Worcester - History

History

Occupation of the site of Worcester can be dated back to Neolithic times, a village surrounded by defensive ramparts having been founded on the eastern bank of the River Severn in around 400 BC. The position, which commanded a ford on the river, was used in the first century by the Romans to establish what may at first have been a fort on the military route from Glevum (Gloucester) to Viroconium (Wroxeter) but which soon developed – as the frontier of the empire was pushed westwards – into an industrial town with its own pottery kilns and iron-smelting plants.

Roman Worcester (which may have been the Vertis mentioned in the seventh century Ravenna Cosmography) was a thriving trading and manufacturing centre for some three hundred years, though by the time of the Roman withdrawal from Britain in 407 it had dwindled considerably in size and is not recorded again until the mid-seventh century when documents mention the Anglo-Saxon settlement Weorgoran ceaster (settlement of the people by the winding river). The fact that Worcester was chosen at this time – in preference to both the much larger Gloucester and the royal centre of Winchcombe – to be the Episcopal See of a new diocese covering the area suggests that there may have been a well established, and powerful, Christian community living on the site when it fell into English hands.

The town was almost destroyed in 1041 after a rebellion against the punitive taxation of Harthacanute. The town was attacked several times (in 1139, 1150 and 1151) during "The Anarchy", i.e. civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I. This is the background to the well-researched historical novel The Virgin in the Ice, part of Ellis Peters' "Cadfael" series, which begins with the words:

"It was early in November of 1139 that the tide of civil war, lately so sluggish and inactive, rose suddenly to wash over the city of Worcester, wash away half of its lifestock, property and women, and send all those of its inhabitants who could get away in time scurrying for their lives northwards away from the marauders". (These are mentioned as having arrived from Gloucester, leaving a long lasting legacy of bitterness between the two cities.)

By late medieval times the population had grown to around 10,000 as the manufacture of cloth started to become a large local industry. The town was designated a county corporate, giving it autonomy from local government.

Worcester was the site of the Battle of Worcester (3 September 1651), when Charles II attempted to forcefully regain the crown, in the fields a little to the west and south of the city, near the village of Powick. However, Charles II was defeated and returned to his headquarters in what is now known as King Charles house in the Cornmarket, before fleeing in disguise to Boscobel House in Shropshire from where he eventually escaped to France. Worcester was one of the cities loyal to the King in that war, for which it was given the epithet "Fidelis Civitas" ("The Faithful City"). This motto has been incorporated into the city's coat of arms.

In 1670, the River Severn broke its banks and the subsequent flood was the worst ever seen by Worcester. A brass plate can be found on a wall on the path to the cathedral by the path along the river showing how high this flood went, and other flood heights of more recent times are also shown in stone bricks. The closest flood height to what is known as The Flood of 1670 was when the Severn flooded in the torrential rains of July 2007.

The Royal Worcester Porcelain Company factory was founded by Dr John Wall in 1751, although it no longer produces goods. A handful of decorators are still employed at the factory and the Museum is still open.

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Worcester was a major centre for glove making, employing nearly half the glovers in England at its peak (over 30,000 people). In 1815 the Worcester and Birmingham Canal opened, allowing Worcester goods to be transported to a larger conurbation.

The British Medical Association (BMA) was founded in the Board Room of the old Worcester Royal Infirmary building in Castle Street in 1832. While most of the Royal Infirmary has now been demolished to make way for the University of Worcester's new city campus, the original Georgian building has been preserved. There are plans to reopen the building as a medical museum.

During World War II, the city was chosen to be the seat of an evacuated government in case of mass German invasion. The War Cabinet, along with Winston Churchill and some 16.000 state workers, would have moved to Hindlip Hall (now part of the complex forming the Headquarters of West Mercia Police), 3 miles (4.8 km) north of Worcester, and Parliament would have temporarily seated in Stratford-upon-Avon. The former RAF station RAF Worcester was located east of Northwick.

In the 1950s and 1960s large areas of the medieval centre of Worcester were demolished and rebuilt as a result of decisions by town planners. There is still a significant area of medieval Worcester remaining, but it is a small fraction of what was present before the redevelopments.

The current city boundaries date from 1974, when the Local Government Act 1972 transferred the parishes of Warndon and St. Peter the Great County into the city.

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