This intriguing object takes us back to the very early years of the Worcester museum service and the gentlemen naturalists and antiquarians who founded the Museum of the Worcestershire Natural History Society, which later became, Worcester City Museum.
Jabez Allies was one such antiquarian who collected during the first half of the nineteenth century and donated much of what he came upon to the Museum of Worcestershire Natural History Society.
It was Allies who presented this object, found in a quarry in the Teme Valley, at a meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute in December 1849. In the Institute’s Archaeological Journal of 1844 it is described as, “….supposed to be of the early British period, formed of a green coloured stone, and found six feet below the surface in a gravel bed at Lindridge. It is a kind of chisel, or possibly it may have been used as a flaying-knife. At one end there are two perforations, and a third hole drilled only partly through… It was presented to the Museum of the Worcestershire Natural History Society, by Rev. Thomas Pearson, of Witley.”
We now know this wonderful object in the city collection probably isn’t a chisel or a knife but a Bronze Age bracer, or archer’s wrist guard used to protect the wrist. It was a high status object, bound to the wrist with straps and formed from a rock that, at its closest, can be found in Central Wales. At some point in antiquity the object seems to have broken. It lost its perforations at one end and has been reworked into its present unusual form, perhaps to become a pendant or amulet but certainly an enigma to the antiquarians of the nineteenth century and beyond.
Boehm of Malvern was a company formed to manufacture fine bone china and porcelain, opened by Helen Boehm in 1971. Whilst visiting London, Helen Boehm had heard about the high quality of English porcelain and discovered the work of former workers at Royal Worcester Porcelain who had formed Cranleigh Art Ceramics.
A studio in Tanhouse Lane, Malvern was set up, amalgamating Edward Marshall Boehm of Trenton, based in New Jersey, USA, with Cranleigh Art Ceramics to form a new company which Helen would finance and manage the sales for.
Worldwide sales were quickly established, and many of the sculptures were inspired by flowers, birds and animals. Seeking inspiration for their designs, the model makers were regular visitors to Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum to study the taxidermy collection, and even borrowed specimens to take to their Malvern studio for examination.
This sculpture from the Worcester City museum collection depicts a pair of long-tailed tits perched among the spikey foliage of a gorse bush. It was originally listed as a 400 limited edition piece, but manufacturing costs were increasing and the company prizes quality over quantity, and therefore only completed 162 of these by 1976.
The tradition of carrying flags into battle dates back thousands of years, although it was the Roman army and the European wars of the Middle Ages that made rallying behind a flag part of battle strategy. The flag or colour became the command point for each regiment and the way a commanding general could identify placement on the battlefield. Battalions were trained to arrange themselves in relation to the colour and to reorganise from there when the battle became chaotic.
As battle tactics changed and the armies moved to khaki in the field, the use of colours in battle became more of a threat than a strategic advantage. The practice died out for the British Army during the Boer War and official policy changed in 1891. Other countries were still carrying flags into battle in WW1 and even WW2.
By the end of the Civil War at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, both sides were exhausted – the Parliamentarian army had reportedly jogged in their shirtsleeves to make the journey at speed – and knew that organisation and motivation on the battlefield would be essential, something that Cromwell’s New Model Army excelled at. The Royalist Scots troops used white field signs and so Cromwell ordered his army to wear nothing that was white. King Charles spent the early stages of the battle in Worcester Cathedral’s tower where he would have been watching the placement and struggle of each regimental colour across the city and the floodplain to the south.
This sketch from the Worcester City museum collection by Thomas Woodward (1801-1852) was made in preparation for his great painting The Battle of Worcester. In his finished painting, three colours fly over the churning battle. Although Victorian painters tended to romanticise the experience of war, Woodward captures the chaos it must have been at the Battle of Worcester.
The workman’s van is part of Worcestershire County Museum’s Transport Collection and is on permanent display at Hartlebury Castle. It is classed as a ‘Living Van’ and much like the Gypsy Caravans in our collection it was designed to act as mobile accommodation.
Similar to the Shepherd’s hut which was transported out onto the Downs so that the Shepherd could remain with his flock in lambing season, the road mender’s van allowed some temporary shelter for those repairing the county’s highways.
Steamrollers or steam powered road rollers, were first used in the county in 1897 and made the process of flattening out road surfaces far more efficient. It took time for workers to transport these large and slow moving engines out from the depot and it was often more practical to leave them near the worksite until the job was complete. Road menders would then use the van as a temporary accommodation until returning the steamroller to base.
A van could be expected to house up to three workers and usually included a cast iron stove used for cooking and providing heat. The van would have contained cooking utensils and bedding as well as washbowls to provide the workers with a home away from home.
As steam engines were replaced with faster diesel ones, road rollers became more efficient and easier to move and the use of workers vans began to decline.
Some of the most fascinating objects in the museum collections are from different places around the world. Worcester City’s ethnographic collection encompasses a number of items that derive from Africa.
One such object is the characterful ceramic zebra. This zebra shows how skilled the potter was in creating a complicated but stable shape which is decorated with slip made from clay and vegetable pigment.
Many ceramic vessels from Africa are traditionally fired at a low temperature which means they can be incredibly fragile compared to Western pottery. However, in the case of cooking receptacles they are much better at withstanding cooking temperatures.
There are many African vessels in the collection and they vary from region to region. The zebra may have come from West Africa as the vast majority of items in the collection derive from that area.
Museums Registrar, Museums Worcestershire
This delightful green and red children’s toy cart dating from 1907 was the very first item that I accessioned. I started work at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum in August 1969. Even after all these years I still remember it vividly today. On my third day of work, I was approached by an elderly gentleman and members of his family. He told me of a green and red toy cart he had since his birthday in 1907 and enquired if we would like it.
Without hesitation I accepted it gladly – this was my first donation and I was so proud. All my colleagues and bosses were very pleased with me and I went home a very happy boy indeed.
For many years, the cart was part of a permanent toy display in the children’s room of the then folk museum in Tudor House in Friar Street. Today it is stored in the city’s reserve collection.
The gentleman who donated the cart was Mr S. Leslie, of Grimley in Worcestershire. In the photograph he can be seen sat in his cart.
Garston D Phillips
Collections Ambassador , Museums Worcestershire
In 1981 86 silver coins, buried in a salt glazed stoneware bottle, were found beneath the pantry floor of a cottage in Ham Green, Redditch. The hoard was declared Treasure and acquired by Worcestershire County Museum Service
The hoard provides a typical picture of the coinage being used in England in the middle of the seventeenth century and contains mainly shillings and sixpences, alongside two contemporary forgeries, from the reigns of Phillip and Mary (1554-58) through to coins of Charles II dating to 1661-2. It is likely then that the coins were hoarded in the early years of the reign of Charles II and it appears that the neck of the pot the coins were hidden inside had been broken in order to fit the largest coins through it.
The coins span an exciting and turbulent period in the history of our County including the First and last Battles of the Civil War, the execution of Charles I, the escape of Charles II from Worcester in 1651, and his restoration to the throne less than ten years later.
One halfcrown of Charles I struck around 1644-5 and marked with a ‘W’ depicting the mint (probably Worcester) is the product of one of a number of emergency civil war mints established by the Royalists during the Civil War to ensure that they were able to pay for their military and logistical needs at a time when the circulation of currency was compromised. A similar mint had also been established at Hartlebury Castle, the home of the Bishop of Worcester.
We’ll never know what the reason for hiding these coins were, some ten years after the Battle of Worcester and the end of the English Civil War but the stories that the coins tell are fascinating nonetheless.
Reference: Besley, E. Redditch Treasure Trove, Transactions of Worcestershire Archaeological Society, 1986
Some of the most fascinating objects in the museum collections come from places all over the world. They arrived in the collection due to explorers and travellers gathering trinkets and objects of curios during the 19th century. One such object is the Pounamu Toki or the Greenstone Adze from New Zealand. These adzes were used as a tool for daily work as well as being employed in ceremonial form.
We have several in the collection but unfortunately, none of them contain their handles. However, they retain much meaning for the Maori’s, as Greenstone is known as the God Stone. They are imbibed with mysticism and power. Greenstone is a sacred material and rare. It occurs naturally in the South island of New Zealand and is found in several areas and has been discovered in rivers as boulders or pebbles or washed up on the coast.
Maori myth and legend is attached to the greenstone and its origins. The Ngati Waewae tribe tells of a legend about a fearsome Taniwha (sea monster) and a beautiful princess kidnapped by the Taniwha. The princess eventually gets turned to greenstone on the riverbed. This myth tells how the greenstone was created.
Registrar, Museums Worcestershire
This article was written by David Prince who took part in Museums Worcestershire work experience programme in 2016. He discovered a fascinating collection of invitations to events known as “smoking concerts” across Worcester in the late 19th century.
Popular especially during the Victorian period, smoking concerts were a method of entertainment for gentlemen only. They started out as only available to the higher classes of society but gradually lower classes were allowed to attend. Often musical performances, the event was suitable for men to gather and have conversations and debates, usually about politics. They would also drink, dine and smoke, listening to the newest musical forms of the era as well as take part in the entertainment themselves.
Smoking concerts were regular occasions held across Worcester. Whilst many were held at local inns, hotels were also where the event could take place, such as the Lansdowne Hotel in Lowesmoor. Both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh favoured these events at the time.
There were numerous types of smoking concert too, mainly depending on social status. Private aristocratic societies as well as smoking concerts for the armed forces provided entertainment.