A Will of His Own, 1874 by John Dawson Watson

web Watson Mother and Child (c) Museums WorcestershireJohn Dawson Watson was a painter and illustrator of genre scenes and books such as The Pilgrim’s Progress and the Arabian Nights. The Pall Mall Art critic in 1865 said of Watson, ‘We have no young painter who shows a more decided power of informing his figures with intention’.

The child in the appropriately named A Will of His Own, thrusting an angry hand into his mother’s face in the frenzy of red-faced tantrum, certainly shows the intention of being naughty!

This watercolour comes from the Sale Bequest collection. Reverend and Mrs Sale of Holt Rectory donated their valuable collection of watercolours to the nation, many of which were left to the British Museum. However, due to a lack of space at the time a large number of these fine paintings were bequeathed to the Victoria Institute, which one hundred years after the original donation is now the Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum.

Palaeolithic cave floor

web Cave Floor (c) Museums WorcestershireThis section of a cave floor from Worcester City’s collection was excavated in the 1860s, most likely, in the town of Les Eyzies in the French Dordogne. It belongs to a cave which was occupied during the Upper Palaeolithic, between 17,000 to 12,000 years ago.

Henry Christy, an English banker and ethnologist and Édouard Lartet, a French palaeontologist began working in a cave called Grotte des Eyzies in 1863 at a time of enormous change in the study of early man.

Evidence had been mounting throughout the eighteenth century that the Earth was incredibly old, much older than the 6,000 years that Bishop Ussher had calculated from his bible studies. By the 1840s, scientists working in the Alps had come to realise that rock and gravel deposits had not been laid down by Noah’s great flood but instead by glaciers and icecaps which covered much of Europe and which we now call Ice Ages.

At the time the period was simply called the reindeer age, and the men and women who lived alongside them, the reindeer hunters. Reindeer bones, usually associated with cold climates, were being found on excavations across Southern Europe, including the one that our cave floor was removed from.

The tools that Christy and Lartet found in the Dordogne and specimens of cave floor were sent to museums all over the world, and this object is currently being worked on as part of a review into Worcester City Museum’s Pleistocene collection.

Lartet and Christy went on to make discoveries that were ground breaking; the bones and tusks of Ice Age mammals, decorated by man with images of the animals themselves, proving that early man and these Ice Age animals did indeed once live side by side and in March 1868, the discovery of five Cro-Magnon skeletons, now recognised as the earliest known race of modern humans.

Nature Morte aux Fruits by Juan Gris

web Juan Gris (c) Museums WorcestershireThis signed lithograph print is an unexpected inclusion in Worcester City’s art collection, but a real treasure. It first came into the collection as part of the Print Loan scheme before moving to the main collection; Museums Worcestershire has an extensive set of historical items that are borrowed by schools and other learning organisations to help bring the past to life.

Juan Gris was, along with Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, a leading artist of the Cubist art movement. Gris was born in Madrid, but moved to Paris as a young man. The Paris art world at the beginning of the twentieth century was an exciting melting pot of new ideas and Gris’ friends and fellow artists included Matisse, Leger and Modigliani as well as Picasso. Gris died in 1927 aged just 40, perhaps meaning his work is slightly less known than his peers.

Nature Morte aux Fruits is a perfect example of Gris’ work with its flatness, its strong architectural shapes and its harmonious colour palate including a very typical red table cloth. The inclusion of the pears within the still life makes it an interesting comparison to other depictions of pears, some a lot more local, in the Worcester art collection.

A View of Worcester by Paul Sandby, the very copy exhibited at the 1882 Worcestershire Exhibition

Sandby printThis beautiful picture shows Worcester at an important time in its history. It had recovered from the destruction of the Civil War battles raged across the city and is starting to become a powerful industrial centre. On the left you can see the earliest Worcester porcelain works and its first bottle kiln and on the right Severn trows are hauling finished goods to Bristol, London and on to the rest of the world.

Paul Sandby was a map-maker and landscape painter who was described by his fellow artist Gainsborough as the best for ‘real views from nature in this country’. He made his name first as a military surveyor and then continued to travel around Britain, documenting the changing landscape in watercolour paintings. He was one of the 34 founding members of the Royal Academy in 1768.

Sanby etched a large number of his paintings and published them as prints. The 1760 original watercolour is in the collection of the Museum of Royal Worcester, and the print was published on 1 November 1778. What makes this particular print special is that its documentation tells us it was the actual copy exhibited at the 1882 Worcestershire exhibition.

Victorian achievement had invigorated the nation with pride and the Great Exhibition of 1851 at London’s Crystal Palace is considered symbolic of this national confidence. It was hugely successful in demonstrating Britain’s innovations and achievements to the world, and delighting and inspiring its six million visitors.

When the delicate matter of a £200 deficit in the budget of Worcester’s public library arose, the response of Worcestershire’s great and good was ambitious; a Great Exhibition for Worcestershire. A committee was formed of peers, MPs, artists, antiquaries and manufacturers with the unenviable task of creating this awe inspiring exhibition in six months. It opened in July 1882 at Shrub Hill Engine Works amidst much pomp and ceremony.

The county’s finest products were represented; Stourbridge glass, Kidderminster carpets, Worcester porcelain and gloves, and iron from Dudley. The fine arts section boasted old masters, contemporary painters, decorative arts and needlework with many of the exhibits coming from the country homes of the county elite. This print was lent to the exhibition by its then owner, WN Marcy of Bewdley.

The exhibition was a huge success. It enhanced Worcestershire’s reputation, delighted its visitors and encouraged and inspired the common man. Several of the exhibits were donated to the City Museum to create the first art collection and they remain in this public collection to the present day.

Museums Worcestershire is extremely grateful to Rebecca Way and to the Friends of Museums Worcestershire for their generous addition to the Worcester City museum collection.

The Childswickham Saxon Silver-Gilt Roundel

ChildswickhamThis silver-gilt roundel from the Worcestershire County collection dates from the sixth century.

It is decorated with five chip-carved spirals and four are linked as pairs sharing a common stem over a triquetra knot, the fifth balancing the design.

The roundel is pieced at the centre, so was possibly originally used as a stud. The back is plain and it is thought that the roundel was part of an inlay on a high quality box. The other drilled holes were made later and may be to enable the object to be worn as a piece of jewellery.

Thanks to David Kendrick for his research into this object.

Eighteenth Century painted silk dress

web 18th c dress (c) Museums WorcestershireThis beautiful silk dress in the Worcestershire County Museum collection is about 250 years old and is one of the earliest items of costume in the collection. Because the fabric is so delicate, it can only be on display for very short periods of time.

Its design of flowers, butterflies and leaves reflects a fascination with the natural world in the eighteenth century. Plant hunters were bringing back exotic samples from across the globe, and closer to home, gentlemen scientists were collecting and classifying the beauty of the English countryside. In Worcester, a group of naturalists went on to found the Worcestershire Natural History Society and the Worcester Museum collections were begun.

The cream silk used to make this dress is handpainted and the fabric probably came from China. The English East India Company controlled the trade between China and Europe in the eighteenth century and would have transported silks alongside other luxury goods such as tea and porcelain.

Pigtail of a disgraced Chinese man

Pigtail for blogThe queue hairstyle (or pigtail) was worn by Chinese men between the 1600s and the early 1900s. The queue was a hairstyle in which the front and sides of the head were shaved and the rest was plaited into a braid, this was originally a Manchu (a north-eastern Chinese region) hairstyle. In 1644, a Manchu army conquered China and thus the Qing dynasty born. It was then ordered that all Han Chinese* men had to shave and braid their hair (except for Buddhist monks and Taoist priests). The queue was originally a symbol of submission but was also a sign of repression; the Qing Dynasty used this to show their dominance in China.

Queue hairstyle, image from http://asianhistory.about.com/od/glossaryps/g/What-Is-A-Queue.htm
Queue hairstyle

Traditionally, Chinese men and women grew their hair long and then styled it in elaborate ways; the queue denied them their cultural right to grow their hair. Many men refused to shave their heads, to show defiance to the Qing rule, but were executed. The policy of the Qing dynasty’s queue was “lose your hair, keep your head; or lose your head, keep your hair”. Not shaving your hair was treason against the emperor and was punishable by death. So a Chinese man without a queue was the same as a dead man.

In 1873, California, the Pigtail Ordinance was enforced; this meant that all prisoners had to have their hair cut within an inch of their scalp. This would have significantly affected Chinese immigrants, as keeping their queue was the only way to secure their chance of returning to China.

* Han Chinese: a Chinese ethnic group that originated from the Han dynasty, 206 BC- 220 AD.

Reference image of Chinese men with queue hairstyles from asianhistory.about.com

This object from the Worcester City Museum Collection was researched and written about by Bethany Khan.

Late eighteenth century square piano made by Broadwood & Sons

Broadwood pianoAs part of the re-arrangement of spaces at Hartlebury Castle in preparation for the new developments, staff at Museums Worcestershire have reviewed objects that ended up at the Castle but had not ever formally been taken into the collection.

Among them was this square piano, in poor condition. We could ascertain that it wasn’t part of the collection, but sadly no documentation existed giving any insight into its history.

As an object in poor condition, with no known link to Worcestershire, and with no history in the museum of collecting musical instruments, we needed to consider if disposal to another organisation might be the right future for this piano.

The piano was made by John Broadwood, the oldest piano maker in the world, having started business in 1728 and still in business today. Broadwood created the first square piano in 1771 and they became immediately popular because of their compact domestic size.

Our research uncovered that, in 1785 Thomas Jefferson (later to become the third President of the United States) visited the Great Pulteney Street, London workshop to discuss musical instruments.

A year later, he and John Adams (later the second President) visited Worcester to see the site of the last battle of the English Civil War. Adams described the visit as a pilgrimage to the ground where liberty was fought for, words that have inspired the current redevelopment of displays at The Commandery.

Rather than disposing of the square piano, this interesting link means that we are investigating if we can integrate it into the new displays. Although full restoration will be a very large task, we hope that we will be able to make it safe for visitors to touch and feel the same inspiration as Thomas Jefferson.

Philippa Tinsley, Senior Curator, Museums Worcestershire

The History of Steward’s Chemist Shop

chemist shopThe reconstructed Chemist Shop is one of Worcester City Museum’s most intriguing exhibits. It’s open to the public on the first Tuesday of each month, between 11am and 3pm.

The Steward family ran this chemist shop originally situated at 27 High Street, Worcester for almost a hundred years. The shop had a prime position, almost opposite the Guildhall and on the main route through Worcester to the North.

John Alfred Steward started trading in 1876 and the shop finally closed in 1973, when his grandson Cyprian Steward retired. The building had been used as a chemist shop since 1776 when it was first owned by an apothecary called Mr Featherstonehaugh (pronounced Fanshaw). In 1842, it was taken over by a chemist called Mr Walter Woods.

Mr Walter Woods installed the counters and fixtures which you can see in the shop today. They are made from mahogany and were brought in the 1860’s, supplied by Charles John’s General Fixture Warehouse, No 157 Drury Lane in London. The shop fittings were described by the press in 1897 as being old fashioned looking, but still continued to be used until the shop closed.

Mr John Alfred Steward – John Alfred Steward was born in Tenbury Worcestershire in 1845, and started his career in Pharmacy in 1863. He trained and gained experience in London, Dublin and also Paris, where he met and married Mademoiselle Elise Le Gresley. In 1876, at the age of 31, he came to Worcester where he purchased 27 High Street from Mr Walter Woods. At first the business took some time to establish and in his first week, he took only 9 shillings and 3 pence. Soon, however Mr Steward became a trusted pharmacist and a very well respected Worcester citizen.

Like many businessmen of the time John Steward took a great interest in public affairs. He became a member of the City Council and was twice Mayor of Worcester. He and his wife were the first Mayor and Mayoress of Worcester in the twentieth century. John Steward was a councillor for 21 years and an Alderman for 12 years. He was made a J.P in 1900, was chairman of the Worcester Theatre Royal Company and director of the Worcester Gas Company.

Even though Mr Steward became a very important and well-respected person, as far as society was concerned he was still ‘in trade’ and like other shop keepers lived above his shop.

In 1905, John Alfred Steward retired and handed the business over to his eldest son, Charles A. Steward. He ran the shop until 1934, when his son Cyprian C. Steward took over. In 1944, the business became a limited company called C.A Steward Ltd. the company eventually ceased trading in 1973 and the shop’ contents were brought by Worcester City Museums.


From 27 High Street to Worcester City Museum

In January 1974, Worcester City Museum bought the contents of Stewards Chemist Shop from the Steward Family, including all the fixtures and fittings, display units, chemists equipment, paper work and shop stock (some of which dated back over one hundred years).

Former curator, Mr Brian Owen headed the project along with Mr T Davies one of the Museums technicians who provided many of the painted props available for viewing in the gallery, as well as a lot of restorative work on the shop furniture. After extensive research, the chemist shop was reconstructed as close as possible to the original in 1900, with the exception of the shop windows which could not be added. The display opened in 1978.


Other Notable Worcester Chemists

John Wheeley Lea and William Perrins, the founders of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce were originally chemists, running their business in a shop in Broad Street in Worcester. It was from their shop in Broad Street that their famous Worcestershire sauce was first developed.

John Evans and Edward Evans established themselves as Chemists at 12 Foregate Street, Worcester in the early 1800’s. John Evans had wider ambitions and left Worcester for London to become a wholesale Chemist. Eventually he became the owner of Evans medical, a Liverpool based manufacturer and supplier of drugs and medical equipment, (now a multimillion company, and part of a world-wide drug manufacturing conglomerate.)

Edward Evans continued as a chemist until the 1830’s when he joined forces with William Hill to found Hill, Evans and Co. Vinegar works. Edward Evans sold his chemist shop to Mr George Anderson and eventually, the shop became Anderson and Virgo, a well known chemist in Worcester for many years.