The Lands of the Gods


Sharing the legacy between God’s own county and the land of the Gods, Barnsley Museums presents three very special exhibitions this autumn as it resurrects the fascination of ancient Egypt amongst the people of Yorkshire.

Professor Joann Fletcher

Thanks to guest curator and Barnsley-born Egyptologist, Joann Fletcher, the exhibitions include hand-picked artefacts, architectural photography and watercolour paintings to reflect the enduring relationship between ancient Egypt and the Yorkshire men and women who have made discoveries and collected artefacts relating to this ancient culture.

After studying Ancient History and Egyptology at University College London where she specialised in the Ptolemaic Dynasty, the last rulers of Ancient Egypt including the famous Cleopatra, Joann gained her PhD at the University of Manchester then continued her research into ancient Egyptian human remains and body adornment.

Having studied human remains in South America, Yemen, Italy and Ireland, Joann also studied mummified remains in Egypt’s royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Following a successful 30-year career, Joann brings her extensive knowledge and findings back to Yorkshire with riveting stories told through objects never before seen in one location.

Ancient artefacts

From Saturday 23rd September, Experience Barnsley will become a shrine to all things Egyptian as Gods’ Land in God’s County: Ancient Egypt in Yorkshire comes to life.

Showcasing the connection between Yorkshire and Egypt, the exhibition includes artefacts and objects found by local explorers and housed in museums across the country, many of which have never been displayed before.

With some of the older items dating back to Egypt’s Stone Age origins, most of the objects date from the time of the Pharaohs up to 30BC which marks the beginning of the Roman occupation.

Although it may seem like the West has enjoyed a lengthy obsession with the ancient Egyptians, there was a time when all knowledge of the former culture was lost for a thousand years. When Renaissance scholars rediscovered its importance, George Sandys, a traveller, colonist and poet from York, was the first-known Yorkshireman to visit Egypt, adding much to what was then known about ancient culture.

Son of the Archbishop of York, Sandys wrote in 1615 of his travels to the Middle East along the Grand Tour. During his ten month stay in Egypt in 1611 he saw Cleopatra’s Needles obelisks in Alexandria, visited the mummy pits in Sakkara, and explored the Great Pyramid of Giza where he concluded the oldest of the Seven Wonders was in fact a tomb.

With accurate information given on long-thought fables and myths, his book became an immediate success, with contemporary writers using it to reference their own work and developments, and Sandys being a pioneer of Egyptology as we know it.

The exhibition highlights Sandys’ findings along with those from subsequent explorers and archaeologists including Joann herself.

Based along the fertile river Nile, Ancient Egypt was ruled by kings, known as Pharaohs, whose subjects believed them to be gods, building them the temples and pyramids with which Egypt has become synonymous.

Ancient architecture

From the earliest Step Pyramid at Sakkara, the resting place of King Djoser, to the stone temples in Luxor with their huge carved pillars, Egypt’s distinctive architecture influenced the ancient buildings of Greece and Rome.

As the ultimate symbol of immortality, these buildings were copied and constructed across Europe for centuries, including many examples in Yorkshire.

In the second of the exhibitions Joann has worked with Kyte Photography to create Resurrecting Ancient Egypt at Cannon Hall Museum from Saturday 28th October.

Combining a commemoration of death with the celebration of eternal life, the photographic tour reflects monuments, obelisks and temples across every part of Yorkshire which were built in the spirit of ancient Egypt.

Propelling their devotion upwards towards the ultimate deity, the sun god, Egyptian-style stone obelisks were created to memorialise important individuals. War memorials such as Oliver’s Mount in Scarborough and East Cowick near Hull were also designed as obelisks to commemorate those who gave their lives; Yorkshire has some of the oldest obelisks in Britain.

While Egyptian architecture was often guarded by lion-like sphinxes, as replicated in Bradford’s Undercliffe Cemetery, pyramids too were used to memorialise men, women and children, from academics to mining victims, particularly the Huskar Pit Disaster memorial at Silkstone.

At stately homes like Bretton Hall, Castle Howard and Nostell Priory, Egypt’s architectural characteristics have been used to enhance these grand buildings. This is also the case with other structures built for pleasure, such as Locke Park Tower whose architect, Richard Phene Spiers, incorporated some of the design features taken from his study of temples in Egypt.

Known for the many industries which once boomed throughout the county, some wealthy Yorkshire folk chose to immortalise themselves in an almost god-like manner. Both Bradford’s Undercliffe and Sheffield General cemeteries include mausoleums and monuments which highlight the importance of Egypt’s funerary architecture for the Victorian rich and powerful.

And then there are those buildings which visually reflect ancient Egypt, such as the pyramids at Scarborough Sea Life Centre or Leeds’ mighty Temple Works – a former flax mill modelled on the Horus temple at Edfu and the only full-size replica temple in the UK.

Photographed in black and white, these gothic images combine the Victorian colour of mourning with the Egyptian symbol of resurrection – black.

In ancient Egypt, the belief in an afterlife meant that, at death, people were buried with their belongings; in the case of royalty, their belongings and grave goods were covered in gold and their tomb walls carved and painted with images of the next world.

Although Egypt is famous for its huge pyramid tombs dating back over 4,000 years, they were an obvious target for tomb robbers, so the Egyptians developed more secret royal tombs cut into the cliffs of the Valley of the Kings.

Ancient art

The third Egypt exhibition tells the story of long-forgotten Barnsley-born artist and archaeologist, Harold Jones, whose work in the Valley of the Kings brought the name ‘Tutankhamen’ to the wider world years before the 1922 discovery of the tomb of the famous boy king.

From Sackville Street to the Valley of the Kings starts on Saturday 23rd September at Cooper Gallery, just across the road from St Mary’s Church where Harold was christened.

Born to Welsh parents in 1877, Ernest Harold Jones was the son of two artists who met at Kensington Art College, now the Royal College of Art. His father, William, would go on to become the headmaster at Barnsley School of Art where the family lived on Sackville Street in the town centre.

In 1902, Harold received an arts scholarship to study at his parents’ meeting place. His work was inspired by what he’d heard of Egypt and the pre-Raphaelite artists who painted Egyptian themes. His reputation was such that his opinion was sought on ‘The Finding of Moses’, which recently sold for $35million and is regarded as the ‘final flowering of the 19th Century love affair with Egypt.’

While at college, Harold was diagnosed with TB with the doctor prescribing time abroad in a drier climate to help alleviate his condition. With the only way to travel to warmer countries was to gain employment, Harold found a job as an archaeological artists on an excavation in Beni Hasan where he lived in an ancient tomb.

He returned annually and visited Kom el-Ahmar, Esna, Abydos and Amarna before eventually heading to the Valley of the Kings in 1907.

In his spare time, he painted watercolour landscapes to sell to tourists including Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s daughter. Harold had an eye for detail and was sought after by many archaeologists and their funders, including American Theodore Davis who paid him a wealthy salary of £160 to portray the many discoveries Davis had funded.

With Davis, Harold drew vital details of the tomb of Tutankhamun’s father, Akhenaten, which photography couldn’t replicate. He painted scenes found in tombs, including that of Tutankhamun’s successor, King Horemheb.

His biggest discovery was that of the contents of a robber’s stash which was thought to include items from King Tut’s tomb.

While his health improved in the warmer climate, the sandy, dry conditions combined with the demands of the job proved too much for Harold. After returning from a summer sabbatical in 1911 with his younger brother Cyril to help, Harold died just two days after celebrating his 34th birthday in the Valley of the Kings.

His funeral was held in Luxor and attended by many Egyptologists, organised by Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter who went on to discover Tut’s tomb in 1922.


Gods’ Land in God’s County: Ancient Egypt in Yorkshire

Sat 23rd Sept – Sat 20th Jan   Experience Barnsley


From Sackville Street to the Valley of the Kings: the Art of Harold Jones

Sat 23rd Sept – Sat 6th Jab     Cooper Gallery


Resurrecting Ancient Egypt: A Monumental Yorkshire Journey

Sat 28th Oct – Sun 18th Feb   Cannon Hall Museum


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