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The History of Worcester

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Worcester is an English city that was founded by the Romans in AD50, relatively early in their occupation of Britain, although there’s evidence to suggest there was previously a settlement in the same spot the Romans chose. Some archaeologists think the site dates back to the very beginning of settlement in ancient Britain itself. Roman
Worcester started life as a staging post along the busy Roman road that ran from Wroxeter to Gloucester . The road crossed the River Severn here and this meant road and river transport could connect at Worcester.

Worcester dwindled after the Romans left but had regained much of its importance by Saxon times. It was chosen to be the Episcopal See of a new diocese in the region around AD680 suggests that it was already a town with a sizeable Christian population. The town was made a Saxon burgh, or fortified town, in an attempt to protect it and its wealthy clergy from the marauding Vikings . In 1041 the residents revolted against a levy of taxation and murdered the Viking tax collector. They nailed the poor man’s skin to the door of the monastery but paid dearly when King Hardicanute ransacked the city in revenge at their harsh treatment of his official.

When the Normans defeated the Saxons at Hastings in 1066 they began a program of building works throughout England to impress their dominance on the population. They built a motte and bailey castle at Worcester and building works on a proposed cathedral were begun to replace the Benedictine Monastery of St Mary’s, originally founded by St. Oswald in 961.

Worcester Cathedral is the dominant landmark in the city and must have been even more awe inspiring when it was first built in 1084. By 1504 it had grown to its present size and is now widely recognised as one of the finest ecclesiastical buildings in Europe. The image of Worcester cathedral featured on Bank of England twenty-pound notes between 1999-2007. The cathedral lay in the hands of Benedictine monks until 1540, when they were replaced by secular canons during King Henry VIII’s English Reformation. The much maligned King John is buried in Worcester Cathedral, according to his own request. Former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin is another of the many famous names buried in the cathedral. It is probably the tomb of Arthur Tudor to which the cathedral itself owes its continued existence. Prince Arthur was brother of next in line for the throne Henry VIII , the man who destroyed many of the great cathedrals and priories of Britain. Worcester was spared destruction because of the King’s brother’s Chantry.

Worcester was the site of several actions during the time known as ‘The Anarchy’ when civil war was fought over the right to the rule the country between King Stephen and Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I . After an extended period of prosperity where the town grew steadily wealthy on the manufacture of cloth the town was again thrown into conflict. Charles II was defeated at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and eventually fled to France. The city remained loyal to the King for which it was awarded the epithet ‘fidelis civitas’ or ‘faithful city’ which was incorporated into Worcester’s coat of arms. Destruction came again to Worcester but this time in the form of natural disaster when severe floods struck in 1670. Floods of the same magnitude were not witnessed again in the city until the summer of 2007. There were times, during the Middle Ages and again in the 16th century when all the menfolk of Worcester were required by law to practice archery. To comply they would make their way to The Butts to hone their skills with England’s centuries old weapon of choice, the bow and arrow.

In 1751 Dr John Wall founded the Worcester Porcelain Company, creating what would become a fashionable name in tableware across the globe. Working with partners, Dr Wall managed to raise the not inconsiderable sum for the time of £4,500 to start the business on the banks of the River Severn. The factory received a royal warrant from King George III , thus becoming Royal Worcester . The royal warrant continued and the factory is still in service to the crown to this day, even though
manufacture has now ceased in Worcester itself. The former factory is now a visitor centre.

Worcester found itself left behind many of its Midlands neighbours during the Industrial Revolution . It did still manage to prosper on the back of the porcelain works and its specialities of glove and cloth making. The town outgrew its infrastructure like many British towns and cities during the Georgian and early Victorian period. The Victorians invested heavily in the supply of water and decent sanitation and the first domestic electricity supply arrived in Worcester in 1894. The manufacture of the famous Worcestershire Sauce began at Lee and Perrins from 1837, this was to become one of the town’s main employers over the next 100 years.

Today Worcester survives on a mix of light industry and tourism, with the magnificent cathedral remaining the city’s focal point. The population has grown to 95,000, almost doubling from the 49,000 living there in 1931.

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