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.

Malagan Funerary Carving

funerary carvingMalagan refers to a culture that conducts ceremonies and practices to ensure that a deceased member of the culture will be prepared and assisted for their journey to and in the afterlife. The word Malagan originates from the Nalik language at New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. Possibly mid-19th century, funerary carvings such as the one shown would be used in the numerous funerary ceremonies that were carried out by the living to honour the deceased.

When a member of the Malagan culture died, there would be a time of mourning for them. Whilst many ceremonies for the individual would be planned, the actual funeral would not take place until months or even years after their death! People would paint each other black as a symbolic reference to death and mourning. They also were forbidden to do specific activities in this time.

In New Ireland, people would compete to obtain the right to have the greatest number of Malagan objects and carvings at their final funerary ceremony. This was to boast their status and power as well as the achievements that they did in life. The funerary carving shown also includes animal beings which are representative of an individual tribe.

Eventually however, when the funerary rites are completed and those living come out of mourning, the Malagan items are unfortunately destroyed or occasionally were sold on.

This object from the Worcester City Museum Collection was researched and written about by David Prince.

Saxon silver

saxon coinIn or around 854 A.D. Burghred (or Burgred), King of West Mercia, gave the land that is now called Hartlebury to Aelhun, Bishop of Worcester.

The reason for this land grant is not certain, however as the Vikings and the Welsh were causing trouble along the River Severn, it may well have been to ensure a force of men-at-arms was stationed close to the river. An alternative view is that it was part of a complex system of land trading being carried out between the Kings of West Mercia and Wessex. Ecgberht, King of Wessex, had established himself as overlord of Mercia in 828, now his successor Aethelwulf was having his own problems with invasions of Vikings and Welsh. Both Kings would have looked to the bishops for military support – the Bishop of Sherborne, Ealhstan, was assisting the King of Wessex, so it is probable that Burghred would seek similar assistance from Worcester.

Whatever the initial cause, the land and subsequent castle have remained possessions of the See of Worcester since that time with only one short break following the civil wars of the 17th century.

A small hoard of Saxon silver coins from Severn Stoke, minted under King Burghred, is in Worcestershire County Museum’s collections – a tangible link of the modern museum with the original grant of the land by that king.

Thanks to David Kendrick for his research into this object.

Winter Cattle, 2006 by Bridget Macdonald

winter cattleThe exhibition This Green Earth (including this painting from the Worcester City collection) at Worcester City Art Gallery closes on 25 June 2016.

Below, Bishop Mark Santer describes his response to Bridget Macdonald’s work in a speech given at the exhibition opening:


First of all, I want to thank Bridget and say how touched I was when she asked me to open this exhibition. It spurred me to think why it is that I appreciate her work so much. Paul Spencer-Longhurst has written a most illuminating essay, which sets Bridget in the context of the history of landscape painting. I’m not going to go over that again. Apart from anything else, I haven’t the professional competence. But I’d like to say something more personal – why it is and how it is that Bridget’s work speaks to me.

It is twenty years since I first bought one of Bridget’s pictures – a little oil painting of a sprig of bay that she had picked from Ezra Pound’s grave on the cemetery island of the Venetian lagoon. After twenty years I still love that picture. Interestingly, it is the only picture in the house of which one of my daughters has said to me, “I’d like to have that picture when you’ve gone.” The next picture I bought was a drawing, the study after the Rubens landscape which is in this exhibition. Its temporary removal from our wall has made us realise even more how much it is part of our life.

What is it about Bridget’s paintings and drawings that makes them pictures one can live with, pictures that don’t pall, pictures that nourish the spirit? It is, I think, their contemplative spirit. It seems to me that Bridget looks at a landscape or a bay leaf or a picture, or considers a story from classical mythology, in the way that a poem should be read, not imposing herself upon it, but respecting its integrity and letting it speak for itself. Yet, when she comes to draw or paint what she has seen, the outcome is unmistakeably her own. As she considers what she is looking at, she brings her own memories and associations to her reading and her seeing, and so enables us to see things we hadn’t seen before. It’s like a good production of a classical play or a musical performance. The more closely the director or the conductor attends to the text or the score, the fresher the performance. We see and hear things we hadn’t noticed before. It is an act of re-creation.

Last Sunday I had to preach on the transfiguration of Jesus. As I sat there thinking about what I was to say, I found myself looking at a little picture that hangs above my desk. It is one of Bridget’s – a little landscape in oil. It shows the same square white farmhouse and the same poplars and the same hills in the background as one of her drawings, Spring Landscape, which hangs in this exhibition. The sky and the hills in the background are dark with approaching rain. But the farmhouse and the trees and a green field are lit up by sunlight.

The picture, together with my consideration of the light of the Lord’s transfiguration, brought a poem came into my mind, “The Bright Field”, by the Welsh poet R.S.Thomas. I leave it with you.

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, not hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Thank you, Bridget, for your contemplative eye, and for the hand that opens our eyes to the magpie and to the lit bush.

Mark Santer, 13 February 2016

Seventeenth century embroidered casket

web Embroidered Casket (c) Museums WorcestershireThis gorgeous embroidered casket in Worcester City Museum’s collection is about 350 years old. Plain sewing on linen was often the first skill taught to young girls, followed by embroidered cross-stitch samplers. The final skills for a girl to learn were lace stitches and raised work using gold and silver thread combined with coloured silks as seen on this box.

The decoration on this box is mainly silk thread in a variety of embroidery stitches but the maker has also included a small piece of crystal to represent a mirror. The lady’s necklace is made from seed pearls. The maker had probably never seen many of the animals she pictured, which explains how charmingly odd they look: on the lower panel, a lion and leopard, emblematic of courage and fidelity, are seated beneath an oak tree in the English country landscape.

The fashion for small needlework pictures like this lasted only a few decades in the seventeenth century. They first became popular in the reign of Charles I, then flourished during the English Civil War and the restoration of Charles II. By the end of the seventeenth century, they were no longer made.

Bust of Sir Charles Hastings by Thomas Brock

web Bust of Sir Charles (c) Museums WorcestershireSir Thomas Brock, born in the City of Worcester in 1847, was a leading sculptor of his age. Trained at the School of Design in Pierpoint Street Worcester while apprenticed at the Worcester Porcelain factory, Brock completed his education at the Royal Academy School in London whilst working in the studio of John Henry Foley.

From his studio, Brock created works for the Worcester Porcelain factories as well as larger public statues. Local examples include Queen Victoria outside Worcester’s Shire Hall and Bishop Philpott at Worcester Cathedral. His crowning glory, however, was the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace which led to his knighthood in 1911.

Brock became famous for the exquisite quality of his busts and worked with numerous well-known sitters including Sir Charles Hastings, a Worcester-based doctor who went on to start the British Medical Association in 1832.

Hastings was fascinated by nature and was a key member of the Worcestershire Natural History Society whose collections developed to become the city museum. Opposite Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum a plaque now remembers Sir Charles Hastings on his former house, and inside the museum Brock’s bust can be found in the Museum Gallery.

Garston Phillips