Sounds from Beneath

© Mikhail Karikis and Uriel Orlow

Since the early 20th century, Worcester City museum collection has been collecting artworks made by living artists that explore the landscape and our relationships with it. A recent acquisition, Sounds from Beneath was made by Greek/British artist Mikhail Karikis and Swiss/British artist Uriel Orlow between 2011 and 2012.

The sound piece was devised by Karikis working alongside former miners from Kent and then performed by Snowdown Colliery Male Voice Choir amongst the landscape of the disused coal mine. Using both the memories and voices of the miners, Sounds from Beneath recreates the underground soundscape of scraping, explosions, mechanical clangs, wailing alarms and shovels scratching.

The artwork was purchased through the Contemporary Art Society acquisition programme. The work was shown for the first time in Worcester in early 2018 following significant international exhibitions in Mexico City, Melbourne, Germany, Japan, France, Ecuador, Belgium and across the UK.

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From Bromsgrove to church windows across the world

The beautiful work of Worcestershire stained glass artist Archibald John Davies can be found in at least 250 windows in over 100 churches and cathedrals across the globe.

Davies grew up in Birmingham and trained at the Birmingham School of Art, then continuing to work in its famous Arts & Crafts style. Initially he ran his own studio in Moseley until Walter Gilbert, the charismatic founder of the Bromsgrove Guild, persuaded him to join.

Davies set up his stained glass studio in the Bromsgrove Guild premises in 1906, and many great glass craftsmen learned and developed their trade under his guidance. Davies himself particularly enjoyed working with rare forms of continental glass that are now no longer made. He continued leading the studio until his death in 1953.

These evocative photographs of a window design and a window being installed are from the Bromsgrove Guild archive in the Worcestershire County Museum collection.

The Beacons are lit!

This engraving is part of Worcester City’s collection, and illustrates a fire being built atop the Worcestershire Beacon.

As the highest point in the Malvern Hills, the Beacon has historically been used as part of a chain of signalling fires, used to pass messages of approaching danger across the country. The Worcestershire Beacon formed part of the chain of warning fires lit in response to the arrival of the Spanish Armada in 1588. During World War II, the Beacon was also used as a look-out point for fires after air-raids on both Birmingham and Coventry.

Throughout the nineteenth century, beacons became a popular form of celebration, used to commemorate national events such as Coronations, Jubilees and even the end of the Crimean War in 1856. We think this engraving depicts the construction of a beacon in celebration of the marriage of the Prince of Wales in 1863.

These celebratory beacons were impressive in scale and often complex. Some included chimneys in order to ensure a good blaze, whilst others utilised the help of local construction companies. In this example, tons of wooden barrels can be seen making their way to the summit by horse and cart, and workers are assembling bundles of gorse atop a wooden platform to form a core of kindling.

The Worcestershire Beacon continues to be used during National celebrations, having seen fires lit for the Millennium and the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees.

Kate Banner
Collections Volunteer

William Callow’s view of Worcester

When William Callow held his retrospective exhibition in London in 1907, he was described as the ‘oldest living British artist’. At ninety-five, he’d lived through and painted some of the biggest changes in the English landscape. This watercolour of Worcester painted around 1850 shows the city on the cusp of major industrial development: still a charming and verdant scene, but with the Severn trow barges busy on the river and chimney smoke rising in the distance.

Callow’s early life was a whirlwind of society glamour – aged only nineteen he was offered a job teaching the family of the French King Louis Philippe I. Supposedly he fell in love with his young pupil Princess Clementine, but she sadly did not return his feelings. In his late twenties Callow returned to England, married, and settled into his career as a watercolour artist. His paintings became larger and, like this one of Worcester, reflected a more mature outlook, both in himself and in the landscapes he pictured.

On the Heath at Old Storridge, Worcestershire by Henry Harris Lines

Henry Harris Lines was one of several artists active in the burgeoning cultural and intellectual Worcester of the mid-nineteenth century.

The eldest son of a Birmingham artist, Lines followed his father’s footsteps into landscape painting. He moved to Worcester in 1832, around the time he made this painting, because of a Midlands cholera epidemic. Although Worcester wasn’t spared the illness, its surrounding countryside would have appeared fresher than industrial Birmingham.

In his 60s, Lines formed a passion for archaeology and turned his drawing skills to accurately survey historic sites. He was a prolific watercolour painter and the excellent collection of his work held by Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum gives us many views of the Worcestershire landscape at such a significant period.

Worcester Woman’s Right to Vote

This watercolour of King Street, Worcester, painted by Eustace Phipson, is from the Worcester City Collection. It depicts the women of Worcester going about their daily tasks in 1905.

In February 1903, a mixed debate at the Victoria Institute (now the Worcester City Museum building) questioned That the suffrage should be granted to women. The motion was defeated by three votes.

By 1908, however, the women of Worcester felt differently and strongly. What swayed their opinion was the political chaos that followed the 1906 election.

At the January 1906 general election, England as a whole swung from supporting the Conservatives to the Liberals. The Conservatives lost more than half their MPs, meaning the Liberals won by a landslide. The pressing issue of the time was rising food prices caused by trade tariffs which the Liberals promised to abolish.

In Worcester, however, the Conservatives held the seat by a 129 vote majority. Worcester had returned a Conservative MP in every election since 1885 so this was unsurprising. The Conservative candidate was George Williamson, former Mayor and chairman of a local firm manufacturing tinplate items.

But the Liberals had employed an ex-police superintendent to scrutinise the Conservative party’s campaigning. He discovered evidence of corrupt election practices amongst magistrates, election agents, licensed victuallers and the city clerks such as bribing and treating voters to drinks. On February 14th the defeated Liberal candidate presented a petition to Parliament alleging bribery and corruption. A Royal Commission was appointed to investigate.

Worcester ratepayers were charged 3.5 pence for each pound value of their property to pay for the costs of the Election Enquiry. In 1906, many women in Worcester were in the position of being ratepayers on their property, but none had the right to vote.

The Royal Commission concluded that 60 people in the constituency had received money to influence their vote but that the total sum involved was under £8. They also stated ‘there exists in Worcester a class of voters, numbering almost 500 [total registered electors in the City in 1906 were 8412]… who are prepared to sell their votes for drink or money’.

Considerable local political squabbling followed and the women of Worcester were frustrated about their lack of voice. The prominent suffragist Millicent Garrett Fawcett, President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, wrote to The Times drawing attention to the situation. When a by-election was held in 1908, several Suffragette groups took the opportunity to visit Worcester, holding recruitment drives at the entrances to Lea & Perrins, Fownes Gloves and Hills Vinegar Works, all with significant female workforces.

The number of registered electors in Worcester more than doubled after the 1918 Representation of the People Act, with just over 20,000 people eligible to vote in the 1918 general election. Ironically, after corruption, political soul-searching, and changes due to war and activism, the Conservative MP was returned with an increased majority.

Burberry’s of London Box

Thomas Burberry, then just a 21-year-old draper’s apprentice, founded his company in 1856. Burberry’s thrived, growing to 80 employees in its first fifteen years. But his first great success was his invention in 1879 of a new waterproof material called gabardine. At the time the only waterproof option for clothing was rubber, which was heavy and uncomfortable to wear. Gabardine was revolutionary because the yarn was waterproofed before weaving, creating a fabric which was water-resistant but breathable.

Burberry’s most iconic raincoat design was designed by Thomas for the British Army on the eve of the First World War. He based it on his successful unbuttoned Tielocken coat, but with the addition of shoulder straps to display an officer’s rank and secure a satchel and binoculars, and D-rings to enable equipment to be attached to the belt. The large flaps on the chest gave extra protection to the wearer’s heart. It became known as the Trench Coat after its sustained use by soldiers in the trenches of the Western Front.

The company moved into its first London store at 30 Haymarket in 1891, developing a splendid headquarters building at number 18-21 just before WW1. They finally left Haymarket in 2007.

Thomas died in 1926 but Burberry’s remained a family company until 1955. In 1999, the company dropped the ‘s’ from its brand and is now known as Burberry.

This box, in Worcester City’s collection, dates to between the wars and would have been used to send an order out to a Worcestershire customer.

Whatever deliveries this Christmas brings you, all of us at Museums Worcestershire wish you an enjoyable festive season. Thank you for your support in 2017.

The Crown of Scotland

The Stuart Kings greatly enjoyed all the ceremonies of the monarchy and they believed their entitlement to wear the crown and other honours of state were a privilege given direct from God. Needless to say, this became an important point of debate and disagreement during the English Civil War.

The English Crown – St Edward’s – had reputedly been used by every English monarch since William the Conqueror in 1066. After the execution of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell ordered the crown and associated regalia be broken up, with the jewels sold off and the precious metal used to make coins. The Crown of Scotland, however, was used to crown Charles II before the battles of Dunbar and Worcester and then survived the rest of the Interregnum (when England was a republic and had no monarch) by being secretly buried. When Charles II was restored as King in 1660, he ordered that St Edward’s Crown be recreated. The Crown of Scotland, thus now the oldest surviving British crown, still appears at special occasions in Scotland such as the opening of the new Parliament building. Its permanent home is Edinburgh Castle.

The Worcester City museum collection includes a set of drawings of the regalia of the Stuart family, of which this characterful picture is one. 

 

Taking care of the collections – Spitalfields silk dress

This beautiful cream-coloured dress dates from around 1770 and has some exquisite features despite its fragile state. Gorgeous sprays of honeysuckle and lilac are delicately embroidered to the bodice and sleeves.

The dress is made from ‘Spitalfields’ silk, which refers to the industry which arose in East London in the 16th century, when the French Protestant Huguenots fled persecution to London, and many skilled weavers and experts in sericulture (silk farming) settled in the Spitalfields area.

Objects like this dress, which resides in the Worcestershire county costume collection, must be stored, handled and conserved very carefully to ensure that the collections continue to be accessible in the future, and many costume items are stored in purpose-built pods with humidity-controlled heating.

Special dusting guidelines advise avoiding tools such as brushes, which can cause damage, and carefully checking areas for loose threads before performing any cleaning.

 

 

Charlie Fothergill