Tuesday, 17 February 2015


The bridge over the Severn

Our original plans for today had fallen through and I decided to revisit Worcester, a town where I used to run training courses in the Giffard Hotel opposite the cathedral with my friend Morris in the 1990s. My goal was to properly see the town and its several almshouses, but I was also interested to see how accurate my memory was.

I started my walk, based on one from the AA website, at Foregate Street station and turned left (south) into The Foregate. Immediately on the right was my first almshouse, Berkeley's Hospital founded in 1702.

Continuing in the same direction I reached the High Street, where the imposing Guildhall of 1721-2 stood on the right at the end.

The route now required doubling back so I turned right into City Arcade, where I spotted this superb late Victorian facade ...

... and left into the Shambles, which was less interesting than the name suggested. Right and right again led into one of Worcester's oldest streets: known, in that very English way, as New Street. The highlight was King Charles House (now a pub), dating from 1577. Charles I escaped from here after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

New Street gives way to the very ancient-looking Friar Street - this is the view looking back.

The more distant building on the right is Greyfriars, a merchant's house dating from 1485, now owned by the National Trust, with a wonderful frontage.

The nearer building on the right is Lazlett's almshouses, whose main frontage is in Union St. They are Edwardian (1910-11) and were built on the site of the former City Gaol.

I continued along Friar Street, staggered to find a modern multi-storey car park in this historic street, and turned right into College Street to reach the front of the Cathedral and the Giffard Hotel, now a Travelodge. The relationship between hotel and cathedral was as I remembered, but the hotel has certainly lost its swagger.

The sun was in the wrong place for a photo of the magnificent, predominantly gothic, Cathedral. I had to settle for this view from the 14th century cloister.

The inside was remarkably harmonious. I will just pick put one detail: the tomb of King John, who died in 1216. The Chapter House was another highlight.

Leaving the Cathedral by the door I entered, I turned right to find my way to Edgar Tower, once the gateway to the monastic precincts of the Cathedral.

I now headed off to see the Commandery, for some reason not included in the AA itinerary. From the outside it looks over-restored, but it is well-worth a visit.

It was originally founded as St Wulfstan's Hospital perhaps as early as 1080, but certainly by 1240: medieval hospitals had various functions, caring variously for travellers (especially pilgrims), the sick and the elderly and are seen as the earliest almshouses. Inside the highlights were the Great Hall and the Painted Room, which has wonderful frescoes dating from about 1490.

The building was later a private house, a school and a printing works. It is now a museum.

From here I walked down to the River Severn, following its banks under the shadow of the Cathedral, past the bridge of 1781 to see the extraordinary and rather wonderful Hive over on the right. It is a joint initiative between the City Council and the University of Worcester and was conceived as a joint city and university library. The architects were Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and the building opened in 2012.

Next left into Infirmary Road and I stumbled on this picturesque group which I felt sure must be more
almshouses which I had not identified in my research. Sure enough I was looking at Lea's Almshouses of 1869. It just brings home one of the most interesting characteristics of almshouses: the way they (almost always) stand out from other buildings in the same street.

Soon after this, still heading north, I reached Upper Tything, where immediately on the right was St Oswald's Hospital. The Hospital was founded in, or perhaps before, the 13th century, but rebuilt in 1873.

A little further on are some impressive buildings which form part of the Royal Grammar School ...

... and just beyond them, my final set of Almshouses. I am unclear about them. Pevsner refers to Queen Elizabeth Almhouses of 1876-6 by a local architect  named Gibbons while Images of England credits them to Sir Aston Webb (architect of the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth among other grand works) - a Wikipedia links this to the RGS next door. The plaque over the entrance says that they were "erected by the Sir Governors and Supervisors of the Free School and Almshouses".

On this note of mystery I end my account: all that remianed was to walk back down the road to the station.

Conditions: a wonderful sunny day.

Distance: 5 miles.

Rating: 5 stars. A wonderful city, whose charms I have only briefly sketched in. Much more could be said about the Cathedral.

No comments: