Canny use of plums

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.


Worcester Official Guide, 1951

This vintage Worcester Official Guide book, adorned with a beautiful mid-twentieth century illustrated cover featuring Worcester Cathedral’s Edgar Tower, could be purchased for 2’6 in 1951. It was published by Littlebury Press, a print works that employed hundreds of people in Worcester and was based in The Commandery for 70 years, before the Grade I listed building became a museum.

A foreword by H. M. Morris, who was the Worcester City Mayor from 1950 – 1951, proudly states that ‘There is little you will not find in Worcester in whatever direction lie your interests and however diverse they may be. Within our boundaries are the oldest and newest, both in architecture and industry.’

The book goes on to highlight that 1951 was the three hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Worcester and the two hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Porcelain Works, as well as being the centre of the Three Choirs Festival that year. Inside, a ‘Survey of Worcester’s Industries’ highlights the gloving and porcelain industries alongside adverts and photographs of factory workers from the time.

There are also sections focusing on The Commandery and its former significance as the 1651 Battle of Worcester Royalist headquarters, and the Museum of the Worcestershire Regiment, described as ‘one of the finest collections of its kind under the British Isles’, which can now be found at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum.

The Commandery’s Painted Chamber

The Commandery is one of the oldest buildings in Worcester with history dating back to the 11th century. One of the building’s gems is the Painted Chamber, dating back to the late 15th century. Once hidden from view after the Reformation, this treasure was rediscovered in the 1930s and conserved by Miss Matley-Moore of the Worcestershire Archaeological Society.

It seems likely that the area of the building that the paintings were found was the infirmary wing where people suffering from ailments could go and pray to a saint that understood their pain. A part of healing in the medieval period did not just rely on herbal treatment; a healthy dose of prayer was also prescribed. The paintings depict various saints; some undergoing terrible tortures for which they are well known for, and some that are associated with aspects of religious afterlife, with St Peter, depicted with the keys to the gates of heaven.

By the nature of the paintings, scholars have argued that this room may have been a room where people may have prepared to pass away. It was important in medieval life to ‘make a good end’ and to do that, physicians would leave their patients, and invite the priests in to absolve the patient of their sins and to administer the last rites.

The paintings were made by creating very basic pigments over a finished coat of fine plaster. Most frescos on the continent were painted over damp plaster, but in this country due to the climate, it’s possible that The Commandery’s examples may have been painted onto dry plaster. The most common element of a pigment was iron oxide which gave a great range of colour, and there is evidence that the paintings were sketched out first using charcoal.

Kerry Whitehouse
Museums Registrar

Worcestershire’s grand houses

Whilst walking in the Worcestershire countryside on the outskirts of Droitwich, you may encounter a pair of very grand historic houses, with a continental, chateaux style, nestled in amongst the trees and rolling countryside

The first residence is the famous Chateau Impney built by John Corbett, Staffordshire born businessman and Droitwich salt magnate. The second red brick structure only a couple of miles down the road belonged to his political rival Lord John Pakington. there are many who believe the grandeur of Chateau Impney was inspired as much by Corbett’s rivalry with Pakington as by his French wife.

The beautiful grade I listed Westwood Hall (pictured here in a print in Worcester City’s collection), with its soaring parapets and glorious bay windows, pre dates the Chateau by several hundred years and was a residence of the Pakington family for centuries.

Formerly a nunnery, it was handed to Sir John Pakington in the mid-1500s during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and has been built upon and expanded throughout its existence.

The Pakington family were strong allies to the crown and a subsequent Sir John Pakington was MP for Worcestershire and an unshakable supporter of Charles I during the English civil wars. Tried and imprisoned in the Tower for his loyalty to the king, he was later freed and supported Charles II at the Battle of Worcester. The ceiling of the ballroom was a gift from Charles II for the Pakington’s unwavering support and complements the Elizabethan plasterwork that is still in situ.

Originally set in the centre of Westwood Park the grounds of the house extended several miles in every direction to the borders of Hadley and the built up areas of Droitwich, including the 60 acre great pool that still sits next to Westwood Road in Droitwich. The three quarter mile long drive from Droitwich ends at the beautiful Gate House featured in the picture. This wonderfully ornate gateway straddles the path and bears symbols from the Pakington coat of arms, three five pointed stars and three sheaves of wheat.

The property passed to Lord Doverdale in the early 1900s and was ultimately sold to be converted into 12 private residences, but its splendour can still be admired from a distance, towering above the trees in the beautiful Worcestershire countryside.

All fourchettes and thumbs

As is the way with most traditional crafts and trades, a look at a Glover’s tools would most likely leave you mystified as to their craft. Not unlike like those of surgeon or a carpenter, they seem unrelated to the often intricate and highly delicate gloves that Worcester was famous for producing in the 18th and 19th Century.

Worcester’s glove makers were both male and female, both performing very different parts of the process. The female workers used needles, thread and later sewing machines to produce the finished product. The male glove maker would be responsible for producing the raw materials and cutting them to size prior to assembly. Skin requires shaving, stretching and paring to ensure the maximum economy. Sheep shears were used to trim down the skin into precise sizes and then blanking plates or “webs” stamp deliberate shapes out of multiple pieces of leather in a press for the hands (trank), between the fingers (fourchettes) and the thumb, like sharp industrial pastry cutters.

It is easy to think the gloves could be produced with just a sewing machine and leather, but in truth, Worcester’s glove industry supported an entire county with the preparation of the skin, large scale assembly and even the manufacture of the arsenal of tools all produced locally.

The image picturing items from the Worcester City collection show:
A cutting knife – known locally as a “spud knife”
Fourchette cutter

Dainty Knitted Undies

This magazine, Weldon’s Practical Needlework No. 229 ‘Dainty Knitted Undies’ is one of the more unusual paper items from the Worcester City museum collection. Originally published in the late 1930s, the booklet contains 14 pages of vintage undergarment knitting patterns, also referred to as “Beautiful Beneaths”, including bedjackets, camiknickers, vests and pants, adorned with plenty of fancy stitches, crochet trims as well as information about ‘ways to wash your woolies’.

Continued developments throughout the thirties increased the prevalence of man-made fabrics such as rayon and nylon, in addition to the technique of cutting on the bias (on the cross-grain) which allowed more stretch in undergarment fabrics. These changes meant that the popularity of knitted underwear waned, and such garments started to take on a more modern look which, thanks to the introduction of the silk-like rayon, were probably a lot more dainty than this publication’s patterns.

The Worcester City museum collection includes a number of 20th century paper items such as crafting patterns, fashion magazines, bound volumes of sheet music and collectable vintage encyclopaedias. Over the past few years, Museums Worcestershire has been digitising more of its stored collections in order to bring more of its hidden or forgotten stories to the public.

The Guild in the Garden

These rabbit garden sculptures from the Worcestershire County museum collection were designed and created by the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts.

The Bromsgrove Guild was founded in 1898 by Walter Gilbert, and employed highly skilled Arts and Crafts designers and artists. Their garden statuary, such as the garden rabbit sculptures, was highly sought after. The Bromsgrove Guild collections at Worcestershire archives and the County Museum are the finest reference documentation held anywhere of the Guild’s output.

Apart from these smaller works, the Guild was also responsible for many unique and nationally important public pieces. Most famous of these are the Buckingham Palace gates. Other work included the Liver Birds at the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool, the trim on both RMS Queen Mary and the Lusitania, and plaster ceilings at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth.

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.