Pliohippus: horse ancestor from 10 million years ago

This post was researched by placement Caitlin Jolly, using Worcester City Museum exhibition files.


The Pliohippus lived on open plains, grazing on hard grasses with its long teeth. It had one functional toe on each foot.

Pliohippus means “bigger horse” and the name is also meant to mean “horse of the Pliocene” (the Pliocene is the geological period between 2 and 5 million years ago) although it’s now thought that the Pliohippus lived in an earlier geological epoch.

The Pliohippus skeleton shares many similarities with modern horse skeletons – aside from deep indentations in the skull just below the eye sockets. Scientists have hypothesised that this was used to hold muscle or to produce noises which modern horses cannot.

Worcester City Museum looks after a geological collection of around 12,000 specimens across all geological periods. The museum first started collecting and displaying fossils in 1833.


1628 Book of Psalms

Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 and was petitioned the same year to allow the publication of an English translation of the Bible. A few months later the work was complete and Myles Coverdale published the first complete printed Bible in English.

20150312_134302Coverdale went on to publish ‘Goostly Psalmes,’ and at the same time a French version of the Psalms translated by Marot, valet de chambre to Francis I, was taken up at the French court. Marot and Coverdale, both devout reformers for Protestant worship, hoped that singing of the Psalms would replace more obscene popular ballads.

Thomas Sternhold, the author of this exquisite book of Psalms from the Worcestershire County museum collection, followed shortly after these first scholars and reformers. He reputedly came from the village Awre on the River Severn in Gloucestershire.

His translation of the Psalms, first published in 1547, was in general use for more than 150 years and has had a larger circulation than any work in the language, except the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. This particular edition – the 1628 printing – was in wide use during the English Civil War and the parliamentary armies sang from it together before going into battle.

This book has been covered with embroidery and the fore-edge is beautifully patterned.


Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) by Christopher William Hunnemann (1755-1793)

Web Queen Charlotte  (c) Museums WorcestershireIn 1788, George III suffered badly from an attack of the illness which was to plague his later life. Now thought to be a genetic disorder of the nervous system, then it was seen simply as insanity. He, Queen Charlotte and the young princesses spent the summer in Cheltenham to improve his health.

This was the furthest the King had travelled from London and the royal family enjoyed exploring the area. They visited Bishop Hurd at Hartlebury Castle and attended the Three Choirs Festival performances at Worcester Cathedral.

Possibly a symptom of his illness, but also perhaps because of the freedom from affairs of state that the visit offered, George and Charlotte explored Worcester with affectionate informality. We know that the royal couple wandered into Chamberlain’s porcelain shop on Worcester High Street and happily sat on the stairs to have a rest!

George III gave both the City and the Bishop a pair of portraits of himself and (this one of) Queen Charlotte as a thank you present for this visit. Both sets still hang on public view in Worcester Guildhall and Hartlebury Castle.

This portrait of Charlotte is a copy of one by Thomas Gainsborough in the Royal Collection, which had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1781. Hunnemann was an accomplished painter in his own right, but creating copies for the King would have been well paid and enabled him to make useful connections.

Worcester’s City Walls

WorcesterAG-20150304-244Although it is not obvious today, Worcester was once a fortified settlement. Unlike cities such as Chester, which still feature several miles of prominent defensive wall, Worcester has very little to remind us that it was once a surrounded by stone perimeter. The locations of its gates are marked by plaques, and areas such as “Foregate Street”, “St Martins Gate” and “City Walls Road” remind us of their absence. City Walls Road actually traces the route of the south-eastern perimeter and some of the footings are still visible if you walk the route.

Worcester has been defended since its early settlement and there is evidence of Roman defensive ditches and bastions. During the Anglo Saxon Period the walls were expanded, but how these relate to the later Medieval city walls is not entirely certain.   A Worcester Castle features on the oldest civic heralds, long before the three black pears, but this relates to a rather small Norman motte and bailey, long departed, which would have stood near the current Cathedral. By the 1100s Worcester certainly had some of its wall defences in place, but they were either incomplete or ineffective, or both. Worcester was successfully attacked and entered by Miles of Gloucester in 1139 as he rebelled against King Steven. Contemporary records state that the army breached the defences, took many men prisoner, set alight to buildings, looted personal property and a stole large numbers of Worcester’s cattle.   The southern part of the city was capable of repelling such an attack, but the northern aspect was relatively weak.

In 1216, after the death of King John; who is buried in Worcester Cathedral, the reign of his nine year old son Henry III was contested. Worcester showed support for the French monarch and was forcibly reclaimed. Its defences were clearly an issue as the city was punished by either paying a sum to the crown, or having its walls torn down. It evidently chose the former as in 1224, Worcester was given the right to take tolls at its gates in order to pay for the upkeep of its defences.

The city walls and ditches were famously tested at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, the final and deciding battle of the English Civil War. Charles I had been executed and his son, later Charles II, had returned to retake the English throne. Excavations of the city walls show evidence dereliction and decay during that period, as well as improvised repurposing and bolstering to meet the demands of modern artillery. New defensive bastions were added and an earthwork fortification, build on what is now known as Fort Royal Hill. It was not enough. The Royalists were routed by the attacking Parliamentarian force, commanded by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell took a harder line that Henry III and razed the walls so the “Faithful City” could never more defend a monarch against him.

Sections of stone consistent with the city wall show up all over the city in archaeological excavations, standing structures and even as decorative features in the Commandery Gardens. It was evidently a source of quality stone. Other than these glimpses, the name of the odd street, occasional plaque or sandstone protrusions, Worcester’s wall have all but disappeared… and you may enter Worcester uncontested.

Arcadian China Souvenir Ware Dispatch Rider

University of Worcestershire work experience student Chloe Higgins helped the collections team prepare posts for #MuseumsWeek on Twitter. For #SouvenirMW, we posted this 1916 Arcadian China souvenir ware dispatch rider and Chloe spent some time researching the object.

Arcadian China souvenir wear dispatch rider

Souvenir ware, typically in the form of small white glazed porcelain models, bearing crests and names of seaside resorts were particularly popular the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The industrial revolution and the growth of the railway networks opened up travel to the working classes and a trade emerged for small souvenirs of these travels.

At the turn of the century, many items like this had been made in Germany, using postcards and images as a reference and then shipped to the UK. But WWI put a stop to this trade and all souvenir ware would have all been made in the UK during this time. Arcadian China of Stoke-on-Trent was one of the most prolific designers of military-inspired souvenir ware objects. This small Arcadian China model of a dispatch rider with the crest of Bournemouth, from the Worcester City Collection, is currently on display as part of the exhibition An Englishman Abroad (24th January – 31st October 2015).

Seal Gut Parka

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThis item in the Worcester City collection comes from Northern Canada, Alaska or Greenland. It was a waterproof outer coat for use in a kayak and was made from seal intestines.

Women sewed these parkas from untanned strips of dried seal gut, using sinew thread. It took the intestines from one of two seals to make each garment. They made the seams waterproof by joining the strips with folds and stitching that did not entirely pierce through the material – a little like taped seams on Western waterproofs. The parkas were kept moist to keep them pliable; a gut parka could be rolled into a small bundle for easy carrying on hunting trips.

To keep dry, the wearer could tighten drawstrings on the parka’s sleeves and hood. He tied the bottom of the parka around the top of his kayak, to keep rain and water splashes from getting him wet. An active hunter would get through two or three parkas a year – although waterproof, the gut fabric is delicate.

This parka is over a century old, brought back to Worcester by a traveller as a memento of their trip. The traditional craft of making parkas from seal gut continues today in some Native Alaskan communities.

Untitled (Hawksmoor Series No.1) by Jock Mc Fayden

This small, gouache on panel painting, just 25.5cm x 15.5cm was painted by Jock McFadyen in 1989 and purchased for the Worcester City Collection a year later.

McFadyen was born in Paisley to the west of Glasgow and south of the River Clyde, in 1950. He studied at Chelsea School of Art and in 2012 he was elected a Royal Academician. In many ways his work seems to follow in the tradition of the more expressionist 20th century figurative and landscape painters, who have lived and worked in London.

Jock McFadyen; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Jock McFadyen, Untitled (Hawksmoor Series No.1), Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The painting was produced as part of a series of works called ‘Canal’, referring to the Regent’s Canal running North East from Limehouse Docks where it is also joined by the Grand Union Canal from the North. Like others in this series it packs a solid punch for a small painting. The figure of a woman stands on the canal towpath in front of iron railings with a church sign against them declaring, ‘Christ is Risen’ in white letters on a blood red ground. Below this is a low white wall covered in black and red graffiti, with the name ‘Danny’ scrawled in red paint, as if in counterpoint to the official red poster above. The woman is young with a dough-like pallor, as she appears to stand like a visiting spirit, shivering in the watery sunlight to the left of the more definite texts. She wears a fitted white mini skirt above her pale legs and green stiletto shoes, clutching a black purse strapped to her side over a pale blue bomber jacket and yellow collared blouse. Her thin auburn hair flies out around her face punctuated by pursed dark red lips and darkly circled eye sockets.

Behind the black railings looms the outline of St. Anne’s church in Limehouse, a Baroque white neo-classical edifice with high clock tower at the east end, rising beyond the lurid red church poster. It appears a desolate and abandoned spot that she has chosen to stand and stare as she waits forlornly for a partner or assignation on the litter strewn canal-side. The architect of the grandly classical church is the 18th century, Nicholas Hawksmoor, after whom this series of small figures studies is named, one of which is also owned by Doncaster Museum service.


Written by volunteer collections researcher, Deborah Keaveney.

Victoria Institute committee, Worcester, 1918

The decision-making body for the Victoria Institute, Worcester’s combined library, museum, art gallery and art school. This committee also made the decisions on what objects and artworks to acquire for the Worcester City museum collection.

Mayor of Worcester: Alderman A. Charlton, J.P.

Chairman of Library and Museum Committee: Alderman W.H. Kershaw, J.P.

Art Gallery Committee:

  • Alderman W.H. Kershaw, J.P., Chairman
  • The Mayor
  • Alderman J.S. Cook, J.P.
  • Councillor W. Webb
  • Councillor F.A.W. Simes, J.P.
  • Councillor J.M. Slade
  • Councilor W. Sharpe
  • Councillor Dr Walpole Simmons
  • Mr T. Boyce
  • Mr C.J. Houghton
  • Mr Carlton Rea
  • Mr Walter Wood
  • Mr Thomas Duckworth, Secretary


Night (1942) by Paul Lucien Dessau (1909-1999)

FA0355 jpeg websizeThis week we commemorate the 70th anniversary of VE day and it’s impossible to look back to the celebrations without also recognising the horror and destruction.

This painting shows the aftermath of an air raid. It’s particularly interesting because Paul Dessau was a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service as well as an artist. Researcher Dr Anthony Kelly has investigated the Fireman Artists of the Second World War and published a book which tells the story of their dual work and the touring exhibitions of their paintings.

Night was purchased from Dessau by Miss EA Cadbury of Lower Wick House, who presented it to Worcester City Art Gallery. Dessau received 16 guineas from a sale price of £21 (the rest going to the Fire Brigade Charity).

Evelyn Cadbury was a qualified nurse and midwife and an Independent Worcester city councillor, and she did much voluntary work in Worcester. Miss Cadbury died in 1990, aged 85.

She was the great-granddaughter of John Cadbury, the founder of the chocolate company, and like the majority of the Cadbury family was a Quaker. Possibly her pacifist beliefs were behind the purchase of this painting and gift of it to the city.