06 August 2013

Worcester Festival - porcelain, music and garden landscaping

Worcester (pop 100,000) is not a city I know well, but it is a city that has touched my life in three significant ways.

Firstly I love looking at, and especially collecting early Royal Worcester porc­e­l­ain. Dr John Wall and the chemist William Davis created a new meth­od for producing porcelain. They needed a large investment by the busin­ess community of the city and in 1751, their new factory was opened at Warmstry House in Worcester, right on the River Severn.

Royal Worcester, spill vases
1812-20, 10 cms high

Thomas Flight bought the factory in 1783 and put his boys into the business. King George III soon visited the company, liked what he saw and grant­ed the company a royal warrant. Martin Barr joined the firm as a partner in 1792, and this is the period that I am most interested in. The Flight Barr era lasted in the first instance until 1804. Then their sons continued the work during the Flight Barr and Barr era.

To show you how exquisite their work was, consider this small pair of Worcester Flight Barr and Barr spill vases, c1812-20. They have a flared rim and ring handles held by moulded birds standing on a square base. They are lusciously painted with a panel of flowers and fruit within a salmon and gilt ground. The Flight Barr & Barr Worcester mark is still clearly visible.

Flight and Barr Worcester Porcelain 1783-1840 is a wonderful book, written by Henry Sandon.

Museum of Royal Worcester Porcelain

The Heritage Lottery Fund has given the Museum of Royal Worcester over a million pounds for improvements. Just in time to celebrate 250 years of innovation, industry and craftsmanship, the museum will re-introduce the story of manufacture via new displays, films, archives & collections. Appropriately the Museum is a hop skip and jump from the old Royal Worcester Factory and from Worcester Cathedral.


Secondly I wrote very fondly of Edward Elgar (1857–1934) in this blog before. And although I knew he spent a large proportion of his life in Worcester, the contribution of the surrounding landscape to his musical career did not occur to me. That is, until Visit Worcestershire Magazine (Spring Summer 2013) wrote that walking on the beautiful Malvern Hills inspired Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory in 1902. The lyrics were written by the poet AC Benson.

Edward Elgar was actually born in a village just outside Worcester. His father William Elgar had moved to Worcester to run a shop selling sheet music and musical instruments. Edgar and his siblings were surrounded by music in their young years, including hearing their father perform at the local Roman Catholic Church each week. Elgar had piano and violin lessons, and his father, who tuned the pianos at many grand houses in the city, took him along to expose him to the cultured families in the county.

Elgar Birthplace Museum

Until 15, Elgar was at school near Worcester and wanted to travel to a German Conservatory for further musical studies. It did not work out, and although he did not like being placed in an office as a career, he made his first public appearances as a violinist and organist around Worcester’s musical facilities. At 22 was offered the conductorship of the attendants' band at the Worcester and County Lunatic Asylum! And he was professor of the violin at the Worcester College for the Blind Sons of Gentlemen!

The Elgar Birthplace Museum has two buildings, the modern Elgar Centre and the more evocative Birthplace Cottage. Appropriately they are set in the heart of Elgar’s beloved countryside, just 5ks from the hustle and bustle of the city.

The statue of Sir Edward Elgar, however, is right in the heart of the city, in the Worcester High St. The 7’ bronze statue was not opened to the public until 1981, decades after the musical star died in 1934.


Thirdly I have lectured on C18th country-house architecture and landscape design many times in the past, and often used Croome as one of my best examples. George 6th Earl of Coventry (1722–1809), who inherited in 1751 and died in 1809, was one of my Earls of Creation, noblemen who developed their country properties under the influence of classical philosophies and the Grand Tour.

In 1751 the 6th Earl commis­sion­ed Lancelot Capability Brown (1716–83) to replace his existing country seat at Croome with a brand new home in the neo-classical style. Although the project took many years to design and implement, it was here as much as anywhere that Capability Brown became a household name. Visitors could immediately see which Neo-Palladian features were incorporated into Croome Court, SE of Worcester.

In 1754, architect-designer Robert Adam (1728–92) set off from Edinburgh for his Grand Tour, and stayed in Rome until 1757, studying classical architecture and drawing. Since most of the Croome’s interiors were designed by Robert Adam after his Grand Tour was over, Croome could only have enhanced this young man’s reputation as well.

Croome Park and lake

It was Capability Brown who created the long, ornamental lake, wind­ing paths and a parkland dotted with follies. But it was Adam who designed the observatory, the rotunda and at least two of the garden follies. The National Trust acquired the park (but not the house) in 1996 and is returning it to its original glory. Since the English Landscape Style really was the 18th century’s idealised vision of nature, I encourage the students to inspect Croome themselves.


Worcester Festival starts on Saturday 10th August 2013, and will continue till late August. There are exhibitions at the Cathedral and at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum, civil war Battle of Worcester City walks and many other activities across the city and beyond.


Student of History said...

Hi Hels

I did your course on the History of Porcelain and decided to add to my own collection. But Royal Worcester merged with another company in the mid 1970s and eventually disappeared altogether 2009. What a loss.

Andrew said...

I don't know much about classical music but Elgar's cello concerto in E minor is one of my favourite pieces. Just sublime.

Anonymous said...

We need a course on Capability Brown, Robert Adam and Henry Holland. If we have done it before, let us do it again.

Anonymous said...

And 'my' judge, John Walpole Willis lived in Worcester. In Powick, actually, beside the river Teme.

Hels said...


Loss indeed...but the antique market still has wonderful Royal Worcester for you to collect. There are really early pieces around, but much more commonly I see porcelain from the 1890-1910 era. Beautiful stuff!

Hels said...


You are a man after my own heart :)

I too know very little about classical music, but the cello has a magical sound. That said, I wonder why poor old Elgar's work struggled for quite a long time.

Hels said...


Yes indeed. Every time we look at 18th century rural estates with landscaped gardens, the students are delighted to report on their favourites. Bowood, for example, must have been lovely.

Hels said...


*high 5*... i think that makes us cousins :)

Your judge seemed to have had an up and down career, didn't he? I hope his later career back in Worcestershire was peaceful and productive.

Viola said...

I also love Elgar's music. Even "Hope and Glory" brings tears to the eyes, even though I'm a "dinky-di Aussie"!

Hels said...


oh me too, me too :) Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March was stunning when it was written in 1902, but is even more stunning when Land of Hope and Glory is sung en masse in the Last Night of the BBC Proms. Floods of tears :)