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Worcester in 1843

WORCESTER, a city and capital town of the English county of the same name, is situated on the river Severn, upwards of 100 miles in a direct line west-north-west of London, or 112 miles by the road. The boundary of the city was formerly determined by a wall which commenced near Edgar’s Tower, at the Castle gate, passed at the back of St. Peter’s to a gate which was called Sidbury Gate, and thence to Friars’ Gate, which stood near the present city prison ; it curved inwards on the north-east of the present corn-market, round the hop-market, to a bridge built in 1313, and fortified with a strong tower, which stood near it. It then followed the course of the river to the Priory gate, and thence to the Castle mound. This work may still be traced in some places. There were six gates (besides the tower on the bridge) the last was taken down in 1787. The present limits of the city of Worcester extend from north to south about three miles, and nearly two miles from east to west. The following parishes are comprised within this boundary - All Saints, St. Alban, St. Andrew, St. Clement (a part only was in the old city), St. Helen, St. Martin (in part), St. Nicholas, St. Swithin, the extra-parochial district of the Blockhouse, Claines (in part), St. John (in part), St. Michael and the extra-parochial district of the College Precincts, St. Peter’s (in part), and the tithing of Whitstones attached to the parish of Claines. The first nine parishes composed the city previous to the Boundary Act, and were united for the maintenance of the poor by an act passed in 1792. The latter five were added by the Boundary Act : nearly the whole are built over, and there is no great extent of rural district within the increased limits.

Worcester is built almost entirely of red brick, with the exception of some public buildings, the churches, and cathedral, which are of a soft and commonly a reddish kind of sandstone. The principal streets are broad, airy, and cheerful; their appearance is clean and neat ; the shops various and well provided ; and, like the dwelling houses, in good repair. The chief thoroughfares are Bridge Street, Broad Street, Sidbury, College Street, the Cross, Foregate Street, and the Tithing. Besides the cathedral, there are twelve churches- St. Nicholas, St. Martin’s, St. Swithin’s, All Saints, St. Andrew’s, St. Alban’s, St. Michael’s, St. Helen’s, St. Peter’s, St. Clement’s, and St. John’s. St. John’s is the parish church of what may properly be termed a suburb of Worcester, and is on the opposite bank of the Severn to the main portion of the city. There is a Roman Catholic chapel, and places of worship for many denominations of dissenters, including the Wesleyans, Quakers, Baptists, Independents, and Calvinists. A cathedral existed here in the time of the Saxons ; but it was deemed insufficient for its purpose, and was superseded by a new cathedral, built by Oswald, the bishop, in 983. This building being destroyed by fire, a fresh edifice however arose under the auspices of Bishop Wulstan in 1084. This cathedral likewise twice suffered from fire. After the second conflagration, for sixteen years it remained in a dilapidated state. Repairs, so great as to make a fresh consecration necessary, were then completed, and in January, 1218, the church was re-opened in the presence of the king. Various alterations and additions were made in 1224, and again in 1830.

Worcester cathedral is built in the form of a double cross, with double transepts. The tower, which is 193 feet high, rises from the intersection of the western transept with the nave and choir. The nave, which appears to be the oldest part of the present building, is divided from the aisles by ten clustered columns on each side, surmounted by pointed arches. The roof is groined, and ornamented with flowers, heads, and other forms of decoration. The height of the nave is 67 feet, the length 174 feet, and the width 30 feet. The choir has also a handsome groined roof ; the altar-screen is of stone, and the pulpit is also of stone, both richly sculptured. The tomb of king John is in the centre of the choir. There is a Lady-Chapel, which corresponds in date and style with the choir. The total length of the cathedral is 425 feet ; the greatest width is 145 feet. The west transept. is 128 feet ; the east transept is 120 feet. The exterior is plain, but a fine effect is produced by the apparent lightness of the architecture, and by the pinnacles, which rise not only from the tower, but from almost every termination of the building. The cloisters form a. quadrangle on the south side ; on the east side is the chapter-house, which contains the cathedral library. The cathedral is in an indifferent state as to repair, and costs a considerable sum yearly for that purpose. Many of the restorations which have been made in former times in various parts of the interior, are in the most incongruous and unsuitable styles.

The corporation of Worcester cathedral consists of a dean and ten prebendaries or canons. There are also eight minor canons, a schoolmaster and usher, and two or three other officers. The total yearly income, on an average of three years ending in 1831, was £12,088 ; the annual expenditure, by the same average, was £3,609.

The other principal buildings are, the county courts, lately erected, the county gaol, the infirmary, Edgar’s Tower, and the guildhall. In the guildhall is a large room, which is used for public entertainments. The present bridge over the Severn was built in 1780.

Fuel is both plentiful and cheap : there are water-works and gas-works, and the city is well lighted.

The livings in the city of Worcester, estimated on an average of three years ending 1831, were- St. Alban’s, rectory, in the gift of the bishop of Worcester, with a net yearly income of £74 ; All Saints, rectory, in the gift of the crown, with a net yearly income of £138 ; St. Andrew’s, rectory, in the gift of the dean and chapter of Worcester, with a net yearly income of £165 : St. Clement’s, rectory, in the gift of the dean and chapter of Worcester, with a net yearly income of £101 ; St. Helen’s, rectory, in the gift of the bishop of Worcester, with a net yearly income of £136 ; St. Martin’s, rectory, in the gift of the dean and chapter of Worcester, with a net yearly income of £378 ; St. Nicholas, rectory, in the gift of the bishop of Worcester, with a net yearly income of £260 ; St. Peter, vicarage, with Whittington curacy, in the gift of the dean and chapter of Worcester, with a net yearly income of £233 ; and St. Swithin’s, rectory, in the gift of the dean and chapter of Worcester, with a net yearly income of £170.

According to the Education Returns (1833), Worcester contained eight infant-schools, with 501 children ; thirty-nine daily schools, with 1,130 males and females ; six national schools, with 667 males and females ; one daily free grammar-school, founded by Queen Elizabeth, with 25 males; nine day and boarding-schools, with 230 males and females ; one boarding-school, with 59 males ; and twelve Sunday-schools. with 1,687 males and females.

A manufacture of cloth was once carried on here to a considerable extent, but was in the course of time abandoned. The glove trade subsequently employed a large number of the poor inhabitants ; but this manufacture also has declined, and is gradually diminishing. China is made here : there are three different factories of some celebrity. The principal inns are the Star and Garter ; the Unicorn, and the Crown.

Worcester, previous to the Municipal Reform Act, in 1835, was a corporation consisting of a mayor and six aldermen, 24 capital councillors (of whom the aldermen were part), 48 capital citizens, and an indefinite number of free citizens ; the corporation was self elected, and the titles to admission to the freedom were birth, apprentice ship, and gift by the council. The number of freemen, in 1835, was 2,800, and the population of the borough was 18,590 ; the population of the actual town and suburbs at the same time (1835) was 27,000. The governing charter was 19 James I. The borough is now divided into five wards, with 12 aldermen and 36 councillors. The number of burgesses on the roll at the first registration, in 1835, was 1,622 ; the number on the roll in 1837 was 1,406, besides whom there were 944 freemen who were parliamentary electors, though not burgesses.

Worcester, previous to the Reform Act, returned two members to parliament. The of voting was in the citizens ; the largest number of electors who had polled at any election during thirty years preceding 1831, was 2,173 in 1826. Under the Reform Act Worcester still returns two members to parliament. The number of electors on the register in 1835-6, was 2,579 ; in 1839-40 the number was 2,561, of whom 1,034 were £10 householders, 947 were freemen, and, 580 were entitled to vote for more than one qualification.

The limits of the city of Worcester and the parliamentary borough are co-extensive. The population of the city, as given in the Population Returns for 1841, was 25,401, of whom 11,614 were males and 13,787 were females. The population, as returned for the parliamentary borough, was 26,306, which is said to be a more correct return of the actual population than the above, as given for the city.


Lambarde, an antiquary contemporary with Camden, remarks, in his ‘Alphabetical Description of England,’ that he never met with a place that had so great experience in the calamities of the intestine broils of the kingdom and other casual disasters as the city of Worcester. An early city was destroyed by the Danes, and rebuilt about 894 A.D. by Ethelred. In 1041 the town was plundered and partly burnt by the troops of Hardicanute, which were sent to force the reluctant inhabitants to pay a tax which the king had imposed. In 1074 a body of troops under Walter de Lacy and the barons of Hereford were assembled here to quell a conspiracy against William the Conqueror, and to guard the passes of the Severn against the rebels. In 1088 Bernard Neumarck unsuccessfully besieged the city. In 1113 the city, not excepting the castle and the cathedral, was consumed by fire. In 1133 a great part of the city was again burnt by a casual fire, and the cathedral damaged. In 1139 the forces of the Empress Maude attacked the city, forced an entrance on the north side, and fired and plundered it. In 1149 King Stephen burnt the city, but the castle, which had been strongly fortified, resisted his attempts. The remains of one of the forts then razed may be seen on Red Hill near Digley : another stood on Henwick’s Hill, from which the Welsh road was commanded. Eustace, his son, vigorously besieged the castle, but was as vigorously repulsed ; in revenge he fired the town. In 1157 Worcester was fortified against Henry II by Hugh Mortimer, but afterwards submitted. In 1189 the city again suffered severely from fire. In 1216 the king’s troops, with the earl of Chester, plundered the city, which had revolted. King John was burred here in this year. In 1225 a great tournament was held here. Bishop Blois excommunicated all persons concerned in it.

In 1263 Robert Ferrars, earl of Derby, Peter de Montfort earl of Leicester, and other barons of their confederacy, besieged and took Worcester. The church was spared, but the houses rifled. In 1264 King Henry III was brought to Worcester by Simon, earl of Leicester, into whose hands he had fallen at the battle of Lewes. In 1342 and 1349 the inhabitants were afflicted with the plague. In 1401 Worcester was burnt and plundered by Glendwr’s troops with their French auxiliaries, whom Henry IV drove back into Wales. In 1484 there was an unusual and destructive flood of the Severn. In 1485 executions took place here, and 500 marks were paid as a ransom for the city, which was seized by Henry VII. In 1534 the city suffered from an earthquake, and in the following year it was scourged be the sweating sickness ; in 1637 there was again a pestilence. In 1642 Worcester was besieged by the parliamentary forces. Lord Coventry and Sir William Russell commanded the garrison, and were reinforced by a strong body of horse under Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice. Colonel Fiennes commanded the attack, overcame an obstinate resistance, and took possession of the town. The royalists retreated towards Herefordshire. Various excesses were committed by the insurgents ; the cathedral was plundered, and the inhabitants were required to raise a loan of £3,000 for the use of the parliament. Defeat neither changed the opinions nor weakened the resolution of the citizens. In 1643 they again raised money for the king’s cause, the walls were repaired, fresh cannon were mounted, and other evidence given of renewed resistance to the parliament. Another siege was sustained in 1646, which, after many sallies and many skirmishes, was concluded by a treaty. A third and most important battle was fought here by the same contending parties in 1651. In the month of August Charles II dispersed the small adverse garrison, which were in possession of the town, and occupied it and a district to the west of the Severn with his army. He was closely watched by Cromwell, who encamped on Red Hill, about a mile eastward of the city. While the assault was conducted with vigour and ability, the defence on the part of the Royalists displayed neither courage nor judgment : it is asserted by some writers that Charles led his cavalry in person ; but it would appear otherwise from Lord Clarendon’s account. The result was a total defeat of the royalists and the rapid flight of the king, which was effected with great difficulty.

The site of the castle which from time to time sustained so many sieges and so frequently changed governors is on the south side of the cathedral. There are no architectural remains whatever. A small part of an old ecclesiastical house, the nunnery of Whitstane, now called ‘The White Ladies,’ is still standing ; Friar Street takes its name from a house of Franciscans which formerly existed here, and the remains of whose building were demolished in 1823. The Dominicans, Penitents, Black Friars, and Friars of the Holy Trinity had likewise their establishments.