As old as the hills?

The Malvern Hills has attracted geologists since the early pioneering days of the 19th century. The rocks and fossils found in this important geological area tell a remarkable 700 million year story about changing environments and climates of the past.

The Colwall (Malvern) Tunnels are a pair of railway tunnels that pass under the Malvern Hills and connect Colwall and Malvern Wells on the Cotswold Line. The railway was built to supply the Birmingham manufacturing area with coal from South Wales and started in 1856 before opening on the 17th September 1861. In 1907 part of the tunnel collapsed and a decision was made to bore another wider tunnel which was built between 1924 and 1926.

Around 400 specimens from the first Colwall tunnel were given to Worcester Museum, founded in 1833 by the Worcestershire Natural History Society. It is an irreplaceable part of our geological heritage as specimens can no longer be collected as the tunnel is brick-lined and closed to public access.

This specimen is an example of part of a crown (the head) of a crinoid sea lily collected in 1861 by W. J. Else. It dates from the Silurian period, around 435 – 405 million years ago when the sea flooded over Central England and the Welsh borderland.

Although the bodies of the animals are not preserved, they have left behind evidence of their activities and are known as trace fossils.


Rosemary Roden, Honorary Geology Curator


The Last Worcester Glover?

Worcester has been at the forefront of many industries throughout its history, including porcelain, cloth manufacture and not forgetting its most famous condiment Worcestershire Sauce. During the 1700s, Worcester was the centre of the British glove making industry.

In 1777, John Dent opened a large factory on what is now Worcester’s South Quay. Between this time and the early 1800s half of British gloves were made in Worcester and the city dominated the industry. It was estimated that up to 30,000 people and 150 manufacturers were in operation, which later included famous firms Fownes and Milore. In the factories men stretched and cut the skin, while hundreds of female outworkers sowed the many glove components together to create the finished product.

When a foreign import tax was introduced in 1826, gloves could be imported from the continent very cheaply and the Worcester industry was hit hard. Large manufacturers such as Dents managed to weather the storm, but the skill and expertise of Worcester glovers still remained. Dents out-competed many continental businesses and went on to manufacture for French fashion houses such as Dior. They were selected to manufacture Queen Elizabeth’s coronation gloves and their gloves were worn by Nelson, Queen Victoria, and on the screen, both James Bond and Batman.

By 2015, only one Worcester glove factory remained. Les Winfield established Alwyn Gloves at Crown East in 1963 and continued to manufacture high quality gloves in the traditional manner, purchasing his equipment from the larger glove factories as they closed down. Les refused to retire and was still working in his 90s, with customers that included Prince Phillip and Margaret Thatcher, and contracts to supply the space research industry.

Les passed away at 95 years of age in November 2015, as Worcester’s last remaining glove maker, and drew to a close a significant part of Worcester’s industrial heritage.

Worcester Woman’s Right to Vote

This watercolour of King Street, Worcester, painted by Eustace Phipson, is from the Worcester City Collection. It depicts the women of Worcester going about their daily tasks in 1905.

In February 1903, a mixed debate at the Victoria Institute (now the Worcester City Museum building) questioned That the suffrage should be granted to women. The motion was defeated by three votes.

By 1908, however, the women of Worcester felt differently and strongly. What swayed their opinion was the political chaos that followed the 1906 election.

At the January 1906 general election, England as a whole swung from supporting the Conservatives to the Liberals. The Conservatives lost more than half their MPs, meaning the Liberals won by a landslide. The pressing issue of the time was rising food prices caused by trade tariffs which the Liberals promised to abolish.

In Worcester, however, the Conservatives held the seat by a 129 vote majority. Worcester had returned a Conservative MP in every election since 1885 so this was unsurprising. The Conservative candidate was George Williamson, former Mayor and chairman of a local firm manufacturing tinplate items.

But the Liberals had employed an ex-police superintendent to scrutinise the Conservative party’s campaigning. He discovered evidence of corrupt election practices amongst magistrates, election agents, licensed victuallers and the city clerks such as bribing and treating voters to drinks. On February 14th the defeated Liberal candidate presented a petition to Parliament alleging bribery and corruption. A Royal Commission was appointed to investigate.

Worcester ratepayers were charged 3.5 pence for each pound value of their property to pay for the costs of the Election Enquiry. In 1906, many women in Worcester were in the position of being ratepayers on their property, but none had the right to vote.

The Royal Commission concluded that 60 people in the constituency had received money to influence their vote but that the total sum involved was under £8. They also stated ‘there exists in Worcester a class of voters, numbering almost 500 [total registered electors in the City in 1906 were 8412]… who are prepared to sell their votes for drink or money’.

Considerable local political squabbling followed and the women of Worcester were frustrated about their lack of voice. The prominent suffragist Millicent Garrett Fawcett, President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, wrote to The Times drawing attention to the situation. When a by-election was held in 1908, several Suffragette groups took the opportunity to visit Worcester, holding recruitment drives at the entrances to Lea & Perrins, Fownes Gloves and Hills Vinegar Works, all with significant female workforces.

The number of registered electors in Worcester more than doubled after the 1918 Representation of the People Act, with just over 20,000 people eligible to vote in the 1918 general election. Ironically, after corruption, political soul-searching, and changes due to war and activism, the Conservative MP was returned with an increased majority.

Charles Le Brun, Head of a Soldier in the Battle against Darius, around 1600

This sketch was donated to the Worcester City Fine Art Collection by Richard Cadbury who was son of Cadbury’s chocolate founder John Cadbury and took over the company with his brother, George. The drawing is one of the oldest works in the collection and is usually kept in storage as chalk drawings are extremely sensitive and fade if exposed to too much light.

Charles Le Brun (1619 –1690) was court painter to Louis XIV of France and was famed for painting large altarpieces and battle scenes, as well as decorating the ornate palace of Versailles near Paris. It’s possible that this drawing was made as preparatory sketch for a background figure in The Family of Darius before Alexander, part of the Wars of Alexander The Great series which hangs in the palace of Versailles.

The painting depicts Alexander The Great offering mercy to the mother of King Darius III of Persia after he fled, leaving his family behind following Battle of Issus (333 BC) in modern day Turkey. At the later The Battle of Gaugamela (1st October 331 BCE) in Northern Iraq Alexander’s forces defeated Darius making Alexander King of all Asia.

The Allesborough Handaxe

In 1997-8, a discovery on the surface of a field near Pershore brought an ancient and unusual archaeological find to light.

It is a Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) handaxe: a stone multi-tool used by early humans for butchery. The once-sharp edges are worn smooth from millennia spent in river gravels. Whilst other materials would have been used by our ancestors, only durable stone tools survive for us to study. It was probably made during one of the warm periods within the Ice Age, between 300,000 and 424,000 years ago, by hunter-gatherer ancestors of both modern humans and Neanderthals named Homo Heidelbergensis.

Most local handaxes are made from flint or quartzite, but this one uses a rare and unusual black volcanic rock. The nearest matching sources are Cornwall or Yorkshire, so the rock was either brought to Worcestershire along seasonal migration routes, or carried here by glacial activity. Either way, our ancestors were drawn to its striking, unusual appearance when they selected it to make this tool.

Much of the archaeological research for this era focuses around southern England. However, there have been a number of important Palaeolithic discoveries in the West Midlands. The area holds crucial clues to our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain.

This object was researched as part of the wider Heritage Lottery Funded Lost Landscapes of Worcestershire project, a partnership between Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service and Museums Worcestershire celebrating the area’s Ice Age past through exhibitions, events and workshops.


Rob Hedge and Claire Cheshire

Saint George and the Art Deco Dragon

This striking sculpture of Saint George and the Dragon is a work by Donald Gilbert, who was the son of the founder of local arts and crafts group, the Bromsgrove Guild.

Walter Gilbert founded the guild in 1894, producing decorative ironwork in an old foundry in Bromsgrove. He expanded his business, acquiring other skilled craftsmen, until he was taking orders for lamps, doors, stained glass windows and other decorative items from all over the English speaking world, including design and production of the gates of Buckingham Palace.

Gilbert was a flamboyant man, who wore a yellow tie and drove a yellow-wheeled gig (a small, horse-drawn cart).

As they expanded, they took over a former police station in Station Street as a wood-working shop, with drawing and designing offices, iron and bronze foundries, a stained glass studio and other workshops in adjacent buildings.

His son Donald Gilbert was born in 1900 and, after training at the Birmingham Central School of Art, became a talented sculptor in the new ‘Art Deco’ style.

The photograph is from the Bromsgrove Guild archive in the Worcestershire County Museum collection. There are some works, such as stained glass, on display at the County Museum at Hartlebury, and if anyone is interested in doing further research connected with the Bromsgrove Guild archives they are welcome to get in touch by emailing

Kpinga Knife

The Worcester City museum collection contains many wonderful objects that are not only amazing in themselves, but also have meaning and symbolism tied into them.

Take our Kpinga otherwise known as a Zande knife from our Ethnographic collection. It is a multi-bladed throwing knife, made from metal alloy with a patterned handle and is more commonly used by the Azande people of Africa.
They can be up to 22 inches long and have three blades. The blade closest to the handle represents a man’s masculine power. There are different types of these blades, but this variety is found in the region inhabited by the Zande and other groups near-by in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo.

The iron weapon was employed by throwing it with force and the technique used ensured that the blades would revolve around the centre while spinning through the air. This meant that wherever the rotation was at, a super sharp blade would always inflict some damage when it connected.

Traditionally used as weapons, you had to be a real proven warrior to wield it. Which is why when they went out of use as weapons, only select men were able to keep them in their home.

These days the Kpinga is more of a symbolic object, used in ceremonies when honouring the ancestors. They are considered potent symbols of power and nobility.

Kerry Whitehouse

Huia Bird

The Huia bird (Heteralocha acutirostris), which has been extinct since 1907, originated in the mountain ranges and forests of the North Island of New Zealand. The female had a long thin beak that arched downwards to help extract insects and grubs from rotting trees, whereas the males had short, crow-like beaks that could chisel away at the wood in a similar fashion to woodpeckers.

The 19th century was a great age of travel and exploration, and when members of the Natural History Society formed a small museum in Worcester in the 1830s, they displayed the exotic forms of wildlife that they had collected, developing a very important collection of over 1300 specimens.

The origins of this Huia are so far inconclusive. One of the world’s most famous ornithologists John Gould was so impressed by his visit to Worcester museum’s collection of Australian birds that the Worcestershire Natural History Society reported at the time that he was impelled to travel to Australasia as a direct result. Here, he wrote his famous volume of ‘Gould’s Australian Birds’ and the society states in their report that the collection was “enriched with many beautiful specimens from Mr Gould himself,” making it possible that it was a gift on his return.

On the other hand, museum records from the 1850s show a donation of two Huia birds in July 1851 from a Captain Thomas, yet only one specimen remains in the collection.

Garston Phillips

Collections Ambassador
Museums Worcestershire

Even the best artists keep learning

William James Müller (1812 – 1845) was born in Bristol and grew up amongst the city’s culture as his father was J. S. Müller, curator of Bristol Museum. His early artistic career was inspired by great painters of the past including Claude Lorrain as well as the landscapes of Gloucestershire.

Travel became an important part of Müller’s life and work and in 1834 he visited France, Switzerland and Italy and later in 1838 he travelled to Greece and Egypt, where he would draw the ruins and landscapes of these cultures.

In 1843 Müller accompanied archaeologist Charles Fellows on a government expedition to the ancient rock tombs of Lycia in Turkey. Müller spent three months sketching the landscape, architecture and culture of the area and upon returning to England, worked these into a successful series of paintings.

This picture in the Worcester City collection, Study of a Sheik Reposing was probably created during this time and depicts Turkish culture as rich and exotic in a way that was popular among Victorian arts audiences and which shaped British ideas of the Middle East.

Müller is also known for giving oil painting lessons to artist David Cox, who was more renowned for working in watercolours.