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Posts Tagged ‘England’

Last UK Stop: London


September 2-5, 2016: My journey from Sydney Sussex in Cambridge to LSE’s Grosvenor House on Drury Lane went without a hitch – train to Liverpool Street station, add money to my Oyster card, tube to Holborn, short walk past the Freemason’s Hall I had enjoyed visiting on my last trip to London. Check-in, somewhat later in the day, did not go smoothly, however. The room I had been assigned was on the ground floor facing a narrow alley, with mostly frosted windows and less room than I remembered from previous visits. I went back to the front desk to point out that it was too dark and too narrow for a multi-night stay. The second room was a big surprise – I was upgraded to a suite almost at the top of the building. I had a big sitting room with multiple views, a separate bedroom – and a narrow kitchen and tiny bathroom just like the regular rooms.
Having spent eight nights in London – in the same LSE student dorm – the previous year, I did not have an ambitious agenda this time. I had booked an architecture tour of the King’s Cross area, reputedly much transformed, for the Saturday, hoped to join a National Trust walk from Richmond to Ham House on the Sunday with my younger sister and her daughter, and had a ticket for a Noel Coward revival at a tiny theater in Earls Court. On my last day, I would eat breakfast at Delauney and then for lunch try the food at the Indian YMCA much praised on Fodors.


Aside from the Indian meal, which I found very disappointing, everything went well. The architecture tour, arranged by Open-City, was sold out, but the group was small enough I had no trouble hearing the guide. The station itself had changed since I last saw it, with a soaring blue glass canopy over a pedestrian zone. And north of the station the transformation was remarkable. New buildings were still going up, and as Google was moving it’s headquarters there, they will have input into future buildings. Prices will probably rise considerably as a result, although affordable housing was a feature of the existing developments. It had not previously occurred to me that Regent’s Canal ran behind the station, although I had once enjoyed a boat ride on it from Little Venice to Camden, and there was now a stepped grassy terrace overlooking it. All-in-all, I was impressed both by the tour and the developments. After the tour ended I ate lunch in St. Pancras station before taking in a Shakespeare exhibition at the British Library.
Saturday night I took the tube over to Earl’s Court and the Finborough Theatre, which occupied a room over a pub. I had had extreme difficulty hearing the actors at the National the previous year, and thought a smaller venue would be safer – besides, I have always enjoyed Noel Coward. “Home Chat” had not been performed since its first run in 1927, but the opening night had drawn a good ┬áreview in the Telegraph. A biting satire on sexism, I found it thoroughly enjoyable as well as still relevant – and I had no difficulty hearing.


Sunday morning I took the tube still further out, to Richmond. I had renewed my membership in the Royal Oak Foundation, the US partner of the National Trust, and Ham House was one of the few London National Trust properties I had not seen. Plus, looking for activities in London, I had discovered a Thames River Festival, and the NT was offering a guided walk to Ham House on September Sundays as part of it. My concerns about possible rain proved unfounded, although the day stayed grey.
I met up with my sister and my niece in a popular coffee shop just outside the station, and then joined a handful of other people in front of the station to meet our two guides. We were introduced to some old buildings in Richmond itself, including the handsome Victorian public library, and the Gate House, one of the few remnants of the sixteenth century Richmond Palace, which was largely destroyed after Charles I’s execution. We went down to the river, then climbed above it, eventually reaching a viewpoint where the river made a sweeping curve below us, fringed with trees and with cattle grazing in the water meadows. Turned out that this view was the only one in England protected by Act of Parliament, and we all enjoyed it. We finished by walking a long, tree-lined avenue leading to Ham House, first pausing to watch the start of a polo match. Although I am glad to have seen the house, it was not from one of my favorite periods, and I really preferred the walk. We walked back to the station as well, but we followed the river.
Monday afternoon I set off for Horley, where I would spend a night in my usual B&B before catching a flight from Gatwick to Istanbul for the next stage of the trip. So far, I had been fortunate in avoiding Southern Railways, which was suffering from strike action (and, perhaps, from inefficiency), but it looked like I would be safe taking an afternoon train from London Bridge station. Alas, no. I had to change trains on the way. Still, all my other train trips had worked well, and all but one of my bus and coach rides. I would have no hesitation in planning another UK trip using public transport.

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Loving Ely


August 31, 2016: When I walked through the south door of Ely Cathedral, and looked up, I was completely blown away. I was facing the crossing, where the nave, running west to east, meets the north and south transepts. Completely normal, but the octagonal lantern crowning the crossing was not at all normal. It was a marvel of stone, wood, stained glass and paint that really needs to be seen to be appreciated, although I did take some photographs. If I had entered at the west end, which is apparently the normal route, I might not have been quite as amazed, but coming in from the south the Octagon was the first thing I saw. And although the rest of the cathedral was certainly worth visiting, I kept coming back to the crossing.
The main building was lofty and long, and there was an additional, huge, lady chapel. The volunteer who took me round told me that it had been founded in 763 as a dual male and female monastery, and there was still a shrine to the female founder, Etheldreda, a Saxon princess. The current building was begun in the late eleventh century when it served a Benedictine monastery, although the Octagon was built in 1322 after the central Norman tower collapsed. Besides the Octagon the choir stalls were certainly worth a look, and the organ, in a case above the stalls, boasted gaily painted pipes. The cathedral even had a small labyrinth built into the floor, possibly Victorian, with very tight corners and not much respect from visitors.



Since Ely is so close to Cambridge – 16 miles, 15 minutes or so by train – and Cambridge is so close to Letchworth – 25 miles, half an hour by train – where I grew up, I am not sure why I had never been there before. True, it is one of the smaller cathedral cities (although St. David’s, in Wales, remains the smallest). But it is a perfectly fine place for a day trip, with the cathedral soaring majestically over the flat fens, a house once occupied by Oliver Cromwell during the first stage of his rise from obscurity to ultimate power, and a rather nice canal.


I skipped the cathedral’s stained glass museum, but I did visit the Cromwell house, of especial interest since I had just enjoyed the Civil War reenactment in Newport Pagnell. The tour ended with a request for visitors to vote on whether they now thought him a hero or a villain. During the tour, informational texts had reported on his reasons for rebellion, concentrating on Charles I’s attempts to change church policy in a more Catholic direction, and trying to debunk the persistent tale that he had been responsible for banning Christmas celebrations. (Having just encountered the first Christmas tree of the 2016 season – in mid October! in Kyoto Station! I must confess to some sympathy for the ban, whoever was responsible.) In the end I voted for hero, although he has never been a favorite of mine.

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August 30 – September 2, 2016:
Cambridge, England, not Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I stayed last year. I had booked the Milton Keynes to Cambridge leg with National Express, the coach company, but noticed that the ride would actually be provided by Stagecoach. When my sister dropped me at the Milton Keynes Coachway stop, my bus was not on the departure board, and when I finally got a word with the ticket clerk, I was told they didn’t list other companies. Great. The clerk was besieged, as the ticket machines weren’t working. I was more than ever glad I had bought my ticket ahead of time. The ride was slow, as the bus morphed into a local after Bedford, but it dropped me in the center of town, quite close to Sydney Sussex, where I was staying.
Sydney Sussex, which I had picked because it was small, and likely to be less popular with tourists, turned out to be a disappointment. It’s true that there was a gratifying shortage of tourists, but the chapel was closed for repairs, and I found the dining hall rather plain after Christ Church and Keble (the college’s website claims it is “one of the great Rococo interiors of Cambridge”). Worse, my room was in a modern block, and the walk to the back of the site at night, dark. Whoever designed the block had some strange ideas, as all the rooms featured an unnecessary tall, thin, window, which in my case was opposite the bed and not curtained. A complaint to the porter did produce two men with a roll of black plastic and some tape, which fixed the problem, but why would anyone design it that way? The main,window was perfectly adequate. I also had issues with the mattress, which should have been retired some years back.


Another time I would put up with the tourists and book with one of the colleges with “backs” (i.e. grounds running down to the river Cam), as the backs turned out to be off limits when I first wanted to visit. I did get to spend some time enjoying the river and the views after I bought my ticket for a guided tour of King’s College Chapel. This is arguably the premier sight in Cambridge, with possibly the best fan vaulting in England. The product of the patronage of several kings, principally Henry VI, Richard III (yes, that Richard) and Henry VII, it was begun in 1441 but took nearly 100 years to complete. The fan vaulting, however, was completed in just three years, 1512 to 1515. Although the tour was delayed when the guide failed to turn up, it was worth waiting for. I would have liked to attend choral Evensong in the Chapel, but as with the four cathedrals I had visited, the choir was spending the summer elsewhere and there was no substitute the days I was in town.


Having visited the Ashmolean Museum and the Botanical Gardens in Oxford, I now proceeded to visit the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Botanical Gardens in Cambridge. The Fitzwilliam featured a great deal of china, both Japanese and European, a number of attractive fans, and a temporary exhibition on illuminated manuscripts, but on balance I think I would recommend the Ashmolean. However, there was no question but that Cambridge’s Botanical Gardens were bigger and better, with more varied and educational plantings.


Cambridge’s train station was inconveniently situated out of the center, but the town had a good bus system. I ate a not very good dinner at Bill’s – the chicken initially arrived undercooked – a quite good curry at Vedanta – for which a reservation is recommended – and a filling and delicious appetizer with a side of chips (fries) at Senate. I also drank quite a lot of coffee at various Caffe Nero’s, a chain that knows how to make a proper macchiato (although I have since been informed that I should boycott them because of tax evasion).

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August 26-30, 2016: After Chester I headed back south by train to spend the August Bank Holiday weekend with my elder sister. The train was so packed for the run to Crewe that the reservation system had booked a family with kids into the quiet car. The train largely emptied out at Crewe, but the family remained. My sister lives on the edge of the new(ish) town of Milton Keynes. I say edge advisedly, as I could see sheep and later cows from my bedroom window, and one morning we walked to the local church for coffee, and I found that it had been built in the thirteenth century. (Since I was staying with my sister I was no longer restricted to public transport, and she drove me to a couple of sites that might be difficult to reach by bus.)
The first afternoon we visited Wrest Park, although the weather wasn’t very suitable for what is mostly an outdoor attraction. But at least the rain merely threatened. The de Greys first settled at Wrest in the fourteenth century, but the formal gardens were begun in the second half of the seventeenth century by Amabel, the wife of the 10th earl. Further extended in the next century, the finishing touches were supplied by Britain’s great landscape architect ‘Capability’ Brown. The current house itself, built only in the 1830s, is mostly off limits to visitors, but we did see some of the ground floor rooms, resolutely French and unfurnished. After a checkered career in the 20th century, including stints as a military hospital and a research institute, the house and grounds are now in the care of English Heritage. The grounds were extensive, decorated with statues, and with the ‘Long Water’ leading to an impressive baroque pavilion.


The next day we went back to Waddesdon Manor, which we had visited in 2014 for the Christmas decorations. The decorations had been impressive, with plenty of pretty trees in the house, and some imaginative light features in the grounds, but we really hadn’t been able to appreciate the rooms and furnishings. This time we made a day of it, with morning coffee in the cafe in the former stables, a formal (and very good) lunch in the restaurant, a two hour tour of the building with audio guide, and coffee with scones and clotted cream to top things off. I could easily have spend longer, as the house was full of interesting and beautiful objects, and the audio guide was informative. The house was built in the 1870s for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, who wanted a house in the style of a Loire chateau, where he could entertain weekend guests. We had visited another Rothschild house, Ascott, the last time I stayed with my sister, and that, too, had been well worth seeing.



And on Bank Holiday Monday we went over to Newport Pagnell for a Civil War reenactment. Yes, the English Civil War – I confess that I have now lived in the US long enough that my first thought was of the Union versus the Confederacy, but England had a Civil War, too. Fought between supporters of the monarchy on one side, and Parliament on the other, it started in 1642 and the fighting ended in 1651. Depending on how you look at it, though, it might be said to have finally ended with the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Charles I having been executed in 1649. The intervening years had featured first a Commonwealth and then a Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. It had not been a popular regime, and after Cromwell’s death there was no enthusiasm for continuing it. The monarchy after the war, however, was a different institution than it had been before, when Charles I insisted that he ruled by divine right and could ignore Parliament. I consider the Civil War more important for the development of democracy in England than the Magna Carta, although it seems to be the Magna Carta that gets all the attention.


I have always been a little conflicted about the Civil War. The Royalists (I knew them as Cavaliers, and the opposition as Roundheads, but the reenacters objected to those terms) seemed more dashing and romantic, and the Parliamentarians overly somber and puritanical, but intellectually, of course, I supported Parliament. However, here there was a supporter of Parliament got up with lace collar and cuffs, and it is certainly true that even aristocratic families could be split over which side to support. The reenactment itself was a bit sedate, and seemed to be more for the participants than the audience, as despite a lot of gunfire and even cannon fire, no one acted killed or injured during the half hour we watched. There was a fair amount of marching and drumming, and the small contingent of horse galloped around every so often, but it was mostly a big photo op. Off the field of battle tents were set up with various demonstrations and I was pleased to see a spinning wheel actually in use.

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August 25: Chester would make a reasonable base for a day trip to Liverpool, which I am told now has a revitalized river area, with good new museums. However, none of the museums particularly interested me, and I chose to visit Port Sunlight on the Wirral peninsula instead. Although my elder sister and her family had lived on the Wirral, between the Mersey and the Dee, for some years, and we had visited often, somehow we had never gone to Port Sunlight, even though we lived in Letchworth, the First Garden City, a town begun on somewhat similar principles.
Port Sunlight was built as a company town, but it should in no way be confused with the infamous company towns in the US designed by mine owners to effectively enslave their workers. Lord Leverhulme, born William Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers (now part of Unilever), wanted his employees to have healthy accommodation with light and air, and the village was laid out with plenty of open space and facilities for communal activity. He also provided health care for his employees, and was an advocate of old age pensions. Although the excellent small museum informed me that the houses had been built in north-west vernacular style, many of them could have been transplanted from Letchworth, in the south-east. Port Sunlight was begun a couple of decades before Letchworth, but the Quaker founders of the latter were in close contact with Lord Lever, and the 1902 meeting of the Garden City Association was held in Liverpool with Lord Leverhulme presiding, so the similarities are perhaps not surprising. Letchworth, however, was a town rather than a village, much bigger and with a commercial center and multiple factories.


Among the facilities for communal activity were dining halls – separated by sex in the early years – and a hall for concerts. I was interested to discover that the first concert the Beatles performed after Ringo Starr took over as drummer, was held in Port Sunlight. Of course, the village is no longer so tied to Unilever, although there is still a factory on site, and the current arrangements, which include restrictions on the appearance of the buildings, expire next year. The communal ethos led to a mass sign up of volunteers for the First World War, and a large war memorial dominates a central park. Nearby is a memorial area for the victims of the Hillsborough soccer disaster in 1989. In contrast I found an unusual floral sun dial. If you stood on the correct month stone, your shadow would fall on the stone for the hour – one set for “natural” time, and one for summer time. As the instructions pointed out, you needed sunshine for it to work, and therefore I couldn’t try it.


Lord Leverhulme amassed a considerable collection of art, and built a classically-styled museum to hold it. Unfortunately, I was rather tired by the time I visited it, and didn’t spend as much time as it deserved inside. I did admire a considerable collection of Wedgewood china, an unusual Tang horse, and some Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
Walking to one of the two stations serving the village to catch a commuter train back to Chester, I passed a bowling green with a small group of serious-looking men in possession. Further on, a larger group of women were also playing bowls, and on chatting to one of them I learned they were on a group outing. I’m sure Lord Leverhulme would have approved.


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Checking Out Chester


August 24-26, 2016: Getting to Chester by rail was not a problem – the Birmingham-bound train duly stopped on request – although it was crowded. Getting from the station to my B&B by bus wasn’t a problem, thanks to my Android phone and its map app. Getting into the Grosvenor Place Guesthouse turned out to be an unexpected problem. My booking instructions said that check-in was at 3:00, but that I could leave luggage at “a laundry round the corner”. I can state definitively that there is no longer a laundry anywhere near the guesthouse. No-one answered the door bell and no-one answered the emergency number listed outside. Fortunately, a couple of men showed up on motor bikes, and were able to rouse someone in the house.

I left my bigger bag, collected the code for the front door, and set off into the very crowded town center in search of lunch. The place I picked, near the cathedral, was more of a tea place, and I indulged in a scone and clotted cream for dessert, with white tea selected from an extensive menu. The dark grey modern tower next door turned out to be a replacement bell tower, while the cathedral was close by in the other direction. Perhaps because it was my fourth cathedral in a week, I was not particularly impressed by Chester, except for the late fourteenth century misericords, which were beautiful. Unconstrained by the religious doctrine manifest elsewhere in the building, the carvers were able to have fun.


The day was fine, and the forecast for the next day not so good, so I walked down to the river and took the last cruise of the day – hardly an economic proposition for the owners, as the fair-sized boat only carried one family and me. I enjoyed this cruise much more than the canal trip in Gloucester, as there were plenty of interesting buildings to admire. Afterwards I did part of the wall walk. Aside from the walls, Chester’s main claim to fame is it’s medieval ‘rows’, the two crossing main streets, originally laid out by the Romans, lined with Tudor style buildings, with arcades. You can walk under the arcades, at ground level, or one level up, in both cases with shelter from sun and rain. These streets were mobbed with tourists during the day, but I quickly discovered that I could shake the crowds simply by going up, and walking above ground.


The day I left Chester I visited the Grosvenor Museum, just round the corner from my rather unsatisfactory guesthouse, and across the street from Chester’s historic racecourse, first used as such in 1539. I found the Roman artifacts surprisingly disappointing, and the impressive display of local silver too brightly lit. I was glad to have seen Chester again, but the crowds convinced me that August was not the best time to visit.


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Wet Days in Shrewsbury


August 19-20, 2016: Getting from Worcester to Shrewsbury, my next stop, by train required at least one change. I chose to make the transfer at Birmingham New Street, and the change, facilitated by elevators, was easy. However, the ride to Birmingham was not. The train was made up of only two carriages, and both were packed. I had to stand until the first stop, where I was able to claim a jump seat previously occupied by a young woman buried in her newspaper. In contrast, the four carriages on the next leg, Birmingham to Holyhead on the eastern edge of the Isle of Anglesey, were largely empty. The back two were dropped at Shrewsbury, where for the first time this trip I opted to take a taxi to my hotel as it was raining. A local sharing the elevator with me advised avoiding the cabs in the station forecourt and crossing the street to Vincent’s Taxis.
After the lovely Crown in Worcester, I had high hopes for the Shrewsbury Hotel, also above a pub and also run by JD Weatherspoon. What a disappointment! I was so surprised I checked on line to see whether Weatherspoon was a franchise operation (it wasn’t). My full review is on Tripadvisor, but my first room was so miserable I complained. The second was only somewhat better and I was very glad to be staying only one night. I didn’t care much for the look of the bar either, and only ate breakfast there.


I had thought I might visit Ludlow and the iconic Feathers Inn while I was in Shrewsbury, or even take a hike in the Malvern Hills. I had had a good view of the Malverns from the train to Hereford, rising steeply from the plain. However, the weather did not cooperate, and I stayed in Shrewsbury. A pleasant enough town, I suppose, although with some pretty steep streets, but not much to do besides admire the Tudor buildings. I did fit in a stroll by the river during a break in the weather, and wondered what to make of a large arch commemorating Darwin’s birth in the town.


Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael mysteries had originally interested me in visiting, but little is left from the medieval period. The Benedictine Abbey suffered badly in the Reformation, and only the church is left. It was closed when I went by after visiting the castle. I’m afraid the regimental museum in the castle failed to hold my interest. St. Mary’s church had a very nice roof that had been rebuilt after a major storm in the late 1800s, but the City Museum was about as interesting as the regimental museum… I regretted not spending an extra night in Worcester.

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Happier in Hereford


August 18, 2016: Hereford was an improvement on Gloucester, although I still preferred Worcester. The train station was far enough out that I took a bus to the cathedral, and I certainly got plenty of exercise in town. Again, I had a personal tour of the cathedral, this time with an elderly lady. My first impression of the cathedral was that it was a good bit smaller than the other two, and this was confirmed by my guide. She regretted, several times, that the space was not really big enough for the Three Choirs Festival and especially, the loss of the westernmost bay, where the tower had collapsed in 1786 (ironically on Easter Monday) and not been replaced. Much of the cathedral had been rebuilt in Victorian times, and most of the stained glass was also Victorian.

However, an unusual, and rather beautiful, golden crown hovered over the main altar, there were Norman arches and even a few repurposed Roman columns, and some misericords, which I always enjoy. But the cathedral’s real claims to fame are the Mappa Mundi and the chained library. I had seen several reproductions of the 14th century map of the world in books on early cartography, and really you would need a magnifying glass to see the details on the real one. A medieval mindset, for which Jerusalem was the unquestioned center of the world, and therefore the center of the map, would also help. The UK was squashed in down at the bottom left.
I’m afraid I was disappointed with the chained library. The books were certainly chained, and there were certainly a lot of them, but they were housed in a new, purpose built room. Perhaps I would have found the display more interesting had I not so recently seen chained books, and had the system explained to me, in the Bodleian.


After lunch I visited the Cider Museum. As a student in England I drank a lot of cider, and I have visited quite a few vineyards, but this was the first time I had seen a cider production facility. Originally, farmers made their own, as some probably still do, and the early wooden cider presses were on display, along the with the horn tumblers used for drinking it. So were a number of pieces of beautiful early glass. I spent long enough reading labels and watching videos that I didn’t make it back into town in time to visit Hereford’s other tourist site, the Old House, but I was able to take pictures of the outside.

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August 16, 2016: I had had thoughts of visiting Tewkesbury on the way to or from Gloucester, but on closer examination the bus timetables didn’t work terribly well, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to a lot of trouble to see an abbey when I was already seeing three cathedrals in the neighborhood. The trains to Gloucester weren’t very user-friendly either, basically only running once every two hours. Still, they did run, although Gloucester station was a bit out of the center, and the walk wasn’t through the nicest part of town. I was glad I wasn’t doing it with luggage.
The cathedral was my main target, so I started there, beginning by walking the big cloth labyrinth just inside the west door. The labyrinth was on loan fron the US, and I suspected I had already walked it when it was in Duke Chapel. Next I took a look at the very Norman crypt, along with four other people and a volunteer guide. The crypt had, of course, been holding up the very heavy weight of the cathedral for nearly a millennium, and necessary repairs were often visible. After we resurfaced, the other people took off, and I had a guide to myself for the body of the cathedral.


While much of the fabric was Norman, later Perpendicular windows provided more light than was usual in a Norman church. Most of the stained glass was later still, dating from the Victorian era. The cathedral was an impressive 426 feet (130 meters) long, but the view was interrupted by the installation of the organ above the choir screen. Notable burials included Prince Arthur, Henry VII’s oldest son and first husband of Catherine of Aragon, and Edward II, deposed in 1327 and murdered in Berkeley Castle in 1330. The presence of his remains in Gloucester Cathedral led to royal patronage and maybe saved the building (then a Benedictine abbey) from destruction at the time of the Reformation. The abbey’s cloisters were still intact and boasted some very nice fan vaulting.


My afternoon options included a canal boat ride and the folk museum. Unfortunately, I made the wrong choice, as the boat ride was quite uninteresting, and the folk museum closed too early for me to see it as well. The boat used for the cruise turned out, much to my surprise, to have participated in the small boat rescue of the troops at Dunkirk in 1940. I wouldn’t have thought it capable of service in the English Channel. I could have visited the Docks Museum, but it looked like it was mostly devoted to machinery and I visited the City Museum instead, which included a special exhibition of robots from film and TV. I also took a look at the “Tailor of Gloucester” shop, and some nice Tudor buildings on the main street, but I wound up killing time before the next train back to Worcester.

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Wowed by Worcester


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.

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