The largest collection of late medieval roof tiles found in Worcester came, not from an archaeological excavation, but from the roof of a building.
The tiles were found, still in use, on the roof of the Garden Wing at The Commandery. It is possible that these tiles have been reused in their current location from an earlier building (possibly at The Commandery, but not necessarily) and that they have been taken off and put back on this present roof a number of times.
These medieval tiles were locally made in Worcester and are significant for the stamps that many of them carry. In 1467 Worcester City Ordinances introduced compulsory tiling on roofs in an attempt to reduce the number of houses with thatch roofs and therefore the number of fires. The tiles had to be stamped with an individual maker’s mark so that tiles could be traced back to their original workshops in a bid to ensure high quality in production.
Maker’s marks on The Commandery roof tiles include indented rings, petals, triangles, crescents and arrangements of dots and lines. A number of the tiles also preserve the footprints of animals, long gone, that walked across them when they were being manufactured: animals like dogs, cats, deer and heron. These marks, an early form of building control, are not thought to be found anywhere else in the country outside of Worcester.
The Bromsgrove Guild formed an important part of Worcestershire’s decorative arts industry for nearly 70 years. Formed in 1898 by sculptor Walter Gilbert the guild worked in a variety of mediums, creating pieces both for domestic decoration and of national importance.
One of their most famous and recognisable creations are the Liver Birds. These two statues stand at over 18 feet tall, and sit atop the Royal Liver Building on Pier Head in Liverpool. The statues were created in Bromsgrove but then dismantled for transportation to Liverpool, and re-built in situ from the small pieces of copper sheeting. The statues presented a challenge in design. They had to be light enough to manoeuvre 300 feet to the top of the building, yet strong enough to withstand the elements. The birds were gilded once they were in position – it is easy to imagine the difficulty of working with such a fine medium from such a windy elevated position!
The Liver bird has had a symbolic significance to Liverpool for over 650 years, with images of the creature appearing on everything from historical documents and ceremonial regalia, to the logo for Liverpool FC. The origin of the bird itself has been attributed by various specialists to eagles, cormorants and many other species both mythological and real. Having been an infamous landmark of the Liverpudlian landscape since 1911, the statues themselves have gathered many local legends, including speculation about Liverpool’s fate should the birds ever fly away from their perches!
Worcestershire County Museum collection includes many items from the Bromsgrove Guild, from design components through to finished products.
Enfield originally held contracts to supply gun parts for the military in the late 19th century. Just before the turn of the century, they diversified their production into motorbikes, motor cars and bicycles. The Enfield Cycle Company produced many, mid-range, mass produced cycles in Redditch, Worcestershire. The company never forgot its proud history as supplier to the Crown, marking its cycles Royal Enfield – made like a gun.
This ladies cycle from the Worcestershire County collection features include a 21-inch frame, 26-inch wheels, a bracket for a rear basket, front and rear braking and Enfield’s own wheels and pedal crank. Fitted with a “Wilby of Birmingham” leather saddle and nickel handlebars, it also carries Enfield’s own parts guarantee – provided cyclists were prepared to send defective parts back to the factory in Redditch.
The rise in the popularity of cycling came at the same time as the suffragette movement and bicycles gave women independence and freedom, despite claims that they were undignified and even dangerous for women to use. Some changes in the design of ladies fashions as well as the cycles themselves ensured that the bicycle became an affordable, low maintenance and efficient mode of transport.
Susan B. Anthony, American activist famously said:
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel… the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.”
When charging into battle a soldier wants to know they have the best protection possible to deflect the blows from opposing armies. Here’s a short timeline of how armour progressed up to the time of the Civil War, some of which are represented in the collections of Worcester City Museums.
The mid-13th to 14th Century saw the some of the earliest plate protection created specifically for the arm and shoulder. The aliette was a piece of neck protection, attached to plate armour at either shoulder, intended to deflect sword blows. It’s often included in heraldic imagery and can also be seen pictured in medieval church brass portraits.
The aliette evolved into the spaulder, a section of plate that covered the shoulder, made up of a series of metal bands. Located above the plate that protected the lower arm (the vambrace), and, the upper arm (the rerebrace), the spaulder was worn over chain mail. But by the end of the fourteenth century, arm sections such as these we were being combined into single pieces of armour.
By the 15th century, the pauldron – like this one pictured – a further variation on the spaulder, had become larger and more articulated, protecting parts of the chest, shoulder blades and the underarm.
The 17th century saw the cuirassier (armoured soldiers on horses) still wearing armour not unlike that of the medieval period, but its cumbersome nature, lack of flexibility and cost, alongside the development of increasingly powerful firearms, led to it becoming a less frequent sight on the battlefield.
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.
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).
When the Great War ended, there was an enormous demand for ways to celebrate peace and remember those who had fallen. The Bromsgrove Guild was inundated with orders for memorials from around the world. Companies made presentations to their returning workers and souvenirs such as this Peace mug in Worcester City’s collection were produced to fulfil the need to reflect and reminisce on the huge sacrifices made.
The most iconic manifestation of this desire to commemorate is the red poppy. Bright red Flanders poppies were delicate but resilient flowers. They grew in their thousands, flourishing even in the middle of the chaos and destruction of the battlefields of France.
Inspired by the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ American academic, Moina Michael, began to make and sell red silk poppies. The (Royal) British Legion bought 9 million of these poppies and sold them on 11 November 1921. This first ever ‘Poppy Appeal’ raised over £106,000 and was used to help First World War veterans with employment and housing.
Hindlip Hall is one of Worcestershire’s strongest connections to the story of the notorious failed Gunpowder Plot of the 5 November 1605.
This sketch dating from 1810 is believed to be by Thomas Pennethorne, who recorded many Worcestershire buildings and scenes during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Hindlip Hall was demolished by fire just four years later in 1814 and rebuilt by Lord Southwell. It is now the Headquarters of West Mercia Police.
Up until its destruction, the house had an unfavourable reputation, having been built by Catholic Recusant John Abington whose family became wrapped up in both the Babington and Gunpowder plots. His son Sir Thomas added eleven expertly concealed priest holes throughout the house to hide Catholic priests, who were threatened with severe punishment for not adhering to the Anglican doctrine.
After the events of the 5 November, many of the plotters fled to the Midlands, pursued by Sir Richard Walsh, the High Sheriff of Worcestershire, who eventually caught four Jesuit priests who were suspected of involvement in the plot at Hindlip Hall in January 1606 after twelve days of searching the property.
In the 1850’s Irish tinsmith, William Blizzard Williamson, established his own metal works in Worcester. He named it “The Providence Works” and locations such as Foundry Street and Providence Street are the only reminders of one of Worcester’s most important industries.
Beginning with wig boxes, tin baths and travelling trunks, Williamson and his sons eventually seized upon a fascinating idea from the United States: preserving food was already a vital part of British life and relates to the process of sealing food for freshness, traditionally within glass jars. Fruit that lasted a matter of days, could be canned and survive for years. In the early 1800s the Americans began to use air sealed tin containers instead of jars, and the “tin can” was born. Williamson’s altered their operation to enable the mass production of open topped cans that could be sold to the food industry and this proved to be a very shrewd decision.
Williamson’s, who became Williamsons Metal Box and eventually “The Metal Box Co.” became one of the largest producers of tin cans. Eventually moving their operation to Perry Wood, Worcester they were said to produce up to 2,000,000 cans a day, which were destined to hold fruit, meat, beer and tobacco. Large or early yield of crops that were in danger of spoiling were saved by this process. Our picture from Worcester’s collection shows how a surfeit of plums were canned and preserved here in Worcester.
Food preservation was even more critical during times of conflict. During the First World War soldiers survived on a diet of canned and preserved rations. It was essential to supply troops with unspoiled supplies that could be transported safely in extremely difficult conditions. The tin can performed admirable during the war and enabled supplies to reach the most challenging of locations.
Even in the modern day, the tin can still carries many goods safely around the globe, but there was once a time when many of those tins, started their journey in Worcester.