12 things you must do when you visit Worcester
PUBLISHED: 13:55 15 July 2019
We sent Tracy Spiers out on a mission to find 12 must-do things in Worcester, and she soon found she was spoilt for choice...
"It was buzzing, you know, full of people and full of pots coming in and out. It was a terribly exciting place. I was sort of thrilled with it when I first came to Worcester and came and saw all the things in Worcester. This was booming and wonderful and exciting." Henry Sandon, patron and former curator of the Museum of Royal Worcester.
The words of Henry Sandon, summing up the atmosphere he experienced on arriving in Worcester and seeing the hustle and bustle of city life through its pots and people are refreshing. It sums up the rich legacy of workmanship in this vibrant place. But whilst porcelain is a key part of Worcester's heritage, this city boasts a fascinating Civil War history, a world-renowned industrial past, a beautiful cathedral, stunning architecture, premiership sport, perfect canal walking and cycling opportunities and is one of the oldest cities in the country. Having not visited before, our youngest two daughters and I required a city tour guide. My Worcestershire-born husband, Rog who studied here in his late teens, fulfilled the role perfectly and together, we came up with the Spiers' Dozen Must-Dos in Worcester. However, we do heartily recommend this is done over a series of visits as many of these attractions and buildings need a number of hours spent there to fully appreciate them.
1. River walks
Our first view of Worcester involved looking across at the River Severn and experiencing not only a bevy of swans bobbing majestically on the water, but a matching set of whites on the cricket field behind. Worcestershire County Cricket Club plays at one of England's most beautiful sporting grounds. As the city is located on the junction of the River Severn and the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, there is plenty of waterside walks or cycle rides along well-maintained towpaths. Diglis Basin is a great starting point for exploring the canal, which helped import cocoa beans for Cadburys and climbs 130 metres from Worcester to Birmingham, using 58 locks, including 30 at Tardebigge - one of the largest lock flights in Europe. Boat trips in the stylish and historic Earl, courtesy of Worcester Boat Trips, run from Easter to late Autumn. The 45-minute cruise departs on the hour from South Quay and is available day or night. As a canal path runner, married to a keen cyclist, completing the Worcester and Birmingham Canal is a definite must for us to complete - whether we can persuade our not-so-athletic children to do it with us, is another matter! We must add here that Worcester also has a variety of self-guided trails or guided tours led by local expert tour guides, which Tourist Information Centre staff can assist with.
A place of prayer and worship for 14 centuries, this has been described as one of England's most interesting cathedrals from an architectural point of view. King John was buried here in 1216 and we hunted out his tomb. It costs a staggering £7,200 every day to keep the Cathedral open to worshippers, visitor and pilgrims alike. We were impressed to discover you can download a free phone app or use interactive touchscreens on the Cathedral floor and in the Crypt to find out more about this amazing building and the faith which inspired it. There is something about cathedrals that make you sit down, look up and admire the amazing architectural artistry in awe as well as contemplate life. If time was permitting, we would have climbed up the 235 steps of the cathedral tower to get a bird's eye view of Worcester. The tower is open (weather permitting) Saturdays/Sundays from April to end of October, school summer holidays and Bank Holidays. Cathedral tours are also available.
This is a definite must if one is to appreciate Worcester's heritage or if indeed anyone in the family is potty about pots. Just a short walk from the cathedral, this is where the world's largest collection of Worcester porcelain is housed and where three centuries of porcelain is cared for. I particularly enjoyed listening to the recordings of former workers explaining processes, comradeship and sharing memories. Last summer saw the opening of a major Heritage Lottery-funded £1.7 million refurbishment which tells the story of over 250 years of ceramic design, innovation and skill which ended up all over the world. Walking around, it is not only a fascinating showcase of wonderful workmanship, but it is a visual social history as cabinet displays reveal how tastes, fashions and habits change from Georgian to Victorian times through to wartime and modern day life. Rosie and I were particularly drawn to a little girl figurine in a long dress called 'Grandmother's Dress' and a boy with a parakeet. Many factory workers claimed that these china infants almost single-handedly kept the factory open when it was on the brink of ruin. Freda Doughty's porcelain children proved extremely popular and brought in much needed finance. Whilst the twins were a little old for the Museum's new explorer backpacks, it didn't stop Kezia being an intrepid safari adventurer in search of tigers, elephants and monkeys! It was also a delight to meet Tony Young, who trained at Royal Worcester, joining as an apprentice and in 1972 was awarded the title of 'best animal and bird artist' by the renowned ceramics expert Henry Sandon. He now spends three days a week in one of the galleries demonstrating his skill in hand painting and gilding. The four of us incidentally really enjoyed the Museum's introductory film featuring Henry Sandon and his son John, well-known faces on BBC television for their expertise in Royal Worcester porcelain.
4. Worcester Guildhall
Situated in the High Street, this stunning Grade I listed building, built in 1721 and designed by Thomas White, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren, has a wow factor about it. It has a rich history and was once the seat of justice throughout the city and housed a prison. The day we visit, there's a gin festival going on, but throughout the year there is a plethora of events to experience. Most importantly it houses the Tourist Information Centre and staff here gave us brilliant advice and help to make our day in Worcester so enjoyable. King George III described the Assembly Room in the Guildhall as 'a handsome gallery' when he visited in 1788. It boasts many striking portraits of Royalty and former Mayors.
5. The Commandery
This deserved more hours than we could spend. It left Rog and I in total awe of those in battle, who were expected to defend their troops whilst wearing an enormous weight on their shoulders, heads and hands. Duty Officer, Alex Bear, who specialises in 17th-century warfare, showed us real fire arms, blades and a mix of medieval and civil weaponry, including a scary-looking cross bow. Much to the amusement of our twins, we both dressed up in buff coats, full back and breast plates and head gear. I tried my best to be a Pikeman and hold my 16ft-long pike, but I think I would have been defeated by my fearsome-looking husband who was armed with a doglock pistol. I could hardly stand up under the weight of the armour and could almost smell the gunpowder of the battlefields. Recently crowned Best Visitor Attraction in Visit Worcestershire's Awards for Excellence, the Commandery is set in a beautiful building with an 800-year history. Famous for being the Royalist Headquarters during the deciding battle of the English Civil War - the Battle of Worcester 1651, the building began life as a hospital offering aid to pilgrims, the poor and the sick. The Painted Chamber, thought to have been where the sick came to pray for recovery, is one of the Commandery's treasures. Paintings on the walls which depict literal religious images in a society when few could read, date back to the late 15th century. Alex told us that they were discovered by accident in the 1930s and restored after being whitewashed over during the dissolution of the monasteries. They are waiting for technology to develop in order to recover the remaining images which lie beneath the paint. As well as being a private home of wealthy cloth merchant Thomas Wylde, the building was used as a College for the Blind, and later a modern print works known as the Littlebury Press, producing everything from books to railway timetables.
It's the perfect place for a family day out with a great mix of interactive exhibitions, new app technology and special spotlight displays. It is worth coming to Worcester just to see this place alone especially for those wanting a real experience of Civil War history, test battle strategy skills and come face-to-face with Oliver Cromwell.
Dates for July include Theatre in the Garden, July 2-14 when the Worcester Rep present a new farce version of Jane Austen's romantic classic with Pride & (Quite a lot of) Prejudice; and Summer at The Commandery from July 23-August 30, where new Explorer Backpacks and activity booklets will be available for younger visitors.
6. General Markets
These are held in Angel Place every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9am-4.30pm. As we visited on a Saturday, as well as the general market, the regular specialist Saturday market, known as the Upmarket was in operation in Worcester High Street. With everything from fine foods, ethnic and Fairtrade clothes, organic soaps and artisan products of every kind it is a popular haunt. Worcester's Sunday market is held every week in the High Street, 10am-4.30pm.
Determined to see this, we found ourselves at the University of Worcester's City Campus which combines history, science, art and technology to tell the medical stories of one of England's oldest infirmaries. Rosie and Kezia enjoyed removing organs and replacing them in the correct place and we were all fascinated by artefacts used in past medical interventions such as amputations and early hot water bottles and inhalers.
This is a great place to observe, absorb and learn. Built more than 100 years ago, the permanent displays highlight stories of Worcester people over the decades. As it is my golden year this year, I was particularly drawn to Fifty Objects Fifty Stories, put together by Garston Philipps who has curated the museum's extensive and varied collected since my birth year 1969. We had fun looking at some of the strange and curious objects Garston had picked including a large hard paste porcelain candelabra and a cow hair ball, similar to a cat's fur ball but much larger which was found in a cow's stomach! The exhibition continues until November 9. We visited on the opening day of The Young Turner: Ambitions in Architecture and the Art of Perspective exhibition which is on display until July 6. This shows the great master's drawings, paintings and engravings from the 1780s to the 1810s. It was particularly fascinating to see Turner's first sketchbook. One exhibition to look out for is May The Toys Be With You, from July 20 until September 14 which will display one of the UK's finest collections of vintage Star Wars toys and original cinema posters.
A must see for any Tudor fans, set in a magnificent 16th-century building.
The Tudor House museum is open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays 10am - 4pm and helps tell the lost story of the city's weaving heritage, its cloth trade and how it shaped the city and its fortunes. It was originally built as three separate houses for weavers, broadcloth makers, and their families, way back in the 1520s.
Throughout the summer there is a chance to learn to weave and create textile art under the guidance of textile artist, Michelle Flint, who will show the process of using a frame loom, including how to warp it, create fabric, the use of colour, and different weave techniques. The two-hour workshops start on Friday, June 28 and run monthly until end October, and will begin at 10.30am.
Built in 1480 by a wealthy merchant, Greyfriars became home to wealthy families up until the 17th century and in 1699 a baker purchased the lease and divided the house into two. For the next 200 years, it became a mixture of homes, shops and businesses of various trade including clothing, hats, bread, leather goods, umbrellas and china riveting. Now a National Trust property, this unique house and garden was rescued by two extraordinary people with a vision to rescue this medieval gem and create a peaceful oasis.
11. Sixways Stadium
We put this in our top 12 in honour of Worcester's rugby history. Currently used mostly for rugby union matches, Sixways is the home stadium of Worcester Warriors. The ground opened 1975 and is so named because it is located off junction 6 of the M5 motorway, which splits into six directions. The city has had a rugby club since 1870 when it was founded by cleric Rev. Francis John Eld, headmaster at a local grammar school. The club started their playing days in white shirts on November 8, 1871.
12. Worcester Woods Country Park
After an extremely busy and informative day, Kezia was desperate to get some action in Worcester's green space, so we stopped off at what is two nature reserves, a huge open field and a busy countryside centre. With two adventure play parks and ancient woodlands, this is a great place to burn up some energy - whether you're 12 like Kezia or veteran like me. It is also a perfect place for a summer BBQ or picnic. Worcester of course has numerous parks to enjoy including Gheluvelt Park, named one of England's top three parks in a public vote carried out by Fields in Trust in 2015; and Cripplegate Park, which like Gheluvelt has Green Flag status. Worcester also has a newly refurbished Civil War playground at Fort Royal Park, located on the site of the Battle of Worcester.
- All bottles of Worcestershire Sauce were produced and bottled in Worcester City before shipped around the world, up until 1875. By then, demand was so high in the US that it had to be imported in casks. Eventually the company's US partner was allowed to produce and bottle the sauce.
- Flood Marks Wall is an unassuming wall on the river path behind the Cathedral which displays the severity of Worcester's floods since c.1700.
- Opened in 2012, The Hive is Europe's first joint university and public library. It has a distinctive look, with seven upward-facing 'cones' and gold cladding.
- Elgar Birthplace Museum, a short drive out of the city centre, gives a fascinating insight into the life and work of composer Sir Edward Elgar, in the 19th century cottage where he was born. The Museum's unique collection of personal possessions, letters, furniture and manuscripts help visitors learn about the man behind the music.
- The Bishop's Old Palace, along with the Cathedral, is one of Worcester's oldest buildings. A bishop lived here before there was a King of England. Considered one of the city's hidden gems, this Grade I listed building has undergone major refurbishment and modernisation in recent years and has had many royal associations including Queen Elizabeth I, King Charles I and James II.
Dates for your diary:
July 6: Worcester Carnival, City Centre
July 22-27: Big Dreamers Children's Festival, City Centre
July 27-28: Worcester Food Festival, City Centre
August 8-10: CAMRA Beer, Cider and Perry Festival, Worcester Racecourse
August 10-26: Worcester Festival, City Centre
August 10: Riverside Arts Fayre, Riverside
August 11: Worcester Show, Gheluvelt Park
September 1-30: Worcester History Month, Various Venues
September 3: Battle of Worcester Commemorations, The Commandery
September 13-15: Worcester Music Festival, City Centre
September 13-22: Heritage Open Weekends, Various Venues
September 14: Comic Con, Worcester Arena
September 21: Worcestershire Pride, City Centre