A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1924.
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Worcester has place in the group of ancient boroughs fortified with a castle during the earliest years of the Norman occupation. Before September 1069 (fn. 1) Urse d'Abitot, sheriff of the county, had planted in the south-west corner of the borough a castle, the moat of which inclosed a portion of the burying-ground of the priory. This encroachment called forth from Archbishop Aldred of York, formerly Bishop of Worcester, and still in a measure protector of the see, the famous reproof which has already been referred to in this history. (fn. 2) The castle of Worcester has been utterly destroyed, but its site can be accurately determined, and its plan can be restored from various maps of the borough drawn in the 17th and 18th centuries. The outline of the castle agrees with the general type followed by early Norman fortresses in England. Abutting on the Severn bank there was raised an earthen mound or motte. Leland, visiting Worcester in the middle of the 16th century, remarks that 'the dungeon hill of the castle is a greate thinge, ovargrowne at this tyme with brushe wood.' (fn. 3) In 1796 it is described as 'a steep artificial mount, whose area at the top is not more than six yards in diameter' (fn. 4); it was destroyed in 1830. Speed's plan of Worcester marks 'Castle Hill,' namely, the motte, and the bailey serving as the prisons. To the east of the motte lay the inner bailey, protected on the south and east by the 'castle ditch' of mediaeval and later times, within which until the early 19th century was situated the county prison. (fn. 5) North of both motte and inner bailey, the outer bailey occupied the site of the present College Green; it is in this quarter that the works of the castle approach most nearly to the precincts of the mediaeval priory, and the encroachment of which the monks of Worcester complained in the 11th century must have been made by the northern ditch of this outer ward.
It has already been remarked that the direction of the early walls of Worcester in this angle of the town is uncertain. We do not know how far the building of the castle may have caused a deflection of the original line, but it is at least highly probable that the wall of the city, at the time of the foundation of the castle, ran between the spaces occupied respectively by its inner and outer baileys. In 1217, upon the request of Bishop Silvester of Evesham, the Earl of Pembroke in the name of King Henry III granted to the priory the northern moiety of the castle. (fn. 6) An inquest of knights, summoned to declare the royal rights in the castle, found that the northern part of the fortress and the houses within it were the king's, and that the southern part was of the fee of Walter Beauchamp, the hereditary sheriff of the county. (fn. 7) Such a distinction is likely to have been of old standing, and supports the opinion that the northern bailey lay within the borough, leaving the motte and southern bailey outside the walls. The position of Worcester Castle upon the line of the town wall and in the immediate neighbourhood of the Severn resembles the sites chosen for early Norman fortresses in most of the shire boroughs of England.
The castle of Worcester was a royal fortress, held consecutively, except for a few years during the anarchy, (fn. 8) by the hereditary sheriffs of the county, and their later representatives the Earls of Warwick. The royal interest in the castle is shown by the payments for work upon its defences entered upon the Pipe Rolls for the last years of the 12th century. In 1183 £12 was spent in amending Worcester Castle; in 1192 unspecified work on the castle accounted for £5 0s. 3d., and in the same year £5 4s. was spent on the king's hall, chamber and cellar. Ten years later 10 marks were spent upon repairs to the garuilli of the castle and in raising the wall; in 1203 work on a stable cost £6 3s. 6d., on a new gate and a bretasch £14 9s. 4d. In 1204 the considerable sum of £25 was expended in work upon the gate, and in 1209 further works upon the castle cost £15 0s. 1½d. (fn. 9) Earlier than this a tower had been built upon the motte. At the close of John's reign Worcester Castle was a strongly defensible post, but its military importance abruptly ceases with the accession of Henry III. When Guy Beauchamp died, a hundred years after this event, the castle of Worcester was returned in the list of his estates as worth nothing, because it was wholly destroyed. (fn. 10)
The early history of Worcester Castle has been dealt with under the political history of the county. (fn. 11) It remained part of the possession of the hereditary sheriffs until it was given with most of the rest of the Worcestershire possessions of the Earls of Warwick by Anne Countess of Warwick to Henry VII. (fn. 12) Leland writing about the middle of the 16th century says, 'the castle … is now clene downe.' (fn. 13) Constables, however, were appointed as late as 1540. (fn. 14) In 1628 the site was granted to Giles Clutterbuck, (fn. 15) who sold it two years later to John Collins. (fn. 16) John Parker seems to have been a former owner. (fn. 17) The castle had long been used as the county prison, (fn. 18) knights of the shire and coroners were elected, and the county court was held there unless adjourned to the 'Talbot' in Sidbury. A strong building of brick and stone was built within its precincts about 1653 to serve as a house of correction. The grant to Clutterbuck gave rise to a suit between him and the gentry of the county, and the latter recovered the site of the castle for the county prison. (fn. 19)
Throughout the 18th century the county gaol continued to occupy its mediaeval site in the castle precincts. Its condition was bad. In 1783, like other county prisons in the Oxford circuit, it was visited by gaol fever; in 1788 it received severe condemnation by John Howard. The Worcestershire magistrates were early in making improvements; by October 1788 they had expended in this way £3,431 7s. 2d. Questions of expense prevented the building at this time of a new prison upon a distinct site. The changes, as described in 1796, (fn. 20) included the building of eighteen new cells, 10 ft. by 7 ft., cells for solitary confinement, a room with an oven for 'purifying' the prisoners and their clothing, a distinct building for women felons and debtors, the courts for exercise and a water supply. 'In one of those courts there remains a circular dungeon covered by an arch, with an iron grating for air to pass (as in the new cells) through its centre. It is also supplied with an excellent hand ventilator. Its walls are planked ten feet high with ribbed divisions; it has an oak floor and is furnished with barrack bedsteads. This formidable but indispensable stronghold in large prisons is found to be as healthy as any other apartment in the gaol, from the means thus applied to its improvement.' The building in 1809 (fn. 21) of the new prison carried the ancient name, Castle Street, to the northern suburb of the town. In the Municipal Corporations Report of 1835 the city prison, built in 1823, is returned as 'well regulated and now secure.' (fn. 22)
The 18th century saw the provision of many works of public utility within the city. The new gild hall was built between 1721 and 1723. The infirmary was built between 1767 and 1770. 'The House of Industry,' something of an experiment at its date, was built in 1793 and 1794, years in which the problems of poor relief were rapidly approaching a crisis. On 10 November 1794 the poor of the incorporated parishes of Worcester were 'first received into this comfortable asylum.' Between 1771 and 1780 the old bridge across the Severn was replaced by a more convenient structure at a cost of £29,843. The greater part of this money was raised on the security of the tolls, which in 1796 were let for £1,670 a year. Provision was made that when the debt incurred upon this security had fallen to £5,000 the toll on foot passengers should come to an end. New approaches were made to the bridge by Bridge Street, 'a very handsome street, forty feet wide,' on the east, and on the west by a new road thrown across the meadows between the river and the parish of St. John in Bedwardine. To the same period belongs the creation of the city water-works, provided by a rate which also maintained the lighting of the city streets. In 1790 the city library was founded; a theatre was built in 1780, replacing 'a very mean timber building, annexed to a stable in the King's Head Inn Yard, opposite the town-hall.' A series of weekly newspapers (fn. 23) arose in the course of the 18th century. (fn. 24)
On the west side of the High Street is the gild hall, built about 1721 from designs by Thomas White, a Worcester architect and pupil of Sir Christopher Wren. The central block is of two stories and divided into three bays by pilasters. The middle bay has a round-headed doorway under a broken pediment supported on Corinthian columns. On each side of the doorway is a niche containing figures of King Charles I and Charles II, while over the doorway is a similar niche for the figure of Queen Anne. The whole is capped by a bold cornice and parapet supporting figures and vases, and broken in the middle by a segmental pediment enriched with a trophy of arms. On either side are three-storied wings of the same date but of quite simple design, now used for offices of the corporation officials. The building contains some fine rooms.
'The old town hall was a large structure of timber, of longer extent than the present; it had a piazza in front, adjoining to which, next Crooken Street (Copenhagen Street), was a range of shops facing the High Street, the back part of which commanded a view of the Nisi Prius Court, in the gild hall. At the south end of the piazza was another row of shops, adjoining to which was the principal entrance to the hall down a flight of nearly twenty steps. The body of the hall was open to the roof and lighted by a large window at the north end. The courts of justice were situated facing each other, at the extreme ends of the hall, and elevated considerably above the level of its general flooring. Internally, on the right of the Nisi Prius court, advancing towards the opposite end, was a prison, the windows of which were under the piazza facing the High Street. Nearly opposite to the prison, on the left side of the Nisi Prius court, was the residence of the gaoler, who occupied it as a public-house, over which was a chamber for the petty jury. At the north end of the piazza was the mayor's court near to the crown bar. Through its entrance the judge was enabled to pass to his seat in the Crown Court without going down the hall steps. Near to this bar a large gallery was provided for auditors at the trials. Over the line of the piazza was the council chamber, a spacious large room lighted by a series of small windows in front of the building towards the High Street. Near the window at the north end the statue of Queen Anne was placed in a niche, thought to be the same now in front of the present hall.' (fn. 25)
In All Saints' parish, on the north side of Broad Street and extending to the city wall, was the Black Friars, founded in 1347 by William Beauchamp of Elmley. (fn. 26) 'No remains exist, but it stood where gardens now are at the top of Friar's alley, behind Smock alley, running up to Angel lane.' (fn. 27) The site was granted in 1539 to the bailiff and citizens. (fn. 28)
The Grey Friars was said to be on the east side of Friar Street and extended up to the city wall. It was granted at the Suppression to the bailiff and citizens of Worcester. (fn. 29) In the 17th century it was used as the gaol, and then retained a room called 'the refectory.' 'The wainscoting … is ornamented above with carvings, in which the instruments of the Passion are represented, inscribed B.V. and on some J.H.S.; whilst others have the plume of feathers … between the initials E.P… . This building is the most entire remains of an ancient religious house of any in the city; not a room has been changed; and those apartments which once held the religious at their devotions, now hold the debtor and the criminal to their recollection and repentance. It is encompassed (1788) by the ancient wall of the city to the east… . In the remains of the city walls the embrasures were stopt up, but were everywhere discernible… .' (fn. 30)
The whole building has now been pulled down and Laslett's almshouses have been built on the site. Immediately to the north facing Friar Street is a fine two-storied building of timber, having a bold gable at either end and a gateway in the middle, over which is a window of not less than twelve lights. This house may only be the town house of some city merchant, but its position suggests that it belonged to the Grey Friars, and might have been their guest-house.
At the south end of the city, just outside Sidbury Gate, is the hospital of St. Wulstan, commonly called the Commandery. The site was granted in 1541 to Richard Morrison, (fn. 31) who sold it in 1544 to Thomas Wylde. (fn. 32) It remained in the family of Wylde (fn. 33) until about 1785, when it was sold to John Dandridge of Worcester. (fn. 34) It then passed to a Mr. Mence who was Clerk of the Peace for the county. On his death the house was sold and used between 1869 and 1887 as a college for the blind. The present buildings consist of a 15th-century timber-built hall, having an oriel to the north containing some of its original glass, and the roof has particularly heavy principals. The screens are at the west end, but have been much altered. The house contains a good Elizabethan staircase, a Jacobean overmantel and some 17th-century panelling. A cartway has been cut right through the hall. In a garden at the back is preserved the base of a pillar from the chapel. This chapel, hallowed in honour of St. Godwald, (fn. 35) was standing in Leland's time. (fn. 36)
At the back of the church of St. Nicholas was the Trinity Chapel. After its suppression by Edward VI it was granted to Sir Edward Warriner and Richard Catelin. (fn. 37) An almshouse was founded on the site, and endowed by Queen Elizabeth (fn. 38) for twenty-nine poor women with an allowance of 1s. 3d. per month, (fn. 39) but the present buildings are all modern. There was, however, upon the site, a small timbered house with a verandah to the upper floor, which has been removed to the opposite side of the street.
At Whistones, just to the north of the city, is Whiteladies, where Bishop Walter Cantilupe (1237–65) founded a convent of nuns of the Cistercian order. (fn. 40) Shortly after the Suppression Leland speaks of the church 'cleane rasyd downe and a ferme place made of the resydewe of the buildings.' (fn. 41) In 1796 the frater is said to have been standing, a handsome and spacious apartment, and the chapel, ruined at the Suppression, still retains its outer walls, the position of the altar and several of its windows, while beneath the flooring is a crypt. (fn. 42) At the present time all that remains is a gable of red sandstone containing two lancet windows with a small arched recess on either side of the southern one.
Adjoining Whiteladies, but nearer the city, is the hospital of St. Oswald. Leland, writing after the Dissolution, says: 'The chapell yet stondithe and a fayre mantion howse by it muche repayryd of late tyme by one Parker cancellar to the Bysshope of Worcestar.' (fn. 43) After the Restoration it was refounded and new buildings erected by Bishop John Fell of Oxford for ten men and four women. In 1682 it was augmented for six more men by Thomas Haynes, who added a further building for their accommodation. In 1877 these buildings were destroyed with the chapel and entirely new ones erected in the Gothic manner of the time.
On the west side of the Foregate adjoining the city wall is Berkeley's Hospital, endowed in 1692 by Robert Berkeley, a grandson of Judge Berkeley of Spetchley, for twelve poor men; it is built in brick with stone dressings. It is entered through an iron gate having a two-storied lodging on either side, and on both sides of a long quadrangle are six houses with the arms of the founder over each door. At the top of the court is the chapel, entered by a large doorway over which are the Berkeley arms and in a niche the figure of the founder dated 1703, probably the date of the buildings generally. The chapel fittings were removed in 1867.
On the south side of the corn market is the old town house of the Berkeleys of Spetchley. Mr. Rowland Berkeley and Catherine his wife were married in St. Martin's Church, 1574. It was from this house that Charles II escaped through a postern after the battle of Worcester. The house was a fine 15thcentury half-timbered building of two stories, of which, owing to a fire, the middle part has been rebuilt in brick, but the two ends still remain.
Worcester was visited by most of the early Kings of England. It is recorded that William I wore his crown at Christmas when at Worcester. (fn. 44) Henry I was here at Christmas in 1130, (fn. 45) Stephen in 1139, (fn. 46) and Henry II and Eleanor were crowned here in 1159. (fn. 47) John paid many visits to the city between 1200 and 1216, (fn. 48) Llewelyn, Prince of Wales, met the king and did fealty for his lands, at Worcester, in 1218, (fn. 49) a Parliament was held here in 1223, (fn. 50) Henry III spent Christmas here in 1232, (fn. 51) and paid numerous other visits to the city. (fn. 52) Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, Richard II and Henry IV were frequently at Worcester. (fn. 53) Henry V visited it when Prince of Wales, (fn. 54) and Henry VI came here after the battle of Blore Heath. (fn. 55) The city was visited by Henry VII, (fn. 56) and Prince Arthur was buried there with much ceremony in 1502. (fn. 57) Princess Mary came to Worcester in 1552, (fn. 58) and on the occasion of a visit by Queen Elizabeth in 1575 great preparations were made for a suitable reception. (fn. 59) Charles I was at Worcester in 1644 and 1645, (fn. 60) James II visited it on his progress to Cheshire in 1687, (fn. 61) and George III was there in 1788. (fn. 62)
The city of Worcester suffered severely during the Civil War. After the siege of 1646 the town was plundered, and the damage done by fire was estimated at £100,000. (fn. 63)
The Jesuit Mission of St. George at Worcester was founded about 1633. (fn. 64) The Catholic Register commences in 1685, (fn. 65) and a chapel is believed to have been built in Foregate Street in that year. (fn. 66) King James II attended mass there on his visit to Worcester. After the Revolution the chapel of Worcester is said to have been served by Carmelites until 1720. (fn. 67) The present chapel of St. George was opened in 1829. (fn. 68)
The records of the Baptists at Worcester begin in 1658. (fn. 73) There was a conventicle at the house of John Edwards in the parish of St. Nicholas in 1669, (fn. 74) and a meeting-house in Silver Street was built early in the 18th century. (fn. 75) This was taken down in 1796 and a new one erected. (fn. 76) The present chapel in Sansome Walk was built in 1863–4. (fn. 77)
George Fox first visited Worcester in 1655, (fn. 78) and this was probably the occasion of the organization of a Society of Friends there, though their records do not begin until 1673. (fn. 79) They had a meeting-house in Friar Street, (fn. 80) and the present chapel in Sansome Walk was erected in 1701. (fn. 81)
The first recorded visit of John Wesley to Worcester is in 1760. He visited it again nine years later and preached in the Riding House, (fn. 82) and a chapel was built in New Street in 1772 and opened by Wesley himself. (fn. 83) A chapel in Pump Street, formerly belonging to the Independents, was purchased in 1795 and rebuilt in the following year, and another chapel was built on an enlarged site in 1813. (fn. 84) A small chapel at Lowesmoor was erected by the Wesleyans in 1823 for the use of boatmen and others employed at the wharf. (fn. 85)
The Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion was founded at Worcester about the middle of the 18th century, and a chapel was opened at Birdport in 1773. A larger chapel was built in 1804 and enlarged in 1815. (fn. 86)