THERE was a time back in the Sixties and Seventies when the good burghers of Worcester got a bit twitchy about the view presented to tourists approaching from the west across the main river bridge. 

Anxious to impress on visitors the scenic qualities of the city, they felt the vista was somewhat marred by the first thing many people noticed was Prosser’s scrapyard. This long-established local business occupied a prominent position on South Quay, almost in the shadow of the cathedral and rather took the eye off it.

Prossers, seen here in Birdport in the 1925, was a legendary Worcester name. It began in Victorian times when a Mr Berry set up a rag and bone business in Bank Street serviced mainly by a small army of tatters using handcarts or ponies and traps. When  Bill Prosser took over in the 20th century it moved to Birdport and then, in 1939, to an old corn warehouse on South Parade

How times change, for back in the mid-17th century those very same civic leaders were only too keen to post a completely different message to travellers from over the river. One that basically said: “Look and Learn”.

An ancient litho map showing Worcester’s city walls. The gateway via the river bridge can be clearly seen. Image courtesy Luke Unsworth Research Worcestershire

An ancient litho map showing Worcester’s city walls. The gateway via the river bridge can be clearly seen. Image courtesy Luke Unsworth Research Worcestershire

Because on the city entrance gate at the bridge were displayed the severed heads of criminals who had been executed. And if that didn’t stop you leaving your horse and cart on double yellow lines not much would.

The Bridgegate, as it was called, was destroyed in the second half of the 18th century but it must have been a formidable structure. A soldier by the name of Wharton, who came to Worcester in 1642 with Essex’s army, described it as “a gate in the middle of the bridge as strong as that on London Bridge, with a portcullis”.

The old stone Worcester bridge, which replaced an original one made of timber

The old stone Worcester bridge, which replaced an original one made of timber

Indeed it followed the London look with its collection of criminals’ heads, one among them being the cranium of John Hind, a highwayman, who was executed in Worcester in 1652. Something of a character, Hind was a confirmed royalist and only robbed Parliamentarians, once having even held up Oliver Cromwell himself. Which was really asking for it. 

A rarely seen Victorian image of the old Toll Gate Houses which stood at the New Road end of Worcester Bridge. Note the “cow chains” along the footpath to keep off stock which would be driven over the bridge to Worcester market

A rarely seen Victorian image of the old Toll Gate Houses which stood at the New Road end of Worcester Bridge. Note the “cow chains” along the footpath to keep off stock which would be driven over the bridge to Worcester market

Despite its claim to be the Faithful (to the Crown) City, Worcester’s judiciary took a dim view of Hind’s activities and hanged him. Although his head was soon removed from the Bridgegate under cover of darkness and buried in a local churchyard.

Worcester Bridge nearing the end of its widening work in the 1930s

Worcester Bridge nearing the end of its widening work in the 1930s

According to writer John Leland, who visited in 1540, Worcester was “reasonably well walled” with six entrance gates. As well as the one on the river bridge, which had “a goodly square tower over it”, there was a postern gate by St Clement’s church, the Fore-gate (“a faire piece of worke”), Sudbyry Gate, St Martin’s Gate and Trinitie Gate. The last to be demolished was St Martin’s Gate in 1773.

The old Toll Gate Houses at Worcester Bridge were built 1780 and only removed when the bridge was reconstructed in 1932

The old Toll Gate Houses at Worcester Bridge were built 1780 and only removed when the bridge was reconstructed in 1932

None of them, so far as is recorded, had a scrapyard adjacent and Worcester’s modern day perceived problem was solved by shifting Prosser’s to a back land plot off Hylton Road in 1985. But it didn’t last long there before being swallowed up the real estate amoeba that is the University of Worcester for a sports arena car park in 2010. At least they didn’t have to find a home for any severed heads.