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Worcester, Worcestershire

Historical Description

Worcester (popularly Wooster), a city, a municipal, county, and parliamentary borough, the head of a poor-law union, petty sessional division, and county court district, the county town of Worcestershire, and the see of a bishop. The city stands on the river Severn, at a convergence of railways, and at the terminus of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, 5½ miles S by W of Droitwich, 15 S of Kidderminster, 26½ SW of Birmingham, 29 N of Gloucester, and 111 by road, but 120½ by railway, WNW of London; has railway communication with all parts of the kingdom, and commands seaward navigation by the Severn, and extensive inland navigation by both river and canals. It has a joint station at Shrub Hill on the G.W.R. and M.R., another station at Foregate Street on the G.W.R., and a head post office.

History.-The city dates from the times of the ancient Britons, and was called by them Caer-Guoraugon. It was occupied by the Romans, and has yielded many Roman relics. It became the Wigaerne, or Warrior's Lodge, of the Saxons, and was designated by them Wegenacestre, Weorganeceaster, or Weogornaceaster, a name afterwards corrupted into Worcester. It was taken by Penda of Mercia in 628, was desolated or destroyed by the Danes, was rebuilt in 894 by Ethelred, and was burnt in 1041 by Hardicanute for resisting danegelt. It was given by William the Conqueror to Urso d'Abitot, was then an important place with a mint, and acquired about 1090 a wall with six gates and a strong castle, few remains of which now exist. It suffered severely in the Civil War between the Empress Maud and Stephen, and later in the time of King John, and became the burial-place at his own request of the latter monarch. It was visited repeatedly by Henry III. and Edward I. The city was plundered in 1401 by Owen Glendower, but rescued by Henry IV.; was visited by that king again in 1407, by Henry VI. in 1459, by Edward IV. in 1471, was inundated by the Severn in 1489, and was occupied by Henry VII. in 1485. It was more famous than any other English town for cloth-making in the time of Henry VIII. It was visited by Elizabeth in 1575 and 1585, and was fortified by the Royalists in 1642, taken by the Parliamentarians in 1643, re-occupied by the Royalists in 1644, visited by the King himself in 1645, and re-taken by the Parliamentarians after a siege of four months in 1646. Charles II. at the head of the Scotch army entered it in 1651, fortified it, was crowned in it, was besieged in it by Cromwell, was defeated on 3 Sept. in the desperate battle of Worcester fought at Perry Wood, and made a narrow personal escape after his defeat. The city from its great loyalty to the Stuarts took the appellation of the " faithful city," and it was the first corporate town in which a mayor proclaimed Charles II. at the Restoration. William of Worcester, William Bottoner, Lord Somers, and Judge Berkeley were natives.

Site and Structure.-The city occupies a gentle slope on the eastern bank of the Severn, and is sheltered on the E by a well-wooded hill. It is well drained, has a good supply of water, and is largely lighted by electricity. The principal streets are wide, regular, and handsome, and the houses for the most part are built of red brick. There are many timber houses of the 17th century. King Charles's House in New Street is an old half-timbered house, of interest as being the house in which Charles II. slept before the battle of Worcester, and in which he found temporary shelter after his defeat. The Commandery, founded by Bishop Wulfstan as an hospital for travellers, was rebuilt in the time of Henry VIII., and there remain portions of the old hall and other apartments. There are four banks, and six newspapers are published. A handsome stone bridge across the Severn, of five elliptical arches, 270 feet long, connects the city with the suburb of St John Bedwardine, was erected in 1781 at a cost of nearly £30,000, and was widened in 1841. An iron viaduct of two spans takes across the Malvern and Hereford branch of the G.W.R. The Guildhall in High Street forms a handsome pile of buildings in the Italian style, erected in 1723 and restored in 1877. It comprises the municipal offices, police court and sessions court, and a spacious assembly-room, and contains a number of good portraits, and a collection of ancient arms and armour and of old porcelain. The Shire Hall, in Foregate Street, is a fine building in the Classic style, erected in 1835, and used for the city and county assizes, and for balls and public meetings. The Market-House was rebuilt in 1857, and has an elevated roof, open at the sides. The Flesh and Fish Market stands at the end of the market-house, and is a large and well-arranged structure, with open-sided roof. The Cattle Market is at the Butts, covers a space of more than 4 acres, and was opened in 1838. The Hop Market is in the Foregate, and comprises offices on the basement, and large warehouses in the superstructure in Sansome Street. The Corn Exchange, in Angel Street, was erected in 1848-49 at a cost of £5000. The Public Hall was originally designed to be the corn exchange, is now the property of the corporation, and has been rebuilt; the hall measures 70 feet in length and 40 in width, and contains a fine organ and orchestra. The Victoria Institute in Foregate Street-the foundation stone of which was laid by the Duke of York in 1894-contains the public library and museum, schools of art and of science, and an art gallery. The theatre was built in 1878 on the site of a previous building burnt the preceding year. H.M. prison in Castle Street was built in 1809, was enlarged and improved in 1840, and was reconstructed on the separate system in 1856-60. The workhouse stands on Tallow Hill, and was built in 1794, and rebuilt in 1894.

The Cathedral.-A church on the site of the cathedral was built by King Oswald in 983; reconstructions of that church, in Early Norman architecture, and still partly retained, were built by Bishop Wulfstan in 1084. The main body of the cathedral as it now stands was dedicated by Bishop Sylvester in the presence of Henry III. in 1218. Additions and alterations, in Decorated and Perpendicular architecture, were made at subsequent periods, and very extensive restorations, rendered necessary by the weather-worn surface of the exterior, and the decay of many parts of the interior, were effected in a series of years up to 1874, when the whole was completely restored. The pile, in its ground plan, comprises a nave of nine bays, a main transept of two bays, a central tower, a choir of four bays, a choir-transept of two bays, a presbytery of one bay, a Lady chapel of four bays, cloisters of seven panes, a chapter-house, and a N porch. The nave is 180 feet long, 78 wide, and 66 high; the main transept is 128 feet long, 32 wide, and 66 high; the central tower is of two stages, crowned by octagonal turrets, and 200 feet high; the choir is 120 feet long, 74 wide, and 68 high; the choir-transept is 120 feet long and 25 wide; the Lady chapel is 60 feet long; the cloisters are 125 feet long and 18 wide; the chapter-house is 55 feet in diameter and 45 high; a Norman crypt extends under the choir and the choir-transept, and is 45 feet long and 15 wide; and the entire pile is 514 feet long. The architecture ranges from Early Norman to Late Perpendicular; and the general appearance, particularly as seen in distance from the Malvern Hills, is very beautiful. The chief monument is an altar-tomb of King John, with a life-size crowned figure of the king; and other noticeable monuments are altar-tombs, effigies, or other memorials of Prince Arthur, Lady de Clifford, Sir J. Beauchamp, Sir H. Ellis, Sir G. Ryce, Sir W. Harcourt, Judge Lyttleton, Maud Longspee, Mrs. C. Digby, and Bishops Johnson, Hough, Giffard, Oswald, Wulfstan, Sylvester, Hemenhale, and Thornborough. The present episcopal palace is Hartlebury Castle near Kidderminster. The old episcopal palace stands near the cathedral on a height overlooking the Severn, and is now called the deanery. The cloisters are now inhabited by the cathedral dignitaries. King Edgar's Tower, built toward the end of the time of Edward III., stands in College Green, on the S side of the cathedral, and is the finest relic of old times in the city.

Ecclesiastical Affairs.-The livings in the city or connected with it are the rectories of St Albans, All Saints, St Andrew, St Clement, St Helen, St Nicholas, St Swithin, and Bedwardine St Michael, the vicarages of St Martin, St Peter, St Paul, St Barnabas, Holy Trinity, Bedwardine St John the Baptist, St George (South Claines), St Barnabas (Rainbow Hill), and St Mary Magdalene (The Tything). Net value of St Albans, £73; of St Andrew, £270 with residence, of St Clement, £300 with residence; of St Nicholas, £300; of St Michael, £240 with residence; of St Martin, £321 with residence; of St John the Baptist, £307 with residence; of St Barnabas, £200 with residence; of Holy Trinity, £265 with residence; of St George, £162 with residence, gross value of All Saints, £290 with residence; of St Helen, £235; of St Paul, £276; of St Peter, with the chapelry of Whittington annexed, £240 with residence; of St Swithin, £160 with residence; of St Barnabas, £200 with residence; of St Mary, £300 with residence. Patron, of All Saints, Holy Trinity, St Albans, St Barnabas, St Helen, St Nicholas, St Paul, St Barnabas and St Mary Magdalen, the Bishop of Worcester; of the other livings, the Dean and Chapter of Worcester, except that of St George, of which the patron is the Vicar of Claines. St Alban's Church is Norman, and was restored in 1850. All Saints' was rebuilt in 1742; and restored in 1889. St Andrew's is of the llth century, greatly altered, and has a tower 90 feet high, with a beautiful slender spire of 1751, rising to a finial height of 245 feet. St Clement's was built in 1823 in the Norman style. St Helen's is the oldest church in Worcester, though the existing building is not earlier than-the 13th or 14th century; it was restored in 1880. St Michael's was built in 1842 near the site of an earlier church; its register records the birth in 1650 of Lord Chancellor Somers. St John's is a venerable edifice of Norman and Perpendicular architecture. St Peter's was rebuilt in 1838 on the site of the old church. St Nicholas' was built in 1730 in the Italian style. St Martin's was built in 1782 in the Classic style. St Swithin's was rebuilt in 1736, and retains the 15th century tower. St Paul's was built in 1886, the former church having been converted into a school. Holy Trinity was built in 1865, and is in the Decorated style. St George's, South Claines, was built in 1830. St Mary Magdalen's was built in 1877 in the Early English style. St Barnabas' was built in 1885 in the Early English style. St Oswald's belongs to St Oswald's Hospital, and was rebuilt in 1877. The Watermen's Church occupies the site of the old church of St Clement, and was built in 1659. The Roman Catholic chapel occupies the site of the chapel visited by James II. in 1687, and was built in 1828. There are Baptist, Congregational, Free and Primitive Methodist, Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, Wesleyan, and Presbyfcerian chapels, and a Friends' meeting-house. A Black friary stood near Foregate, a Grey friary near St Martin's Gate, a nunnery at White Ladies, and a commandery of Knights Hospitallers was founded in the llth century, and went to the Morrisons and to Cardinal Wolsey.

Schools and Institutions.-The Cathedral Grammar School was founded by Henry VIII. for forty poor scholars, is held partly in the quondam refectory of the Benedictine monastery attached to the cathedral, and partly in a new schoolhouse built in 1887. It is administered under a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, and has twenty scholarships tenable at the school, and eight exhibitions to the universities. Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School was founded in 1561, had Lord Somers and Samuel Butler, the author of "Hudibras," for pupils, was rebuilt in the Tudor style at White Ladies in 1868, and has nine exhibitions to the universities. Lloyd's Charity School was founded and endowed in 1713 by Bishop Lloyd, and educates and clothes twenty boys and twenty girls. The Infirmary was built in 1767, and has at different times been much enlarged and improved. The Ophthalmic Institution was rebuilt in 1866. The Dispensary was established in 1822. The Orphan Asylum was built in 1869, and enlarged in 1885. St Oswald's Hospital was originally founded for lepers, was rebuilt in 1874, and supports twenty men and seventeen women. There are also a number of almshouses, institutions, and miscellaneous charities with a total income of about £10,000. Worcester is the headquarters of the Worcestershire Territorial Regiment consisting of two line Battalions (the old 29th and 36th Foot), and the 3rd and 4th Battalions Worcester Militia. It is also the headquarters of the Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry, the 1st Worcestershire and Warwickshire Volunteer Artillery, and the 2nd Volunteer Battalion Worcestershire Regiment.

Trade, &c.-The city is a seat of assizes, quarter sessions, and county courts. Markets are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, a cattle fair on Mondays, and on 19 Sept. and 16 Dec. Considerable commerce is carried on in corn, hops, cider, and perry, very fine porcelain is largely manufactured, glove-making and leather-dyeing are extensively carried on, some lace-making is done, and there are a very large vinegar work, a British wine-making establishment, several manufactories of Worcestershire sauce, breweries, horse-hair manufactories, carriage works, iron foundries, sawmills, roperies, boat and barge building yards, engineering establishments, tanneries, agricultural implement manufactories, and extensive nurseries. Musical festivals are held, races are run, and agricultural and horticultural shows are maintained. The city was chartered by Henry I., is governed by a mayor, 12 aldermen, and 36 councillors, and from the time of Edward I. down to 1885 it sent two members to Parliament, but by the Redistribution of Seats Act of the latter year its representation was reduced to one. The boundaries of the municipal borough were extended by the Worcester Extension Act of 1885. It is divided into six wards, and has a separate commission of the peace, and a separate court of quarter sessions. Under the Local Government Act of 1888 Worcester was declared a county borough. The borough boundaries are the same parliamentarily as municipally, and they comprehend the parishes of All Saints, St Alban, St Andrew, St Clement, St Helen, St Martin, St John Bedwardine, St Michael Bedwardine, St Peter, St Nicholas, St Swithin, Blockhouse and College Precincts, the tithing of Whistones, South Claines, and South Hallow. Acreage, 3185; population, 42,908.

The Diocese.-The bishopric is said to have been founded about 160. Among the bishops have been Wolstan, Dun-stan, and Oswald, who were canonised; Cantilupe; Giffard, Lord Chancellor; Bourchier, who became cardinal; Julius de Medici, who became Pope Clement VII.; Latimer, the martyr; Fleetwood, who effected the escape of Prince Charles; Sandeys and Whitgift, who became archbishops; Stillingfleet, Hough, and Hurd. The cathedral establishment includes the bishop, the bishop suffragan of Coventry, the dean, four canons, two archdeacons, honorary canons, a chancellor, and four minor canons. The income of the bishop is £5000, that of the dean £1450, and of each of the four canons £725. The diocese comprehends almost the entire counties of Worcestershire and Warwickshire, and parts of Staffordshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Leicestershire, and Northamptonshire. Population, 1,228,363.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyWorcestershire 
Poor Law unionWorcester 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Worcester from the following:

Land and Property

The full transcript of the Worcestershire section of the Return of Owners of Land, 1873.


Online maps of Worcester are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Worcestershire papers online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of Worcestershire 1569 is available on the Heraldry page.

RegionWest Midlands
Postal districtWR1
Post TownWorcester