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


The animals went in two by two

The County Museum at Hartlebury Castle was established due to an original donation of 30 tonnes of collection amassed by the Parker family at Tickenhill Manor. The collection was intended to represent folk customs and trades of Worcestershire and much of the house itself was dedicated to its display. Tickenhill Manor is now a private residence and not accessible to the public, but it’s collections were donated to the County are held in perpetuity by Worcestershire County Council through the Tickenhill Trust.

The enormous and diverse collection forms the cornerstone of the County Museum’s permanent collection. Some objects were collected, and others actually manufactured by family themselves. The Tangye branch of the family, legendary Birmingham engineers who even came to Brunel’s aid when launching the Great Eastern, crafted the most sophisticated industrial engines, but also hand carved this beautiful Noah’s Ark. Featuring over 100 hand carved wooden animals, the ark is a beautifully crafted labour of love, one of many great examples of Tangye craftsmanship.

Jim Tangye Parker, grandson of the original collectors, remembers being allowed to play with all of the wonders that resided in Tickenhill manor, but sadly for him, was never allowed to play with the Ark, which clearly represented a treasured item amongst the Parkers collection. Jim now kindly gives up his time to volunteer at the County Museum and the Tickenhill Trust, he contributes his own skills to look after the items created and lovingly preserved by his ancestors.

History has many layers

This beautiful manual carpet cleaner is part of the Tickenhill Collection – The original items collected by Alice and Joseph F Parker were displayed in their Bewdley home from the 1930s onwards. After 25 years of collecting the items became the founding collection of the new Worcestershire County Museum in 1966.

Manual cleaners such as this date from the mid to end 19th century and are manually operated, creating suction via a set of bellows. Operating these original manual cleaners was a two person job, with one person cranking the bellows whist the other used a hose to suck or blow dust from fabrics. The design had been improved somewhat in the case of this early upright and although powering your own vacuum cleaner may seem laborious by modern standards, this mechanised revelation was a huge technological step forward in domestic cleaning, saving the arduous scrubbing or beating of carpets and curtains.

Although a beautiful and extraordinary social history item in itself, the Museum Curators and Volunteers found yet more social history on the inside. A screwed up yellow ball of plastic film, tucked away inside the bellows, turned out to be a crisp packet. The design of the bag and the parent company suggests that this bag of Smiths Monster Munch was produced in the early 1980s, or at any rate, after the vacuum was donated to the museum. We can only assume that someone posted the packet into the cleaner whist it was on display in the 1980s! The mystery entertained the team as they extracted it almost 40 years later.

This is one example of the stories within stories that we find in our fascinating objects. It also sparked a row as to which 1980s snack food was the greatest, but please free to discuss that one amongst yourselves.

Costume drama

This beautiful dress dates to the 1920s. The shape and style of it is indicative of the decade that became known as the Roaring Twenties. It was donated to Worcestershire County Museum in the 1970s by a family from Droitwich and has remained in store until very recently.

Thanks to the huge efforts of women on the home front during the First World War, women gained considerable freedoms in work, in politics and also in fashion. The restrictive crinoline and bustle, tailored seams and intricate boning of female costume that prevailed before the Great War disappeared forever. A typical 1920s dress had minimal shaping, no tailoring and hems at knee level: fashions for women were unlike anything that had gone before. It was a revolution in dress and paved the way for the modern age.

Claire Cheshire

Tudor Candlesticks from a Forgotten Palace

Tickenhill Manor in Bewdley was once the home of James and Alice Parker. The Parkers were keen historians and for many years had been collecting “every sort of variety of relic so long as it appertained to Worcestershire”. In the 1930s they began to show these objects as a ‘folk museum’ at their own home. Over 30 years they amassed a collection of around 30 tons of objects and were attracting up to 2000 visitors a year. This collection became the founding collection of Worcestershire County Museum in the 1960s.

Few people are aware, however, that a royal palace once stood on the site of Tickenhill Manor; a Tudor palace, built by Henry VII for his eldest son and heir, Prince Arthur. Arthur married Catherine of Aragon in the chapel at Tickenhill Palace at the tender age of 12 in 1499. The palace was built for royalty and furnished accordingly. Two candlesticks, now in Worcester City’s collection were excavated from the grounds there. They are fifteenth/sixteenth century in date and once lit the halls of this royal palace. In common with most metal candlesticks of this date they are made of brass, now tarnished by many years buried underground and would, most likely, have held wax candles.

Just three years after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Arthur died and the course of English history was changed forever. His younger brother became Henry VIII and with him came the foundation of the Church of England and the reformation. Arthur’s body was taken to the chapel at Tickenhill and then on to Worcester Cathedral where he lies today. In time, the Palace became home to Henry VIIIs daughters, Mary and Elizabeth and later hosted Charles II who wrote from there to Prince Rupert, urging him to relieve York, leading to the Battle of Marston Moor. Despite this royal pedigree, some 350 years later, Tickenhill Palace is all but forgotten.

Trams in Worcester

This image from Worcester City’s collection shows one of Worcester’s trams making its way along Foregate Street past the Art Gallery & Museum in the 1920s.

The first tram service in Worcester began on 18 February 1884. This was a horse-drawn tram system, with animals pulling tram cars along routes between Portobello (Bransford Road) and Vine (Ombersley Road), and from Cross to Shrub Hill. The tram cars were built by the Falcon Engine and Car Works of Loughborough, and the tram depot was situated in St. Johns.

The last horse tram ran on June 25 1903, and from this date British Electric Traction (who had recently purchased Worcester Tramways Ltd.) worked upon the electrification of the tramway system. After some unpopular delays, this new electric system was opened on 6 February 1904, with initial routes linking St. Johns to Barbourne, St. Nicholas Street to Rainbow Hill, and St. Nicholas Street to Shrub Hill.

World War One meant a shortage of men to work on the tramways, and this led to female conductresses being employed for the first time – these conductresses proved to be extremely popular!

Throughout the late 1920s movements against tramways as a mean of public transportation had begun in towns and cities across the country, including Worcester. Buses were seen as a more effective replacement, and the public transport of Worcester was finally leased to the Birmingham and Midland Red Motor Omnibus Co. The last tram ran in the city on 31 May 1928.

Kate Banner

19th century upcycling

When this pair of rather elegant crimson silk damask shoes was donated to the Worcestershire County Museum back in 1965 by a Worcester resident, they were recorded in the museum catalogue as dating to 1740. Twenty years later, an expert studied them and noted that whilst the sole was indeed of that date, they had been reconstructed or recovered at some point in the 19th century using very different shoemaking techniques than the original craftsman would have employed.

This recycling of and renewing of clothing and accessories is not unusual at a time when clothing was not mass produced and so very expensive. The County Museum’s expansive costume collection has many examples of such economical activities. Hemlines were shortened, edgings added and removed, repairs repaired again and again.

On occasion items were completely repurposed. For example, there is a motorcycle suit in Worcester City’s collection that was made from a Gentleman’s Burberry Great Coat and altered to form a lady’s skort (shorts with a skirt over the top) and tunic. The alteration was made by an amateur and is poorly sewn by hand in places but would undoubtedly have offered a freedom of movement to ride a motorcycle that a skirt and corset would not.

Claire Cheshire

Medieval Roof Tiles from The Commandery

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 Liver Birds – From Worcestershire to Liverpool

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.

Kate Banner

A heron modelled by the Bromsgrove Guild (the photograph held in the County Museum archives) demonstrating the company’s portrayal of birds.