History of Worcestershire

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Worcestershire was the heartland of the early English kingdom of the Hwicce, one of the peoples of Anglo-Saxon England. The exact boundaries of their kingdom are uncertain, though it is likely that they coincided with those of the old Diocese of Worcester, founded in 679–80, of which the early bishops bore the title Episcopus Hwicciorum. The kingdom would therefore have included Worcestershire except for its northwestern tip.[1]

Absorbed by the Kingdom of Mercia during the 7th century and then by the unified Kingdom of England from 927 to 1707, it was a separate ealdormanship briefly in the 10th century before forming part of the Earldom of Mercia in the 11th century. In the years leading up to the Norman conquest in 1066, the Church, including the cathedral, Evesham Abbey, Pershore Abbey, Malvern Priory and other religious houses, increasingly dominated county.

Worcester appears frequently in the historic records prior to the Viking era, often with reference to the church and monastic communities, and showing evidence of extensive ecclesiastical ownership of lands. During King Alfred's reign, the earls of Mercia fortified Worcester "for the protection of all the people" at the request of Bishop Werfrith. It appears that maintenance of the defences was to be paid for by the townspeople. A unique document detailing this and privileges granted to the church also outlines the existence of Worcester's market and borough court, differentiation between church and market quarters within the city, as well as the role of the King in relation to the roads.[2]

Worcester's fortifications would most likely have established the line of the wall that was extant until the 1600s, perhaps excepting the south east area near the former castle. It is referred to as a wall by contemporaries, so may have been of stone.[2]

Oswald and Eadnoth

Worcester was a centre of monastic learning and church power. Oswald of Worcester was an important reformer, appointed Bishop in 961, jointly with York. The last Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Worcester, Wulfstan, or St Wulstan, was also an important reformer, and stayed in post until his death in 1095.

Worcester became the focus of tax resistance against the Danish Harthacanute. Two huscarls were killed in May 1041 while attempting to collect taxes for the expanded navy, after being driven into the Priory, where they were murdered. A military force was sent to deal with the non-payment, while the townspeople attempted to defend themselves by moving to and occupying the island of Bevere, two miles up river, where they were then besieged. After Harthacnut's men had sacked the city and set it alight, agreement was reached.[2]

The last Anglo-Saxon sheriff of the county was Cyneweard of Laughern.


The first Norman sheriff was Urse d'Abetot who built the castle of Worcester and seized much church land. Worcestershire was the site of the Battle of Evesham in which Simon de Montfort was killed on 4 August 1265.

During the Middle Ages, much of the county's economy was based on the wool trade, and many areas of its dense forests, such as Feckenham Forest, Horewell Forest, Ombersley, Wyre Forest and Malvern Chase, were royal hunting grounds. Droitwich Spa, being situated on large deposits of salt, was a centre of salt production from Roman times, with one of the principal Roman roads running through the town.

Civil War

Worcestershire was under Royalist control during most of the first civil war. Like many parts of England, there was little enthusiasm for either side, and the initial instincts of many was to try to avoid conflict. Different parts of the county had different sympathies, for instance Evesham was notably Parliamentarian, and Kidderminster also had a strong Parliamentarian contingent. The city of Worcester equivocated about whether to support the Parliamentary cause before the outbreak of civil war in 1642, but eventually sided with Parliament. It was however soon under Royalist occupation, as was the rest of the county.

In 1642 the first major skirmish of the Civil War, the Battle of Powick Bridge, on the River Teme close to Worcester, occurred when a cavalry troop of about 1,000 Royalists commanded by Prince Rupert, a German nephew of the King and one of the outstanding cavalry commanders of the war, defeated a Parliamentary cavalry detachment under the command of Colonel John Brown[3]

Worcester was one of three garrison towns in the county and had to bear the expense of sustaining and billeting a large number of Royalist troops. During the Royalist occupation, the suburbs were destroyed to make defence easier. Responsibility for maintenance of defences was transferred to the military command. High taxation was imposed, and many male residents impressed into the army.[4]

The same pressures created great strain on the county as a whole, as it had to sustain a large, unproductive force drawn out of its productive labour. Taxation, requisitioning by armies and cross-border raids caused great deprivations, made worse by the proximity of Worcestershire to Parliamentary forces to the north around Birmingham, to the east in Warwickshire, and to the south in Bristol and Gloucestershire. Nevertheless, the county was strategically vital to the Royalists, as a bridge from Wales and Ireland back to their headquarters in Oxford. Worcestershire also provided the Royalists with industrial capacity to produce armaments and munitions.

Bands of Clubmen formed in west Worcestershire in the later part of the first war, with the objective of keeping both armies and their demands away from the rural civilan population, to resist despoilation and requisitioning. There was also a vein of resentment towards the prominent role given many Catholics in the county. The Clubmen's Woodbury Hill proclamation stated that they would not obey any Papist or Papist Recusant, "nor ought [they] … be trusted in any office of state, justice, or judicature".[5]

As Royalist power collapsed in May 1646, Worcester was placed under siege. Worcester had around 5,000 civilians, together with a Royalist garrison of around 1,500 men, facing a 2,500-5,000 strong force of the New Model Army. Worcester finally surrendered on 23 July, bringing the first civil war to a close in Worcestershire.[6]

In 1651 a Scottish army marched south along the west coast in support of Charles II's attempt to regain the Crown and entered the county. The 16,000 Scottish force caused Worcester's council to vote to surrender as it approached, fearing further violence and destruction. The Parliamentary garrison decided to withdraw to Evesham in the face of the overwhelming numbers against them. The Scots were billeted in and around the Worcester, again at great expense and causing new anxiety for the residents. The Scots were joined by very limited local forces, including a company of 60 men under John Talbot.[7]

The Battle of Worcester (3 September 1651), took place in the fields a little to the west and south of the city, near the village of Powick. Charles II was easily defeated by Cromwell's forces of 30,000 men.[8] Charles II returned to his headquarters in what is now known as King Charles House in the Cornmarket,[9] before fleeing in disguise with Talbot's help[10] to Boscobel House in Shropshire, from where he eventually escaped to France.

Reformation and after

The county is also home to the world's oldest continually published newspaper, the Berrow's Journal, established in 1690.

Nineteenth century

In the nineteenth century, Worcester was a centre for the manufacture of gloves; the town of Kidderminster became a centre for carpet manufacture, and Redditch specialised in the manufacture of needles, springs and hooks.

Malvern was one of the centres of the 19th century rise in English spa towns due to Malvern water being believed to be very pure, containing "nothing at all". [11]

Twentieth century

In 1974 the county was merged with Herefordshire to form a large single administrative county of Hereford and Worcester which in 1998 was reverted to the original historical counties. Some changes in borders occurred with some areas such as Halesowen, Stourbridge, and the exclave of Dudley, which used to be part of northern Worcestershire becoming part of West Midlands metropolitan county. Yardley had already been made part of Birmingham in the county of Warwickshire. The post-1998 county therefore does not correspond exactly to the pre-1974 boundaries.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Hooke, Della (1985) The Kingdom of the Hwicce , pp.12-13
  2. ^ a b c Willis-Bund & Page 1924
  3. ^ Trevor Royle References pp 171-188
  4. ^ Atkin 2004
  5. ^ Atkin 2004, pp. 117-20
  6. ^ Atkin 2004, pp. 125-7
  7. ^ Atkin 2004, pp. 142-143
  8. ^ Atkin 2004, pp. 142-147
  9. ^ Atkin 2004, p. 146
  10. ^ Atkin 2004, p. 144
  11. ^ Bottled Waters of the World. Retrieved 9 August 2009


General sources

  • Willis-Bund, J W; Page, William, eds. (1971a). "Hospitals: Worcester". A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2. London: British History Online. pp. 175–179. Retrieved 20 May 2018. 
  • Willis-Bund, J W; Page, William, eds. (1971b). "Friaries: Worcester". A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2. London: British History Online. pp. 167–173. Retrieved 13 May 2018. 
  • Willis-Bund, J W; Page, William, eds. (1924). "The city of Worcester: Introduction and borough". A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4. London: British History Online. pp. 376–390. Retrieved 20 May 2018. 

Sources: Medieval history

  • Baker, Nigel; Holt, Richard (1996). "The City of Worcester in the Tenth Century". In Brooks, Nicholas; Cubitt, Catherine. St. Oswald of Worcester : Life and Influence. London, UK: Leicester University Press. ISBN 9780567340313. 
  • Vincent, Nicholas (1994). "Two Papal Letters on the Wearing of the Jewish Badge, 1221 and 1229". 34: 209–24. 
  • Mundill, Robin R (2002). England's Jewish Solution: Experiment and Expulsion, 1262-1290. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-52026-3. 
  • de Blois, Peter (1194). "Against the Perfidy of the Jews". Medieval Sourcebook. University of Fordham. A treatise addressed to John Bishop of Worcester, probably John of Coutances who held that See, 1194-8. 
  • Lazare, Bernard (1903), Antisemitism, its history and causes., New York: The International library publishing co., LCCN 03015369, OCLC 3055229, OL 7137045M 
  • Dyer, Christopher (2000). Bromsgrove: a small town in Worcestershire in the Middle Ages. Occassional Publications. 9. Worcestershire Historical Society. ISSN 0140-9913. 

Sources: Civil War

  • Willis-Bund, John William (1905). The Civil War in Worcestershire 1642-1646 and the Scotch invasion of 1651. Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Company. 
  • Atkin, Malcolm (1998). Cromwell's Crowning Mercy: The Battle of Worcester 1651. Barnsley: Pen and Sword. ISBN 0-7509-1888-8. OL 478350M. 
  • Atkin, Malcolm (2004). Worcestershire under arms. Barnsley: Pen and Sword. ISBN 1-84415-072-0. OL 11908594M. 
  • Atkin, Malcolm (1995). The Civil War in Worcestershire (illustrated ed.). Alan Sutton Pub. ISBN 9780750910507. 
  • Atkin, Malcolm (2007). "Civil War archaeology". In Brooks, Alan; Pevsner, Nikolaus. Worcestershire. Pevsner Architectural Guides: The Buildings of England (illustrated, revised ed.). Yale University Press. p. 53. ISBN 9780300112986. 
  • Atkin, Malcolm (2008). Worcester 1651. Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1-84415-080-9. 

General sources and further reading

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