Costume drama

This dinner dress dating from 1888-9 is a fine example of late Victorian style.

Consisting of a bodice and skirt made from beautiful damask, the detail and decoration demonstrate the high levels of skill that would have been required to produce such a garment.

As is the case today, fashions changed year-to-year, and the style of the dress is what enables us to date it. This particular dress has a round neckline, with hook fastenings down the front. It forms two parts, with hooks holding the heavy skirt to the bodice. The bodice was decorated with floral satin and pearl embroidery and the waist was accessorised with a draped ribbon, coming together into a rosette at the small of the back. A beautiful dress to wear for a formal evening meal.

It was donated to the County Museum collection in 1967 by a lady from Malvern, but sadly there is no record of who might have owned and worn it.

Ranging from stunning 18th century dresses to spectacularly sparkly 1920s flapper style outfits, Worcestershire County Museum Collection includes a particularly fine costume collection. Although, like this dress, many of this collection is very fragile, there are opportunities to see costume on display, and within museum talks and workshops.

Claire Cheshire


Minerals of the English Midlands

Specimens from the Worcester City Museum Collection are figured in a new book – Minerals of the English Midlands by Roy Starkey. Museums Worcestershire asks all collections researchers to share an outline of their research on this website, in our spirit of open research.

The mineral wealth of the English Midlands has been exploited for centuries – lead, copper, zinc, and to a lesser extent silver, have all been worked. Deposits of coal, iron ore and limestone powered the Industrial Revolution, providing the raw materials for such visionaries as Sir Richard Arkwright, Matthew Boulton, James Watt, William Murdoch and Josiah Wedgwood.

Halite, Stoke Prior, Worcestershire. WOSMG 1987-128.G1559 100 x 65 x 30 mm

In Worcestershire, the extraction of salt from brine has been of considerable historical importance at Droitwich and Stoke Prior, and the book features a fascinating account of the local salt industry with many archive images.

A lecture, delivered by Dr Charles Hastings, to the Worcestershire Natural History Society, and later published in The Analyst, provides an account of the history of discovery and early geological understanding of the Worcestershire salt deposits, and working of brine.

Hastings, a local medical practitioner and keen amateur naturalist, was the founder of the British Medical Association. He also established the Museum of the Worcester Natural History Society in 1833, the fore-runner of the present City Museum. Of particular interest is Hastings’ assertion that rock salt was mined at Stoke Prior, and this led the author, Roy Starkey, to examine the collections in Worcester Museum. Three convincing specimens recorded as being from the Worcestershire halite deposits were identified in the collection.

Halite, Stoke Prior, Worcestershire. WOSMG 1987-128.G1554b 50 x 50 x 25 mm

The Midlands has produced a wide range of interesting mineral specimens. Examples of these are to be found in local and regional museum collections, and especially at the Natural History Museum in London. However, such was the importance of Britain in the development of mineralogy as a science that specimens from the English Midlands are to be seen in collections all over the world. Minerals such as phosgenite, matlockite and mottramite are recognised as having been first described from the English Midlands. The hard rock quarrying industry of Leicestershire means that fresh exposures are constantly being created, and new mineralogical discoveries continue to be made today.

Halite, Stoke Prior, Worcestershire. WOSMG 1987-128.G1554a 60 x 40 x 18 mm

Roy Starkey can be contacted here, where you can also purchase a copy of his book.

Stewards Chemist Shop – Prescription Book

Stewards Chemist shop was rescued by Worcester City Museum in 1974, opening its doors to the visiting public in 1978. The shop came equipped with a host of pharmaceutical tools, chemicals and other working stock. Amongst these items were a number of Prescription Books.

These books provide a fascinating record of the ailments treated by the chemists over its long history, and the types of remedies used to combat them. The pages displayed in this photograph show entries written on 30 June 1948, 70 years ago today.

Dexedrine, a stimulant used today to treat ADHD and certain sleeping disorders, can be seen at the top right. Pethidine, a strong opioid used to treat severe pain, can be seen mid-way down the right-hand page. This was first created in 1939 and was a favoured treatment of doctors throughout the 20th century, despite since being found to be highly addictive. Phenobarbital is also listed – this barbiturate is still used as anti-seizure medication, over 100 years after its discovery in 1912.

Written throughout this and other pages of the book are the letters ‘Rx’ – this is a long-established symbol for prescriptions, which some have suggested derives from the Latin word ‘recipe’, meaning ‘to take’.

It is interesting to consider that just a few days after this page was filled out, the National Health Service was established, on 5 July 1948. For the first time, hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists were brought together under one umbrella organisation, which offered a free service to all at the point of delivery. In 1952, prescription charges were introduced at a flat rate of one shilling (5p).

Kate Banner
Collections Assistant

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.

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.