A 19th Century Voyage Down Under

Basketweave semi-circular object with long thin straps

Museums Worcestershire look after many historic objects from around the world that include minimal information about their origin or how they came to Worcester. Research has been taking place to uncover their stories so we can better understand and share what these objects represent about our own past and that of other cultures.

This bag made from plant fibres is part of a large collection of objects in Worcester City’s collection which were collected by scientists aboard the HMS Rattlesnake. The ship set sail from Plymouth in 1846 with a mission to make detailed charts of the beautiful but treacherous Great Barrier Reef, ensuring future vessels would be able to pass safely through.

One of the people on board HMS Rattlesnake was Captain’s Steward Robert Gale, who traded the ship’s supplies for what he called “curiosities” from the Indigenous people of the islands they visited. The woven bag is typical of the type used by the Indigenous people of Port Essington, Australia.

The expedition ended after the Captain died in 1850 and the ship returned home to England. Robert Gale settled in West Malvern and in 1853 he donated a collection of items to Worcestershire Natural History Society, described in the museum records as a “variety of spears, clubs, arrows, paddles, domestic articles, dresses, pottery and other curiosities”.

A Worcestershire welcome: when Churchill visited our city

Black and white photograph of a big crowd of people outside Worcester's Guildhall

Worcestershire people have contributed a great deal to the world of art and industry, a contribution which we at the museum love to shout about.

During Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012, a memorable sequence used BBC drones to pan up the Thames Embankment and over the iconic dolphin lamps. We saw the Queen Victoria Memorial on the Mall and looked through Buckingham Palace’s gates to the sounds of the iconic hymn Jerusalem. It may have appeared to be a celebration of all things British, but this was also a showcase of the skills of Worcestershire: Hardy & Padmore’s Worcester foundry cast the dolphin lamps; the memorial was the work of Worcester sculptor Sir Thomas Brock; the Palace’s beautiful wrought-iron gates are the artistry of The Bromsgrove Guild; and Jerusalem was orchestrated by local composer Sir Edward Elgar.

In 1950 another famous British icon, Winston Churchill, was offered freedom of the City of Worcester. The visit itself ran without a hitch, but like many grand events the months of behinds-the-scenes preparation were where all the hard work took place. There was extensive back and forth to secure the date, not to mention arranging a banquet at the Guildhall and efforts to find out how large Mr & Mrs Churchill’s hands were so that Fownes could manufacture precisely fitted gloves! These photographs from Worcester’s collection show that the hard work paid off – from the crowds gathered in the High Street to celebrate his visit, to Churchill smiling in the Guildhall as he too celebrated Worcester’s skills and industries.

Capturing the Celebrity life of Japanese courtesans

A japanese girl wearing an outfit decorated with birds and with yellow braids across the front of her hair

This woodblock print in Worcester’s collection is a portrait of a high-ranking courtesan, parading in front of a flowering peony in an extravagant kimono. It is one of a series of three prints by a prolific and notorious artist Keisai Eisen (1790 – 1848) and one of the most decorative of the Japanese prints in the Museum collection.

Eisen was a larger-than-life character among Japanese ukiyo-e artists – ukiyo-e prints represented every-day and leisure activities of common people. The son of a calligrapher, he did a number of landscape prints but the bulk of his output consists of bijin-ga and shunga (erotic prints) reflecting the decadent life of the yoshiwara – the pleasure quarter of the city which he knew extremely well. His bijin-ga are a mixture of portraits and full-length studies, often of celebrity courtesans like this one.

This sumptuous print shows one of the celebrity courtesans, Oi, from the Ebiya brothel, parading in an exceptionally rich kimono. A kimono such as this would have been incredibly expensive, with several layers of costly under-kimonos to go with it and an obi (belt) embroidered with the image of a carp.

Such kimonos were sometimes given to high-ranking courtesans as gifts from wealthy customers. It would have taken a couple of hours to get fully dressed-up like this and the outfit would have been very heavy to wear. Dressed like this, the courtesans would parade through the yoshiwara on high platform sandals, with a group of attendants, maids, and a servant holding a long-handled parasol. This was a colourful and highly theatrical display which was part ritual, part spectacle.

A Journey of Escape

Black and white drawing of a man on horseback being chased by cavalry, firing muskets at him

Charles II was only 18 and in exile when his father was tried for treason by the English Parliament and executed. After making a deal with the Scots, Charles launched an attack culminating in heavy defeat by Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester.

With many of his troops slaughtered or taken prisoner, Charles’s escape from Worcester was a formidable adventure, particularly as he was a tall and recognisable man. Many romantic stories have grown up: that he threw off the enemy cavalry by crawling under the wheels of a hay wagon blocking Sidbury Gate; or that he swapped clothes with the landlady of his lodgings in New Street and was lowered out of the window in a blanket. This romantic engraving in the City’s collection pictures the scene as if in an adventure novel.

Somehow Charles escaped the city walls through St Martin’s Gate and joined his supporters in Barbourne. Stopping at the Kings Arms in Ombersley for refreshment, they continued to Boscobel in Staffordshire. He famously spent a night in an oak tree before taking a further six weeks to escape to France, not returning to England until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

Signs of Worcester’s Eighteenth Century Success

a cup, saucer and plate with gold rims and a drawn blue pattern

This beautiful Worcester porcelain trio from Worcester City’s collection features the Royal Lily pattern and dates to a period of great success for the Worcester-based Flight Porcelain works.

In 1788, King George III and Queen Charlotte visited our city and toured the factory where they ordered a breakfast service in the design, which was known as Blue Lily at the time. To commemorate this important moment in its history, Thomas Flight renamed it Royal Lily in honour of Queen Charlotte. A year later, the King gave Flight the Royal Warrant, allowing the firm, later to become Royal Worcester, to use the Royal Coat of Arms and the words ‘Manufacturers to their Majesties’.

At this time, Worcester was going through a period of great social and industrial change. The population was increasing rapidly and many grand buildings were appearing to house the city’s wealthy families. At The Commandery an additional wing was being added – including a new set of windows which, given the tax on window glass at this time, would have been quite the ostentatious sign of wealth. Records show that this home improvement project was completed by John Dandridge, an attorney at law and prominent man in the local property business who purchased a portion of The Commandery from the Wylde family in 1764 for the grand sum of £917.00.

Man’s Best Friend in Art

a painting of two dogs in an outdoor space, stretched out as if chasing something

This oil painting of Setters on the Moor is one of several in the Worcester collection by artist Thomas Woodward. He was particularly famous for his depictions of animals and in this painting dogs take centre stage.

Portraits specifically of dogs have appeared since at least the 18th century.

In art, dogs are often representing the characteristic of faithfulness, appearing in family portraits as a representation of the dedication displayed in the marriage union.

Man’s best friend was also historically celebrated in paint for their hunting skills. Appearing in artworks such as Woodward’s – without their human masters – almost gives the impression of the dogs hunting as if in the wild. This type of portrait and breed of dog is usually associated with male owners, whilst lapdogs were more often used in female portraits.

Born in Pershore in 1801, Thomas was the son of Herbert and Elizabeth Woodward – Herbert was a solicitor in the town at this time. Although commissioned by Queen Victoria, Woodward was unable to reside in London due to ill health, so chose to live in Worcestershire for most of his life. He died in Worcester and is buried in Pershore Abbey, where there is a memorial tablet in his memory.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip’s first visit to Worcester

Queen Elizabeth II’s first visit to Worcester as monarch was part of a busy and choreographed series of visits and events across Britain in April 1957.

A young and beautiful couple, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were welcomed by thousands of Worcestershire people. They travelled from London on the royal train, meeting workers at factories and town halls in Hagley, Oldbury and Brierley Hill; the next day travelling on to Malvern, Ross on Wye and Hereford where they toured the cattle market. The Guildhall hosted an evening reception for the royal couple, who spent the night on the royal train.

This photograph from Worcester’s collection shows the Queen being presented with a gift from the Mayor of Worcester. It was a specially made pair of gloves, a reference to Worcester’s long history as the worldwide centre for glove-making during the 18th and 19th Century.

Some Small Housework

Model of a house with the front open and toys scattered around

This doll’s house in Worcestershire’s collection was lovingly cleaned and restored by a much-missed museum volunteer Colin Richardson.

After spending many weeks working on the house and furniture, it was returned to display at the County museum at Hartlebury, Colin having added a few fluffy chicks and bunnies as tenants. One chick reclines in the nursery’s rocking chair while another enjoys a bottle of beer (larger than himself, it is worth noting) in the kitchen – typical of Colin’s north-eastern cheeky sense of humour.

Colin also restored the huge three-dimensional model of Worcester which is on display at The Commandery in Worcester. He spent nine months cleaning every tiny building on the model map by hand as well as sourcing handmade miniature cows from a local metal worker. Of course, he insisted each animal was named by The Commandery’s staff.

First Map of Worcester City Centre

An old map of central Worcester with a listing of the main roads and churches alongside

This map of Worcester in the City’s collection is the earliest known plan of Worcester and dates to around 1610. It was published by John Speed in his atlas Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, in the corner of the map for the county of Worcestershire and includes both the three pears coat of arms and an illustration of Worcester’s agricultural prosperity.

John Speed was born in 1552 in Cheshire and went into the family business as a tailor. It was not til his 40s that he pursued an interest in producing maps, moving to London where he joined the Society of Antiquaries.

Here he attracted aristocratic support and was offered an allowance to write a history of Britain, to which Speed added the need for maps. In 1598 he showed his map drawings to Queen Elizabeth, and was given use of space in the Custom House to work on his project.

As well as using historical sources such as the maps of Saxton and Norden, Speed and his son surveyed cities across Britain. In many cases these surveys produced the first recorded town plans. His scale on the town plans is in ‘paces’, recorded from his own visit.

The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine was published in 1611 and 1612, and included separate maps of each English and Welsh county alongside their local coats of arms as well as maps of Ireland and Scotland. The atlas was a great success. Although Speed died in 1629, his legacy was to live on across Britain, with his maps republished right through to the end of the 18th century.