Badge Jacket

web Badge Jacket (c) Museums WorcestershireThis 1970s jacket was donated to Worcester City Museum’s collections by a local lecturer who has been one of the Museum’s most loyal supporters. The jacket is covered in a considerable collection of pin badges that were amassed throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The eclectic mix of badges documents everything from popular culture to political movements and local visitor attractions.

Badges celebrating music like The Jam, Culture Club and Limahl, or films such as Grease and Staying Alive, sit juxtaposed next to those made to campaign against the poll tax, to support the miner’s strike, CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) or Tony Benn’s 1981 deputy leadership campaign.

The collection also contains many badges sold by local tourist attractions during those decades when badge collecting was popular among school children. Anyone in their 40s and 50s who visited local attractions as a child will remember these old badges produced by the Severn Valley Railway, Worcestershire County Museum and Wroxeter Roman town.

Cross in Hands, 2006, by Clare Woods

Clare Woods Cross in Hands
Cross in Hands copyright Clare Woods

Worcester City Art Gallery has collected contemporary art for 150 years, building up an outstanding collection, particularly strong in landscapes. The Worcester City Museum collection, of which fine art is an important part alongside natural history, archaeology and social history, focuses on the shaping of the English landscape. Worcestershire’s landscape tells the story of England, from the geology of the Malvern Hills to the townplanning ‘rape of Worcester’ which drove modern conservation movements.

Continuing to thoughtfully collect contemporary art is important for Worcester – creative practice is constantly developing and Worcester aspires to sustain the significance and relevance of its collection to the development of Worcestershire and its county town. However the pressures on local authority budgets mean that purchases for the collection are usually undertaken in partnership. Thanks to a grant from the New Art West Midlands project, Museums Worcestershire were able to purchase the print Cross in Hands, 2006, by Clare Woods for the Worcester City Museum collection.

Clare Woods is based in rural Herefordshire having chosen the rural landscape of the West Midlands as an inspiration for her work and her family. The past few years have seen some significant exhibitions and projects for Woods including a huge piece, 125 meters long, for the Olympic Park in London in 2012. The same year, Woods completed a large panel commission for the newly built Hive library in Worcester.

Cross in Hands depicts a dense a tangle of woodland foliage and flowers, which has grown into the form of a cross. With bright, magnesium white highlights, and pitch black grounds, it has the starkness of a flash lit photograph.

The Beau Street Hoard and Chemical Cleaning

Conserving and Sharing the Bredon Hill Roman Coin Hoard: Part 3

In April 2015 our team of volunteers who were working on the very slow and meticulous mechanical cleaning of the Bredon Hill Roman Coin Hoard attended the Beau Street Hoard symposium in Bath.

The Beau Street Hoard contains an estimated 17,500 silver Roman coins dating from between 32 BC and 274 AD and was found on Beau Street about 150 metres from the Roman baths at Bath in Somerset. The coins had been buried in leather bags, three of which contained debased radiates from the 3rd century. The debased coins had been successfully cleaned chemically rather than manually using Alkaline Rochelle Salts by a freelance conservator working for the British Museum.

Talking to members of the public at Worcestershire Archaeology Dayschool
Talking to members of the public at Worcestershire Archaeology Dayschool

Our progress had been so slow using only a mechanical cleaning method that we invited Lizzie, a conservator at Birmingham Museum Trust, who had trained our volunteers, for a day to train us in how to mix and safely use the chemicals required.

Coins are soaked in a bath of Alkaline Rochelle Salts and carefully timed. Too much time in the bath can cause irreversible damage. After the soak time has lapsed, the coins are rinsed in a sequence of water baths to remove any residual impurities. This is not a process to try without specialist supervision and appropriate health and safety training, processes and equipment.

Alkaline Rochelle Salts
Alkaline Rochelle Salts

We have now moved to a system whereby all our coins are cleaned in this manner and we select the best examples to mechanically clean to display standard. The process has been radically improving our chances of getting to the end of the cleaning process.

Treasure Plus funding will also mean that we can share information on the website and blog, we can give talks to both local societies and metal detecting clubs and we can display the hoard around the county.

Supported by the Art Fund and The Headley Trust

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Sixteen Years of Mechanical Cleaning

Conserving and Sharing the Bredon Hill Roman Coin Hoard: Part 2

The cleaning of the coins is a huge task. We opted to try and acquire the skills in house through specialist training by a conservator. We have a wonderful team of volunteers who have been together for years, initially with Alan Jacobs at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service and since 2007 with the Museum Service. They have worked on a myriad of different projects and have a wealth of experience in collections care. Many of the  projects have been far from glamorous.

As a team, they had initially begun cleaning, marking and upgrading the packaging of Worcester City Museum‘s collection of human remains following the publicIMG_1506ation of DCMS Guidelines on the Care of Human Remains in Museums. They also reboxed small finds from Worcester’s large excavations in the 1970s, 80s and early 1990s at Deansway, Sidbury and Blackfriars. Finds are mounted in plastozoate which are set into crystal boxes with a handy little length of linen tape underneath the plastozoate so we can easily pull the objects out of their box with minimal disturbance. The silica, Stewart boxes and humidity strips have all been replaced.

In 2012 the largest assemblage of medieval roof tiles ever found in Worcester were discovered unexpectedly during roofing work on the garden wing at The Commandery. Our volunteers cleaned, weighed, measured, photographed and catalogued the whole assemblage and passed the data back to archaeologists for publication. The find was significant because Worcester is unique in having a system of tile stamping in this period. In effect it represents an early form of building control. The thatched roofs of the City were a major fire hazard and in 1467 the city ordinances introduced compulsory tiling, stating that

‘for the prevention of fire neither wooden chimneys nor thatched roofs shall be allowed thenceforward; by midsummer’s day next coming, the wooden chimneys should be replaced by brick or stone, and the thatched roofs by tiles’

Our volunteers recorded around 20 maker’s stamp patterns on 150 tiles. Around 20 further tiles were collected and recorded that were marked with tallies or showed animal prints

In 2012 we worked on a collection of plaster statues from the personal collection of Walter Gilbert, the founder of the Bromsgrove Guild. The statues had been on loan to Worcestershire County Museum for many years but had recently been donated by Walter Gilbert’s family. The statues were scheduled to be used in an exhibition at Worcester Art Gallery and Museum called Edwardian Elegance. Our volunteers worked over the weeks of summer 2012 using soft brushes and museum vacs to clean them for display.

Volunteers being trained by Lizzie in mechanical cleaning techniques
Volunteers being trained by Lizzie in mechanical cleaning techniques

Another collection of Bromsgrove Guild material chosen for display in our Edwardian Elegance exhibition came from the Regent Palace Hotel off Piccadilly in London. Painted windows crafted by the Bromsgrove Guild were returned to Worcestershire after removal from the building. They were covered on one side with a century of grime and our volunteers spent weeks cleaning them carefully with cotton buds. The glass is on display at Worcestershire County Museum.

So, In Autumn 2014 our volunteers began their training, funded by the Art Fund Treasure Plus Scheme, in cleaning copper alloy Roman Coins with Lizzie from the Staffordshire Hoard Project at Birmingham Museum Trust. She taught our volunteers, over three days, how to remove 1700 years of Cotswold mud.

The coins are late 3rd century radiates and have very little silver content, thus the results were never going to be spectacular.  This was something we only realised with time. It was a huge learning curve for everyone and involved learning to work comfortably using microscopes and scalpels. The mud was ‘caked’ in a solid film on the coins and involved careful use of the scalpel to remove the film whilst not damaging the surface of the coin and exposing the copper material underneath.

To loosen/moisten the mud, acetone was applied using cotton buds prior to the use of the scalpel. Initially each volunteer completed one coin a day and although they improved on the tally in time, it was still a very slow process. One of our volunteers calculated that if we didn’t speed up it would take us 16 years to complete our work.

Our breakthrough came in April 2015 when we attended a Symposium in Bath and heard about the conservation work which had been taking place on the Beau Street Hoard.

Supported by the Art Fund and The Headley Trust
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Snow White’s map

7 dwarves mapThis unexpected discovery in the Worcestershire County museum collection enables us to retrace Snow White’s actual steps to the house of the Seven Dwarfs.

It’s slightly surprising to see that she was so close to the other Disney Princesses Belle and Rapunzel without realising. Who knew those dangerous and mysterious woods were so small?

 

 

 

This picture, An Ancient Mappe of Fairyland, Newly Discovered and Set Forth, was drawn and published in 1917 by Bernard Sleigh (1872–1954), an English mural painter, stained-glass artist, illustrator and wood engraver. Sleigh became part of the Bromsgrove Guild in 1897 and he was a member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists between 1923 and 1928.

Mappe Fairyland

The real story of the map is stranger than any April Fools joke: as a young man, Sleigh suffered a serious illness, due to a growth in his middle ear, which though repeatedly treated, became badly infected, eventually leading to the recommendation that his teeth be removed. Following this procedure, he lapsed into unconsciousness. With his life in the balance, he endured a trepanning operation into his brain and, although he recovered, for the rest of his life he began to suffer vividly-coloured visions. The visions always took place in a palette of red and green, clearly translated into this drawing.

In the same year as the publication of the Mappe of Fairyland, two young girls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths created the first of the hoax Cottingley fairy photographs. Rather embarrassingly for him, they were endorsed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in an article on fairies published in the 1920 Christmas issue of the Strand Magazine.

Charles I (1600–1649) by Anthony van Dyck (after)

web Charles I portrait (c) Museums WorcestershireThis painting is one of several pieces related to the English Civil War in the Worcester City Museum Fine Art Collection. It is based on the Antony Van Dyck original of 1635, created in order to capture all aspects of the Stuart King and act as a reference for the Italian sculptor Bernini, allowing him to sculpt a bust from his studio in Rome. The original painting was returned to England by George IV in 1822 and is now part of the Royal Collection.

Charles’ belief in the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ and an unwillingness to compromise caused inevitable friction between himself and his own country. Charles believed that he had been given a duty by God and that it was not the place of men to question this authority. His decisions to dissolve parliament and rule without them, to impose a common prayer book on an unwilling nation, his acceptance of Catholicism, and unlawful taxation led to a political uprising, an invasion of England by an outraged Scotland, and Civil War. Parliament arrested and tried their King as a tyrant, traitor and murderer. When found guilty, many Parliamentarians still struggled with the decision to sign a death warrant for their own King, and some refused to do so.

From Discovery to Conservation

Conserving and Sharing the Bredon Hill Roman Coin Hoard:   Part 1

In Autumn 2014, our group of long standing and committed volunteers at Museums Worcestershire began training in the cleaning and conservation of the Bredon Hill Roman Coin Hoard

The Bredon Hill Roman Coin Hoard was discovered three years earlier in June 2011 by two metal detectorists who had been detecting together for some time and found themselves in South Worcestershire at a time of year when most of the fields around them could not be searched because the crops were already high. The only field in their vicinity that was available was one that they had searched before in previous years and found very little. They referred to it as the boring field but there was nowhere else to detect so they decide to give it a try.7 IMGP8480

They hadn’t been detecting long when one of them got a signal from their detector. He dug down into the ground and found a horseshoe. Instead of filling the hole and trying elsewhere he put his detector back in the hole and got another faint signal. He dug down and found a Roman radiate coin, and then another, and another and another. The hoard was to number almost 4000 Roman coins and was discovered alongside the broken fragments of the pot that they had been placed inside.

The hoard was reported to our Finds Liaison Officer with the Portable Antiquities Scheme and declared treasure by the Coroner because it was more than 200 years old and contained more than two coins in association with each other. Precious metal content is also a characteristic of treasure finds but in this case the coins are made of copper alloy.

The hoard numbered 3,874 Roman radiates dating from the Emperor Philip II to the Emperor Probus (244-282 AD) within a Severn Valley Ware narrow mouthed storage jar. The group is broadly similar in composition to the many Romano-British coin hoards buried in the aftermath of the breakaway ‘Gallic Empire’.

Meanwhile funds were found at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service to fund a small excavation 3m by 3m around the findspot of the hoard. The detectorists who found the hoard were heavily involved over the week long excavation. The excavation brought to light much more information than had been expected. The hoard had been buried in association with a, previously unknown, sequence of Roman buildings. The soil layer through which the pit, in which the hoard was buried, was dug contained 64 sherds of fourth century pottery and lots of limestone, probably from a demolished building somewhere. This dates the burial to around seventy years after the coins were in circulation and at the time made this the only known Roman hoard to have been buried two generations after it was accumulated. Research has continued on this phenomenon as further examples have come to light .

As, a museum service, we decided we would pursue the acquisition, of this, the largest hoard ever found in Worcestershire and the stories it has to tell about life in the south of our county 1700 years ago.

MontageSo, we launched an appeal in October 2011 in order to acquire the hoard. The British Museum were really helpful and let us borrow some coins from the hoard to put on display at the launch of our fundraising campaign. This was pretty unusual at the time and we were very grateful for their support. With the help of donations from visitors and individuals and grants from the V & A purchase fund, the Headley Trust and Worcestershire Archaeological Society we were able to raise the funds to acquire the hoard within the deadline that we had been given

We always knew that we needed to achieve more than just acquisition. The coins needed to be cleaned and shared in the county. We applied for the second round of Treasure Plus Funding from the Art Fund in 2014 which has given us the opportunity to learn the skills required to clean the hoard as well as the resources to share and display the hoard. Over the coming weeks, our intention is to update you on the progress of the project to share and conserve the Bredon Hill hoard in a series of blog posts.

Supported by the Art Fund and The Headley Trust
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Anti-Gas Ointment

web Anti gas (c) Museums WorcestershireIn the late 1930s, as the conflict of the Second World War started brewing, it was expected that gas would be used as a weapon against the British as it had been during WW1. Much work was put in before war broke out to equip both the armed forces and civilians with suitable counter-measures to protect against the horrific effects. Jars of anti-gas ointment went on general sale in grocery shops and chemists.

The ointment was intended for use to protect the skin against mustard or liquid blister gas. It could be applied either as a thin film in advance to prevent gas from damaging the skin surface and flesh, or as a counter-acting remedy after contamination. It relies upon a strong alkaline content to neutralise the gas residue.

County Perfumery Company Ltd. was a firm that made and sold perfumes and toiletries and in the early 20th century was best known for manufacturing Brylcreem.

Herbarium

One of the oldest and largest collections that Museums Worcestershire has is the Herbarium. These are plant specimens that have been dried and mounted on sheets straight after they had been collected.

The majority of the specimens are British, with a large amount collected from Worcestershire and the surrounding counties.

As a collections assistant, I have been working on a project to get a section of the collection out of their potentially damaging environment, into a better contained shelving rack which will keep them clean and better preserved. Specimens collected by Mr Mathews and Mr Towndrow in the 19th century, which were originally kept at Malvern Museum, have been contained within three wooden shelving cupboards which are no longer acceptable in order to keep them clean and in good condition.

Funding from the Arts Council England PRISM fund enabled us to purchase two custom built metal shelving cupboards with vents to house these collections. The process has been lengthy. They were first of all checked for pest activity and keeping them in their bundles, placed in the freezer. After two weeks, the bundle was taken out and set aside on a shelf in the store to acclimatise and relax. The specimens were then photographed and entered into an inventory. The specimens were kept in their bundles and then wrapped in acid free tissue, given a new bundle number and placed on a shelf in the new cabinets.

Each shelf has a number which is also entered into the inventory. This gives us a good location reference for each specimen, should we need to pull out any for exhibitions, talks or research.

As I was working on these specimens, it made me think of the people going out collecting them. What was the weather like? How did they travel to these places as the car hadn’t yet been invented? Some of the locations were miles away.

Some of the specimens had stamps on them from botanical exchange clubs. Rather like swapping cards at school of your favourite superhero, these collectors were swapping specimens. It makes sense as the rare specimen you wanted in your collection might only grow in certain locales or habitats. We even have a specimen of lichen from one the stones at Stonehenge!

The project has been fascinating and allowed me to handle and examine a very unique and fragile collection that normally isn’t on display.

Kerry Whitehouse
Registrar – Museums Worcestershire