Medieval Winkle Pickers from Cathedral Square


These stunning examples of complete leather medieval shoes were found in the autumn of 1965 when emergency excavations were being carried out by the Worcester City Archaeological Research Group in the area soon to be Cathedral Square.

The building of the Giffard Hotel was underway and Henry Sandon, who later became known for his work on Antiques Roadshow and at Worcester’s own Museum of Royal Worcester, had been given permission to visit the site daily to inspect whether contractors had come across anything of archaeological interest.

The tops of two medieval wells were found and arrangements were made to excavate them along with cesspits and rubbish pits found in the same area under the supervision of the University of Birmingham’s Phillip Barker.

Quantities of preserved leather shoe soles, offcuts and fragments were found along with these shoes which had been made some time in the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.

This wonderful collection includes a child’s ankle boot with a rounded toe, fashionable side lacing pointed ankle boots for adults and the most interesting of all, a ‘winkle-picker ‘ shoe which was stuffed with moss that has been identified as a type commonly found in small rivers, streams and ponds. The moss was stuffed into the toe of the shoe to keep its stylish pointy shape.

Anglo Saxon Jewellery

web Anglo Saxon Jewellery (c) Museums Worcestershire150 years ago, in 1866, Anglo Saxon remains were discovered at Upton Snodsbury. They were found in what was thought to be an Anglo Saxon cemetery by labourers digging for gravel. William Ponting, a grocer, with a business on the High Street in Worcester, reported in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London that the artefacts were deposited along with human remains in a trench 30 feet long.

The artefacts included around 130 amber beads, saucer brooches, square headed brooches and a cruciform brooch as well as spear heads, a sword, and two quartz ‘spindle whorls’. The iron weapons and spindle whorls had initially been discarded and considered to be modern. They had to be hastily retrieved from the workmen’s’ cottages in the village when the mistake was realised and were later exhibited alongside the brooches and beads at the Royal Archaeological Institute. The gravel quarry went on to offer up Ice Age remains too, such as a tooth of a Woolly Mammoth (Elephas primigenius), but by the spring of 1866 when Mr Ponting returned, the gravel quarry was closed. A selection of the finds remain in the Worcester City museum collection.

The Guesten Hall, Western Side Destroyed 1862 by Henry Harris Lines, painted 1844

1966-94-HHlines-The Guesten Hall - Destroyed 1862-1844-merged-LOWThis watercolour in Worcester City’s collection depicts the remains of Worcester Cathedral’s ancient Guesten Hall. This was the wing of the cathedral where the medieval monks entertained and accommodated their important guests passing through Worcester, including many monarchs.

Lines’ notes on this watercolour say:
The Guesten Hall [at Worcester Cathedral] commenced by Prior Wulstan de Bromford 1320 destroyed in days of Dean Peel
Dimension 65 feet in length 34 wide, 55 high
All destroyed

Worcester Cathedral went through significant restoration between around 1857-1877 overseen by Dean John Peel (Dean from 1845 until his death in 1875). The 8th of 11 children, his oldest brother was Sir Robert Peel who served as British Prime Minister. HH Lines was rather obviously expressing his displeasure in the Dean’s approach.


The Guesten Hall was built in 1320 and survived as a complete building until the mid C19th when it was declared too dilapidated to restore, the roof was removed and the walls partially dismantled.

The roof was re-used for the nave in a new church built at Shrub Hill. This in turn was demolished in 1969, its centenary year, but the roof was again saved and can now be seen at Avoncroft Museum in Worcestershire.

The sandstone East wall and window openings remain as a ruin in the cathedral grounds and these continue to be cared for and restored as part of the ongoing conservation of Worcester Cathedral.

The tradition of the Guesten accommodation continues with the use of a house on College Green which dates from the Queen Anne period in the early C18th.

Controversial Elections

2016 has seen its fair share of controversial election campaigns. Looking back a couple of centuries, we see a similar pattern of disagreement between candidates on both sides of the Atlantic.

The 1800 American presidential election campaign is considered one of the most fractious. The two main candidates were John Adams, the incumbent president and Thomas Jefferson. We know the two had been close friends, travelling together to Worcester in 1786 to visit the site of the decisive final battle of the English Civil War. But they had different visions for the future of the young United States and this led both they and their supporters to stoop to some base insults.

The President of Yale University, a John Adams supporter, declared that if Jefferson were to become the president, “we would see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution.” The Connecticut press followed this up with a description of a nation under Jefferson where “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced.

Journalist James Callender argued for Jefferson, saying that Adams was “a rageful, lying, warmongering fellow”; a “repulsive pedant” and a “gross hypocrite” who “behaved neither like a man nor like a woman but instead possessed a hideous hermaphroditical character.”

Jefferson and Adams received the same number of electoral college votes, meaning that the House of Representatives had to resolve the election. It took them six days and thirty-six ballots to break the deadlock, with Jefferson finally becoming the 3rd President of the United States.


Worcester’s parliamentary elections in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were frequently rife with venomous disagreement and accusations. The cartoon above from Worcester City’s collection refers to Thomas Rous’ campaign in 1773.

Throughout this period the power in Worcester was centred on the Corporation working in close partnership with the Bishop and Cathedral Chapter. The Corporation could create nonresident Freemen of the City and given that these made up a large proportion of eligible voters, it was a system open to corruption. The opposition party, or Independents, tended to simply have anti-Corporation policies.

For the 1773 election, the Corporation sponsored Thomas Rous, who had made a fortune in the East India Company and was a protegee of Lord Clive. Opposing him was William Kelly, an American merchant whose supporters described themselves as “labouring freemen of this city, who, though poor, are determined to vote for no man but what shall act independent.” Kelly withdrew a few days before the election day.

Rous claimed to spend £20,000 (some accounts say £10,000 but even this lower amount would be equivalent to £600,000 today) on his election campaign, some of which almost certainly came from the Corporation and possibly also from the Government of the day. Exactly how it was spent is unclear but the accusation both in this cartoon and a legal petition is that he was bribing the 1500 eligible voters and, it seems, his opponent.

Rous was forced to step down as MP for Worcester in February 1774 and a by-election was held in March. Rous was, however, successful in getting into Parliament again later that same year.

Worcester Tunnel Junction by William Roy Putt

web Worcester Tunnel Junction (c) Museums WorcestershireIn the 1860s Worcester Tunnel Junction sat at the north of a triangle of Shrub Hill Junction in the east and Rainbow Hill Junction in the west that together connected the three lines that served the city. In 1973 Shrub Hill Junction and Rainbow Hill junction were removed and Worcester Tunnel Junction became the main junction connecting Worcester to rest of the country.

This painting by William Roy Putt shows the view of Worcester Tunnel Junction from Tunnel Hill and highlights the complex geometry of train lines and signals that make this system work. With plans underway for a new Worcester Parkway Station that will change the face of Worcester’s railway lines, this painting becomes an interesting document of the city’s urban landscape.

Witch Marks at The Commandery

web Commandery Witch Markings (c) Museums WorcestershireThese marks on The Commandery’s building timbers are called apotropaic marks. They are evil-averting, often called ‘witch marks’, which were used to protect a building from evil spirits, witches and their animal familiars. These marks are primarily found around doorways, fireplaces and windows and it has been suggested that they were made by the carpenters as part of a ritual when constructing the building.

The Commandery also contains a curious mark in the shape of VV on its side behind the Minstrels Gallery. This is apparently one of the most common inscriptions in timber framed buildings of this age with many churches also containing this symbol. They have been associated with the cult of the Virgin Mary with the ‘V V’ being regarded as the initial letters of the Latin phrase ‘Virgo Virginum’ meaning Virgin of Virgins.

Kerry Whitehouse, Interpretation Assistant, The Commandery

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.