Archive for September, 2021

The History of Worcester, part 2

Monday, September 27th, 2021

Greetings!  Today, we continue to examine some of the topics which arise in King Richard’s Sword, the sixth book in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  We are focusing on the ancient city of Worcester, the setting for the novel.  In my last post, I began to discuss the medieval history of Worcester from the time of the Norman Conquest in AD 1066; this will continue that history.

I have mentioned that Worcester was well situated on a trade route from England to Wales.  In the medieval period, guilds began to develop in some trades.  The Guild of Merchants in Worcester was incorporated in the 13th century and was the dominant guild by the time of my novel.

There are many houses remaining in Worcester from the medieval period.  A number of them were built by wealthy merchants and inspired my image of the city as I wrote the story.  For example, an ancient jettied house on New Street is shown above on the left.

Several of these medieval houses are on Friary Street and one, in particular, stands out.  It is called Greyfriars House and was my inspiration for Aust House in my story.  This house and Friary Street are named for the defunct Greyfriars Friary which was in this part of the city.  It was once thought that Greyfriars House served guests of the priory, but it was, in fact, built by a merchant.  The building is now run by the National Trust.  Its exterior is shown on the right side of the picture above while its back garden appears below.  Another building on Friary Street is shown at the end of this posting.

Worcester Cathedral is a glorious medieval building with both Norman and Gothic architecture in its construction.  I will deal with it specifically in the next posting.  Other city buildings from the medieval period include the Commandery which I mentioned in my last posting.

There was a Jewish presence in Worcester, but they were much persecuted in the 13th century and expelled in AD 1275.  This had implications for my story because I create a Worcester character in King Richard’s Sword who becomes friends with my heroine, Lady Apollonia.  She learns that he is troubled by the recent revelation that one of his ancestors was a Jew who converted to Christianity to prevent being expelled in the 13th century.

Another implication of the Jewish expulsion involves the lending of money.  Before AD 1275, the Jews in Worcester had been useful as money lenders because the Roman Catholic Church frowned on Christians lending money and charging interest.   As the merchant class was growing in the 14th century people needed to borrow money to grow their businesses.  When Jews were no longer resident in England, the only lenders were individuals who did not feel bound by the Christian sanction against lending.  This led to some despicable characters who practiced usury, the lending of money at unreasonably high rates of interest.  Some of the villains in my story were usurious and took advantage of Worcester people who needed money, trapping them in the exorbitant interest rates they charged.

Please join us next time when I will focus on the ancient history of Worcester Cathedral.

The History of Worcester, part 1

Monday, September 13th, 2021

Greetings!  Today, we continue to examine some topics which arise in King Richard’s Sword, the sixth book in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  Our attention is focused on the ancient city of Worcester, the setting for the novel.  In my last post I spoke of the development of Worcester from pre-Roman times through the Saxon period.  This post will deal with the history of the city from the time of the Norman Conquest in AD 1066.

William the Conqueror used the five years after the Conquest to consolidate his power in England.  He appointed Urse d’Abetot to be Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1069.  Urse immediately began construction of Worcester Castle, just to the south of Worcester Cathedral, with the castle impinging on the cemetery of the monks who formed the cathedral chapter.  The picture shown above is of the medieval refectory of the monks that faces what is left of the monks’ cemetery and the castle.

The motte and bailey of this Norman castle overlooked the River Severn at a point where it could be forded at low tide.  Wood was used in the castle’s initial construction but was later upgraded to stone.  Early in the 13th century, the use of Worcester Castle was reduced to just a goal (jail) which plays a role in King Richard’s Sword.

In my previous blog posting, I mentioned that Saint Wulfstan was the last of the Saxon Bishops to survive in the Norman era.  There was much friction between the sheriff and the bishop with the Bishop of Worcester usually coming out on top.

Worcester was a center of religious life with the presence of several monasteries including the Benedictine priory which housed Worcester Cathedral.  Saints Oswald and Wulfstan, mentioned in my last posting, each founded a hospital that served the city.  Wulfstan’s Hospital shown above was near Sidbury Gate.  This gate to the medieval city appears in the prologue to my book.

The hospital itself served also as almshouses and what we now would call a hospice.  The present building is up to 800 years old.  The exterior of its great hall is shown in the previous picture, while the interior of the hall appears in the picture to the left.

The early 13th century brought a rebuilding of the walls to the growing city and there are many remnants of those walls.  A water-filled ditch was just outside the walls except along the River Severn.  The picture below shows what is left of the medieval wall along the east side of the city. Much of the medieval wall was levelled in AD 1651 following the battle of Worcester, leaving what you see today.


The medieval walls of the city had many gates.  The Water Gate, shown below, along with Frog Gate and Sidbury Gate, mentioned above, were all south of the Cathedral area.  Friars’ Gate and Saint Martin’s Gate were important ones on the east side, while Foregate gave access from the north.  There were several other openings to the wall along the River Severn, including access to the medieval bridge across the river.

Please join us next time when I will continue the history of Worcester.