Save Garden Street Island!

A quick post in the eye of the storm between lectures and seminars (more about that later), to urge my readers (assuming I have any readers!) to consider signing this petition calling for the preservation of Garden Street Island, which is currently under threat of demolition for the second time in three years.

Garden Street Island is the last surviving remnant of Leicester’s Victorian slums. It’s a remarkable survival and one that can tell important stories of Leicester’s social and cultural history. Joseph Merrick, born just a few streets away, knew this Leicester. I’d love to see it become Leicester’s own Migration Museum!

That it has been allowed to be left to deteriorate by the current owners to such an extent is a disgrace and entirely cynical.

Anyway, please do sign and if you’d like to find out more, these links provide more back-story.

The Garden Street Island, Leicester, is under threat

Campaign: Garden Street Island

Slums of Leicester

Last example of Victorian slum housing in Leicester could be demolished

You can also join a very active group on Garden Street Island (Facebook).

Photo: Taken by me last Sunday (8 October 2017).

Heritage: A Museum Studies Approach

The manuscript is nearly finished and close to submission, and we have a publication date for Heritage: A Museum Studies Approach; the new Leicester Reader in Museum Studies co-edited by Sheila Watson, Katy Bunning and myself. It should, according to the Routledge website, be available from 30 Jan 2018. More details on the Routledge website (note the incorrect title), including a contents list (subject to change) and a URL button for requesting a complimentary examination copy.

I have two papers in the Reader; an exploration of the ‘China Dream‘ as an example of revolutionary cultural heritage and a co-edited paper with Malika Kraamer that looks at multiple migration and transnational identities, based on ideas and issues that arose from the exhibition ‘Suits and Saris’.

Image: La China del futuro by Left Hand Rotation via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license. 

The earliest reference to a person of Chinese origin in Leicester?

The Chinese Giant

Rummaging in the British Newspaper Archive has churned up a few more gems. Ostensibly seeking more information about Mr On Lee and his ‘Chinese oath’, I stumbled upon a reference to ‘The Chinese Giant’ (aka ‘Chang woo goo’).

‘Chang woo goo’ or Zhan Shicai to give him his accepted name today was, according to Wikipedia, born in Fuzhou, Fujian in 1841. He is said to have stood over 8′ and, having first left China to travel to London in 1865, he later visited Europe, North America and Australia, learning some 10 languages along the way. Lady Chang (aka Kin Foo) – who may or may not have been his wife but was advertised as such – died in 1871. In Australia, he met and married an English woman – Catherine Santley – from Liverpool. They went on to have two sons, Edwin (b. 1877, Shanghai) and Ernest (b. 1879, Paris). In 1878, the family settled in Bournemouth and, in his retirement from ‘entertainment’, Zhan opened a tea and curio shop. In 1893, at the age of 50, Zhan succumbed to ‘a broken heart’, just four months after Catherine died. Wikipedia notes that his coffin measured 8’6″.

Here is a report of Zhan’s visit to Leicester in 1866 [steel yourselves for the inevitable racial and cultural stereotypes that follow]:

VISIT OF THE CHINESE GIANT TO LEICESTER, — Large audiences have been immensely delighted during the fore part of this week, with the levees which have been given twice daily at the Temperance Hall, by the famous Chinese Giant — “Chang woo gow,” of Tychow, “Lady chang,” justly called the small footed Golden Lily of the Flowery land, “Chung Mow,” the Tartar Rebel dwarf, and their suit from the Celestial Empire. “Chang” is undoubtedly the greatest of the party in every respect, whether we allude to his stature, position, learning, or intellect, but whether he is not excelled by “Chung Mow” in the individual estimation of each others greatness, we leave those who have attended the levees to form their own opinions. The former in speech, look, and habit, is quite a gentleman, and presents none of those forbidding sights which one usually expects to find with giants. For his height — nearly 7 feet 10 inches — he is exceedingly well-proportioned, while his walk and movements generally, suffer not in the slightest by his enormous weight of about 25 stones. He moves with the agility and grace of a youth of his age (19), and his manners are so urbane that he wins the golden opinions of all who see him, and who evince[?] great anxiety to cordially shake hands with so *high* a personage. Smaller by many degrees and “beautifully less” is Lady Chang, whose twinkling almond shaped eyes (so peculiar to celestials), seem to rivet the attention of the audience, as they sparkle with delight at the enthusiastic reception with which her lord and master is received by them in his Chinchinings[?]. When seated at the side of him, she seems as much a dwarf as “Chung Mow” in comparison with herself. Of “Chung Mow” we may say that he is a small bundle of fun, and greatly rises[?] the visible faculties of his audiences by his antics, for in his walk he seems more like a ball 30 inches in diameter set on castors than a human form. This entertainment while in Leicester has been a decided success, and we doubt not that there are many in the town who would gladly hail the return visit of so distinguished a party.

Anon., The Leicester Mail, Saturday, August 25, 1866 (p.4)

All in all, this is an overwhelmingly positive account of Chang woo goo’s levees [as in ‘formal reception’], and it is striking to note the affection for and apparent joy elicited by this small group of Chinese visitors just a few years after the close of the last Opium War during which British attitudes towards the Chinese reached an all time nadir.*

Nevertheless, what we’re dealing with here is a ‘freak show’ with all the uncomfortable and problematic associations that attend such phenomena. It inevitably puts me in mind of Leicester’s own Joseph Merrick – himself later ‘displayed’ to the paying public – who was just four years old when Chang, Lady Chang and Chang Mow visited the city, and lived in the Wharf Street slum, not more than 10 minutes walk from the Temperance Hall. Incidentally, the Temperance Hall was built by Thomas Cook – yes, he of the travel company fame. Traces of the building still exist but in a very sorry state.


*See Barnes, A. J., 2010, ‘Exhibiting China in London’, in Knell et. al. (eds), National Museums: new studies from around the world (London: Routledge), pp. 386-399.

Image: ‘Chang the Chinese Giant’, c. 1870, via Ralph Repo on Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.



“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” –Japanese proverb

So I find myself job searching, once again. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit.  After 14 months (six months freelance, eight months full-time), I’ve been made redundant. I really thought the whole ‘heritage consultancy’ thing was going to work out. I thought it was the solution to my precarious post-PhD situation. It wasn’t. Still, I now have a fair bit of practical experience in the field – that’s got to give my CV a boost.

When I got the heritage consultancy work, I was probably a bit premature in saying ‘see ya’ to academia quite so fervently. But my academic career never really got off the starting line, despite my best efforts. I have been offered a bit of extra teaching this coming academic year, which is brilliant, but it won’t bring in enough money for me to live on. I don’t feel the need to chase a permanent lecturer position but I don’t want to lose touch with HE altogether. Most of my working life, most of my adult life, has been spent in further/higher education contexts. It’s genuinely where I feel I belong.

I would also like to explore my own research and writing – after all, I don’t have to be firmly ensconced within the academy to publish – but I need the time to do that. I have been so busy these last few months. Some weeks I barely unpacked my suitcase before I was off again on another work trip and ten hour working days don’t leave room for much else than slobbing on the sofa and putting on half a stone.

So my ideal scenario right now is to find a part-time job, perhaps two or three days a week, around which I can carry out my teaching responsibilities and get some research/writing done.

To these ends, I am looking at everything and anything, however loosely related to my experience and skills:

Teaching fellowships – my preference
Associate tutoring
Arts programming
More heritage consultancy
Museum /gallery curatorial positions
Editing and proofreading – my old fall-back

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” –Benjamin Franklin

I have found, applied for and been interviewed for one position since the end of May (encouraging but ultimately unsuccessful).  I am looking in all the usual places – Leicester Museum Studies Jobs Desk, Guardian,, Unitemps, University websites – but there has been nothing, nada, zilch for a couple of weeks now. I have been in this position many times before and I know my situation isn’t peculiar to me. But I am becoming discouraged.

I caught a few minutes of a documentary on Radio 4 this morning about Edward De Bono and lateral thinking. It prompted me to do a spot of procrasti-Googling and I found this. Maybe this time around I need to handle my job search differently?

So, hivemind, I would be really interested to hear from anyone who has gained employment through less than conventional means or has experience of recruiting in the field. Perhaps you or a candidate had something – skills, experience, a turn of phrase – that gave you/them the edge? Do mass-mailouts of CVs work? Is it worth the risk (and potential embarrassment) of making speculative advances to potential employers? Does persistence pay off or does it ultimately ‘put off’? Any advice, tips, leads gratefully received!

Photo: ‘Job search’ by Kate Hiscock. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Archaeology of Wadi Draa

A quick post about a project I was involved in around this time last year. I was asked by Prof David Mattingley and Dr Martin Sterry of the School of Archaeology & Ancient History at the University of Leicester, to help put together a series of exhibition panels about the archaeology of Wadi Draa in Morocco. The principal goals of the project were to engage local people in their heritage and highlight the grave threats to archaeology from industrial agriculture and the increasing local population.

There isn’t a museum in the nearest town, Zagora, so we produced a bilingual (Arabic and Moroccan-French) pop-up exhibition comprising 12 panels organised around four colour-coded themes. The exhibition was designed to be flexible and easy to set up, and move to different locations and venues. By all accounts, the exhibition was well received in Zagora and Ouarzazate and it is currently touring Wadi Draa. Congrats to the whole team!

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The exhibition project is an outreach element of an ongoing British-Moroccan project to research oasis communities in the Draa Valley, from prehistory to the recent past.

Photos of the exhibition launch at La maison de la culture in Zagora, 4 November 2016. Courtesy of Dr Martin Sterry.

‘Orrible Victorian Deaths

I did a great webinar in the week organised by the British Newspaper Archive, on how to get the best from the BNA. I tried out some of the tips on searches of my home village (Ufford, nr Woodbridge, Suffolk) and found some great stories and several that are very sad and affecting. Those Victorians certainly reveled in tales of death and misfortune, reporting incidents with an extraordinary level of detail that we might find unnecessarily melodramatic today. Nevertheless, they provide a fantastic insight into the lives and deaths of everyday people in the past.

Here are some stories that particularly captured my attention:

Mr Charles Stephenson of Willow Farm, aged 72, died of a cardiac incident while driving his horse and cart between Ufford and Melton Old Church in 1886. The Framlingham Weekly News reported (Saturday 27 November, p. 1) that:

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Ch ch ch ch changes…

In the last month, three big things have happened:

  1. I am now employed on a full-time permanent basis by Tricolor.
  2. I am working on behalf of Tricolor at Sutton Hoo (that’s one childhood dream ticked off!).
  3. Because of the new job and changed circumstances, I’ve had to ditch the teaching course – but not before getting a distinction for my first assignment! #stillgotit

Very busy, but very happy!

Photo by me!