Manolo Blahnik designs for Milore Gloves

web Designer Gloves (c) Museums WorcestershireFor centuries, Worcester was known as the place where the finest gloves were made. Dents built a glove factory in Worcester on South Quay in 1777 and only shortly afterwards, changes in export duty meant French gloves started appearing in Britain. Only very efficient factories like Dents could compete and Worcester became an international player in the leather goods market.

By the middle of the 20th century, Dents was making gloves for the French fashion houses and for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In the 1970s, another Worcester company, Milore, commissioned up and coming designers to make gloves even more stylish.

These designs, which form part of the Worcester glove collection, are by Manolo Blahnik now more famous as the shoe designer loved by Carrie Bradshaw in the TV series Sex and the City. When Blahnik first came to fashionable London in 1968, he worked at the boutique Zapata. By 1972 he had designed accessories for runway shows by Ossie Clark and Jean Muir (as well as these designs for Milore) and he bought out the boutique owners to run it as his own company. It’s wonderful to think that Worcester was part of that momentous moment in fashion history.

Bromsgrove Guild Seated Child with Shell Birdbath, 1930s, by Michael Hewan Crichton (1882-1953)

Guild garden statuaryMichael Hewan Crichton joined the Bromsgrove Guild in 1919, shortly before the Guild restructured as a commercial limited company. He became their chief modeller and created models to be used as moulds for all the figures, medallions and memorials created by the Guild until 1937. Originally from Edinburgh, Crichton returned there in retirement but continued to model medallions and other small items for the Guild until 1951.

One of Crichton’s most famous commissions was the gilt figure of Fortune perched high above the front entrance of the Fortune Theatre on Russell Street, London.

TitLonFortuneThe 1920s and 30s were the most commercially successful years for the Bromsgrove Guild, offering a wide range of standard decorative items both large and small, and bespoke modelling, carving and woodwork, stained glass, and mural decoration. It opened branches in Belfast and New York.

This birdbath in the Worcestershire County museum collection is the original model by Michael Hewan Crichton. He based it on his son Ian. Arthur Byng made the moulds used to cast lead and castone (a stone-based concrete) ornaments from this originals.

Bromsgrove Guild Ltd Catalogue No 30770

Height 1ft 9in, base 11in. diameter

The Guild offered this figure cast in two materials:

Price in castone £5/10/0

Price in cast lead £27/0/0

HH Lines’ archaeological drawings of British Camp

Web British Camp (c) Luke UnsworthHenry Harris Lines, a successful drawing master and landscape artist, became interested in archaeology after moving to Worcester from Birmingham in the 1830s. Worcester at this period was an inspiring city for an artist. Both Constable and Turner visited Worcester undertaking the newly fashionable sketching tours; HH Lines and fellow Birmingham artist David Cox formed a sketching trip themselves in 1830. The search for knowledge, especially in the arts and sciences, became widespread during the early nineteenth century, partly due to the increasing view that education would better the individual.

This drawing shows HH Lines’ 1869 detailed investigation of the earth works at British Camp on the Malvern Hills, which is an iron age hill fort believed to have been first built in the 2nd century BC. Lines’ archaeological findings were first published in Berrows Journal.

It was in the early 1900s that Lines’ daughter Elizabeth presented Worcester City Art Gallery with a fine collection of his pictures, including this drawing.

It’s interesting to compare Lines’ drawing to that of Pitt Rivers, a more high profile archaeologist, made ten years later. A printed copy is also in the city collection:

Pitt-Rivers-Herefordshire-Beacon-Camp-1879

Here lieth Simon Brotherton Belman

There are some objects in the archaeology store that, from time to time, make us wonder how and why they got there? Perhaps the object has a link to Worcestershire, now lost, or maybe a Worcestershire personality or event. It is a symptom of working in an institution that has been collecting since 1833 (Worcester is credited with being one of the oldest museums in the country) that occasionally links and knowledge have been lost across the decades and centuries.

Occasionally the significance of finds is clear but material has been collected in very large quantities, much greater quantities than we would collect today. Our county is not only rich in archaeology but Worcester, our county town, was at the forefront of archaeology from the mid twentieth century when the profession was still in its infancy. For some years archaeologically excavated artefacts were collected in much larger numbers than we do now and so parts of the collection suffer from an embarrassment of riches

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One collection of stonework appeared to include objects that fitted into both these categories and so in line with current accreditation guidelines; we compile a list of possible objects for sampling or disposal. It is the responsibility of the specialist collection curator to research those objects in detail, to collect evidence from reports, from archaeologists and specialists who worked on the relevant excavations and to seek the input of current city and county archaeologists to ensure that any sampling will not damage the overall collection’s research and display potential. The aim is to compile a report that can be considered by the museum curatorial team and the Museum Joint Committee of local authority councillors.

In the case of our collection of stonework, our research uncovered some wonderful links and stories that had been lost and rather than suggest that the objects should be considered for disposal, our research has placed the objects right back at the heart of our collections; these include parts of stone coffins from the Westwood Nunnery, a large sandstone block engraved with a nine men’s morris board which was excavated in Droitwich and an engraved stone from Kidderminster described by Rev Richard Burton in 1890.

He wrote:

“There were formerly three chantries connected with the mother church of Kidderminster…. In 1305 we have the first presentation of a chantry priest to the chapel of the Blessed Mary of Kidderminster (Reg. Geynes.), which appears to have been built in the churchyard (infra cimiterium), a few yards to the east of the church. The present building was restored or built by Simon Rise in the early part of the sixteenth century, and after the suppression and confiscation of the chantries in 1549, it was used as a Grammar School. In 1848, when the new Grammar School was built at Woodfield, the chantry was improved by Lord Ward, and given back to the Church for parochial uses. On the north wall is a rude inscription : — Here lieth Simon Brotherton Belman Buried June ye 17th 1628. On the same wall may still be seen shot holes made by the bullets of the Parliamentary army.”

It is this ‘rude’ inscription that made its way into our collection and as Worcestershire saw the first and last battles of the English Civil War, we are rather pleased to discover the story of the reputed shot damage too.

 

Deborah Fox, Curator of Archaeology and Natural History

The White Witch of Worcester

White Witch (c) Museums Worcestershire‘The White Witch of Worcester: A Tale of the Barons’ Wars’ by James Skipp Borlase was serialised in the Worcester Chronicle around 1887. As enthusiasm for gothic folklore gained momentum in the late 19th century, Borlase adopted the historic account of Ursula Corbett of Defford who was burnt at the stake at the High Cross, which was thought to have stood in front of the Guildhall, in 1661 for poisoning her husband after three weeks of marriage.

This elaborate and compelling work of fiction brought Ursula’s story together with local legends of secret underground passages leading to the White Ladies convent at the Tything (dating from c.1240) which provided her with an escape route. The site of this nunnery is now the Royal Grammar School Worcester.

In rural areas of Worcestershire superstitions endured during the 19th century and a ‘white witch’ might particularly help with the recovery of lost goods, among other perceived skills. However witches were feared and pubs such as The Fleece in Bretforton still feature white ‘witch-marks’ around the fireplaces, said to trap witches that entered through the chimney.

Pencil study, 1939 by Dame Laura Knight, Portrait of Professor Allardyce Nicoll pictured on the Malverns

Copyright Dame Laura Knight Estate
Copyright Dame Laura Knight Estate

Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) is a painter of almost celebrity status.  She is most recognised as a painter of figures, but landscape was her first and last love.  Laura Knight’s paintings continue to be enduringly popular with recent exhibitions including Laura Knight in the Open Air in 2012 at Worcester City Art Gallery.

Laura first visited Malvern in 1931 on the invitation of Barry Jackson who founded the Malvern Festival with playwright George Bernard Shaw.  As war approached, Malvern became the Knight’s refuge.  Laura Knight was bowled over by the landscape of the Malvern Hills.  She borrowed a studio from Allardyce Nicoll, Professor of Theatre History at the University of Birmingham, and painted the local landscape and the local people.

This drawing, a pencil study of Nicoll with the view from the Malvern Hills behind him, is rooted in this story of Laura’s time in Malvern.

Worcestershire’s place as an inspiration for artists is neglected in comparison to the more famous British artist colonies.  The lack of a Malvern landscape by Laura Knight was a real gap for the Worcester collection, as well as for other public collections, meaning acquiring this drawing was important for Worcester.

Thank you to the supporters who recently enabled Museums Worcestershire to acquire the drawing for the Worcester City museum collection:

The Art Fund

V&A/ACE Purchase Grant Fund

Friends of Museums Worcestershire

Friends of Dame Laura Knight, Malvern

And many other individual donors.

Anglo-Viking Gold Ring, 10th century

Viking RingThis man’s ring from the Worcestershire County collection is in the form of a broad band with a decoration of stylised animal masks made from three stamps – a horseshoe , a small circle and a triangle. It’s 95% pure gold so is a very special piece of jewellery that was heavy to wear.

The broad band and the animal motif are characteristic of Anglo-Saxon work, but the overall decoration is influenced by Viking styles. This indicates an Anglo-Viking product of the later 9th or 10th century.

It was found in North West Worcestershire and nearby Bridgnorth was fortified by the Vikings in 896 and from 912 it was held by the Mercians.

Thanks to David Kendrick for his research into this object.

 

Marsh Ragwort Herbarium Specimen

Marsh RagwortThis image shows two specimens of Marsh Ragwort, both collected in Worcestershire nearly two centuries ago and preserved in the Worcester City museum collection.

The plant on the left was collected by Robert Streeton from the banks of Kempsey Brook in October 1830, and is thought to be the first record of this plant in Worcestershire. The plant on the right was collected by George Reece at Knapps Brickground on 24th May 1845.

Marsh Ragwort is a common and widespread plant. From June to August, Marsh Ragwort produces yellow flowers that are up to 25 mm in diameter.

The scientific name, or two-part Latin binomial, for the Marsh Ragwort is Senecio aquaticus. ‘Aquaticus’ means aquatic, or that it lives in or near fresh water.

Marsh Ragwort contains Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids, which makes it taste bitter. This bitterness deters animals from eating it, but the alkaloids make Marsh Ragwort poisonous to humans and animals. If ingested, the poisons cannot be removed by the body, so they can accumulate and cause irreversible liver damage.

Worcester 1868 election cartoons

Dignity & Imprudence web (c) Museums WorcestershireThe Worcester City Collection housed at Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum holds a number of items relating to the election campaigns of the mid-1800s, ranging from text-based posters to detailed satirical artworks.

Political satire has a long history in the UK and in the 19th century the popularity of magazines such as Punch meant that cartoons lampooning public figures were increasingly common.

This satirical print from the collection references a portrait of two dogs by Edwin Henry Landseer called Dignity and Imprudence. Here Dignity on the left represents Thomas Rowley Hill and Imprudence on the right represents Sir Francis Lycett.

Both were candidates for Worcester in the 1868 general election and both failed to win a seat in this instance. Lycett later ran for government in St. Ives and Liskeard and was again unsuccessful, but Hill went onto become MP for Worcester from 1874 to 1885.