The important role of the riverside in Worcester's history is explored in this latest feature from Discover History

The City of Worcester could be described as a beautiful flower, with its Cathedral at its centre.

The Cathedral site is the nucleus, where the earliest settlement is believed to have been established.

Nothing will grow without the nourishment of water and we are lucky to have the longest river in Britain flowing past.

The river is why we are here and why we have grown to the size we are today.

During the last Ice Age, huge Glaciers stretched as far south as Wolverhampton.

The landscape was also being carved out, with glacial gravel being deposited to create the high ground where Worcester is situated today.

Our earliest ancestors would have needed water just like the herds of reindeer, bison and wild horses that occupied this tundra landscape.

It’s this behaviour that planted the seeds of our great city.

When farming took over from the nomadic, hunting and gathering lifestyle, the well-drained and fertile Severn Valley saw the building of a small settlement, that would go on to become Worcester. The river would have been the life blood for these people.

The Romans were quick to realise the importance of this settlement. The river could be used to trade with the rest of the Empire. Iron Ore and timber came to the area for smelting into iron bars. Salt and good quality wool could be exported far and wide.

Life revolved around the river, however today you would struggle to know the city sat on a river. It’s almost invisible from the High Street.

Post Roman Britain became a dangerous place, with raiders from the sea using the river Severn to attack rich trading towns, including Gloucester and Worcester. However King Alfred and subsequent monarchs saw the importance of trading on the Severn, which in turn led to the re-fortification of Worcester and the issue of numerous important charters.

From the Medieval period, the city grew, with the riverside developing a substantial Quay. Even today you can see evidence of dockside businesses. These include Browns restaurant, which was once a busy warehouse.

The workforce all lived in areas such as Dolday, Quay Street and Newport Street. Refreshments were available from the numerous ‘Smugglers’ Inns that littered the area and this in turn led to riotous behaviour at times!

By the 19th Century the river was a busy and polluted waterway. For hundreds of years sewage ran down to the river, rubbish was tipped into it and businesses such as Tanners and Dyers discharged their dangerous liquids into it.

During the Industrial Revolution, locks and weirs were constructed to manage the river. It was these actions which ended the twice daily high and low tides. A canal, constructed in 1815, now allowed access to Birmingham and the Black Country too.

One business that set up on South Quay was the china works of Dr Wall. Ships full of Portland Clay were unloaded outside the factory and empty ships loaded with the finished fine porcelain.The calm river was the preferred method to transport fragile china.

However the railways appeared in Worcester during the age of Queen Victoria and, despite the railway companies creating a branch line for the quayside, this was the period which saw a slow decline of both the canal and river network, as an important route for trade and commerce.

The riverside was landscaped to become a leisure area, but today the river is often seen with negativity, especially when it pays us a visit from time to time with a flood. Worcester city council continues to address this through a number of projects, and I would recommend everyone embraces the waterway that gave life to the fantastic city of Worcester.