The Last Worcester Glover?

Worcester has been at the forefront of many industries throughout its history, including porcelain, cloth manufacture and not forgetting its most famous condiment Worcestershire Sauce. During the 1700s, Worcester was the centre of the British glove making industry.

In 1777, John Dent opened a large factory on what is now Worcester’s South Quay. Between this time and the early 1800s half of British gloves were made in Worcester and the city dominated the industry. It was estimated that up to 30,000 people and 150 manufacturers were in operation, which later included famous firms Fownes and Milore. In the factories men stretched and cut the skin, while hundreds of female outworkers sowed the many glove components together to create the finished product.

When a foreign import tax was introduced in 1826, gloves could be imported from the continent very cheaply and the Worcester industry was hit hard. Large manufacturers such as Dents managed to weather the storm, but the skill and expertise of Worcester glovers still remained. Dents out-competed many continental businesses and went on to manufacture for French fashion houses such as Dior. They were selected to manufacture Queen Elizabeth’s coronation gloves and their gloves were worn by Nelson, Queen Victoria, and on the screen, both James Bond and Batman.

By 2015, only one Worcester glove factory remained. Les Winfield established Alwyn Gloves at Crown East in 1963 and continued to manufacture high quality gloves in the traditional manner, purchasing his equipment from the larger glove factories as they closed down. Les refused to retire and was still working in his 90s, with customers that included Prince Phillip and Margaret Thatcher, and contracts to supply the space research industry.

Les passed away at 95 years of age in November 2015, as Worcester’s last remaining glove maker, and drew to a close a significant part of Worcester’s industrial heritage.


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.

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

Burberry’s of London Box

Thomas Burberry, then just a 21-year-old draper’s apprentice, founded his company in 1856. Burberry’s thrived, growing to 80 employees in its first fifteen years. But his first great success was his invention in 1879 of a new waterproof material called gabardine. At the time the only waterproof option for clothing was rubber, which was heavy and uncomfortable to wear. Gabardine was revolutionary because the yarn was waterproofed before weaving, creating a fabric which was water-resistant but breathable.

Burberry’s most iconic raincoat design was designed by Thomas for the British Army on the eve of the First World War. He based it on his successful unbuttoned Tielocken coat, but with the addition of shoulder straps to display an officer’s rank and secure a satchel and binoculars, and D-rings to enable equipment to be attached to the belt. The large flaps on the chest gave extra protection to the wearer’s heart. It became known as the Trench Coat after its sustained use by soldiers in the trenches of the Western Front.

The company moved into its first London store at 30 Haymarket in 1891, developing a splendid headquarters building at number 18-21 just before WW1. They finally left Haymarket in 2007.

Thomas died in 1926 but Burberry’s remained a family company until 1955. In 1999, the company dropped the ‘s’ from its brand and is now known as Burberry.

This box, in Worcester City’s collection, dates to between the wars and would have been used to send an order out to a Worcestershire customer.

Whatever deliveries this Christmas brings you, all of us at Museums Worcestershire wish you an enjoyable festive season. Thank you for your support in 2017.

Newspaper Boy’s Hat

A donation of a newspaper boy’s hat has made its way into the museum collections after its discovery in the 1970s. The owner of a property in Tybridge Street came across the object as they were clearing trees and vegetation. Not wishing to part with it, they kept it as a souvenir of their time at the house.

The hat, along with a clipping of a newspaper article documenting the find, was rediscovered when a relative was organising the estate.

The hat is circular and made from linen, “Worcestershire Echo” printed around the brim. In Worcester High Street where Boots currently stands, the Worcester Evening Post was born in 1877 until 1883 when it became the Worcestershire Echo. It was a daily paper that was in direct competition to another daily formed by the Berrow’s company a few years before.

The papers continued side by side until the decline and the eventual disappearance of the Echo, the Herald and the Chronicle. In 1935, a company wanting to expand launched a daily paper, the Worcester Evening News.

Kerry Whitehouse

WW1 Nurses Uniforms

web-vad-uniform-c-museums-worcestershireDuring World War One, 38,000 women volunteered for the Voluntary Aid Detachment units both at home and overseas, assisting medical staff with the treatment and care of sick and injured soldiers. Many of these women had never worked before and as VADs they worked long shifts that often involved dirty and hard manual labour.

Most VAD nurses had no relevant experience when they first began, but gradually added to their knowledge and skills and were duly awarded badges or stripes indicating their proficiency in sanitation, first aid, bandaging and dressings.

VAD nurses were required to either hand sew or pay for their own uniforms to be made.
Despite the often messy nature of their work, the VAD uniform was expected to look pristine and had to be worn according to strict regulations, both inside and outside of the hospital. Nurses often got in trouble for accessorizing with earrings and purses.

The VAD uniform pictured was transferred by the British Red Cross from the Balfour Museum of Red Cross History in Hampshire and is now part of the Worcestershire County Museum Collection. It can be seen in A Happy Convalescence: Hartlebury Castle’s History as a WWI Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital at Worcestershire County Museum at Hartlebury until autumn 2018.

A Happy Convalescence is part of the Worcestershire World War One Hundred project. Funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Worcestershire World War One Hundred is one of the largest programme of events across England commemorating the First World War, involving cultural and heritage organisations County-wide through until 2018.


Miniature Steam Traction Engine

This is a model of an agricultural steam traction engine. Agricultural engines worked on farms from the late 19th to mid-20th century, hauling loads and powering other forms of agricultural equipment such as a threshing drum.

The traction engine was a revolutionary design, as it was able to move under its own power, rather than the engine being towed from farm to farm by a team of horses.

The model is freelance in nature as it incorporates many of the workings of a full-size traction engine, but is not modelled on any particular design.

Steam engines typically burn coal to heat the water and generate steam, however the scale model would have run on methylated spirits or a form of gas as this is easier to control in small scale.

The model includes some typical features of a traction engine such as the straked rear wheels. Strakes (referring to the strips of metal fitted parallel to one and other on the back wheels) helped engines to gain grip in wet or muddy conditions.

The engine in the Worcestershire County museum collection is likely to have been made by a model engineer, but now requires some work before she is able to steam again.


Barney Hill, volunteer researcher and steam engine enthusiast

The Habington Chest

web-habington-chest-c-museums-worcestershireThomas Habington was arguably one of Worcestershire’s rebels. He was a member of a staunch Catholic family from Hindlip Hall near Worcester and was involved in two of the most famous Catholic plots to unseat the reigning monarch, the Babington Plot of 1586 and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. For the first he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for six years and for the second he was condemned to death.

Through family connections his sentence was reduced. Habington was arrested for sheltering Jesuit priests at Hindlip and indicted in London, but was spared by the influence of his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle. Over the next forty years he studied, parish by parish, the history of the county up to the opening of Elizabeth’s reign. He spent his time researching and writing and is believed to have been Worcestershire’s first historian. It’s likely that his books and papers were stored within the chest that bears his initials and the date, 1605, in roman numerals.

The chest has been restored, with support from the Kay Trust, and parts of it dated by dendrochronology to a tree which was felled in the sixteenth century. Research by Stephen Price, Worcestershire Archaeological Society Curator, has traced the history of the chest further. Thomas wrote in a letter, during the civil war, that he had buried the chest in the woods at Hindlip Hall to protect the contents from soldiers. The chest may also be one of those mentioned in two eighteenth century inventories of Hindlip. In 1814 the hall was demolished and the chest was rescued by Dr Peter Prattinton of Bewdley. The chest is now in the care of Worcestershire Archaeological Society.

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.