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.

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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

 

Thomas Woodward’s painting of the Battle of Worcester

Thomas Woodward was born in Pershore in 1801, son to a solicitor in the town. Woodward’s first exhibited picture was the portrait of a favourite horse belonging to a Mr Berry, which was shown at the Royal Academy in London in 1821. On the recommendation of his friend Sir Edwin Landseer, who had a high opinion of Woodward’s work, Woodward painted many portraits of horses for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and became a celebrated animal specialist.

Of all his pictures, his battle pieces achieved the greatest fame. One of his finest is now in the Worcester City museum collection and depicts The Battle of Worcester in 1651; it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837. This painting shows the young Charles II in the midst of bloody battle, gesturing towards the Cathedral at Worcester. Although the painting doesn’t accurately describe the way the battle went, it captures the horror of hand-to-hand fighting during the Civil War, and the bravery of Charles in the face of overwhelming opposition.

The collection also includes Woodward’s sketches for this painting – more information on these made up a previous Research Worcestershire post.

David Cox and the artist’s muse

Image of Kenilworth Castle by David CoxMany painters famously have a muse, a model they are inspired to draw over and over again, someone often deeply entwined into their personal as well as their professional lives. Landscape painters, too, may have scenes that they turn to regularly over their career, becoming re-inspired as they interpret the view in a new way.

Birmingham-born artist David Cox (1783-1859) painted a large watercolour of Kenilworth Castle in 1806, the year after he first exhibited at the Royal Academy. This painting is now in Birmingham Museum’s collection and is critically considered his earliest important work. He went on to revisit this landscape throughout his career.

By contrast, this watercolour from the Worcester City museum collection by Cox dates to the very end of his career, just two years before his death. By 1856 his health meant he was no longer able to paint out of doors unaccompanied, but that didn’t stop him returning to the inspiration of his muse landscape. Even as he was suffering from his final bronchial illness in 1859, he still managed to send seven pictures for exhibition to the Watercolour Society.

Other watercolours of Kenilworth by David Cox are held in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Government Art Collection, and more at Birmingham Museums.

Bust of Edward Evans (1789-1871) by William Brodie

web-edward-evans-sculpture-c-museums-worcestershireIn the mid-nineteenth century, the talented Scottish sculptor William Brodie turned his hand to create this lifelike bust of Edward Evans. In 1830 Evans, along with William Hill, founded the vinegar makers Hill & Evans, who by 1903 had the largest vinegar works in the world, in Lowesmoor, Worcester.

William Brodie (1815-1887) was born in Banff in Scotland and became a prolific portrait sculptor who, thanks to the verity and technical skills shown in his works, became a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1859. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a popular way to depict gentry, land owners, politicians and other important figures was to commission well-known sculptors to create marble, bronze and plaster busts. The Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum sculpture collection includes works by Brock, Papworth, Baily and Kirk, in addition to this bust by Brodie which is on display in the museum.

By 1851, Edward Evans was also Managing Director of the Worcester City and County Banking Company. This bust originally belonged to the Worcester Bank, along with the bust of R Padmore by Papworth and we have evidence that both pieces were loaned by the Bank for display at the Worcester Exhibition of 1882. Worcester Bank was taken over by Lloyds and they presented these busts to the gallery in 1902.

worcestershire-exhibition-1882-catalogue-william-brodieGarston D Phillips

Gloves made by Dents for Christian Dior, late 1950s

“Day or night, gloves will always provide you with a splash of colour” Christian Dior.


For centuries, Worcester was THE centre of the British glovemaking industry. We know that its history as a leather-making town goes back to Roman times and with the arrival of the Dents glove factory in 1777, it became world famous for its wares. By the twentieth century, fashion houses were commissioning Worcester firms to make their gloves. One firm, Milore, worked with several young fabulous designers including Zandra Rhodes and Manolo Blahnik before he became more famous for his shoes beloved of celebrities.
These gloves from the Worcester City collection were made by Dents in Worcester late in the 1950s, just as the fashion for gloves changed to wrist-length rather than the longer and more formal-looking.
Christian Dior had exploded onto the fashion scene in 1947 with his feminine ‘New Look’. This collection made a sensation and rejuvenated post-war Paris. Each dress was made from a luxurious 20 metres of fabric, very different from war-time restrictions.
Dior was a shrewd entrepreneur as well as a designer. He quickly opened a ready-to-wear boutique on Fifth Avenue in New York and expanded their range so that a woman could buy every piece of clothing – including gloves – she needed just from Dior. He also trained Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent, with YSL going on to design the collection and taking it to even more radical styling after Dior’s early death in 1957.

Worcester’s long relationship with Parliament

Worcester was first represented at a national parliament in 1372 by John Atte Wode, a local landowner. At the time, parliaments were called irregularly by the King and were principally a way for the monarch to raise taxes.

Between 1386 and 1885, the City of Worcester was represented by two parliamentary members and they include many names that left their mark on the city and the country. Perhaps the greatest legacy is from John Somers, Worcester’s MP in 1689, a Worcester lawyer who was the Attorney General and the architect of the UK’s Bill of Rights which sets out the authority of the British Parliament, the freedom of the election process and the limits of the monarch’s power. This document directly influenced the wording of the American Declaration of Independence.

From the 1770s, MPs professed a political party allegiance and from this early time the Worcester voters supported Conservative, Liberal and Whig candidates. At the 1997 election, the term ‘Worcester Woman’ was created by pollsters, describing a swing voter more interested in a prospective MP’s message than their political party; Worcester residents have been voting this way for at least two centuries.

web-peter-walker-and-family-from-1983-election-leaflet-c-museums-worcestershireThe Worcester City museum collection includes political leaflets from all parties from the mid-C19th to the modern day. These leaflet photographs from the 1983 election were published by Peter Walker who was Worcester’s MP from 1961 to 1992. Peter was followed into parliament by his son, Robin, the city’s current MP and smaller star of these pictures!