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.


Newspaper Boy’s Hat

A donation of a newspaper boy’s hat has made its way into the museum collections after its discovery in the 1970s. The owner of a property in Tybridge Street came across the object as they were clearing trees and vegetation. Not wishing to part with it, they kept it as a souvenir of their time at the house.

The hat, along with a clipping of a newspaper article documenting the find, was rediscovered when a relative was organising the estate.

The hat is circular and made from linen, “Worcestershire Echo” printed around the brim. In Worcester High Street where Boots currently stands, the Worcester Evening Post was born in 1877 until 1883 when it became the Worcestershire Echo. It was a daily paper that was in direct competition to another daily formed by the Berrow’s company a few years before.

The papers continued side by side until the decline and the eventual disappearance of the Echo, the Herald and the Chronicle. In 1935, a company wanting to expand launched a daily paper, the Worcester Evening News.

Kerry Whitehouse

Miniature Steam Traction Engine

This is a model of an agricultural steam traction engine. Agricultural engines worked on farms from the late 19th to mid-20th century, hauling loads and powering other forms of agricultural equipment such as a threshing drum.

The traction engine was a revolutionary design, as it was able to move under its own power, rather than the engine being towed from farm to farm by a team of horses.

The model is freelance in nature as it incorporates many of the workings of a full-size traction engine, but is not modelled on any particular design.

Steam engines typically burn coal to heat the water and generate steam, however the scale model would have run on methylated spirits or a form of gas as this is easier to control in small scale.

The model includes some typical features of a traction engine such as the straked rear wheels. Strakes (referring to the strips of metal fitted parallel to one and other on the back wheels) helped engines to gain grip in wet or muddy conditions.

The engine in the Worcestershire County museum collection is likely to have been made by a model engineer, but now requires some work before she is able to steam again.


Barney Hill, volunteer researcher and steam engine enthusiast

Worcester Metalbox

William Blizzard Williamson arrived in Worcester with his family in the early 1850s. He started a small business in Lowesmoor manufacturing a wide range of articles in sheet steel and tinplate.

In 1858 Williamson built a new factory called The Providence Works. They made all sorts of items ranging from trunks, hatboxes and cutlery trays to fine showpieces, with specialities including ballot boxes and judge’s wig boxes.

He was succeeded in 1878 by his sons, William and George, who could see the potential of using tins for storing products and keeping them fresh. During the 1800s, William developed the ‘lever lid’ tin, the standard container used for products such as paint, custard powder and treacle. George invented the ‘cutter lid tin’ for cigarettes and tobacco.

In 1890 George formed a limited company called G.H. Williamson and Sons Ltd, but it was his son G.E. Williamson who saw the potential of using mass production techniques and set up a new canning factory in Worcester. In 1930 he became director of a group of several independent tin-plate manufacturers, who called themselves Metal Box.

Williamson’s money helped construct a brand new open-top canning factory that produced millions of metal cans from Perry Wood in Worcester.

Morion Pot Helmet

This helmet from the Worcester City Museum collection is a perfect example of what many soldiers, particularly in the New Model Army, would have worn into battle during the English Civil War. Known as a Morion, this helmet would have been worn primarily by pikemen.

The Morion was an ideal helmet to be worn by infantry who would have had to engage enemy cavalry.

The wide brim protected the wearer’s shoulders and face from any downwards sword strike, which could come from a mounted enemy soldier.

The ridge that runs along the top of the helmet both protects the wearer by deflecting the blunt force trauma of a strike away from the cranium; but it could also be used as an offensive weapon to strike the enemy should the wearer become disarmed in hand to hand combat.

While the ridge itself is in no way sharp, repeated strikes against an opponent’s head using the helmet as a bludgeon would be fatal.

Alex Bear
Interpretation Assistant
Museums Worcestershire

Lea and Perrins – The Original and Genuine

In 1837 a Broad Street chemist shop was managed by Messer’s John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, who sold their own range of in-house lotions and tonics. Like most apothecaries at the time, medicines were only part of their trade and they sold everything from rose water to flea ointment.
Legend has it that a “Gentleman of the County” asked the chemist to make up a tonic that he had encountered on his travels. Research has identified and subsequently dismissed Lord Sandys as the often-proclaimed source of the recipe, and the Gentleman in question is still as big a mystery as its contents. The chemist made up a large batch of the sauce so that they could sample it.
They found it most disgusting and confined it to the cellar. On the verge of disposing of the batch some time later, they discovered it had matured into something delicious and decided to market it.
Using their reputation for reliability, they included new samples in with their orders. It intensified the flavour of soups and spiced up meat and fish dishes, particularly if the meat was past its best.
Regular orders soon came flooding in and in a matter of years Lea and Perrins were manufacturing more of the sauce than any other product. “Worcestershire Sauce” and its phenomenal success led to new staff, premises and eventually a factory in Midland Road. The rest is history.
There were, and still are, many imitators, but the Original and Genuine Worcestershire Sauce is still manufactured in Worcester.

The Matchless Vesta

web-vesta-tilley-costume-c-museums-worcestershireVesta Tilley was one of the most successful performers of her era. She was a Music Hall singer, comedienne and is most famous for her male impersonation routines. These fine examples of Vesta Tilley’s stage costume are from the Worcester City costume collection.

Born on the 13th of May 1864 on Commandery Row (now Dent Close). Baptised Matilda Alice Powels at St Peters Church Worcester.

‘I was born in Worcester, England, that charming city (poor proud and pretty) with its beautiful cathedral on the banks of the Severn where daily life is a constant reminder of the charity and benevolence of our dear country…’

Matilda (Vesta) was the second child of 13 and daughter of William Henry Powels, an entertainer, a singer, a dancer and a multi-instrumentalist. He performed in places such as the Railway Well in St Martins, The Navigation which is now the Salvation Army building, and later the New Concert Hall in Corn market. Matilda accompanied him in his act as “The Great Little Tilley”.
As she grew, male impersonation became the main feature of her act and she adopted the name Vesta Tilley. She met with huge success in London and toured nationally. She was also one of the few British Acts to succeed in America.

At the outbreak of World War I, Vesta was 50 years of age, and transformed her act to raise morale, funds and recruitment into Britain’s Armed Forces. With new acts such as “Jolly good luck to the girl who loves a Soldier, Vesta became known as “England greatest recruiting sergeant”. One evening in Hackney led to so many recruits being enlisted, that they were comically termed the “Vesta Regiment”.

After 50 years on the stage, Vestas Husband Sir Walter De Frece encouraged her to retire. With much regrets she put on her final, 2 year sell-out tour. She filled venues in all major British cities and toured the provinces. She was presented with The Peoples Tribute which she is suggests contained nearly two million signatures.

Vesta retired to Monte Carlo where she lived until she was 88. On a trip to see London, the city in which she made her name, she passed away. She was buried in Putney Vale and in her will, left 10 000 pounds to each of her living siblings and their children. Vesta Tilley was one of the most unique, and talented individuals of her generation and is an inspirational individual. She conquered the stage, and the hearts her audiences, with her abilities and great generosity, and it is Worcester that can claim her as its own.

Fine examples of Vesta Tilley’s stage costume and a collection of her letters and personal ephemera, including the “Peoples Tribute” are preserved by Museums Worcestershire, and Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service at the Hive.

Workman’s Van – The Road Mender’s Living Van

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.

Tin plate toy train from the Tickenhill Collection

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWorcestershire County Museum at Hartlebury Castle first opened its doors to the public on 6 May, 1966. The core of the Museum’s collection was generously donated to the County Council in the early 1960s by James and Alice Parker of Tickenhill Manor near Bewdley.

The original collection, known as the ‘Tickenhill Collection’, comprised of many domestic and social history items, exploring themes of home-life and childhood, including this tin-plate toy train which dates from around 1875.

Children’s models and toys have long reflected the society in which we live and the evolution of the railways in the 19th century inspired the huge popularity of toy trains. These were the first type of modern transport to be reproduced as toys and began as wooden pull-along trains during the 1840s, before being replaced by tin-plate locomotives in the 1870s, which were often clockwork or steam-powered.

To take a nostalgic look at toys and games from times gone by visit the Childhood Treasures display in the County Museum at Hartlebury Castle and you can also see a working O gauge model train set in the Springs, Spas and Holidays gallery at the Museum.


Rachel Robinson, Manager of the County Museum at Hartlebury.