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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Charles Le Brun, Head of a Soldier in the Battle against Darius, around 1600

This sketch was donated to the Worcester City Fine Art Collection by Richard Cadbury who was son of Cadbury’s chocolate founder John Cadbury and took over the company with his brother, George. The drawing is one of the oldest works in the collection and is usually kept in storage as chalk drawings are extremely sensitive and fade if exposed to too much light.

Charles Le Brun (1619 –1690) was court painter to Louis XIV of France and was famed for painting large altarpieces and battle scenes, as well as decorating the ornate palace of Versailles near Paris. It’s possible that this drawing was made as preparatory sketch for a background figure in The Family of Darius before Alexander, part of the Wars of Alexander The Great series which hangs in the palace of Versailles.

The painting depicts Alexander The Great offering mercy to the mother of King Darius III of Persia after he fled, leaving his family behind following Battle of Issus (333 BC) in modern day Turkey. At the later The Battle of Gaugamela (1st October 331 BCE) in Northern Iraq Alexander’s forces defeated Darius making Alexander King of all Asia.

Saint George and the Art Deco Dragon

This striking sculpture of Saint George and the Dragon is a work by Donald Gilbert, who was the son of the founder of local arts and crafts group, the Bromsgrove Guild.

Walter Gilbert founded the guild in 1894, producing decorative ironwork in an old foundry in Bromsgrove. He expanded his business, acquiring other skilled craftsmen, until he was taking orders for lamps, doors, stained glass windows and other decorative items from all over the English speaking world, including design and production of the gates of Buckingham Palace.

Gilbert was a flamboyant man, who wore a yellow tie and drove a yellow-wheeled gig (a small, horse-drawn cart).

As they expanded, they took over a former police station in Station Street as a wood-working shop, with drawing and designing offices, iron and bronze foundries, a stained glass studio and other workshops in adjacent buildings.

His son Donald Gilbert was born in 1900 and, after training at the Birmingham Central School of Art, became a talented sculptor in the new ‘Art Deco’ style.

The photograph is from the Bromsgrove Guild archive in the Worcestershire County Museum collection. There are some works, such as stained glass, on display at the County Museum at Hartlebury, and if anyone is interested in doing further research connected with the Bromsgrove Guild archives they are welcome to get in touch by emailing museumcollections@worcestershire.gov.uk.

Even the best artists keep learning

William James Müller (1812 – 1845) was born in Bristol and grew up amongst the city’s culture as his father was J. S. Müller, curator of Bristol Museum. His early artistic career was inspired by great painters of the past including Claude Lorrain as well as the landscapes of Gloucestershire.

Travel became an important part of Müller’s life and work and in 1834 he visited France, Switzerland and Italy and later in 1838 he travelled to Greece and Egypt, where he would draw the ruins and landscapes of these cultures.

In 1843 Müller accompanied archaeologist Charles Fellows on a government expedition to the ancient rock tombs of Lycia in Turkey. Müller spent three months sketching the landscape, architecture and culture of the area and upon returning to England, worked these into a successful series of paintings.

This picture in the Worcester City collection, Study of a Sheik Reposing was probably created during this time and depicts Turkish culture as rich and exotic in a way that was popular among Victorian arts audiences and which shaped British ideas of the Middle East.

Müller is also known for giving oil painting lessons to artist David Cox, who was more renowned for working in watercolours.

Sikar II by Gillian Ayres

 

Ayres, Gillian, b.1930; Sikar II
Courtesy of Gillian Ayres

Gillian Ayres, Sikar II, acrylic on paper, 1993, Worcester City Collection

 

Volunteer researcher, Deborah Keaveney, has been exploring the fine art collection at Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery. She has been researching Sikar II by Gillian Ayres which was acquired through the support of an Arts Council England/V&A purchase grant.

 

Gillian Ayres (born 1930) is an important British abstract painter, who trained at Camberwell School of Art in London (1946-50), before going on to teach painting in Bath and London and becoming Head of Painting at Winchester School of Art. She has lived and worked as an artist in London, Wales and Cornwall, which has included mural painting and printmaking, as well as painting on paper and canvas in a variety of media.

In 1991 she was awarded the Gold Medal for the British Council Triennale exhibition which began its world tour in New Dehli, India.  It is possible that the artist also visited the ancient Mughal city of Sikar to the South West of Dehli at this time, which she then used for the title of a series of abstract paintings in acrylic on paper.  Sikar II, which is now in the collection of Worcester Museum and Art Gallery, was painted in 1993, by which time the artist had also been elected an R.A. by the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The painting is a medley of vivid colours and abstract patterning that echoes the strongly illuminated colours, both natural and man-made that can be seen on a hot summer night in the North Indian city of Sikar. Originally this was ruled by the Rajas of the Muslim Mughal empire, founded by the warrior leader Genghis Kahn in the early 16th century.  Sikar soon became a fortified military centre with high surrounding walls and seven city gates. It is now famous for its Mughal architecture, art and culture that draws and welcomes visitors from around the world.

Against this historical background the painting by Gillian Ayres, Sikar II takes on a new significance in its strident shapes and colours which are surrounded by a midnight blue border that suggest the structural patterns of narrow streets and old Mughal Haveli houses around which are woven the bright and riotous life that goes on within its walls, with a striking central motif of a scimitar or curved sword in shades of blue from blue-white at the curved edge to a deep, regal purple at the rectangular cross of the hilt and finial ball handle above it. The vivid mix of colours and patterns in this work seem to carry a spirit of place and suggest the intensity of life lived in this bustling city, with its history of succeeding layers of power, buildings, people, plants and animals, all within the confines of an ancient and fortified city. Translated into abstract painting, it is a city full of glancing impressions and captivating expressions that are visualised through the artist’s forceful and compelling use of form and colour.  But from this apparently disconnected network emerges a narrative of abstract signs and shapes that suggest the architecture and sense of a distant place that is both thrilling in its strangeness and familiar in its variety.

The work of Gillian Ayres is represented in London by the Alan Cristea Gallery

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. 

 

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.

Trying the Sword by George Cattermole

a watercolour by Cattermole picturing a medieval scene of armourWorcester City Art Gallery and Museum acquired three paintings by George Cattermole in 1915 as part of the Sale Bequest of Victorian Watercolours.

Cattermole initially trained as an architectural draftsman and accurate interiors are often a feature of his work. These scenes usually include romantic and dramatic subjects such as medieval knights.

His scenes of Armourers, including Trying the Sword are among his best and the Victoria & Albert Museum have a very similar version of this work in their collection. These were made as illustrations for The Armourer’s Tale in a book of short stories called Evenings at Haddon Hall. Cattermole also illustrated the Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge by his friend, Charles Dickens.

Cattermole was a member of the Old Watercolour Society, where it is likely he met David Cox and the two artists were great admirers of each other’s work.

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.