History of Ravensknowle & Scheme for the Development of a Local Museum (1921) - Scheme for the Development of a Local Museum

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History of Ravensknowle & Scheme for the Development of a Local Museum (1921) by Legh Tolson and T.W. Woodhead


by T. W. Woodhead

At the request of Mr. Legh Tolson, I have to lay before you the broad outlines of a scheme for the utilization of the two houses at Ravensknowle, Dalton (Ravensknowle and Ravens Hill), which, together with 6 acres of surrounding gardens and parkland, he has so generously given to our town, in memory of his two nephews, Sec.-Lieut. Robert Huntriss Tolson and Sec. Lieut. James Martin Tolson, who gave their lives in the service of their country in the late war. For some time past the Free Library and Art Gallery Committee have had under consideration the provision of more suitable premises for the town’s library and art collection, and the inclusion of a museum in the scheme has been frequently urged upon the committee.

It has long been the policy of the Council to develop a museum at a convenient time, and a beginning has already been made in a room at the Technical College, but the site chosen for a Free Library and Art Gallery presents difficulties which render the inclusion of a Museum in that scheme practically impossible.

While the houses at Ravensknowle are not very suitable for the purpose of an Art Gallery, they can be admirably adapted to the purpose of a Museum.

If you consider the suggestion of a Museum a desirable one, it is important that a well considered scheme for its development should be adopted, so as to secure an institution suited to the needs of the locality, and at the same time not to hinder prosperity in any desire it may have to extend its growth and usefulness.

A Museum should be an educational institution, and should provide practical illustrations of the main factors in the environment of the community. The objects should be arranged as to show the influence of these factors on the organic life of the neighbourhood, and these in turn on the evolution of man’s activities and social development.

Local factors, in a broad sense, are the same as general or universal factors, and the fundamental lessons concerning them can be learnt most effectively by a study of local conditions and from local illustrations. But as surrounding conditions affect, and to some extent determine and modify the more local conditions, knowledge of them is essential. For a complete understanding of local conditions a wide outlook is involved.

Fundamentally, the conditions of life are everywhere the same, the differences are differences of degree not kind. A knowledge of these fundamental conditions is essential if man is to understand and appreciate what is required of him under the conditions in which circumstances have placed him.

The better a man understands the condition under which he lives, the better will he be able to bring his own activities into harmony with them.

In founding a local Museum it is important to remember that space and funds are limited. It is, therefore, useless to attempt the accumulation of universal objects. It is only in a National Museum and with national resources that this can be done with any approach to success.

A provincial Museum should be essentially local, and the advantages of such a policy are :—

(1) It prevents the accumulation of miscellaneous objects which, being too miscellaneous to be of educational value, are little more than curiosities.
(2) It will serve to concentrate study on local objects and aims, which are of greater value to the community, and ultimately of greater value to the state.
(3) A local museum should serve to cultivate local patriotism of the most desirable kind, and develop concentrated study, rather than discursive and superficial interest. Its educational value will thus be greatly enhanced.

The inspiration of the scheme is the recognition of the value of the intensive study and inter-relations of the common things around us.

The area included in the Huddersfield district extends from Studley Pike on the N.W. to the borders of Mossley on the S.W., and from Chidswell, near Dewsbury, on the N.E., to Oxspring, near Penistone, on the S.E. The district includes that portion of the County easily worked from Huddersfield. The margins of the area link up with other important centres with a minimum of overlapping, and constitutes a geographical area of great human and scientific interest of which Huddersfield is, in the main, the natural centre. The centre of the area is drained by the Colne and its tributaries. The northern border by the Calder, which receives the Colne to the east of town. The south eastern portion is drained by the Don, while the western slope of the Pennines is in the Mersey drainage.

The function of a Museum, however, is not solely the collection of objects to illustrate the natural history of the district and the development and activities of the people. Equally important is the true interpretation of the true facts accumulated, and it should be the aim of the Museum Handbooks to tell the story of their significance and interest.

Mr. Tolson’s gift has provided Huddersfield with an opportunity which many towns well envy, the opportunity of laying the foundations of a Museum free from the many excrescences and oddities which characterize so many museums and which not only reduce their usefulness, but prove too heavy a burden for the authorities to throw off in their fruitless attempts to develop right lines.

Aims of a Local Museum.

The aims of a local Museum should be to illustrate the origin, structure, physical features, natural-history and conditions of life of the district. The history of its inhabitants and their activities in relation to local conditions and to the world outside. The diagram will serve to illustrate the inter-relations of the main factors of man’s environment, and at the same time to show the extensive ramifications and importance of these factors when studied in their local bearing. The diagram should be read from below upwards. The small diagram in the right hand bottom corner indicates the 3 spheres of which our earth exists :—

(1) Lithosphere, or solid crust of the earth.
(2) Hydrosphere, the water forming oceans, seas, lakes and rivers, and the ground-water in the land areas.
(3) Atmosphere, the envelope of air.

Variations in these spheres of distribution, elevation, temperature, humidity, rainfall, and the like, constitutes what we know as climate. The interactions of atmospheric agents and water on the solid crust, have produced many of the surface features as we now know them. Turning now to the main diagram we will consider some of the details more closely, and also very briefly their local significance and the place they would occupy in a local Museum.

The Habitat.

Huddersfield is a habitat for living organisms may be dealt with under four heads :—

(a) Geology — used here in the sense of Lithosphere, is the solid crust of rock materials on which the climatic elements work and which provide the material foundation for living things. This section of the Museum would show the rocks of the district and their position with reference to the rocks of Britain, by specimens, maps and models; also selected illustrations of the conditions prior to the period to which our local rocks belong. Local fossils and rocks would be dealt with in detail to illustrate the fauna and flora, and the life conditions during the Carboniferous period. Following these, a selection to illustrate the chief subsequent changes, down to recent times. Local minerals, their occurrence, economic importance and local influence, e.g., building materials – sandstones, flagstones, shales and clays, also iron, coal, ganisters and fire clays; their origin, composition, properties and uses.
(b) Topography, or surface relief, with its varied massif, aspects and drainage systems. Influence of earth movements in determining the form of the district. Effects of eroding and transporting agents. Examples and distribution of transported materials. Relief maps to show how erosion has led to the exposure of the various beds of rock seen at the surface, rendering some parts sandy and dry, others clayey and damp, and thus affecting not only sites for habitations, but man’s operations in cultivating the soil, and the relative ease with which he is able to obtain the minerals for his daily needs.
(c) Climate — Meteorological records. Rainfall and temperature Maps. Atmospheric impurities. The action of water, air, heat and light on the rock materials and on local plants and animals. These climatic factors are nature’s sculptors, the solid crust is the raw material on which they work, the finished product being the surface relief as we now see it. The significance of variations in altitude and aspect, rainfall and temperature, and how these affect our water supply and determine our activities.
(d) Soils — The surface debris of this incessant sculpturing provides mineral food for plants, and forms one of the important factors in their environment and distribution, especially as to whether the soils are siliceous or calcareous, and contain much or little organic matter. The distribution of soils, their origin, variation and properties.

Ecology. Organic life in Relation to the Environment.

Organic Life. — The habitat factors, Geology, Topography, Climate and soils, not only make organic life possible, but variations in their character and proportions affect greatly plant form and structure, the distribution of the dominant species and the aspect of the vegetation and scenery. Our district affords striking examples of the effect of habitat factors on scenery, as can be realised by contrasting the relatively rich farmlands and woodlands to the east (fig. 5), as at Woodsome, Whitley and Cawthorne, with the heather moors in the central region like those of Honley Moor (fig. 6), and Crosland Moor; and these in turn with the cotton-grass mosses from Buckstones to Wessenden Head (figs. 7 & 8).

Animals and Plants react on the soils, and are important and necessary agents in enriching it, the remains of one generation contributing materials to the soil which render possible the life work of the generation that follows.

Looking at these facts from the view point of man we must conclude that Geology, Topography, Climate, Soils, Plants and Animals are the greater factors of his environment and a study of these and their inter-relations is essential in any scheme of liberal education.

Animal and Plant Societies — Plants, and to a less extent animals, live in well defined communities, each community or society bearing an aspect or sum or characters, impressed upon it by the peculiarities of the environment and its past history.

Such communities are not stable.

Invasion. — The plants which first invade bare ground function as pioneers, and are often either simple forms or quick and deep rooting annuals, with good means of dispersal.

In time their decay adds humus to the soil, which becomes enriched by the increase of soluble plant foods. The conditions of the habitat being thus changed, it is possible for more varied and sturdier types to live there.

Succession. — The pioneers are in time succeeded by hardy perennials which crowd out the early arrivals and take possession of the ground.

Stabilization. — Eventually shrubs and trees appear which by their stronger growth and overshadowing reduce the number of species, especially those which need the sunshine, and so arises a relatively stable community of woodland species, characteristic of the Forest, which is the highest and most stable type of Vegetation.

Retrogression. — Eventually changes occur due to natural or artificial causes, e.g., earth movements, interruptions or drainage, fires and leaching of the soil. As a result degeneration of the forest begins, and is succeeded by a now association of plants, or in some cases the ground may become denuded of vegetation. In course of time re-invasion sets in, and a new cycle begins.

Animals being dependent on plants for food are obviously influenced by the same factors, but not being fixed to the spot, generally showing fewer adaptational characters.

The life histories of animals provide a rich store of material for study and display. The beginnings of animal life in the Protozoa and other simple forms in our ponds and ditches. Worms as ploughers of the soil. Insects, so varied in form and colour, and so important to man in many ways. Fishes, Amphibians and Reptiles, with their wonderful adaptations to the media in which they live, but surpassed in the popular mind by the Birds, whose beautiful plumage and interesting habits appeal to all. Finally the complex Mammals, both wild and domesticated, and their influence on man and his development.

Our local plants and animals, therefore, are not merely a collection of species to be technically named and classified, but belong to, and are characteristic of, a special set of environmental conditions, to which they show an endless number of beautiful and suggestive adaptations. It should be the main object of the natural history section of a Museum to illustrate these features. The names of the plants and animals come then as a matter of convenience, not as items of first importance. Names are essential of course for purposes of accurate identification and reference.


What is true of plant and animal societies is, and has been true of human societies, and the history of man in this district provides interesting examples in the Britons and Romans, Angles, Danes and Normans. The trail of their immigration is hinted at in a number of our place names, while the numerous examples of their handiwork, would make a section of the Museum of special value.

Intercommunication. — more or less friendly — is a natural consequence of this immigration; and interesting forms, both graphic and vocal, are exemplified on the one hand on inscribed stones, and, characteristic of a hill region, this district is still rich in somewhat primitive forms of speech.

Their later developments, one the one side as Art and Literature, and on the other as Language and Music, while provided for in other institutions, early examples would find a fitting place in the Museum in its Archæological sections.

Science is the organisation of the facts derived from man’s experience along the lines indicated, and the necessity for reflection on the every day problems which surround him.

History records for us the origin, development and inter-relations of these different lines of human activity.

In the study of local history we have a field almost untouched, and much valuable work remains to be done in the study of local ethnology, records of early man and succeeding races, local antiquities illustrating man’s activities and development in art, literature, science and industry.

There is a popular notion that Huddersfield is quite modern and possesses nothing of importance in its past history. As instances to the contrary, there are in the West Riding 147 examples of sculptured and inscribed stones of the Anglo–Danish period, which occur in 42 sites. Of this number 11 sites with 47 examples (i.e. about ⅓) occur in the immediate neighbourhood of Huddersfield, while within the Borough itself we have a Roman fort and the largest and best preserved Pre-Roman Earthwork in Yorkshire. The neighbouring hills are rich in remains which carry us back to the days of the Neolithic and even Palaeolithic man, and his imperishable tools of flint, are of great and increasing interest.

The collection of records in these varied branches of local study, is of special importance, and in this connection there is unlimited opportunities for the Naturalist, Photographer and Antiquarian. A collection of photographic records, in every department, is most desirable.


Plants and Animals furnish man with his food products and clothing materials, hence he occurs only where these necessaries are available, and as early man became a tiller of the soil, his distribution would be restricted to areas capable of cultivation. In this respect, the history of man in this district is of special interest when considered in relation to the natural surroundings.

To the west of the town, topography and climate combine to produce adverse conditions which man’s efforts of more than 2000 years have failed to conquer. He finds it easier to leave the hills and the moors to nature, and spend his energies on the more fertile rock terraces and plains.

Protection. — As he cleared the forest and extended the area of cultivation, the timber huts with heather thatch gradually gave place to more substantial dwellings, and our local geology gave to these a characteristic aspect. The local sandstones were both accessible and good, and not only did he use them for the walls of his houses, but for roofs as well (until railways brought in the alien slates from the Lake District and Welsh hills). The stone walls, so general as field fences, are not only a reflex of local geology, but also of native tidiness and thrift.

Division of Labour and Industries. — The procuring of food involves labour, as does also the provision of means of protection whether or clothing or housing. A division of labour is a natural consequence of a man’s social habit and his natural tendency to do that which he can do well and with least effort. In this way industries develop and lead to further specialization which in turn effects economy of time and labour, with the consequent production of excess over local requirements.

Exchange and Distribution. — Exchange of surplus for necessities becomes imperative and in consequence leads to improved methods of communication and distribution in Waterways, Roadways and Railways.

Towns. — Centres of Exchange are not only a convenience but a practical necessity, and the position of Huddersfield is very typical as being in the line of easy communication, where several valleys meet and therefore a natural point of concentration. The determining factor is its peculiar topography. The history and development of our industries and their relation to local factors should be properly displayed, showing the rise of our staple trade form its simple natural beginnings as a cottage industry, and its various stages of development. This would prove of wide interest, and no time should be lost in securing examples of the more primitive process as they are rapidly disappearing.

The characteristic cottage architecture (fig. 9.) seen on our rock terraces and hill sides, is not only a reflex of our geology and topography, but also of our staple industry.

It is significant that other and older centres of the industry died out when steam replaced water power, but in this district because of its local Geology (providing coal and iron), Topography and Climate (giving an abundant and suitable water supply),the industry developed to its present dimensions.

Not only have local geology and topography been the determining factors of man’s activities, but in our western hills and valleys they have suggested most of the place names, while these in turn are abundantly reflected in the common family names of the district.

There is considerable scope, and much useful work done in the Museum, in connection with local Agriculture and Horticulture, and in the study of Economic Botany and Economic Zoology. These subjects should be adequately dealt with in their respective departments.

Barriers. — Another factor of interest to a community is that of Barriers, and we are provided with quite a good example of one of these obstacles to exchange in Holme Moss and the Stanedge, for although it has long been pierced by a waterway and railways, it is still a very effective obstacle.

Huddersfield is a typical illustration of the fact that the establishment and success of a community is largely determined and controlled by natural agencies. Its geographical position and relation to other centres of exchange and distribution, present important problems which have not been satisfactorily solved.

Government. — Finally, such a community with its complex and competing activities, necessities control, hence government as a crowning factor.

The origin and development of the community, the history of local government, the growth of the Borough, portraits of our local worthies who have done so much towards building up the community as we know it, would provide material of general interest for the Museum.

Placed in its true setting, the privilege of participating in the government of such a community is naturally regarded as the highest prize.

Mr. Tolson would like this Museum to give the true setting, and enable the inhabitants, as time goes on, more and more to appreciate and benefit by the advantages under which they live, so that in their turn they may continue its development towards that ideal for which we all strive.