Worcester is a city and county town of Worcestershire, in the West Midlands of England. Worcester is situated some 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Birmingham, 29 miles (47 km) north of Gloucester, and has an estimated population of 94,300 people. The River Severn runs through the middle of the city, overlooked by the 12th century Worcester Cathedral.
The site of the final battle of the Civil War, Worcester was where Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army defeated King Charles I's Cavaliers, resulting in a twenty-year period where England and Wales became a republic. Worcester is also the home of Royal Worcester Porcelain and the late composer Sir Edward Elgar.
Roman Worcester (which may have been the Vertis mentioned in the 7th century Ravenna Cosmography) was a thriving trading and manufacturing centre for some three hundred years, though by the time of the Roman withdrawal from Britain in 407 it had dwindled considerably in size and is not recorded again until the mid-7th century when documents mention the Anglo-Saxon settlement. The fact that Worcester was chosen at this time—in preference to both the much larger Gloucester and the royal centre of Winchcombe—to be the Episcopal See of a new diocese covering the area suggests that there was a well established, and powerful, British Christian community living on the site when it fell into English hands.
The town was almost destroyed in 1041 after a rebellion against the punitive taxation of Harthacanute. The town was attacked several times (in 1139, 1150 and 1151) during "The Anarchy", i.e. civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I. This is the background to the well-researched historical novel The Virgin in the Ice, part of Ellis Peters' "Cadfael" series, which begins with the words:
"It was early in November of 1139 that the tide of civil war, lately so sluggish and inactive, rose suddenly to wash over the city of Worcester, wash away half of its lifestock, property and women, and send all those of its inhabitants who could get away in time scurrying for their lives northwards away from the marauders". (These are mentioned as having arrived from Gloucester, leaving a long lasting legacy of bitterness between the two cities.)
By late medieval times the population had grown to around 10,000 as the manufacture of cloth started to become a large local industry. The town was designated a county corporate, giving it autonomy from local government.
Worcester was the site of the Battle of Worcester (September 3, 1651), when Charles II's attempt to regain the crown by force was decisively defeated, in the fields a little to the west and south of the city, near the village of Powick. After being defeated, Charles returned to his headquarters in what is now known as King Charles house in the Cornmarket, before fleeing in disguise to Boscobel House in Shropshire and his eventual escape to France. Worcester was one of the cities loyal to the King in that war, for which it was given the epithet "The Faithful City".
In 1670 the River Severn broke its banks and the subsequent flood was the worst ever seen by Worcester. A brass plate can be found on a wall on the path to the cathedral by the path along the river showing how high this flood went, and other flood heights of more recent times are also shown in stone bricks. The closest flood height to what is known as The Flood of 1670 was when the Severn flooded in the torrential rains of July 2007.
The Royal Worcester Porcelain Company factory was founded by Dr John Wall in 1750, although it no longer produces goods. A handful of decorators are still employed at the factory and the Museum is still open.
During the 18th century Worcester's trade languished compared to more modern towns of the West Midlands. The Worcester and Birmingham Canal opened in 1815 allowing Worcester goods to be transported to a larger conurbation.
The British Medical Association (BMA) is reputed to have been founded in the Board Room of the old Worcester Royal Infirmary building in Castle Street around 1860. This building has now been closed and (as of 2006) will be redeveloped as the University of Worcester city campus.
During World War II, the city was chosen to be the seat of an evacuated government in case of mass German invasion. The War Cabinet, along with Winston Churchill and some 16.000 state workers, would have moved to Hindlip House(now part of the complex forming the Headquarters of West Mercia Police), 3 miles north of Worcester, and Parliament would have temporarily seated in Stratford-upon-Avon.
In the 1950s and 1960s large areas of the medieval centre of Worcester were demolished and rebuilt as a result of decisions by town planners. There is still a significant area of medieval Worcester remaining, but it is a small fraction of what was present before the redevelopments.
Notable suburbs in Worcester include Claines, St Peter the Great, Red Hill and Ronkswood. Most of Worcester is on the eastern side of the River Severn; Henwick, Lower Wick and St John's are on the western side.
Like many other town and cities Worcester has the traditional ‘High Street’, though in Worcester’s case that is the actual street name of the main shopping thoroughfare. High Street is home to the major stores. Part of the High Street was revamped in 2005 amid much controversy, many of the issues focussing on the felling of long-standing trees, the duration of the works (caused by the weather and an archaeological find) and the removal of flagstones outside the City’s 18th Century Guildhall. However, the revamped area has been mostly praised for its appearance, openness and brightness compared to the previous look. The other main thoroughfares are The Shambles and Broad Street, while The Cross (and its immediate surrounding area) is seen as the city’s financial centre with the majority of Worcester’s main bank branches located here.
There are three main shopping centres, those being CrownGate, Cathedral Plaza and Reindeer Court. CrownGate is the largest and is split in to two centres. Both centres incorporate and in some cases back on to major stores. CrownGate also includes an outdoor market which was previously located in Cornmarket, and as such often referred to at The Corn Market despite its current location. Cathedral Plaza is the next largest and was called the Lychgate Shopping Centre prior to its revamp and current, and somewhat, controversial name.
There are three main parks in Worcester, these being Cripplegate Park, Gheluvelt Park and Fort Royal Park, the latter being on one of the battles sites of the English Civil War.
There are also two large woodlands in the city, those being Perry Wood, at 12 hectares, and Nunnery Wood, covering 21 hectares. Perry Wood is often said to be the place where Oliver Cromwell met and made a pact with the devil. Nunnery Wood is an integral part of the adjacent and popular Worcester Woods Country Park, itself next door to County Hall on the east side of the city.
Probably the most famous landmark in Worcester is its imposing Worcester cathedral. The current building, formally named The Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, was begun in 1084 while its crypt dates from the 10th Century. The chapter house is the only circular one in the country while the cathedral also has the distinction of having the tomb of King John.
The M5 Motorway runs north-south to the east of the urban area, and is accessed by Junction 6 (Worcester North) and Junction 7 (Worcester South). This makes the city relatively easily accessible by car to most parts of the country, including London which is only 120 miles/2 & half hours away (via the M5, M42 and M40).
Several A roads pass through the city. The A449 road runs south-west to Malvern and north to Kidderminster. The A44 runs south-east to Evesham and west to Leominster and Aberystwyth and crosses Worcester Bridge. The A38 trunk road runs south to Tewkesbury and Gloucester and north-north-east to Droitwich and Birmingham. The A4103 goes west-south-west to Hereford. The A422 heads east to Alcester, branching from the A44 a mile east of the M5. The city is encompassed by a partial ring road (A4440) which is formed, rather inconsistently, by single and dual carriageways. The A4440 provides a second road bridge across the Severn (Carrington Bridge) just west of the A4440-A38 junction.
The city is served by 2 stations, Worcester Foregate Street and Worcester Shrub Hill. Although featuring 2 tracks Foregate Street actually consists of 2 single working tracks, one of which forms part of the Birmingham-Malvern-Hereford line while the other is the end of the Cotswold Line, which Shrub Hill also serves. Both stations frequently serve Birmingham and nearby towns/cities. London is also served frequently by both stations via the Cotswold Line and, infrequently, via the Birmingham-Bristol/Gloucester-Swindon/Bristol-London lines. Train services to/from London are operated by First Great Western.
Although connected to an Inter City mainline only 2 miles away, in this case the Birmingham-Bristol 'Cross Country' line, Worcester is not served by the Inter City CrossCountry service. This makes Worcestershire the only county in England where 'Cross Country' services pass through but do not stop in during normal scheduled timetables. However, the proposed new station, Worcestershire Parkway will end this. Being the bigger of the 2 stations, and due to its location, Shrub Hill is often used as a stabling point and a through route for freight trains.
The main operator of bus services in and around the city is First's First Wyvern which prior to mergers and acquisitions was once Midland Red West, itself one of the 5 companies that was formed from the split of the massive Midland Red operation prior to deregulation. A handful of other smaller operators provide services in Worcester, most notably Astons (Veolia) and Bromyard Omnibus Company. The terminus/interchange for many bus services in Worcester is CrownGate Bus Station located in the City Centre.
Worcestershire County Council operates the W1 bus service with a new fleet of high specification Mercedes Citaro vehicles. The W1 service is a frequent and direct limited stop service between the Worcester North (Perdiswell) Park & Ride site and CrownGate Bus Station. The service runs Monday to Saturday, from 7am to 7pm at a high frequency. The journey between the Park and Ride site and Worcester City Centre takes approximately ten minutes.
The buses stop at: · Worcester North (Perdiswell) Park & Ride Site · St Stephen’s Church · St George’s Square · Little London, Royal Grammar School · Foregate Street Rail Station · Worcester (Crowngate) Bus Station
Additionally, the Worcester Sixways Park and Ride site (adjacent to Junction 6 of the M5) is due to open in late 2008.
Probably Worcester's most famous citizen was composer Sir Edward Elgar, whose father ran a music shop at the end of the High Street; a statue of Elgar stands near the original location of that shop. His birthplace is a short way outside Worcester in the village of Broadheath.
Philip Henry Gosse, naturalist, was born in the city in 1810.
Civil engineer Edward Leader Williams, designer of the Manchester Ship Canal, was born and raised in Worcester, residing at Diglis House (now the Diglis House Hotel) with his brother, noted landscape artist Benjamin Williams Leader. William Morris, Lord Nuffield, automobile manufacturer, spent the first three years of his life in the city.
Poet and author Reverend Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy, famously known as "Woodbine Willy", was for some time the Vicar of St. Pauls Church in the city. He rose to fame during World War I when he became an army chaplain, his sermons and poetry helping boost morale to the troops. He acquired his nickname from his habit of handing out "Woodbine" cigarettes to the men in the trenches.
Minimalist composer John Adams was born here.
The Worcester Festival is a relatively new venture established in 2003. Held in late August, the festival consists of a variety of music, theatre, cinema and workshops, as well as the already established Beer Festival, which now runs under the Worcester Festival name.
The 8th CAMRA Worcester Beer and Cider festival took place for three days from the 17 August 2006 and was held as usual on Pitchcroft Race Course. On entry there is a choice between a (free) half or pint glass, with this year's having orange writing.
Famous 18th century actress Sarah Siddons made her acting debut here at the Theatre Royal in Angel Street. Her sister, the novelist Ann Julia Kemble Hatton, otherwise known as Ann of Swansea, was born in the city. Matilda Alice Powles, better known as Vesta Tilley, a leading male impersonator and music hall artiste was born in Worcester.
In present-day Worcester the Swan Theatre stages a mixture of professional touring and local amateur productions. The Countess of Huntingdon's Hall is a historic church now used as venue for an eclectic range of musical performances, while the Marrs Bar is a venue for gigs and stand-up comedy. Worcester also boasts two multi-screen cinemas (a six screen Vue Cinema complex located on Friar Street and an Odeon Cinema, boasting seven screens, at the heart of the city on Forgate Street).
In the northern suburbs of the city is the Art Deco Northwick Cinema. Built in 1938 it contains one of the only two remaining interiors in Britain designed by John Alexander (the original perspective drawings are still held by RIBA). It was a Bingo Hall from 1966 to 1982 and then empty until 1991; it was then run as a music venue until 1996, and was empty again until Autumn 2006 when it became an antiques and lifestyle centre, owned by Grey's Interiors, who were previously located in The Tything.
There are also a number of Arts organisations in Worcester, one of which is C&T. Based at the University and also Bishop Perowne Performing Arts College is C&T [formerly Collar & TIE]. C&T is an educational theatre company that specialises in theatre for young people tackling topical issues through a unique blend of drama and new media technologies.