August 15-19, 2016: When I decided to head north from Oxford through the Welsh Marches, visiting the three cathedrals of Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford, my first thought was to stay in Gloucester, which was also the home of Beatrix Potter’s “Tailor of Gloucester”. (BTW, that is “Marches” as in borderlands, not a misspelling of marshes.) But Lonely Planet was really quite firm in suggesting that Gloucester was not a good place to stay, although fine for a day trip, and my second idea was Cheltenham, which Lonely Planet described as “the most complete Regency town in England”. Then I was talked out of Cheltenham by posters on fodors.com. Instead I based for four nights in Worcester, and was really pleased with the decision.
Although the docents in the two house museums I visited were loud in their condemnation of 1960s town planning, which had meant the loss of some of the historic buildings, and the erection of some monstrosities, I found the town to be a pleasant place, with a lively center, a nice collection of old buildings, and several worthwhile sights. Unlike Oxford, it was not overrun with day trippers, or, indeed, with tourists in general. I also appreciated that the station was quite central, thanks, no doubt, to the fact that the platforms were built at the same height as the bridge that spanned the main street. Fortunately, the forty plus steps needed to reach the trains were supplemented by elevators.
I started my sightseeing at the cathedral, reaching it by a walkway along the River Severn. Unfortunately, there was no shade, and I didn’t fully appreciate the walk until I did it one evening, taking time to enjoy the ducks and swans. Not being a fan of King John, I was less interested in the fact that the cathedral held his tomb, than in the building itself, its architectural styles ranging from Norman through to Perpendicular Gothic, and especially the choir, with its interesting painted ceiling and nice misericords. I went back later for the lunchtime library tour. The medieval library, first organized in the eleventh century but containing older documents, held so many treasures the tour took a full hour, and I was stunned to be allowed to hold some of the early manuscripts – not full books, but sheets.
Since I am always interested in house museums I made sure to visit the two nearly opposite each other on Friar Street. The Tudor House Museum was run by a group of enthusiasts, and included information on Worcester during WWII, when the building was an Air Raid Warden’s Post. Originally three separate houses dating from the 1500s, they were combined in the early 1900s by a grandson of the founder of the Cadbury chocolate firm.
Greyfriars, run by the National Trust, was much bigger, although slightly older it was also built in the characteristic black and white style associated with the Tudors. Different rooms had been furnished to represent different periods in its history, and I especially enjoyed the sitting room of the last owner, which retained his library. I had a nice chat about the books with the docent (room steward) on duty.
I then had time for only one more sight, meaning I had to choose between the Royal Worcester Porcelain works, and the historic Commandery. Considering the fact that I am not particularly a fan of Royal Worcester, I opted for the Commandery and found it an excellent decision. The Commandery started life as a monastic hospital in the eleventh century, on a site that had held a Saxon chapel. Much extended in the fifteenth century, it became the home of a wealthy merchant family, before being commandeered by Royalist forces as their headquarters in August 1651, prior to the last battle of the Civil War. It went through a number of changes of fortune, finishing up as a printing works before becoming a museum. While the building was interesting as a building, what made it a must-see destination was the audio guide, which offered six different “tracks” through the house, for six different periods. With insufficient time for all six, I mostly followed the Tudor track, with some pieces on the medieval hospital and the Civil War, and a quick bit on the printing works. I could definitely have used more time, and did not regret the porcelain.
In addition to interesting sights, I enjoyed a very good hotel in Worcester and some reasonable food. I had been a little dubious about the Crown, run by the JD Weatherspoon pub group and occupying what remained of a seventeenth century coaching inn. No need, the rooms had been beautifully redone, with an elevator, AC, walk-in showers and good beds, bedding and towels. Breakfast wasn’t included in my rate, but breakfast in the pub was good and cheap. Dinner there was not such a good idea, but I ate somewhat better if not entirely memorable food at Bill’s Restaurant, the Cafe Rouge and the Slug and Lettuce (half price on Mondays). Caffe Nero, just across the street, provided good macchiato and good wifi.