In the 1830s a heavily rusted Anglo Saxon sword was discovered at Bredon’s Norton by workmen on the Birmingham to Gloucester railway.
Though very fragile, the tip of the sword was still within its chape, the protective metal end of a presumably leather scabbard. The leather had rotted away.
The sword was found alongside spearheads, beads, a knife and iron shield bosses. Weapons like these are relatively rare in Worcestershire and were often buried alongside the bodies of the dead as grave goods.
They were presented to the Museum of the Worcestershire Natural History Society (the founding collections of Worcester City Museum Service) in 1838.
The sword chape is still cared for by Museums Worcestershire. It has been conserved and mounted on an acrylic base to ensure its preservation and stability. 180 years after it was found it is still considered a rarity, the only example in the Worcestershire collections.
This ornate waistcoat and delicate slippers are part of a collection of fine clothing which belonged to Charles Sherwood Stratton, now part of the Worcester City Museum Collection.
Stratton was an American actor who is better known by his stage name, General Tom Thumb, which was given to him because of his dwarfism. Born in Connecticut in 1838, Stratton was just four when he was hired as part of his distant relative P T Barnum’s touring circus. Stratton proved to be a quick learner and a natural actor. His performances involved singing, dancing and impersonations including Napoleon Bonaparte.
Although it was curiosity about his height which launched his career, it was Stratton’s natural talent that made him an extremely wealthy man who toured the world and became one of the most famous people of his time. When he died at the age of 45, ten thousand people flocked to see his body lying in state.
This was the first official seal of Worcestershire County Council, it’s dated 1889. It’s now in the Worcester City museum collection.
The Local Government Act of 1888 established county councils throughout England and Wales. This created a standardised system of administration on a county level and introduced the election of county councillors. This act used the historical county boundaries to create administrative counties and county boroughs for the larger cities.
Successive acts have altered the geographical shape of some councils and the responsibilities of the administrative tiers to try and create a more efficient system, including in 1974 the creation of Hereford and Worcester County (initially planned to be called Malvernshire) which existed until 1998.
The city of Worcester is one of a small number of medium-sized cities that was a county borough from 1888, administered independently of the rest of the county, but did not become a unitary authority in 1974 – instead since then it has been administered by the two tiers of a district and a county council with different responsibilities.
This medieval stone coffin is the best preserved example of a number of fragmentary pieces in the Worcestershire county museum collection and is on display in the gardens at Hartlebury Castle. They were acquired in 1994 and were discovered in the grounds of Westwood House, near Droitwich.
The site of Westwood House was formerly occupied by a Benedictine nunnery that was founded and given to the Abbey at Fontevrault near the Loire during the reign of Henry II. Henry, his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine and their son Richard I (the Lion-Heart) are all buried at Fontevrault. Dr Nash’s History of Worcestershire (1781), suggested that the nunnery stood where the kitchen garden was at his time of writing and that stone coffins and foundations were sometimes unearthed there.
These are the only medieval coffins in the Museums Worcestershire collections. They are fascinating in their own right but also represent all that is left of one of Worcestershire’s few Benedictine nunneries.
The English Civil War began in 1642 and divided the nation, leading to armed conflicts between the supporters of King and Parliament. King Charles I was arrested tried and publically executed along with many of his supporters and advisers including James Hamilton the 1st Duke of Hamilton. Those close to Charles, including his son and heir, Prince Charles, fled the country and into Europe. William Hamilton was amongst their number , and whilst in exile was awarded the Order of the Garter and gained the title of William, 2nd Duke of Hamilton. By 1651 Prince Charles had returned to Scotland in order to retake the throne in what would become the final battles of the English Civil War. William Hamilton found himself as Commander in Chief of the Royalist forces as Charles rode into Worcester, after David Leslie fell out of favour with the young prince, following defeat at Dunbar.
During the battle, Hamilton led a small Scottish detachment to the east of Fort Royal, now Fort Royal Park situated directly behind The Commandery. He led a charge with Charles up Red Hill to try to capture the Parliamentary guns while Cromwell was busy trying to cross the river at Powick. Initial progress was good, pushing New Model Army gunners away from their weapons, but the Royalist charge was held up by nearby dragoons and pikemen.
Cromwell identified the attack and rushed back from Powick to command an counter attack on Red Hill, breaking the Royalist charge. The tide turned and Hamilton was shot through the thigh. His lines had been broken and his men begin a retreat back into Worcester.
The retreat left Fort Royal’s flank unprotected and the Essex Militia began their assault on Fort Royal. They turned the Royalist guns onto the retreating men and a total rout of Royalist forces ensured victory for the New Model Army and Parliament. Charles II was, once again, forced to flee for his life and back into exile. The final battle of the English Civil War had been fought and decided on the streets of Worcester.
Hamilton was carried to the Commandery after the battle where his wounds became infected. Cromwell offered the services of his personal surgeon to remove Hamilton’s gangrenous leg. Hamilton refused this and died a painful death from septicaemia, on the 12th of September after penning a heartfelt goodbye to his family back in Scotland.
Hamilton wished to be buried in Lanarkshire Scotland on the family plot, but Cromwell refused this dignity. The heat of September 1651 led to Hamilton being given a hasty burial in the soil foundations of the Commandery, in a room that now bears his name. Sometime later he was exhumed, and now rests in Worcester Cathedral.
In 2014, the current Duke of Hamilton visited Worcester to pay his respects to William, both in the place where he is buried, and where his loyalty to his king led his untimely demise.
This penny in the Worcestershire County museum collection comes from a hoard of 18 Saxon silver pennies found near Severn Stoke, Worcestershire.
Twelve of the coins were struck for King Burgred of West Mercia (reigned 852-874) and bear his name and image, as this one pictured. The other coins were struck for three kings of Wessex – Aethelwulf, Aethelberht and Aethelred l.
In 854 Burgred had transferred land at Hartlebury to the Bishop of Worcester, Aelhun. This land is now the site of Hartlebury Castle and home to Worcestershire County Museum. The hoard was probably buried in 868 AD. This may be a sign of settlements along the River Severn being concerned about possible Viking attacks.
Thanks to David Kendrick for the research for this object.
John Downman was one of the most popular watercolour portraitists of the late 18th century, and this charming depiction of Robert Sterne Tighe and His Daughter Catherine (1790) is part of Worcester City’s museum collection.
Robert-Sterne Tighe was an Irish, pro-Catholic pamphleteer from Mitchelstown, remembered for running as a candidate for the Catholic Party in 1812, as well as being ‘very fond of making speeches’!
This painting shows us a more private moment in the life of a public man. Downman’s delicate use of watercolour, pencil and chalk captures a proud, affectionate moment of a father in his Chippendale armchair with his only daughter, named after his wife Catherine, nestled in the crook of his arm.
Although some of the colours have changed with time, the tenderness of the father-daughter relationship permeates this originally oval portrait, Catherine’s cheeks still shining rosily after 200 years. Sadly, this work can rarely be displayed in order to limit the damage that watercolours suffer from exposure to light.
This silver sixpence minted in 1575 from the Worcestershire County collection links to a significant royal visit that year to Worcestershire. Queen Elizabeth I arrived at Hartlebury on 12th August 1575 as part of her progress around the country. Bishop Bullingham made a garden walk in the grounds of Hartlebury Castle especially for her visit.
The following day the Queen moved on to Worcester, where orders had been given to the inhabitants of Worcester to white-lime and colour their houses. She dined at Hindlip and hunted at Hallow and supposedly during her visit she saw a black pear tree and directed that three black pears be added to Worcester’s coat of arms (which are still present today). Altogether it became an expensive visit for her hosts: the townspeople presented the Queen with a gift of a cup containing £40 in sovereigns, and the Dean of the Cathedral presented her with a purse of crimson velvet containing £20 (about a year’s salary for a Vicar).
George Owen became an expert for Royal Worcester Porcelain with his designs of pierced, or reticulated, porcelain.
Reticulated decoration originated in China – the ceramics usually have a double wall with the outside one pierced in a decorative lace design to show through to the inner coloured wall beneath. The piercing takes place before firing so the technique requires enormous skill to ensure the piece remains stable throughout the making process.
By the mid-19th century, the designs were popular with English collectors. Owen worked to perfect the process and his work is unique in its quality. He always worked alone so no one else ever knew how he made supported such delicate work and no other craftsman before or since has been able to match his skill. Owen was rare among the best porcelain makers as he was not paid a weekly wage. All his work was made for special orders, each of which were very expensive pieces.
A small number of works by George Owen were donated to the city museum in 1957 by his son.