The Worcester Wonder’s Bicycle Frame

This bicycle, made in Coventry, belonged to Worcester’s first Olympic hero – Ernie Payne.

Ernie took part in the 4000 metre cycling pursuit in the London Olympics of 1908, winning gold with his team-mates, some ten seconds ahead of Germany.
Born on London Road, Worcester in December 1884, Ernie followed his brother Walter into the St. John’s Cycling Club and soon began winning races. The ‘Cyclist’ magazine nick-named him ‘The Worcester Wonder’ and between 1905 and 1907 Payne was the Champion of England in the mile race for three years running.

Ernie was a true sporting hero who also played football for Worcester City and Manchester United. He died in 1961 and is commemorated in a life-size steel portrait bench along Worcester’s Diglis Bridge.

It was the last wishes of the late Gerry Hughes, President of St. John’s Cycling Club that Ernie’s bicycle should come back to Worcester. It was presented to the City Art Gallery & Museum in 2012.

The wheel in the background of the photograph is a wooden rim Constructor racing wheel, similar to the ones that would have been used at the time of the Games. These were formerly owned by Bert Perry of St John’s Cycling Club.


From Bromsgrove to church windows across the world

The beautiful work of Worcestershire stained glass artist Archibald John Davies can be found in at least 250 windows in over 100 churches and cathedrals across the globe.

Davies grew up in Birmingham and trained at the Birmingham School of Art, then continuing to work in its famous Arts & Crafts style. Initially he ran his own studio in Moseley until Walter Gilbert, the charismatic founder of the Bromsgrove Guild, persuaded him to join.

Davies set up his stained glass studio in the Bromsgrove Guild premises in 1906, and many great glass craftsmen learned and developed their trade under his guidance. Davies himself particularly enjoyed working with rare forms of continental glass that are now no longer made. He continued leading the studio until his death in 1953.

These evocative photographs of a window design and a window being installed are from the Bromsgrove Guild archive in the Worcestershire County Museum collection.

The Worcestershire Sauce Makers of Midland Road

After being created by Messers Lea and Perrins in their Broad Street Chemist shop in 1837, the now legendary Worcestershire Sauce became their biggest seller and necessitated the purchase of additional stores and premises around Worcester to cope with demand.

Charles William Dyson Perrins was amongst those who considered a factory a necessity to take the business forwards. Purchasing land from the Midland Railway, now known as Midland Road, a purpose built sauce factory was designed and construction completed in 1897. Its iconic orange gates and distinctive aromas are still in place 120 years later.

A serous factory fire in 1964 is still remembered by many Worcester residents. It gutted the existing roof and clock tower, but in true Lea and Perrins style, production was soon back in operation. Through the great efforts of their workers and office staff, including clerks working in nearby Stanley Road School, production resumed just 10 days later.

There were, and still are, many imitators, but the Original and Genuine Worcestershire Sauce is still manufactured in Worcester. The Lea and Perrins collection is on permanent display at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum and includes the original lignite jug used to manufacture the sauce. Their loan is by kind permission of Kraft Heinz.

The Royal Oak

This stool from the Worcester City museum collection was made from a root of the Royal Oak in 1832, an English oak tree with a famous tale.

The story goes that after Charles II fled from the Battle of Worcester in 1651, he hid in an oak tree at Boscobel House in Shropshire. Parliamentarian soldiers passed under the branches but somehow he avoided capture and eventually escaped to France.

When Charles returned to the throne on 29 May 1660, it was declared a holiday called Oak Apple Day. The Royal Oak was celebrated until so many parts were taken to make souvenirs like this one that the original tree was destroyed, although its descendants live on.

The enduring popularity of this story led to the ‘Royal Oak’ being the third most popular pub name in Britain today, with at least 6 Royal Oak pubs in Worcestershire.

F.J Cock’s Sewing Machines

Sewing machines were one of the first machines to enter the family household and during the 19th century they came in a large array of distinctive shapes as manufacturers sought the ideal design. This model from the Worcester City collection was used in Worcester’s renowned glove-making industry during the early 20th century.

At the turn of the century sewing machines were starting to look more alike – partly influenced by the success of the Singer sewing machine. The foot pedal, called a treadle, succeeded the former hand-cranked models. The treadle took a while to catch on in Britain, where it was seen as an unladylike movement and bad for the ankles, but would have made larger-scale production significantly easier.

Early machines were beautifully decorated, and this one has a dark finish with contrasting golden floral designs on the base, the arm and the wheel and an unusual sailing ship motif on the base. One theory is that machines were associated with industry and engineering, so the ornamentation made the sewing machine feel more appropriate in a domestic setting.

F. J. Cock was a distributor with branches in Birmingham and Coventry. He sold many ‘badged’ machines which were models made by other manufacturers but specially labelled for the shop or department store that sold them.

This machine is mounted onto a treadle table with cast iron sides that read “Cocks” and has no model name on the arm or company trade-mark revealing its maker. However the central decal of a schooner (sailing boat) at sea reveals it as the ‘Original Victoria’ made by the German firm Mundlos & Co., manufactured from 1896 onwards.

The Beacons are lit!

This engraving is part of Worcester City’s collection, and illustrates a fire being built atop the Worcestershire Beacon.

As the highest point in the Malvern Hills, the Beacon has historically been used as part of a chain of signalling fires, used to pass messages of approaching danger across the country. The Worcestershire Beacon formed part of the chain of warning fires lit in response to the arrival of the Spanish Armada in 1588. During World War II, the Beacon was also used as a look-out point for fires after air-raids on both Birmingham and Coventry.

Throughout the nineteenth century, beacons became a popular form of celebration, used to commemorate national events such as Coronations, Jubilees and even the end of the Crimean War in 1856. We think this engraving depicts the construction of a beacon in celebration of the marriage of the Prince of Wales in 1863.

These celebratory beacons were impressive in scale and often complex. Some included chimneys in order to ensure a good blaze, whilst others utilised the help of local construction companies. In this example, tons of wooden barrels can be seen making their way to the summit by horse and cart, and workers are assembling bundles of gorse atop a wooden platform to form a core of kindling.

The Worcestershire Beacon continues to be used during National celebrations, having seen fires lit for the Millennium and the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees.

Kate Banner
Collections Volunteer

Hello Operator… The Guildhall Switchboards

These telephone switchboards date from around 1939, and were used for many years at the Worcester Guildhall. They became part of the Worcester City museum collection during the 1980s.

Known as a private manual branch exchange, or P.M.B.X, the switchboards were the essential component of a manual telephone exchange. Switchboard operators would have used electrical cords or switches to establish connections between callers, many of whom would be subscribers with similar machines in their own establishments.

Once a caller had passed details of their intended call to an operator, they would be asked to replace their receiver. The operator would then make contact with this intended party, call back the initial caller, and finally connect the two parties.

The Guildhall was used as a telephone exchange for many years. These switchboards would also have been key in Worcestershire’s wartime communications network.

Kate Banner
Collections Volunteer

What’s your poison…?

These poison bottles are original to Steward’s Chemist Shop, which was relocated from the High Street to the Art Gallery & Museum on Foregate Street in 1974.

Poison was greatly feared throughout the Victorian era. This fear was fuelled by frequent mishaps and grisly misdemeanours, facilitated by an almost unregulated access to devastating chemicals such as arsenic, cyanide and strychnine.

One of our bottles is labelled ‘Digitalis’, a powerful drug which is still used to treat various heart conditions. It was created using the digitoxin compound found in foxgloves, and had the potential to cause severe poisoning if taken incorrectly.

Some precautions were taken by manufacturers to guard against accidents – the green glass and distinguishing ridged shape of these poison bottles would have acted as a last warning to an unsuspecting drinker, perhaps looking for his medication by candlelight.

Kate Banner
Collections Volunteer

The Boneshaker Bicycle

The Boneshaker is a velocipede, an early forerunner of the bicycle, from around 1870 with wooden wheels, similar to those on other nineteenth-century horse-drawn vehicles.

Before the invention of geared chains pedals were often mounted on the front wheel and, to give the rider more power, the front wheel tended to be larger such as on the famous penny farthing. However, having both the steering and the power connected to the front wheel made it very difficult to control.

This machine from Worcestershire County’s museum collection boasts an ingenious rear brake system, operated via cord and roller by rotating the handlebars, and tension wire spoked wheels. However, the solid rubber tyres gave the cycle its ominous name.