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Nearly 9000 new records added!

We are very pleased to announce the addition of another layer to Know Your Place Worcester.  The Worcester City Historic Building Applications collection is made up of more than 8900 records dating to the years 1865-1948. These records, which were deposited with the Worcestershire Archive by the City Council’s Planning Department, are an invaluable source of evidence for the development of the city during this period of very rapid expansion, and include detailed plans and elevation drawings of individual houses, estate developments and industrial buildings.  This makes them a vital source for anyone wanting to research the history of an individual building or an area. 

The new Historic Building Applications data layer (shown here as purple points overlaid on the 1940 Ordnance Survey map). The overlay can be found in the ‘information layers’ tab on the right hand side of the screen; tick in the box next to it, to see the layer displayed.

The mapped information builds on work undertaken by local historian David Attwood, who meticulously indexed and cross-checked planning applications from the early period up to 1901 and beyond.  In 2010, the Worcester City Historic Environment Record worked with the Archives team at The Hive to photograph a large proportion of the records from this collection, digitally preserving them for the future. The project built on David’s painstaking work by assigning grid references to each record, so that they could be geographically searchable.

The resulting mapped index, can now be searched via Know Your Place Worcester by zooming to the location that you are interested in on the map. Many of the records are located to individual buildings (around 40%) with the rest searchable to a central street location. The database records details of ownership, the year in which development was proposed and a description of what was intended, whether that be a street full of houses, a factory or even the addition of an indoor WC!  While the digital images aren’t yet available online, the database also indicates whether the record has been photographed, in which case you can contact the Historic Environment Record for further information via archaeology@worcester.gov.uk

An example from the collection of a historic building plan for 2 houses in Wyld’s Lane, dating to 1886 – explore the collection here

This collection has enriched our knowledge of historic buildings within the city in a variety of ways over the years, whether that be for individual researchers wanting to find out about their home, through to our conservation officers advising on sympathetic restoration of Listed Buildings.  It is really exciting to be able to make the digital map available online for the first time!

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Condemned houses, sad stories and a happy coincidence

Sometimes a photograph has the power to tell a story so much greater than just the image in front of you.  A tragic, yet poignant story unfolded this week after a remarkable coincidence led to a bittersweet reunion.

A few months ago, we were contacted by the family of Tom Marsden, the former Public Health Inspector in Worcester.  The family were keen to donate an important collection of photographs to Museums Worcestershire that Mr Marsden had taken during his time in this role. Knowing that he had been in post during a key time for the city, in the late 1950s and 1960s, we were excited to see what this material might contain.  We were not disappointed.

Cramped yard spaces behind houses in the Tybridge Street area, c1960

It’s easy to be nostalgic about the lost buildings of Worcester, but many of the demolition works that took place during this period were as a result of the 1957 Housing Act, which called for houses to be fit for human habitation and led to around 3,500 houses in Worcester being condemned as unsanitary and unsafe.  During the course of this project we have already talked to local people who described the terrible living conditions, and the impact that this had on their health.  The new estates constructed around the city during that time were, for some, a chance to escape appalling conditions and very much welcomed.

As Public Health Inspector it was Tom Marsden’s role to ensure that housing in the city conformed to the 1957 Act and his incredible photographs capture the conditions that many families experienced after a half century of neglect, economic depression and two world wars.  Rising damp, rat-infested courtyards and cramped, airless spaces were just some of the scenes captured as he surveyed the city. What followed was the mass demolition of many areas, including the tenement houses of the Blockhouse, Tybridge Street, The Moors and Dolday. 

Behind the tenement houses of Spring Gardens before demolition in 1962

Roll forward 60 years and after careful digitisation of the photographs by John France at the Worcestershire Archive, we were able to share a handful of images as part of the weekly ‘Lockdown Quiz’.  One photograph that stood out from the collection was this wonderful image of demolition contractors posing for the camera at Spring Gardens, near Britannia Square. The photograph was included as part of the quiz.

Demolition in progress – the photograph that sparked this story

The following day, I received a message which read as follows;

“Hi Sheena. Where do you get the pics from? The photo of 3 men and a digger. 4th pic on quiz is my father. He’s the 1 leaning on the shovel. He died in a demolition accident 13 days after I was 13. I’m 70 now and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. I only have 1 photo of him. I would dearly like that one too. Can you help? Gill Brooks.”

Having spent some time reviewing the photographs, I was able to respond to Gill with the news that we had not one, but two photographs of her father.  It was an emotional moment.  Through a series of messages, Gill shared her story.  Her father, Tom Bagley, was a foreman working for Charles Eden, demolition contractors.  The company undertook much of the work to clear the slum properties around the city and he was shown in the photograph alongside Walter Davies and Bill Jones. Tragically, Tom was killed on November 19th, 1962 when a wall at a property in Diglis Road collapsed onto him.

Two photographs – Tom Bagley can be seen on the right of the three men

We had been unclear of the date of this particular image, but by making reference to another source in the Historic Environment Record, the Register of Demolished Properties, we discovered that these houses were demolished between January and June 1962, only a few short months before he died.

The Register of Demolished Properties, 1961-63

Gill shared some wonderful memories of her father.  He was a shy man, who hated having his photograph taken which seemed to come across in the photographs we have. One particularly remarkable story was of a demolition job at the old Barbourne Leather Works in Pope Iron Road. A tall and troublesome chimney which had gained the name ‘Temperamental Annie’ was causing a few complications in the process of site clearance. Tom scaled the chimney to the top and began the process of taking it down, brick by brick.

Tom Bagley was only 45 years old when he died leaving behind a young family. Charlie Eden paid for the funeral and plot at Astwood cemetery, which is marked only by a marble pot that says “from his fellow workmates”.

While this story is a desperately sad one, it has been such a wonderful outcome to reunite the family with their father in some way, more than 57 years later. These photographs really unlocked a powerful and poignant story which demonstrates their true value.

We would like to say a huge thankyou to Gill for taking the time to share her memories with us, and allowing us to retell her story.

[This piece was first published via Worcester Life Stories in 2020]

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A Name to a Face

There have been many moments over the course of the Worcester Life Stories project when we’ve had cause to smile, perhaps never more so than when we’re able to identify some of the people in our photographs.  This week we had one such moment.  You may recognise this rather atmospheric shot that we have shared previously as part of our quizzes. It shows two young men strolling past the Midland Bank on Broad Street in July 1973, one turning to admire the sports car parked outside.

Broad Street in 1973

We were pleased to be contacted by a local lady, Donna Rice, who had been in to visit the Worcester Life Stories exhibition at Worcester City Museum and had stood and viewed the slide show on display there. Donna told us that she works with a local group and would normally have been doing a photography session with them;  “Believe it or not, when we set out to do photography today we were planning on going to the Cathedral but I noticed your exhibition was on and suggested changing our plans to come see that instead.”  To her surprise, she spotted a familiar face in one of the photographs.  After emailing a copy over so that she could verify with her mum, Donna was able to confirm that the gentleman in the white shirt was her dad!

“Unbelievably, it is indeed my dad. He’s in the white shirt and was 20 at the time. My dad’s name is Tony Smith and at the time of the photo worked at Underwoods Builders Merchants along with the man next to him, whom we believe to be Adrian Skipp. 

Donna shared that her parents were married that same year, the photo having been taken just a few months after their wedding.

“Something led me to the exhibition today. It was definitely fate as yesterday would have been my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary but my dad passed away in 2013. I’m so glad to have seen that photo. My mum was over the moon too.” 

We’re delighted to have been able to share this photo with Donna and her family, and to put a name to the face – what a happy coincidence!

The Worcester Life Stories exhibition runs until March 5th – a few days left to visit! This photograph and many others are on display and will appear on Know Your Place Worcester’s photograph layer soon.

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Discovering new images from a family archive

As you may be aware when Know Your Place Worcester was launched earlier this year, it included the fantastic Community Layer, enabling local people to share material from their own collection, such as photographs, memories and knowledge. We have been delighted over the last few weeks to see a wealth of photographic material appearing, uploaded by David White, from his father Alan’s collection. Here David tells the story…

An early selfie by Alan White

“One of the products of the pandemic lockdowns in early 2020 was that many of us had time on our hands. This prompted me to start scanning, restoring and cataloguing my father’s collection of negatives and slides that he took back in the late 1950s… It has been an enormous task which is still ongoing!

My father Alan White was a Worcester citizen and when first married lived in Church Walk near Tybridge Street in St Johns, hence many of the early photographs were taken within easy walking distance including Cripplegate, the cathedral, High Street and Diglis. He later moved in the early 1960s to the Elbury Park area before a move to Northamptonshire in the late 1980s. His photograph collection continued to grow right through to the 1990s, but unfortunately few of the later ones were taken in Worcester.

An evocative image looking out onto College Green on a snowy day in the 1950s

Alan was a keen amateur photographer and he started taking photos in the 1950s. When money was tight in the post war period and having also married and started a family, he still managed to purchase a 35mm camera together with darkroom equipment for developing and printing his own pictures. He entered some of his pictures into local exhibitions and competitions.

Quite a few of the negatives and slides are in need of restoration, I seem to remember that as a child in the 1960s I was allowed to play with them and undoubtedly some damage was done with finger marks, dust and scratches. The colour slides had also deteriorated and many had lost or changed colour. So, after scanning the negatives and slides the resultant files or digital photos were opened into Photoshop where I was able to use various “tools” to sympathetically restore many of them. A few of the black and white pictures have been suitable for being “colourised” to add a bit of atmosphere and detail. A lot of hard work, but well worth it as I have been able to share these images with family members who have never seen them before and also on Know Your Place and various Facebook groups.

It is possible that Alan might be remembered by a few people still living in Worcester. As well as being a keen amateur photographer and gardener, he worked at the Post Office from his teens right through until moving to Northamptonshire. He was a City Councillor in the 1960s and was very active in the Scout Association. My father, now in his late 80s, is absolutely delighted that his photos taken over 60 years ago have been brought up to date and can bring memories, interest and delight to people of all ages.

I hope you have enjoyed finding and viewing the photos that have so far been uploaded to the Know Your Place (Worcester) website. There are many more that will be added over the next few weeks (or months?) ….as soon as they have been restored! So don’t forget to keep visiting the website and exploring the “green diamonds” on the community layer.”

A huge thankyou to David for the amazing contributions he is making to the site – everything from iconic views of the Cathedral to city parks and the Worcester Carnival. And of course a massive thankyou to Alan for his incredible photographs – we are so excited that these can be made available for all to enjoy. Explore the site to discover more!

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Public launch Saturday 26th June, 11am-4pm

Look forward to seeing you there! TO pre-register go to Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/worcester-life-stories-tickets-158544154835
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Share Your Stories

Know Your Place Worcester enables local people to contribute their own memories, knowledge and images to be part of an ever-growing, crowd-sourced collection that will be available to everyone. In the first few weeks since the platform launch we have seen all sorts of exciting new material being shared by local people. Here are just a few examples…

1. Memories of Worcester City FC

This souvenir programme from the legendary moment in Worcester City sporting history when the team defeated Liverpool FC, was added by the club’s historian Julian Pugh. Also included here are a potted history, team photograph and a link to a YouTube interview with former player Paddy Mullen.

2. Photos of Brookthorpe Close park, Warndon, 1980s

“Oh how much fun we had on the slides of death around there! Health and safety nightmare but we had so much fun!” Several images of playing on the former park at Brookthorpe Close, Warndon have been added here

3. The Life and Works of William Forsyth

A collection of material has been added from across the city, on the incredible portfolio of sculpture produced by William Forsyth. The photographs have been added by Rob Cocklin, great-great grandson of William who has produced a detailed website sharing his research on both William and his brother James. Information on the Hop-Pickers frieze can be found here and dozens more examples of his work can be found by browsing the map.

4. Memories of Hardy & Padmore

This YouTube slideshow and audio recording of a gentleman speaking in 1973, has been added to KYP here by the project team. It captures his experiences of working for the Worcester Foundry, Hardy & Padmore starting in 1902.

Add your own!

To add your own record to Know Your Place, just select the edit tool on the right of the screen (shown below) and click on the map in the position where you would like to add your information. Follow the on screen prompts and fill in the short form. You can add a text file, photograph, audio or web link. Once you’ve submitted your new record, this will be validated and appear within a few days for everyone to enjoy and learn more about Worcester!

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Launching on April 24th!

You are cordially invited to join us for the launch of Know Your Place Worcester and Life Stories Herefordshire and Worcestershire on Saturday 24th April from 2pm. To register click here