Gallery 51/Week Two – The Regent Palace Hotel

Our volunteers have continued to clean the Bromsgrove Guild painted glass. The work on the door transoms from the Regent Palace Hotel is almost complete and the finished result is wonderful. We have opened a second box of glass this week. These new windows are also from the Regent Palace Hotel in London and if anything are more filthy than the transoms. This painted glass contains the letters RPH (Regent Palace Hotel) and at some point large parts of the glass have been over-painted in a gold paint. It is pealing in some places and its tempting to try to remove it all but after discussion we have decided that the paint remains an important part of the object and for now at least we will clean the windows with the paint left on. These windows are very dirty indeed so we have used a museum vac and paint brush to remove the worst of it. Next week we will continue work on these windows with cotton buds and a weak cleaning solution.

RPH glass from the Regent Palace Hotel

This week has seen the exciting discovery of the largest assemblage of Worcester-made late medieval roof tiles that we have ever found in the city. The tiles have been found (still in use) on  the Commandery roof rather than during an archaeological excavation which is where tiles of this date are usually found. Mike Napthan who is carrying out the watching brief at the Commandery thinks that these tiles have been reused in their current location from an earlier building (possibly at the Commandery) and that they have probably been off and back on this present roof a number of times too. The exciting thing about these tiles is that they are all stamped, presumably with the marks of local makers, and so over the coming weeks our volunteers have agreed to help us carefully clean the tiles, measure them and photograph them. Not a job for the fainthearted.

Late medieval roof tiles, made in Worcester, from the Commandery roof

Our volunteers are generally working in gallery 51 on mondays and wednesdays (11am – 2.30pm) but may also be around on other days where they can. Please  drop in to see their work.

Gallery 51/Week One – The Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts

Gallery 51 is a project that occupies part of the old library space at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum in Foregate Street. We are using this new space as an opportunity to share some of our behind the scenes collection work with our day to day visitors who never usually get chance to see the work involved in preparing for exhibitions or conserving and stabilising objects.

Door Transome dirty

Detail of a door transom before cleaning

Our first job has been to resume work on a collection of painted glass that was made by the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts for the Regent Palace Hotel in London in the early twentieth century. The hotel has been redeveloped over recent years and the glass was returned to it’s native Worcestershire at the request of the local Conservation Officer.

Regent Palace Hotel, London

Our volunteers have already cleaned a selection of this glass for an exhibition in 2011 called Edwardian Elegance but this new working space has given us the opportuntiy to carry on with the job and finish cleaning the rest of the glass. This week we have been working on two door transoms.

Door Transom after cleaning

The glass is caked in the fumes and dust of the London street on the outside and the nicotine and dirt of the hotel bar on the inside. We are using cotton buds and microfibre cloths to clean the glass with a very weak cleaning solution so the work is slow and meticulous but the finished result is well worth it.

Our volunteers are generally working in gallery 51 on mondays and wednesdays (11am – 2.30pm) but may also be around on other days where they can. Please  drop in to see their work.

Disease and Dissection at Worcester Royal Infirmary

During March 2009 and June 2010, archaeologists who were excavating a site within the grounds of the former Worcester Royal Infirmary came across a number of pits that contained a fascinating assemblage of what we now realise is hospital waste. The pits contained 1800 fragments of human bone, most likely the waste from amputations of diseased or damaged limbs, post mortem of individuals to ascertain a cause of death and dissections carried out in the training of medical students and surgeons.

These remains date from the 18th and 19th centuries and are directly associated with the Infirmary. A discovery of this kind is very rare and is both locally and nationally important. The collection dates from a period when very few records survive at the infirmary and it offers us a fascinating insight into the diseases and traumas treated at the hospital and the surgery and medical training that was undertaken there.

These human remains carry evidence of the diseases and traumas that affected the citizens of Worcester in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. A report still exists that gives details of the cases attended by Sir Charles Hastings, one of the physicians at WRI (and later the founder of the British Medical Association). Diseases such as syphilis and tuberculosis were treated as well as less specific conditions such as diseased lungs and inflamed legs. Evidence of many of these illnesses survive on the bones. Some hereditary conditions are represented such as talipes (club foot), as well as metabolic illnesses such as rickets which resulted from a lack of Vitamin D.

It is highly likely that some, if not the majority, of bones in this assemblage are the results of therapeutic amputations. These amputations were carried out due to disease or trauma to the limb and prior to the introduction of anaesthetics in 1846 would have been carried out as quickly as possible. Experimentation and advances in amputation did occur at Worcester Royal Infirmary. Henry Carden, a surgeon at the hospital from 1838 to 1872, developed his new transcondylar single-flap technique which achieved a survival rate of 78% amongst his patients. There is amputated bone within this collection that is the result of this new technique.

The head of a femur with a metal plate and pin for attachment to a teaching skeleton.

Autopsy and dissection were carried out at the Infirmary. An autopsy was carried out to establish a cause of death and dissection was part of the training of surgeons and physicians. It is still unclear whether this collection belongs to the period just before or just after the 1832 Anatomy Act. Prior to the Act, some bodies (those who had been found guilty of murder) were available for dissection but demand far outstripped supply. Grave robbing, although illegal, offered a regular supply of bodies for hospital training. The Anatomy Act of 1832 was written in response to a growing unease with this practice as well as the medical profession’s treatment of dead bodies in general. The new act meant that the unclaimed remains of those who had died, for instance, whilst in the workhouse could now be used for dissection.

 It is unclear whether these remains from Worcester fell foul of the law. Amputations and teaching skeletons could legally be disposed of as waste but many of the remains are not diseased or damaged and they may have been dissected. If these remains date to the period before the 1832 Anatomy Act, they may well have been gained from questionable sources. The hope is that further analysis will provide more answers.

A small selection of these fascinating bones are on display at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum until 31st October 2012.

The archaeological work was carried out by Cathy Patrick at  CGMS Consulting http://www.cgms.co.uk/page/Archaeology_43/1.html and Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service http://www.worcestershire.gov.uk/cms/archaeology.aspx 

The Ostelogical report (where this information comes from) was written by Gaynor Western and Tania Kausmally. http://www.ossafreelance.co.uk/ 

More of Gaynor Western’s work is available here http://www.ossafreelance.co.uk/PastProjects/BABAO%20Poster%20WRI%20Final.pdf

Portrait of a Gentleman, 1544

The Public Catalogue Foundation is becoming an essential link for art historical research.  The Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire volume includes all of the oil paintings in public ownership in Worcestershire.

The PCF are investigating the need by public collections for more art historical expertise, with a conference (pdf file) at the National Gallery.

Art Historian Bendor Grosvenor has started delving into some of the most intriguing unattributed paintings in the PCF catalogues (including this one) with impressive success and is speaking at the conference.

Portrait of a Gentleman is an intriguing painting from Worcester City’s collection about which little is known.  The canvas and paint surface are in poor condition but the man’s face is still compelling.  The crest is found on all of a group of paintings donated by the Rev G.D. Bowles in 1850 and on the reverse these paintings originally had a pasted slip saying ‘Presented to the Worcerstershire Natural History Society through their President Sir Charles Hastings (illegible) by George Downing Bowles, clerk m. a. (illegible) of the Shrubbery, Great Malvern, Oct. 1st 1850′.  The year 1544 is found on the ‘sign’ in the top right corner.

Worcester celebrating Elizabeth II’s Jubilee

The City of Worcester celebrated Elizabeth II’s coronation on 2nd June, 1953, with a great deal of fun and community spirit.

The souvenir brochure for the day, in the museum museum collection, shows a series of free events including

  • six-a-side cricket competition
  • model aircraft demonstration
  • motor cycle grass track race meeting
  • display of marching from the Worcestershire Regiment band
  • amateur boxing tornament
  • official opening of St Andrew’s Gardens
  • baseball match between US air force teams
  • film shows for the over-65s
  • country dance display
  • a concert and ball
  • fly past by the RAF
  • a carnival procession
  • illuminated fountain in the River Severn
  • poetry competition
  • firework display

 

Embossed gold strip, probably early Bronze Age

Museums Worcestershire have recently acquired this mysterious but beautiful artefact for the Worcestershire museum collection through the Treasure process.  It will be on display at the Worcestershire County Museum at Hartlebury Castle from Easter until autumn 2012.

This report was compiled for the Portable Antiquities Scheme by Alessia Murgia and Ben Roberts, Curator of European Bronze Age at the British Museum.

Gold decorated strip. Rectangular strip made with a sheet of gold and decorated with four embossed ribs. The edges of the body have been bent backwards. The strip has been severed at both ends as well as being bent, compressed and twisted.

Length: 28.27 mm; Width: 9.55 mm; Thickness: 0.43 mm; Mass: 1.9 gr

 

 

Similar narrow embossed strips are known from the pommels of daggers accompanying Early Bronze Age burials in Scotland but not however comparable to gold dagger fittings in contemporary burials southern England.

Other Bronze Age gold strips found singly such as at Flixton, Yorkshire are broader and have more and narrower incised grooves. The annular ring from the Late Bronze Age hoard at Abia de la Obispalia, central Spain is comparable in form and dimensions but the grooves appear to have been incised rather than embossed. Similarly, the Bronze Age annular ring from Armissan, southeast France may be comparable. However given the relative proximity of the Scottish finds, the object is tentatively dated to the Early Bronze Age.

References

Almagro Gorbea, M, 1974.  Orfebrería del Bronce Final en la Península Ibérica. El tesoro de Abia de la Obispalía, la orfebrería tipo Villena y Los cuencos de Axtroki. Trabajos de Prehistoria, 31, 39-100.

Eluère, C. 1982. Les Ors Prèhistoriques. Paris: Picard

Hardaker, R. 1974. A Corpus of Early bronze Age Dagger Pommels. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports 3.

Henshall, A. 1968. Scottish Dagger Graves. In J.M. Coles and D.D.A. Simpson (eds) Studies in Ancient Europe: essays presented to Stuart Piggott, 173-195. Leicester: Leicester University Press.

Treasure Annual Report 2003

David Cox, Darley Churchyard, 1858

This watercolour of Darley Churchyard was one of David Cox’s last paintings.  He considered it his best work.

It pictures a gravedigger working in the blue-pink light of a rising moon.  The dim mysteriousness and the intense colours of the twilight time have called to artists most strongly since the early nineteenth century when rapid painting in the outdoors became the norm.  As the medias of photography and film-making have developed, the creative love of capturing the spirit of this very special lighting has grown.

Download a slideshow looking at this painting alongside the work of other artists using the magic of twilight to disguise and reveal.

David Cox and artists manipulating twilight slideshow, pdf version

David Cox and artists manipulating twilight slideshow, powerpoint version

Darley Churchyard is included in the exhibition The Magic Hour at Worcester City Art Gallery, 21 January – 24 March 2012.  For more information about the work contact museumcollections@worcestershire.gov.uk.