The Worcester Wonder’s Bicycle Frame

This bicycle, made in Coventry, belonged to Worcester’s first Olympic hero – Ernie Payne.

Ernie took part in the 4000 metre cycling pursuit in the London Olympics of 1908, winning gold with his team-mates, some ten seconds ahead of Germany.
Born on London Road, Worcester in December 1884, Ernie followed his brother Walter into the St. John’s Cycling Club and soon began winning races. The ‘Cyclist’ magazine nick-named him ‘The Worcester Wonder’ and between 1905 and 1907 Payne was the Champion of England in the mile race for three years running.

Ernie was a true sporting hero who also played football for Worcester City and Manchester United. He died in 1961 and is commemorated in a life-size steel portrait bench along Worcester’s Diglis Bridge.

It was the last wishes of the late Gerry Hughes, President of St. John’s Cycling Club that Ernie’s bicycle should come back to Worcester. It was presented to the City Art Gallery & Museum in 2012.

The wheel in the background of the photograph is a wooden rim Constructor racing wheel, similar to the ones that would have been used at the time of the Games. These were formerly owned by Bert Perry of St John’s Cycling Club.


The Worcestershire Sauce Makers of Midland Road

After being created by Messers Lea and Perrins in their Broad Street Chemist shop in 1837, the now legendary Worcestershire Sauce became their biggest seller and necessitated the purchase of additional stores and premises around Worcester to cope with demand.

Charles William Dyson Perrins was amongst those who considered a factory a necessity to take the business forwards. Purchasing land from the Midland Railway, now known as Midland Road, a purpose built sauce factory was designed and construction completed in 1897. Its iconic orange gates and distinctive aromas are still in place 120 years later.

A serous factory fire in 1964 is still remembered by many Worcester residents. It gutted the existing roof and clock tower, but in true Lea and Perrins style, production was soon back in operation. Through the great efforts of their workers and office staff, including clerks working in nearby Stanley Road School, production resumed just 10 days later.

There were, and still are, many imitators, but the Original and Genuine Worcestershire Sauce is still manufactured in Worcester. The Lea and Perrins collection is on permanent display at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum and includes the original lignite jug used to manufacture the sauce. Their loan is by kind permission of Kraft Heinz.

The Royal Oak

This stool from the Worcester City museum collection was made from a root of the Royal Oak in 1832, an English oak tree with a famous tale.

The story goes that after Charles II fled from the Battle of Worcester in 1651, he hid in an oak tree at Boscobel House in Shropshire. Parliamentarian soldiers passed under the branches but somehow he avoided capture and eventually escaped to France.

When Charles returned to the throne on 29 May 1660, it was declared a holiday called Oak Apple Day. The Royal Oak was celebrated until so many parts were taken to make souvenirs like this one that the original tree was destroyed, although its descendants live on.

The enduring popularity of this story led to the ‘Royal Oak’ being the third most popular pub name in Britain today, with at least 6 Royal Oak pubs in Worcestershire.

Hello Operator… The Guildhall Switchboards

These telephone switchboards date from around 1939, and were used for many years at the Worcester Guildhall. They became part of the Worcester City museum collection during the 1980s.

Known as a private manual branch exchange, or P.M.B.X, the switchboards were the essential component of a manual telephone exchange. Switchboard operators would have used electrical cords or switches to establish connections between callers, many of whom would be subscribers with similar machines in their own establishments.

Once a caller had passed details of their intended call to an operator, they would be asked to replace their receiver. The operator would then make contact with this intended party, call back the initial caller, and finally connect the two parties.

The Guildhall was used as a telephone exchange for many years. These switchboards would also have been key in Worcestershire’s wartime communications network.

Kate Banner
Collections Volunteer

What’s your poison…?

These poison bottles are original to Steward’s Chemist Shop, which was relocated from the High Street to the Art Gallery & Museum on Foregate Street in 1974.

Poison was greatly feared throughout the Victorian era. This fear was fuelled by frequent mishaps and grisly misdemeanours, facilitated by an almost unregulated access to devastating chemicals such as arsenic, cyanide and strychnine.

One of our bottles is labelled ‘Digitalis’, a powerful drug which is still used to treat various heart conditions. It was created using the digitoxin compound found in foxgloves, and had the potential to cause severe poisoning if taken incorrectly.

Some precautions were taken by manufacturers to guard against accidents – the green glass and distinguishing ridged shape of these poison bottles would have acted as a last warning to an unsuspecting drinker, perhaps looking for his medication by candlelight.

Kate Banner
Collections Volunteer

The Boneshaker Bicycle

The Boneshaker is a velocipede, an early forerunner of the bicycle, from around 1870 with wooden wheels, similar to those on other nineteenth-century horse-drawn vehicles.

Before the invention of geared chains pedals were often mounted on the front wheel and, to give the rider more power, the front wheel tended to be larger such as on the famous penny farthing. However, having both the steering and the power connected to the front wheel made it very difficult to control.

This machine from Worcestershire County’s museum collection boasts an ingenious rear brake system, operated via cord and roller by rotating the handlebars, and tension wire spoked wheels. However, the solid rubber tyres gave the cycle its ominous name.

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