Rock Coin Hoard

web Rock Coin Hoard (c) Museums WorcestershireIn 2011 a small coin hoard was found at Rock in Worcestershire by metal detectorists. It was reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and has recently been acquired for the county collection by Museums Worcestershire.

The Rock silver pennies are of the short cross type and date to the reigns of King Henry II, King John and King Henry III (1180 to 1229). They were, perhaps, once stored inside a purse which lay lost in the Worcestershire countryside for nearly 800 years.

The short cross penny was introduced in 1180 following years of abuse of the currency and inferior workmanship, a situation exacerbated by the civil wars of the twelfth century. The coin gets its name from a cross with short arms pictured on the reverse.

The short cross on the reverse of these coins is where the problem lay. The arms of the cross did not extend to the edge of the coin and clipping the edges of coins to gain the precious metal became common. The long cross penny, with arms that extended to the edge of the coin preventing clipping, was introduced to eliminate the problem.

Clouds over the Orwell by Bertram Priestman

web Priestman (c) Museums WorcestershireGrowing up in Yorkshire in the late 19th century, Bertram Priestman was surrounded by beautiful landscapes as well as his father’s considerable art collection. As a young man he travelled extensively visiting Egypt, Palestine and Italy, then went on to train at the Slade School of Art.

A cultured and talented painter he was only 21 when his first work was chosen to be hung at the Royal Academy.

This painting in Worcester City’s collection of the Orwell River in Ipswich was painted in the 1930s, when Priestman had firmly established a reputation for landscape art and had been elected as a member of the Royal Academy. The painting exemplifies his talent for depicting the British countryside in its glowing summertime glory; Frank Brangwyn called him ‘the finest sky painter of our day’.

Violin made by Handley, made in 1887

Henry Handley, violin maker at workHenry Handley was born in 1839, the son of a bricklayer, and was initially apprenticed to the glove industry. However, he soon showed a prowess for violin making and eventually chose this as his career, only retiring from work in 1927 – just four years before his death in 1931, at the grand age of 91. He was still a member of the Cathedral Orchestra up until his 86th year.

His workshop and home was next to Worcester’s historic Lich Gate off College Street and opposite the Cathedral.

Handley is believed to have been a friend of Worcester composer Sir Edward Elgar – not surprising really, as he repaired violins for the Elgar family music shop just round the corner in High Street and as the composer began his working life as a violin teacher.

It is testimony to Handley’s meticulous and painstaking craftsmanship that during his very long life he made just 106 violins, 10 violas and two cellos. He struggled with varnish and some of his early instruments show signs of blistering, but he obviously went on to master this process too in his later creations. His instruments have a tone described as ‘silvery’.

City historian, the late Bill Gwilliam, in his book Worcestershire’s Hidden Past, says Henry Handley “plied his craft in a quaint little workshop, surrounded by a delightful clutter of odds and ends of instruments and implements.”

It was in his 80th year that Handley completed his 100th violin, and he went on to date his last instruments by putting inside this verse:

Neath the shadow of Worcester Cathedral tower

I worked on his fiddle for many an hour,

In my eighty-third year I fashioned the whole,

Now it needs but a player to bring out the soul.

Henry Handley’s home and workshop next to the Lich Gate was among the many properties pulled down in the mid-1960s to make way for the Lychgate shopping development.


There is an example of Handley’s work in the city collection and currently on display in the museum gallery at Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum. This was purchased with support from the V&A Purchase Grants Fund.


Chadding on Mount’s Bay by Alexander Stanhope Forbes

web Chadding on Mounts Bay (c) Museums WorcestershireThis painting was voted for by visitors to Worcester City Art Gallery as their favourite in the museum collection. It is an idyllic scene, the water is calm, the sun sparkles on their reflections in the water and the children are chadding (fishing) for herrings.

Stanhope Forbes was an ‘en plein air’ painter – painting outside, directly in front of the subject. This approach was pioneered by the French Impressionists and encouraged artists to capture ordinary life around them.

Stanhope Forbes uses bright pure colours to give an impression of light and atmosphere. His abundant use of white enhances the feeling of a hot summer’s day. Rather than using browns and blacks for the shadows, Forbes’ shadows on the boat and the girls’ blouses contain blue, reflected from the sky. There is harmony to the colours in this painting, where the cool blue stretch of water is contrasted with the warm tints of the childrens’ tanned skins, and the sweater of the boy.

Stanhope Forbes had moved to the Cornish village of Newlyn a few years before painting this picture, where he established an art school which had an important influence on British art in the late 19th century. Chadding is widely considered to be his greatest work.

Dents Coronation Glove Team

web Dents Glove Team (c) Museums WorcestershireThis photograph shows the team at the Dents glove factory in Worcester who made the glove worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation ceremony in 1953.
As part of the coronation ceremony, the British monarch wears one glove on their right hand – the hand that holds the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross, part of the Crown Jewels made in 1661 for Charles II coronation. During the ceremony, the glove is removed and the Coronation Ring is put onto the right ring finger. The ring, created in 1831 for William IV’s coronation, is traditionally called The Wedding Ring of England.
It was a very special commission for the Dents team to be asked to make the glove and it featured exquisite gold embroidery on white leather.
Dents had been an important part of Worcester’s history, opening their first factory in 1777 and continuing making gloves in the city until 1968. The peak of the glove-making industry was between 1790 and 1820, when half of all British gloves were made in Worcester.

Electrotype of Oliver Cromwell

web Oliver Cromwell Lord Protector (c) Museums WorcestershireAn electrotype is a replica of a coin or medal which is made in two parts, the obverse (the ‘heads’ side of the coin with the portrait or main design) and the reverse (the ‘tails’ side of the coin), produced through a process which is like silver-plating. The size and weight of the copy differs a little from the original but the copy is otherwise a faithful one.
Electrotypes can be really useful where a museum or collection does not hold the original of a coin or medal that is especially relevant and important to them or their local area. These two electrotypes of medals associated with Oliver Cromwell are a case in point. The stories of the English Civil War and the career of Oliver Cromwell are intertwined with the history of Worcester and its surrounding county.
The museum holds electrotype copies of two medals associated with Cromwell: the Lord Protector Medal of 1653, originally struck in gold and silver, and the Death Medal of 1658, taken from an original struck in gold. Cromwell died on 3 September 1658; seven years to the day after his victory at the Battle of Worcester. Originals of both of these medals are extremely rare and without electrotype copies examples would not be available in public collections in our county.
These pieces are from a large collection of electrotypes in the collection of Worcester City Museum that includes copies of coins and medals dating from the time of the Ancient Greeks to the nineteenth century. They were produced at some time in the nineteenth century and for decades the entire collection was displayed in black and gold frames lined with purple velvet, around the balcony of the City Museum.


Thanks to Garston Phillips for his knowledge about this object.

The Reading Waggon

web Reading waggon (c) Museums WorcestershireThis Gypsy Vardo or caravan was found in a garden in Drakes Broughton, near Pershore. It was bought by Worcestershire County Museum in the early 1960s and was later restored.

The type of design acquired its name from the principal makers of this style, Duntons, who traded in Reading from 1884 to 1921. They are also known as Kite waggons because of the profile characterised by tall back wheels, outward sloping sides, high-arched roof and lavish decoration.

The interior and exterior of this waggon are very luxurious. Much of the detailing on the exterior is finished in gold leaf. The many original features include shafts, steps, a cratch (the place where cooking pots were stored) and amber glass grab handles.

Very few original waggons remain. Time and weather have taken their toll on structures made of canvas. The old Romany burial ritual of destroying a person’s possessions and setting fire to the waggon on their death has also reduced the number still in existence. The Worcestershire County Museum in Hartlebury is one of the few places in the country where so many varied types of Gypsy waggon can be viewed together making this collection an important part of English history.


Thanks to Anita Blythe and Steve Smith for their research into this collection.

Victorian Fashion Magazines

web Young Ladies Journal (c) Museums Worcestershire
We think of fashion magazines as an accessory for the modern woman, but in fact they really became a craze in the Victorian period.

Over 100,000 different periodicals started during the nineteenth century, some of which have continued as academic journals like the Lancet (started 1823). Others that were much more light-hearted have still managed to survive such as the humorous Titbits, founded in 1881 and mentioned in George Orwell’s book Animal Farm.

The first women’s fashion magazine was probably Ladies Mercury, first published in 1693. By 1875, the date of this Young Ladies Journal in the Worcester City museum collection, there were scores of periodicals aimed at fashionable women.

The very detailed illustrations in this magazine gave the young Victorian woman, probably on the threshold of marriage, a very clear idea of how to behave and how to dress in polite society. The publisher had close relationships with outfitters and silk suppliers, not unlike today’s magazine reliance on the advertising of high fashion brands.

A Will of His Own, 1874 by John Dawson Watson

web Watson Mother and Child (c) Museums WorcestershireJohn Dawson Watson was a painter and illustrator of genre scenes and books such as The Pilgrim’s Progress and the Arabian Nights. The Pall Mall Art critic in 1865 said of Watson, ‘We have no young painter who shows a more decided power of informing his figures with intention’.

The child in the appropriately named A Will of His Own, thrusting an angry hand into his mother’s face in the frenzy of red-faced tantrum, certainly shows the intention of being naughty!

This watercolour comes from the Sale Bequest collection. Reverend and Mrs Sale of Holt Rectory donated their valuable collection of watercolours to the nation, many of which were left to the British Museum. However, due to a lack of space at the time a large number of these fine paintings were bequeathed to the Victoria Institute, which one hundred years after the original donation is now the Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum.