Conserving the Clifton Mammoth Tusk

a large curved tuskThe excavation of a woolly mammoth tusk by Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service at Clifton Quarry, just south of Worcester in March 2016, has led to conservation work to ensure its long-term protection.

Specialist conservation work on the mammoth tusk was very generously funded by Tarmac who own and work Clifton Quarry. The tusk was waterlogged when found so it was dampened and covered in plastic to ensure that it dried out slowly, reducing the chances of splitting and delamination which can occur in waterlogged specimens.

Once it had dried, the surfaces of the tusk were gently cleaned and strengthened. A second phase of conservation work was required a few weeks later as the tusk adapted to the environmental conditions at Worcester Art Gallery and Museum.

Between 2017 and 2018, thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service (WAAS) in partnership with Museums Worcestershire will bring the Lost Landscapes of Worcestershire back to life, with events and exhibitions celebrating half a million years of the area’s history, from the time our ancestors arrived until the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago.

The Green Man medieval roof boss

wooden square roof boss in the shape of a faceThis medieval roof boss which came from St Andrew’s Church, Worcester is decorated with the face of a ‘Green Man’ emerging from leafy foliage.

Roof bosses are ornamental protrusions from the ceiling which appear at the intersection of rib vaulting. In St Andrew’s there were a number of bosses depicting the Twelve Apostles and the Annunciation, alongside many foliage bosses.

The Green Man is associated with the arrival or rebirth of spring in many cultures and is commonly depicted in English folklore as a nature spirit. Despite its outwardly polytheistic associations, this verdant character is frequently found in churches, cathedrals and abbeys across Europe.

Originally a medieval, probably 12th century church, St Andrew’s was demolished in 1949 as it was believed to be structurally unsound, and the tower and spire is all that remains. It’s known locally as the ‘Glover’s Needle’ because it was sited close to Dents Glove Factory and was the parish church for many glovemakers. This part of Worcester was densely packed with slum housing, now all cleared away and instead housing Copenhagen Street car park and the Heart of Worcestershire College.

The nearly-extinct Grayling Butterfly

A museum tray of butterfly specimensThe Grayling Butterfly was a common sight in Victorian Worcestershire. Nowadays the native species, Hipparchia semele can only be found living in a small area on the eastern slopes of Malvern’s North Hill, and preserved in the Worcester City Museum collection.

The Grayling needs certain environmental conditions to become active and start feeding, reproducing and defending its territory, which includes warming up to 32 degrees C by basking on rocks in the sunshine.

These beautiful specimens which came from the Walter Sanders Collection, which would quickly deteriorate if exposed to light for periods of time, are in excellent condition and were collected before the First World War. After this period records became few and far between and the butterfly’s numbers plummeted.

Mel Mason, West Midlands Butterfly Conservation Rep. said: “The species has struggled to survive changes to their natural habitat over the past century. They are extinct in many neighbouring counties including Warwickshire and Gloucestershire and are now unusual to spot inland.”

“We are working closely with Malvern Hills Conservators to monitor the species and restore grasslands containing fine grasses such as Sheep’s Fescue to encourage it to return.”

 

Thanks to Mel Mason of WMBC for his research on this topic.

Roman Glass

a Roman glass flask and bowlIn the early nineteenth century the motte (or mound) of Worcester’s long lost Castle still stood, some 80 feet above the high water mark of the River Severn, to the south of the Cathedral. In 1833 it was finally levelled at the request of a local bookseller, Mr Eaton, who owned the land that the motte stood on.
As the huge amount of earth was removed, a number of wonderful archaeological discoveries were made; both structures and also individual finds that are still in the museum collection today.
The finds included a Bronze Age socketed axe, Roman coins, brooches, tweezers, bells and pottery as well as later medieval pottery and Saxon and medieval coins.
Within the museum collection, we also have two Roman glass vessels that have long been understood to have been found at Castle Hill but are not mentioned by commentators who wrote of the discoveries at the time.
These are the only complete Roman glass vessels in the city collection and it is perhaps more likely, though no records exist, that they were brought back from the Mediterranean in the nineteenth century by one of the travellers or officers who often donated to the Worcester’s growing collection.

David Cox and the artist’s muse

Image of Kenilworth Castle by David CoxMany painters famously have a muse, a model they are inspired to draw over and over again, someone often deeply entwined into their personal as well as their professional lives. Landscape painters, too, may have scenes that they turn to regularly over their career, becoming re-inspired as they interpret the view in a new way.

Birmingham-born artist David Cox (1783-1859) painted a large watercolour of Kenilworth Castle in 1806, the year after he first exhibited at the Royal Academy. This painting is now in Birmingham Museum’s collection and is critically considered his earliest important work. He went on to revisit this landscape throughout his career.

By contrast, this watercolour from the Worcester City museum collection by Cox dates to the very end of his career, just two years before his death. By 1856 his health meant he was no longer able to paint out of doors unaccompanied, but that didn’t stop him returning to the inspiration of his muse landscape. Even as he was suffering from his final bronchial illness in 1859, he still managed to send seven pictures for exhibition to the Watercolour Society.

Other watercolours of Kenilworth by David Cox are held in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Government Art Collection, and more at Birmingham Museums.

A Thirteenth Century Pottery Puzzle

web-saintonage-pitcher-c-museums-worcestershireIn 1965 construction work was underway in Worcester city centre on the building which would become the Giffard Hotel (now the Travelodge). Henry Sandon, who would in later years, become well known for his work on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, was then a member of the Worcester City Archaeological Research Group and kept an archaeological watching brief on the construction work in order to monitor the area for any archaeological discoveries that might be unearthed. The area known as Cathedral Plaza was once part of the hustle and bustle of the Roman, Anglo Saxon, and later, the medieval city.
This pitcher was imported to Worcester in the thirteenth or fourteenth century from the Saintonge region in south-west France. The pot’s fabric is a hard, fine, whitish ware with a yellow tone to the outside and a green glaze to the upper part of the body of the pot. The form or shape of the pot, with its three strap handles, belongs to a type that endured for centuries. It’s most likely use was to hold wine. At the time of its discovery, it generated excitement, being one of only seven known examples in Britain.
It was found in a vast number of small pieces in one of two wells which were excavated under the direction of Philip Barker, the then lecturer in extra-mural activities at the University of Birmingham, and a pivotal figure in the development of archaeology in Worcester.
The pitcher is not only fascinating in the story it tells of a wealth that could afford such imported ware in the late thirteenth century in our city but also of the feat of conservation undertaken by staff at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.
The tiny sherds of pottery from Well 2 were painstakingly reconstructed into a complete pottery vessel that is still a favourite whenever it is displayed or encountered on store tours. It is an object that is examined and talked about as much for its conservation as its archaeological value. More information about this beautiful pitcher can be found on Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service’s Online Ceramics Database.

A Decadent Still Life – Still Life Group, 1972 by Albert Hodder

web-albert-hodder-still-life-c-museums-worcestershireStill life paintings take everyday objects as their focus such as fruit and vegetables, flowers, objects and sometimes dead animals or fish. The choice of objects and how they are shown give clues to the meaning of the artwork.
The tradition of still life painting as we know it has its roots in the Northern Renaissance. Painted in 1872 by British artist, Albert Hodder (1845-1911), this still life group from Worcester City’s collection draws on the history of genre painting and Neo-Classical Italian art with classical columns visible in the background. These fluted pillars and the grapes and vines almost certainly places this scene in Italy, a country known for fine wines and delicious food.
Whereas in some still life paintings, the image of rotting fruit or skulls serve to remind the viewer of the passing of time and the impermanence of material objects, others celebrate life’s pleasures such as wine, exotic food and flowers. Although this painting shows a dead bird, it is not a message of mortality but an image of fecundity: a bounty of vegetables, exotic fruit and game for the table.

The Big Cone Pine, or “Widow-maker” tree

web-pine-cone-c-museums-worcestershireThe Coulter pine or Big Cone Pine (Pinus Coulteri) is a tree native to the coastal mountains of Southern California & Northern Mexico. The species was discovered in 1832 and named after the Irish botanist Thomas Coulter. It is quite rare in the wild but it can be found in arboretums & parks even here in southern Britain.

The cone it produces is the heaviest of any pine, weighing up to 5kg (11Ibs) and covered with hook-like tips on the end of the scales. With this in mind, the tree is often referred to as the “widow-maker”! Foresters, grounds men and owners alike are advised to wear hard hats whilst working under them.

Our particular cone comes from the collection of H R Munro, a former forester of the Witley Court Estate who in 1948 donated his cones, wood samples & fungi to Worcester City Museum.

Garston Phillips

Lea and Perrins – The Original and Genuine

In 1837 a Broad Street chemist shop was managed by Messer’s John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, who sold their own range of in-house lotions and tonics. Like most apothecaries at the time, medicines were only part of their trade and they sold everything from rose water to flea ointment.
Legend has it that a “Gentleman of the County” asked the chemist to make up a tonic that he had encountered on his travels. Research has identified and subsequently dismissed Lord Sandys as the often-proclaimed source of the recipe, and the Gentleman in question is still as big a mystery as its contents. The chemist made up a large batch of the sauce so that they could sample it.
They found it most disgusting and confined it to the cellar. On the verge of disposing of the batch some time later, they discovered it had matured into something delicious and decided to market it.
Using their reputation for reliability, they included new samples in with their orders. It intensified the flavour of soups and spiced up meat and fish dishes, particularly if the meat was past its best.
Regular orders soon came flooding in and in a matter of years Lea and Perrins were manufacturing more of the sauce than any other product. “Worcestershire Sauce” and its phenomenal success led to new staff, premises and eventually a factory in Midland Road. The rest is history.
There were, and still are, many imitators, but the Original and Genuine Worcestershire Sauce is still manufactured in Worcester.