Many years ago, when I was a youngster at school, I remember a teacher telling the class that Great Britain resembled a man riding a pig. So if that’s the case, where in this picture does Worcestershire fit? The neck of the pig or the thigh of the rider? But one thing is certain - Worcestershire can be reckoned to be more or less in the centre of Britain and through its history can be looked on as being central to quite a few historical events. From the dastardly gunpowder plot, where some of its families tried to destroy the king, to it being designated a place of refuge for our royal family and politicians should Hitler invade. Worcestershire has been the birthplace of some famous names. Among them Kidderminster-born Roland Hill. Without him the stamp may never have come into existence. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was born in Stourport-on-Severn to a well-respected family who had lived in the town for many years. Worcestershire was also the birthplace of Edward Elgar, and so too the music hall artiste, Vesta Tilly. Many of Alfred Houseman’s poems were written on memories he had of walking the Worcestershire countryside as a boy. But it wasn’t just people who had their origins in Worcestershire. Both the Enfield motorbike and the Morgan car were born here.
The oldest part of Worcestershire is said to be the Malvern Hills, pre-dating the stone-age times which saw man leave his cave and spread across the county. As iron age man became more civilised he began setting up homes, farms and villages. Evidence of some of these hill forts can still be seen on the Worcestershire landscape today. Then a more civilised man arrived, having travelled many miles across Europe. The Roman’s built roads and towns and in Worcestershire they discovered Droitwich and its salt. When they left the Saxons arrived and set up the county boundaries we know of today and so Worcestershire was born.
In 1066 William the Conqueror became the last invader from a foreign land and from then Worcestershire developed into the county it is today. King John loved Worcestershire. He loved Worcester and its cathedral so much he was buried there. He had visited the cathedral many times during his reign and the Royal Forests of Worcestershire were said to be his favourites. Arthur, Prince of Wales, the elder brother of Henry VIII, lived at Tickenhill Palace in Bewdley. He too was buried in Worcester Cathedral, amidst pomp and ceremony that Worcester had never seen before.
In the lush countryside of Worcestershire sits Huddington Court which was the home of the Wyntour family. It was here in 1605 that a daring plot was hatched and one of the brothers, Thomas Wyntour, went off to Flanders to recruit Guy Fawkes. We all know the out come but one can’t help wondering what subsequent families living in Huddington Court thought when their neighbourhood skies were awash with fireworks. In nearby Droitwich another pair of brothers were feeling that life in England was not what they wanted. Edward and Gilbert Winslow were eventually to board the Mayflower and sale to a new life in a new world.
Others too were feeling unhappy with the way the country was being run and by 1642 England was split between the king and parliament. Worcestershire was to play its part in the following war-torn years and loyalties all over the county became divided. The first battle of the civil war did actually take place near Worcester, at Powick Bridge, and following that the city became a Royalist stronghold. Even when King Charles surrendered in May 1646 Worcester continued to hold on. But the opposition was too strong and in July the governor of Worcester surrendered. This wasn’t the end though. King Charles’ son was preparing himself in France and in 1650 arrived back on British soil. He made his way to Worcestershire and eventually took hold of Worcester. His armies fought hard but were eventually overcome. Charles escaped back to France and his men dispersed. Some were captured, some had been killed in battle, some just disappeared.
With the restoration of King Charles II Worcestershire joined the new age of progress and improvement. Industry developed. Farming improved. Individual towns began to develop their own trades. Kidderminster produced carpets. Bromsgrove had its nails and Redditch its needles. There was the iron industry and mining in the north, as places such as Dudley attached themselves to the newly formed Black Country. Worcester became known for the more delicate trades of gloves and porcelain. Although we must not forget its famous sauce introduced by Lea and Perrins in 1823. And amongst all this, Droitwich was still producing its salt.
Soon all this industry needed ways to transport its goods and so the canal system was born. Francis Egerton had a dream to connect the four main rivers in England together. The River Severn was one of these rivers and in 1768 the Staffordshire-Worcestershire canal opened. The canal joined the River Severn at its junction with the River Stour in a wild, desolate area. But that area didn’t remain a waste ground for long. Soon the town of Stourport-on-Severn appeared and grew into a thriving community.
Then came the railways and soon the countryside of Worcestershire had lines traversing across it in all directions. These lines took people further afield to places they had only dreamt of. But these lines also brought people into Worcestershire. The spa towns of Malvern, Tenbury and Droitwich soon began receiving visitors. The rich paid fortunes to ‘take the waters’. Others came on working holidays from the cities to earn money picking fruit and to enjoy the fresh air of the countryside. With the arrival of the twentieth century, Worcestershire saw many changes. Some not for the better perhaps, but no doubt these same criticisms had also been spoken of by our Worcestershire ancestors throughout the previous centuries. And will one day be part of our descendants’ histories.
By Vanessa Morgan