Among the Bluebells at Crown East by Andrew Brandish Holte

Painting of a Victorian country scene with people picnicking under trees near bluebellsHolte was born in Worcester in 1829. A well-read man and an accomplished public speaker, Holte considered standing as a Member of Parliament, but his creativity got the better of him and he decided instead to pursue a career as an artist.

Most of his works were landscapes of his beloved Worcester and the neighbouring county of Warwickshire where he died in 1907. He also favoured the views of Wales after residing in Betws-y-Coed for several years. Amongst his friends were the artists David Bates, David Cox and Benjamin Williams Leader.

Among the Bluebells at Crown East was painted in May 1880 and was presented by the artist to the City of Worcester in the same year. An art critic in the 1930s wrote of the painting:

The picture represents a scene of a spring day in the woods of Crown East. One of its most striking features is a large group of scotch firs; which occupies a prominent place in the foreground. The atmosphere of a fresh spring day is skilfully suggested by the deep shadows under the foliage and the rolling sky above the trees.

 

Garston Phillips

An Ancient British Town

Painting of a mystical and ruined Celtic iron age villageThis atmospheric watercolour, in Worcester’s collection, by Worcester-based artist Henry Harris Lines (find out more about HH Lines in a previous post here) is titled Bron Y Voel, Uchaf, An Ancient British Town on the Western Slopes of Moelfre.

It pictures the ruins of an Iron Age or Romano-British village on Anglesey (now commonly spelled with an F rather than a V), a scheduled ancient monument because of the important evidence it gives us of an ancient field and settlement system. Cadw believes that the surrounding wetlands may still potentially hold archaeological and environmental information that could add to our knowledge of this late prehistoric period.

For the Victorians, and HH Lines, the site was identified with the ancient Celtic druid myths such as the Mabinogion, one of the earliest pieces of written literature in Britain, compiled in the 12th century from oral storytelling. Lady Charlotte Guest, an expert linguist and patron of the arts (as well as having nearly married Benjamin Disraeli in her youth and in later years managing her first husband’s ironworks and her second husband’s political career!) published a Welsh and English translation of its eleven stories full of romance and tragedy. These seven volumes, printed between 1838 and 1845, became hugely inspirational to nineteenth-century artists such as Lines.

Worcester’s Music Hall Superstar – Still an Inspiration!

poster advertising a play about Vesta TilleyFrom Worcester City’s collection of theatrical posters and playbills, this is the poster for a Swan Theatre community play about Vesta Tilley – Worcester’s Music Hall Superstar.

Born in Worcester in 1864, Vesta Tilley was one of the greatest stars of the Music Hall. She was a male impersonator, performing in a masculine persona, her songs making gentle fun of various male ‘types’ – the soldier, policeman, the man-about-town, the dandy. By the 1890s she was England’s highest-earning woman.

She took scrupulous care with her costumes and mannerisms to achieve the perfect, accurate image of the men she portrayed, and this gave her a freedom both to take on these masculine roles and to mock the absurdities and follies of men. Of course, this playful ambiguity of gender could only happen when she was on the stage: in late Victorian Britain with its very strict rules about gender and sexuality, she had to be careful to avoid accusations of immorality. Therefore in her off-stage life, she was always very careful to manage her image, to present herself as a happily-married woman, and to dress in a highly feminine style. This strategy worked – the only notable scandal that she caused was at the 1912 Royal Command Performance when Queen Mary was so shocked at the sight of a woman wearing men’s trousers that she covered her face with her programme and commanded her ladies-in-waiting not to look at the stage.

Vesta Tilley was a trailblazer, playing with ideas of gender at a time when it was thought dangerous to question them. Her legacy continues in a modern form – she was mentioned in an episode of the UK version of the popular TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, showing Vesta Tilley is an inspiration to a new generation of LGBTQ+ performers.

 

Suz Winspear, Worcester Art Gallery & Museum

Trying to spot a fake

Benjamin Williams Leader was one of Worcester’s most successful artists – you can read more about him in this previous post. In his prime, at the start of the twentieth century, he was known as the most expensive painter in England. Because of this success, faked Leaders are not uncommon and we see quite a few at Worcester City Museum. Usually these are landscapes by lesser artists just attributed to Leader at some point in their history.

The best way to uncover a real Leader painting is when it comes with a provenance that can be checked against the events of Leader’s life – ideally this will be documentation showing who bought it from whom. Sometimes stickers or notes on the back of the painting will give further information about the painting’s history. The signature can also give us clues as to whether a work is an authentic Leader or not.

Here are some of the things we look out for:

Leader signed with a brush (as do most painters) and the end of his strokes is clearly defined. His signature is in capitals, and includes dots between each section and a dot at the end. Both the W and the R are curved, and the D is quite square. Leader also gave his 8s and 3s a flat top.

Here are some signatures from paintings in Worcester City’s collection that we know are definitely by BW Leader – can you spot the characteristic elements?

artists signature in a snowy painting

artists signature in the corner of a painting

Do you know where your money is invested?

Worcester Old Bank dates back to 1772, but became a Worcester institution after its founder Joseph Berwick married his daughter Mary to Anthony Lechmere in 1787. Berwick brought his son-in-law into the business as a partner and eventually, the two families merged into the very respectable Worcester banking partnership of Berwick, Lechmere & Co.

Berwick’s success enabled him to build a new manor house at Hallow Park in the 1790s. But his business also had interests far from home: a mortgage holding on an estate in the Virgin Islands.

The Worcester Old Bank went from strength to strength – not suffering after Berwick’s death in 1798 – and the family moved in the best circles in Worcestershire. Lechmere was created a baronet in 1818 shortly after meeting with the Prince of Wales (later George IV) who was said to be much struck with Lechmere’s abilities. His son, Edmund Hungerford Lechmere, married the Hon Maria-Clara Murray, Maid of Honour to Queen Charlotte, the following year.

Berwick Lechmere Bankers first appeared in the London Gazette in 1844, demonstrating their solid reputation. After Lechmere’s death in 1849, the company continued to expand prudently to serve the financial needs of the people of Worcester. In 1862 a handsome new Worcester City and County Bank premises was unveiled on the Cross, Worcester. It became a limited company shortly after and this change facilitated more expansion. Over the next 30 years, 24 branches would open, serving the many farming and business families in Worcestershire and surrounding counties. Finally in 1889, the bank merged with Lloyds who still operate a branch from that 1862 building on the Cross. This cheque in Worcester’s museum collection dates from that final decade of the Worcester Old Bank before it became part of Lloyds.

Between his elevation to the baronetcy and the transfer of his bank to his son, Lechmere, in common with many hundreds of wealthy Britons, was in 1836 awarded compensation for the loss of an investment in the Caribbean. In Lechmere’s case this was £4,089 10s 3d – the price assessed as the loss of 286 people enslaved on an estate in the Virgin Islands: that mortgage interest that had belonged to his father-in-law.

While the 1807 Slave Trade Act had abolished the slave trade and halted the passage of slave ships from England across the Atlantic, it wasn’t until a quarter of a century later that ownership of slaves became illegal across the British Empire. Their exploitation continued to be core to maintaining profitable sugar plantations. It was not until the passing of the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act that slaves across the Empire finally gained a slow (up to seven-year) process towards freedom.

The 1833 Act also set out a plan to compensate those who owned slaves. The British government borrowed £20 million (about 5% of GDP at the time) to finance this programme. About half of these compensation payments were to families living in Britain who, like Lechmere, were not themselves active in the slave trade or as plantation owners but who held investments in the Caribbean whose profitability relied on slavery; these ranged from high society figures to the provincial landed gentry and even to clergymen.

Lechmere’s story can be read through the Parliamentary papers of the time, and through his business archives now held by Lloyds Bank. By contrast, the lives of the 286 black slaves were not recorded and can’t be shared, all history passes on to us is that assessment of their worth as an asset.

Worcester Mayor Henry Clifton on show

Henry Clifton was the Mayor of Worcester from September 1831 to August 1832. He held that office and oversaw the local response to the Worcester riots of November 1831 (a protest for labourers democratic rights that spread across the country, with particular bloodshed in Bristol), in recognition of which he was presented to King William IV.

The Worcester Herald, of Saturday 19th July 1834, carried a report on the first exhibition at the Worcester Athenaeum which featured this portrait. In the description of the works on show, the following entry notes:

94. – Portrait of Henry Clifton, Esq. in oil; wearing dark cloak, trimmed with reddish fur; the head well drawn; the features intelligent; the light and shadow broad, and the colouring mellow; the hands introduced, but not so firmly drawn; the general effect good, and the likeness highly creditable to the painter – 12th July 1834.

The painter was Frederick Thomas Lines (26th July 1808–10th April 1898), a well-regarded pupil of Sir Thomas Lawrence.

Frederick was one of five sons of Samuel Lines, all of whom were active in the Birmingham art scene. The oldest, HH, lived in Worcester for much of his life and the City has a fine collection of his work.

Samuel, the father, studied drawing at Joseph Barber’s Birmingham academy, and in 1807 opened his own drawing school. He was a much respected tutor, with classes notoriously starting at 5am. With a group of other artists, he went on to found a larger academy which eventually evolved into the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, one of the oldest art societies in England.

The portrait, like that of many other mayors of Worcester throughout history, now hangs in Worcester’s Guildhall.

 

Thanks to Kieran Owens, one of Art UK’s Art Detectives, for his research on this painting

Canal Scene by Trevor Owen Makinson (1926-1992)

Trevor Makinson was born in Southport, Lancashire and attended Hereford School of Art and Slade School of Fine Art.

He had strong connections with Hereford as a young man, being a member of the Farmer’s Club and showing with Herefordshire Arts and Crafts and Wye Valley Art Society.

Makinson was a confident artist right from his early days – he was an exhibitor at Royal Academy from 1943, he had a series of solo shows at Hereford Art Gallery from 1944 and it was probably from one of these that this painting was purchased when he was only 19 or 20. This sweet, gentle scene must have been a reassuring purchase by Worcester City Art Gallery’s museum committee just at the end of the Second World War.

Makinson was encouraged by Dame Laura Knight, who spent the Second World War in Malvern. She once described him as ‘an unrepentant adherent of the traditional representational school of British painters.’

Makinson went on to lecture at Glasgow’s School of Art and held a professorial chair at the University of Glasgow. His work started to experiment and develop a little more. More of his paintings (including some great self-portraits) by Makinson are held in museums across the UK and can be explored on ArtUK.

HMS Worcester

HMS Worcester was one of sixty-seven V and W Class destroyers in the British Navy, most serving in both world wars. Worcester was one of the last to be ordered in April 1918, built at Cowes and then launched in October 1919 so unlike many of her sister ships, she never saw active service in the First World War.

When built, these ships were the most advanced in the world and went on to be reliable, speedy and well-armed destroyers. Originally they were planned to be deployed in flotillas of 16, working together in fast, armed attacks. However early-twentieth-century communications were not sophisticated enough for this to be successful, so the flotillas were reduced to eight, including one larger ship with the flotilla’s senior officer and his staff on board.

By the Second World War, the V&Ws were used mainly as convoy escorts, although they could also engage with the enemy including submarines when needed. Some were converted to give them extra fuel stowage and became slower Long Range Escorts, others including HMS Worcester were designated as Short Range Escorts. Worcester reported for duty in September 1939 as part of the 16th Destroyer Flotilla and was put into service for escort and patrol in the English Channel.

The V&Ws working together were an essential and effective part of the heroic evacuations from Northern France in May 1940. HMS Worcester made six trips to Dunkirk as part of Operation Dynamo, rescuing 4,350 troops and bringing them back to Britain.

Worcester’s darkest hour was as part of the Channel Dash in February 1942. The German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the cruiser Prinz Eugen decided to take the direct route back to German ports from their station at Brest in Brittany. This meant travelling through the English Channel, where British forces believed they could stop them.

The operation was chaotic and unsuccessful with both the RAF and the Navy suffering many losses of men. HMS Worcester was the last in line as part of a torpedo attack and pushed in too close before firing. She was hit, lost bridge communications and power, and received six hits in total as she drifted. The ship was on fire and taking on water and the order ‘Prepare to Abandon Ship’ was given. Some aboard heard this as ‘Abandon Ship’ and went straight into the water. Her sister ships managed to pick up some of these sailors but some were swept away as the remaining flotilla swerved to avoid torpedos.

The German fleet soon ceased fire – assuming HMS Worcester was about to sink – and moved on through the Channel. Slowly Worcester’s crew managed to get one boiler going and enough water pumped out to enable her to move. The boiler had to use seawater and the crew jettisoned everything they could to keep the ship light enough to stay afloat. Somehow she limped back to Harwich.

26 men had been killed or fatally wounded and 45 were injured. HMS Worcester was able to be repaired and was pressed back into service. She was again badly damaged after detonating a mine in the North Sea in December 1943. This time she was considered too damaged to repair. Her final days of the war were spent as an accommodation ship and then she was broken up in February 1947.

 

In 1941-42, the people of Great Britain were asked to invest in war savings equivalent to the cost of building a new Navy vessel through an initiative called Warship Weeks. The residents of Worcester raised the enormous £769,173 in their Warship Week in March 1942, shortly after HMS Worcester’s tragic involvement in the Channel Dash. The City then formally adopted HMS Worcester and its crew. As with many other communities, Worcester’s sea cadet unit took on the name of the adopted ship after the war.

 

This painting of HMS Worcester was presented to the City of Worcester by the V&W Destroyer Association and hangs in the Guildhall. The Citys civic collection also includes the ship’s bell.

The V&W Destroyer Association was a group of those who served on these ships. They have collated many first-hand accounts of HMS Worcester, which can be read on their website.

Uncovering part of the original museum

The recent restoration and renewal work to the foyer at Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum uncovered a rather dusty but impressive Norton System pneumatic door closer made by William Newman & Sons. We believe this is likely to be original to the building, which first opened in 1896.

This lovely piece of metalwork allowed the door into the original reference library to close gently, without slamming. The door closer was first patented in 1813. The Norton referenced in this model’s name came from Boston, USA, who invented a closer to stop his church’s door slamming using air pressure rather than springs.

William Newman & Sons Ltd was a long-standing metal-working factory, starting in Wolverhampton in 1750 before moving to Birmingham in the 1820s. It specialised in door closers and two brands it first launched in the early 20th century – Briton and Vanguard – can still be spotted on many office doors today.

 

Thanks to Paul Collins, Worcester City’s Conservation Officer for his research on this discovery.