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Sights and Smells of Worcester City

The city of Worcester is known for Sir Edward Elgar, its battle, its sauce, its porcelain and its racecourse; but what of its largely unsung hero?

Distance 2.5 miles (4km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths City streets and tarmac riverside path

Landscape Urban with riverside

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 204 Worcester & Droitwich Spa

Start/finish SO 846548

Dog friendliness Not dog friendly (except short stretch by river)

Parking Long-stay pay-and-display car parks at New Road, Tybridge Street and Croft Road (and elsewhere)

Public toilets Near start at Croft Road and bus station; several elsewhere

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1 The described route begins at the city side of the road bridge, but you can pick it up anywhere - at The Commandery or the Guildhall, for example - depending on where you have parked. Turn left, along North Parade, passing the Old Rectifying House (wine bar). Turn right up Dolday, then left, in front of the bus station, along The Butts. Turn left along Farrier Street, right into Castle Street, reaching the northern extremity of the route at its junction with Foregate Street.

2 Go right along Foregate Street, passing the Shire Hall and the City Museum and Art Gallery, continuing along The Cross and into the pedestrianised area called High Street. Turn left into Pump Street. (Elgar's statue stands close to his father's piano shop, at the southern end of High Street.) Turn left again, into The Shambles. At a junction turn right into Mealcheapen Street. Another right turn and you are in New Street (which later becomes Friar Street).

3 Head down this partial time-warp as slowly as you can, for a dual carriageway (College Street) awaits you at the end. Turn right, then cross over carefully, to visit the cathedral.

4 Leave the cathedral along College Precincts to the fortified gateway known as Edgar Tower. (It is named after the 10th-century King Edgar, but was actually built in the 14th century. Go through this gateway to see College Green.) Continue, along what is now Severn Street which, unsurprisingly, leads to the River Severn. Turn right, to complete your circuit, by following Kleve Walk, a leafy waterside avenue; this section floods at some time most winters, and the cricket ground opposite was under several feet of water in 2000.

The development of Lea & Perrins' Worcester Sauce was largely accidental. The story goes that the two chemists, who ran a store between Broad Street and Bank Street (just off High Street), were asked to make up a recipe brought back from abroad in the 1820s. This they did, making an extra jar for themselves. Finding it excessively hot, they put the jar aside. Some years later they stumbled upon it and, quite bravely, sipped it - eureka! It had mellowed to a pleasant piquancy. The secrecy surrounding the recipe is (apparently) retained, eccentrically but effectively, firstly by employing any given worker only on part of the process, and secondly by giving the ingredients meaningless code names. HP Foods, which is now owned by French giant Danone, bought the business back in 1930. It has since gone on to achieve worldwide brand status.

Keep your eyes directed at least 10ft (3m) off the ground and New Street - actually rather old - is a visual feast. New Street wasn't even new then - it had been Glover Street. In the late 18th century many merchants migrated from here, making their houses tenements and workshops. The merchants left partly because of the stench. Nowadays the most likely smell wafting down New Street is of fast food. An 1832 report said of The Shambles that 'filth of all description remains until it is perfectly alive', and in 1846 another said that in parts of Worcester 'pools of liquid filth perpetually stagnate the surface.' The juxtaposition of slaughterhouses and their waste shouldn't be forgotten. Big-time disease was inevitable.

Charles Hastings was a brilliant youth. He attended anatomy school in London when 16, became house surgeon to Worcester Infirmary aged 18, went to Edinburgh University aged 21, and returned to Worcester Infirmary. (He declined a professorship at Edinburgh.) Ahead of his time, Hastings believed that the state should be responsible for the health of its public. He conducted much research into what nowadays would be called 'occupational health' - of local porcelain workers, glovers, and saltworkers, for example - and founded the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association. Twenty-four years later, with Hastings still at the helm, legislation formally established this body as the British Medical Association, which still oversees the work of medical practitioners today. It is said that he attended every case during the three cholera outbreaks in 1832, 1849 and 1853.

In 1854 Dr Hastings put much of his own money into innovative 'modern dwellings' (long-demolished, off Copenhagen Street) for artisans. He at least had the satisfaction of seeing the local death rate fall by 45 per cent in a decade. However, he still had a fight on his hands to persuade the city council to provide clean water. Amazingly, legislation compelling local councils to do this did not reach the statute books until 1872.

He benefitted the people of Worcester in several other ways too, such as by founding a natural history museum in the city. His grave lies in Worcester's Astwood Cemetery. When he died in 1866, aged 72, Sir Charles Hastings was Worcester's most lauded citizen; at that time Edward Elgar was only nine years old. One could argue as to which brought about the greater benefit to Worcester city.

What to look for

Elgar's statue is at the bottom of High Street (in which his father had a shop). The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, writing in his Buildings of England in 1968, described the then new central city development around High Street as 'hara-kiri by the city, not murder by the architects.' In New Street, King Charles' House is where the young man stayed during the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

While you're there

For a studied insight into the city's history, go on a guided walk (weekdays only) with a Green Badge Guide. The Commandery is Worcester's English Civil War museum - the Royalists headquartered here. History within living memory is easily recalled at the Museum of Local Life (in Friar Street). River trips depart from both North Quay and South Quay. There's a ferry too, from behind the cathedral to Chapter Meadows. The Royal Worcester Visitor Centre is open daily; bookable factory tours run Monday to Friday (except during shutdowns).

Where to eat and drink

Options abound - the 'civic' ones are relatively unusual. Try the Balcony Café at the partly baroque, partly Tudor City Museum and Art Gallery in Foregate Street; built in 1896 (and then named, dully, the Victoria Institute), it's a delightfully airy place to sit for lunch, a snack, or tea and scones. Or try the Assembly Rooms restaurant, up on the second floor of the Italianate Guildhall.

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