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Published: November 9th 2020
The Land of Hope and Glory. It certainly doesn't feel like it at the moment. The heavens had opened, as we arrived in the Cathedral city of Worcester some 6 hours after we departed from Bristol and The Well Hung Lover. The M5 hadn't really been that bad. We had stopped off for a socially distanced family gathering on the outskirts of Cheltenham. My sister has long since resided in this affluent corner of England, where the pace of life is slower. It is nearly 10 months ago since we had last met up. She rarely ventures north and we have less reason these days to venture south. The world put to rights, we made our way to Worcester.
Whilst I have driven past Worcester many times on the adjacent motorway, we have only visited the city once before. It was about 10 years ago to see a band. It was brief visit. It rained that night too. We watched the gig and drove home. The miserable weather did nothing for the mood and the parking situation was less than ideal. I eventually found a space on a street, that would suffice for the night and still be
OK for our planned wander the following day. I could win the lottery and would still be aggrieved by the prospect of paying £15 to park in a NCP car park. The remnants of our Travelodge voucher was covering the cost of the accommodation. It was very central, but oddly positioned in a tower block above a shopping centre. We headed out into the night. I imagine in pre COVID times, the city centre to be fairly active early evening. The commuters who travel daily up to Birmingham would get off their trains, have a pint or a meal perhaps and then disappear homeward. Worcester is now a University town too. It was always primarily a teacher training college, but since 1997 has fully fledged status. Students too - who I read exceed 8500 in number - would be out and about in normal times, adding to the nightlife numbers. However on a wet October night in COVID, it was deadly quiet. Of course, the commuters are probably no longer commuting. Working from home is the order of the day and then motivation to head out for a pint is somewhat lacking, when the wet stuff is falling from the
skies. The new rule of 10 pm closing doesn't help. We found ourselves in the spacious outdoor seating area of The Dragon at the northern end of the city centre. The local CAMRA have bestowed on it their award of Pub of the Year 2018 and 2019. I sampled my pint of Goats Milk - described as golden yellow nectar - and concluded that they had made a good choice. It also had the advantage of lots of space and the aforementioned gigantic outdoor space, so even the most nervous of drinkers in the midst of a pandemic could feel comfortable. The original plan had been to have a few refreshments and move on for food. The lack of footfall indicated many eateries would close early and with last orders in pubs around 9.20 pm, we stayed put. Our evening meal became a pub snack of the best Scotch egg sampled in many a year and a bag of crisps. Do not let it be said, that I don't show the Other Half a good time!
The weather offered something more pleasant come morning. The Cathedral looked impressive, as we headed out to explore. Worcester lies at
the centre of transport links in this part of the country. The River Severn cuts through the city centre and at one point it was the only bridging point between Bridgnorth 25 miles upstream and Gloucester 25 miles to the south. It is the home of the huge Cathedral rising above the river, Royal Worcester Porcelain, Edward Elgar, Lea & Perrins Worcester Source and the Worcester Journal - apparently the World's oldest newspaper. The composer, Edward Elgar, was born nearby and moved to the city at early age. His father ran a music shop. Elgar was right outside the hotel - not literally - but his statue by Kenneth Potts gazed down the street. Classical music isn't really my thing, but pretty much everyone has heard of the Land of Hope and Glory. Elgar wrote the music in 1901 and the words were added in 1902 by A C Benson. It has long been a stalwart of the Proms, and was first played in the current form in the last Prom of 2005. The tune entered a political controversy just recently. The Land of Hope and Glory, along with Rule Britannia were dropped from the 2020 Proms running order in
the wake of the BLM protests. TFB threw his hat into the ring and accused Auntie Beeb of "cringing embarrassment about our history". In the wake of a public outcry, both tunes made it back on to the playlist. We crossed the road and made our way past Elgar's former house and down the side of the Cathedral grounds.
Worcester Cathedral sits majestically on an elevated position above the banks of the River Severn. The first Cathedral was founded here in 680, but this structure was started in 1084 and became one of the most important religious centres in England. It was technically a monastery and as happened all over the country, King Henry VIII brought about a sudden downfall after his spat with the Church following on from his desire to seek a divorce. The last battle of the Civil War was fought locally and serious repairs were required after KIng Charles II regained the throne. The Cathedral contains the tomb of royalty. The pantomime villain, King John, apparently had a liking for the local area and spent a Christmas here in 1214. He stipulated in his will a preference to be buried in a specific
place in the Cathedral. His tomb is near the High Alter, but as the place wasn't open on the morning of our mini tour we didn't get inside. The will incidentally - the oldest remaining Royal will in England - is still held in the Cathedral library.
The Kings School sits in the shadows of the Cathedral and many of the buildings it uses are leased from it. The central green space was covered in marquees, as part of the new socially distanced post COVID world. The School was one of 7 KIng's Schools founded or re-founded by Henry VIII after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The others for the record in case it ever crops up in a quiz are Chester, Canterbury, Ely, Peterborough, Rochester and Gloucester. The KIng's boathouse down the River is a striking piece of architecture with a design like a boat hull pointing out to the water. The £2.5 million project was funded by an ex-pupil, Michael Baker. On the way down Severn Street to the River, we passed the former factory of Royal Worcester Porcelain. The premises are now part of the Museum - the actual firm closed down in the
early 2000s and production of any remaining lines of the brand were transferred to Stoke on Trent. The firm had been in existence since 1862, but records also show the existence of the pottery dating back to 1751.
We exited the Cathedral area on to the walkway, which extends along the banks of the River Severn. A powerful and impressive looking River, it has provided the best and worst of times for Worcester. At one time, the River was navigable all the way up from the Estuary below Gloucester. Trade flourished and the construction of canals allowed further movement of goods into the industrial areas. The waters that brought prosperity also brought disaster at times over the years. Flooding is common on the land opposite the elevated Cathedral site. The Worcestershire Couny Cricket Club New Road ground has frequently been under water in recent seasons and "home" games transferred out of town to other venues. Rain literally did stop play! Today, the River was in full flow after the heavy rain of yesterday. It was not bothering the swans, who gathered in huge numbers on either side in search of somebody offering free meal. A statue of
a Sean signified the status declared on signs, No Fishing- Swan Sanctuary. The New Road cricket can be reached across the 5 arches of the current bridge. The current bridge, designed in 1781, was remodelled to cope with the increase in traffic in the early 1930s.
The flagship building in the city is credited to the Cathedral, but the Worcester Guildhall is notable second. The building dates from 1723 and is described as Queen Anne style. Statues of Charles 1 and Charles II sit in recesses either side of the main door. Queen Anne has a more lofty position. It is open for a visit, even in COVID times. Entrance is free at the door to the tight hand side, as you face the building. The upper rooms are available for functions and wedding hire and have some finely decorated ceilings. It is definitely worth 30 minutes of your time. The City crest repeated throughout the building mysteriously contains 3 black pears. The origin dates from a visit by Elizabeth 1 in 1575, who was so pleased by a pear tree planted in her honour that she decreed the symbol to be used on the crest. The elephant in
the photographs in the Guildhall by the way is one of 30 round the city centre and is part of an "Art Trail" running until next year.
We headed north, unsure what the next days would bring in terms of COVID restrictions and the possibilities for further UK travel.
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