley-born Egyptologist, Professor Joann Fletcher, who directed him to the Horus Society in Wigan, of which she is the patron. They invited Andrew to one of their lecture events where 120 people were gathered to meet, eat and learn – a model he wanted to emulate back in Yorkshire.

Together with a group of fellow enthusiasts, the Hapy Egyptology Society was born, named after Hapy the baboon god, son of Horus, who was thought to guard a person’s lungs following their removal during mummification.

But it was also Hapy by name, happy by nature, with Andrew and the committee keen to make their society a welcoming and enjoyable place for all.

Since starting, they have been joined by some of the country’s most well-known Egyptologists who have appeared on TV or written books on Egyptology, such as Dr Chris Naunton and Dr Campbell Price. Professor Joann Fletcher herself has also given two lectures and is now the patron of the society.

Previous topics have included the Amarna period and Tutankhamun, rulers of Thebes in the 1st Millennium BC, statuary of the 18th dynasty architect Senenmut, Ancient Egypt’s connections to Barnsley, and the history of Egypt in ten objects from the Bolton Museum collection.

Members also have access to a library of Egyptology books to borrow, can take part in member-led online sessions in between the bi-monthly lectures, and can also learn how to read hieroglyphs – all of which is included in the annual £15 membership.

Andrew is one of the members who runs the online sessions teaching others how to read hieroglyphs. There is a beginners’ class taking place between January and April, followed by an intermediate class running from April to the end of the year.

“We are not professional Egyptologists, we are self-taught and make that very clear,” says Andrew. “But I think that I have spent more time studying this subject since retiring than I spent studying for my biology degree. Our advanced group are now translating the hieroglyphs on an 18th Dynasty statue of Amenhotep in the British Museum collection.”

There are around 40 members who come from across South and West Yorkshire but they are keen to invite more people to join. The committee is currently planning a members’ trip to Egypt at the beginning of 2024.

Professor Joann Fletcher said: “It’s great that our part of the world now has its own Egyptology society. It maintains the long tradition of Yorkshire folk contributing so much to our understanding of such a fascinating subject, which for too long has been focused in the south-east”. 

The next meeting is on Saturday 2nd September at 4.15pm. Guest lecturer, Dr Stephen Buckley from University of York, one of the foremost researchers in mummification, will be talking about Egyptian Mummification: from the Stone Age to the Modern Age.

Tickets are £15 for non-members or £14 for members which includes a light buffet and tea or coffee following the lecture. Tickets can be bought at the Cooper Gallery, or reserved by emailing Tickets.HapySociety@gmail.com  

For more information, visit www.hapysociety.org