CONSIDERING that over the past few years it has had a considerable connection with food of all kinds, the news that a piece of land at the bottom of Angel Street in the center of Worcester was probably not the site after all. a huge plague pit in the 17th century is only to be welcomed.
After all, no one wants to eat from a plate of anything only to suddenly be asked, “What’s that weird smell?” It seems a bit bubonic to me. Fast cue output and quick check for chip bites.
Worcester’s old pest house in Barbourne, originally an elegant Georgian estate called Barbourne Lodge, was burnt down by order of the town council in 1905 and then demolished to allay any fears of lingering infection.
The site at the junction of Angel Street and Angel Place, opposite the old Scala cinema, was traditionally open space and the location of Worcester’s old sheep market until 1920 when a covered structure was erected for a fruit and vegetable market. It later became a mall/small business, a few restaurants and now stands empty waiting for the next brave soul.
The old Corn Exchange building in Angel Street in the 1970s. During its checkered history it has also been an auction house, boxing arena, carpet warehouse and branch of Habitat.
The centuries-old reluctance to build on this land – after all, there were plenty of properties surrounding it in the 1920s – likely stemmed from the long-held view that it covered a pit used for mass burials during the last outbreak of bubonic plague in Worcester in 1637.
The interior of the old Scala cinema in 1973
Plague spores seeping from the ground centuries later would make for a good Hammer horror movie. Cue Christopher Lee as the mad scientist who sets up a lab there and Caroline Munro as the glamorous, unwitting visitor.
Luckily, it’s probably fantasy. To begin with, the site was within the city walls, when plague pits were normally dug outdoors, well away from the population, and although the burial pit was first mentioned in 1624 as a solution to the very real problem of the cathedral cemetery being full to overflowing, it was not consecrated until 1644, seven years after the plague had run its course locally.
It was in the days before mass television when Tarzan showing up in Worcester drew a crowd. Although it lacked a bit of creepers to swing on Angel Street for a quick halftime in horn and trumpet
Of course, there is always the possibility that such a disaster will call for hasty action, including the use of unconsecrated ground, for there is no doubt that this was a desperate time, the worst Worcester has seen in out of war. At least a fifth of the population died – 1,551 victims were buried, including 236 from the parish of St Andrew.
One day Worcester Fayre in Angel Street in the early 1900s. Obviously a possible plague in the locality was no deterrent
All who could fled the city, but most were denied shelter elsewhere and were forced to set up camp at Bevere. Fugitives and those who remained within the city walls faced starvation, as people in the countryside feared infection and were reluctant to help. Without the courage and charity of a few, many townspeople would have died of starvation and not of the plague.
But there’s a third reason that makes a plague pit at the bottom of Angel Street unlikely. Just west of the site was a large house belonging to George Hemming, a man of considerable social status and later councilman. While to the east, a gentleman named Robert Sterrop built an even grander house in 1646, the year before he became mayor.
Watching Angel Place before it gets a little knocked down
Human nature being what it is, it’s hard to imagine either of these two city stalwarts choosing to live next to a plague pit. Not a very appetizing topic for after-dinner conversation.