Past its use by date?

In 1864 the manager of the Aerated Bread Company began serving tea and bakery products to her customers and the tea shop was born. They became extremely popular with the middle classes, particularly women who could visit unchaperoned. The first Lyons teashop opened thirty years later and quickly expanded to a chain of 250 shops, prominent on most British high streets throughout the 20th century.

For the working classes, eating away from home meant taking your lunch to work, often wrapped in newspaper, because you couldn’t afford the time or money for a hot meal at lunchtime. The remains of this beef sandwich in Worcester City’s collection were discovered in an 1899 paper, making it now 120 years old!

Leisure trips for workers began as working conditions improved in the 19th century and bank holidays were introduced. Between the wars, picnicking in beauty spots such as the Malvern Hills became more popular and many cities created public parks such as Gueluvelt Park in Worcester.


The Great Contest between Spring & Langan upon Worcester Race Course Jan 7th 1824

Tom Spring, from Herefordshire, was the heavyweight champion of England between 1821 and 1824. At this period boxing was fought with bare hands (bare knuckle) rather than gloves.

It was a hugely popular sport. Forty thousand people turned up to watch Spring fight the Irish champion Jack Langan; more than twice the population of Worcester at the time. The match went on for 77 rounds, lasting over two hours.

The Worcester crowd was very unruly, with one spectator stand collapsing at the start and another in the second round. If the stands were as packed as they have been illustrated in this aquatint image of the fight, published by Clements, Pitman & Gleddah and now in Worcester City’s museum collection, the collapse must have caused more injuries in the crowd than were sustained by the fighters!

Spring won the fight and the prize of three hundred gold sovereigns (about £35,000 today if we take inflation into account, or more like £90,000 in today’s gold value). He retired shortly afterwards to run the Castle Inn in Holborn, London.

Star Wars Kenner Action Figures

The Star Wars universe is a pop-culture phenomenon for more than just its films. Developed by George Lucas, the film Star Wars was released in 1977 and was followed by further films and what is now a significant fanbase and merchandising empire.

Following the success of Barbie, American toy manufacturers started making superhero figures in the 1970s. These were 8-12 inches tall with fabric clothing and accessories, much like the girl dolls.

Star Wars creator George Lucas offered the rights to make Star Wars figures to several toy companies, but was declined.

The relatively unknown toy company Kenner agreed and Star Wars figures were released in 1978, with Worcester City museum collecting a small number. The affordable and collectable 33⁄4 inch figures became immensely popular and this became a standard size for all future action figure lines.

Toys were a popular line in the Kays of Worcester mail order catalogue – this page from the 1984 catalogue shows how little the price of toys has increased over 30 years despite inflation, as global manufacturing has become the norm.

The Romantic story of a Cabinet

The Victorians, loving a good story, believed this beautiful ebony and red tortoiseshell cabinet belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots. Now in the Royal Collection, it was thought that she brought it with her from France to Scotland. It was pictured in a portfolio of drawings by William Gibb, made in 1890 for an illustrated publication called The Royal House of Stuart, a copy of which is in Worcester City’s museum collection.

Mary, Queen of Scots’ life continues to fascinate, the subject of many books, film, music and TV series. With as much drama, love, intrigue and tragedy as any soap opera, her story formed an important background to the House of Stuart’s time on the English throne – the royal family whose privilege, entitlement and poor judgement led to the English Civil War.

Mary was the only surviving legitimate child of James V of Scotland on his death – she was only six days old. Her son would become James VI of Scotland, and then James I of England, succeeding Elizabeth I and uniting the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland. His son, Charles I, was unable to retain agreement with his Parliament, bringing unrest and conflict to all three countries.

Crowned Queen of Scotland at just a few months old, Mary’s early years were a power struggle between Henry VIII of England and Henry II of France, both eager to unite their countries with Scotland through her marriage to their son. France managing the successful treaty, Mary’s youth was spent happily at the French court. Tragedy struck after her young husband died less than two years into their teenage marriage. 18-year-old Mary returned to Scotland and joined the many ambitious characters jostling to control the English throne. Her position was a threat to Elizabeth I and the next twenty-five years were fraught with manipulation, plotting and betrayal. Throughout, Mary maintained the luxury of royalty, surrounding herself with fine tapestries, bedlinen and silverware even while imprisoned. It’s unsurprising that she should be linked with this exquisite cabinet, with such beautiful heart-shaped decoration.

The Royal Collection’s research shows that the cabinet actually dates to the seventeenth century, and therefore was too late to belong to Mary, Queen of Scots herself. It can now be found in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official royal residence in Edinburgh.

Bearded Jug

This particularly interesting looking jug from Worcester City’s collection is known generally on the Continent as a Bartmann or “Bearded” jug. In England it is known as a “Bellarmine” jug, possibly named after the Italian Jesuit theologian, Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino (1542 – 1621), who was a leading figure of the Catholic Counter-Reformation and staunch advocate of no alcohol. Bellarmino disagreed with James I on papal dominion and the jug may have been a way of ridiculing him with a humorous depiction on a vessel that would have contained alcohol.

These salt-glazed stoneware jugs were made predominantly in the 16th and 17th centuries, more commonly manufactured in Europe, mainly Germany to start with, then eventually, English examples were found; their defining features are the bearded man depicted at the neck of the vessel and decoration around the bulb. This particular bottle was found in Worcester.

Discovered in unlikely contexts such as buried beneath floors or tucked behind fireplaces, these bottles were used as “witch bottles”. The bottle would be filled with articles such as sharp objects, nails, pins and human urine. This was then sealed and buried to keep witches at bay.

The Hop Calendar

Beer was introduced into Britain from continental Europe during the fifteenth century and hops are an essential ingredient. Prior to that, an ale was brewed which did not require hops.

The hop is a herbaceous hardy perennial plant which dies back to its rootbass every year but will live for twenty years or more. Its shoots climb aided by tiny hairs on the stem and leaves. The hop always twines clockwise.

The hop growing year starts immediately after picking. In October the plant is cut close to the ground and drainage furrows are dug. The hop yard is then allowed to stand for the winter, and any repairs needed to the poles or overhead wires can be made at this time. From February, the plant starts to shoot again. ‘Stringing’ begins in March which adds a pair of strings for each plant to climb from the soil to the frame wires. Traditionally these were added either by a man on stilts or by using a hooked ‘monkey pole’. ‘Tying’ takes place in April or May, each hop plant having thrown out 10-20 ‘hop wires’. All but six are weeded out and the remaining shoots are wound up the supporting strings – three per string. Throughout the summer the plants are traditionally fed with farmyard manure and pests control needs to be vigilant. Hop picking takes place in September.

Picking provided seasonal work in Worcestershire for a large number of families as this photograph from Worcester City’s collection shows. The hops were picked off the plant into a crib and from there measured by the bushel [equivalent to 8 gallons, or 36 litres – about the size of a carry-on suitcase] into sacks. The number of bushels collected was recorded and converted into the payment for the picker.


This article was compiled from a museum panel written in the 1970s. Old interpretation, when useful, is retained within the museum archives for future reference and research. At this point, hop yards were still a familiar sight locally, with several to be seen around Worcester’s city boundaries.

Restoration Day at Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire

This engraving from Worcester City’s collection, originally featured in the 1857 Illustrated London News, shows a jubilant scene in Upton-upon-Severn on the 29 May, one of many held nationwide.

Floral garlands of seasonal flowers, handkerchiefs and “all teaspoons which can be collected” were hung aloft for the festivities. Oak leaves and oak apples (oak galls) decorate buttonholes and processional poles and joyous celebrations, dancing and dining celebrated the restoration of the British Monarchy.

Oak Apple Day (commemorating the restoration of Charles II on 29 May, 1660, also his birthday) was celebrated by Royalist and Parliamentarian alike. The day does not celebrate a single victory of one army over another; it is symbolic and final end to hostilities and Civil War. It was an outpouring of relief and joy that nine years of bitter hostility and uncertainty were finally at an end. A nation that had been torn in two was finally able to heal.

We celebrate much more than Charles II and Monarchy on Oak Apple day. We celebrate the joy of an entire nation embracing lasting peace.


This article in the Illustrated London News on May 30, 1857 said that the custom would ‘in all probability soon be swallowed up by the awfully business habits of modern times’. Certainly Worcestershire was one of the last counties to celebrate the day.

The article explains the ceremony in more detail:

‘Early in the morning, ropes are stretched across the street, upon which are hung garlands, composed of all such flowers as are in bloom, and many are the speculations of the garland makers for weeks before as to whether __? and laburnum will be in their beauty by that time. The garlands are also ornamented with coloured ribbons and handkerchiefs, and all the teaspoons which can be collected are hung in the middle. Maypoles, though less common, and large boughs of oak are pressed(?) into service.

‘A benefit club meets on this day, and walks in procession (with band and flags) to church; after which they make a progress through the town, with music playing and colours flying, finishing up with a dinner – that bond of amity with Englishmen.

‘All this may be very obstructive to business; but we cannot see smiling faces – proofs of joyous hearts – without wishing that our national habits allowed of a few more such general rejoicings, never minding whether they took their origin from the triumph of Royalist or Republican.’

Hawking Merlin and Vervel

Merlins are the UK’s smallest bird of prey, small enough to hover in the breeze, and very speedy. Historically they were used by noblewomen to hunt skylarks for sport. A lark could then be kept in captivity to admire its song.

This female merlin is in Worcester City’s collection, and is a taxidermy mount from the 1970s. Museum taxidermy specimens like this enable us to appreciate up close quite how small and delicate this now red-list endangered species is.

In the Worcestershire County collection is a complete C17th silver hawking vervel, found in 2014 and acquired by the museum through the Treasure process. Vervels were used to attach a hawk’s leather jesses to a leash, which, held in the hand, enabled the bird to be trained in short distance flight. The leash could also be used to fix the bird to its block or perch. Vervels were usually inscribed or otherwise decorated to allow for the bird to be identified with its owner.

This vervel is a D- ring shape, comprising a flat silver ring inscribed with E. EYTON OF and with a shield soldered to the front. The design on the front of the shield is of a fret: knot, saltire within lozenge. Clive Cheesman (Richmond Herald, College of Arms) commented when it was evaluated as treasure: This coat of arms (Or a Fret Azure – i.e. a gold/yellow shield with a blue fret) is the arms of the Eyton family of Eyton-on-the-Wealdmoors in Shropshire (as opposed to Eyton on Severn in the same county, and several other places called Eyton in the Welsh borders). “E. Eyton” is hard to identify: I suspect it is an as yet unidentified member of the Shropshire family.

Vervels were used to attach a hawk’s leather jesses to a leash, which, held in the hand, enabled the bird to be trained in short distance flight. The leash could also be used to fix the bird to its block or perch. The Eyton family were Royalists from Shropshire in the Civil War.

The Challenge of Representing Worcester

This election poster (from the 1860s) in Worcester City’s collection campaigns against Mr McGarel; a Whig parliamentary candidate for Worcester who was ultimately unsuccessful in his bid to be elected.

At this time, Worcester had two Members of Parliament, and the seats were fiercely fought over. The Earl of Derby was Prime Minister three times over a challenging period of minority governments and the reshaping of the major political parties.

At the start of the nineteenth century, Worcester was a booming industrial city. However the majority of its population were unable to vote for their representatives in Parliament. Successive periods of electoral reform followed and the Representation of the People Acts gave more working people the power to participate in democracy.

Without the vote, working-class lobbying would frequently turn abusive and even violent. Thankfully, in our mostly peaceful times, the population grudgingly accepts political division and long negotiation in Parliament. For our nineteenth-century ancestors, rioting was one of the few tools the working populace had for their voices to be heard.

Gemma Dhami