A Mummified Rat from Egypt

web-mummified-rat-c-museums-worcestershireMummified animals were common finds in ancient Egyptian tombs and were shipped back to Britain in their hundreds in the nineteenth century by travellers and collectors. It’s thought that they may have been placed in tombs for a number of reasons; as a source of food for the afterlife, as a favoured pet or most likely as a symbol of a particular deity. In ancient Egyptian religious art, characteristics of Gods and Goddesses were often represented by an animal and so the animal was often used to symbolise the deities. So great was the need for these mummified animals that an entire industry arose around their breeding and mummification.

This mummified rat came into the collections of Worcester Museum in March 1851 as part of a collection of ethnographic and antiquarian items which included two hands from the mummy pits at Memphis and a pigtail taken from a disgraced Chinese man. The collection was gifted by Henry Smith Parkes Esq, a diplomat with the British Government who served as a minister to Japan, China and Korea during his career.

The rat is carefully wrapped in strips of linen with the limbs and tail wrapped separately to the main body. The collection also includes a mummified crocodile and two Ibises, one wrapped and another unwrapped.

 

Worcester’s long relationship with Parliament

Worcester was first represented at a national parliament in 1372 by John Atte Wode, a local landowner. At the time, parliaments were called irregularly by the King and were principally a way for the monarch to raise taxes.

Between 1386 and 1885, the City of Worcester was represented by two parliamentary members and they include many names that left their mark on the city and the country. Perhaps the greatest legacy is from John Somers, Worcester’s MP in 1689, a Worcester lawyer who was the Attorney General and the architect of the UK’s Bill of Rights which sets out the authority of the British Parliament, the freedom of the election process and the limits of the monarch’s power. This document directly influenced the wording of the American Declaration of Independence.

From the 1770s, MPs professed a political party allegiance and from this early time the Worcester voters supported Conservative, Liberal and Whig candidates. At the 1997 election, the term ‘Worcester Woman’ was created by pollsters, describing a swing voter more interested in a prospective MP’s message than their political party; Worcester residents have been voting this way for at least two centuries.

web-peter-walker-and-family-from-1983-election-leaflet-c-museums-worcestershireThe Worcester City museum collection includes political leaflets from all parties from the mid-C19th to the modern day. These leaflet photographs from the 1983 election were published by Peter Walker who was Worcester’s MP from 1961 to 1992. Peter was followed into parliament by his son, Robin, the city’s current MP and smaller star of these pictures!

 

The Matchless Vesta

web-vesta-tilley-costume-c-museums-worcestershireVesta Tilley was one of the most successful performers of her era. She was a Music Hall singer, comedienne and is most famous for her male impersonation routines. These fine examples of Vesta Tilley’s stage costume are from the Worcester City costume collection.

Born on the 13th of May 1864 on Commandery Row (now Dent Close). Baptised Matilda Alice Powels at St Peters Church Worcester.

‘I was born in Worcester, England, that charming city (poor proud and pretty) with its beautiful cathedral on the banks of the Severn where daily life is a constant reminder of the charity and benevolence of our dear country…’

Matilda (Vesta) was the second child of 13 and daughter of William Henry Powels, an entertainer, a singer, a dancer and a multi-instrumentalist. He performed in places such as the Railway Well in St Martins, The Navigation which is now the Salvation Army building, and later the New Concert Hall in Corn market. Matilda accompanied him in his act as “The Great Little Tilley”.
As she grew, male impersonation became the main feature of her act and she adopted the name Vesta Tilley. She met with huge success in London and toured nationally. She was also one of the few British Acts to succeed in America.

At the outbreak of World War I, Vesta was 50 years of age, and transformed her act to raise morale, funds and recruitment into Britain’s Armed Forces. With new acts such as “Jolly good luck to the girl who loves a Soldier, Vesta became known as “England greatest recruiting sergeant”. One evening in Hackney led to so many recruits being enlisted, that they were comically termed the “Vesta Regiment”.

After 50 years on the stage, Vestas Husband Sir Walter De Frece encouraged her to retire. With much regrets she put on her final, 2 year sell-out tour. She filled venues in all major British cities and toured the provinces. She was presented with The Peoples Tribute which she is suggests contained nearly two million signatures.

Vesta retired to Monte Carlo where she lived until she was 88. On a trip to see London, the city in which she made her name, she passed away. She was buried in Putney Vale and in her will, left 10 000 pounds to each of her living siblings and their children. Vesta Tilley was one of the most unique, and talented individuals of her generation and is an inspirational individual. She conquered the stage, and the hearts her audiences, with her abilities and great generosity, and it is Worcester that can claim her as its own.

Fine examples of Vesta Tilley’s stage costume and a collection of her letters and personal ephemera, including the “Peoples Tribute” are preserved by Museums Worcestershire, and Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service at the Hive.

An Archaeological Enigma from the Teme Valley

web-archers-wrist-guard-c-museums-worcestershireThis intriguing object takes us back to the very early years of the Worcester museum service and the gentlemen naturalists and antiquarians who founded the Museum of the Worcestershire Natural History Society, which later became, Worcester City Museum.

Jabez Allies was one such antiquarian who collected during the first half of the nineteenth century and donated much of what he came upon to the Museum of Worcestershire Natural History Society.

It was Allies who presented this object, found in a quarry in the Teme Valley, at a meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute in December 1849. In the Institute’s Archaeological Journal of 1844 it is described as, “….supposed to be of the early British period, formed of a green coloured stone, and found six feet below the surface in a gravel bed at Lindridge. It is a kind of chisel, or possibly it may have been used as a flaying-knife. At one end there are two perforations, and a third hole drilled only partly through… It was presented to the Museum of the Worcestershire Natural History Society, by Rev. Thomas Pearson, of Witley.”

We now know this wonderful object in the city collection probably isn’t a chisel or a knife but a Bronze Age bracer, or archer’s wrist guard used to protect the wrist. It was a high status object, bound to the wrist with straps and formed from a rock that, at its closest, can be found in Central Wales. At some point in antiquity the object seems to have broken. It lost its perforations at one end and has been reworked into its present unusual form, perhaps to become a pendant or amulet but certainly an enigma to the antiquarians of the nineteenth century and beyond.

 

Porcelain Bird Sculptures inspired by Museum’s Collection

Boehm of Malvern was a company formed to manufacture fine bone china and porcelain, opened by Helen Boehm in 1971. Whilst visiting London, Helen Boehm had heard about the high quality of English porcelain and discovered the work of former workers at Royal Worcester Porcelain who had formed Cranleigh Art Ceramics.

A studio in Tanhouse Lane, Malvern was set up, amalgamating Edward Marshall Boehm of Trenton, based in New Jersey, USA, with Cranleigh Art Ceramics to form a new company which Helen would finance and manage the sales for.

Worldwide sales were quickly established, and many of the sculptures were inspired by flowers, birds and animals. Seeking inspiration for their designs, the model makers were regular visitors to Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum to study the taxidermy collection, and even borrowed specimens to take to their Malvern studio for examination.

This sculpture from the Worcester City museum collection depicts a pair of long-tailed tits perched among the spikey foliage of a gorse bush. It was originally listed as a 400 limited edition piece, but manufacturing costs were increasing and the company prizes quality over quantity, and therefore only completed 162 of these by 1976.

Garston Phillips

Thomas Woodward (1801-1852) sketches for his painting The Battle of Worcester

web-woodward-studies-for-battle-of-worcester-c-museums-worcestershireThe tradition of carrying flags into battle dates back thousands of years, although it was the Roman army and the European wars of the Middle Ages that made rallying behind a flag part of battle strategy. The flag or colour became the command point for each regiment and the way a commanding general could identify placement on the battlefield. Battalions were trained to arrange themselves in relation to the colour and to reorganise from there when the battle became chaotic.

As battle tactics changed and the armies moved to khaki in the field, the use of colours in battle became more of a threat than a strategic advantage. The practice died out for the British Army during the Boer War and official policy changed in 1891. Other countries were still carrying flags into battle in WW1 and even WW2.

By the end of the Civil War at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, both sides were exhausted – the Parliamentarian army had reportedly jogged in their shirtsleeves to make the journey at speed – and knew that organisation and motivation on the battlefield would be essential, something that Cromwell’s New Model Army excelled at. The Royalist Scots troops used white field signs and so Cromwell ordered his army to wear nothing that was white. King Charles spent the early stages of the battle in Worcester Cathedral’s tower where he would have been watching the placement and struggle of each regimental colour across the city and the floodplain to the south.

This sketch from the Worcester City museum collection by Thomas Woodward (1801-1852) was made in preparation for his great painting The Battle of Worcester. In his finished painting, three colours fly over the churning battle. Although Victorian painters tended to romanticise the experience of war, Woodward captures the chaos it must have been at the Battle of Worcester.

Workman’s Van – The Road Mender’s Living Van

The workman’s van is part of Worcestershire County Museum’s Transport Collection and is on permanent display at Hartlebury Castle. It is classed as a ‘Living Van’ and much like the Gypsy Caravans in our collection it was designed to act as mobile accommodation.

Similar to the Shepherd’s hut which was transported out onto the Downs so that the Shepherd could remain with his flock in lambing season, the road mender’s van allowed some temporary shelter for those repairing the county’s highways.

Steamrollers or steam powered road rollers, were first used in the county in 1897 and made the process of flattening out road surfaces far more efficient. It took time for workers to transport these large and slow moving engines out from the depot and it was often more practical to leave them near the worksite until the job was complete. Road menders would then use the van as a temporary accommodation until returning the steamroller to base.

A van could be expected to house up to three workers and usually included a cast iron stove used for cooking and providing heat. The van would have contained cooking utensils and bedding as well as washbowls to provide the workers with a home away from home.

As steam engines were replaced with faster diesel ones, road rollers became more efficient and easier to move and the use of workers vans began to decline.

Pottery zebra from Africa

web-pottery-zebra-c-museums-worcestershireSome of the most fascinating objects in the museum collections are from different places around the world. Worcester City’s ethnographic collection encompasses a number of items that derive from Africa.
One such object is the characterful ceramic zebra. This zebra shows how skilled the potter was in creating a complicated but stable shape which is decorated with slip made from clay and vegetable pigment.
Many ceramic vessels from Africa are traditionally fired at a low temperature which means they can be incredibly fragile compared to Western pottery. However, in the case of cooking receptacles they are much better at withstanding cooking temperatures.
There are many African vessels in the collection and they vary from region to region. The zebra may have come from West Africa as the vast majority of items in the collection derive from that area.

Kerry Whitehouse
Museums Registrar, Museums Worcestershire

Toy Cart

web-garston-with-toy-cart-c-museums-worcestershireThis delightful green and red children’s toy cart dating from 1907 was the very first item that I accessioned. I started work at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum in August 1969. Even after all these years I still remember it vividly today. On my third day of work, I was approached by an elderly gentleman and members of his family. He told me of a green and red toy cart he had since his birthday in 1907 and enquired if we would like it.
Without hesitation I accepted it gladly – this was my first donation and I was so proud. All my colleagues and bosses were very pleased with me and I went home a very happy boy indeed.
For many years, the cart was part of a permanent toy display in the children’s room of the then folk museum in Tudor House in Friar Street. Today it is stored in the city’s reserve collection.
web-toy-cart-with-owner-in-1907-c-museums-worcestershireThe gentleman who donated the cart was Mr S. Leslie, of Grimley in Worcestershire. In the photograph he can be seen sat in his cart.

Garston D Phillips
Collections Ambassador , Museums Worcestershire