Tahitian barkcloth

This rare example of Tahitian barkcloth, thought to be one of only a few known examples of its type worldwide, is one of the highlights of the Worcester City museum Ethnology collection.

This piece was most likely made in the first half of the 19th century, by female descendants of the women who went with the Bounty mutineers to Pitcairn in 1790.

The barkcloth, or ahu in Tahitian, is of fine quality and a status piece. Barkcloth provided the principle material for clothing throughout the Society Islands, and could also be hung ornamentally, used as a partition or as bed-sheets. This piece was either worn as a type of poncho by a man or as a shawl by a woman.

Barkcloth was produced by women using strips peeled from the soft inner bark of the tree – the Paper Mulberry has been used in this instance, but Bread-fruit and Fig were also used. These strips were then soaked for several days before being beaten together into a continuous sheet using wooden beaters. The finished sheet was left in the sun to bleach, and vegetable dyes could then be pressed into the cloth using leaves and other vegetation to create patterns.

Kate Banner
Collections Volunteer

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The Commandery’s Painted Chamber

The Commandery is one of the oldest buildings in Worcester with history dating back to the 11th century. One of the building’s gems is the Painted Chamber, dating back to the late 15th century. Once hidden from view after the Reformation, this treasure was rediscovered in the 1930s and conserved by Miss Matley-Moore of the Worcestershire Archaeological Society.

It seems likely that the area of the building that the paintings were found was the infirmary wing where people suffering from ailments could go and pray to a saint that understood their pain. A part of healing in the medieval period did not just rely on herbal treatment; a healthy dose of prayer was also prescribed. The paintings depict various saints; some undergoing terrible tortures for which they are well known for, and some that are associated with aspects of religious afterlife, with St Peter, depicted with the keys to the gates of heaven.

By the nature of the paintings, scholars have argued that this room may have been a room where people may have prepared to pass away. It was important in medieval life to ‘make a good end’ and to do that, physicians would leave their patients, and invite the priests in to absolve the patient of their sins and to administer the last rites.

The paintings were made by creating very basic pigments over a finished coat of fine plaster. Most frescos on the continent were painted over damp plaster, but in this country due to the climate, it’s possible that The Commandery’s examples may have been painted onto dry plaster. The most common element of a pigment was iron oxide which gave a great range of colour, and there is evidence that the paintings were sketched out first using charcoal.

Kerry Whitehouse
Museums Registrar

How to look after a Moose

Worcestershire’s changing Ice Age landscape, at times marshy, briny grasslands, sometimes covered in permafrost, and other times covered in flowering plants was maintained by herds of large animals, such as Mammoth and Aurochs – the solitary Moose appeared nearer the end of the Ice Age, with the arrival of the great forests.

This example of the North American Moose, also known by its scientific name alces alces, is still found in North America, Russia, Scandinavia and the Baltic today, but disappeared from Britain towards the end of the Bronze Age around 3,000 years ago.

Whilst the Moose was not widely hunted during the Ice Age in Britain, the existence of this later specimen is evidence of man’s devastating effect upon the Moose population in more recent years. Many such specimens were swapped between collectors and institutions in the early days of natural history research.

Preparing the Moose head in Worcester City’s museum collection for display involved brushing, shampooing and polishing. A domestic carpet cleaner was massaged into the hair and removed with cloths, dislodging years of dust and detritus. An alcohol solution was then applied and patted off, to ensure that no residues were left behind. The glass eyes were cleaned, small areas of skin were re-painted, and the antlers buffed.

Sounds from Beneath

© Mikhail Karikis and Uriel Orlow

Since the early 20th century, Worcester City museum collection has been collecting artworks made by living artists that explore the landscape and our relationships with it. A recent acquisition, Sounds from Beneath was made by Greek/British artist Mikhail Karikis and Swiss/British artist Uriel Orlow between 2011 and 2012.

The sound piece was devised by Karikis working alongside former miners from Kent and then performed by Snowdown Colliery Male Voice Choir amongst the landscape of the disused coal mine. Using both the memories and voices of the miners, Sounds from Beneath recreates the underground soundscape of scraping, explosions, mechanical clangs, wailing alarms and shovels scratching.

The artwork was purchased through the Contemporary Art Society acquisition programme. The work was shown for the first time in Worcester in early 2018 following significant international exhibitions in Mexico City, Melbourne, Germany, Japan, France, Ecuador, Belgium and across the UK.

Cotham Marble

Worcester City Museum has a large geological collection of about 12,000 fossils, rocks and minerals. It was mainly assembled by local people during the nineteenth century. It contains a good range of local specimens but also has a selection of British rocks and world-wide minerals. It is only possible to display a fraction of this remarkable collection but using photographs gives an opportunity to introduce you to some of the ‘hidden treasures’ in the basement. They all have a story to tell and hold exciting clues to the Earth’s amazing geological past.

This is a photograph of one of the museum’s spectacular specimens of the famous Late Triassic (Rhaetian) limestone, known as Cotham or Landscape Marble. It was first described from the Cotham area in 1754 and was particularly popular as an indoor ornamental rock in Victorian times. When polished, the surfaces gave the appearance of a landscape with ploughed fields, trees, hedges and rounded cloud-like forms above. A small cottage industry developed for a short period when sketches of a village were added. It was also used undressed for outside walls and ornamental rockeries.

Cotham Marble is a limestone, rather than a true marble and was formed around 200 million years ago when the sea gently invaded the flat Triassic landscape. It occurs as lenses within the upper part of the Cotham Formation of the Penarth Group. The lenses are typically between 3 and 20 cm thick and are up to 3 m across. The limestone consists of irregular ‘bun-shaped’ mounds of banded muddy limestone. It was not until 1961 that it was shown to be produced by the growth of algae and worm-like organisms on ancient mudflats. Today similar structures have been found in modern high saline bays such as Shark Bay, Western Australia.

Rosemary Roden, Honorary Geology Curator
Museums Worcestershire

Worcestershire’s grand houses

Whilst walking in the Worcestershire countryside on the outskirts of Droitwich, you may encounter a pair of very grand historic houses, with a continental, chateaux style, nestled in amongst the trees and rolling countryside

The first residence is the famous Chateau Impney built by John Corbett, Staffordshire born businessman and Droitwich salt magnate. The second red brick structure only a couple of miles down the road belonged to his political rival Lord John Pakington. there are many who believe the grandeur of Chateau Impney was inspired as much by Corbett’s rivalry with Pakington as by his French wife.

The beautiful grade I listed Westwood Hall (pictured here in a print in Worcester City’s collection), with its soaring parapets and glorious bay windows, pre dates the Chateau by several hundred years and was a residence of the Pakington family for centuries.

Formerly a nunnery, it was handed to Sir John Pakington in the mid-1500s during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and has been built upon and expanded throughout its existence.

The Pakington family were strong allies to the crown and a subsequent Sir John Pakington was MP for Worcestershire and an unshakable supporter of Charles I during the English civil wars. Tried and imprisoned in the Tower for his loyalty to the king, he was later freed and supported Charles II at the Battle of Worcester. The ceiling of the ballroom was a gift from Charles II for the Pakington’s unwavering support and complements the Elizabethan plasterwork that is still in situ.

Originally set in the centre of Westwood Park the grounds of the house extended several miles in every direction to the borders of Hadley and the built up areas of Droitwich, including the 60 acre great pool that still sits next to Westwood Road in Droitwich. The three quarter mile long drive from Droitwich ends at the beautiful Gate House featured in the picture. This wonderfully ornate gateway straddles the path and bears symbols from the Pakington coat of arms, three five pointed stars and three sheaves of wheat.

The property passed to Lord Doverdale in the early 1900s and was ultimately sold to be converted into 12 private residences, but its splendour can still be admired from a distance, towering above the trees in the beautiful Worcestershire countryside.

All fourchettes and thumbs

As is the way with most traditional crafts and trades, a look at a Glover’s tools would most likely leave you mystified as to their craft. Not unlike like those of surgeon or a carpenter, they seem unrelated to the often intricate and highly delicate gloves that Worcester was famous for producing in the 18th and 19th Century.

Worcester’s glove makers were both male and female, both performing very different parts of the process. The female workers used needles, thread and later sewing machines to produce the finished product. The male glove maker would be responsible for producing the raw materials and cutting them to size prior to assembly. Skin requires shaving, stretching and paring to ensure the maximum economy. Sheep shears were used to trim down the skin into precise sizes and then blanking plates or “webs” stamp deliberate shapes out of multiple pieces of leather in a press for the hands (trank), between the fingers (fourchettes) and the thumb, like sharp industrial pastry cutters.

It is easy to think the gloves could be produced with just a sewing machine and leather, but in truth, Worcester’s glove industry supported an entire county with the preparation of the skin, large scale assembly and even the manufacture of the arsenal of tools all produced locally.

The image picturing items from the Worcester City collection show:
A cutting knife – known locally as a “spud knife”
Scissors
Fourchette cutter

Dainty Knitted Undies

This magazine, Weldon’s Practical Needlework No. 229 ‘Dainty Knitted Undies’ is one of the more unusual paper items from the Worcester City museum collection. Originally published in the late 1930s, the booklet contains 14 pages of vintage undergarment knitting patterns, also referred to as “Beautiful Beneaths”, including bedjackets, camiknickers, vests and pants, adorned with plenty of fancy stitches, crochet trims as well as information about ‘ways to wash your woolies’.

Continued developments throughout the thirties increased the prevalence of man-made fabrics such as rayon and nylon, in addition to the technique of cutting on the bias (on the cross-grain) which allowed more stretch in undergarment fabrics. These changes meant that the popularity of knitted underwear waned, and such garments started to take on a more modern look which, thanks to the introduction of the silk-like rayon, were probably a lot more dainty than this publication’s patterns.

The Worcester City museum collection includes a number of 20th century paper items such as crafting patterns, fashion magazines, bound volumes of sheet music and collectable vintage encyclopaedias. Over the past few years, Museums Worcestershire has been digitising more of its stored collections in order to bring more of its hidden or forgotten stories to the public.

The Guild in the Garden

These rabbit garden sculptures from the Worcestershire County museum collection were designed and created by the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts.

The Bromsgrove Guild was founded in 1898 by Walter Gilbert, and employed highly skilled Arts and Crafts designers and artists. Their garden statuary, such as the garden rabbit sculptures, was highly sought after. The Bromsgrove Guild collections at Worcestershire archives and the County Museum are the finest reference documentation held anywhere of the Guild’s output.

Apart from these smaller works, the Guild was also responsible for many unique and nationally important public pieces. Most famous of these are the Buckingham Palace gates. Other work included the Liver Birds at the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool, the trim on both RMS Queen Mary and the Lusitania, and plaster ceilings at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth.