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.

Toy Cart

web-garston-with-toy-cart-c-museums-worcestershireThis 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.
web-toy-cart-with-owner-in-1907-c-museums-worcestershireThe 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

Civil War Cavalry Sword

web-civil-war-cavalry-sword-c-museums-worcestershireDuring the English Civil War period, all soldiers, cavalry and infantry carried swords, although most soldiers of the Civil War were not trained in swordplay to any degree. Many of the swords were made in Germany, and this one features a stamp which indicates that it was possibly made in Hamburg or Hanover. Swords such as this one may have been used by either side during the period, as basket-hilted swords had already been around since the sixteenth century. The protective ‘basket’ was initially a simple design, but as time passed they became increasingly ornate and decorative.

This sword from the Worcester City museums collection was thought to have been used at the Battle of Powick Bridge on the 23 September 1642. Although some skirmishing had occurred throughout the country before this point, this battle was the first major cavalry engagement of the English Civil War. Powick Bridge was a victory for the Royalists in 1642, but there was another clash at the same location nine years later before the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, after which the Royalists had to abandon their position and retreat, leaving the Parliamentarians to advance towards Worcester.

Secrets of the Museum Basement

2 spirit Jars containing a pig's head and a cat's paw

These two Spirit Jars were bought by Worcester Museum in the early 1900s from Edward Gerrard & Sons, a taxidermist and specialist in preparing animal skeletons for educational displays.

Gerrard was working at the British Museum in 1850 when he set up his business, which became a sizeable firm with an extremely diverse output, supplying schools with zoological specimens, as well as making educational anatomical models and even producing furniture made from animal feet, such as rhinoceros umbrella stands.

This hog’s head and cat’s paw would have been purchased to complement the specimens Worcester Museum already has in the Challenger Collection which were collected in the 19th century from some of the great ocean basins. They were on display for many years until the late 1950s.

The specimens were mounted on glass slides and preserved in surgical spirits, industrial methylated spirits or sometimes alcohol. These jars still contain the original spirit, which can dry out if the seals wear away. They have been injected with dyes to show up the veins, and are certainly not objects for the fainthearted.

There is more information about this fascinating business in Edward Gerrard and Sons, A Taxidermy Memoir.

If you would like to see objects such as these, look out for our behind-the-scenes tours on our events pages.

Supplied by Edward Gerrard & Sons, Natural History Studios, 61 College Place, London N.W., Naturalists & Taxidermists

A Will of His Own, 1874 by John Dawson Watson

web Watson Mother and Child (c) Museums WorcestershireJohn Dawson Watson was a painter and illustrator of genre scenes and books such as The Pilgrim’s Progress and the Arabian Nights. The Pall Mall Art critic in 1865 said of Watson, ‘We have no young painter who shows a more decided power of informing his figures with intention’.

The child in the appropriately named A Will of His Own, thrusting an angry hand into his mother’s face in the frenzy of red-faced tantrum, certainly shows the intention of being naughty!

This watercolour comes from the Sale Bequest collection. Reverend and Mrs Sale of Holt Rectory donated their valuable collection of watercolours to the nation, many of which were left to the British Museum. However, due to a lack of space at the time a large number of these fine paintings were bequeathed to the Victoria Institute, which one hundred years after the original donation is now the Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum.

The Worcester November Handicap

Worcester November Handicap (c) Museums Worcestershire

The Parliamentary election in Worcester on 17th November 1868 occurred during a corrupt but transforming period. It was the first general election to take place after the 1867 Representation of the People Act, establishing the vote for working class men, and the 1868 Parliamentary Elections Act, designed to reduce electoral bribery. However Worcester underwent an investigation for extensive electoral corruption as late as 1906.

This election poster bears the heading ‘The Worcester November Handicap’ and portrays the five parliamentary candidates competing in a horse race with amusing captions and steeds harshly evoking their characteristics.

Mr ‘out of nothing’ Airey is being carried away by a goose, mocking his plight for ‘purity of election’ as a self-made working class man. The partially submerged Sir Lycett was manager of a large Worcester glove making business, hence the exasperated exclamation “Oh Scissors!” Mr Hill and Mr Sherriffs were wealthy industrialists of the respective Worcester Vinegar and Engine works. But there was ‘no holding’ Conservative local philanthropist William Laslett, who was ultimately elected.

The Beau Street Hoard and Chemical Cleaning

Conserving and Sharing the Bredon Hill Roman Coin Hoard: Part 3

In April 2015 our team of volunteers who were working on the very slow and meticulous mechanical cleaning of the Bredon Hill Roman Coin Hoard attended the Beau Street Hoard symposium in Bath.

The Beau Street Hoard contains an estimated 17,500 silver Roman coins dating from between 32 BC and 274 AD and was found on Beau Street about 150 metres from the Roman baths at Bath in Somerset. The coins had been buried in leather bags, three of which contained debased radiates from the 3rd century. The debased coins had been successfully cleaned chemically rather than manually using Alkaline Rochelle Salts by a freelance conservator working for the British Museum.

Talking to members of the public at Worcestershire Archaeology Dayschool
Talking to members of the public at Worcestershire Archaeology Dayschool

Our progress had been so slow using only a mechanical cleaning method that we invited Lizzie, a conservator at Birmingham Museum Trust, who had trained our volunteers, for a day to train us in how to mix and safely use the chemicals required.

Coins are soaked in a bath of Alkaline Rochelle Salts and carefully timed. Too much time in the bath can cause irreversible damage. After the soak time has lapsed, the coins are rinsed in a sequence of water baths to remove any residual impurities. This is not a process to try without specialist supervision and appropriate health and safety training, processes and equipment.

Alkaline Rochelle Salts
Alkaline Rochelle Salts

We have now moved to a system whereby all our coins are cleaned in this manner and we select the best examples to mechanically clean to display standard. The process has been radically improving our chances of getting to the end of the cleaning process.

Treasure Plus funding will also mean that we can share information on the website and blog, we can give talks to both local societies and metal detecting clubs and we can display the hoard around the county.

Supported by the Art Fund and The Headley Trust

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Sixteen Years of Mechanical Cleaning

Conserving and Sharing the Bredon Hill Roman Coin Hoard: Part 2

The cleaning of the coins is a huge task. We opted to try and acquire the skills in house through specialist training by a conservator. We have a wonderful team of volunteers who have been together for years, initially with Alan Jacobs at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service and since 2007 with the Museum Service. They have worked on a myriad of different projects and have a wealth of experience in collections care. Many of the  projects have been far from glamorous.

As a team, they had initially begun cleaning, marking and upgrading the packaging of Worcester City Museum‘s collection of human remains following the publicIMG_1506ation of DCMS Guidelines on the Care of Human Remains in Museums. They also reboxed small finds from Worcester’s large excavations in the 1970s, 80s and early 1990s at Deansway, Sidbury and Blackfriars. Finds are mounted in plastozoate which are set into crystal boxes with a handy little length of linen tape underneath the plastozoate so we can easily pull the objects out of their box with minimal disturbance. The silica, Stewart boxes and humidity strips have all been replaced.

In 2012 the largest assemblage of medieval roof tiles ever found in Worcester were discovered unexpectedly during roofing work on the garden wing at The Commandery. Our volunteers cleaned, weighed, measured, photographed and catalogued the whole assemblage and passed the data back to archaeologists for publication. The find was significant because Worcester is unique in having a system of tile stamping in this period. In effect it represents an early form of building control. The thatched roofs of the City were a major fire hazard and in 1467 the city ordinances introduced compulsory tiling, stating that

‘for the prevention of fire neither wooden chimneys nor thatched roofs shall be allowed thenceforward; by midsummer’s day next coming, the wooden chimneys should be replaced by brick or stone, and the thatched roofs by tiles’

Our volunteers recorded around 20 maker’s stamp patterns on 150 tiles. Around 20 further tiles were collected and recorded that were marked with tallies or showed animal prints

In 2012 we worked on a collection of plaster statues from the personal collection of Walter Gilbert, the founder of the Bromsgrove Guild. The statues had been on loan to Worcestershire County Museum for many years but had recently been donated by Walter Gilbert’s family. The statues were scheduled to be used in an exhibition at Worcester Art Gallery and Museum called Edwardian Elegance. Our volunteers worked over the weeks of summer 2012 using soft brushes and museum vacs to clean them for display.

Volunteers being trained by Lizzie in mechanical cleaning techniques
Volunteers being trained by Lizzie in mechanical cleaning techniques

Another collection of Bromsgrove Guild material chosen for display in our Edwardian Elegance exhibition came from the Regent Palace Hotel off Piccadilly in London. Painted windows crafted by the Bromsgrove Guild were returned to Worcestershire after removal from the building. They were covered on one side with a century of grime and our volunteers spent weeks cleaning them carefully with cotton buds. The glass is on display at Worcestershire County Museum.

So, In Autumn 2014 our volunteers began their training, funded by the Art Fund Treasure Plus Scheme, in cleaning copper alloy Roman Coins with Lizzie from the Staffordshire Hoard Project at Birmingham Museum Trust. She taught our volunteers, over three days, how to remove 1700 years of Cotswold mud.

The coins are late 3rd century radiates and have very little silver content, thus the results were never going to be spectacular.  This was something we only realised with time. It was a huge learning curve for everyone and involved learning to work comfortably using microscopes and scalpels. The mud was ‘caked’ in a solid film on the coins and involved careful use of the scalpel to remove the film whilst not damaging the surface of the coin and exposing the copper material underneath.

To loosen/moisten the mud, acetone was applied using cotton buds prior to the use of the scalpel. Initially each volunteer completed one coin a day and although they improved on the tally in time, it was still a very slow process. One of our volunteers calculated that if we didn’t speed up it would take us 16 years to complete our work.

Our breakthrough came in April 2015 when we attended a Symposium in Bath and heard about the conservation work which had been taking place on the Beau Street Hoard.

Supported by the Art Fund and The Headley Trust
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