Dying Matters display at Leeds City Museum Leeds Stories Gallery

On the lead up to Dying Matters week 8 – -12 May why not take a look at this fascinating exhibition.

“Death is one of those experiences that is both very personal and can unite people the world over. But even though every person experiences death and dying, we can often shy away from talking about it. The curators and community team at Leeds Museums and Galleries have linked up with the Leeds steering group of the national Dying Matters initiative to bring this topic to the fore for a seven month display in the Leeds Gallery at Leeds City Museum, from 17 December 2016 to 30 July 2017.  The topic of death and dying is a very sensitive one, so we have worked hard to deal with it appropriately, and promote positive debate.”

Antonia Lovelace, Curator (World Cultures), Leeds Museums and Galleries tells us more about the exhibition.

The five cases at the contemporary end of the Leeds Gallery look at funerals, preparation, sorting the deceased’s effects, memorials and the afterlife. The museum’s collections host a huge variety of material, from Roman and Anglo-Saxon cremation urns to a 19th century bier cart, wills and funeral tea adverts, Chinese and Japanese ancestor tablets, African memorial figures, and winged Christian angels.








A Chinese doll wearing rough sackcloth and white for mourning contrasts with the deep black of a Victorian mourning outfit decorated with Whitby jet.  An Army Last Will and Testament with its original envelope, returned to Sgt A. Ross on his demobilisation in 1945 is on show in the ‘Preparation’ case.








The curators have borrowed a contemporary basketry wicker coffin which sits on the bier cart in the funeral case. They have also collected new items, such as bereavement cards for different faiths and modern plastic and ceramic cremation urns, to modernise the display selection.  A cardboard model of a Mexican Day of the Dead altar and a sugar skull are timely donations brought over from Mexico City by a Mexican postgraduate at the University of Leeds, Lourdes Lazcano.  They illustrate the party atmosphere of this special festival in Mexico where the family dead are welcomed back into the lives of the living.

Two new Leeds films have been commissioned, one with interviews taken at St Gemma’s and Wheatfields hospices, the other showing five Leeds people talking about Death and the Afterlife, which includes interviews with Xina Gooding of Hugh Gooding Funerals, and with the humanist bereavement counsellor and funeral officiant Bob Bury.

During a sunny day in August the curators also spent time in the grounds of Leeds Minster, and at the adjacent Penny Pocket park photographing gravestones and the war memorial, being careful not to take images of any recent interments which would upset relatives. They also took new photographs at Horsforth war memorial, and around Lawnswood cemetery, especially of the green burial area, and the new WWI memorial bench, but also of several well-known early 20th century monuments, which are represented by old postcards in the collections. Several of these photographs, reproduced in a large format, enhance the displays.  They also feature in a power-point slide show alongside pertinent questions for Dying Matters, such as

St Gemma’s provided access to their Leeds’ warehouse where donated items get sorted so that a selection of could be assembled and borrowed for the display that suggests a corner of a room where the belongings of a relative or friend that has just passed away await attention.  This display entitled ‘After Death’ and the case on the afterlife which is entitled ‘Hopes and Fears’ are particularly thought provoking.


A huge photograph of a sunset by the sea features behind the items in the ‘Hopes and Fears’ case, this was the final choice after much debate – images of clouds in the sky, or a forest glade were also short-listed as both highly emotive and symbolic for many people.

Hopes and Fears includes a wide range of Christian items, from an image of Christ Arisen on a Polish Easter card to  a carved wooden sculpture of a boy burning in purgatory from Mexico. A Buddhist thangka painting from Tibet features a demon guarding the underworld.

Do come and see the display and let us know what you think by leaving your comments in the visitor’s book.

A series of talks has also been organised and is listed here:

Advanced Decisions, talk by Prof. Celia Kitzinger* Wed 26 April 12 -1pm

Grief Demystified, talk by Caroline Lloyd* Wed 24 May 12 -1pm

Sociable History Club – Victorian Folk Funerary Customs, talk by Helen Frisby Grief Demystified, talk by Caroline Lloyd* 12-1pm

‘This Grieving Man’, talk by Ian Leech about the death of his daughter and his bereavement experience – Wed 28 June 12 -1pm

‘We were in a partnership that wasn’t recognised by anyone else.’ Examining the effects of male gay partner bereavement, masculinity and identity talk by Steven Piatczanyn*
Wed 19 July 12 -1pm

*Wednesday monthly talks are organised in partnership with Leeds Bereavement Forum

There is also a free Leeds Dying Matters event taking place on 9 May, 10.45am – 3pm where you can watch films, take part in a Death cafe, listen to free talks on legal matters such as wills, talk to staff from the two Leeds Hospices, colour a coffin, hear a New Orleans jazz band and see an eco-hearse.  Find out more at http://www.dyingmattersleeds.org.

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2 Responses to Dying Matters display at Leeds City Museum Leeds Stories Gallery

  1. Helen Richardson says:

    Thank you for this exhibition . Discussion on death and dying is such a taboo subject though we are surrounded by it. I haven’t yet had an opportunity to visit but hope to do so. In the meantime, I would like to make one general point. You mention a Buddhist Thangka of a Demon guarding the underworld. I suspect this image is The Wheel of Life (not the underworld) and the demon is in fact the Lord of Death. What this image depicts is the circle of life in six realms in which we are trapped, all of them pervaded by suffering. Not one of us can say that we wont experience suffering in our next breath. Outside the circle is Lord Buddha who points us in the direction of liberation or nirvana, away from our cycle of suffering.

  2. Pingback: Why should we be talking about death with Leeds Dying Matters Partnership? | Better Lives for People in Leeds

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