Thursday, 26 January 2012

‘Worcester Never Looked Better’: Cathedral and Town in the Nineteenth Century

Thanks to the efforts of numerous people the Library’s first major exhibition of the year is up and running in the Cathedral.  We’ve had great fun plundering the Victorian archives for stories and pictures, and have turned up some real gems along the way.  Did you know that Canon Melville was a graceful ice skater, or that the Cathedral helped finance a floating chapel on the River Severn?

For those of you unable to get to Worcester to see the exhibition in person we have uploaded some images in order for you to get a flavour of what is on offer.  The Victorians were enthusiastic preservers of our ecclesiastical heritage, and during the nineteenth century every medieval cathedral in England was repaired or restored in some way.  More money was spent at Worcester than anywhere else, which is not surprising given the very dim view of the building held by commentators at the time.  One journalist wrote that no other Cathedral presented ‘so little to admire, and so much to deplore’.

The Restoration of the Tower

The restoration led to something of a renaissance in other areas of Cathedral life.  It acquired some greatly respected clergy in the second half of the nineteenth century, including Mandell Creighton who later became bishop of London.  One of the lay clerks wrote some extraordinary reminiscences of the Victorian clergy, including a description of Canon Fortescue’s appalling dress sense.  Fortescue’s oversized black gloves and starchy collars were a favourite of the choristers during his time here.  Of course, music played an extremely important part in the life of the Cathedral, from its involvement in the Three Choirs Festival to its acquisition of a daring new piece of technology – an electric organ!  One of the most interesting pictures on show is of the enormous ‘Patent Kinetic Blower’ used to drive the organ’s motors.

During the nineteenth century, the idea of visiting a cathedral as a tourist or day-tripper really took off.  The Tower visitor book of 1890 reveals that the future Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, was one of the first to brave the heights in that year.  Victorian Worcester had its fair share of notable people, including the founder of the British Medical Association, Charles Hastings, and the authoresses Mary Martha Sherwood and Mrs Henry Wood.  It’s been great fun and extremely rewarding doing the research for this exhibition; we hope you can get along to enjoy it too!

‘Worcester Never Looked Better’ will run until the 10th February in the Dean’s Chapel.

No comments:

Post a Comment