diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 12, 2018


For my second county town of the day, I transferred back through the Malverns to Worcester. This historic hub straddles the Severn rather than the Wye, and is in distant thrall to Birmingham rather than Wales. I arrived mid-afternoon, a bit too late to enjoy everything, but still visited enough to get a flavour of the place. And then, having booked three months in advance, I got a £6 rail ticket back to London. Here's some of what I saw.
[12 photos]

Worcester Cathedral
Although it doesn't contain a top medieval treasure like Hereford, Worcester's interior is more impressively cathedralish. I stood at the end of the nave in appropriate awe, which only increased as I approached the choir and chancel. I had to be quick before evensong, but I nipped down into the Norman Crypt to see the communion chapel, and took a spin round the cloisters because that is what you do. I also found Edward Elgar's memorial in the northwest corner (although he's not buried here because he was a Catholic, so his bones are in Little Malvern). But the true deceased big hitter is King John, one of England's least successful kings, who requested to be entombed in the cathedral and can still be found in full sight in front of the altar.

City Art Gallery and Museum
This repository felt a bit more substantial than Hereford's, with a proper Victorian warren to explore. The main gallery focuses on trade in Worcester, including a case devoted to Mr Lea and Mr Perrin who invented the town's most famous sauce. Apparently they thought they had a duff recipe on their hands, but after leaving some bottles to mature in a cellar discovered people loved the taste, and the exact recipe remains a secret to this day. The other half of the museumy bit is devoted to the history of the Royal Worcestershire Regiment (essentially a tale of derring-do followed by sequential budget-related shrinkage), so I was round that a lot quicker. As for the art gallery, summertime entertainments meant this was instead full of Ice Age related stuff, including a huge mammoth and exhibits on various geological themes, which I suspect I enjoyed more that whatever the usual is.

Worcester's chief National Trust property is a timber-framed beauty, and more than a little bizarre. Dating back to 1485, it's thought to have been a medieval merchant's house, with the decorated beams and jutting gables out front a Tudor embellishment. Having passed through many a family's hands it fell into decay, but was snapped up in 1949 by the reclusive Matley-Moores (sister Elsie and brother Malcolm) who set about maintaining it as a quirky home. They added wallhangings, fourposters, grandfather clocks, leather screens and anything else old they could get their hands on, including 70 discarded iron doorstops which Elsie lovingly painted and left around the place. Floors aren't even, staircases lean, and yes that is a fake backlit fireplace in the central parlour. The room guides at Greyfriars are some of the loveliest I've met, imparting the peculiarities of each room with cosy charm, and I'm only sorry not to have got a proper look round the garden because it was chucking out time.

The Severn
Great Britain's longest river is in its navigable stage through Worcester, indeed the only other time I've been to the city, that's how I arrived (it was September 1984, we moored up at Diglis Basin and I was in the scouting party which nipped to Marks & Spencer for provisions). The centre of town boasts an arched road bridge, a railway bridge, a footbridge and a summer-only passenger ferry, but the Severn's otherwise quite difficult to cross (unless you're a swan, of which there are hundreds). One of the pubs by Worcester Bridge includes Swan Food on its menu for £2 a tub. A slew of carved bricks by the Watergate, below the Cathedral, show the heights of calamitous floods which have affected the river over the centuries, the most recent in 2014.

The Hive
Planned just before austerity hit, Worcester's solution to public service centralisation was a gilded hub combining a university campus, county archives and the town's main library. The Hive is a striking asymmetrical building with a golden roof, accessed by elevated walkway, on the racecourse side of town. Several floors feed off a large central atrium, and the shelves and desks are open until 10pm every evening (including Sundays), which in this day and age is a pretty impressive boast. I doubt that the Queen was too thrilled to have to pop in and open the building as part of her Diamond Jubilee tour, but it does perhaps provide a model others might follow.

Worcester Shrub Hill station
Worcester Foregate Street, in the town centre, is the more convenient place to alight. But only Worcester Shrub Hill has an adorably Victorian waiting room (and the flurry of semaphore signals, if that's your thing). The waiting room on platform 2B is cast-iron framed, emblazoned with majolica ceramics and is Grade II listed. It was renovated and reopened in 2015, and is no longer just for Ladies-in-waiting, but looks more impressive from the outside rather than within. Because of a bidirectional track layout quirk, all trains to/from London only ever use Platform 1, so passengers miss out.

Worcester Stands Tall
In past years many British towns and cities have courted tourists with a display of oversized painted animals. London's done cattle, Dundee's done penguins, Bristol's done Gromits and this year Worcester tried giraffes. Giraffes are a good choice because there's a lot of surface area to paint designs on, and because they're tall so stand out across the town. I wasn't deliberately trying, but I managed to spot well over half of them including the Art Deco one, the all-gold one and the one covered with postage stamps. All thirty came off the streets this weekend, and will be auctioned off next month. As a Londoner it was refreshing to see this kind of thing being done without some shallow Hollywood sponsor as the chief rationale.

The Commandery
Worcester was the site of the last battle of the English Civil War, and the Commandery was the beleaguered Royalist HQ, so it makes the perfect site for a soldiery'n'social civic museum. But it had closed by the time I got there. Ditto the Tudor House museum, and the Guildhall, and the Royal Worcestershire Museum which is fairly new and rammed with fine china. I was not overly disappointed.

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