Native American myths and storytelling workshop

foxincase3Worcester City Museum & Art Gallery have a small selection of Native American items. I was lucky enough to see them in storage when I was writing my dissertation. It was strange to be writing about North America in rural Worcestershire but looking closely at the bead work and imagining the beading in The Antelope Wife helped me to get closer to my subject matter. Recently the museum thought it would be interesting to get them out of storage and make a display of them, with some taxidermy animals; red fox, porcupine and skunk. They invited me to do a workshop that would use Native American stories to inspire poetry and artwork. It was a beautiful day, summer solstice with hot sun glinting through the windows. The group of people came up with some wonderful ideas that translated into vivid written images and some stunning artwork.

foxincase2

Ruth Stacey was born in Worcestershire in 1977. She graduated from Bath Spa University in 2001 with a degree in English and Creative Writing. After different temping jobs she ended up working as receptionist at a website design agency and this led into a career in copy writing and web design.

After the birth of her three children she returned to study for a masters degree at Worcester University in Literature, Politics and Identity. She graduated in 2013 and has since focused on leading creative writing workshops and working as a private tutor.

foxincase

2000 events later…

This week, the Worcester City Historic Environment Record hit a significant milestone. A chance discovery by volunteer Peter Walker, while trawling the local newspaper archives at The Hive, led to the addition of the 2000th ‘archaeological event’ to the HER database.

The Worcester City Historic Environment Record (HER) contains digital and paper-based records relating to the archaeological and built heritage of the city. It has two principal points of origin – the Worcestershire/ Hereford and Worcester County Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) and the Worcester City SMR. Worcestershire was relatively early in developing an SMR (from 1972/3), while Worcester City began compiling its own record from the late 1970s onwards, initially based on a card index but later on a computerised index. Today, the Worcester City HER shares an integrated database and Geographic Information System (GIS) with the wider county HER on a software platform called HBSMR, which enables archaeologists, historians, students and anyone with an interest to search for information on a site by site/ building by building basis. It is not only crucial for use within planning and development management, but also forms a unique and irreplaceable public archive, one which is increasingly recognised for its value in education and for research.

So, how does information get added to the HER? Much of our information reaches us through the development management process. The Archaeological Officer might advise that the site of a planned housing complex, has potential for Roman remains and that therefore, an evaluation needs to take place in advance of building. The site is excavated by an archaeological team and written up into a report. This report is submitted to the HER for inclusion as an event, ie. an activity that results in the recording of archaeological information. That activity might be an excavation, a chance find, a photographic record (usually of a standing building) or a geophysical survey.

Our 2000th event was recorded yesterday, after Mr Walker called into the office with a snapshot taken from the Worcester Chronicle, December 1852. The article reported the following;

Photograph courtesy of Peter Walker

Photograph courtesy of Peter Walker

The act of discovery as recorded here, is what we would call the ‘event’, and in this case the event is classified as a ‘casual observation’ (an unplanned observation of archaeological features or finds), though it’s quite possible that William Cope had rather a surprise when he uncovered these human remains! The article has prompted some speculation within the archaeology team as it is not so long since excavation on the site of the new Sainsbury’s in St John’s uncovered a number of Roman burials, and the question remains as to whether this discovery in 1852 might have been related. We will probably never know. Managing archaeological information and making sense of it, is always like trying to complete a large jigsaw without the guiding picture and with several pieces missing, so the best we can do (160 years after this discovery took place) is record what we do know as accurately as possible. In the case of Mr Cope’s trench, ensuring that we can pinpoint the location as closely as the sources allow is crucial. This is where the rest of the HER’s resources become very useful.

To locate the garden in which William Cope was digging his trench, we were able to draw on a number of historic maps. The Swan Pool was a large pond, alongside what is now Swanpool Walk, that is recorded in the late 13th century as a fishpond. The pond is shown on a number of historic maps up until 1928 when the site is marked by an area of marsh, before completely disappearing by the time the Ordnance Survey mapped the area in 1940. The closest contemporary map to the 1852 discovery is the St John’s Tithe of 1841.

St John’s Tithe map, 1841 With thanks to Worcestershire Record Office

St John’s Tithe map, 1841 With thanks to Worcestershire Record Office

It’s hard to say with any certainty, where exactly Mr Cope’s garden was, but presumably, the trench he was digging wouldn’t have had its origin too far from the Swan Pool itself. As the ground slopes off towards the east the trench would be less likely to be on the east side of the pool, though further than that, it is hard to say. There are a number of small cottages on the land surrounding Swanpool Walk that may have been home to a gardener. Which of these belonged to William Cope could be narrowed down further by reference to the 1851 census. As it is, a best guess has to be made and the image below shows the completed HER entry and accompanying record, with the event location for record WCM102000 – Human Skeleton, Swanpool Gardens, St John’s indicated by the pink hashed circle.

Database_screenshot

It isn’t all guess work of course. The vast majority of archaeological events have been undertaken during modern times and to professional archaeological recording standards. This means that excavated remains are drawn on a site plan that indicates the exact location and depth of archaeological deposits. An example of this would be the excavations to the north of Swanpool Walk that uncovered evidence of occupation from the middle Iron Age through to the Roman period and beyond. A rectangular enclosure ditch excavated on site and dating to the Late Iron Age is illustrated here, with a number of later burials cut into its line. These human remains therefore are meticulously recorded and locatable, greatly adding to our knowledge of the area that is now St John’s.

Photograph courtesy of Aerial Cam

Photograph courtesy of Aerial Cam

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service

Sheena Payne-Lunn is the Historic Environment Record Officer at Worcester Cty Council. Further information on the Worcester City HER is available via email: archaeology@worcester.gov.uk, a limited dataset on Heritage Gateway or by following @WorCityHeritage on Twitter. The Archaeology Office at The Hive is also open to the public, with the Worcester City HER Officer available on Tuesdays, 1-4pm.

Coconut Heads, Camel Saddles and Bits of Old Pot!

coconut headRecently as part of the Skills for the Future Traineeship, we were all encouraged to try a week placement elsewhere. I opted to work at Worcester Museum and Art Gallery for the week. I wanted more experience with collections and they were kind enough to let me play with the collection at the museum stores (located in a secret offsite facility – honestly I can’t tell you, I’d have to kill you…). My first day was an introduction and tour of the stores which are vast and full of lovely objects. From big horse drawn carriages to the smallest piece of Iron Age pottery, it was all there.

After tea break, I was introduced to the pods which is a structure built within the store to enable better environmental monitoring. The more delicate objects that are susceptible to deteriorating quickly due to rapid changes in the temperature are put in these stores and checked regularly, as there has been in the past a moth infestation. The team have been working hard and have procedures in place to combat the problem, and it has been treated successfully. There are 4 pods in total and I was working in the 2nd pod, which held the costume and ethnographic objects.

maori spear

maori spear

The museum has a fascinating collection of objects from around the world and it was like Christmas as I opened each box to discover the delights within. I found that I had a real interest in weaponry! There were about three boxes with all sorts of daggers, swords, knives and axes, as well as objects from my beloved New Zealand. In fact Deborah (Curator of Natural History and Archaeology) commented that it was a boon to have a Kiwi in for the week to be able to identify certain objects such as the ceremonial spear we found on the shelf. It was great to be able to share with them what the spear would have been used for.

 

So what was I doing with these objects? We were there to keep an eye on the infestation problem and to check that it wasn’t progressing, so the objects were taken out of their boxes, carefully looked over and wrapped back in acid free tissue, and placed within plastic bags. These were then returned to their boxes with a vapona strip (insecticide) sealed and put back on the shelves. Any detected moth activity (activity was in the form of moth carcasses found in the boxes or tissue as we found no live ones), the objects were placed within plastic bags, sealed and depending on what they were made out of, put directly into the freezer just to be sure.

camel saddle

camel saddle

Towards the end of the week, I saw how archaeological archives were stored and how they were brought into the collection. I assisted with making a list of a deposit from an archaeological unit and saw some examples of how they were presented. This was great for me to see as I hope to assist a local archaeologist deposit his archive at the Worcester Museum and it was helpful for me to see the procedure. Once I had got to grips with it, it was straight back to the ethnography!

I spent most of the week working with this fascinating collection, and lunchtimes were spent outside (it was glorious weather) discussing everything from collections, museology to Flight of the Conchords. I realised I was working with an extremely dedicated, professional and talented group of volunteers and staff who made me feel really welcome and were very complimentary to the work I was doing with them. The staff shared with me their career pathways and offered me great tips and advice to further my own career. One of the aspects of the Skills for the Future traineeships is the ability and time from our placements to go to other museums, either as a visitor or to work to gain an understanding of how other organisations operate. I shall be indebted to this traineeship in that respect as I may not have this opportunity again. As one of the staff said last week when I was opening the boxes and cooing over the contents, “Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again”.

Kerry Whitehouse is the Skills for the Future Trainee at The Infirmary and George Marshall Medical Museum

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.