Going to Market by David Cox (1783-1859)

web-david-cox-going-to-market-c-museums-worcestershireDavid Cox was born in Birmingham in 1783 and during his life he moved to London, then Hereford and back to London before moving back to Birmingham in 1841. As well as moving across the country he also frequently took trips to paint in wales or across Europe throughout. It is therefore unsurprising that people taking long, often arduous journeys were a frequent subject in his evocative landscapes.
His travellers and journeymen are often shown crossing vast landscapes and facing tough weather conditions, highlighting how small and vulnerable people are in contrast to the great powers of nature.
In the early nineteenth-century, watercolour painters were expected to exercise tight control in their artworks and follow of precise techniques. Like his contemporary of J W M Turner, the rough, loose finish of this painting and other works by Cox marked him out as an unconventional and even controversial artist.
This painting was done on rough wrapping paper rather than traditional watercolour paper, which would have made it harder to capture precise detail, but helped Cox to explore the textural qualities of a dramatic, stormy day.
Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum is lucky to have a large collection of watercolour paintings by one of the nineteenth century’s greatest landscape painters David Cox, thanks to the Sale Bequest that came to the museum in 1915.

Civil War Cavalry Sword

web-civil-war-cavalry-sword-c-museums-worcestershireDuring the English Civil War period, all soldiers, cavalry and infantry carried swords, although most soldiers of the Civil War were not trained in swordplay to any degree. Many of the swords were made in Germany, and this one features a stamp which indicates that it was possibly made in Hamburg or Hanover. Swords such as this one may have been used by either side during the period, as basket-hilted swords had already been around since the sixteenth century. The protective ‘basket’ was initially a simple design, but as time passed they became increasingly ornate and decorative.

This sword from the Worcester City museums collection was thought to have been used at the Battle of Powick Bridge on the 23 September 1642. Although some skirmishing had occurred throughout the country before this point, this battle was the first major cavalry engagement of the English Civil War. Powick Bridge was a victory for the Royalists in 1642, but there was another clash at the same location nine years later before the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, after which the Royalists had to abandon their position and retreat, leaving the Parliamentarians to advance towards Worcester.

Secrets of the Museum Basement

2 spirit Jars containing a pig's head and a cat's paw

These two Spirit Jars were bought by Worcester Museum in the early 1900s from Edward Gerrard & Sons, a taxidermist and specialist in preparing animal skeletons for educational displays.

Gerrard was working at the British Museum in 1850 when he set up his business, which became a sizeable firm with an extremely diverse output, supplying schools with zoological specimens, as well as making educational anatomical models and even producing furniture made from animal feet, such as rhinoceros umbrella stands.

This hog’s head and cat’s paw would have been purchased to complement the specimens Worcester Museum already has in the Challenger Collection which were collected in the 19th century from some of the great ocean basins. They were on display for many years until the late 1950s.

The specimens were mounted on glass slides and preserved in surgical spirits, industrial methylated spirits or sometimes alcohol. These jars still contain the original spirit, which can dry out if the seals wear away. They have been injected with dyes to show up the veins, and are certainly not objects for the fainthearted.

There is more information about this fascinating business in Edward Gerrard and Sons, A Taxidermy Memoir.

If you would like to see objects such as these, look out for our behind-the-scenes tours on our events pages.

Supplied by Edward Gerrard & Sons, Natural History Studios, 61 College Place, London N.W., Naturalists & Taxidermists

Wintertime, Malvern by Harry Adams

web-winter-at-malvern-c-museums-worcestershireWhen I was first getting to know the Museums Worcestershire art collection, there were many names I knew, as well as many artists I’d yet to discover. One of these was Harry Williams Adams. Adams was born in Worcester in 1868 and worked as a decorative artist in the Royal Worcester Porcelain Factory for eight years, studying at the Worcester School of Art in the evening, before leaving to study in Paris and travel in Switzerland. After returning to the UK, Adams worked from a studio in Pierpoint Street. Perhaps drawing on his experiences whilst traveling in Switzerland, he became a master of depicting vast wintery landscapes.

Because of its size, Wintertime, Malvern is difficult to move for display so it is cared for in the art store and this is where I first discovered it. I was immediately impressed by this accomplished and evocative painting of British Camp, a place that for me holds fond memories of chilly childhood walks during the Christmas holidays. Although he is perhaps not the best know artist from Worcester, I think that Adams’ ability to capture the character of this iconic local landscape makes this one of the greatest artworks in the collection.

The HMS Challenger Collection

web-hms-challenger-specimen-c-museums-worcestershireThe Challenger Collection is a range of important specimens collected in the 19th century from some of the great ocean basins. These were collected to investigate the physical and biological conditions of the seas.

HMS Challenger was a ship that set out from Portsmouth in December 1872, carrying naturalists, chemists and a vast amount of equipment in order to gather and process the specimens on board as they travelled. Before setting out the ship was altered to accommodate laboratories, drying facilities and chemical chambers in order for the scientists to conduct their work.

The scientists collected samples dredged from 360 stations, each station bearing a number to show the location. They also recorded depth, surface temperature and chemical composition of the sea water.

On the ships’ return, the specimens were handed over to the British Museum, who then distributed them to other museums around the country, in order for everyone to benefit from the information gathered. At Worcester Art Gallery and Museum we have around 23 of the specimens, some of whose locations are from the southern Indian Ocean and the Atlantic.

Recently, work has been conducted to bring the entire Challenger collection together online. An inventory was completed with images so that they are accessible to everyone who would like to see this wonderful collection in its entirety. You can view it here:


Kerry Whitehouse

The Commandery’s Skeleton

In 2004, an excavation was undertaken by Worcestershire Archaeology Service at the Commandery in Worcester. A series of old floor surfaces were revealed including a layer of limestone demolition material which still had traces of lime-wash and brown painted decoration on it and is thought, by archaeologists, to have belonged to a religious structure. The Commandery hospital and its chapel were re-developed in the later medieval period, and it’s possible that this demolition rubble was dumped in the late 15th century when the hospital was remodelled.

During their excavations, archaeologists unexpectedly discovered two skeletons, one of which belonged to an adult male of about 50 years of age. He stood approximately 5’10” tall; well above the average height of 5’7” in later medieval Britain

His skeletal remains were carefully analysed and suggest that he had suffered from sinusitis, anaemia and a degenerative joint disease or osteoporosis. At some time he appears to have suffered from an infection or trauma to his leg. Like many living in later medieval Worcester, he contended with gum disease, halitosis, tooth loss and dental abscesses.

For all this man’s health issues, he lived to a decent age. Although, we don’t know who he was, it’s thought he was probably someone of status, interred inside a religious building, rather than outdoors alongside the graves of Commandery hospital patients. The location of his grave is now marked in the floor of the Victorian kitchen at the Commandery


Reference: Goad, J., Crawford, A., Head, K., Western, G.- Archaeological Evaluation of Two Lift Shafts at The Commandery, Worcester, WCM101214, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, Worcestershire County Council, 2004

Sheila Scott by Ernest Waldron West

University of Worcester work experience student Charlotte Freshman has been researching Worcester pilot Sheila Scott for her dissertation


Sheila Scott (1922–1988), Ernest Waldron West, 1971, oil on canvas, Worcester City Museum Collection

Sheila Scott was the first British pilot to fly solo around the world in a light aircraft. In fact, she made that flight three times in the whole of her piloting career. She broke over 100 light aircraft records. She was also the first pilot to fly directly over the North Pole in a light aircraft. All of this, from a woman who took five attempts to obtain her private pilot’s license.

Scott, who was born in Worcester in 1922, had tried different career paths until she found a passion in flying at the age of 36. It was not just her private pilot’s license that she managed to acquire, but a commercial license, a night license and she also learned how to fly helicopters and hot air balloons. She made her first flight around the world in 1966. With a cheering crowd full of fans and the press, she departed from London to break her first around the world record. During the flight ,she came up against radio problems and a cut antenna among other problems. This would have startled many pilots, but not Scott. She carried on, more determined than ever. After 189 flying hours over 34 days, covering 34,00 miles, she had finally done it. She was the first solo British pilot to fly around the world in a light aircraft.

Sheila Scott went on to fly around the world solo two more times, as well as breaking many aviation records. She constantly struggled with money issues and had to sell a number of her trophies as well as her beloved plane, Myth. During one of her races, her flat in London was burgled. Amongst other things, the video camera she planned to use to record her third and final flight around the world was stolen. She never recovered from the loss of money the burglary brought her, and when she diagnosed with cancer, she had to sell even more trophies in order to be able to pay for her treatment.

She was the founder and first governor of the British Branch of Ninety Nines – association for licensed women pilots first founded by Amelia Earhart. She received the Royal Aero Club’s Gold Medal in 1972, and was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1968. She also received the Brabazon of Tara Award in 1965, 1967 and 1968. She lost her battle against cancer in 1988, at the age of 66.

Behind the Scenes talks and tours 2017

garston-at-collections-centreIf you have enjoyed finding out more about our collections in storage and our curatorial expertise, you may be interested in booking onto some of our behind-the-scenes events. These take place at Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum and at the Museums Worcestershire Collections Centre. The full listing for 2017 can be found here.

The first talk, taking place on 7 February at Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum, will be a highlight of the year as Garston Phillips, curator since 1969 and a mine of knowledge, shares some of his best stories.

Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum is also the site for our series of lunchtime talks about the collection, which take place on the second Tuesday of each month (except January). A pdf download (400kb) of 2017 bite-sized talks can be found here.

We hope you will be able to join us to discover more about the work we do!

Malachite encrusted with azurite

web-malachite-and-azurite-c-museums-worcestershireWorcester City Museum has a large mineral collection which includes around 2,000 world-wide specimens, mostly collected in the 19th century. It is one of the finest geological collections in the Midlands and of great importance. The collection represents Worcestershire’s comprehensive range of local varied, interesting and in some cases, rare geology. Some minerals are of economic importance but others are just beautiful objects due to their crystal form, shape or colour.
Here is one of the collection’s brilliantly colourful ‘treasures’ of bright green malachite encrusted with crystals of dark blue azurite. Both are carbonates of copper and are usually found in the oxidation zone of copper deposits. They were originally used as a copper ore before their ornamental values were discovered. Malachite was first used as a pigment during the Bronze Age in Egypt and is also a popular polished decorative stone due to its beautiful banding patterns. Azurite was important in the ancient East as a blue pigment in mural paintings and today remains important in paint production.

Rosemary Roden Bsc, Honorary Curator of Geology