Saturday, 24 September 2016

Statue of Queen Victoria - letter from a prospective artist

Statue of Queen Victoria in 1950
Are you enjoying the ITV series Victoria? Queen Victoria's long reign was celebrated across the country in many ways including statues in many towns and cities. In Worcester there is a statue of Queen Victoria outside Shire Hall (now the Crown Court), commissioned in 1887 for her Golden Jubilee. We have a letter within the archives from Thomas Brook asking to be considered as the artist. Brook was quick to mention to the Chairman of the County Council and member of the selection committee, George Woodyatt Hastings, that he had created a bust of Hastings' famous father, Sir Charles. Whether or not this letter helped is unknown, but Brook was the artist chosen for the job.

Transcript of letter from BA 14429, Thomas Brock to George Woodyatt Hastings.

‘The Studio
30 Osnaburgh Street
Regents Park N.W.
19 Jany 1887

Dear Sir

Hearing from friends at Worcester that it has been decided to erect in front of the County Hall a Statue of Her Majesty in commemoration of the Jubilee year of her reign, I have ventured to address the High Sheriff asking that my name may be submitted to the Committee when the selection of a sculptor comes under consideration, and I now take the liberty of seeking your interest as one of the Committee. My name may perhaps occur to you as having executed the bust of your late Father, and I would ask your support on the grounds of being a Native of Worcester and having received my early Arts training at the School of Design there, and partly in the hope that my having attained the distinction of an Associateship of the Royal Academy of Arts may afford credentials in my favour and give me some claim to the preference of my fellow citizens. I gave Mr Milward a list of the principal public works I have executed, the latest being the National Memorial Statue to Sir Bartle Frere to be placed on the Thames Embankment, the model of which I shall be only too happy to shew to you or any other members of the Committee who may happen to be in town next week.
I stated a price to the High Sheriff (£1600) for a ten feet statue in bronze or marble on a twelve feet granite pedestal, but if it should be felt that a smaller size would suffice, it might be done at a proportionately lower price

Believe me, dear Sir
Yours faithfully
Tho: Brock

G.W.Hastings, Esq. M.P.

Within the Worcestershire Photographic Survey we also have photos of when the statue was unveiled to the public.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

All change at Explore the Past!

It has been four years since Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service opened at The Hive, and during that time we have been monitoring use of the service and receiving lots of feedback.  The result of this is that Level 2 of The Hive will be changing soon… 

The main change is that the public Archaeology office – where customers access the Historic Environment Record (HER) – will be moving out onto the public area of Level 2.  This will help to provide a seamless Archive and Archaeology service to customers and highlight the use of the resources for local information and research.  This will help the resources to be much more accessible to customers onsite at The Hive who may not have used the HER before. 

The microfilm and PC area will also change, taking into account customer feedback that we have received over the years.  We will be bringing the microfilm readers closer to the archive enquiry desk and to the original archive area and the aim is to create a cosier, more comfortable space (without losing functionality) and address some of the practical issues such as sunlight shining on the microfilm screens. 

To facilitate the move, there will be no public access to the HER after 23rd September and the team will be available in their new location on 10th October.  In the meantime, we can be contacted via our website.

We look forward to seeing you in the new look Explore the Past! 

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Police Charge Book Concealing Ladies Corsets

One of the unexpected surprises in my work as Book and Paper Conservator at The Hive is revealing hidden materials that have been used in the construction of bound volumes. Termed 'Printer's Waste' this material forms part of a long tradition of bookbinders using material to hand when a book is constructed.  The process can be traced back at least to the late medieval period to what are known as the Worcester Fragments. These are a collection of 25 short pieces of vocal music from the later 13th to early 14th century that had been used as binding material in various books that had been recovered from Worcester Cathedral Priory.  Once it was recognised that these scattered fragments came from the same source it was possible to piece them together, though much remains missing.

Whilst working on a damaged volume, I have recently discovered a page from 'The Queen, the Ladys Newspaper' dating from 6th May 1882.  

010:18 BA13870/238 Lower board with marble paste-down lifted

Offering details of suppliers for Bridal Trousseaux, Anatomical Corsets and Artistic Millinery, the page had been used as lining material in the construction of a spring-backed ledger that became the  Evesham Charge Book 1883-1893 (010:18 BA13870/238). 

The volume is part of the West Mercia Police archives currently being catalogued and conserved thanks to grants from The National Archives and the National Manuscripts Conservation trust.  The archive includes the administrative and operational records from Police Stations and Divisions around Worcestershire, from 1833 until 1996. Worcestershire Constabulary and Worcester City Police were formed in the 1830's and merged with Shropshire and Herefordshire Constabularies in 1967 into West Mercia Police Authority. 

Charge books record the charges brought by the police against a named person.
Details can vary between volumes but for the accused each entry often includes date and hour apprehended, nature of charge, any property involved and whether the accused has been detained or bailed.  There will also be details about the person bringing the charge, the officer taking the charge, the magistrate hearing the charge and any witnesses.  As such, they are a valuable source of information for research areas such as the nature of crime and the role of the police in the wider community.   They also provide a unique window on the daily lives of both those who were police officers and members of the criminal fraternity.

010:18 BA13870/238 Upper board prior to conservation treatment

This volume appears to have suffered from significant damp damage at some stage in its past. As a result, the leather across the spine had split, cloth had lifted from the boards and a number of pages have been lost from the text-block, causing the sewing structure to break down.  As it was, the volume was too fragile to be consulted for research.  

During the process of strengthening the end-papers for re-sewing, the page of 'The Queen' was revealed under the sheet of marble paper adhered to the inside of the lower board.  A similar sheet is also adhered under the marble sheet of the upper board, but to minimise disruption to the original structure, this was not revealed during Conservation.

First published in 1861,'The Queen, the Ladys Newspaper' was popular with the upper echelons of society detailing the newest fashions, education  and hobbies expected of 'young ladies'.  In 1968 it was bought out by 'Harpers Bazaar'  and went on to become  'Harpers and Queen'.  As such, 'The Queen' was one of the longest running English women's magazines.  

010:18 BA13870/238 Upper board following conservation treatment

The volume has now been re-sewn and returned to its binding with new leather under the original of the spine and corners, and replacement aero linen coloured with acrylic paints to match the colour of the original cloth in areas where the original cloth was lost.

Whilst not quite as grand as the Worcester Fragments, I like the thought that I am one of the few people to have seen this page since the volume was originally bound sometime after May 1882, and that it will now remain hidden until the volume is repaired again, whenever that may be.

010:18 BA13870/238 Lower board with marble paste-down re-adhered

By Rhonda Niven

For more information about our Conservation service or to get a quote for work you may require, please see our website

Saturday, 3 September 2016

WWI Letters - Readings by Drama Students

Look within the many records held by Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service and you will find a number of collections of letters dating from the First World War. Our service has used these letters in a variety of ways in the centenary events we have been involved in recently, which are part of the Worcestershire World War One Hundred project. The letters provide a great insight into what people at the time were thinking, whether explicitly or by reading between the lines, and the opportunity to hold and read these original items offers a powerful connection to the individual that wrote it so many years ago.

During the centenary commemorations we have worked with young people to film letters being read aloud. One group was drama A-level students from Worcester Sixth Form College. As part of their coursework the students were required to submit recordings of them delivering a performance piece. Most of the extracts chosen were taken from plays, but they also need to perform prose which was never written for this purpose - real life writings that they could interpret. The WWI correspondence was ideal for this task, so we went over to the college with a selection of letters from two of our collections; those of Philip Leicester and of Rachel Lyttelton.

Philip Leicester was an officer from Worcester who joined the army in early 1915 and went to a training camp in Wiltshire. Rachel Lyttelton, the daughter of Viscount Cobham of Hagley Hall, volunteered to become a nurse soon after the outbreak of war and her letters cover the start of the conflict and accounts of her time in the hospital. As often happens it can be a struggle at first to decipher the handwriting of the letters, but once our staff helped the students to get started they soon began to get drawn into the stories of the letters and the characters contained within them. Although we only have the letters going one way and not any of the replies received, it is possible to follow the different topics and people they talk about thanks to the frequency of the letters.

Below you can find some of the recordings the students made for their coursework. For several letters there is more than one version.

Philip Leicester

11 June 1915 - he writes of visiting someone in Brighton who is signed off sick. Although not specified it is probably a friend or relative who was wounded in action and is recuperating. His parents would like to come down from Worcester, although there are rumours of being moved to Aldershot and Basingstoke. He is involved in some big exercises involving up to 16,000 men, and he is given small units to command.

22 June 1915 - in between the training he is able to enjoy the countryside and described in detail the environment they are in with butterflies and birds, and the nearby wood. Like many letter writers Philip likes to describe where he is in his letters and the people he meets. He also talks about a night operation he was part of.

Rachel Lyttelton

This letter was written at the outbreak of war and capture a little of the confusion that must have occurred. The post has gone mad, there is chaos on the railways and it is hard to find news. The house she is in is being turned into hospital. People still concerned about living their life and she slips in wider news like miners being patriotic. Rachel is not sure what her family doing, and although she's sent this letter to Hagley she is not sure where they are.

Another early letter, Rachel is waiting for the railways to start to settle down. Daily life is included, such as picking gooseberries

This letter describes a little of what London was like. People were mobilising and volunteering, for instance helping with refugees.

By this letter Rachel has become a nurse and is writing from her hospital ward whilst listening out for patients waking. She talks about friends and colleagues who are about to leave. Many letters from WWI refer to friends suddenly being posted elsewhere, which must have been hard for people.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Monthly Mystery: Who put 'Bella' in the wych elm?

'Finish your articles re the Wych elm crime by all means. They are interesting to your readers, but you will never solve the mystery. The one person who could give the answer is now beyond the jurisdiction of the earthly courts.'

In 1953 'Anna' of Claverley wrote those intriguing words in a letter to journalist Wilfred Byford-Jones.  It must have seemed as if this was the lead that Worcestershire Constabulary had been waiting for to solve a ten year mystery which had fascinated and foxed amateur and professional detectives alike – Who put 'Bella' in the wych elm.  

The story behind the question has all the elements of a detective novel – mystery woman, murder, spies, witchcraft, sinister messages.  Certainly the case was an unusual one where not only the identity of the killer was unknown, but also that of the victim.  It has continued to defy the many efforts to solve it over the last 70 years and left many questions unanswered.  

The wych elm where Bella's remains were found

Discovery and investigation

The story of the discovery by four teenage boys of a woman's skeletal remains hidden in a hollow wych elm tree in Hagley Wood in April 1943 is a well-known and often recounted one.  Alongside the remains the police found a wedding ring, a pair of shoes and some rotted clothing, but nothing resembling a coat or handbag.  A further search of the area turned up more bones, including finger bones from one of the hands. 

Professor Webster, the forensic investigator involved in the case, reconstructed the remains.  He believed it was the body of a woman aged about 35 approximately five feet tall with mousy brown hair and irregular teeth in the lower jaw.  He estimated that she had been dead between eighteen month and two years.  He thought that she might have been suffocated and she had been placed in the tree feet first.  The Professor was also able to describe her outfit to police – mustard skirt, blue and yellow striped cardigan, light blue belt, peach coloured taffeta underskirt and blue crêpe soled shoes.  A dummy was made complete with wig and replica clothes.   

One of the drawings for the reconstruction of Bella's clothes

Worcestershire Constabulary circulated the information they had around other forces and posted notices in the main dental journals of the time because of the woman's irregularly aligned teeth.  They checked reports of women missing locally and followed up various leads, but were not able to definitely link any of them with the remains.

The theories

Speculation grew as time passed and the woman remained unidentified.  In 1941 a report had been made about screams being heard in Hagley Wood.  A search had been made at the time and nothing found so it was put down to foxes.  Was this connected to the body in the tree?  Who was the mystery woman?  Where had she come from?   Why had no one come forward to identify her?  Some speculated that whoever concealed body was probably local as the fact the wych elm was hollow wasn't readily apparent.  It was unlikely a stranger to the area would have come across it by chance, but no clues came from anyone in the immediate locality.  

Plenty of theories were bandied about over the years.  The discovery of one of the hands separate from the body led to speculation of occult practices.  Some thought she might be part of a traveller community camped for a short time in the area at the time, others that she was just a random murder victim who couldn't be identified because of the sheer number of displaced persons and refugees during wartime or a victim of a drunken escapade gone wrong.  Other explanations offered were that she had been murdered by a serviceman who hadn't survived the war or by the father of her child – the post mortem revealed that she had had at least one child.

In 1944 a new twist was added to the mystery when graffiti started to appear asking 'Who put Bella down the wych elm'.  Records were checked and rechecked for missing 'Bellas' without success.  Did the writer know something? Was it a hoax?  Someone taunting the police?  Or someone with a personal interest in the crime?  The police were unable to trace the writer, but it gave the unidentified woman a name tag 'Bella' which the police adopted.

One of the typical Bella graffiti messages 


Another popular theory was that of wartime espionage.  Rumours were rife at various points during World War II that German paratroopers had landed in the north Worcestershire area.   Detailed knowledge about the scope and locations of local factories supporting the war effort could have been invaluable to the enemy.  Certainly for many the claims of enemy spies operating in the area had a ring of truth about them.  There were many variations over the years on the story of a female spy who had parachuted into the Midlands and had then disappeared without a trace.  The spy story was given an unexpected boost in 1953 when journalist Wilfred Byford-Jones wrote about the case in the Express and Star newspaper under the pen name 'Quaestor'.  This renewed interest in the case ten years on prompted several letters to the papers, including the one from 'Anna' of Claverley mentioned above.  Anna's intriguing letter continued with information about the potential identity of 'Bella' and her murderer:

'The affair is closed and involves no witches, black magic or moonlight rites.  “Much as I hate having to use a nom-de-plume, I think you would appreciate it if you knew me.  The only clues I can give you are that the person responsible for the crime died insane in 1942, and the victim was Dutch and arrived in England illegally about 1941.  I have no wish to recall any more.'   

Anna's letter

It certainly sounded as if the writer knew something.  The police looked again at the evidence.  After several appeals, 'Anna' met with Byford-Jones and the police.  She told them the story of group of pro German conspirators passing on intelligence about munitions and aircraft factories in the West Midlands.  One of them was Anna's ex-husband.  Anna suggested that 'Bella' was Dutch and part of a spy ring operating in the area.  She also linked a Dutchman called Van Ralt, an associate of her ex-husband, with Bella's death.  She said that her ex-husband was present when Bella was put in the tree and was haunted by what had happened.

The spy-ring theory gained more weight when MI5 published some of its wartime files.  Particular interest centred around Josef Jakobs, an enemy agent who was arrested after parachuting into Cambridgeshire in 1941.  Jakobs had on him a photograph of the German singer and actress Clara Bauerle.  He said that Clara was a secret agent who was to have parachuted into the Midlands.  Several people have linked the names Clara Bauerle and Clara Bella and speculated that Bella was Clara Bauerle.  This is an avenue still being explored to this day.  Another candidate put forward was 'Clara' Dronkers, a relative of a Dutchman, Johannes Marinus Dronkers, another spy executed by the British during the War.

The trail grew cold again.  As it was an unsolved murder, Worcestershire Constabulary kept the file on Bella open in case any new leads were revealed. Every few years a new outbreak of graffiti or another theory would reactivate interest in the case.  Over the years there have been many articles, TV and radio programmes about the case and even an opera and a play.  The case has also been referenced in song.

In 2005 West Mercia Constabulary (successors to Worcestershire Constabulary) conducted a review of the case and re-examined all the evidence on file.  They decided that there were no clear investigative leads to be pursued, recommended the case be closed and the surviving files be transferred to Worcestershire's County Archives.  The files have now been listed as part of the Criminal Records of the Marches project to catalogue the archives of West Mercia Police held at The Hive

Some of the original Bella case files in the process of being catalogued.

And what of 'Bella'?  We will probably never know whose remains were discovered in the wych elm, how they came to be there and why?  The question 'Who put Bella in the wych elm' will doubtless continue to intrigue, baffle and beguile people for many years to come. 



Photographs of documents reproduced with permission of West Mercia Police.

Further reading

For various written accounts of Bella mystery see:
  • Donald McCormick Murder by Witchcraft a Study of the Lower Quinton and Hagley Wood Murders, 1968, John Long Ltd 
  • Joyce M Coley Bella: An Unsolved Murder, 2007, History Into Print
  • Anne Bradford Foul Deeds & Suspicious Deaths around Worcester, 2008, Wharncliffe 
  • Nicola Sly Worcestershire Murders, 2009, The History Press
  • Bob Pooler From Fruit Trees to Furnaces: A History of the Worcestershire Constabulary, 2002, Blacksmith Publishing
  • Andrew Sparke Bella in the Wych Elm: In Search of a Wartime Mystery, 2014, APS Publications 


There are many websites which record Bella's story and the various theories associated with her death.  The following are just a selection:

For more recent web articles and blogs on the Clara Bauerle espionage angle see:

There is also a Bayesian analysis of the Bella in the wych elm mystery by the Risk and Information Management Research Group of the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at Queen Mary University, London.

By Maggie Tohill
Cataloguing archivist