Malvern Hills, 1940s by Charles Ginner (1878-1952)

This oil painting of the Malvern Hills from Worcester City’s collection demonstrates artist Charles Ginner signature style: the use of a small, regular touch of thick paint, a method that can give his paintings the appearance of densely worked embroidery. It also makes them very hard to photograph as the light bounces off the textured paint surface: like many impressionist paintings, this feels so much more alive when seen ‘in the flesh’.

Ginner was born in Cannes, France.  In 1904 he began to study painting at the Académie Vitti under Paul Gervais.  Unfortunately, Gervais disliked Ginner’s bright palette so much that the student was obliged to leave.  He settled in London in 1910 and became a founder member of the Camden Town Group which also included Duncan Grant and Walter Sickert.

In 1914 Ginner published a manifesto which advocated looking at nature with a more studied eye, the use of solid pigment, and the influence of Cezanne, Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists.  His paintings became more concerned with accurately observed form and he turned his attention from interiors to landscapes.



Weights and Measures

England has had standard measures against which all trade must measure up for more than a thousand years. Originally the ‘standards’ were kept in London and Winchester, but later it became the responsibility of each local council.

These weights and measures were the standard held by the City of Worcester and are now in Worcester City Museum’s collection. Some have checkerboard marks showing that they were used to check other weights. Worcestershire’s Trading Standards Officers now use digital measures to ensure we are given fair amounts in shops and pubs.

The Weights and Measures Act established the Imperial standards in 1826 (which set the base measures as the foot, the pound and the second), although the need for standards was so important to fair trade that it was included in the Magna Carta.

The UK started to move towards metric measures when it joined the European Economic Community in 1973, but still uses a mixture of standards under UK-specific legislation. Beer and cider, for example, must still be sold by the half or full pint.

‘There shall be but one measure of wine throughout the realm, and one measure of ale, and one measure of corn, that is to say, the quarter of London; and one breadth of dyed cloth, russets, and haberjects, that is to say, two yards within the lists. And it shall be of weights as of measures’

Magna Carta, 1215

Cheltenham Parade, 1920s, by David Davies (1864-1939)

David Davies was particularly interested in the transparency of paint and he often used varnish as a medium to create a luminous feel.  He even experimented with varnishing pastel sketches to give a porcelain glaze appearance.

Davies was born in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, the son of a miner.  Both of his parents were from South Wales.

While still a student at the National Gallery Art School, he sold a painting to art collector James Oddie for a hundred guineas.  This sale enabled Davies to pursue his artistic studies abroad, and he left Melbourne late in 1890. He travelled to Paris, where he studied at the Academie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens.

Two years later, soon after their marriage in Paris, Davies and his wife, Janet, moved to Cornwall, where they mixed with the Newlyn artists’ colony.  After a period back in Australia, they went on to settle in Dieppe where both taught to fund their painting.

Occasionally during the 1920s, Davies visited his friend Richard Heyworth in Cheltenham and they painted together.  This picture was from one of these visits and was donated to Worcester City museum by Heyworth in 1937.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine

The dashing Prince Rupert was Charles I’s nephew and played an important part in the English Civil War, having made his reputation in the 30 years war leading campaigns in Europe.

In August 1642 he travelled to England with younger brother Maurice. The Order of the Garter was conferred upon him and was appointed Commander of the King’s cavalry. Rupert’s reputation as a soldier preceded him, giving him a psychological advantage over his enemies.

In the first skirmish of the war, in 1642, he routed Parliamentarian forces at Powick, just outside Worcester. But later victories saw Rupert’s hot-headed side emerge, such as at Edge Hill where he allowed his cavalry to chase beaten troops off the battlefield

In attempting to suppress a Parliamentary force in Birmingham, Rupert burned the locals out of their houses and allowed his troops to pillage the town. The town was again put to the torch the subsequent day. This was against military conventions of the time and Parliamentarian propaganda ensured that many of Rupert’s acts of war were seen as barbaric and ruthless, turning many against him and allying with the parliamentary cause.

In 1645, Rupert advised Charles to seek a treaty with Parliament after Naseby but Charles believed Rupert was plotting against him. Rupert was dismissed as Commander after he surrendered Bristol to Fairfax, the Parliamentarian General and he and Maurice were banished from England by Parliament. Rupert would eventually return to England in 1660 after the restoration of the Monarchy. He had a remarkable second career in the Admiralty, rising to command the Navy of Charles II.

Rupert was highly skilled in Mezzotint engraving and many of his works remain. His interest in military technology led to many advancements in firearms and gunpowder, including the invention of a new metal alloy. So deep was his passion that part of Windsor Castle was transformed into a state of the art laboratory and studio for his use. Fittingly, this token in Worcester City’s collection commemorating the Prince, is made of metal.

Worcester Signalling the World

For sixty years, Worcester was home to one of the most important railway infrastructure companies; now all that remains of their factory is a short stretch of standard gauge railway track, leading to the Birmingham to Worcester canal.

Thomas Clunes first established his iron and brass foundry in 1857 on Cromwell Street, Worcester, adjacent to the canal. Five years later, two employees of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway, McKenzie and Holland, bought a patent for an interlocking railway signal from inventor Austin Chambers. They went into partnership with Clunes to manufacture it and later improvements to the design at his Cromwell Street Vulcan Works. This was cutting-edge engineering at the time: it enabled signals and points to be changed simultaneously and thus allowed trains to manoeuver through junctions faster and more safely.

signal cabins Holland

Through this early success, they expanded their range of products and rapidly grew a global reputation for quality. This product catalogue in Worcester City’s museum collection dates to 1910 – this large volume is just section one (entitled mechanical parts) and is beautifully illustrated throughout. Several of McKenzie and Holland’s signal boxes are still in use today and are listed as historically significant.

In 1899, the company started working with the Westinghouse Brake Co and were the first to install power signalling on Britain’s railways. In 1907, the partnership fitted automatic signalling throughout the London Underground.

By 1920, the two companies fully amalgamated and the Vulcan Works in Worcester closed. The work was transferred to the factory in Chippenham, and the Worcester site has undergone several redevelopments.

Walter Holland died in 1888 and is buried in Astwood Cemetery. He was a City Alderman and his portrait still hangs in Worcester’s Guildhall.

Walter Holland

Past its use by date?

In 1864 the manager of the Aerated Bread Company began serving tea and bakery products to her customers and the tea shop was born. They became extremely popular with the middle classes, particularly women who could visit unchaperoned. The first Lyons teashop opened thirty years later and quickly expanded to a chain of 250 shops, prominent on most British high streets throughout the 20th century.

For the working classes, eating away from home meant taking your lunch to work, often wrapped in newspaper, because you couldn’t afford the time or money for a hot meal at lunchtime. The remains of this beef sandwich in Worcester City’s collection were discovered in an 1899 paper, making it now 120 years old!

Leisure trips for workers began as working conditions improved in the 19th century and bank holidays were introduced. Between the wars, picnicking in beauty spots such as the Malvern Hills became more popular and many cities created public parks such as Gueluvelt Park in Worcester.

Herald of the Night

The Magic Hour is a phrase filmmakers use to describe the time as the sun sets or rises. Light diffracting further through the atmosphere appears soft and glowing and shadows become gentle and mysterious.

For the cameras of Los Angeles, California, the golden light only lasts for about thirty minutes and is particularly precious for filming. The effect is almost impossible to recreate with artificial lighting. In more northerly England the magic hour lasts longer with the intense oranges of sunset turning slowly into the blue of gloaming shown in this landscape (Herald of the Night, 1900s) from Worcester City’s collection by artist John Alfred Arnesby Brown.

Painters have always appreciated the qualities of sunlight, but it wasn’t until sketching rapidly outside became fashionable in the nineteenth century that many attempted changing sunset skies.

In 1815 Mount Tambora, a volcano in Indonesia, exploded with the world’s largest eruption for over sixteen hundred years. The ash in the atmosphere caused global temperatures to drop, harvests to fail, and the most spectacular sunsets. J.M.W. Turner’s sketches of these skies changed landscape painting forever. Turner was reputed to outline a picture, to do nothing for two or three days, then suddenly exclaim ‘there it is’ and seizing his paints, work rapidly to record the magic moment.

The Great Contest between Spring & Langan upon Worcester Race Course Jan 7th 1824

Tom Spring, from Herefordshire, was the heavyweight champion of England between 1821 and 1824. At this period boxing was fought with bare hands (bare knuckle) rather than gloves.

It was a hugely popular sport. Forty thousand people turned up to watch Spring fight the Irish champion Jack Langan; more than twice the population of Worcester at the time. The match went on for 77 rounds, lasting over two hours.

The Worcester crowd was very unruly, with one spectator stand collapsing at the start and another in the second round. If the stands were as packed as they have been illustrated in this aquatint image of the fight, published by Clements, Pitman & Gleddah and now in Worcester City’s museum collection, the collapse must have caused more injuries in the crowd than were sustained by the fighters!

Spring won the fight and the prize of three hundred gold sovereigns (about £35,000 today if we take inflation into account, or more like £90,000 in today’s gold value). He retired shortly afterwards to run the Castle Inn in Holborn, London.

Star Wars Kenner Action Figures

The Star Wars universe is a pop-culture phenomenon for more than just its films. Developed by George Lucas, the film Star Wars was released in 1977 and was followed by further films and what is now a significant fanbase and merchandising empire.

Following the success of Barbie, American toy manufacturers started making superhero figures in the 1970s. These were 8-12 inches tall with fabric clothing and accessories, much like the girl dolls.

Star Wars creator George Lucas offered the rights to make Star Wars figures to several toy companies, but was declined.

The relatively unknown toy company Kenner agreed and Star Wars figures were released in 1978, with Worcester City museum collecting a small number. The affordable and collectable 33⁄4 inch figures became immensely popular and this became a standard size for all future action figure lines.

Toys were a popular line in the Kays of Worcester mail order catalogue – this page from the 1984 catalogue shows how little the price of toys has increased over 30 years despite inflation, as global manufacturing has become the norm.