Taking care of the collections – Spitalfields silk dress

This beautiful cream-coloured dress dates from around 1770 and has some exquisite features despite its fragile state. Gorgeous sprays of honeysuckle and lilac are delicately embroidered to the bodice and sleeves.

The dress is made from ‘Spitalfields’ silk, which refers to the industry which arose in East London in the 16th century, when the French Protestant Huguenots fled persecution to London, and many skilled weavers and experts in sericulture (silk farming) settled in the Spitalfields area.

Objects like this dress, which resides in the Worcestershire county costume collection, must be stored, handled and conserved very carefully to ensure that the collections continue to be accessible in the future, and many costume items are stored in purpose-built pods with humidity-controlled heating.

Special dusting guidelines advise avoiding tools such as brushes, which can cause damage, and carefully checking areas for loose threads before performing any cleaning.

 

 

Charlie Fothergill

 

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Mammal Bones Conservation

Over the next year, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service and Museums Worcestershire are working on a Heritage Lottery funded project to celebrate Worcestershire’s Ice Age past through exhibitions, events, blogs and workshops.

As part of the project, conservation work is being carried out on some of the earliest items that came into the Worcester City collection.

No.128 Bos / bison skull and horn cores from Bricklehampton.

Ice-age conservation

This specimen was in several pieces (see image below). It had clearly been put together in the past with glue and plaster of paris, with a wooden dowel inserted into the left side of the skull and into the left horn core, held with plaster. The plaster had given way.

The edges of breaks were consolidated with Paraloid B72 consolidant and then pieces were glued back together with Paraloid B72 adhesive. The wooden dowel was re-used as support is required for the large, heavy left horn core. Once the adhesive had set, plaster was applied around the dowel inside the horn core. NB there is a metal rod acting as a supporting dowel in the tip of the right horn core. Large cracks were filled with plaster of paris. All plaster was painted to closely, but not perfectly, match the surrounding bone so that an expert eye can tell where the gap-filler is.

Ice-age conservation2

Above, the repaired specimen with the plaster unpainted. Below, with the plaster painted.

Ice-age conservation3

No.173 Taurus primigenius horn core from Eckington.

The proximal end of this horn core was in several pieces. Many could be relocated, but not all.

The edges of breaks were consolidated with Paraloid B72 consolidant and then pieces were glued back together with Paraloid B72 adhesive. Once the adhesive had set, large gaps were filled with plaster of paris to provide additional strength and robustness to the specimen. All plaster was painted to closely, but not perfectly, match the surrounding bone so that an expert eye can tell where the gap-filler is. One piece of bone in this bag does not belong to this specimen.

Ice-age conservation4 Ice-age conservation5

Above left: the specimen before repair. Above right, the specimen after repair.

No.143 Bison priscus limb bone from brickyard

Ice-age conservation6This specimen was in two pieces, where an old repaired break in the mid-shaft had failed. Old glue was removed with a scalpel, the edges of the break was consolidated with Paraloid B72 consolidant and then the two pieces were glued back together with Paraloid B72 adhesive.

General

All the specimens were inspected to see what further conservation work was required. As the surfaces were generally quite friable and fragile, only limited cleaning could be undertaken. This consisted of using an airbrasive unit utilising compressed air laced with a small amount of sodium bicarbonate powder, followed by cleaning with just compressed air. A few vulnerable friable areas were consolidated with Paraloid B72 but this was kept to a minimum so as not to adulterate the specimens.

Thanks to Nigel Larkin for this report.

Millicent the Mammoth

Every day thousands of motorists stop at Strensham Services, by Junction 8 of the M5 in south Worcestershire. Few are aware that, 200,000 years ago, Strensham was the final stop for a very different traveller: a young adult Woolly Mammoth, 20-25 years old.

She came to drink from a shallow pool and died there, her body settling into the soft mud. She was discovered by archaeologists during construction works in July 1990, along with bones from at least five other mammoths and a red deer antler. Initially christened Marmaduke, she was swiftly renamed Millicent once she was found to be female.

Mammoths are often associated with Arctic conditions, but the presence of cold-averse species of molluscs within the Strensham deposits reveals that Millicent lived in a climate similar to Britain today, during a warm period within Marine Isotope Stage 7 (243-191,000 years ago). The Strensham pool lay within a marshy meadow, surrounded by heath dotted with stands of trees. Millicent lived alongside familiar faces such as wolves, foxes and wild boar, but also woolly rhinoceros, cave lion, bison, and the fearsome cave hyaena. Millicent is just one example from half a million years of Palaeolithic prehistory in the region.

Rob Hedge
Lost Landscapes Project Officer 

Worcester Metalbox

William Blizzard Williamson arrived in Worcester with his family in the early 1850s. He started a small business in Lowesmoor manufacturing a wide range of articles in sheet steel and tinplate.

In 1858 Williamson built a new factory called The Providence Works. They made all sorts of items ranging from trunks, hatboxes and cutlery trays to fine showpieces, with specialities including ballot boxes and judge’s wig boxes.

He was succeeded in 1878 by his sons, William and George, who could see the potential of using tins for storing products and keeping them fresh. During the 1800s, William developed the ‘lever lid’ tin, the standard container used for products such as paint, custard powder and treacle. George invented the ‘cutter lid tin’ for cigarettes and tobacco.

In 1890 George formed a limited company called G.H. Williamson and Sons Ltd, but it was his son G.E. Williamson who saw the potential of using mass production techniques and set up a new canning factory in Worcester. In 1930 he became director of a group of several independent tin-plate manufacturers, who called themselves Metal Box.

Williamson’s money helped construct a brand new open-top canning factory that produced millions of metal cans from Perry Wood in Worcester.

Morion Pot Helmet

This helmet from the Worcester City Museum collection is a perfect example of what many soldiers, particularly in the New Model Army, would have worn into battle during the English Civil War. Known as a Morion, this helmet would have been worn primarily by pikemen.

The Morion was an ideal helmet to be worn by infantry who would have had to engage enemy cavalry.

The wide brim protected the wearer’s shoulders and face from any downwards sword strike, which could come from a mounted enemy soldier.

The ridge that runs along the top of the helmet both protects the wearer by deflecting the blunt force trauma of a strike away from the cranium; but it could also be used as an offensive weapon to strike the enemy should the wearer become disarmed in hand to hand combat.

While the ridge itself is in no way sharp, repeated strikes against an opponent’s head using the helmet as a bludgeon would be fatal.

Alex Bear
Interpretation Assistant
Museums Worcestershire

Pacific Islands Ceremonial Paddle

Not just Worcestershire objects in the Museum collections
Museums Worcestershire has objects from all over the world in its collections. Although these are not developing areas of the collection, many fascinating global objects make up the historic collections.
This wonderful example has come to Worcester City’s museum collection from the Pacific islands and is a highly decorative ceremonial paddle from the islands of Tonga and Fiji, donated to the Worcester City museum collection in 1969.
The paddle is made from a hardwood, is smooth to the touch and after time has developed this polished looking patina.
The decoration is chip carved and covers the entire surface of the paddle. Due to the decoration and the patina, this example most probably dates to the mid to late 19th century.

Nest of the European Hornet (Vespa crabro)

This intricate piece of natural architecture is a superb example of a nest of the European Hornet (Vespa crabro). Although for many finding a specimen such as this in the attic would hardly be a welcome discovery, Mr and Mrs Skinner of Shrawley kindly donated this vacated nest to the Worcester City Natural History Collection, allowing its delicate structure to be carefully preserved and displayed from time to time.

The overall population of European Hornet colonies tend to be proportionately smaller than wasp nests, however this is still a substantial size, measuring around 50cm across with individual hexagonal cells much larger than ones created by wasps.

They begin with the work of the lone fertilised queen hornet, who creates the first layer of papery cells and lays an egg in each one. The first generation of female hornets continue to forage and build the rest of the nest.

There is a lot of variation in appearance between nests of this species of hornet, as the insects use a variety of materials available to them at the time of building. Whereas wasps prefer hard woods, hornets content themselves with soft or decaying wood, often mixing it with sand or soil and cementing it together with saliva, resulting in a coarse, yellow, papier-maché appearance. If you look closely, you can see striped lobes which are the results of the work of individual hornets’ work, with colours varying due to the different types of trees and wood collected.

Garston Phillips

Thomas Woodward’s painting of the Battle of Worcester

Thomas Woodward was born in Pershore in 1801, son to a solicitor in the town. Woodward’s first exhibited picture was the portrait of a favourite horse belonging to a Mr Berry, which was shown at the Royal Academy in London in 1821. On the recommendation of his friend Sir Edwin Landseer, who had a high opinion of Woodward’s work, Woodward painted many portraits of horses for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and became a celebrated animal specialist.

Of all his pictures, his battle pieces achieved the greatest fame. One of his finest is now in the Worcester City museum collection and depicts The Battle of Worcester in 1651; it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837. This painting shows the young Charles II in the midst of bloody battle, gesturing towards the Cathedral at Worcester. Although the painting doesn’t accurately describe the way the battle went, it captures the horror of hand-to-hand fighting during the Civil War, and the bravery of Charles in the face of overwhelming opposition.

The collection also includes Woodward’s sketches for this painting – more information on these made up a previous Research Worcestershire post.

Trying the Sword by George Cattermole

a watercolour by Cattermole picturing a medieval scene of armourWorcester City Art Gallery and Museum acquired three paintings by George Cattermole in 1915 as part of the Sale Bequest of Victorian Watercolours.

Cattermole initially trained as an architectural draftsman and accurate interiors are often a feature of his work. These scenes usually include romantic and dramatic subjects such as medieval knights.

His scenes of Armourers, including Trying the Sword are among his best and the Victoria & Albert Museum have a very similar version of this work in their collection. These were made as illustrations for The Armourer’s Tale in a book of short stories called Evenings at Haddon Hall. Cattermole also illustrated the Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge by his friend, Charles Dickens.

Cattermole was a member of the Old Watercolour Society, where it is likely he met David Cox and the two artists were great admirers of each other’s work.