Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas in the Trenches in WWI

Letters home give an insight into the experiences of soldiers on the front line during WWI, including reflections on Christmas in the trenches. Some such letters were written by Rev John MacRae, Rector of All Saints Worcester, who volunteered as a chaplain and wrote back to his congregation to tell them about Christmas 1915 out in France with the soldiers.
Rev John MacRae

MacRae had only recently arrived, after being appointed in October. As well as leading services and supporting soldiers’ spiritual needs chaplains also chose to muck in and help in the practical tasks and carried out many of the same jobs as the soldiers. This included helping to build shelters, cooking, and transporting supplies. Being with the soldiers in the trenches meant they were exposed to many of the same risks from shellfire and snipers, and exposed to many health risks, and a number of chaplains died during the war.

At Christmas MacRae led two services for the men, adapting to what conditions he could find. One was held in a barn for his own Company, and he then carried out another in an orchard for another group. He would have liked to have led more for other soldiers but could not find the transport to travel further afield.

MacRae was elected mess president, and tried to obtain geese or turkeys for Christmas dinner, although when they arrived they were rather small and insufficient to feed a group of hungry men. However, they managed to get a pig too to help feed everyone. Cooking in these primitive conditions must have been a challenge.

Presents from home were always important to soldiers, particularly at Christmas time. At All Saints they were working hard to support the troops and over Christmas MacRae received a parcel containing 26 pairs of socks, 8 pairs of mittens and cuffs, and 17 mufflers to distribute, plus a body belt for their Rector. 20,000 cigarettes arrived shortly after too.

Weather conditions were also hard, and MacRae related the problem all soldiers suffered from, which was being wet most of the time with little opportunity to dry themselves or clothes once they got wet. 

We know from the Museum of Army Chaplaincy that MacRae was interviewed for the role in September 1915 and appointed Temporary Chaplain to the Forces 4th Class on 18 October 1915. The interview cards have been digitised by the Museum, and included is information that he passed his medical, could ride a horse, lived at 104 Bath Road, was married with 2 children, would be free in two weeks, and had references from the Bishop and Dean of Worcester.

The Museum also holds the personal notebook of the Rev Harry Blackburne DSO who was the Assistant Chaplain General to the 1st Army.  He records his impressions of the Anglican chaplains who served with him in 1st Army.  The entry for Rev J E Macrae reads:

MACRAE J E – 19th Division.

A large man with a strong personality.

Rev John MacRae left the army on 23 October 1916 and returned to All Saints, Worcester. In late 1919 he chaired the first few meetings of the parish War Memorial Committee before leaving to return to his native Scotland.

You can read more about the role of chaplains in WWI on the BBC website here.
You can also search for records of other chaplains at the
Chaplains Museum site.  

Letter from Worcester Chaplain

Rev.J Macrae's experiences on the Western Front [published Worcester Herald 16 Jan 1916]

     In a letter to his parishioners, apparently written on Ne Year's Eve, the Rev. J.E.MacRae, Rector of All Saint's, Worcester, who is serving as an Army Chaplain in France, says,

     "This is to wish you everything good for the New Year. We had no festivity last night for we could not procure anything to be festive with, and dined on some rather ancient beef, which as the newly installed mess president, I had to contrive into a stew: boiled rice and a pound of prunes completed the modest meal. Afterwards we visited the sergeants mess – to wit twelve of them in a wash-house behind the farm: planks on boxes for a table, candles stuck in bottles et tout cela. Fortunately, we had procured a turkey for them: they supplied at 9pm. We made cheerful speeches and hoped all would be ended before another twelvemonth: then to bed, expecting the guns, which had been silent most of the afternoon, to salute the New Year. They didn't, and the night passed without a shot, so far as we could hear, for the wind was from the north."

     In another passage, relating to the obtainment of supplies, Mr MacRae says, the 22 geese we ordered from E Force canteen could not be got: so I was promised turkeys instead. Last night S came back with turkeys, small birds only 8lbs each – no good – so we sent him to buy a pig as well for our men’s Christmas dinner. Tonight we have found a large oven, and the 'grub' and beer will be consumed in the barns in their groups – a rough and not very ready picnic, but the best we can do.

     "I wonder if people at home can picture the condition under which we actually live here? The newspapers, one and all, have told such tales of marvellous organisation, comfort in abundance, and so forth, that the real facts of crowding in barns – lucky if straw if handy – and everything being done in field and orchard, with the roughest food that a man can eat and keep healthy, are lost sight of. The men go for a fortnight or more without taking clothes off, day or night, till somehow, when in reserve, getting in one of the wash-houses some miles distant. Can anyone at home picture what this means in winter time? When we get wet – and that's often – nothing can be dried, and we just go on and hope for a little sunshine in the course of a week.

     "January 4th – We shifted down here yesterday again into huts and the mud. These shifts are days of strenuous toil for each and all – pack, lift, sit down, and rearrange everything – a job that cannot be completed in daylight anyhow. A scrimmage for food, tumble in as best we can, and on the morrow try to contrive means of existence for unknown days ahead of us. My job as chaplain, of course, has to go on one side for a day or two, and I help to get our men's various necessary affairs along, that we may live. Today I cut drains all around our hut, and built a brick and mud Kitchener for rough cooking, as our stove is worn out.

     "Yesterday, by a great stroke of luck, my parcels at last arrived. W's box is A1. A parcel of comforts too, from ladies of All Saints Parish came – quite an unexpected boon. Tell them (I will write also) that, for men just out of the trenches, socks, etc, are an absolute Godsend. Those sent will be given to Worcester men. I had also 20,000 cigarettes from L.I.S's sister. It was a lucky day for me. We got all our belongings in dry – a blessing only those who live in the open will appreciate.

     "On Sunday I had two very interesting services. One for a company from the other battalion of our diocese, in an orchard behind a shattered church; the other in a barn for our company. Christmas hymns – as we stood round as best we could, crowded together. The French women of the farm peeped across their yard, and seemed impressed with our singing, which was certainly very effective. Had my horse been available I would have had two more services.

     "You do not seem to have had all my letters. Can the Censor have been busy. I also sent a dozen others to people in Worcester. I am quite fit and well".

Rev Rich Johnson, All Saints Worcester

We showed the letter to John's present day successor at All Saints, Rev Dr Rich Johnson, to see what he thought of MacRae's experiences. He said:

“This wonderful story of the life and service of one of my predecessors makes me wonder what I would have done in his place. This story is a reminder that the church exists to make a difference in the mess and pain of our broken world.  The message of Jesus does not offer us an escape from the world or some nice ideas which to deny the reality of it, but rather calls us to wade in deep and bring hope and love, both with our words and our actions.  The Rev John MacRae exemplified this, leaving behind the relative security and comfort of life in Worcester, to serve those serving on the frontline.  That is in fact, the call on the whole church; to put the needs of others before our own.  The example and inspiration of my predecessor lives on in the parish of All Saints to this day, for instance, as we partner with others to run Worcester Foodbank, a debt centre and help find homes for children in care."  

Friday, 23 December 2016

1870s Christmas Decorations

In the 1870s local newspaper used to have a write up of the Christmas decorations put up locally, including the local churches. Sadly we don't have any photos of these decorations in the archives from this period, but the descriptions help us to image them. Christmas decorations had only recently come back into fashion, along with the general increase in popularity of Christmas, being described by the reporter as a 'recently revived art of modern culture'. That people could recall a time when decorations were not put up ties in with the theory that there was a boom in Christmas celebrations from the 1840s and 1850s, coinciding with Dicken's Christmas stories.

The first set of reports we include are from Berow's Worcester Journal of 27 December 1873. The majority of decorations were combinations of flowers (including Christmas Roses) and traditional evergreens such as holly, ivy, mistletoe and yew, alongside Bible verses. Wool and cloths were also used for decorations.

St Helen's

At each church the reporter lists the people involved, and there appears to have been teams of dedicated women and some men at each place helping to create festive decorations. Old St Martin's is described as being strikingly beautiful. All Saints was decorated with Christmas roses, flowers, yew and evergreens along with red and white woollen banners. Perhaps favouring 'less is more' a number of churches are praised for simple and tasteful decorations.

St Swithun's

The second set are from the Worcester Herald of 1877. Decorations at each location seem to be similar. Once again the reporter is appreciative of the efforts of each church. St George's Barbourne was described as being one of the best, with a centre piece of holly and white lilies. St Stephen's in addition to the usual decorations and texts had verses from O Come All Ye Faithful featured. The reporter praised a number of churches for their simplicity, such as at St Nicholas where their decorations are described as plain but neat. Others appear to have struggled, with St Alban's, a very small church, only managing simple decorations with few people to help, although the reporter is very sympathetic.

St Nicholas

300 years of Worcestershire newspapers are available on microfilm in our Self Service section on level 2 in The Hive. What will you discover?

Friday, 16 December 2016

Update on Clara Bauerle and the Bella in the wych elm story

Earlier in the year we posted a blog 'Who put Bella in the wych elm' as part of our Monthly Mysteries series.  In it we hinted that the link with Clara Bauerle, the German singer and actress, was one which was still being actively explored.  We can now reveal that the researcher who was following this lead believes she has finally laid this story to rest. 

Giselle Jakobs recently published a blog in which she stated that she had finally traced a copy of Clara Bauerle's death registration.  This indicated that Clara died on 16 December 1942 from veronal poisoning in a Berlin hospital so could not be the mystery woman discovered in Hagley Wood in April 1943.

For details of Giselle's discovery and a copy of the death registration please see her original blog post
Maggie Tohill
Cataloguing Archivist

Friday, 9 December 2016

Embroidering the Archives – more than books and paper

In September 1963, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London opened an exhibition entitled Opus Anglicanum which celebrated the international reputation that England had developed for during the 13th century for luxury handmade embroideries that were sought by Kings and Queens, Popes, Cardinals and Bishops across Europe.

Included within the V&A exhibition was the Salwarpe Purse held by Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service (WAAS). The purse is a highly ornate late 13th or early 14th century piece of embroidery belonging to the parish of Salwarpe, Worcestershire.  It is believed that the bag was constructed from an earlier piece of work that was made up into a bag in the 14th or 15th century. 

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'.

Now, more than 50 years on, the V&A is holding another exhibition of Opus Anglicanum, bringing together many stunning examples of medieval embroidery from across England and Europe to be seen together for the first time.

The highly embroidered Salwarpe Purse
Reference 850 Salwarpe BA8650/18 

In preparation for this exhibition WAAS was approached by the exhibition curator with a view to including the Salwarpe purse in the current exhibition. However, it was felt that in the subdued lighting required for the proposed four month exhibition the full beauty of the Salwarpe purse would be lost.

In recognition of the national and international significance and beauty of this unique piece of embroidery, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service have decided to honour it with our own exhibition – for a limited time only! 

Silk embroidered postcard sent by Maud Lyttleton to her parents at Hagley Hall 1918-1919.
Reference 705:104 BA15492/3.

To complement the Salwarpe purse other pieces of embroidery held by the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service are also on display, showing there's more to archives than books and paper.

Embroidery Sampler by Jane Newman 1866.
Reference b468 BA9484/4(ii)

Gloves and Headdress worn by Mrs Thora Williams at her wedding in 1943. 
Reference x899:1249 BA12687. 

Star shaped badges [from the epaulettes?] of the uniform of the Powick Patients Band.
Late 19th-early 20th cent.
Reference x499:9 BA10127/96(ii).

Rhonda Niven,

To find out more about the Salwarpe purse check this post.

The exhibition of embroidered items from our collections is on display now on Level 2 at The Hive. To find out more about our service, including our opening hours, check our Visitor Guide

Friday, 2 December 2016

River Severn Frozen at Bewdley 1895

Wow. You loved this image of the River Severn frozen at Bewdley in 1895 (we'd misread it at first as 1898). It has been viewed over 35,000 times on Facebook, liked over 1500 times, shared over 300 times and received lots of comments.

We've had a look to see what the newspapers said about this event but there is nothing specifically on the river freezing at Bewdley. The county papers do talk about the bad weather, but rather than fun on the ice it was mostly in relation to the amount of help being given to unemployed people. Bread, coal and soup were given to the poor, 200 gallons of soups being distributed in Bromsgrove alone. There was already a lot of unemployment, but the hard frost meant that a lot of outdoor work was impossible, causing a lot of hardship for people paid by the job. In 1890, and probably other years, many craft on the river at Bewdley were badly damaged by the ice, including the floating swimming baths, something not usually considered. However it wasn't all negative news, as the Worcestershire Chronicle of 9th Feb 1895 reported people down the road in Droitwich were skating on the pond in Westwood Park for 3d.

We widened our search to see what was said about other big freezes. Back in December 1892 the Severn was frozen in Worcester for the first time for many years, up to 4 inches thick in places. Due to the importance of the river to trade a tug went up and down trying to keep a channel open, but many canal barges were stuck. Skating took place on local ponds such as at Spetchley, Perdiswell and Boughton, including in the evening by moonlight, although some who tried to do this on the Severn at the bottom of Newport Street ended up falling through the ice, with a rather cold bath, although it wasn't very deep at that point so were ok.

Worcester Herald 27 Dec 1890

Two years later came another big frost over Christmas. The Worcester Herald of 31 Dec 1892 reported
   The keen frosts on Saturday, Sunday and Monday gave quite a seasonable appearance to everything outdoors, and to the delight of those who are fond of skating, it was perfectly safe to indulge in the favourite pastime upon the various ponds in the vicinity, in some places on Sunday as well as Monday. There was a large company at Spetchley Park, as a still larger one at Perdiswell, where the pond had been partially drained for mud-clearing purposes, thus considerably minimising the danger in case of immersion. Northwick Pool had also been partially drained, to allow repairs being affected to a culvert crossing the road, and consequently there were comparatively few visitors. 

It was also mentioned on the Facebook comments that there may be an inscription of the bridge commemorating the river freezing over. There is indeed one, and it relates to when it was so thick a sheep could be roasted on the ice. The full inscription reads:
  In memory of a Sheep roasted on the ice by Charles Lloyd.
  Labour in Vain. Feb 21 1855

Checking the Worcestershire Chronicle for 28 Feb 1855 we came across this report

  SHEEP ROASTING ON SEVERN – Two sheep were roasted on the Severn on   Wednesday, having been purchased by subscription, the money being collected by Mr   Lloyd, of the Labour-in-Vain and the Dog and Wheel public house, and were distributed to   the poor. It is now 41 years since a sheep was roasted on the Severn at Bewdley. One of the animals was carved and eaten in a barge opposite Owner Lloyd's public house, and the other was carried off to the Dog-Wheel in Dog-lane. The visitors, after satisfying themselves with the sight of the large fire burning on the ice, took themselves to skating, sliding, football etc. On walking beneath Telford's beautiful arches we found that several ambitious persons had recently carved their names deeply upon the stone with the date 1855. Under the centre arch there is the following inscription, but it is wearing away from the influence of the water:- "In memory of the hard frost. Sheep roasted, Jan 22, 1814"

If the river freezes over again we'll keep our eyes open in case the roast on the ice is revived again!

Friday, 25 November 2016

Explore Your Archive: An 1850 Stourbridge Circus

Philip Astley was credited with being the 'father' of the modern circus when he opened the first circus in 1768 in England . Early circuses were almost exclusively demonstrations of equestrian skills with a few other types of acts to link the horsemanship performances. Circus performances today are still held in a ring usually 13 m (42 ft) in diameter. This dimension was adopted by Philip Astley in the late 18th century as the minimum diameter in which acrobatic horse riders could stand upright on a cantering horse and perform their tricks.

Details of a circus in Stourbridge 1850 (b899:31/BA3762/vol2 p304)

This advertisement from a Worcestershire paper from 1850 shows drawings of a visiting circus performing these very skills.


Charles R Davies, hairdresser - an update

On Twitter on Tuesday we showed an advert from 1869 for Charles R Davies at 80 High Street, Worcester. A few people asked whether we knew any more about him so we had a look.

We have found very little. Checking the census the only match appears to be a Charles Rowland Davies born in Oxfordshire in 1843. In 1861 he was an apprentice to a barber in Shipston on Stour. We have not been able to find him in the census records until 1891 in Wolverhampton.

Checking other records we have found that he was involved in a court case where he prosecuted a former worker.  An article in the Worcestershire Chronicle of 1 June 1870 about the Police Courts states:

"A respectable looking young man named Frederick West, who carries on a business as a hair dresser in Sansome Street, was brought up on a charge of feloniously receiving 25 dressing combs, 3 ladies back combs and 4 nail brushes, the property of Mr Charles Rowland Davies, hair dresser, High St."

West was undefended, as he did not feel the need for an advocate. He worked for Davies until August 1869. David Davies, the brother of Charles, who worked as a hairdresser himself in Birmingham, was alleged to have been asked to steal them by West and was paid 50 shillings for them, with  20s now and 30 shillings on account. West later cabled 30 shillings to the brother which was intercepted along with an incriminating letter. The Police, led by Detective William Underhill, searched 4 Sansome St and found the articles with marks on them showing them to be the property of Charles Davies. The marks were a figure two.  West, when challenged, admitted they were the items, although he had previously denied seeing them when approached by Charles Davies. West claimed that the money given to David Davies was for money lent for horse racing. He also said he had bought the items at a fair price and believed David Davies had acquired them honestly.

The case was adjourned to be sent to the Quarter Sessions. West couldn't find anyone to stand surety for him at £20, so he was locked up until the trial. Fortunately for him it was only for a short while and on 30th June the case was heard (found on the Court registers on He was found guilty and sentenced to six months imprisonment.

The adverts for Charles Davies are all 1869-71 and as we couldn't find any census record for him we wondered if his stay in Worcester was short. However, upon checking Trade Directories we have found he is listed from 1869-84, with his private residence on London Road. After this he is not mentioned again, so it appears he was in the area for around fifteen years.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Explore Your Archive: First Vehicle Registered in Worcestershire

After the 1903 Act, it became mandatory to register motor vehicles with the County Council or Borough in which the driver was resident. Each City and County, and some Boroughs were allocated registrations that consisted of one or two letters to which a number could be added. The first registration issued in Worcestershire was AB 1. This was registered to the then Chief Constable of Worcester, Lt. Col. Herbert Sutherland Walker. The registration number was re-used for all the Chief Constable's cars until his resignation in 1931.  
Details of the First Vehicle Registered in Worcestershire AB1
According to the book 'From Fruit Trees to Furnaces: A History of the Worcestershire Constabulary' by Bob Pooler the registration was not used for a number of years after but was later reissued to the chief constable's official motor car.


Thanksgiving Day

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all our American friends! The first Thanksgiving is said to have taken place in 1621, when 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims, including two Worcestershire men, ate together at Plymouth Colony to celebrate a successful harvest. The event was described by Edward Winslow, one of the men who travelled on the Mayflower. His brother, Gilbert Winslow, was also there, and in the following decade they were joined by their brothers, John, Josiah and Kenelm.

Droitwich St Peter's register. Edward Winslow entry on bottom right. Photographed by our Digitisation team.

Edward was born in Droitwich in 1595.  His baptism at St Peter's church is recorded in the parish records held here in the archives. The family had lived in the county for many years, residing at Kerswell Green Farm near Kempsey, before Edward's father, Edward senior, moved to Droitwich to be part of the salt trade.

After spending five years at King's School, Worcester, Edward began an apprenticeship in London.  He moved to the Netherlands soon after, and became involved in the Separatist church there. This group formed the basis of those who went to America on the Mayflower in 1620 and celebrated the first Thanksgiving after surviving the harsh winter. In fact, Edward and his second wife Susannah were the first to be married in the colony after they had both been widowed during that winter.

Edward went on to become Governor of Plymouth Colony three times. He was considered an accomplished diplomat and liaised with the English government in London on the colony's behalf. In 1646 he went back to England and worked for Oliver Cromwell, including helping to sell off estates of Royalists. His son Josiah later served as Governor of Plymouth Colony like his father, and called his residence Careswell, after the family's Kempsey home.

If you would like to explore the Worcestershire roots of the Winslows, you can find these publications in our Local Studies Library:

The Winslows of "Careswell" Before & After the Mayflower, by Quentin Coons and Cynthia Hagar Krusell (1975, The Pilgrim Society)

'A Pilgrim Father's Village', by A.F.C. Baber (1959, History Today)

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Explore Your Archive: A Day at the Archives

Our Learning and Outreach team have been busy giving a behind the scenes tour as part of Explore Your Archive week. For those not able to undertake the tour, here is an idea of some of the things that happen on a day at the archives

Our Conservator has been working on some 1853 Quarter Sessions parchment documents that have been damp and as a result the parchment has reacted with itself to form adhesive (animal hide glue), sticking the pages together. She has been gently moistening the parchment to re-activate the 'adhesive' which allows the pages to be separated page by page.  The documents are very dirty and rather whiffy when the moisture reacts with the parchment.

Conserving Quarter Sessions documents

Our Digitisation Team are working on digitising some Ordnance Survey Plans from the planning department. They undertake professional digitisation work for both internal and external customers

Working on digitizing maps in our dark room

We have also been preparing information for our blog posts!

Preparing for #autoarchives


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Explore Your Archive: Sir John Pakington and the Purchase of Wigs

The word wigs comes from "periwigs" which was the name of the particular long, curly wigs that became popular after Charles II was returned to the throne in 1660. They were used to simulate real hair and primarily used for adornment. However at the time, head lice were everywhere, and nitpicking was painful and time-consuming. Wigs stopped lice infesting people’s hair, which had to be shaved for the peruke to fit and the lice would infest the wig instead. Delousing a wig was much easier than delousing a head of hair: the dirty headpiece was send to a wigmaker, who would boil the wig and remove the nits.
Sir John Pakington became the 6th Baronet in 1748 the at the age of 26. Very little is known about his life only that he married at the age of 38 and died at the age of 40.In 'The Pakingtons of Westwood' by Humphrey and Richard Pakington it states 'the only clue  - if such it can be called – to his character and appearance is the purchase of one of those elaborate French wigs…'

Wigmakers bill: With kind permission of Lord Hampton

In England, bag wigs came into fashion around 1730. It was claimed that this type of wig had originated in France. French servants would apparently tie their hair back into a leather bag to keep it off their face when serving, it was not deemed appropriate to have free flowing hair.

Bag wigs got their name because they were exactly that, a bagged wig. In England, the long hair at the back of the wig was placed in a black silk bag. Then the ribbons attached to the bag were pulled to the front and tied in a bow.

The other wig mentioned in Sir John Pakington's bill is the bob-wig. This also became popular in the 1700s, arriving in England during George II’s reign. What made this wig popular was its apparent resemblance to real hair and was mostly worn by the general public. The best examples were made from natural hair, however horse and goat were used as a cheaper alternative.

 In 1795, the British government levied a tax on hair powder of one guinea per year. This tax effectively caused the end of the fashion for wigs.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Explore Your Archive: Henry Jetto

The earliest-known black person to have lived in Worcestershire is believed to be Henry Antonie Jetto. The first reference to him is in a parish register dating back to the late 16th century. The discovery was made by his 11x great-grandson whilst tracing his family history at the Worcestershire History Centre before we moved to The Hive. His descendant, Mr Bluck stated "He is referred to as a ‘blackamor' which at that time meant a black person, and I believe he had an adult baptism into the Christian faith at 26 as ordered by his master."

Baptism of Henry Jetto 1596

Mr Jetto was baptised in Holt in 1596, and was a gardener to Sir Henry Bromley of Holt Castle. Mr Jetto  was also buried at Holt in 1627. Mr Jetto was wealthy enough to leave a will when he died and left goods to the value of £17 15s 8d.

will of Henry Jetto

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Explore Your Archive: Looking back at 2015 and 2016 launch

Last year Explore Your Archive week saw us feature some extraordinary people with links to Worcestershire. As part of this we held an exhibition of some of the archives and held a successful drop in day featuring talks about the individuals we featured.

During the course of the day it was wonderful to meet some of the relatives of Harry Martin, one of our unsung heroes, who was a talented painter with Worcester Porcelain before the First World War.
Meeting the descendants of Harry Martin and an exhibition about him and his work
One of the other people featured was the painter Joseph Blackburn.After the campaign finished we received feedback internationally and our work was included in Art History News. The DNB entry for Joseph Blackburn is also in the process of being updated due to the findings we made for Explore Your Archive.
Join us this year for Explore Your Archive 2016 where from now until November 27th we will feature insights from our archives. Follow our blog and twitter page during the course of the week to keep up to date. 


Friday, 11 November 2016

Open days at Broadway Dig

UPDATE 20/11/2016: Unfortunately the weather forecast is absolutely horrendous for tomorrow, so we've decided to postpone the site tours. The site is very exposed and ground conditions are likely to be treacherous. Besides being unsafe, there's not going to be much to see (unless you're particularly keen on puddles) until the rain passes. We'll re-arrange for later in the week once we (and the site) have all had a chance to dry out! We'll let you know the revised date as soon as its confirmed.
Apologies for the inconvenience.

The site from the air. Photo by Adam Stanford of Aerial-Cam Ltd
Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service are carrying out an archaeological excavation in Broadway as part of the works for the Environment Agency's Badsey Brook Flood risk management scheme. It's proving to be an exciting site!

We're holding two open days, on Friday 18th November and Monday 21st November, 10:00-16:00. It's an opportunity for residents to come along and visit the excavation, talk to our archaeologists, handle some of the finds, and find out about the fascinating history of their local area at first hand.

We've got evidence of some of Broadway's earliest known residents, Mesolithic hunter-gatherers living here around 10,000 years ago. The main focus of the site is a complex Iron Age and Roman settlement, with fantastic Roman finds emerging.

Graham holds the base of a Roman jar, and Tim stands at the bottom of an enclosure ditch

The site can be accessed on foot from the village via footpaths (dotted lines on map) from Cheltenham Road or Church Street, or from the site car park on West End Lane. If using SatNav, postcode WR12 7JP will take you to about 100m to the southeast of the car park entrance.

Stout footwear is advised, as the site may be muddy! Visitors should gather by the site cabins next to the car park, where artefacts will be on display. Tours of the site, starting from the site cabins, will be conducted by the archaeologists.
There's no need to book – just drop in and find out more about the thousands of years of history beneath your feet!

Friday, 4 November 2016

The Grazebrook sketchbooks

Worcestershire Archive Service is in the process of cataloguing a collection of four volumes that were deposited with us by Homery Folkes, an architect, local historian and noted antiquarian. These volumes contain newspaper cuttings, postcards, photographs and drawings reproducing architectural details and images from nature.  Obviously the work of someone very interested in architecture – an architect perhaps?

These beautiful pencil drawings show the artistry and talent of the person who created it.  A person, possessing such skill in observing and reproducing fine detail, could perhaps be considered a true artist.

An example of the fine drawings contained within the sketchbooks

So, who was the artist?  On first receiving the deposit staff originally attributed it to Tom Grazebrook, but our paperwork shows that, upon Homery Folkes insistence, the volumes were later attributed to Phillip Grazebrook.  The depositor perhaps based his assertion upon the initials found on the front of two of the volumes; JPG appears in Gothesized text.  Our paperwork relating to this acquisition states "4 architectural sketchbooks of Philip Grazebrook, architect, of Hagley", however, on the inside covers of one of these volumes it states: "Tom Grazebrook Nov/95".  Upon inspection we have found that all of these images are consistent in style and level of execution suggesting that they were created by one person alone.  So who was the creator? Phillip or Tom?

The only clues that we have, in terms of dates, is Nov/95, which we take to be November 1895, and a watercolour of battleships dated 1917. With these dates as a point of reference we took a look at the 1911 and 1901 census and found no trace of a Philip Grazebrook listed, whereas a John Philip was recorded as living at the Court, Hagley.  At this point he was 75 years of age, living with his wife Harriet, son William and daughter Ellen. Far from being an architect his profession was given as retired iron master. In the 1881 census John P. was listed as head of the household with 3 children, including a 19 year old Tom whose profession was given as architect.  Also on Ancestry there is an entry on the National Probate Calendar for John Phillips Grazebrook, who died on March 1919, and one of the executors is identified as Tom Grazebrook, architect.

Could John Phillip/s be our artist?  It is possible that a successful iron master would still be interested in design and would like to contribute ideas to those who developed products but it is unlikely that so many fine and precise architectural details would have been reproduced in iron work.  These volumes are far more than a catalogue of designs - they were obviously created by someone who had a passion for architecture. 

The front cover of one of the Grazebrook sketchbooks, featuring the initials JPG.

Looking at the Kelly's trade directory of 1912 both J.P and Tom Grazebrook were listed as being at the Court, Hagley.  The 1911 census showed Tom to be living at the Dene, Pedmore.  Perhaps the entry in Kelly's referred to Tom's business address.  If he were working from his parent's home then it could explain why Tom would use volumes, with his father's initials upon, in which to make his drawings.  

Tom Grazebrook (1862-1949) seems to have been a successful architect.  He designed the church of St Saviours, Lower Hagley in a mixed style owing much to the Arts and Crafts tradition; a number of projects providing model housing for the poor; Bluebell Park Cottages at Wrens Nest (1902-3); workmen’s dwellings Vicarage Road, Wollaston (1905-7) and Urban District Council housing in Vicarage Road Amblecote (1920-1).  The public buildings that he created included Cemetery Road Board School (1884); the Dispensary Worcester Road, Stourbridge (1893) opened by Lady Cobham; the Victorian Jacobean Netherton Library for the Earl of Dudley (1894); the Tudor style Oldswinford Hospital Great Hall (1905-6); All Saints Home for girls, Clent (1910) and the Guest Hospital of Dudley Outpatients (1915-16).  We believe these volumes must have been Tom's creation.  So why did Homery Folkes, working in the same profession and in the same locality, attribute these drawings to the wrong person?  Perhaps Phillip was Tom's family name given in honour of his father? The entry of his baptism at Hagley church provides no record of a middle name.

In trying to find answers we have posed even more questions. Turning to other collections within our archives for further information we looked at a deposit made by Ellen Grazebrook, John's daughter and Tom's sister. Included in this is John Phillips' obituary where it is stated that he was very good at handicrafts and "he excelled in wood carving. In Hagley church there stand two memorials to his ability, the communion table and the footstool". To be responsible for such an important piece of church furniture shows the level of his skills.  Ellen proudly reported that when her father died his tools were left to Birmingham University and they called him an "engineering genius".  It could be said that many of the images, contained within the volumes, are of details that would be found in church architecture.  Perhaps John Phillip could be responsible for the collection after all.  If the volumes are to be attributed to Tom then it is obvious from whom his ability came.

An example of the fine drawings contained within the sketchbooks

We are no nearer to finding the answer but, in the process, we have learnt an enormous amount about two individuals from the past.  What has been so memorable about the research is finding Ellen's recollections of her father.  She obviously adored him and wrote "In his relationship to his children he was always most affectionate and sympathetic and he looms large in the vista of childish memories". The image that is created of John Phillip challenges the idea of a distant Victorian father figure and shows one that encourages his children's interests.

By Carol Wood
Archive Assistant