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.

The Reading Waggon

web Reading waggon (c) Museums WorcestershireThis Gypsy Vardo or caravan was found in a garden in Drakes Broughton, near Pershore. It was bought by Worcestershire County Museum in the early 1960s and was later restored.

The type of design acquired its name from the principal makers of this style, Duntons, who traded in Reading from 1884 to 1921. They are also known as Kite waggons because of the profile characterised by tall back wheels, outward sloping sides, high-arched roof and lavish decoration.

The interior and exterior of this waggon are very luxurious. Much of the detailing on the exterior is finished in gold leaf. The many original features include shafts, steps, a cratch (the place where cooking pots were stored) and amber glass grab handles.

Very few original waggons remain. Time and weather have taken their toll on structures made of canvas. The old Romany burial ritual of destroying a person’s possessions and setting fire to the waggon on their death has also reduced the number still in existence. The Worcestershire County Museum in Hartlebury is one of the few places in the country where so many varied types of Gypsy waggon can be viewed together making this collection an important part of English history.


Thanks to Anita Blythe and Steve Smith for their research into this collection.

Seventeenth Century Bronze Saker Cannon

web Civil War Cannon (c) Museums WorcestershireThe cannon was cast in Brussels by Johann Seehof in 1628 for Count Henry de Bergh. It was cast in solid bronze using the same techniques that would be employed in bell making and would have originally be part of a pair. It is likely that the pair were constructed to be used in The Thirty Years’ War that raged through central Europe between 1618 and 1648.

The gun is known as a Saker and like all cannons of this period, it derives its name from a bird of prey, the Arabic Saker falcon. A cannon such as this would have been a prized piece of equipment. In the right hands the Saker could fire a 5-6lb ball with a calibre of around 3.25 inches and damage structures a mile away. It could also be used to wreak havoc as an anti-personnel weapon by firing canister shot, contemporarily known as “hail shot” into tightly packed formations of men on the battlefield. The cannon is approximately one foot shorter than standard length and may have been shorted for ease of transportation.

It is no wonder that such an asset was acquired by the Royalist Army during the English Civil War. It was transported to England by Charles II as he attempted to retake the throne from the Parliamentarian Army of Oliver Cromwell at the final conflict at Worcester in 1651.

During the Battle of Worcester, the Saker was deployed either at Powick, Castle Mound or Fort Royal Hill, situated directly behind The Commandery. Sakers were primarily used in a fixed role, either in a siege against a city or from a consolidated defensive position such as Fort Royal. Too heavy to be a part of a field army, lighter guns were preferred due to their mobility.

Worcester was the last place that our cannon was used in anger and over 350 years later, it remains here, as part of the Worcester city museum collection. A weapon of war, expertly designed with a single purpose it now sits silently in The Commandery, which also witnessed the devastation and loss of life of 1651. Just like The Commandery, it is a beautiful asset to be treasured and passed on to future generations, but carries an unforgettable reminder of our nation’s bloody and war-torn past.

Research by Alex Bear