Worcester is a Roman town dominated by the truculent and longest river in England, the Severn, so, with its ancient history, our first priority was to set about learning more about this important city and, after the obligatory coffee break, we set off towards the Information Office. This is contained in a part of the Guildhall, a famous Queen Anne style civic building of 1721 designed in wonderful red brick by a stonemason called Thomas White. The City Art Gallery is further north along the pedestrianised main street but, unfortunately, the permanent exhibition of paintings and sculptures had been stored to accommodate ‘Celebrity’, a collection of film star icons. It included a pair of Fred Astaire’s two tone leather shoes, a ‘little black dress ‘ belonging to Marilyn Monroe and given to her sister, who couldn’t get into it, a pair of earrings worn by Elisabeth Taylor in the film Cleopatra where she first met her ‘double indemnity’ Richard Burton, and a signed Chuck Berry guitar. Whist viewing this I was engaged by a local who enthusiastically told me that a host of great sixties popular musicians, including Eddie Cochrane, Buddy Holly, the Stones and Beatles played in the city.
Approaching lunchtime we walked to the river’s edge for a place to sit but were caught out by a prolonged shower which necessitated snuggling under a lime tree and a very small umbrella! Continuing south along the river path we climbed up to College Green, an open space adjacent to the Cathedral. We entered, gratefully free of charge, through the cloisters to the east end of the nave. Looking up into these spaces always induces a feeling of wonderment at the precise geometry, dexterity with materials and sophisticated construction with basic tools. Worcester, a Benedictine foundation, was built between 1084 and 1374 in the Norman, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular Mediaeval styles. It has the only circular Chapter House in England and houses the tomb of the notorious King John.
We were able to eavesdrop on and enjoy a rehearsal by the polyphonic Cardinall’s Musick who were to give a concert later in the day.
After a cup of tea and a cake in the Chapter House cafe we went into the tented crafts exhibition on College Green, which was displaying pieces by local Art Associations. These included glassware, pottery, ceramics, oil and watercolour paintings, beadwork, textile and stomp work plus a few items of furniture. Well worth the long browse.
From here we walked the short distance to the two Tudor town houses in Friar Street. These both date from the time of the Plantagenet Tudor dynasty change in 1485 and reflect the accelerating shift in influence from the aristocratic and religious to the mercantile. Indicating the status of their trading owners they were built on the town wall near the monastery, with timber frames and wattle and daub infill, housing units on the ground floor for weaving and brewing with living accommodation above. Both had external corridors at street level leading to the rear of the property, the Greyfriars House with a beautifully designed and planted walled garden which provided a wonderful time for some welcome contemplation.
Then, after some shop browsing and another cup of tea, we returned to the pick up point for our journey home.
Some of the group were fortunate to obtain passes for the rehearsal for the evening concert, part of the Three Choirs Festival. We sat for an hour listening to the ravishingly beautiful Faure Requiem and a lovely newer choral work (2009) by Jonathan Dove ‘There was a Child’. In the fine acoustic of this magnificent cathedral the sounds from the singers and the excellent Philharmonia Orchestra were sublime. An added feature was observing the art of the conductor. We heard music that we thought was perfect but then listened when he stopped the action and gave his comments, advice, and sometimes admonishment, to the choir and the orchestra. We marvelled at the noticeable improvements that he managed to elicit. A wonderful bonus to our day.
Another of our group was fortunate to attend a concert by The Cardinall’s Musick, a renowned early music vocal ensemble, who performed four magnificent Tudor ‘symphonies’ in one concert. This included Gaude gloriosa by Tallis and Vox patris caelestis by Mundy. Jean Stevenson’s comment: “most beautiful polyphonic singing in the wonderful setting of the Cathedral.”