Worcester, officially known as the City of Worcester, is a city and the county town of Worcestershire in the West Midlands of England. Worcester is situated some southwest of the southern suburbs of Birmingham and north of Gloucester, and has an approximate population of 100,000 people. The River Severn runs through the middle of the city, overlooked by the 12th-century Worcester Cathedral. The site of the final battle of the Civil War, Worcester was where Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army defeated King Charles II's Cavaliers, cementing the English Interregnum, the eleven-year period during which England and Wales became a republic. Worcester was the home of Royal Worcester Porcelain and, for much of his life, the composer Sir Edward Elgar. It houses the Lea & Perrins factory where the traditional Worcestershire Sauce is made, and is home to one of the UK's fastest growing universities, the University of Worcester.
The trade route past Worcester which later formed part of the Roman Ryknild Street dates to Neolithic times. The position commanded a ford over the River Severn (the river was tidal past Worcester prior to public works projects in the 1840s) and was fortified by the Britons around 400 . It would have been on the northern border of the Dobunni and probably subject to the larger communities of the Malvern hillforts. The Roman settlement at the site passes unmentioned by Ptolemy's Geography, the Antonine Itinerary, and the Register of Dignitaries but would have grown up on the road opened between Glevum (Gloucester) and Viroconium (Wroxeter) in the 40s and 50s. It may have been the "Vertis" mentioned in the 7th-century Ravenna Cosmography. Using charcoal from the Forest of Dean, the Romans operated pottery kilns and ironworks at the site and may have built a small fort.
In the 3rd century, Roman Worcester occupied a larger area than the subsequent medieval city, but silting of the Diglis Basin caused the abandonment of Sidbury. Industrial production ceased and the settlement contracted to a defended position along the lines of the old British fort at the river terrace's southern end. This settlement is generally identified with the listed among the 28 cities of Britain by the History of the Britons attributed to Nennius. This is not a British name but an adaption of its Old English name , "fort of the Weorgoran". The Weorgoran (the "people of the winding river") were precursors of Hwicce and probably West Saxons who entered the area some time after the 577 Battle of Dyrham. In 680, their fort at Worcester was chosen—in preference to both the much larger Gloucester and the royal court at Winchcombe—to be the seat of a new bishopric, suggesting there was already a well-established and powerful Christian community when the site fell into English hands. The oldest known church was , which was certainly British; the Saxon cathedral was dedicated to St Peter.
The town was almost destroyed in 1041 after a rebellion against the punitive taxation of Harthacanute. During this time, the townsfolk relocated to (and at times were besieged at) the nearby Bevere Island, 2 miles upriver. The following century, the town (then better defended) was attacked several times (in 1139, 1150 and 1151) during "The Anarchy", i.e. civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I. This is the background to the well-researched historical novel The Virgin in the Ice, part of Ellis Peters' "Cadfael" series, which begins with the words:
"It was early in November of 1139 that the tide of civil war, lately so sluggish and inactive, rose suddenly to wash over the city of Worcester, wash away half of its lifestock, property and women, and send all those of its inhabitants who could get away in time scurrying for their lives northwards away from the marauders". (These are mentioned as having arrived from Gloucester, leaving a long lasting legacy of bitterness between the two cities.)
By late medieval times the population had grown to around 10,000 as the manufacture of cloth started to become a large local industry. The town was designated a county corporate, giving it autonomy from local government.
Worcester was the site of the Battle of Worcester (3 September 1651), when Charles II attempted to forcefully regain the crown, in the fields a little to the west and south of the city, near the village of Powick. However, Charles II was defeated and returned to his headquarters in what is now known as King Charles house in the Cornmarket, before fleeing in disguise to Boscobel House in Shropshire from where he eventually escaped to France. Worcester was one of the cities loyal to the King in that war, for which it was given the epithet "Fidelis Civitas" ("The Faithful City"). This motto has been incorporated into the city's coat of arms.
In 1670, the River Severn broke its banks and the subsequent flood was the worst ever seen by Worcester. A brass plate can be found on a wall on the path to the cathedral by the path along the river showing how high this flood went, and other flood heights of more recent times are also shown in stone bricks. The closest flood height to what is known as The Flood of 1670 was when the Severn flooded in the torrential rains of July 2007.
The Royal Worcester Porcelain Company factory was founded by Dr John Wall in 1751, although it no longer produces goods. A handful of decorators are still employed at the factory and the Museum is still open.
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Worcester was a major centre for glove making, employing nearly half the glovers in England at its peak (over 30,000 people). In 1815 the Worcester and Birmingham Canal opened, allowing Worcester goods to be transported to a larger conurbation.
The British Medical Association (BMA) was founded in the Board Room of the old Worcester Royal Infirmary building in Castle Street in 1832. While most of the Royal Infirmary has now been demolished to make way for the University of Worcester's new city campus, the original Georgian building has been preserved. One of the old wards opened as a medical museum, The Infirmary, in 2012.
In 1882 Worcester hosted the Worcestershire Exhibition, inspired by the Great Exhibition in London.There were sections for exhibits of fine arts (over 600 paintings), historical manuscripts and industrial items.The profit was £1,867.9s.6d. The number of visitors is recorded as 222,807. Some of the profit from the exhibition was used to build the Victoria Institute in Foregate Street, Worcester. This was opened on 1 October 1896 and now houses the library and museum. Further information about the exhibition can be found at the museum.
During World War II, the city was chosen to be the seat of an evacuated government in case of mass German invasion. The War Cabinet, along with Winston Churchill and some 16.000 state workers, would have moved to Hindlip Hall (now part of the complex forming the Headquarters of West Mercia Police), north of Worcester, and Parliament would have temporarily seated in Stratford-upon-Avon. The former RAF station RAF Worcester was located east of Northwick.
In the 1950s and 1960s large areas of the medieval centre of Worcester were demolished and rebuilt as a result of decisions by town planners. This was condemned by many such as Nikolaus Pevsner who described it as a "totally incomprehensible... act of self-mutilation". There is still a significant area of medieval Worcester remaining, but it is a small fraction of what was present before the redevelopments.