Friday, 28 March 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~18~ Salwarpe Purse

This week's Treasure is an embroidered purse chosen by Julia Pincott, Archives Assistant. Here Julia explains more about this unusual item, which has been found amongst one of the parish collections held within the Archive Service at The Hive:

One of the more unusual items to be found in the Worcestershire Archives is a highly ornate late 13th or early 14th century embroidered purse belonging to the parish of Salwarpe, Worcestershire.

It is a rare example of 'Opus Anglicanum' (English Work), the name given to the highly skilled and ornate embroidery produced in England in the Middle Ages. Workshops of highly skilled embroiderers, based predominantly in London, would undertake commissions for the Church, wealthy individuals and royalty throughout Europe. The work mainly consisted of silk, gold or silver-gilt threads worked in couching (laying the thread onto the fabric and attaching it with small over-stitches) and split stitches (the thread is brought back through the previous stitch to split it). It was worked on linen or velvet and occasionally included precious stones and pearls

When the Salwarpe Purse was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1963 the catalogue described it as, 'embroidered in silver gilt thread and coloured silks, with a lion, dogs, unicorns and foliage with a lattice formed of eight point stars and crosses'.

Unicorns and lions frequently feature in medieval religious art as they were seen as symbols for both Christ and the Virgin Mary.

It is believed that the bag was constructed from an earlier piece of work. According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, it was embroidered in the late 13th or early 14th century and was made up into a bag in the 14th or 15th century.

Before it came to the Worcestershire Archives, the purse had been used to store one of the parish of Salwarpe's most treasured documents. In his book, 'Salwarpe', published in 1918, the then Rector of the parish, Rev. Edmund Sinker, describes the contents of the Parish Chest (an oak chest,  more than eight feet long and with three iron locks used to store the important papers and valuable items of the parish). He notes that, 'the most interesting of the papers is the order signed by Charles II, it is kept in a separate bag of tapestry, with lions and unicorns worked in...'

The order he refers to was sent by the King on 24th August 1651, requiring that thirty able men of the parish be sent to work on the fortifications of the City in preparation for the Battle of Worcester. This is also part of the Salwarpe parish collection kept at Worcestershire Archives.

Nearly all the surviving pieces of Opus Anglicanum were commissioned by or donated to the Church, however, very few examples have survived due to the numbers that were destroyed post-Reformation, when it no longer appealed to the more sober tastes of the new church. Many were also destroyed in order to extract the precious metals contained in the thread.

This item can be viewed in the Original Archive Area at The Hive at reference 850 Salwarpe BA8650/18.

Useful links:

The Evelyn Thomas Database of Medieval English Embroidery

 Victoria and Albert Museum:

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

New index now available online - Powick Hospital admission registers, 1854-1906

For the first time Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service has made available online an index to the Powick Hospital admission registers.

Held within our secure strongrooms at The Hive we have a series of original admission registers for Powick Hospital, formerly known as the Worcester County Pauper and Lunatic Asylum. Staff have been working hard over several years to transcribe copies of those registers, which provide details of admissions dating from 1852 to 1906. The index, which is available to access now on our website, is organised according to the date of admission to the hospital and provides information including the full name of the patient; age; marital status; occupation; date of admittance and their date of discharge, removal or death.

If you would like to view the original version of any of these records you can do so by visiting the Original Archive Area at The Hive during our staffed hours. Please make a note of the information given in the 'BA number', 'Class Number' and 'Parcel Number' columns in order to locate the relevant record.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~17~ a LiDAR image of the 17th century coal mines, Cliff Wood, Wyre Forest near Pound Green

This week's Treasure has been chosen by Adam Mindykowski, Historic Environment Countryside Advisor. Here Adam explains how using the LiDAR technique during surveying can bring historic features to life on our modern landscape:
In 2007 an archaeological landscape survey of the Wyre Forest was commissioned as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Grow With Wyre project. The first stage of the survey employed a technique called LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging). The technique uses lasers projected from an aircraft flying in a systematic pattern across the survey area. The lasers are reflected back to the aircraft and recorded by computer as millions of points that measure location and height. The points record the surface of the land in high detail providing a 3D model of the landscape. The objective in Wyre was to try and reveal surface archaeology: earthworks from ancient settlements; fields and woodland industry in advance of detailed survey work to be carried out by volunteers. One of the first areas to be studied was the site of 17th century coal mining in Cliff Wood, which is situated just to the south of Pound Green.

The site is important because it dates from just before the start of The Industrial Revolution, but is possibly the first coal mining operation that was undertaken at an industrial scale within the mid-Severn Valley area. Mining began at Woodseaves, a site just to the north of Cliff Wood in 1608. In 1613 mines were leased to John Slancy and Percy Willoughby, and a railway was laid to carry coal towards a steep incline down to Severn. The lease ended in legal action in 1615, but mining continued until around 1625 (Worcestershire HER site record, Poyner 1996). The mines made a substantial impact on the local landscape despite the short period of operation.

Although the site was known prior to the LiDAR survey, it had never been fully visible because of its location under mature woodland. LiDAR records the tree canopy as can be seen in the image below. Most of the mine remains are under the trees hidden from view.

The power and value of LiDAR quickly becomes apparent in the next image. Here, computer software has processed the LiDAR data to remove the tree cover revealing the woodland floor and, cruitally, evidence of the mine workings. The image shows the complex nature and scale of operations to good effect. Mine shafts are visible as lines of circles. This was created by the bank of soil around each shaft being removed to access the coal measure beneath. The systematic approach has left a large field of earthworks connected by braided, sinuous tracks that lead ultimately to the deep incline down into the Severn Valley. The site is one of the early industrial wonders of Worcestershire and using LiDAR it is now possible to see it in its landscpe context for the first time. LiDAR has become a widely used technique since 2007. Nonetheless the LiDAR images of Wyre Forest are still magical having revealed many teasures of the past throughout the Forest.

Most of the site is within Forestry Commission land and is free to access (restricted during forestry operations) and explore. The earthworks are clearly visible as you approach. Please note other parts of the site are on private land and should not be accessed without prior permission of the landowner.

Further information

If you would like to find out more about the landscape archaeology of Wyre, and explore using the interactive LiDAR map, visit:

To find out more about the ongoing volunteer project to record the archaeology of watercourses in Wyre visit:

Suggested reading

Hurst, D., Hunt, A. and Davenport D., 2010, Iron Age Settlement at Blackstone, Worcestershire: Excavations 1972, 1973, and 1977,  

Jackson, R, Bevan, L, Hurst, D and De Rouffignac, C, 1996 Archaeology on the Trimpley to Blackstone Aqueduct, in, Transactions of the Worcestershire Archaeology Society, Series 3, Volume 15, 93-126

Poyner, D. and Evans, R., 2000, The Wyre Forest Coalfield. Tempus

Quayle, C, 1990 The Whitty Pear and The ‘Hermitage’, in, Worcestershire Archaeology and Local History Newsletter, Number 42

Walker, C.I., 1965-68,Excavation of the Roman Fort at Walltown Farm Shropshire.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~16~ 'Devonshire Brown'

This week's Treasure is a will chosen by Vicky Fletcher, Archivist. Here Vicky explains why this will in particular sparked an interest:
Whilst cataloguing some material from Worcester City Council, I came across a copy of a will from 1797 in which a widow is leaving her wearing apparell 'except my Devonshire brown silk dress' to a relative. This is interesting to me as I think it is a reference to Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire who was very much a fashion and style icon of the time.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~15~ A Victorian Chemist's recipe book

This week's Treasure has been chosen by Jonathan Brusby, Digitiser. Here he explains how he discovered so much more than first expected when working with a Victorian recipe book:

This treasure is a family recipe book which isn't what it seems. Inside there are many inedible concoctions, made with very strange ingredients like Eau de Cologne, chalk and cuttlefish bone. It is, in fact, the book used by a Victorian pharmacist to record the remedies they cooked up to help ailing customers.

This particular book was kept by a chemist working at Medical Hall in Bull Ring, Kidderminster. The pharmacy traded under the name 'Steward and Westover' after its founders, Josiah Steward and John Westover, continuing under the name after Steward left the partnership in 1890. There is still a pharmacy there today. The book records recipes they made from May 1847 - March 1882. Alongside each customer's name they wrote down the ingredients used for that mixture, and in some cases the method and dosage.

[Miss Canuck - Hair Wash: 20 cl Eau de Cologne, 20cl Tincture of Cantharicles, 10chops Oil of Cloves, 10chops Rosemary] 

Visiting a Victorian chemist's shop would be very different to today. Anybody could trade as a pharmacist and the cures they sold were often based on old beliefs and remedies. Most of them made their own potions and pills from scratch, experimenting with recipes in makeshift laboratories. Addictive substances such as opium and cannabis were used in cures. Toxic metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury were also used. Addictions, overdoses, and poisonings were common.
[Mr Mead – Nerve Ointment: Corrosive Sublimate of Mercury, Camphor, Oil of Organum]
The kind of recipes contained in the book include:
  • foot powder
  • tooth powder
  • cough remedies 
  • polishing cream 
  • treatments for blisters   
Compared to the carefully tested chemical mixtures of today, it's hard to imagine what these must have been like to take. Of course the patient was usually unaware of what their medicine contained, and indeed what effect it would actually have. In some cases you would be trusting your health to the hands of a maverick!
 [Miss Davenport & Miss Lidoes Blakebrook – Powder for the Teeth: Prepared Chalk, Cuttlefish Bone, Anis Root, Gum Myrrh]
Steward & Westover prepared recipes for animal treatments, reminding us that the local chemist had to serve not just the townspeople but also farms and their livestock. One potion contains chalk, pomegranate and opium, amongst other ingredients, to be used for "lambs of about 7 years old":
[Mr Mackin:, 4oz Prepared Chalk, 2oz Pomegranate Powdered, 1oz Alum, 1oz Ginger, 2oz Bole Armaniac, 1oz Opium]
Victorian chemists didn't only create and sell cures though. Seeking to find new ways of making money they branched out into making a variety of other products – sauces, skin creams, soaps, exotic foods and even fireworks. This resulted in many popular new brands, some of which survive today as household names like Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire Sauce, Bird's custard powder, and Swan Vestas matches.
An insight into the mind of such a chemist-entrepreneur can be found in the recipe for "Dr Kitchener's Recipe for Tomata [sic] Sauce", presumably written down as inspiration to make their own sauce to sell:

It was only with the introduction of The Pharmacy Act 1868 that pharmacists were required to hold a professional qualification. By the end of the 19th century pharmacists like this one had started stocking branded products, as opposed to manufacturing everything themselves.
This document is held at Explore the Past at The Hive and can be viewed in the Original Archive Area at reference 899:310 BA 10470/318.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Upcoming Event: New Insights into Tudor Worcestershire

Last year the Friends of Worcestershire Archives helped us with the purchase of a fascinating document sent to Worcester by Edward VI, shortly after succeeding his father, Henry VIII. This is now in the care of Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, and the Friends have organised an event to look into Worcester at the time and what the document can tell us about what was planned.

An event entitled 'Edward Tudor’s Illuminating Manuscript: the effects on Worcestershire religious houses of a charter of 1547', will take place on Saturday 29 March at Worcester Guildhall. Five highly respected experts will explore the issues raised by one of the boy king, Edward’s, earliest documents—Letters Patent confirming a decree of the Court of Augmentations— relating to several dissolved monasteries and convents in the Diocese of Worcester.

Programme for the day:

9.15- 9.45: Tea/coffee on arrival

10.00: From Father to Son, Henry VIII to Edward VI: the Political Scene in England in 1547. Dr Sylvia Gill, Honorary Research Fellow in the School of History at the University of Birmingham.

11.15: Scenes from Clerical Life: The Diocese of Worcester Under the Italian Bishops. Kevin Down, BA, Sometime lecturer in Medieval History, School of Continuing Studies, the University of Birmingham.

12.00:Lunch (not included) and opportunity to look at the Tudor documents from Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service

1.45: Tudor Documents on Display. Dr Bethany Hamblen, MA (Medieval Studies), MSc Econ (Archive Administration), Archivist and Conserving Archives, Rhonda Niven, Diploma in Conservation/Restoration of Books and Library Materials, Conservator.

3.00: Delving into the Details of Monastic Holdings, Before and After the 1547 Document. Margaret Goodrich, MA, FSA

4.15: Plenary session

4.30: Close

Roger Leake, Chair of Friends of Worcestershire Archives, said, "This is a rare document from the brief reign of Edward VI, who seems to have had his own firm ideas. This event provides the opportunity to find out more the effects and background to the charter, as well as seeing other historic manuscripts from the archives."

The event costs £20 and more information can be obtained from Roger Leake, by emailing or telephoning 01386 710382