The big idea

You know how Hollywood always portrays England as some stereotypically bucolic paradise, one that does not – and never has – exist for most English people? It’s all rolling hills, corn fields, red telephone boxes, battered-old Mini Coopers and VW Beetles driven by batty old school ma’ams and bumbling posh blokes that swear a lot (in a charming way, of course), and not a 1960s car park or tower block in site. Well, Worcester and its surrounds are probably as close as you’re ever going to get to Hollywood’s rose-coloured-spectacle view of little old Blighty (although unfortunately those pesky 1960s town planners even got to parts of Worcester, too). It’s unmistakeably English: rolling hills? Check; beautiful gardens? Check; cricket? Check; Horse racing? Check – the list goes on and on. In short, it’s beautiful, idyllic, charming and well worth a visit.

Rolling countryside

If you’ve been to this part of the country before you’ll know just how stunning it is. It’s hard to impress on those who haven’t been just how picture-perfect the views are, no matter where you look. To go back to our friends in Hollywood, it does look like one big film set for the quintessentially English film. There’s the famous countryside: the Malverns, the Cotswolds, the Lickeys and the Clent Hills; and the fabulous parks: Croome Park (Capability Brown’s first independent commission), Spetchley Park and Witley Court; and then there’s the bluebell woods and the English blossom trail – is it any wonder that all this is what inspired Sir Edward Elgar?

English fare

Of course, pretty much every part of England gives us fabulous produce, but the stuff you get around here is just so, well, English. Think picnics, think WI meetings, think village fêtes, think Delia Smith. There’s strawberries, apples, asparagus (regularly rated as the best in the country), plums and mistletoe (OK, so not actually edible [yes kids, it’s poisonous] but worth mentioning here) – all of which have their own festivals. The region’s also renowned for berries, plums, pears and damsons (anyone else conjuring up a mental image of a steaming bowl of fruit crumble and custard right now?). And, as well as two award-winning winemakers being based here, there is of course Malvern water and the world-famous Worcester Sauce. Hungry yet?

Classically English

OK, so we know you’ve probably got it now: Worcester’s a very English place, but let’s look at the further evidence: the English Civil War started and finished here; the place is known for the very English sports of horse racing, cricket and rugby union; there are many country events, such as the world-famous Three Counties Countryside Show; Royal Worcester fine bone china (for all those afternoon teas); one of the three cities involved in the annual Three choirs Festival – the oldest choral festival in existence – and then there’s Elgar, that most English of composers, who was born here.

His Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 is one of the most quintessentially English pieces of music ever written (and for those who say that they’ve never heard it [yes, we know you’re out there], we say: you almost certainly have, a million times over [go on, Google it]. And the nickname of this thoroughly English city? ‘The faithful city’, after its long allegiance to the monarchy.


Quintessential England

Who’s it ideal for/how it can make you feel

Well, apart from making you feel like an extra in a Four Weddings and Funeral sequel, it’ll make you feel that all is right with the world. Traditionalists will love it, as will gardeners, nature lovers, food lovers (oh, and left-handers too – see below), and those who want to stop the world and get off for a bit.

This is a charming city, set amongst some beautiful countryside – a real place to come and unwind.

The interesting bits in the history

The origins of Worcester likely date back to around 400 BC, when the place was a village on the eastern bank of the River Severn. Later, in AD 50, the Romans settled here and built a fort: this was en route between the big Roman cities of Gloucester and Wroxeter (in Shropshire) and so would have experienced a lot of Roman traffic.

The Saxons arrived in the 7th century and named the settlement Weogoran Caester (‘Weogoran’ meaning ‘the people by the winding river’; ‘Caester’ the name they gave previous Roman settlements) – thankfully, the name got simplified somewhat into the rather easier Worcester. The cathedral was founded in AD 680.

The settlement became a fortified town or ‘burgh’ in the 9th century and over time became an industrial centre with both trade and manufacture booming. During the 11th century the town was attacked, and ransacked, by the king for refusing to pay taxes, but soon recovered.

During the mediaeval period, Worcester’s manufacturing prowess came to the fore again as the cloth industry began to grow, and so did the town – in fact it was around this time that it was designated as a county corporate, which gave Worcester autonomy from the local government. There was also a significant leather industry in the town, with shoemakers, glove-makers and saddlers.
The 1600s were a fairly eventful time for Worcester: the Royalists occupied the city in 1642 at the start of the Civil War; it was one of the King’s last strongholds in 1646; and the famous Battle of Worcester took place here in 1651 (Worcester has long been known as ‘the faithful city’ because of its allegiance to the king); and in 1670 the town suffered its worst ever flood – there’s a plaque that’s still there today, down behind the cathedral, to show just how high the flood waters were.

In the mid 1700s Dr John Wall founded his famous Royal Worcester Porcelain Company, gaining a great reputation for its fine bone china, despite its rivals over in the nearby Potteries pretty much having the market covered. Despite this famous name, however, Worcester’s fortunes did not match those of other towns in the area until the Worcester and Birmingham Canal was built in 1815, which allowed manufacturers to get their goods to a wider audience. And towards the end of the 18th century Worcester ruled the world in glove-making; round a half of all the country’s glove-makers were based in the city. In the next century, in 1856, the BMA – British Medical Association – was founded in the city, in the old Worcester Royal Infirmary.

Fast forward to the 20th century and Worcester’s potentially key role in World War II – it was to be the seat of Government in case of a German invasion. 16,000 workers, and Churchill himself, would have decamped to Hindlip Hall, with Parliament based at nearby Stratford-upon-Avon.

How to experience Worcester

Start down by the river on the South Quay, with a lovely view up the Severn River, the country’s longest river, taking in the Worcester Bridge. Head away from the bridge on Kleve Walk; along here at The Watergate see the records of the River Severn flood levels.
Cut up Severn Street, past the back of the cathedral, and here you’ll find the Worcester Porcelain Museum, housing 10,000 pieces dating back to 1751, with Georgian, Victorian and 20th-century galleries (this is the place the Antiques Roadshow’s Henry Sandon MBE described as ‘my ideal day out’). What a beautiful introduction to the city.

After this, turn right and head along King Street until you reach the junction. Over the road, just across the bridge over the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, you’ll find The Commandery. Once a hospital, and headquarters for the Royalists during the Civil War, this attractive building, which has undergone many changes over the years, is now a fascinating and interactive trip through Worcester’s history.

Then head on up the road towards the city centre, passing the King’s School on the left (if you fancy seeing some very well-maintained Tudor houses, take a little diversion down Friar Street; there’s Greyfriars and Tudor House down there), until you reach the roundabout at the top.

And there we have the wonderful cathedral, right in front of you. Built over a 500-year period it contains every style of English architecture from Norman to Perpendicular Gothic. Pop inside and check out the Elgar stained window (his famous Enigma variations had its first public airing here at the 1899 Three Choirs Festival), the tomb of King John – who requested he was buried here in the 13th century in an attempt to ‘ride on the coat-tails’ of the two saints already buried there, right the way up to heaven –and the famous crypt, the oldest part of the building.

Once outside stand back and admire the cathedral’s west facade: look familiar? It’s a scene made famous on the back of old £20 notes.
Come out onto the roundabout and head down the pedestrianised High Street, past the Elgar statue at the top. This is a neat shopping street and down here on the left, just past the Tourist Information centre, you’ll come across the Guildhall, an attractive 18th-century building which has served as both a jail and the seat of justice for the city. Pop inside and check out the grand Italianate-style Assembly Room with a collection of portraits.

Carry on past the central train station at Foregate Street until you get to the City Museum and Art Gallery. One of the oldest regional museums in the country, this houses a large herbarium, a locally caught two-metre-long stuffed sturgeon, the Worcestershire Regiment collection, and a strong collection of fine art pieces, including local painter Benjamin Williams Leader, one of the great landscape painters of his generation (he did have some pretty impressive views to start with, mind).

Head over the road and down Castle street, and you’ll find the Swan Theatre, and behind it, Worcester racecourse, a picturesque tree-lined track on the banks of the River Severn. An ideal setting for that classic English Day at the Races.
Stroll along the river, cross on the footbridge or walk on the other side of the river until you get to New Road: now walk along until you reach Worcestershire County Cricket ground. Home to one of the country’s most famous cricket clubs, this is another cracker on a summer’s day. With the cathedral as the backdrop, and all those trees on the riverbank, this is another truly picturesque, thoroughly English afternoon out.

OK, now how about some quintessentially English gardenscapes? Worcestershire’s gardens are famed nationally and offer more evidence as to why the essence of Worcester is quintessentially English. Maybe head out to the delightful garden of discovery that is Spetchley Park, a riot of colour and surprise, or Croome Park, with its serene landscape and lakeside; up the road is Hanbury Hall, with its formal 18th-century gardens, the woodland walks at Witley Court, or the stunning views from nearby Little Malvern Court and Gardens. Frankly, you’ll be spoiled for choice, and whatever you choose will take you back to a bygone era.

When to visit

City pics