The county town of Worcestershire has had a long and exciting past. Having witnessed a variety of peoples and times, if buildings could talk, these ancient structures would have more stories to tell than most. If you’re at a loss for things do over the long bank holiday weekend break, a trip to Worcester is worth the short car ride.
This is a brief look into the history of Worcester.
Worcester was founded during the Roman occupation of Britain, around 50 AD. It expanded both physically and economically because of its prime location, sitting right on a busy Roman road. Its location was chosen by the Romans to command a defensive ford on the River Severn.
A considerable amount of traffic passed by as it lay between the up-and-coming cities of Glevum (Gloucester) and Viroconium (Wroxeter, now a small village, but once the fourth-largest Roman settlement in Britain), tempting many tradesmen to settle to make their living selling supplies to travellers and passers-by.
Fifty years later an iron industry had been established in the town and for the rest of the Roman occupation, Worcester was a thriving centre for trade and manufacture. Due to the break down in communications and infrastructure after the Roman withdrawal in 407 AD, the settlement shrunk and was pretty much abandoned for several centuries. It was not documented again for several hundred years (well into the Seventh Century) by the Anglo-Saxons.
The Saxons called Roman settlements ‘ceasters.’ The name Worcester is likely to have evolved from a combination of this and the Roman name: Weogeran. Weogeran Ceaster, eventually became Worcester.
The Middle Ages saw Worcester expand impressively through trade and manufacture, particularly in wool and leather. By the late-Medieval period, the population had grown to about 10,000 inhabitants. It was also granted the status of ‘city corporate’ (self-government) an implication of its importance at the time.
The Cathedral, which had been founded in 680 AD and rebuilt by the Normans in the 12th Century, stood imposingly over the settlement for many years and was perhaps the main gravitational pull behind the city’s rapid expansion (religion being at the centre of all medieval life). The 16th Century saw things take a turn for the worse. Henry VIII, angered by his infamous argument with the pope (over his eligibility to divorce his first barren wife, Catherine of Aragon), took his anger out on the English-based Roman church. His men were sent round the country pillaging the resources of all religious buildings. In the much-loved Worcester Cathedral, the sacred shrines of St Wulfstan and St Oswald were destroyed before the Cathedral was stripped of all valuables.
One of the most agitated and difficult periods in the city’s past was during the English Civil War. The final battle of the conflict, the Battle of Worcester, took place a little south west of the city in 1651. It was fought between the Royalist forces, led by King Charles II (who had managed to round up the last of Britain’s support for monarchy after his father was beheaded), and the Roundhead ‘New Model Army’ led by Oliver Cromwell. The King’s army was absolutely thrashed, suffering 3,000 fatalities. A further 10,000 were taken prisoner. In contrast, Parliamentary casualties were in the low hundreds. The Roundheads were better trained, equipped and disciplined and overwhelmed the poorly organised soldiers behind the King.
For a good few years after this historic battle, the city suffered, its development stunted, as the fighting had severely disrupted the area’s trade. By the turn of the century (the Eighteenth), the city was back on track and throughout the 1700s, many important structures including infrastructure (bridges and roads etc.), a guildhall, a bank and many buildings of industry and manufacture were built, drawing thousands of workers and inhabitants into the thriving settlement.
The Nineteenth Century saw Worcester begin its journey to becoming the city we know today, however, there were many setbacks and bumps along the way. The disgusting conditions of the city streets led to several outbreaks of Cholera, the most deadly occurring in 1832 in which 79 people died. In response to this tragedy, sewers were dug under the streets and an underground system was set up to pipe clean water to the city’s inhabitants. City services such as the local police force and several hospitals were built up and improved gradually throughout the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Canals, railway lines and horse-drawn trams all reached Worcester by the end of the Nineteenth Century and again, gave a massive boost to the city’s population which was nearly at 50,000 by 1900. Worcester gained its first electricity supply by 1894.
By the mid-Twentieth Century, Worcester was very much the city we now know and love, although its main industries revolved around sauce making, light engineering and printing.
However, as time passed, these industries began to take more of a backseat and the local economy has been driven mainly by services and tourism for the last few decades.
It is unsurprising that so many people come to this magical city each year. With its wonderful history and beautiful cityscape it’s always worth a visit. If you’re ever struggling for things to do over the long weekend, take the time to book a stay, Best Western offer a selection of hotels nearby.