Pitchcroft gates: A Proud Gift to the City’s Residents

historical photograph of a pair of ornate iron gates and their gateposts

Most Worcester City residents will have walked, driven or cycled past the ornate gates to Pitchcroft on Croft Road many times. They were erected in 1899, the ironwork by the Bromsgrove Guild, and the stonework by local master stonemason William Forsyth.

The Bromsgrove Guild were the foremost maker of ceremonial gates at the time: in 1905 they were even commissioned to create the gates to Buckingham Palace. This picture (above) of a pair of elaborate gates is part of a collection of Guild catalogues and commission records in the Worcestershire County museum collection, and shows an example of the sort of gates that could be commissioned from the firm.

Before 1899, the river meadows north of the railway line in Worcester had a complicated mixed ownership. Although paths crossed the land and events would be staged from time to time, the public did not have the right of access to the whole area as they do now. The Corporation of Worcester negotiated with the landowners, bringing Pitchcroft into public ownership with the aim that it could then be permanently used for recreation by the city’s residents.

The 7th Earl Beauchamp, William Lygon, had succeeded his father aged 18. He would go on to a political career in the Liberal Party, including as a cabinet member at the outbreak of the First World War. But his first public role was a year as the Mayor of Worcester, at the age of 23, just as the Corporation was negotiating to secure the Pitchcroft meadows.

Shortly after the end of his Mayorship, Lord Beauchamp commissioned and presented the Pitchcroft gates as a personal gift to the City, celebrating the successful deal dedicating the land to the general public. The presentation stone reads:

TO THE CITIZENS OF WORCESTER / FROM / WILLIAM EARL BEAUCHAMP / 1899

The brick gate pillars and gateposts are topped with fabulous sculptures made by Forsyth: a swan, bear and ragged staff (the symbols of the Beauchamps), and turreted castles which refer to the arms of the City of Worcester.

photograph of some elaborate gates and brick piers

The “anti-reform” Worcester plate – a time capsule from 1832

Willow pattern blue and white plate with brown writing

Jane Askew, Roger Ball and Steve Poole from the University of the West of England, undertook research into this intriguing plate in Worcester’s collection in April 2022. Their research paper below suggests why it was created and how Worcester people participated in the national arguments in the 1830s about extending the categories of people allowed to vote.

The period of 1830-1832 in Britain was marked by waves of protests and disturbances demanding reform of the electoral system. In 1830 the existing arrangements, which dated back to the rule of Henry VI, enfranchised less than three percent of the population, mostly significant land and property owners. With a few exceptions, women, much of the middle class and all the working-class were excluded from the process. Exacerbating this, access to power through the distribution of County and Borough MPs was very uneven, with rural towns and areas overrepresented compared to the massive urban populations in the new industrialising cities, such as Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. The staunchly anti-reforming Prime Minister from 1828-30, the Duke of Wellington, had benefited from this and so was virulently opposed to expanding the franchise or reforming the ‘rotten boroughs’. His parliamentary opponents, the Whig Party, saw an opportunity to take advantage of popular protest demanding reform to further their electoral interests.

The borough of Worcester was not considered to be ‘rotten’ as such, as it had a freeman franchise, that is, voting rights were given to those declared ‘freemen’ of the city. Freemen were created by inheritance or won either by purchase or gift from the Corporation, meaning honorary freemen could be created with the specific intention of swaying elections. This more indirect corruption allowed party prejudice to be effectively built-in to the electoral system. In Worcester the Corporation at this time was unelected and dominated by anti-reformers, though in practice the Corporation usually tried to ensure power was shared by one Tory and one Whig MP, a strategy aimed at preventing a contest.

The first signs of popular organisation over the issue of electoral reform in the period in England appeared in January 1830 with the formation of the Birmingham Political Union (BPU), founded by banker Thomas Attwood. Led by printer and businessman Issac Arrowsmith, the nearby Worcester Political Union (WPU) followed shortly after, and by the end of 1830 the WPU had 200 subscribers and was actively agitating for reform. The trend continued into 1831 with the WPU membership growing rapidly to around 1,500 with public meetings drawing more than 10,000 (1). It is estimated that 23 Political Unions were formed in 1830, and by June 1832 there were more than a hundred in Britain. Despite this rapid growth in protest organisations, the social movement for reform harboured several significant contradictions, most notably the question of universal (male) suffrage. Many Whig reformers were opposed to working men getting the vote and splits in the movement began to appear in some areas as the limited content of the Reform Bills became known.

The First Reform Bill which proposed expanding the franchise and reorganising seats fell very far short of universal (male) suffrage. The Bill was launched in the aftermath of the collapse of Wellington’s Tory government in November 1830. The new prime minister, Lord Grey, was a Whig reformer and in March 1831 the Bill was put to the Commons where it was narrowly defeated. This led to a general election between April and June which, despite the inequities of ‘borough-mongering’, produced a Whig landslide. This created the opportunity to launch the Second Reform Bill which passed through the Commons by a significant majority in September 1831. However, one more hurdle remained, the House of Lords. On October 8th 1831 the Bill was defeated in the Lords leading to a wave of protests and disturbances sweeping across Britain and Ireland. The ‘reform riots’ began with serious disorder in the East Midlands (Derby, Nottingham) followed by unrest in towns in the West and Southwest. The wave reached its apogee in Bristol at the end of October with the most serious riot in nineteenth century Britain.

As part of our research project we are investigating the reform-related riot in Worcester in early November 1831. We were informed by the Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum that they had an interesting artefact related to the reform struggles of the period. The artefact, a reassembled ceramic plate, was covered in text front and back:

The centre-front of the plate is transcribed thus:

Great rejoicings have taken place lately in England on passing the Reform Bill.
I say it will be the ruin of the country.
What say you Mr Finder of this plate about it?

The writing on the circumference of the plate has largely rubbed off apart from the rather confusing fragment:

…take a good ½ pint of wine…

In contrast the back of the plate is full of personal information:

The back of a plate covered in written names

The 1st stone of this Bridge was laid June 19th1832 by Richard Spooner, Esq. of Brickfields
The 2nd stone by M J Ross of Astwood
3 by Mr J Hake
4 by Mr William {Julle} (2)
5 by Mr J- Parry the surveyor of the road
6 by Faye {Tison}
7 by Mr Master Rich Staples
8 by Harvey Eginton, Architect to the Bridge
9th by Hester and the 10th by Emily

And from the inside bottom anti-clockwise:

11 by Miss Eliza Staples 12 by Judith, 13 {—} 14 Jane her sister 15 Miss Ann Eginton {—} sisters
16th by Mr B Staples, 17th {—–} Staples 20 W Rapha {—-} Miss Jane Carson
The Right Reverend the Bishop Eginton, formerly of Handsworth Birmingham
{—} gave towards its erection £30 on condition of its being made a {—} remainder to be paid by the parish.
the contractor William Wood of Droitwich
We hope this will be satisfactory to whoever finds it centuries hence
My reasons for doing it is some ancient foundations were found of which there are no records. Many think {-} stand long {-} left as it {iw}.
The committee were Sir Offley Wakeman, Bar, Rich Spooner Esq.

Our research suggests the plate was laid in the foundations of a new bridge being built over the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Bilford (3). A contemporary newspaper article dated 30th June 1832 refers to this location and notes that during its construction the workmen discovered the ancient structure of a previously unknown water mill. This was dated back to the period of the dissolution of the Monasteries (4). Referring to the transcription above, the “ancient foundations” verifies the location as being the Bilford bridge. A second validation comes from the date with the newspaper claiming it to be Wednesday 20th June, whilst the plate states Tuesday 19th June, suggesting the former was in error. However, the dates are close enough to substantiate the event.

Of the people named on the back of the plate we can insert some details. Harvey Eginton ‘Architect to the Bridge’, his two sisters Hesther and Emily and their father William Raphael Eginton are listed as the 8th, 9th, 10th and 20th stone layers respectively. The Eginton family were renowned for several generations as skilled glass painters and stainers. Harvey went onto design and restore many churches in the region. At the time of his early death in 1849 he held the posts of county surveyor and senior architect for the construction of church buildings in the Worcester district (5). Although there don’t seem to be many details of a ‘Bishop Eginton’ the connection to Handsworth in Birmingham is viable as the Eginton family were closely associated with the area (6). Sir Offley (Penbury) Wakeman, 2nd Baronet (1799-1858) lived at the nearby Perdiswell Hall, constructed by his father Sir Henry Wakeman in 1788 and demolished in 1956 (7). The unexceptional Offley Wakeman was probably present at the stone laying as his ‘seat’ of Perdiswell adjoined the Parish of Claines, the funders of the bridge (8).

Of particular interest, however, is Richard Spooner (1783-1864), the first stone-layer. He is undoubtedly the son of Issac Spooner the West Midlands nail manufacturer and banker. Spooner (jnr) initially followed in his father’s footsteps by helping run the family’s banking and manufacturing business. The former, a joint concern with the Attwood family, brought him into contact with their son Thomas, the subsequent founder of the Birmingham Political Union. Richard Spooner and Thomas Attwood became friends, political associates, and financial theorists. In 1812 they were both chosen to represent Birmingham in meetings with parliamentary committees. Spooner made several attempts to become an MP, most notably in the Boroughbridge election of 1820 but despite his electoral victory, he and his fellow winning candidate were deposed on the charge of bribery by an election committee a few months later. Although Richard Spooner was regarded as being a ‘radical reformer’ and he spoke at meetings with Thomas Attwood in Birmingham in 1829 which were precursors to the formation of the BPU, he took an anti-reform position on the right-wing of politics in the 1830s and gravitated towards the more extreme political opinions (9).

It is thus likely that the comment “I say it [reform] will be the ruin of the country” on the front of the plate could have come from the pen of Spooner or one of his supporters at the Bridge ceremony. A well-used argument touted by anti-reformers in the period was that the widening of the franchise would bring in voters who had less allegiance to the country, as they owned less property, let alone the largely property-less working classes. This in turn, they argued, would lead to social chaos and financial ruin. This approach, based on fear, was aided to some extent by the riots and disturbances of autumn 1831 when prominent anti-reformers were selected for ‘rough music’ and in some cases attacks on their property or person. Of course, it was pointed out in response by many pro-reformers that the vast majority of those who took part in these protests were peaceful and those that weren’t, were disenfranchised in any case. In parliament, reforming MPs turned the anti-reform argument on its head by emphasising the threat of riots and revolution if the Third (Great) Reform Bill was not passed. The Worcester reform riot of November 1831 may have played a part in fomenting the reactionary views of Spooner and his anti-reforming associates which are exposed on the plate. Several of them were targeted by the crowd during the disturbance and it is likely that Spooner would have known about the event in some detail.

Another intriguing aspect of the Worcester reform riot relating to Richard Spooner is that several historians have argued that one of the causes of the riot was “Wetherell’s marriage into a Worcester family” (10). Sir Charles Wetherell, MP, had been both Solicitor-General and Attorney-General for England and Wales in the governments of the 1820s and was the Recorder for Bristol in 1831. Wetherell was (in)famous for his reactionary views and “violent speeches” against Catholic emancipation and he was a staunch anti-reformer, apparently making even the Duke of Wellington feel uncomfortable. Like Spooner, Wetherell became associated the most extreme British and Irish politics in the period (11). It was Wetherell’s controversial and contested visit to Bristol on 29th October 1831 that had initiated three days of the most violent rioting in the nineteenth century. The Worcester reform riot followed less than a week later. So, to what marriage were the Worcester ‘historians’ referring? More than 25 years before the reform crises, in 1804, Richard Spooner married Charlotte Wetherell, Charles Wetherell’s sister, making them brothers-in-law. This is probably the “marriage into a Worcester family” that the historians were proposing as a causal factor. This link to the Worcester reform riot certainly deserves further investigation.

On the front of the plate, the line “Great rejoicings have taken place lately in England on passing the Reform Bill” refers to the events of June 1832. The Third Reform Bill had been launched in December 1831, passed through the Commons with large majorities in March 1832, and survived the uncertainties of the “Days of May” when Lord Grey resigned as Prime Minister and Wellington was restored to power. This period of intense agitation across Britain was described by a historian of Worcester, Tuberville:

May 14—The Worcester Political Union met on the resignation of ministers, because the Lords, for a second time, refused to accept the principle of the Reform Bill. The meeting was held in Pitchcroft, at five p.m., and the members of the Union went in procession to the grand stand, headed by flags and a band. It is said that at least 10,000 persons were present. (12)

Fear of the consequences of a third failure of the Bill in the Lords after the ‘lessons’ of the reform protests and riots of autumn 1831 put Grey back into power once again and forced Wellington to relent and persuade the anti-reform Lords to back down. The Bill was finally given Royal assent on 7th June 1832. Despite the fact that the Great Reform Act, as it became known, fell very short of the demands for universal suffrage, there was great “rejoicing” when it finally passed. The reference on the plate was probably to the celebrations in Worcester on 11th and 12th June, a week or so before the plate was laid in the Bilford Bridge. Tuberville described them thus:

On the Monday [11 June] the Worcester Political Union, with a great number of lodges and friendly societies, paraded the streets with banners and music, and in the evening dined at various public houses. On the Tuesday [12 June] evening the city was illuminated — the lighting up being almost universal, and costly transparencies and devices in many instances adopted. (13)

The anti-reform plate was clearly placed in the foundations of the Bilford bridge in 1832 as a kind of ‘time-capsule’, passing onto future generations the feelings of some of those close to the political and social crises of the 1830s. As such, it presents us with some fascinating evidence and poses us with a question:

What say you Mr Finder of this plate about it?

Research into the Worcester “anti-reform plate” is far from complete and we would urge local historians to add to our initial investigations.

  1. Lopatin, Nancy D. Political Unions, Popular Politics and the Great Reform Act of 1832 (Basingstoke: Macmillan 1999) pp. 59-60.
  2. Curly brackets {} designate that we are unsure of the transcription or it is unclear.
  3. This would be where the B4482 Bilston Road crosses the canal, close to Perdiswell Leisure Centre. The current bridge replaced the one being constructed in 1832.
  4. Worcester Herald 30 June 1832.
  5. The Builder Vol. VII No. 317 3 March 1849.
  6. Francis Eginton Handsworth History: Its story and its people https://www.astonbrook-through-astonmanor.co.uk/handsworthhistory.co.uk/eginton.htm
  7. WAKEMAN of Perdiswell Hall,Worcs The Baronetage of England, Ireland, Nova Scotia, Great Britain and the United Kingdom http://www.leighrayment.com/baronetage/baronetsW1.htm; Perdiswell Park, Worcester Parks & Gardens https://www.parksandgardens.org/places/perdiswell-park.
  8. Worcester Herald 30 June 1832.
  9. Fisher, D.R. “Spooner, Richard (1783-1864), of Glindon House, Warws.” The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher (Cambridge: CUP, 2009); Birmingham Daily Post 25 November 1864.
  10. LoPatin, Political Unions p. 97. LoPatin refers to Gwilliam, H. W. Old Worcester, People and Places (Bromsgrove, 1983) and Whitehead, David Book of Worcester: The story of the City’s Past (Buckingham, 1976) for this argument
  11. Sack, James J. “Ultra tories (act. 1827–1834).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 24 May. 2008; Accessed 31 Mar. 2022.
  12. Tuberville, T. C. Worcestershire in the Nineteenth Century: A Complete Digest of Facts Occurring in the County since the Commencement of the year 1800 (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1852) p. 71.
  13. Ibid. p. 277.

Signs of Worcester’s Iconic Ironwork Industry Are Everywhere

A series of signs with black lettering on white blocks

The names of Scotsmen Robert & John Hardy and Englishman Richard Padmore may now only be familiar to some Worcester residents, but at one stage it was impossible to walk through the city of Worcester without seeing their handiwork.

Established in 1814, their business created some of the most iconic and long-lasting decorative ironwork in the country. In cities throughout the world, examples of their creations are still available to see.

In Worcester itself, many familiar parts of our city’s decoration were constructed at the Hardy & Padmore ironworks in Foundry Street, by local people. Two notable examples are the railway bridge across Foregate Street and the lamps decorating the bridge over the River Severn, making Hardy & Padmore’s work a familiar sight to anyone passing through Worcester by rail or river.

The decorative clock near the Guildhall and the fountain in Cripplegate Park are just some of their larger creations that decorate our street and parks, and the cast iron park benches that bear the city’s civic crest are all Hardy & Padmore too. A few of their tram poles and streetlights can still be seen in situ, such as on the quayside near the Rectifying House, but at one stage they would have been present on virtually every lit street in the city centre. It was not just the outdoor spaces of Worcester which were filled with their creations, but inside residents’ houses too – Hardy & Padmore’s product range included smaller domestic wares like doorstops, pots, pans, stoves and flat irons.

One of their less ostentatious products were cast-iron street signs. Often replaced in the present day by lighter, more modern signs, Worcester City museum has collected many original street signs (and the odd tram pole) to preserve them for the future. Some signs invoke memories of streets that no longer exist, such as Waterloo Street in the Blockhouse and Watercourse Alley near the City Walls.

Worcester wine production, or is it vinegar?

An advertising flyer with an ornate wine label including the Worcester City shield

Worcester is known for its historic pedigree in the production of beer and cider due to the prolific growing of hops and fruit in the area, but did you know that our city also once produced a vast quantity of wine?

Where the Lowesmoor retail development is now situated, between City Walls Road and Pheasant Street, once stood the mighty Hill Evans Vinegar Works. At the turn of the 20th century, Hill Evans was the largest vinegar works in the world, boasting the largest vinegar vats. Their Great Filling Hall still stands, now restored and occupied by the Regimental drill hall, and is 70 feet high and 160 feet wide. The premises held more than 500,000 gallons of vinegar at full capacity, with almost a dozen vats able to ferment 15,000 gallons each. There was even a dedicated locomotive branch line running from the works to Shrub Hill station and used to bring in supplies and export the finished product. It was known locally as the Vinegar Express.

Lea and Perrins also used a tremendous amount of vinegar and pickled ingredients in producing their famous sauce, so having the world’s largest vinegar works only a 5-minute walk away was a huge benefit to them. If there were ever any doubts about the relationship between the firms it is interesting to note that Charles Williams Dyson Perrins was also on the Hill Evans’ board of directors.

Their expertise in distilling and fermenting eventually led to Hill Evans diversifying into wine production. Labels in the City museum collection show them producing an astonishing range of wines and other alcoholic beverages including sherry, perry, cider, herb wine and fruit wines.

Until its closure in 1966 workers at Hill Evans were rightly proud of the scale and variety of their production, out-producing many companies across Europe and America. In this instance, English wine’s close relationship to vinegar was something to be proud of.

The Early Worcester Museum

A black and white engraving of a street with regular Georgian-style buildings and people walking down the street

The Museum in the City of Worcester is one of the oldest in the British Isles, tracing its history back to 1833.

On the 8th April in that year a local physician, Dr Charles Hastings (later to become Sir Charles Hastings, founder of the British Medical Association) chaired an inaugural meeting of Worcester’s Natural History Society at the City’s Guildhall. Hastings’ enthusiasm led to his playing a prominent part in the establishment of the Society’s museum.

Premises in Angel Street, recently vacated by the library, were secured and a natural history museum was established. Objects came flooding in and opening hours between 11.00—5.00 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays allowed the public to see the collection. The original admission charge was one shilling.

By 1835 the collection had become too large for the building holding it and so the sum of £6,000 was raised to provide the city’s first purpose–built museum in Foregate Street, pictured here in this engraving in Worcester’s collection, on the site of the present Odeon Cinema. It was officially opened by Charles Hastings on the 15th September, 1837 and became known as The Museum of the Worcestershire Natural History Society.

The Museum flourished during the 1840s and 1850s when it reached the height of its popularity and fame. Famous visitors included John Gould, Charles Leyll and Roderick Murchison but by the 1860s many of its founders members had died, including Sir Charles Hastings. Interest waned and funding difficulties arose causing the collection to suffer.

Help was at hand when after much debate, Worcester City Council decided to adopt the Public Libraries Act of in 1879. The Council’s Libraries Committee offered to purchase the museum building and its contents at a cost of £2,820 (which included donations of £500 for each from local benefactors Thomas Rowley Hill, J D Perrins and Charles Wheeley Lea).
A condition of sale was that George Reece was to be retained as Curator and that the new institution was to be called The Worcester Public Library and Hastings Museum. These conditions were fulfilled and the building was reopened in its new guise on the 16th of March 1881.

The Hasting Museum & Public Library remained there until the mid-1890s when it was transferred to its new and current home in the Victoria Institute.

A Worcestershire welcome: when Churchill visited our city

Black and white photograph of a big crowd of people outside Worcester's Guildhall

Worcestershire people have contributed a great deal to the world of art and industry, a contribution which we at the museum love to shout about.

During Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012, a memorable sequence used BBC drones to pan up the Thames Embankment and over the iconic dolphin lamps. We saw the Queen Victoria Memorial on the Mall and looked through Buckingham Palace’s gates to the sounds of the iconic hymn Jerusalem. It may have appeared to be a celebration of all things British, but this was also a showcase of the skills of Worcestershire: Hardy & Padmore’s Worcester foundry cast the dolphin lamps; the memorial was the work of Worcester sculptor Sir Thomas Brock; the Palace’s beautiful wrought-iron gates are the artistry of The Bromsgrove Guild; and Jerusalem was orchestrated by local composer Sir Edward Elgar.

In 1950 another famous British icon, Winston Churchill, was offered freedom of the City of Worcester. The visit itself ran without a hitch, but like many grand events the months of behinds-the-scenes preparation were where all the hard work took place. There was extensive back and forth to secure the date, not to mention arranging a banquet at the Guildhall and efforts to find out how large Mr & Mrs Churchill’s hands were so that Fownes could manufacture precisely fitted gloves! These photographs from Worcester’s collection show that the hard work paid off – from the crowds gathered in the High Street to celebrate his visit, to Churchill smiling in the Guildhall as he too celebrated Worcester’s skills and industries.

The Original and Genuine – A brief history of Worcestershire Sauce

A dark coloured jug in a museum display

The ingredients of a great story often include a mystery and a rise from obscurity to greatness. There are few better examples in Worcestershire than the incredible tale of two local chemists who created a product so successful that it can now be found across the globe.

Around the world many people use Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce but don’t necessarily know where Worcestershire is, or how to pronounce it! This versatile sauce can be included in a variety of recipes including a Bloody Mary, cheese on toast, meat and soups – the list of suggestions is endless. It is one of few successful exports that is still operating in the city of its birth, a testament to its unique flavour.

This lignite jug, on permanent loan to Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum, was used to make early batches of the sauce. Specially carved from brown coal, it was purchased by John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins for use in their original chemist shop. The pair had joined forces by 1823, manufacturing medicines but also stocking other items such as perfume, soap, veterinary supplies and foodstuffs such as gravy browning (as was common for chemists at the time).

Legend has it that the original recipe was not their own. Its mysterious origin story starts in 1835 when a “nobleman of the county” reportedly visited their Broad Street shop and commissioned them to replicate a recipe he had thoroughly enjoyed on his travels – a sauce infused with strong spices, onions and fish. The chemists followed out his instructions and delivered the order, retaining a small quantity for themselves, but the sauce tasted quite unpleasant and so it was placed in storage and forgotten about. Time passed and when the batch was tested again, they discovered it had fermented and was now delicious!

Lea & Perrins began making the sauce in larger quantities, sending out free samples to build demand. It became a great success and eventually overtook their chemist business until they were exclusively sauce manufacturers. They outgrew their little chemist shop and warehouses in 1896, moving their operation to a purpose-built factory on Midland Road, Worcester.

Their success inspired dozens of similar brands to copy the medicine bottle shape as well as the distinctive orange label. For a while, was entirely possible to buy a competing brand by mistake. The only unique feature Lea & Perrins was allowed to trademark was the white signature across the label and the words “The ORIGINAL and GENUINE”. Despite the imitators, Lea & Perrins’ business sense and unique recipe means it is now a globally recognized product which stood the test of time.

The identity of the “gentleman of the county” was never revealed by the chemists, although it is assumed to be politician Baron Marcus Sandys. Lea & Perrins have stated that “various legends have appeared from time to time concerning the origins of our brand, but never the correct one as far as we know.” Perhaps they honoured a gentleman’s privacy, perhaps we have guessed incorrectly, or perhaps it was a brilliant piece of marketing from the start. We will probably never know for sure but, as with many mysteries of history, it all adds to the charm.

A family with a history of helping Worcester

Pic Jonathan Barry 31.1.19

Worcester’s museums have a strong connection to the medical profession, undoubted due to the philanthropic nature of that profession and its passion for the betterment of others.

Lea and Perrins are famous the world over for Worcestershire sauce, but created their concoction in their Broad Street Chemist shop. Some of our most iconic donations, including the large Leader paintings on the staircase of Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum, came from the Lea family.

The Perrins name will forever be linked with generosity, especially towards Royal Worcester Porcelain. The City Art Gallery & Museum was even founded by a Doctor, Sir Charles Hastings. Sir Charles’ passion for collecting natural history and using it to enlighten Worcester citizens is the very reason that we have a museum today.

Therefore, it is probably fitting that the Museum & Art Gallery features its own chemist shop, ‘Steward’s Chemist Shop’ which was purchased by John Alfred Steward in 1874. He went on to become Mayor of Worcester twice and is yet another chemist who made a considerable contribution to our city.

Even now, we are regularly visited by decedents of the Steward family and we owe a recent acquisition to Malcolm Steward, John’s great grandson. Malcolm challenged the BBC programme Repair Shop to restore the lamp that once hung outside his great grandfather’s shop and afterwards kindly donated the finished article back to the city museum where it can be seen on display.

Saving the Worcester Whisket

Part of Museums Worcestershire’s work is not just to care for wondrous objects but to protect heritage skills and craft techniques for future generations. The basket pictured is known as a scuttle or “whisket” and was made by Alfred Birch of Wyre Hill in Bewdley. Alfred and his father Christopher, along with many more local craftsmen, used wood from the nearby Wyre Forest in order to create whiskets and brooms by hand, using techniques handed down the generations. Some Bewdley residents still remember seeing the wood arrive to be treated and transformed into household objects, by hand. Most memorable was the distinctive smell from the boiler!

With this example by Birch in the Worcestershire County collection, Museums Worcestershire have worked with local craftspeople Ruth Pybus and David Brown to demonstrate their skills at the museum thanks to funding from the Basket Makers Association. By using the original basket as a template, Ruth and David recreated two of their own beautiful whiskets to the delight of museum visitors. Valuable knowledge and memories of the craft have also come from Bewdley residents, including some of the descendants of Alfred Birch himself, and these conversations help to preserve the ancient techniques which are a key part of our local heritage.