Worcester: what lies beneath the streets of this historic city
PUBLISHED: 11:43 10 September 2015 | UPDATED: 11:43 10 September 2015
Worcester’s £1.1m Cathedral Plaza revamp is uncovering some gems from the city’s fascinating past
So, you’re sitting around in 400 AD, as you do, in the clearing in front of your Worcester hut with the fam’, getting on with the day’s toil, in the sunshine. Your husband Lucius is lost in concentration as he crafts a farming tool to sell and he’s showing young Felix the skills required for the task. Felix has ideas of becoming a blacksmith like his Uncle Atticus but for the moment looks longingly over at his sister Tatiana’s freedom as she skips along playing with her clay doll and rolling her ball along the ground before she is set to learning how to bake. You carry on folding the fruit into the dough for breakfast’s Ientaculum to lay on the charcoal later. Your aged mother, Tatiana, sits alone close by, occupying herself with scraping her skin with oil and a strigil to clean herself.
Well of course this is a loosely created scene of the past from my overactive imagination, but could you have possibly thought back then that the discarded broken pot by your side might rock up from the ground once more many centuries later, with future humans poring over it with voracious interest? Incredible when you think about it. Who would have imagined such simple objects, crudely fashioned by today’s standards, could survive the elements, but survive they have.
In the recent 10-week archeological dig at the Cathedral roundabout in Worcester, such fruits were unearthed with fervent excitement. Not exactly my Augusta’s thrown away pot, but a Saxon storage jar dating from 800 AD, believed to be Stafford produced, was found. Other finds include some Royal Worcester early pottery, some medieval roof tiles and a WWII Military Police cap. Old Lich Street evidence came into view in the excavation, where 1960s residential homes were razed to the ground in order to create the roundabout. The dig also exposed Georgian and Victorian cellars of properties in Lich Street.
It all came about as part of the ongoing £1.1m Cathedral Plaza revamp, work for which has begun and is scheduled for completion in spring of 2016. Funds are to be met by Worcestershire County Council, the City Council and investors Salmon Harvester. Regeneration plans are for a 220,000 sq. ft. shopping centre at the site. It includes a public square in front of the cathedral, retail units, gym facilities, several eateries and a supermarket. It is hoped the new businesses springing up will produce much new employment to be gained for the area, but in the process the site had to be overseen by Worcestershire Archive and Archeological Service, which then put into place the Tudor House Museum Exhibition in Friar Street.
“It has been an interesting project with tremendous public appreciation,” Simon Woodiwiss, Principal Field Archeologist at Worcestershire County Council tells me, “which we are so pleased about. We’ve tried to share the finds as much as possible in an open way with the public, it is most gratifying. We have had to overcome obstacles such as getting safe access to the roundabout site with traffic in mind.
“When such redevelopment plans are started, we keep a close eye so that we can record any important finds before work gets too far ahead. This has been very fruitful and fascinating.
“The artefacts were cleaned, dried, marked with codes and regions in which they were found. They are weighed and recorded with dates and purpose of use. The finds will be advantageous for educational purposes. A particular favourite of mine is a relic of the church. Even children will be able to study pictures and see immediately from where it came. We are now in the process of writing a technical report of the finds, and the items will at future events be able to be shown and appreciated by all.”
The city of Worcester is always a fascinating place to visit, with the Elgar trail, its cathedral, theatre, historic Friar Street with the 15th-century merchant house Greyfriars and Tudor House Heritage Centre. The River Severn runs through with its ubiquitous and numerous swans, and provides calm respite from the busy and popular shopping centre. A university city with racecourse too, it would seem to have something for everyone.
An event in the city to jot down to attend is the King John, Magna Carta and Worcester Cathedral Exhibition at the Cathedral. It runs currently until December 2016. This marks the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta this year and also the 800th Anniversary of the death of King John, which falls due in 2016. In September there are pre-booked group visits to the Medieval Library where you will be able to view King John’s will; the oldest remaining Royal Testament in England.
It is not the first time Roman treasures have been found in Worcestershire; in 2011 a coin hoard was uncovered by enthusiast metal detectives Jethro Carpenter and Mark Gilmore on Bredon Hill. Maybe it’s time to take up a new hobby? Check out websites Midlandmdc.co.uk ; ncmd.co.uk ; WorcesterCathedral.co.uk and diglichstreet.blogspot.co.uk for more information.
Who knows what else Augusta and her family may have left behind for us to uncover from the earth of our Cotswolds region?