Mike Pryce reflects on the loss of Worcester's vibrant old Crystal Palace-inspired Market Hall

ALMOST a decade before the 1960s planning farrago that resulted in wholescale demotion of streets of – according to your point of view either “period” or “decrepit” – properties in the Lychgate area of the city, a civic upheaval ever after tagged The Sack of Worcester, another, less well remembered, wrecking ball incident took place. Not far away either.

In the mid-1950s the city council was faced with big bills to renovate Worcester’s main market hall, which ran from High Street, opposite the Guildhall, through to The Shambles.

It had been completed in 1804 on the site of the King’s Head Inn and for a century and a half had been the city’s premier shop window for the small trader. At the High Street end it was adorned by a fine clock given in 1846 by local industrialist and mayor Richard Padmore.

Worcester News:

The Market Hall in the 1950s, not long before it was demolished

In its heyday, the Market Hall was an impressive venue, a guidebook of 1855 saying: “The general appearance of the building on entering reminds the visitor of the transept of the Great Exhibition of 1851, of which it is a copy. The centre of the roof is of glass, the sides of corrugated iron, the whole being supported by iron pillars.”

Read more: Worcester High Street with its once-familiar stores

But by the 1950s the old girl was showing her age and, broadly speaking, the city council felt it was time to off-load the place, at least from the public purse. Which eventually happened.

That decision was re-visited 30 years later, in 1985, when the council was deciding how to update the replacement market hall, created from a conversion of the old Meat Market between The Shambles and New Street.

Worcester News:

The old Market Hall being demolished in August, 1958. The spans of the glass roof are yet to fall

Councillor Les Portman, invariably a wise counsel, urged his colleagues not to repeat “the gigantic civic blunder” their predecessors had made in the Fifties.

He recalled that the stallholders in the old Market Hall, led by Mr A Winston, chairman of the newly formed Worcester Market Traders Association, collected more than 10,000 signatures for a protest petition and also made an offer of £2,000 a year (no small beer in the 1950s) to the council for a full repairing lease of the building. This would have meant they would have taken over responsibility for its repair and upkeep.

In full flow, he added: “But instead the council accepted a £2,000 a year offer for the site from a London development company which proceeded to demolish the historic Market Hall and put up the bland City Arcade in its place.

“The developers acquired the site on a 99-year non-reviewable lease, which means that still today (he was talking in September 1985) the council gets only £2,000 a year from the entire City Arcade. You couldn’t even get a small shop for that these days.”

Worcester News:

A sale of china at Sigleys stall in Worcester Market Hall in April, 1910

That time the council did not let the private sector get its hands on a prime piece of city real estate and the £350,000 renovation was financed Worcester Market Traders Association Ltd, with local builders and architects involved too.

Meanwhile, the City Arcade wandered along its architecturally insipid way, a mere shadow of the vibrant old Crystal Palace-inspired Market Hall it replaced.