Seventeenth Century Silver Hawking Vervel

This seventeenth century silver hawking vervel now in the Worcestershire County collection was found by a metal detector user in the Stourport on Severn area in 2014. The vervel resembles a flat silver ring inscribed with E. EYTON OF and has a shield soldered to the front bearing the coat of arms of an unidentified member of the Eyton family of Shropshire.

Vervels were used to attach a hawk or falcon’s leather jesses to a leash, which, held in the hand, enabled the bird to be trained in short distance flight. The leash could also be used to fix the bird to its block or perch. They were usually inscribed or decorated so that the bird could be identified with its owner.

The discovery of the vervel was reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme and as the vervel is made from a minimum of 10% precious metal and is over 300 years old it qualifies as Treasure as defined by the Treasure Act 1996. Consequently, Museums Worcestershire was able to acquire the vervel for the county collection in 2016.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme has recorded over 14,400 archaeological finds from Worcestershire, all of which have been discovered by members of the public and range from prehistoric hand axes to seventeenth century buttons. They are of national importance through to the common ‘everyday’ items, and their contribution to the archaeological landscape is breath taking.

The scheme has a network of Finds Liaison Officers covering England and Wales whose role is to record these finds and add the data to the publicly accessible Portable Antiquities Scheme database.

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Newspaper Boy’s Hat

A donation of a newspaper boy’s hat has made its way into the museum collections after its discovery in the 1970s. The owner of a property in Tybridge Street came across the object as they were clearing trees and vegetation. Not wishing to part with it, they kept it as a souvenir of their time at the house.

The hat, along with a clipping of a newspaper article documenting the find, was rediscovered when a relative was organising the estate.

The hat is circular and made from linen, “Worcestershire Echo” printed around the brim. In Worcester High Street where Boots currently stands, the Worcester Evening Post was born in 1877 until 1883 when it became the Worcestershire Echo. It was a daily paper that was in direct competition to another daily formed by the Berrow’s company a few years before.

The papers continued side by side until the decline and the eventual disappearance of the Echo, the Herald and the Chronicle. In 1935, a company wanting to expand launched a daily paper, the Worcester Evening News.

Kerry Whitehouse

The rock that rolled

Erratics are large pebbles or boulders that have been transported and deposited often some considerable distance from their origin, usually by glaciers. By comparing the rocks with those from possible originating areas, it is possible to monitor and plot past ice movements across large areas.

Worcester city collection has three such specimens in its collection, all of which are on display in the Museum and Art Gallery.

Around 40,000 years ago, at the height of the Ice Age, these granite boulders were brought to the area by ice sheets. When the ice finally melted about 13,000 years ago, the boulders were left behind.

The two largest specimens were both found in Claines having travelled down from the Lake District and Criffel in South West Scotland.

The smallest specimen is a little more mysterious. Looking through our historical records, an entry states that in the early years of the 20th century ‘a large, smooth stone was dredged from the river Severn and taken to the museum’. We think this entry might well refer to our smaller boulder and that it was then added to the collection.

Sikar II by Gillian Ayres

 

Ayres, Gillian, b.1930; Sikar II
Courtesy of Gillian Ayres

Gillian Ayres, Sikar II, acrylic on paper, 1993, Worcester City Collection

 

Volunteer researcher, Deborah Keaveney, has been exploring the fine art collection at Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery. She has been researching Sikar II by Gillian Ayres which was acquired through the support of an Arts Council England/V&A purchase grant.

 

Gillian Ayres (born 1930) is an important British abstract painter, who trained at Camberwell School of Art in London (1946-50), before going on to teach painting in Bath and London and becoming Head of Painting at Winchester School of Art. She has lived and worked as an artist in London, Wales and Cornwall, which has included mural painting and printmaking, as well as painting on paper and canvas in a variety of media.

In 1991 she was awarded the Gold Medal for the British Council Triennale exhibition which began its world tour in New Dehli, India.  It is possible that the artist also visited the ancient Mughal city of Sikar to the South West of Dehli at this time, which she then used for the title of a series of abstract paintings in acrylic on paper.  Sikar II, which is now in the collection of Worcester Museum and Art Gallery, was painted in 1993, by which time the artist had also been elected an R.A. by the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The painting is a medley of vivid colours and abstract patterning that echoes the strongly illuminated colours, both natural and man-made that can be seen on a hot summer night in the North Indian city of Sikar. Originally this was ruled by the Rajas of the Muslim Mughal empire, founded by the warrior leader Genghis Kahn in the early 16th century.  Sikar soon became a fortified military centre with high surrounding walls and seven city gates. It is now famous for its Mughal architecture, art and culture that draws and welcomes visitors from around the world.

Against this historical background the painting by Gillian Ayres, Sikar II takes on a new significance in its strident shapes and colours which are surrounded by a midnight blue border that suggest the structural patterns of narrow streets and old Mughal Haveli houses around which are woven the bright and riotous life that goes on within its walls, with a striking central motif of a scimitar or curved sword in shades of blue from blue-white at the curved edge to a deep, regal purple at the rectangular cross of the hilt and finial ball handle above it. The vivid mix of colours and patterns in this work seem to carry a spirit of place and suggest the intensity of life lived in this bustling city, with its history of succeeding layers of power, buildings, people, plants and animals, all within the confines of an ancient and fortified city. Translated into abstract painting, it is a city full of glancing impressions and captivating expressions that are visualised through the artist’s forceful and compelling use of form and colour.  But from this apparently disconnected network emerges a narrative of abstract signs and shapes that suggest the architecture and sense of a distant place that is both thrilling in its strangeness and familiar in its variety.

The work of Gillian Ayres is represented in London by the Alan Cristea Gallery

WW1 Nurses Uniforms

web-vad-uniform-c-museums-worcestershireDuring World War One, 38,000 women volunteered for the Voluntary Aid Detachment units both at home and overseas, assisting medical staff with the treatment and care of sick and injured soldiers. Many of these women had never worked before and as VADs they worked long shifts that often involved dirty and hard manual labour.

Most VAD nurses had no relevant experience when they first began, but gradually added to their knowledge and skills and were duly awarded badges or stripes indicating their proficiency in sanitation, first aid, bandaging and dressings.

VAD nurses were required to either hand sew or pay for their own uniforms to be made.
Despite the often messy nature of their work, the VAD uniform was expected to look pristine and had to be worn according to strict regulations, both inside and outside of the hospital. Nurses often got in trouble for accessorizing with earrings and purses.

The VAD uniform pictured was transferred by the British Red Cross from the Balfour Museum of Red Cross History in Hampshire and is now part of the Worcestershire County Museum Collection. It can be seen in A Happy Convalescence: Hartlebury Castle’s History as a WWI Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital at Worcestershire County Museum at Hartlebury until autumn 2018.

A Happy Convalescence is part of the Worcestershire World War One Hundred project. Funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Worcestershire World War One Hundred is one of the largest programme of events across England commemorating the First World War, involving cultural and heritage organisations County-wide through until 2018.

 

Miniature Steam Traction Engine

This is a model of an agricultural steam traction engine. Agricultural engines worked on farms from the late 19th to mid-20th century, hauling loads and powering other forms of agricultural equipment such as a threshing drum.

The traction engine was a revolutionary design, as it was able to move under its own power, rather than the engine being towed from farm to farm by a team of horses.

The model is freelance in nature as it incorporates many of the workings of a full-size traction engine, but is not modelled on any particular design.

Steam engines typically burn coal to heat the water and generate steam, however the scale model would have run on methylated spirits or a form of gas as this is easier to control in small scale.

The model includes some typical features of a traction engine such as the straked rear wheels. Strakes (referring to the strips of metal fitted parallel to one and other on the back wheels) helped engines to gain grip in wet or muddy conditions.

The engine in the Worcestershire County museum collection is likely to have been made by a model engineer, but now requires some work before she is able to steam again.

 

Barney Hill, volunteer researcher and steam engine enthusiast

The Habington Chest

web-habington-chest-c-museums-worcestershireThomas Habington was arguably one of Worcestershire’s rebels. He was a member of a staunch Catholic family from Hindlip Hall near Worcester and was involved in two of the most famous Catholic plots to unseat the reigning monarch, the Babington Plot of 1586 and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. For the first he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for six years and for the second he was condemned to death.

Through family connections his sentence was reduced. Habington was arrested for sheltering Jesuit priests at Hindlip and indicted in London, but was spared by the influence of his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle. Over the next forty years he studied, parish by parish, the history of the county up to the opening of Elizabeth’s reign. He spent his time researching and writing and is believed to have been Worcestershire’s first historian. It’s likely that his books and papers were stored within the chest that bears his initials and the date, 1605, in roman numerals.

The chest has been restored, with support from the Kay Trust, and parts of it dated by dendrochronology to a tree which was felled in the sixteenth century. Research by Stephen Price, Worcestershire Archaeological Society Curator, has traced the history of the chest further. Thomas wrote in a letter, during the civil war, that he had buried the chest in the woods at Hindlip Hall to protect the contents from soldiers. The chest may also be one of those mentioned in two eighteenth century inventories of Hindlip. In 1814 the hall was demolished and the chest was rescued by Dr Peter Prattinton of Bewdley. The chest is now in the care of Worcestershire Archaeological Society.

The Crown of Scotland

The Stuart Kings greatly enjoyed all the ceremonies of the monarchy and they believed their entitlement to wear the crown and other honours of state were a privilege given direct from God. Needless to say, this became an important point of debate and disagreement during the English Civil War.

The English Crown – St Edward’s – had reputedly been used by every English monarch since William the Conqueror in 1066. After the execution of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell ordered the crown and associated regalia be broken up, with the jewels sold off and the precious metal used to make coins. The Crown of Scotland, however, was used to crown Charles II before the battles of Dunbar and Worcester and then survived the rest of the Interregnum (when England was a republic and had no monarch) by being secretly buried. When Charles II was restored as King in 1660, he ordered that St Edward’s Crown be recreated. The Crown of Scotland, thus now the oldest surviving British crown, still appears at special occasions in Scotland such as the opening of the new Parliament building. Its permanent home is Edinburgh Castle.

The Worcester City museum collection includes a set of drawings of the regalia of the Stuart family, of which this characterful picture is one. 

 

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