Worcester

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The City of Worcester, commonly known as Worcester, (/ˈwʊstər/ wuus-tər), is a city and county town of Worcestershire in the West Midlands of England.

Worcester is home to Worcester Cathedral.

Worcester is situated some 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Birmingham and 29 miles (47 km) north of Gloucester, and has an approximate population of 94,000 people. The River Severn runs through the middle of the city, overlooked by the twelfth-century Worcester Cathedral. The site of the final battle of the Civil War, Worcester was where Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army defeated King Charles II’s Cavaliers, resulting in the English Interregnum, the ten-year period during which England and Wales became a republic. Worcester was the home of Royal Worcester Porcelain and the birthplace of the composer Sir Edward Elgar. It houses the Lea and Perrins factory where the traditional Worcestershire Sauce is made, and is home to one of the UK’s fastest growing Universities, The University of Worcester, which has a growing academic reputation.

Occupation of the site of Worcester can be dated back to Neolithic times, a village surrounded by defensive ramparts having been founded on the eastern bank of the River Severn here in around 400 BC. The position, which commanded a ford on the river, was in the first century used by the Romans to establish what may at first have been a fort on the military route from Glevum (Gloucester) to Viroconium (Wroxeter) but which soon developed – as the frontier of the empire was pushed westwards – into an industrial town with its own pottery kilns and iron-smelting plants.

Roman Worcester (which may have been the Vertis mentioned in the seventh century Ravenna Cosmography) was a thriving trading and manufacturing centre for some three hundred years, though by the time of the Roman withdrawal from Britain in 407 it had dwindled considerably in size and is not recorded again until the mid-seventh century when documents mention the Anglo-Saxon settlement Weorgoran ceaster (settlement of the people by the winding river). The fact that Worcester was chosen at this time – in preference to both the much larger Gloucester and the royal centre of Winchcombe – to be the Episcopal See of a new diocese covering the area suggests that there may have been a well established, and powerful, Christian community living on the site when it fell into English hands.

The town was almost destroyed in 1041 after a rebellion against the punitive taxation of Harthacanute. The town was attacked several times (in 1139, 1150 and 1151) during “The Anarchy”, i.e. civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I. This is the background to the well-researched historical novel The Virgin in the Ice, part of Ellis Peters’ “Cadfael” series, which begins with the words:

“It was early in November of 1139 that the tide of civil war, lately so sluggish and inactive, rose suddenly to wash over the city of Worcester, wash away half of its lifestock, property and women, and send all those of its inhabitants who could get away in time scurrying for their lives northwards away from the marauders”. (These are mentioned as having arrived from Gloucester, leaving a long lasting legacy of bitterness between the two cities.)

By late medieval times the population had grown to around 10,000 as the manufacture of cloth started to become a large local industry. The town was designated a county corporate, giving it autonomy from local government.

Worcester was the site of the Battle of Worcester (3 September 1651), when Charles II’s attempt to regain the crown by force was decisively defeated, in the fields a little to the west and south of the city, near the village of Powick. After being defeated, Charles returned to his headquarters in what is now known as King Charles house in the Cornmarket, before fleeing in disguise to Boscobel House in Shropshire and his eventual escape to France. Worcester was one of the cities loyal to the King in that war, for which it was given the epithet “Fidelis Civitas” (“The Faithful City”). This motto has been incorporated into the city’s coat of arms.

In 1670, the River Severn broke its banks and the subsequent flood was the worst ever seen by Worcester. A brass plate can be found on a wall on the path to the cathedral by the path along the river showing how high this flood went, and other flood heights of more recent times are also shown in stone bricks. The closest flood height to what is known as The Flood of 1670 was when the Severn flooded in the torrential rains of July 2007.

The Royal Worcester Porcelain Company factory was founded by Dr John Wall in 1751, although it no longer produces goods. A handful of decorators are still employed at the factory and the Museum is still open.

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Worcester was a major centre for glove making, employing nearly half the glovers in England at its peak (over 30,000 people). In 1815 the Worcester and Birmingham Canal opened, allowing Worcester goods to be transported to a larger conurbation.

The British Medical Association (BMA) was founded in the Board Room of the old Worcester Royal Infirmary building in Castle Street in 1832. While most of the Royal Infirmary has now been demolished to make way for the University of Worcester’s new city campus, the original Georgian building has been preserved. There are plans to reopen the building as a medical museum.

During World War II, the city was chosen to be the seat of an evacuated government in case of mass German invasion. The War Cabinet, along with Winston Churchill and some 16.000 state workers, would have moved to Hindlip Hall (now part of the complex forming the Headquarters of West Mercia Police), 3 miles (4.8 km) north of Worcester, and Parliament would have temporarily seated in Stratford-upon-Avon.

In the 1950s and 1960s large areas of the medieval centre of Worcester were demolished and rebuilt as a result of decisions by town planners. There is still a significant area of medieval Worcester remaining, but it is a small fraction of what was present before the redevelopments.

The current city boundaries date from 1974, when the Local Government Act 1972 transferred the parishes of Warndon and St. Peter the Great County into the city.

The County of Worcestershire’s local government arrangement is formed of a non-metropolitan county (Worcestershire County Council) and six non-metropolitan districts, with Worcester City Council being the district for most of Worcester, with a small area of the St. Peters suburb actually falling within neighbouring Wychavon District. The Worcester City Council area includes two parish councils, these being Warndon Parish Council and St Peter the Great Parish Council.

The 2001 census recorded Worcester’s population at 93,353.

Worcester is the seat of a Church of England bishop. His official signature is his Christian name followed by Wigorn, which is also occasionally used as an abbreviation for the name of the county.

The city of Worcester, located on the River Severn and with transport links to Birmingham and other parts of the Midlands through the vast canal network, became an important centre for many light industries. The late-Victorian period saw the growth of ironfounders, like Heenan & Froude, Hardy & Padmore and McKenzie & Holland.

One of the flourishing industries of Worcester was glove making. Worcester’s Gloving industry peaked between 1790 to 1820 when about 30,000 were employed by 150 companies. At this time nearly half of the Glove manufacturers of Britain were located in Worcestershire.

In the 19th century the industry declined because import taxes on foreign competitors, mainly from France, were greatly reduced. By the middle of the 20th century, only a few Worcester gloving companies survived since gloves became less fashionable and free trade allowed in cheaper imports from the Far East.
Nevertheless at least 3 large glove manufacturing companies still survived until the late 20th century: Dent Allcroft, Fownes and Milore. Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation gloves were designed by Emil Rich and manufactured in the Worcester based Milore factory.

The inter-war years saw the rapid growth of engineering, producing machine tools James Archdale, H.W. Ward, castings for the motor industry Worcester Windshields and Casements, mining machinery Mining Engineering Company (MECO) which later became part of Joy Mining Machinery and open-top cans Williamsons, though G H Williamson and Sons had become part of the Metal Box Co in 1930. Later the company became Carnaud Metal Box PLC.

Worcester Porcelain operated in Worcester until 2008 when the factory was closed down due to the recession. However, the site of Worcester Porcelain still houses the Worcester Porcelain Museum which is open daily to visitors.

One of Worcester’s most famous products, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce is made and bottled in the Midland Road factory in Worcester, which has been the home of Lea & Perrins since 16 October 1897. Mr Lea and Mr Perrins originally met in a chemist’s shop on the site of the now Debenhams store in the Crowngate Shopping Centre.

The surprising foundry heritage of the city is represented by Morganite Crucible at Norton which produces graphitic shaped products and cements for use in the modern industry.

Worcester is the home of what is claimed to be the oldest newspaper in the world, Berrow’s Worcester Journal, which traces its descent from a news-sheet that started publication in 1690. The city is also a major retail centre with several covered shopping centres that has most major chains represented as well as a host of independent shops and restaurants, particularly in Friar Street and New Street.

The Kays mail order business was founded in Worcester in the 1880s and operated from numerous premises in the city until 2007. It was then bought out by Reality, owner of the Grattan catalogue. Kays’ former warehouse building was knocked down in 2008.

Worcester’s main shopping centre is the High Street, home to the stores of a number of major retail chains. Part of the High Street was modernised in 2005 amid much controversy. Many of the issues focussed on the felling of old trees, the duration of the works (caused by the weather and an archaeological find) and the removal of flagstones outside the city’s eighteenth century Guildhall. The other main thoroughfares are The Shambles and Broad Street, while The Cross (and its immediate surrounding area) is the city’s financial centre and location of the majority of Worcester’s main bank branches.

There are three main covered shopping centres in the city centre, the CrownGate Shopping Centre, Cathedral Plaza and Reindeer Court. There are three retail parks, the Elgar and Blackpole Retail Parks, which are located in the Blackpole area of the city, and the Shrub Hill Retail Park which is located immediately outside the city centre.

Probably the most famous landmark in Worcester is its imposing Worcester Cathedral. The current building, formally named The Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, was begun in 1084 while its crypt dates from the tenth century. The chapter house is the only circular one in the country while the cathedral also has the distinction of having the tomb of King John. Limited parts of the city wall still remain.

There are three main parks in Worcester, Cripplegate Park, Gheluvelt Park and Fort Royal Park, the latter being on one of the battles sites of the English Civil War. In addition, there is a large open area known as Pitchcroft to the North of the city centre on the east bank of the River Severn, which, apart from those days when it is being used for horse racing, is a public space.

Gheluvelt Park was opened as a memorial to commemorate the Worcestershire Regiment’s 2nd Battalion after their part in the Battle of Gheluvelt, during World War I.

There are also two large woodlands in the city, Perry Wood, at twelve hectares, and Nunnery Wood, covering twenty-one hectares. Perry Wood is often said to be the place where Oliver Cromwell met and made a pact with the devil. Nunnery Wood is an integral part of the adjacent and popular Worcester Woods Country Park, itself next door to County Hall on the east side of the city.

The M5 Motorway runs north-south immediately to the east of the City, and is accessed by Junction 6 (Worcester North) and Junction 7 (Worcester South). This makes the city easily accessible by car to most parts of the country, including London which is only 120 miles (190 km) away (via the M5, M42 and M40).

Several A roads pass through the city. The A449 road runs south-west to Malvern and north to Kidderminster. The A44 runs south-east to Evesham and west to Leominster and Aberystwyth and crosses Worcester Bridge. The A38 trunk road runs south to Tewkesbury and Gloucester and north-north-east to Droitwich and Birmingham. The A4103 goes west-south-west to Hereford. The A422 heads east to Alcester, branching from the A44 a mile east of the M5. The city is encompassed by a partial ring road (A4440) which is formed, rather inconsistently, by single and dual carriageways. The A4440 road provides a second road bridge across the Severn (Carrington Bridge) just west of the A4440-A38 junction. Carrington Bridge links the A38 from Worcester towards Gloucester with the A449 linking Worcester with Malvern.

Worcester has two stations, Worcester Foregate Street and Worcester Shrub Hill. Worcester Foregate Street is located in the city centre, on Foregate Street. Although featuring two tracks Foregate Street consists of two bi-directional single working lines, one of which is the Birmingham to Worcester line while the other is the Cotswold Line, which Shrub Hill also serves. Worcester Shrub Hill is located just outside the city centre on Shrub Hill Road. The station is on the Cotswold Line as well being a spur off the Birmingham to Worcester line. Unlike Foregate Street, Shrub Hill does not have single working lines. Being the much bigger of Worcester’s stations, due to a large number of tracks and sidings, Shrub Hill is often used as a stabling point and a through route for freight trains. Both stations frequently serve Birmingham via Droitwich Spa, then either lines being firstly via Kidderminster and Stourbridge mostly Birmingham Snow Hill (with some going this way to Birmingham New Street) and Birmingham Moor Street then onwards perhaps to Warwick or secondly via Bromsgrove and University and Birmingham New Street which trains are run by London Midland. London is also served frequently by both stations via the Cotswold Line and, infrequently, via the Birmingham-Bristol/Gloucester-Swindon/Bristol-London lines. Train services to Oxford and London Paddington are operated by First Great Western. Although connected to the Birmingham-Bristol ‘Cross Country’ mainline only two miles away, Worcester is not served by Inter City Cross Country services therefore making Worcestershire the only county in England where Inter City Cross Country services pass through but do not stop in during normal scheduled timetables. The proposed station, Worcestershire Parkway is expected to end this.

Every three years Worcester becomes home to the Three Choirs Festival, which dates from the eighteenth century and is credited with being the oldest music festival in Europe. The location of the festival rotates each year between the Cathedral Cities of the Three Counties, Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester. Famous for its championing of English music, especially that of Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, Worcester last hosted the festival in August 2011.

The Worcester Festival is a relatively new venture established in 2003. Held in late August, the festival consists of a variety of music, theatre, cinema and workshops, as well as the already established Beer Festival, which runs as an event within the Worcester Festival.

For one weekend the city plays host to the Worcester Music Festival. Now in its 4th year (2011) the festival comprises a weekend original music by predominantly local bands and musicians. All performances are free, and take place throughout the city centre in bars, clubs, community buildings, churches and the library. In 2010 the festival comprised 230 unique acts.

Worcester Festival ends with a spectacular firework display on the banks of the River Severn on the Monday of the August bank holiday.

The Victorian-themed Christmas Fayre is a major source of tourism every December.

The thirteenth CAMRA Worcester Beer, Cider and Perry festival took place for three days from the 16 August 2012 and was held as usual on Pitchcroft Race Course. This festival is the largest beer festival within the West Midlands with the 2011 event being attended by 12,000 people.

Famous 18th century actress Sarah Siddons made her acting début here at the Theatre Royal in Angel Street. Her sister, the novelist Ann Julia Kemble Hatton,otherwise known as Ann of Swansea, was born in the city. Matilda Alice Powles, better known as Vesta Tilley, a leading male impersonator and music hall artiste was born in Worcester.

In present-day Worcester the Swan Theatre stages a mixture of professional touring and local amateur productions. The Countess of Huntingdon’s Hall is a historic church now used as venue for an eclectic range of musical performances, while the Marrs Bar is a venue for gigs and stand-up comedy. Worcester has two multi-screen cinemas; a Vue Cinema complex located on Friar Street, and an Odeon Cinema on Foregate Street – both of which were 3D-equipped by March 2010.

In the northern suburb of Northwick is the Art Deco Northwick Cinema. Built in 1938 it contains one of the only two remaining interiors in Britain designed by John Alexander (the original perspective drawings are still held by RIBA). It was a bingo hall from 1966 to 1982 and then empty until 1991; it was then run as a music venue until 1996, and was empty again until autumn 2006 when it became an antiques and lifestyle centre, owned by Grey’s Interiors, who were previously located in the Tything.

Worcester is home to Worcester News, Worcester Standard and Berrow’s Worcester Journal newspapers.

Worcester is twinned with the German city of Kleve, the Parisian commune of Le Vésinet, and its larger American namesake Worcester, Massachusetts.

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