TOOTLING along three-lane New Road on their way out of Worcester, motorists probably don’t appreciate how lucky they are. Compared to the old days, that is.

As a schoolboy in the late 1950s, hitching a lift with my hairdresser father on his way from Powick to his business at Skan’s in Broad Street, we would customarily hit the traffic at Ted Rollinson’s filling station in Lower Wick, on  the junction of the Bromwich and Malvern roads.

It would then be a nose to tail crawl to the New Road island and along New Road, which was two-way, until crossing the river bridge.

Contrast that still with pre-1781, when automobiles were still 100 years away and you might have assumed travel would be less impeded. Not so. For the preceding five centuries a traveller from the city aiming for St John’s would have had to wind his way from All Saints, at the bottom of Broad Street, down Newport Street, and across the Severn by an ancient bridge which was obstructed for defence purposes by gates and barriers. Mainly to keep the unruly Welsh out.

Then came the crossing of the built-up causeway of Tybridge Street, which had been created on the flat river flood meadows, followed by the climb up the narrow and winding Cripplegate leading to the bottom of the Bull Ring.

It was not until 1781 with the building of the new bridge and the “New Road” that a direct route was opened from the centre of Worcester to St John’s.

Read more: Tales from London Road

However, until its “take-over” in 1837, the city still had no jurisdiction over the independent parish. Mind you, as an act of neighbourly courtesy, and under a grant made in 1480 by the Prior of Worcester as Lord of the Manor, Worcester’s mayor and aldermen were allowed to attend St John’s Fair, held in the Friday before Palm Sunday, and then to walk in procession through St John’s, attended by the sword bearer, constables and other officers – and a band!

St John’s Fair was held on the eve of Worcester Fair and was obviously a fairly rumbustious event. It concluded with a sitting of the ancient Pie Powder Court (a corruption of pieds poudreux, meaning “dusty feet”), which was held in the Church House, now the Bell Inn, to settle disputes arising from the fair “before the dust of the fair was off the feet of the litigants”.

The last Pie Powder Court was held in 1814, which was a generation before the birth of a gentleman named John Willis-Bund and that was a real shame. Because JWB, whose family home was  the manor house Wick Episcopi, in the Upper Wick area of St John’s, was just the man to have at a court.

A formidable figure with long side whiskers, he was a nationally renowned legal expert and civic leader and never reluctant to offend. Among his many jibes he described teachers as “whining miscreants” and likened day trippers  to locusts devouring the countryside. It was possibly a good job New Road opened up west Worcestershire to city dwellers long before he arrived.