Untitled (Hawksmoor Series No.1) by Jock Mc Fayden

This small, gouache on panel painting, just 25.5cm x 15.5cm was painted by Jock McFadyen in 1989 and purchased for the Worcester City Collection a year later.

McFadyen was born in Paisley to the west of Glasgow and south of the River Clyde, in 1950. He studied at Chelsea School of Art and in 2012 he was elected a Royal Academician. In many ways his work seems to follow in the tradition of the more expressionist 20th century figurative and landscape painters, who have lived and worked in London.

Jock McFadyen; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Jock McFadyen, Untitled (Hawksmoor Series No.1), Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The painting was produced as part of a series of works called ‘Canal’, referring to the Regent’s Canal running North East from Limehouse Docks where it is also joined by the Grand Union Canal from the North. Like others in this series it packs a solid punch for a small painting. The figure of a woman stands on the canal towpath in front of iron railings with a church sign against them declaring, ‘Christ is Risen’ in white letters on a blood red ground. Below this is a low white wall covered in black and red graffiti, with the name ‘Danny’ scrawled in red paint, as if in counterpoint to the official red poster above. The woman is young with a dough-like pallor, as she appears to stand like a visiting spirit, shivering in the watery sunlight to the left of the more definite texts. She wears a fitted white mini skirt above her pale legs and green stiletto shoes, clutching a black purse strapped to her side over a pale blue bomber jacket and yellow collared blouse. Her thin auburn hair flies out around her face punctuated by pursed dark red lips and darkly circled eye sockets.

Behind the black railings looms the outline of St. Anne’s church in Limehouse, a Baroque white neo-classical edifice with high clock tower at the east end, rising beyond the lurid red church poster. It appears a desolate and abandoned spot that she has chosen to stand and stare as she waits forlornly for a partner or assignation on the litter strewn canal-side. The architect of the grandly classical church is the 18th century, Nicholas Hawksmoor, after whom this series of small figures studies is named, one of which is also owned by Doncaster Museum service.

 

Written by volunteer collections researcher, Deborah Keaveney.

Victoria Institute committee, Worcester, 1918

The decision-making body for the Victoria Institute, Worcester’s combined library, museum, art gallery and art school. This committee also made the decisions on what objects and artworks to acquire for the Worcester City museum collection.

Mayor of Worcester: Alderman A. Charlton, J.P.

Chairman of Library and Museum Committee: Alderman W.H. Kershaw, J.P.

Art Gallery Committee:

  • Alderman W.H. Kershaw, J.P., Chairman
  • The Mayor
  • Alderman J.S. Cook, J.P.
  • Councillor W. Webb
  • Councillor F.A.W. Simes, J.P.
  • Councillor J.M. Slade
  • Councilor W. Sharpe
  • Councillor Dr Walpole Simmons
  • Mr T. Boyce
  • Mr C.J. Houghton
  • Mr Carlton Rea
  • Mr Walter Wood
  • Mr Thomas Duckworth, Secretary

 

Night (1942) by Paul Lucien Dessau (1909-1999)

FA0355 jpeg websizeThis week we commemorate the 70th anniversary of VE day and it’s impossible to look back to the celebrations without also recognising the horror and destruction.

This painting shows the aftermath of an air raid. It’s particularly interesting because Paul Dessau was a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service as well as an artist. Researcher Dr Anthony Kelly has investigated the Fireman Artists of the Second World War and published a book which tells the story of their dual work and the touring exhibitions of their paintings.

Night was purchased from Dessau by Miss EA Cadbury of Lower Wick House, who presented it to Worcester City Art Gallery. Dessau received 16 guineas from a sale price of £21 (the rest going to the Fire Brigade Charity).

Evelyn Cadbury was a qualified nurse and midwife and an Independent Worcester city councillor, and she did much voluntary work in Worcester. Miss Cadbury died in 1990, aged 85.

She was the great-granddaughter of John Cadbury, the founder of the chocolate company, and like the majority of the Cadbury family was a Quaker. Possibly her pacifist beliefs were behind the purchase of this painting and gift of it to the city.

Lower Jurassic Ichthyosaur

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This almost complete skeleton of a Lower Jurassic ichthyosaur, Ichthyosaurus communis Conybeare, is from the Lower Lias rocks of the Lower Jurassic at Bickmarsh on the Worcestershire/Warwickshire borders and is one of the most popular and finest specimens in Worcester City Museum’s large geological collection. It is currently on display in Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum.

The fossil was given to the Museum in 1887 as part of a bequest from the late Canon A.H. Winnington Ingram. The bequest also included two other almost complete mounted ichthyosaur specimens as well as other Jurassic fossils. Arthur Henry Winnington Ingram (1818-1887) was born at Ribbesford, Worcestershire. He was rector at Clifton-upon-Teme, and then at Harvington, and was made Honorary Canon of Worcester in 1854. He was a typical example of a multi-talented Victorian being amongst other things, a traveller, antiquary, astronomer, poet and geologist.

The moderately large and surprisingly varied fossil vertebrate collection at Worcester Museum contains scientifically interesting material and has been used by researchers for over a century. Between 1969-71 it was listed by J.B. Delair, (Caledonian Land Services, Oxford.) In 1974 Christopher McGowan of Ontario University studied the Liassic ichthyosaur material and one of the specimens, Stenopterygius sp. is figured in the resulting paper (McGowan, C. 1978. Further Evidence for the wide Geographical Distribution of Ichthyosaur Taxa. Journal of Palaeontology, Vol 52, No. 5, p. 1158, pl 2 fig 3).

Ichthyosaurs looked very like dolphins, living sea mammals, apart from their tail and an extra pair of fins. Their similarity in shape suggests they had a similar life style. With their superbly streamlined bodies, fins, flippers and long narrow jaws packed with sharp teeth, they were perfectly designed as hunter killers.

They were very fast swimmers and possibly were capable of reaching speeds of 15 mph. Information gained from analysing fossil ichthyosaur stomachs and coprolites (droppings) shows that their main diet was fish, ammonites, nautiloids and squid. The hard hooks found on the tentacles of squids were indigestible and collected in the stomach. One fossil ichthyosaur showed that it had gulped down at least 1,500 squids in its lifetime!

The largest ichthyosaurs were about 7.6m (25 feet) long but some species were no longer than a human. Ichthyosaurs swam by moving their powerful tails from side to side. When the first fossil ichthyosaur skeletons were discovered it was thought they had broken tails. Then it was realised that the backbone actually had a downward kink, and this shape supported a vertical tail fin (unlike the horizontal one found in dolphins and whales). The dorsal fin and paddles were used for steering. The skull of the ichthyosaur had a long narrow snout and the nostrils were placed far back on the sides of the head to allow the animal to feed and breathe at the same time. Ichthyosaurs had huge eyeballs that were strengthened by a ring of bones. In life the ring prevented distortion of the eyeballs when the animal was diving. Beside their fish-shaped body, many other features of the ichthyosaur indicated that they alone amongst the reptiles were totally adapted to a marine life. This included giving birth to live young in the water.

In Britain, fossil reptile remains, including those of ichthyosaurs, attracted the attention of collectors from a very early period in the study of natural history. The earliest illustrations now known to be ichthyosaurs appeared in Lithophylacii Britainnici Ichnographicia (1699), the first book devoted solely to British fossils.

Mary Anning (1799-1847) was famous for the fossils she collected close to her home in Lyme Regis. Between 1810 and 1812 she and her brother excavated a complete ichthyosaur which was 17 ft long with a 4 ft skull. They sold it for about £23 and it was deposited in William Bullock’s London Museum of Natural History in Piccadilly. Quarrying operation during the 19th century revealed many specimens of ichthyosaurs and reports of these striking finds often caused excitement among the general public. Interest was reflected in the publication of cartoons and poems.

Light Levels

20150312_134113Protecting the museum collections from fading is a balancing act: complete protection means never displaying certain objects. Wherever possible, we try and find a compromise that preserves the object for future generations, but still makes it accessible to today’s museum visitors.

We’ve recently replaced the lighting in the 17th century gallery at the Worcestershire County Museum. It’s a display that hasn’t changed in many years and although the label design now looks quite dated, the objects are fascinating and so is the accompanying story about Worcestershire’s loyalties in the English Civil War.

Within the display are embroideries which are particularly vulnerable to light damage. To try and protect them, the light levels were set very low and visitors found it hard to see the into the case properly. Fading is caused by too much light: the amount of light an object gets in total over its life. So the choice is either good lighting for short exposures, or low light for long exposures.

We’ve replaced the old halogen lights in this gallery with new LED lights on a system that responds to movement. This means that the lights only come on when a visitor looks into the case – so they can be bright because they are on for less time.

As a result it’s now possible to see the beautiful details on some very special 17th century embroideries from the Worcestershire County museum collection. The variety of stitches and thread on the panel pictured here give a shape and freedom to the work of a talented embroiderer working four centuries ago. Sadly we have no idea of their identity but the joy in their work continues to shine.

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Benjamin Williams Leader (1831-1923)

Smooth Severn Stream

Benjamin Williams Leader is Worcester’s most famous artist and Worcester City, fittingly, has one of the best collections in the world of his work. He portrayed an idyllic and glorious British landscape celebrating the nature around us.

Leader was born in Worcester in 1831 as Benjamin Leader Williams (he later swapped his names around to avoid confusion with other artists called Williams). His father was a notable civil engineer who designed the River Severn’s Diglis lock; the family lived right next to his work at Diglis House, now the Diglis Hotel. Leader’s father was a keen artist and often took the children out to sketch along the river. When Leader was still a small child, the famous landscape painter John Constable visited Worcester and stayed with the family, no doubt inspiring them all.

Educated at the Royal Grammar School in Worcester, Leader first worked at his father’s office as a draughtsman while studying art in the evenings at the Worcester School of Design. At the age of 23, he was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in London and started on a career path to become one of the most celebrated landscape artists of the Victorian age. At the height of his fame he was reputably the most expensive painter in England. He exhibited at the Royal Academy every year from 1857 to 1922, a record-breaking 65 continuous years!

An almost exact contemporary of the Impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926), Leader’s painting style is interesting to compare with the French master. Early on in his career, Leader’s landscapes demonstrated studied detail, a style common to most of his Victorian contemporaries. But from around 1880, he started experimenting, with some paintings produced in a broader, looser style. Some art historians have quoted this as the moment British artists started painting with a more ‘modern’ approach in parallel to the French Impressionists.

One of the most lovely of Leader’s paintings Smooth Severn Stream was painted around this time and is now displayed on the staircase of Worcester Art Gallery & Museum on Foregate Street in Worcester.

Smooth Severn Stream pictures the River Severn from a viewpoint just south of the city and looks downstream; you can see the Malvern Hills on the right side. The painting has the sense of real people inhabiting the landscape: on the left side of the picture you can see a parasol and picnic blanket, as if a fashionable lady has just walked out of the painting. As well as the leisured lady in her garden, the view shows the profitable agricultural land of Worcestershire and two barges transporting goods down the river. At this point the Severn was an essential transport link for industry and was as important to Worcestershire as the M5 is today. The painting depicts Worcester as rich and sleek, a powerhouse in the country.

Benjamin Williams Leader’s work, perhaps no longer so fashionable, is still enduring popular.

Smooth Severn Stream, 1886, by BW Leader, Worcester City museum collection

Glove Factory- & Out-workers

dent alcroft gloves 1895In 1777 Dents built the first glove factory on South Quay on the River Severn in Worcester. The company was the first to industrialise the process of preparing leather and cutting the designs, although much of the sewing done by women working in their own homes and paid per pair of gloves.

Cutters in the factory underwent a seven year apprenticeship: it was a very skilled job to get the most number of gloves out of each hide. Each full-time male cutter required 12-15 female sewers working at home. Sewers were recruited from the urban centre and from local rural villages; cut leather was transported out on a weekly basis to collection points.

The peak of the industry was between 1790 and 1820, when half of all British gloves were made in Worcester. In the 1820s there were 150 manufacturers of leather gloves in Worcester and 30-40,000 people were estimated to be employed in the glove industry in Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

Fownes cutting room
Cutters at work at the Fownes Factory, 1890s
Worcester was very dependent on the glove industry. When foreign import tax on gloves was lifted, reportedly thousands of people starved in Worcester, and many people left to go to work in bigger industrial cities.

Glovers working at home were never well paid – the 1837 commission investigating the poor laws found that many glovemakers were also dependent on their parish, which was the equivalent of being on benefits.

William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp of Madresfield

Lygon 7th earl

William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp of Madresfield, Malvern Worcestershire, was part of Prime Minister Asquith’s Cabinet on the outbreak of the First World War.

When Cabinet met on 3rd August 1914 at 11am, there were four ministers on the verge of resigning over Britain’s entry into war – John Burns, John Simon, Lord Beauchamp and John Morley.

“The Cabinet was very moving. Most of us could hardly speak at all for emotion.”

After much debate, on 4th August 1914 at 10.45pm, King George V and the Privy Council met at Buckingham Palace to authorise a declaration of war.

From the following day, Lord Beauchamp held a new role in Cabinet, that of Lord President of the Council. The fourth of the great officers of state, the Lord President attends each meeting of the Privy Council, presenting business for the monarch’s approval.

This portrait of the 7th Earl hangs in the Guildhall, Worcester.

The Medieval Church of St Michael, Worcester

Worcester Cathedral Phipson

Worcestershire Archaeology are currently excavating the Cathedral roundabout on Worcester’s College Street, discovering more about the streets that lined the north of the cathedral precincts until the 1960s, including the ancient lychgate.

Perhaps less well remembered is the little medieval church of St Michael that stood right against the north side of Worcester Cathedral, where the war memorial is now sited. This church was demolished in 1843.

The Church of St Michael the Archangel served a small and quirky parish, which included the Bishop’s Palace and the Castle. The parish remained officially outside the administration of both the City and the Diocese of Worcester until 1832. Eventually the parish was combined with others into Worcester Civil Parish in 1898.

The church was built in the north east corner of the churchyard, the most important cemetery in Worcester from Saxon times. The Archangel Michael was always considered to have a special interest in the burial of the dead.

A new St Michael’s was built in College Street – itself at that time a new road – in about 1840, with the old church demolished a few years later. Following a similar pattern of growth and change, this new St Michael’s was demolished in the 1960s, alongside building the City Walls Road and dualling College Street to create a inner ring road for Worcester.

The Worcestershire Archaeological Society published an article about the medieval church in vol XIX of Transactions. This 19th century watercolour painting of the original St Michael’s is included in the Worcester City museum collection.