1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Worcester (England)

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Worcester, an episcopal city and county of a city, municipal, parliamentary, and county borough, and county town of Worcestershire, England, on the river Severn, 120½ m. W.N.W. of London. Pop. (1901) 46,624. It is served by the Great Western railway and by the Bristol–Birmingham line of the Midland railway. Branches of the Great Western diverge to Malvern and Hereford, and to Leominster. Worcester lies mainly upon the left (E.) bank of the Severn, which is here a broad and placid river, the main part of the city lying on a ridge parallel with its banks. The city is governed by a mayor, 12 aldermen and 36 councillors. Area 3242 acres.

The cathedral church of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary is beautifully placed close to the river. The see was founded by the advice of Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury about 679 or 680, though, owing to the opposition of the bishop of Lichfield it was not finally established till 780. In its formation the tribal division was followed, and it contained the people of the Hwiccas. The bishop’s church of St Peter’s, with its secular canons, was absorbed by Bishop Oswald into the monastery of St Mary. The canons became monks, and in 983 Oswald finished the building of a new monastic cathedral. After the Norman Conquest the saintly bishop of Worcester, Wulfstan, was the only English prelate who was left in possession of his see, and it was he who first undertook the building of a great church of stone according to the Norman pattern. Of the work of Wulfstan, the outer walls of the nave, aisles, a part of the walls of the transepts, some shafts and the crypt remain. The crypt (1084) is one of the four apsidal crypts in England, the others being those in Winchester, Gloucester and Canterbury cathedrals. Wulfstan’s building seems to have extended no farther than the transepts, but the nave was continued, though much of it was destroyed by the fall of the central tower in 1175. The two W. bays of the nave date from about 1160. In 1203 Wulfstan, who had died in 1095, was canonized, and on the completion and dedication of the cathedral in 1218, his body was placed in a shrine, which became a place of pilgrimage, and thereby brought wealth to the monks. They devoted this to the building of a lady chapel at the E. end, extending the building by 50 ft.; and in 1224 was begun the rebuilding of the choir, in its present splendid Early English style. The nave was remodelled in the 14th century, and, excepting the W. bays, shows partly Decorated but principally early Perpendicular work. The building is cruciform, and is without aisles in the transepts, but has secondary choir-transepts. A Jesus chapel (an uncommon feature) opens from the N. nave aisle, from which it is separated by a very beautiful modern screen of stone, in the Perpendicular style. Without, the cathedral is severely plain, with the exception of the ornate tower, which dates from 1374, and is 196 ft. in height. The principal dimensions of the cathedral are—extreme length 425 ft. (nave 170 ft., choir 180 ft.), extreme width 145 ft. (choir 78 ft.), height of nave 68 ft. The monastic remains lie to the S. The cloisters are of Perpendicular work engrafted upon Norman walls, being entered from the S. through a fine Norman doorway. In them the effect of the warm red sandstone is particularly beautiful. An interesting Norman chapter house adjoins them on the E., its Perpendicular roof supported on a central column, while on the S. lies the Refectory, a fine Decorated room (1372) now devoted to the uses of the Cathedral School. There are also picturesque ruins of the Guesten Hall (1320). A very extensive restoration was begun in 1857, upwards of £100,000 being spent. Among the monuments in the cathedral, that of King John, in the choir, is the earliest sepulchral effigy of an English king in the country. There is an altar tomb, in a very fine late Perpendicular chantry chapel, of Arthur, Prince of Wales, son of Henry VII., who died in 1502. There are also monuments of John Gauden, the bishop who wrote Icon basilike, often attributed to Charles I., of Bishop Hough by Roubillac, and of Mrs Digby by Chantrey.

Of the eleven parish churches, St Alban’s has considerable Norman remains, St Peter’s contains portions of all Gothic styles, St Helen’s, with a fine peal of bells commemorating the victories of Marlborough, has also Gothic portions, but the majority were either rebuilt in the 18th century, or are modern. St Andrews has a beautiful spire, erected in 1751, 155 ft. 6 in. in height. Holy Trinity preserves the ancient roof of the Guesten Hall. St John’s in Bedwardine was made a parish church in 1371.

There are no remains of the old castle of Worcester; it adjoined the monastery so closely that King John gave its yard to the monks, and after that time it ceased to be a stronghold. The Commandery, founded by St Wulfstan in 1085, was a hospital, and its name appears to lack authority. It was rebuilt in Tudor times, and there remains a beautiful hall, with music gallery, canopied dais, and a fine bay window, together with other parts. The wood-carving is exquisite. There are many old half-timbered houses. The guild-hall (1723) is an admirable building in the Italian style; it contains a portrait of George III., by Sir Joshua Reynolds, presented by the king to commemorate his visit to the city at the triennial musical festival in 1788. This, the Festival of the Three Choirs, is maintained here alternately with Gloucester and Hereford. The corporation possesses some interesting old charters and manuscripts, and good municipal regalia. Public buildings include the shire-hall (1835), Corn Exchange and market-house. Fairs are held thrice annually. The Victoria Institute includes a library, museum and art gallery. The cathedral school was founded by Henry VIII. in 1541, Queen Elizabeth's, in a modern building, in 1563; there are also a choir school, and municipal art, science and technical schools. In the vicinity of the city there is a large Benedictine convent, at Stanbrook Hall, with a beautiful modern chapel. The Clothiers' Company possesses a charter granted by Queen Elizabeth; but the great industries are now the manufacture of gloves and of porcelain. A company of glovers was incorporated in 1661. The manufacture of porcelain is famous. The materials employed are china clay and china stone from Cornwall, felspar from Sweden, fire-clay from Stourbridge and Broseley, marl, flint and calcined bones. The Royal Porcelain works cover 5 acres. Among Worcester's other trades are those of iron, iron goods and engineering works, carriage making, rope spinning, boat building, tanning and the production of chemical manures and of cider and perry. There is a considerable carrying trade on the Severn.

The charities are numerous, and include St Oswald's hospital, Nash's almshouses, Wyatt's almshouses. the Berkeley hospital, Goulding hospital, Shewring's hospital, Inglethorpe's almshouses, Waldgrave's almshouses, Moore's blue-coat school, Queen Elizabeth's charity, and others.

Traces of British and Roman occupation have been discovered at Worcester (Wigeran Ceaster, Wigornia), but its history begins with the foundation of the episcopal see. Being the chief city on the borders of Wales, Worcester was frequently visited by the kings of England. In 1139 it was taken by the Empress Maud and retaken and burnt by Stephen in 1149. It surrendered to Simon de Montfort in 1263. In 1642, during the Great Rebellion, a handful of cavaliers was besieged here, and in spite of an attempted relief by Prince Rupert, the city was pillaged, as it was again in 1646. In 1651 Charles II. with the Scottish army marched into Worcester, where he was welcomed by the citizens. Cromwell took up his position on the Red Hill just outside the city gates. Lambert succeeded in passing the Severn at Upton, and drove back the Royalist troops towards Worcester. Charles, seeking an advantage of this division of the enemy on opposite sides of the river, attacked Cromwell's camp. At first he was successful, but Cromwell was reinforced by Lambert's troops in time to drive back Charles's foot, who were not supported by the Scottish horse, and the rout of the King's force was complete.

In the reign of King Alfred, Æthelred and Æthelflead, ealdorman and lady of the Mercians, at the request of the bishop “built a burgh at Worcester” and granted to him half of their rights and privileges there “both in market and street within the borough and without.” Richard I. in 1189 granted the town to the burgesses at a fee-farm of £24, and Henry III. in 1227 granted a gild merchant and exemption from toll, and raised the farm to £30. The first incorporation charter was granted by Philip and Mary in 1554 under the title of bailiffs, aldermen, chamberlains and citizens, but James I. in 1622 made the city a separate county and granted a corporation of a mayor, 6 aldermen, and a common council consisting of one body of 24 citizens, including the mayor and aldermen, and another body of 48, who elected the mayor from among the 24. By the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 the government was again altered. The burgesses returned two members to parliament from 1295 to 1885, when the number was reduced to one. As early as 1203 the men of the town paid 100s. for licence to buy and sell cloth as they had done in the time of Henry III., and in 1590 the weavers, walkers and clothiers received an incorporation charter, but the trade had already begun to decline and by 1789 had ceased to exist. Its place was taken by the manufacture of porcelain, introduced in 1751 by Dr Wall, and by the increasing manufacture of gloves, a trade in which is known to have been carried on in the 15th century.

See Victoria County History, Worcester; John Noake, Worcester in Olden Times (1849); Valentine Green, The History and Antiquities of the City and Suburbs of Worcester (1796).