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.

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

The Sidbury Chafing Dish

This beautiful dish is a firm favourite with visitors to our collection stores and has been displayed often in exhibitions about Tudor or post medieval Worcester. It dates to the sixteenth or seventeenth century and was found during excavations in Sidbury ahead of the construction of City Walls Road in the 1970s.
This type of pottery was produced in Hanley Swan in Worcestershire from the late thirteenth to the early seventeenth century in a multitude of different forms (or shapes) and by the time this dish was manufactured, this Malvernian pottery was exported across a large area to the south of Bristol and along the coast of South Wales.
This particular pot is a chafing dish, a portable vessel which was designed to take hot coals or charcoal and was used for the preparation of foods that needed to be kept warm or cooked gently at the table. Metal chafing dishes are also known such as one found in a chest on the wreck of the Mary Rose, used by a barber-surgeon for heating up irons, pitch or wax.
This object’s appeal, though, lies in its unusual appearance: its six large teeth, interspersed with smaller white examples, its applied and pierced decoration, the ring hanging from one of the handles and its vivid orange glaze.

A Mummified Rat from Egypt

web-mummified-rat-c-museums-worcestershireMummified animals were common finds in ancient Egyptian tombs and were shipped back to Britain in their hundreds in the nineteenth century by travellers and collectors. It’s thought that they may have been placed in tombs for a number of reasons; as a source of food for the afterlife, as a favoured pet or most likely as a symbol of a particular deity. In ancient Egyptian religious art, characteristics of Gods and Goddesses were often represented by an animal and so the animal was often used to symbolise the deities. So great was the need for these mummified animals that an entire industry arose around their breeding and mummification.

This mummified rat came into the collections of Worcester Museum in March 1851 as part of a collection of ethnographic and antiquarian items which included two hands from the mummy pits at Memphis and a pigtail taken from a disgraced Chinese man. The collection was gifted by Henry Smith Parkes Esq, a diplomat with the British Government who served as a minister to Japan, China and Korea during his career.

The rat is carefully wrapped in strips of linen with the limbs and tail wrapped separately to the main body. The collection also includes a mummified crocodile and two Ibises, one wrapped and another unwrapped.

 

An Archaeological Enigma from the Teme Valley

web-archers-wrist-guard-c-museums-worcestershireThis 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.

 

Pottery zebra from Africa

web-pottery-zebra-c-museums-worcestershireSome 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.

Kerry Whitehouse
Museums Registrar, Museums Worcestershire

The Ham Green Coin Hoard

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

Pounamu Toki

web-maori-greenstone-axe-c-museums-worcestershireSome 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.

Kerry Whitehouse
Registrar, Museums Worcestershire

The HMS Challenger Collection

web-hms-challenger-specimen-c-museums-worcestershireThe Challenger Collection is a range of important specimens collected in the 19th century from some of the great ocean basins. These were collected to investigate the physical and biological conditions of the seas.

HMS Challenger was a ship that set out from Portsmouth in December 1872, carrying naturalists, chemists and a vast amount of equipment in order to gather and process the specimens on board as they travelled. Before setting out the ship was altered to accommodate laboratories, drying facilities and chemical chambers in order for the scientists to conduct their work.

The scientists collected samples dredged from 360 stations, each station bearing a number to show the location. They also recorded depth, surface temperature and chemical composition of the sea water.

On the ships’ return, the specimens were handed over to the British Museum, who then distributed them to other museums around the country, in order for everyone to benefit from the information gathered. At Worcester Art Gallery and Museum we have around 23 of the specimens, some of whose locations are from the southern Indian Ocean and the Atlantic.

Recently, work has been conducted to bring the entire Challenger collection together online. An inventory was completed with images so that they are accessible to everyone who would like to see this wonderful collection in its entirety. You can view it here:
https://www.hmschallenger.net/home

 

Kerry Whitehouse