Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Worcester (2.)

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WORCESTER, an episcopal city, municipal and parliamentary borough, the capital of the above county, and a county of itself, is situated on the eastern bank of the Severn, 120 miles from London by rail, and a little over 26 from Birmingham.

EB9 Worcester (city) - plan.jpg

Plan of Worcester.

The principal building and chief glory of the city is the cathedral. The see was founded by the advice of Archbishop Theodore in 673, though, owing to opposition on the part 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. He so far adopted Norman customs as to undertake the building of a great church of stone according to the Norman pattern. In 1088 an incursion of the Welsh stopped his labours for a time, but in 1094 he held a synod in the crypt. 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 is apsidal, a style of which there are only four examples in England—Winchester, 1079; Worcester, 1084; Gloucester, 1089; and Canterbury, 1096. 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. In 1203 Wulfstan was canonized, and the monks, growing richer by the offerings at his shrine, finished the cathedral in 1216. Soon after this date they built a lady chapel at the east end, extending the building by 50 feet; then they were so satisfied with their new work that the choir was rebuilt to match in the Early English style. The nave was similarly remodelled in the 14th century, the north side in the Decorated, the south side in the Perpendicular style. The building is cruciform, and is without transept aisles, but has secondary transepts to the choir. The tower is in the centre, and is 162 feet high. There is an interesting chapter house of Late Norman architecture, a round building with its stone roof supported on a central pillar. The refectory is a fine room of Decorated architecture, and the cloisters are Perpendicular. The cathedral was very much out of repair in 1857, when the restoration was undertaken by the cathedral architect, Mr Perkins, in which most of the work of previous generations was wholly swept away, and in some important particulars replaced by conjectural work of Early English style. The cost was about £100,000, raised principally by public subscription, though for four years the dean and chapter had provided the funds required.

In the cathedral are several good monuments and monumental effigies. 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 chantry chapel, of Arthur, prince of Wales, son of Henry VII., who died in 1503. There are also monuments of John Gauden, the bishop who wrote Icon Basilike, so often attributed to Charles I., of Bishop Hough by Roubillac, and of Mrs Digby by Chantrey. There are many other monuments; and in the north alley of the cloister is a stone on which is cut the sad and significant word “Miserrimus,” and nothing more—a tragedy in a single word.

There are eleven parish churches in the city:—St Helen's, the oldest, was rebuilt in 1820; St Albans, ancient, partially restored in 1850; All Saints, built in 1740, which contains a peal of ten bells; St Andrew's, repewed in 1850; St Nicholas, begun in 1728 and finished in 1730; St Martin's, erected in 1772; St Swithin's, in 1736; St Peter's, dating from 1686, which has annexed to it the chapelry of Whittington; St Michael's, in Bedwardine, modern; St John's, Bedwardine, made a parish church in 1371; and St Clement's, built in 1823. In 1874 a parish was formed out of Claines, named the Tything, and in 1876 the church (St Mary Magdalene) was built; St Paul's was built in 1837, and constituted a separate parish in 1844; St George's, built by subscription in 1830, was made a parish out of Claines, in 1862; Holy Trinity, erected in 1865, was formed a parish in 1866. There are also a Roman Catholic chapel and places of worship for all descriptions of Dissenters.

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 1095, is one of the “rarest specimens of early house architecture in existence.” The hall contains an open timber roof of the time of Henry VII., “a good bay window, a fine door, the projecting canopy of the dais, a music-screen and gallery, and some fragments of stained glass.” The cathedral grammar school, founded by Henry VIII. in 1541, occupies the refectory of the old monastery, which has just been restored by Mr Christian, and has many interesting architectural features.

The guild-hall, built in 1723, is an admirable building in the Italian style; it contains a portrait of George III., painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and presented by the king to commemorate his visit to the city at the triennial musical festival in 1788. The corporation possess some very interesting old charters and manuscripts, and good municipal regalia. The shire-hall, erected in 1835 at a cost of £35,000, is a fine stone building in the Ionic style, with a portico supported by six fluted columns. The county jail, built in 1809 at a cost of £19,000, was entirely reconstructed on the separate principle in 1860, at a further cost of £24,000. The infirmary was built in 1770, the dispensary in 1822, and the ophthalmic institution in 1866. There is a museum of natural history; and a free library was opened in 1881. Worcester has long been famous for several important branches of industry. The Clothiers Company possess 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; it is principally occupied with the making of skin gloves, in which the skins of deer, sheep, lambs, goats, and kids are used. The manufacture of porcelain was introduced by Dr Wall, a Worcester physician, in 1751 (see vol. xix. p. 642). 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. Pickles and sauces are among the notable productions of the city: and among its other trades are those of carriage making, rope and twine spinning, boat and barge building, tanning, and the production of chemical manures and of cider and perry.

The charities of Worcester are numerous, and include St Oswald's hospital, Nash's almshouses, Wyatt's almshouses, the Berkeley hospital, Goulding hospital, Showring's hospital, Inglethorpe's almshouses, Waldgrave's almshouses, Moore's blue-coat school, Queen Elizabeth's charity, and others, which produce an annual income of more than £10,000. The population of the city and municipal borough (area 1263 acres) in 1871 was 33,226 and in 1881 it was 33,956. The population of the parliamentary borough (area 3266 acres) in 1871 was 38,116 and in 1881 it was 40,354.

Among the charters still preserved in the guild-hall is one of Richard I. dated November 12, 1189, which grants to the burgesses to hold of the king and his heirs the town of Worcester at a yearly rental of £24. In the reign of Philip and Mary the town was raised to the dignity of a city, and this with other privileges was confirmed by Elizabeth in 1558; and in 1622 James I. granted a charter ordaining that the city shall be a free city of itself, and a county separate from all other counties. From the time of Edward I. until 1885 Worcester returned two members to parliament, but the number was then reduced to one. Municipally the city is divided into five wards. The county assizes are held in the city, as are also the quarter sessions, the county court, the borough court, town and county petty sessions, and the ecclesiastical and probate court.

The Romans found a British settlement and held it as a military station, to which they gave the name Vigorna. By the Saxons it was called Wigorna-ceaster, whence we have the present name of Worcester. It was more than once burnt and pillaged by the Danes, but at the date of the Conquest it was of sufficient importance to have a mint. From its proximity to Wales, it frequently suffered from the inroads of the Welsh. It was taken by the empress Maud, and retaken by Stephen, after severe contests. The king kept the Easter week there in 1139,—as it is recorded, with

“great pomp”; and in 1234 Henry III. held the Whitsuntide festival in the city. Queen Elizabeth rested there in one of her progresses; in 1687 James II. came, and touched for the king's evil. He attended mass in the Catholic chapel; but the mayor and the corporation, though accompanying him to the chapel door, firmly and patriotically declined to enter.

For the part this city took in the great civil war see p. 666.