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Foregate Street

  • 12 Feb 2019
  • Worcester People and Places
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From the Town Gate in the Foregate to the Liberty Post at the top of Salt Lane (now Castle Street), was the northern Liberties of the City. The land was outside the walls, but under the control of the City Corporation. Before the Battle of 1651 it was a place of hovels, but in preparation for the attack, these were cleared away. It took 50 years for the City to recover. The walls were 'slighted', almost all demolished, the ditch was filled in, and in 1699, the great gate was destroyed. Building began in the Liberties outside the walls, and in many well to do families moved out of the crowded city and built spacious houses in Foregate Street and the Tything.

Almost at the gate, on the west side, on the corner of what was to become Shaw Street, a new elegant hotel was built. It was very spacious compared to those inside the walls, and it immediately began to attract passing notables. County gentry began to build town houses in Foregate Street, and to cater for these, coffee houses and clubs were built, and it became the rendezvous of the well to do, and in Worcester one of the best social centres in the Midlands.

The Hop Pole Hotel was patronised by the nobility, and had a reputation for elegance and service beyond the County. Nelson and Lady Hamilton, Princess Victoria and other members of royalty stayed there. Two doors away, the little tavern "The Star and Garter", took on a new life, becoming one of the main coaching inns on the north to south route, and a sporting establishment for cock-fighting and other activities.

Libraries, literarary and scientific clubs were built in Foregate Street, and with the fine Shire Hall, it became the fashionable centre of Worcester, and in the 1840s, was regarded one of the finest streets in Europe. There were a few, if any shops until 1842, the Hop-Pole ceased as a hotel, and the building became Victoria House, one of the most high class dress establishments in the provinces.

As the railways developed in the 1840's, some of the houses became vacant, for it was now easy for the county gentry to get to London, and the vacant houses were occupied by doctors, solicitors and other professional men, and used as offices for local companies. Apart from Victoria House, there were hardly any shops in Foregate Street, and the trend continues to this day. In 1896, out of 66 sites there were only 20 shops, and in 1993 this had dropped down to only 8, and today from a business point of view, it is a street of financial brokers, estate and insurance brokers.

Foregate Street became the street of offices, museums and libraries, the General Post Office, a railway station. Later came the cinemas, first on the site was the Hasting's Museum, the Empire Cinema, which became the Silver Cinema and today the Odeon. On the other side of the street, on the site of large private house, came the Gaumont now the Gala Bingo.

With the loss of the Hop Pole Hotel, the Star Hotel (now called the White House Hotel) took over and for over a century became the chief hotel, accommodating touring sports teams. Until about 1935, all important sales, especially of the great county estates, took place at the Star. 

A feature stood at  No 1 at the corner of Sansome Street  two round outside clocks and barometer. Here at the turn of the 1900's was a German born clock-maker, Friedrich, (Franz), 'a mild little chap with small hands and a very bushy whiskers. He had a great affection for Worcester' 'When the 1914 War began, it is said it broke his heart, and he sadly died'.