Worcester’s City Walls

WorcesterAG-20150304-244Although it is not obvious today, Worcester was once a fortified settlement. Unlike cities such as Chester, which still feature several miles of prominent defensive wall, Worcester has very little to remind us that it was once a surrounded by stone perimeter. The locations of its gates are marked by plaques, and areas such as “Foregate Street”, “St Martins Gate” and “City Walls Road” remind us of their absence. City Walls Road actually traces the route of the south-eastern perimeter and some of the footings are still visible if you walk the route.

Worcester has been defended since its early settlement and there is evidence of Roman defensive ditches and bastions. During the Anglo Saxon Period the walls were expanded, but how these relate to the later Medieval city walls is not entirely certain.   A Worcester Castle features on the oldest civic heralds, long before the three black pears, but this relates to a rather small Norman motte and bailey, long departed, which would have stood near the current Cathedral. By the 1100s Worcester certainly had some of its wall defences in place, but they were either incomplete or ineffective, or both. Worcester was successfully attacked and entered by Miles of Gloucester in 1139 as he rebelled against King Steven. Contemporary records state that the army breached the defences, took many men prisoner, set alight to buildings, looted personal property and a stole large numbers of Worcester’s cattle.   The southern part of the city was capable of repelling such an attack, but the northern aspect was relatively weak.

In 1216, after the death of King John; who is buried in Worcester Cathedral, the reign of his nine year old son Henry III was contested. Worcester showed support for the French monarch and was forcibly reclaimed. Its defences were clearly an issue as the city was punished by either paying a sum to the crown, or having its walls torn down. It evidently chose the former as in 1224, Worcester was given the right to take tolls at its gates in order to pay for the upkeep of its defences.

The city walls and ditches were famously tested at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, the final and deciding battle of the English Civil War. Charles I had been executed and his son, later Charles II, had returned to retake the English throne. Excavations of the city walls show evidence dereliction and decay during that period, as well as improvised repurposing and bolstering to meet the demands of modern artillery. New defensive bastions were added and an earthwork fortification, build on what is now known as Fort Royal Hill. It was not enough. The Royalists were routed by the attacking Parliamentarian force, commanded by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell took a harder line that Henry III and razed the walls so the “Faithful City” could never more defend a monarch against him.

Sections of stone consistent with the city wall show up all over the city in archaeological excavations, standing structures and even as decorative features in the Commandery Gardens. It was evidently a source of quality stone. Other than these glimpses, the name of the odd street, occasional plaque or sandstone protrusions, Worcester’s wall have all but disappeared… and you may enter Worcester uncontested.

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