En Route to good weather

This beautiful wicker bound compact example by Drew and Sons of London is one of many constructed by the company from the 1840s onwards.

Drew and Sons aimed these “En Route” baskets at those looking for a complete, miniature and hard wearing basket that included almost everything that you could possibly need.

They included enamelled tin saucers & side plates, flasks, condiment pots and cutlery. The set even includes a small kettle and paraffin stove with stable heat resistant mat to brew up the tea.

This fantastic example from Worcester City Museum’s Social History Collection would have been immensely convenient for the traveller, motorist or cyclist and was contained in a compact and stylish kit. All that the user needed to add in order to set out on a wonderful day in the open air, was the blanket and the food.

International research solves mystery of prints

This print by Kinchoro Yoshitora is one of a collection of around twenty 1700-1800s Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) in the city’s collection.

They were created as popular affordable art, costing about the same as two helpings of noodles from a street-vendor. They probably came into the Museum’s collection during the 1870s – Japan had only recently opened up to the West after over two centuries of isolation and the country’s culture, art and design were considered fascinating, influential and highly fashionable. These popular ukiyo-e prints were much collected, as the composition, perspective and use of flat colours and outlines were entirely new to Western art audiences. They would be a huge influence on Van Gogh and the Impressionists. Inevitably, there was a huge appetite among art-lovers to see genuine examples of this exciting new Japanese art, and regional museums such as Worcester were enthusiastically acquiring them, although curators often did not know very much about them. Some of the prints in this collection had artist attributions, most did not, and there was minimal documentation.

Researching this group of prints has involved collaborative international research that the internet has now made possible via academic forums. Little is known about the artists, but the date-stamp shows that this print was published sometime between 1843 and 1846. It is from a series of about seven prints showing the stages in silk-cultivation and idealised images of the women who were working on them. Bijin – images of beautiful women – were a standard subject of Japanese prints. In this print, the woman sitting on a silk loom is presented in an extremely glamorous way, wearing the sort of silk kimono that might have been made from the silk she produced, and with expensive tortoiseshell hairpins – probably not the usual attire for a worker in Japanese industry! In a subtle detail, the background of the print also has the texture and colour of woven raw silk.

The text on the print proved difficult to interpret until one Japanese member of an online forum showed the image to her calligraphy teacher, who identified the name of the woman as Asamizu and the text of the haiku poem on the print as

Shijo sa kuru
sore to wa mi e nu
kaiko ka na

Woven into silk
never look to be that way.
Silkworms!

There is some suggestion that the poem would have been written by Asamizu herself.

Signed and Sealed from Sidbury

This wonderful Roman intaglio (an engraved gemstone) was found at Sidbury in Worcester during archaeological excavations in the 1970s. Roman intaglios were carved from hard stones or gem stones like amethyst, carnelian or agate, and they were usually worn as rings. Prominent individuals displayed them as a mark of status and used them to emboss the wax seals on letters they sent. This example is the only intaglio in Worcester City’s archaeology collection and one of our oldest pieces of jewellery.

During the Roman period Sidbury lay just outside the main town, which would have occupied the area around Worcester Cathedral. During the Roman invasion in the first century AD the area became established as a military route, used while the twentieth legion constructed a road between the forts of Kingsholme near Gloucester and Wroxeter near Shrewsbury.

The character of the Roman suburb began to emerge in the second and third centuries AD, when timber-framed buildings lined a road that followed a different course to the one that we know today. It ran parallel to modern Sidbury in places and may have run across the land now occupied by The Commandery and past Fort Royal before joining the London Road. The road became so well used that the wheels of carts left deep ruts and there is evidence that it was resurfaced a number of times. This main road opened up into what is thought to have been a marketplace, as it approached the town.

Many items have survived in this area, with archaeological discoveries ranging from domestic items like pottery and glass to more personal items such as hairpins and brooches, and there is even evidence that the residents here enjoyed piped water. This beautiful intaglio is thought to depict the Goddess Roma who personified the Roman state, hand-carved with her hair cascading from beneath her military helmet and a necklace around her neck.

The Tangye Original

This “Tangye Original” velocipede is part of the Tickenhill Collection – the original items collected by Alice Parker and Joseph F Parker were displayed in their Bewdley home from the 1930s onwards.

After 25 years of collecting the items became the founding collection of the new Worcestershire County Museum, opened in 1966 at Hartlebury Castle.

This cycle was designed and constructed by James and Joseph Tangye, legendary Birmingham engineers, who alongside their enterprising brother Richard, helped evolve cycle technology with the invention of metal “spider spokes”, lightweight frames and improved brakes. The engineers finally declared that there was “no more time for toys” as other large scale projects required their considerable skills.

One such project was the design and construction of the large hydraulic rams required to launch Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s leviathan steamship, The Great Eastern. When Brunel’s original launch plans proved inadequate, Tangye engineering was employed to complete the task. Despite subsequent successes, this accomplishment remained a proud claim to fame with Richard Tangye stating; “we launched the Great Eastern and she launched us.”

Joseph Tangye was Alice Parker’s father, and is pictured here at Tickenhill Manor with several of his velocipedes, many subsequently collected by Alice and preserved in her folk museum.

SIR THOMAS BROCK

Thomas Brock, one of Worcester’s most successful artists, was born in the City on the 1st March 1847.  He was the son of a local painter and decorator, William Brock, and together with his mother Catherine and elder sister Mary, lived at premises in St Paul’s Street and later Sidbury Place.

At an early age he began to show an interest in drawing and painting and when he was 10 years old he became a pupil of the School of Design in Pierpoint Street.  This institution produced many fine artists such as Benjamin Williams Leader and Edward Davis, along with local sculptors T Brown (who at the time was considered Brock’s superior) and porcelain modeller James Hadley.  He worked very hard at school often staying on extra hours and for his reward he won six medals, a book prize and a box of colours.

After leaving the school of design he signed up as an apprentice modeller for Kerr & Binns porcelain works where he completed his indenture.  His grandfather Joseph Brock was also a porcelain worker employed at Graingers Factory, and many people thought that this is where Sir Thomas took his artistic talents from.

At the age of 19 he went to London to work in the studio of John Henry Foley, and 1867 entered the Royal Academy Schools and a year later first exhibited at the Royal Academy, where in 1869 he won the Gold medal for his group – Herculus strangling Antaeus.  Foley died in 1874 and it was left for Brock to complete several unfinished commissions which included two statues that now stand in Dublin – Daniel O’Connell and Lord Gough, as well as Lord Canning in Calcutta.

In 1876 Brock and his wife Sarah, whom he had married in 1869, moved into Foleys’ empty studio in number 30, Osnaburgh Street, London, and it was from here that he executed most of his famous pieces including The Black Prince, Captain Cook and The Titanic Memorial.  For a time Lord Leighton, another famous sculptor, shared the studio as they had become great friends. Many of the top aristocracy of the time visited Sir Thomas at his studios, these included Queen Victoria herself and in later years King Edward VII and George V and his wife were also known to have called in.

Brock was a leading sculptor of this era and was one of the founder members of gifted artists that set up the British School of Sculpture.  He became famous for his busts, of which over 50 were made, several of which are now in the Worcester City collection including this one of Sir Douglas Galton, a prominent engineer from Worcestershire, Sir Charles Hastings and Earl Dudley.  Other sitters included Foley, Leighton, Rowland Hill and Queen Victoria. He also created many statues in cities both here and abroad including Sir S.S. Bengallee in Bombay, Gladstone in Liverpool, Bishop Hervey in Wells Cathedral and throughout London Gainsborough, Sir Richard Owen and many others.  He was also well represented locally with Richard Baxter and Rowland Hill in Kidderminster along with Bishop Philpott and Queen Victoria in the City of Worcester. He was commissioned to do many memorials and tombs and his crowning glory was The Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace which led to his Knighthood in 1911.

As well as traditional sculpture, Brock will also be remembered for his sculpted designs of medals and coins including the highly acclaimed coinage of 1893. The Jubilee of 1887 was proving very unpopular with society including the Queen herself and in 1891 an advisory committee was set up to discuss the design of a new coinage. Artists from the Royal Academy were asked to submit their designs and the result was that Brock was awarded the task of sculpting the heads and tails of the new regal coinage.  These would be eventually minted in 1893 and were known as Old Head coins, many saying this was the best portrait of Queen Victoria to appear on British coinage. His initials T.B can be found beneath the Queens shoulders.

After leaving his native Worcester, Sir Thomas seldom returned, but he did visit in 1913 when he addressed the students at the Art School at the Victoria Institute. He was given the Freedom of the City in a packed Guildhall in the same year.

In 1905 Brock moved to Merrieweathers, a property in Mayfield, East Sussex where he continued his work until his death in 1922.  He left a wife and nine children and is buried in the Parish Church of Mayfield where his grave can be seen inscribed SINC MOMENTO ARTES QUAS PROFULIT.   

Research by Garston Phillips

Saving the Worcester Whisket

Part of Museums Worcestershire’s work is not just to care for wondrous objects but to protect heritage skills and craft techniques for future generations. The basket pictured is known as a scuttle or “whisket” and was made by Alfred Birch of Wyre Hill in Bewdley. Alfred and his father Christopher, along with many more local craftsmen, used wood from the nearby Wyre Forest in order to create whiskets and brooms by hand, using techniques handed down the generations. Some Bewdley residents still remember seeing the wood arrive to be treated and transformed into household objects, by hand. Most memorable was the distinctive smell from the boiler!

With this example by Birch in the Worcestershire County collection, Museums Worcestershire have worked with local craftspeople Ruth Pybus and David Brown to demonstrate their skills at the museum thanks to funding from the Basket Makers Association. By using the original basket as a template, Ruth and David recreated two of their own beautiful whiskets to the delight of museum visitors. Valuable knowledge and memories of the craft have also come from Bewdley residents, including some of the descendants of Alfred Birch himself, and these conversations help to preserve the ancient techniques which are a key part of our local heritage.

The Ruin of Tintern Abbey

This beautiful oil painting of Tintern Abbey dates from 1889 and is one of many artworks in Worcester’s collection by Benjamin Williams Leader.

The ruin of Tintern Abbey still stands just past the Welsh border overlooking the River Wye. The building was founded in the 1100s and grew to be a masterpiece of Gothic architecture with the help and patronage of wealthy Marcher lords – noblemen appointed by the King of England to guard the border between England and Wales – such as Roger Bigod. Tintern surrendered to the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 and its gradual ruination has continued to capture imaginations as a symbol of the awe-inspiring artistic sublime.

Born in Worcester, Leader grew up in Diglis House and learned his craft sketching on the banks of the River Severn with his father’s friend, artist John Constable. He went on to become one of Britain’s most successful landscape painters and, although derided by art critics for his popularity, his work was loved by the nation and fetched enormous prices at auction. Such idealised scenes are a characteristic of Leader’s work.

Victorian Rocking Horse

This dapple grey rocking horse from Worcester’s collection with a bow rocker is the most common type of rocking horse produced in the 1800s, with a tail and mane made from real horsehair.

It was donated by St Clements School in St Johns, Worcester. Garston Phillips, who served as curator at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum for fifty years, recollects the day it was collected:

“It was in a very sad state. Mr D. [the Museum Technician] spent many hours restoring it to its former glory. Plaster was added, new leather straps, a new saddle and a repaint and varnish was applied.

“In the 1960s we had no transport to get objects to the museums and we had to physically manhandle them through the streets, much to the surprise of shoppers and visitors. This object inspired the best comment I have ever heard whilst passing down New Street, a drunken man appeared from the Old Greyhound Inn and shouted, that’s the one I backed in the Three Thirty yesterday!”

The Patron Saint of… Cleanliness?

The items we use now might one day become museum specimens and objects of interest! Worcester City’s large Social History collection includes objects from various trades and industries in the city, which give us an insight into what every-day life was like. This particular object is a bag from a former dry cleaners in the city called St George’s Laundry and Dry Cleaning located in Angel Place.

St Georges Laundry was founded in 1908, originally as ‘Worcester and Malvern Steam and Laundry and Carpet Beating Company’. During those early days their annual turnover was just £10.

From small beginnings, the company grew to having 70 shops, 24 laundrettes and 500 agents working for them. From starting as a small family business, it was ultimately made a public company in 1963.