Rediscovering The Angler

This watercolour, The Angler by David Cox, came into the Worcester City museum collection in 1915 as part of a large bequest from the Reverend and Mrs Sale of Holt. The Reverend Sale knew the artist David Cox personally and purchased several works directly from the Cox family. David Cox was born and trained in Birmingham and spent several years as a struggling artist teaching drawing in Hereford. He began to flourish as an artist during his 40s and by the time of his death in 1859 he was considered one of Britain’s greatest watercolourists.

This painting was lost for many years, until a selection of British watercolours were being prepared for an exhibition in the art gallery. During the move, one of the pictures suffered a crack to the glass. The broken glass was carefully removed, the picture taken from its frame and behind it was this; another picture. This was the missing David Cox picture from The Sale Bequest collection… it had been hidden for over half a century.

An ancient flood defence

The Bronze Age started about 4,300 years ago and continued to about 800 years BC and was characterised by the use of copper and bronze tools (hence the name Bronze age). During this time, the earth’s climate became cooler and wetter and the subsequent floods caused disruption; animals were losing large areas of grazing and people could not travel easily throughout the land.

In the Bronze Age people tried to prevent flooding by offering their tools to the gods, depositing them at the edges of the water. These tools included axes, spearheads, swords and palstaves, a type of axe which would have had a wooden handle.

This palstave was found near Hartlebury. Decorated with a trident and in excellent condition, the item has been donated to Worcestershire County Museum by the landowner so that it is held in a public collection forever. Such donations are a wonderful act of generosity, allowing the museum to protect this important item which represents Worcestershire’s heritage.

Ancient Egyptian tips for warding off evil spirits

Worcester City Museum has a fascinating Egyptian collection originally donated by Worcester Girls Grammar School, which contains objects from the ancient cemeteries in the areas of Harajeh and Lahun. The archaeological excavation started in 1913 and was interrupted by the First World War before being completed after it ended in 1918. It is unclear exactly how the collection came into the Worcester Girls Grammar Schools ownership, but it is thought that a certain ‘Ms Frost’ who worked at the school may have been related to a member of the expedition crew as they shared a surname.

Within the collection are several examples of the Wadjet Eye (pictured). These good-luck amulets were often placed within the wrappings of the mummy before being laid inside the tomb for burial as either protective symbols or to help the individual through the complexities of the afterlife.

The eye is one of the most common symbols associated with ancient Egypt, as it had many different meanings in Egyptian mythology which differed depending on which way it is represented. The left eye represented the powerful falcon-headed god Horus and is associated with the moon. Lunar Horus embodied healing and regeneration, thought to bring safety to the wearer and letting the dead pass into the afterlife without danger. The eye looking right symbolises the sun god Re or Ra. Very much like the Eye of Horus, the Eye of Ra has a protective element and wards off evil spirits.

By Hook or by Crook?

These three, not dissimilar objects, are just one example of how easily history may be misinterpreted, and how museums endlessly work to research the objects they care for.

These wonderful items were recently found stored amongst other tools in the Agriculture Collection. They contain three totally different stories, which could easily be confused due to the similarity of a single item. One is a boathook, used by a crew navigating the Severn and Worcestershire’s waterways. Another is a shepherds hook or “crook” used to catch and control sheep by a solitary Worcestershire shepherd. The last is an apple hook, or locally a “panking pole” used to shake apples and pears down from high branches in Worcestershire’s orchards in order to produce cider and perry.

Three very different tools, used by very different local trades, but very easily confused. Museums have the privilege of being the link that allows people to access their own history, but just like history books we discover errors. Emperor Nero would have struggled to “fiddle whist Rome burned” in 64 AD, as fiddles had yet to be invented. Marie Antoinette is said to have stated “Let them eat cake”, but was not even in France at the time the quote was attributed. In 2018, Buffalo Museum of Science were delighted to discover that a display replica Elephant Bird egg, was actually real! In 2017, a 10 year old boy and likely future palaeontologist, spotted that the Natural History Museum had wrongly labelled a dinosaur.

New information constantly causes us to revaluate what we thought we understood and misquotations and inaccuracies are re-evaluated endlessly over time. Our two way relationship with our visitors means that we are fortunate enough to be able to learn as much from you, as you are from the objects in our care, and we are able to record and share that knowledge with future generations. Museums showcase your history, and are always very interested in hearing from you.

‘Tis the season

Pagans and Romans used evergreen trees or branches as decorations for their winter festivals, but it is the German tradition of decorating trees with paper ornaments and sweets that has been most influential on the Christmas we know today.

However, in the mid-twentieth century the purchasing of a tree and decorations for the house every year became a costly and challenging endeavour.  For many decades, particularly between the 1950s and into the new millennium, convenience was very much at the forefront of Christmas and items were produced that could be purchased once and last forever!

Synthetic trees, baubles and table centres, such as the one featured from the 1970s, all include the floral traditions and colours of the festive season, and could be returned to storage in the New Year, and reused many, many times, keeping costs to a minimum.  Our table centre has seen almost half a century of Christmases past and is still around to look attractive during the festive period.

Wartime Christmas Cake from Stork Wartime Cookery

This Wartime Christmas cake recipe comes from the Stork Wartime Cookery Book by Susan Croft, published by the Stork margarine company in London, 1946, from Worcester City museum’s fascinating social history collection.

Stork margarine was launched in Britain in the 1920s and its fame grew during WWII, when access to items such as meat and dairy were strictly rationed. The Stork cookery service was launched to provide recipes for housewives on how to produce good food despite the rationing whilst advertising Stork products as a dairy alternative for each recipe. It also contains useful sections on “How to save your dinner if air-raids come” (hint – first turn off the cooker), how to make “Emergency Bread” if transport difficulties hold up bakery deliveries, and how to save money by using different cuts of meat such as tripe and even brains.

This recipe is relatively indulgent in comparison and much more enticing – a Christmas cake that could be sent to friends or family in the forces. Three different decoration styles are suggested depending on whether your cake is intended for a soldier, a sailor or an airman. The navy recipe comes first, ‘as befits the senior service,’ according to the recipe.

Charlie Fothergill

Viaduct, Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, Early Morning

This acrylic painting from the City’s collection is by Barbara Mary Russon, entitled Viaduct, Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, Early Morning. It is one of two pieces acquired by the City following an exhibition of Russon’s work at Worcester Art Gallery & Museum in 1978, the other being Blossom Time Along Staffs. & Worcs. Canal.

The painting was inspired by the decline of the industrial revolution, and if you look carefully at the left of the painting you will see the souls and skeletons of past workers disappearing into the viaduct opening.

The relationship between the natural and man-made landscape, and phases of industry and agriculture, is a predominant theme in many of Russon’s works. Russon was a Midlands artist and book illustrator who spent time in Sri Lanka and taught art in Wolverhampton.

If you go down to the woods today…

This beautiful bear can be found at Worcestershire County Museum in Hartlebury Castle, alongside a huge variety of toys that have been delighting children for generations. But this is no ordinary teddy bear. It was once part of the Tickenhill Collection, the very first special objects which were donated by the Parker family to create the original County Museum.

The bear’s maker is also something special and arguably the most famous soft toy manufacturer in the world. Margarete Steiff was a very skilled seamstress and founded her company in 1880. In 1897 her nephew Richard joined the company and bought with him a fascination with zoo animals – particularly brown bears! His aim was to make a soft toy that would capture their charm and character, leading him to create the classic bear design which is desired by collectors all over the globe.

In 1903, a buyer in America made an order for three thousand toys. The company never looked back. By 1907, Steiff had manufactured 974,000 bears, and we are very pleased that this particular one found its way into our County Council’s collection.

Shell Collection

This photograph shows just a few of many specimens from Worcester City Museum’s shell collection. The shell collection as a whole comprises of some 15,000 examples of land, sea and freshwater shells, including some exotic examples from the Indian Ocean. Combined with other local specimens from Worcestershire, this forms one of the largest such collections in a regional museum.

Many people over the years have helped to make it the rich collection it is, one of which was Sir George Whitmore K.C.B., who presented his collection to the museum. Whitmore’s donation forms the largest part of the shell collection, and his name can be seen on one of the presentation boards at the top of the photo. Robert Gale of Malvern also contributed specimens that he collected on his voyages in the Southern Hemisphere in the 1840s and 1850s.

As can be seen in the photograph, the collection that exists today is mounted onto boards, with information about the name, provenance and collector written beside each specimen. This work was predominantly carried out by Mr George Reece, Museum Curator in the latter part of the 19th century. In more recent years Mr Adrian Norris, a Conchologist from Leeds Museum, painstakingly curated the collection, ensuring that the modern Latin names of each specimen were up to date. The mottled brown oval shell seen in the photograph, Cypraea Arabica, is more commonly known as an Arabian Cowry, a species of sea snail. It is widely found in shallow waters throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and is mainly active during the night.

The Natural History Collections are very important in the history of the City Art Gallery & Museum as their origins go back to the Museum of the Worcestershire Natural History Society in the 1830s and were the foundations of the museum collections we have today.

Today, the local material in the collection is valuable as it can be compared with biological records produced by the Worcestershire Biological Centre at the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust.