Saturday 23 October 2021


  Today's Canal - Worcester and Birmingham

Our plan for today was in two parts - this morning we would go to the nearby Asda to re-stock enough until the end of this trip and then this afternoon visit the Commandery, alongside Sidbury Lock. One of the complications at the end of this trip is that there are road works for nine days, completely blocking the road between the marina and the town centre. The alternative is about half an hour detour as far as we can see (perhaps when we get there some local knowledge will identify a route that does not show up in the maps!) Hence we will not want to have to 'pop to' the supermarket for a top up. We will not even have a chance to stop off on the canal as we are heading back via Hanbury rather than Hawford.

We completed the shopping just before noon and as we were in need of the usual services we cruised up to the nearest winding hole outside Worcester Marina where we turned around and went back down the two locks to Diglis Basin. We passed a boat coming up a little before the first lock so we were most surprised to arrive and find it quite empty. Both of these locks are in need of replacements to their bottom gates. The main problem is that the paddles do not easily close fully and boat crews, especially those hiring from the nearby base at Worcester Marina, do not spot those paddles that need an unobvious extra turn or two to close as well as they can. Even so, we noticed later that the back pumps run quite a long time even when there is no traffic, a sure sign that something is leaking!

After turning again, this time in the basin, we moored temporarily at the service block. We filled with water and completed the usual disposals.

We saw on the way down that the moorings above Sidbury Lock were entirely free (earlier in the week we had seen them fully occupied!) so we went back up there for an overnight mooring. A further part of our plan was also to be close to the cathedral so that we can add that to our list that we have managed to visit this year. However, being close meant that for several hours we could listen to the bells being rung - it sounded as if there was a special ringing event. On the other hand we were not so close that it became oppressive and offered a welcome distraction from screaming emergency vehicles that regularly come along the nearby main road!

After lunch we walked the 25 m to the Commandery. This is now a museum that tells the story of the buildings that have stood here since early medieval times, perhaps as early as 1085. The first purpose was as a hospital - not only as an almshouse but also welcoming pilgrims and other travellers. The order was that of St John of Jerusalem and they have used the term Commandery for their administrative bases, often just, as here, outside city walls.

The ire of Henry VIII meant that the order had to close in 1540 but the property was not destroyed but sold to the Wylde family who owned the site for the next few centuries.

At the time of the Civil War, the Wylde family were staunch Royalists, so much so that they offered their house to the army as the main command post for the final Battle of Worcester in 1651. This conflict saw the total defeat of Charles (later the Second) who was still fighting his father's cause against Cromwell and the Parliamentarian.

In 1866 the building was sold to become a school for the blind children of wealthy parents. By 1887 it had our grown this site and moved elsewhere in the city. The school, now called, New College Worcester still exists today but in modern premises built over the past 50 years during which it merged with the Chorleywood school for Girls with Little or No Sight.

Before becoming a museum the building was used by a printing firm that lasted from 1905 to 1973 - reports suggest that it was seen as a particularly good employer - the Littlebury Press.

It was bought in 1977 by the City Council and converted into a museum dedicated to the history of the Civil War, the only specialist one in England. But then, in 2007, it was extensively refurbished and reopened to tell the whole history of this site.

The property as it remains today is an amazing rambling series of rooms with many reminders of each of its phases of use. At one time it was divided into three homes, each of which was suitable for a wealthy merchant! 

The story is really fascinating and we enjoyed a good couple of hours wandering through the maze (although the route is well signposted!) The volunteer on duty, who is a keen and trained buildings historian, was very helpful and informative but, of course, can only be in one part of the building at a time, mostly the entrance desk. However, the whole museum is looking a little dated and clearly could de with yet another re-think to bring it up to modern expectations. It still shows a little confusion about whether it is focussed on the Civil War or on the history of the building.

1.4 Miles - 3 Locks

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