Back in 1949, Sid Woodhams of Ganton near Malton was given a 19th century naturalist’s field microscope for his 12th birthday. Although the pocket-sized, brass microscope wasn’t especially rare or valuable, it triggered a passion for collecting that has remained with Sid throughout his adult life.
During the same era, a young boy called John Stone, who was born and raised in Malton, was inspired to start a collection of his own after spending his spare time helping to dust the exhibits at the local museum.
The unique collections that Sid and John (who are now both 78) have amassed during the last 60 years provide a fascinating and valuable insight into the social history of the Ryedale area of North Yorkshire. In 2011, the Woodhams-Stone Collection Trust was formed in a bid to secure their future. The Trust is committed to working towards achieving Arts Council accreditation in the belief that it will help it to access the potential sources of funding needed to secure a permanent home for the collection. In the short-term, the Woodhams-Stone Collection has a new exhibition in the Subscription Rooms in Yorkersgate in Malton, which will be open from early April until the end of October.
Sid explained more about the birthday gift that captured his imagination and proved to be the very first item in a vast and varied collection: “A family friend was going through her husband’s possessions as he didn’t come back from the war. She thought I would like the field microscope for a birthday present. I think it’s French. It wasn’t exceptional in its day, but it got me fascinated in artefacts of social history.
“I liked the fact that it was technical and had a story to tell. It’s a nice, tidy piece and so tactile. I wanted to know how it worked, where it had come from and who had used it.”
Soon after, Sid began saving his pocket money so that he could develop his collection and, when he was old enough, he began carrying out research and buying from local sales. Since then, he has gathered together thousands of items relating to businesses operating in the Malton area, as well as a vast collection of household paraphernalia.
He explained: “The items I’ve collected mostly relate to different trades and professions – everything from law and order to agriculture. Most tend to be smaller items of a hand-held nature, mainly owing to the practicalities of storing larger items.
“When pubs and other businesses closed down, I’d go and get the stained glass from them or other fixtures and fittings. I have butcher’s blocks and hanging rails from the Co-op and other shops, and old brass plates from local solicitors with the partners’ names on them. All of the items come from within Ryedale, but my collection is mainly centred upon Malton and Norton.”
Sid was so committed to developing his collection that he even invested in a three-storey Victorian warehouse where he could store items.
He continues to add to his collection and admits that he has no idea how many artefacts he has hoarded over the years. Although he bought most of the items himself, many were donated by local people as word of his collection spread.
Some of Sid’s favourite items relate to the brewing industry, and include fine examples of stained and engraved glass. He’s also particularly fond of a set of tools given to him by a friend, who worked as a cooper.
Coopers traditionally made wooden vessels, such as barrels, buckets and butter churns.
Sid explained: “My friend worked for a company in Malton and wanted me to have his tools. It’s a full set and has to be one of the most outstanding items in the collection. I got great pleasure out of working on them to clean them up – they’d been languishing in a shed so were a little rusty.”
John, who was born in Malton but now lives in Norton-on-Derwent, recalls the days when, as a young boy, he helped out at Malton Museum: “The museum was run by a local man called Olwyn Taylor and I used to dust for him.
“When they moved the exhibits to the town hall, I already had quite a collection of my own and wanted to put on an exhibition. They said no and I was rather annoyed about it at the time.”
Undeterred by the knock-back and already aware of the type of material that Sid was collecting, John focused his efforts on gathering postcards and photographs showing the streets and landmarks of Malton, Old Malton, Norton and the surrounding villages from around 1900 to the present day. He also developed a vast paper-based archive, which includes public notices, advertisements and other materials relating to local businesses.
He explained: “I focused on collecting documents relating to the history of the town – anything in paper. I’d go to fairs relating to Malton or I’d pick up items from empty shops when they were being cleared out, saving everything from newspaper cuttings to invoices, which would otherwise have been thrown in a skip.”
John started his collection in the late 1970s, but the items contained within it date back as far as 1800. A series of five books has been published based on his huge collection of postcards.
Unfortunately, John found that, as demand for such items increased, their value soared. “Nowadays the postcards that I was once buying for a couple of pounds are worth hundreds of pounds. Competition is so much greater and the value has gone up. I made the most of it when I first started and, if I hadn’t have done so, many items would not have been kept.”
For many years, John worked for Malton-based auctioneers Boulton and Cooper and he fondly remembers the days when thousands of cattle, pigs and sheep would be sold off in the town’s market place.
He said: “The cattle market in Malton was one of the biggest in the North of England in those days, but it wasn’t really were my interests lay. So, when Mr Cooper wanted to set up the antiques side of the business, I got involved in that. I went around clearing houses and would take away any items of paperwork that the families didn’t want.”
As they part with their precious collections, John and Sid’s shared hope is that their life’s work can remain in Malton and be made accessible to local people.
Sid said: “I feel it has been my responsibility to look after those items for an indefinite period, although it was really a hobby that got out of hand. It’s a broad enough collection to be of interest to people; we’ve always had a good turn out when we’ve held open days locally.”
Today, The Woodhams-Stone Collection is one of five museums and collections that make up Museums Ryedale, a partnership formed by Ryedale District Council to promote the area’s rich history and culture. Last year, the collection was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant for a project called Two Collections, Two Towns, which will see volunteers getting involved in everything from cataloguing the collections to interviewing Sid and John so that their knowledge can be shared with future generations.
Project officer Sarah Maultby said: “Volunteers will play a key part in all aspects of the project, and will be trained and supported throughout. We’d like to hear from anyone with an interest in the local history of Malton and Norton.”
Sid and John are gradually handing over items to Sarah and her team so that they can be assessed and catalogued, but, with such vast collections, it’s a lengthy process.
Highlighting the importance of the Woodhams-Stone Collection, Sarah said: “It’s a very interesting mix of social history objects and paper ephemera, including invoices and receipts for local businesses, postcards, photographs, advertisements, newspapers and posters.
“All of these items help to illustrate what life was like for previous generations who lived or worked in Malton and Norton. Although collected by two different people, the collections really complement one another and work well together.”
• For more information about how to get involved in the Two Towns, Two Collections project, visit www.woodhamstonecollecton.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org