Pitchcroft and the fight to get public possession

  • 27 Oct 2020
  • Historical Studies
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Today, it is hard to believe that before 1899 the citizens of Worcester had not the privilege of roaming at will over Pitchcroft. 

Pitchcroft was owned by several people and there were no boundaries to the various properties, so they were not distinguishable but could only be delineated on the Tythe Map. There had always been footpaths giving access to ferries, which had been used for so long that the public had acquired the right to pass along them during what was termed the 'closed season'. The acquiring of the croft for public recreation was achieved by many steps against dogged and fierce opposition.

A guide book of the mid-19th century described it as the race course, 'a large flat meadow on the east bank of the Severn above the bridge, called Pitchcroft Ham, or as it was anciently called, Holme, signifying literally the inner island of Pitchcroft. The freemen of the City and the freeholders of Claines have the right to feed their cattle here from July 6th to February 2nd, and subject to this right, the property chiefly belongings to the charities of the town, some portion being vested in the Charity Trustees'.

There was no authority for the holding of the racecourses on Pitchcroft, though races have been held there from the days of Charles ll. During seven months of the year from 7th July to 31st January, there was no enclosure of any kind which interfered with the various rights, for these were the claim of part of the freemen of the City, freeholders of Claines for pasturage rights, and at this time, there were about 200 freemen of the City who had these rights.  

There was an effort made in 1888 to purchase 98 acres and the common rights by the Corporation. Strangely, the two leading industrialists, Alderman Willis and G.H. Williamson, led the move, and the historian Noake argued against it. A crowed and noisy meeting at the Guildhall considered the proposed purchase. The opposition believed the move would deprive citizens of their rights - but their rights were slended. and there was objection to the building of a wall around it.

In 1893, Major T.A. Hill offered on behalf of the various owners 56 acres for £7,000, the sum it had cost the owners, who included the six Master of the Grammer School and St. Oswald's Hospital and St. Nicholas. There were two conditions to the offer, firstly that the Yeomanry should  be permitted to have their annual training there free of charge, and that 12 days should be put aside for racing, and they offered £1,000 to improve the course if the Corporation would do the same.

It was not until 1899 that the final step was taken of securing the full use of Pitchcroft for the public without let or hindrance. Pitchcroft was fenced in by the Corporation, and Lord Beauchamp presented the handsome entrance gates. Trees were planted and the river bank was piled and seats placed there.