Art is the expression of the essence of life

Ronald O. Dunlop’s work has a very tactile quality using thick and rapid strokes of paint. Dunlop’s approach to painting was that it was an emotional and intimate process. He said that he tried to express his personality through his painterly style.

Dunlop was born in Dublin in 1894, into a family of artists and writers; he grew up surrounded by many seminal figures of early twentieth-century Irish literature. After the First World War, Dunlop worked in advertising in London whilst studying art. He founded the Emotionist Group in 1923 – a community of actors, writers, painters and philosophers, interested in expressing and manipulating the emotions of their art and their audience.

Many famous names considered themselves Emotionists, from playwright George Bernard Shaw to author Aldous Huxley to actress Peggy Ashcroft. In 1928 the group published a journal called Emotionism: Dunlop supplied the manifesto Art is the expression of the essence of life. This painting, Tugboats on the Thames, from Worcester City’s collection, dates to around this time.


The Romantic story of a Cabinet

The Victorians, loving a good story, believed this beautiful ebony and red tortoiseshell cabinet belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots. Now in the Royal Collection, it was thought that she brought it with her from France to Scotland. It was pictured in a portfolio of drawings by William Gibb, made in 1890 for an illustrated publication called The Royal House of Stuart, a copy of which is in Worcester City’s museum collection.

Mary, Queen of Scots’ life continues to fascinate, the subject of many books, film, music and TV series. With as much drama, love, intrigue and tragedy as any soap opera, her story formed an important background to the House of Stuart’s time on the English throne – the royal family whose privilege, entitlement and poor judgement led to the English Civil War.

Mary was the only surviving legitimate child of James V of Scotland on his death – she was only six days old. Her son would become James VI of Scotland, and then James I of England, succeeding Elizabeth I and uniting the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland. His son, Charles I, was unable to retain agreement with his Parliament, bringing unrest and conflict to all three countries.

Crowned Queen of Scotland at just a few months old, Mary’s early years were a power struggle between Henry VIII of England and Henry II of France, both eager to unite their countries with Scotland through her marriage to their son. France managing the successful treaty, Mary’s youth was spent happily at the French court. Tragedy struck after her young husband died less than two years into their teenage marriage. 18-year-old Mary returned to Scotland and joined the many ambitious characters jostling to control the English throne. Her position was a threat to Elizabeth I and the next twenty-five years were fraught with manipulation, plotting and betrayal. Throughout, Mary maintained the luxury of royalty, surrounding herself with fine tapestries, bedlinen and silverware even while imprisoned. It’s unsurprising that she should be linked with this exquisite cabinet, with such beautiful heart-shaped decoration.

The Royal Collection’s research shows that the cabinet actually dates to the seventeenth century, and therefore was too late to belong to Mary, Queen of Scots herself. It can now be found in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official royal residence in Edinburgh.

Bearded Jug

This particularly interesting looking jug from Worcester City’s collection is known generally on the Continent as a Bartmann or “Bearded” jug. In England it is known as a “Bellarmine” jug, possibly named after the Italian Jesuit theologian, Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino (1542 – 1621), who was a leading figure of the Catholic Counter-Reformation and staunch advocate of no alcohol. Bellarmino disagreed with James I on papal dominion and the jug may have been a way of ridiculing him with a humorous depiction on a vessel that would have contained alcohol.

These salt-glazed stoneware jugs were made predominantly in the 16th and 17th centuries, more commonly manufactured in Europe, mainly Germany to start with, then eventually, English examples were found; their defining features are the bearded man depicted at the neck of the vessel and decoration around the bulb. This particular bottle was found in Worcester.

Discovered in unlikely contexts such as buried beneath floors or tucked behind fireplaces, these bottles were used as “witch bottles”. The bottle would be filled with articles such as sharp objects, nails, pins and human urine. This was then sealed and buried to keep witches at bay.

Cows in a Field by Julian Trevelyan, 1935

Julian Trevelyan went to Cambridge University to study English Literature,  but at 21 headed for Paris where, in the early 1930s he learned printmaking skills in a studio alongside Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. Unsurprisingly, his early work was influenced by these great trailblazing artists.

During the Second World War, he served with the Royal Engineers as a camouflage officer in the North African desert. Initially, the British Army in Africa had only green European camouflage, which was not very effective. Trevelyan was part of the team that redesigned that standard camouflage to be suitable for the desert, and successfully hid operations from the German troops. This gouache painting in Worcester City’s collection, made a few years before the war, shows that Trevelyan was a good recruit for this role – his eye clearly saw the landscape as a selection of patterns.

From 1956 Trevelyan was Head of Printmaking at the Royal College of Art in London, where he taught many great British artists including David Hockney and R.B Kitaj.

The Hop Calendar

Beer was introduced into Britain from continental Europe during the fifteenth century and hops are an essential ingredient. Prior to that, an ale was brewed which did not require hops.

The hop is a herbaceous hardy perennial plant which dies back to its rootbass every year but will live for twenty years or more. Its shoots climb aided by tiny hairs on the stem and leaves. The hop always twines clockwise.

The hop growing year starts immediately after picking. In October the plant is cut close to the ground and drainage furrows are dug. The hop yard is then allowed to stand for the winter, and any repairs needed to the poles or overhead wires can be made at this time. From February, the plant starts to shoot again. ‘Stringing’ begins in March which adds a pair of strings for each plant to climb from the soil to the frame wires. Traditionally these were added either by a man on stilts or by using a hooked ‘monkey pole’. ‘Tying’ takes place in April or May, each hop plant having thrown out 10-20 ‘hop wires’. All but six are weeded out and the remaining shoots are wound up the supporting strings – three per string. Throughout the summer the plants are traditionally fed with farmyard manure and pests control needs to be vigilant. Hop picking takes place in September.

Picking provided seasonal work in Worcestershire for a large number of families as this photograph from Worcester City’s collection shows. The hops were picked off the plant into a crib and from there measured by the bushel [equivalent to 8 gallons, or 36 litres – about the size of a carry-on suitcase] into sacks. The number of bushels collected was recorded and converted into the payment for the picker.


This article was compiled from a museum panel written in the 1970s. Old interpretation, when useful, is retained within the museum archives for future reference and research. At this point, hop yards were still a familiar sight locally, with several to be seen around Worcester’s city boundaries.

Loyalty comes in many guises

In August 2017, a metal detectorist came across this wonderful find in the Worcestershire countryside. It is a silver gilt incomplete pendant with Charles I on one side and a crowned shield of Great Britain (i.e. the Stuart Coat of Arms) on the other. It was reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and declared as treasure by the coroner.

A few years later and Worcester City Museums are now the proud owner of the artefact. This pendant was a way of showing your personal declaration of loyalty to the monarch. Other items such as buttons and badges were also commissioned and worn for this purpose. They would have been worn in the 17th century, up to 1660 when the crown was restored back to the monarchy.

Although there are other examples from around the country, not many have been found in this county, despite our Civil War heritage. Some versions combined the personal arms on one side with the owner’s initials on the other indicating their royal allegiance.

Museums Worcestershire would like to thank the generosity and continued support of The Commandery Members who have enabled us to acquire this wonderful object for the museum collection.

Sabrina Thrown into the Severn by William Calder Marshall, 1880

This striking bronze sculpture has graced the City Art Gallery and Museum for ninety five years. Sabrina Thrown into the Severn by William Calder Marshall was made in 1880 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881.

Research by one of our curators, Garston Phillips, has traced its history from early in 1924 to the present day. It was reported in the Worcester Herald on Saturday 2 February 1924 that the Library and Museum Committee should accept the bronze group that the Trustees of the Marshalls wanted to gift to Worcester.

Mr Duckworth, the Librarian of the day, had been to see the sculpture in London and he described the principal figure as looking like the new Prime Minister, Ramsey MacDonald. It was agreed that it should come to Worcester by road and that Mr Bullock of Ombersley Road would bring it on his next journey from London.

Some years later, the City Corporation felt that the sculpture should be placed next to the river, as an appropriate place to display it but thanks to curatorial pressure, for conservation and security reasons, the sculpture still stands on the balcony of the Art Gallery and Museum.

The piece depicts a young girl being thrown into the river by a Celtic warrior. She was Sabre the child of Lochrine who had an affair with a Hunnish princess named Estrildis whilst he was engaged to Glendolen. Many years later Lochrine and Estrildis went to war with Glendolen. Winning the conflict, Glendolen ordered that Sabre be thrown into the river and drowned and that the river should be called the River Sabre or Sabrina so that the terrible deeds of Lochrine be remembered. It’s thought that the Sabre River, became the Sabern and eventually the Severn.

A Hidden Treasure Rescued

The Cockle Gatherers, by Arthur Hacker was for many years a hidden treasure in the Worcester City Museum Collection, its poor condition having meant it had not been on display for many years.

The son of a sporting-prints engraver, Hacker graduated from the Royal Academy Schools in 1880 and went on to study in Paris. One of his fellow pupils was Stanhope Forbes, whose greatest work Chadding on Mounts Bay is a firm favourite in Worcester’s collection. Like Forbes, Hacker developed a style that maintained the great large-scale traditions of Victorian high art with the expressionism of painting en plein air.

Hacker’s painting of French peasant life Her Daughter’s Legacy was the Royal Academy Exhibition’s greatest talking point in 1881. He was elected an Academician in 1910, by which time he was concentrating on a lucrative portrait painting practice with many well-known sitters. The Cockle Gatherers probably dates from about the turn of the twentieth century.

The painting’s varnish had changed considerably from Hacker’s application, turning very yellow through age and from being hung in rooms where smoking was allowed. Hacker’s painting definition was no longer able to be seen. A test section in the top right corner was cleaned and showed what a dramatic difference could be made. With the help of funding from Worcester City Art Gallery & Museums’ members, the whole painting was cleaned in 2018 and the canvas tear bottom right (previously held together with tissue) was repaired. A painting none of us had previously seen was revealed!

Before conservation in 2018

Restoration Day at Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire

This engraving from Worcester City’s collection, originally featured in the 1857 Illustrated London News, shows a jubilant scene in Upton-upon-Severn on the 29 May, one of many held nationwide.

Floral garlands of seasonal flowers, handkerchiefs and “all teaspoons which can be collected” were hung aloft for the festivities. Oak leaves and oak apples (oak galls) decorate buttonholes and processional poles and joyous celebrations, dancing and dining celebrated the restoration of the British Monarchy.

Oak Apple Day (commemorating the restoration of Charles II on 29 May, 1660, also his birthday) was celebrated by Royalist and Parliamentarian alike. The day does not celebrate a single victory of one army over another; it is symbolic and final end to hostilities and Civil War. It was an outpouring of relief and joy that nine years of bitter hostility and uncertainty were finally at an end. A nation that had been torn in two was finally able to heal.

We celebrate much more than Charles II and Monarchy on Oak Apple day. We celebrate the joy of an entire nation embracing lasting peace.


This article in the Illustrated London News on May 30, 1857 said that the custom would ‘in all probability soon be swallowed up by the awfully business habits of modern times’. Certainly Worcestershire was one of the last counties to celebrate the day.

The article explains the ceremony in more detail:

‘Early in the morning, ropes are stretched across the street, upon which are hung garlands, composed of all such flowers as are in bloom, and many are the speculations of the garland makers for weeks before as to whether __? and laburnum will be in their beauty by that time. The garlands are also ornamented with coloured ribbons and handkerchiefs, and all the teaspoons which can be collected are hung in the middle. Maypoles, though less common, and large boughs of oak are pressed(?) into service.

‘A benefit club meets on this day, and walks in procession (with band and flags) to church; after which they make a progress through the town, with music playing and colours flying, finishing up with a dinner – that bond of amity with Englishmen.

‘All this may be very obstructive to business; but we cannot see smiling faces – proofs of joyous hearts – without wishing that our national habits allowed of a few more such general rejoicings, never minding whether they took their origin from the triumph of Royalist or Republican.’