New Leeds exhibition lifts the lid on hidden history of children’s classic tales

Kitty Ross, curator of Leeds Histories, putting the finishing touches to the Little Red Riding Hood display. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
Kitty Ross, curator of Leeds Histories, putting the finishing touches to the Little Red Riding Hood display. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
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Their pages have sparked the imaginations of generations of children across the globe.

From the wondrous realms of sword-fighting pirates in Never Never Land to the woodland cottage which became the retreat of the big bad wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, the fairy tale characters and their enchanted lands have left families spellbound.

Cinderella's slippers one of the displays. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Cinderella's slippers one of the displays. Picture Bruce Rollinson

And now fairy tale fans in Leeds can delve into the hidden history of some of the world’s best-loved storybooks.

A Sleeping Beauty-style spinning wheel from the 1800s, a crocodile like the one which preyed on Captain Hook and a beautiful miniature replica of a carriage much like Cinderella’s are the star attractions at a Leeds museum.

The exhibits will be displayed alongside beautiful images from the museum’s fabulous collection of children’s book illustrations and a selection of historic toys and games at Abbey House Museum.

Kitty Ross, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ curator of social history, said: “Fairy tales have given generations of young people and adults the chance to immerse themselves in a faraway land of genies, witches and boys who can fly, with these wonderful stories growing in popularity as they are adapted and updated over many centuries.

“But as incredible as these tales are, they often centre around humble, everyday objects and places such as a forest, a lamp, a spinning wheel or a pumpkin.

“This exhibition will explore how people through the ages wove these stories around those unremarkable objects as a way of escaping from the struggles and hardships of their real lives.

“That link between the everyday and the astonishing is one of the main reasons that fairy tales have remained so popular, relatable and loved by people from so many different backgrounds over so many years.”

Fairy Tales and Fantasy, which launches tomorrow, on also looks at the different ways that advertisers have used the power of fairy tales to sell their products as well as delving into the flamboyant world of pantomimes and fancy dress.

Included is an album of photos from January 12, 1891, captured during an extravagant fancy dress ball hosted by the then Mayor and Mayoress of Leeds Mr and Mrs Alf Cooke as they celebrated their silver wedding anniversary.

The term fairy tale was coined by French writer Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy during the late 17th century.

French author Charles Perrault, who was born in 1628, is widely known as the father of the fairy tale.

He is behind the classic stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Thankfully, for younger audiences Perrault’s grisly endings in his original classics have been sanitised.

The Brothers Grimm’s first collection of folk tales was published in 1812.

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