ALMOST 31 years ago to the day,  in early November 1992, 10 years old Arwen Lockley presented a posy to the Duchess of Gloucester and Worcester’s Crowngate shopping centre was opened.

No disrespect to HRH but there was some hope in Worcester the event might feature a face from slightly higher up the Royal tree. After all when it revealed the body behind the rebuild of the city’s fading Blackfriars precinct was the Crown Estate, which is described as “the sovereign’s public estate”, there was some anticipation the ribbon might be cut by the Queen herself or possibly, the cherry on the cake, Charles or Diana, who were still together at the time.

Worcester News: The Duchess of Gloucester accepts a posy from Arwen Lockley at the opening of Crowngate in November 1992.The Duchess of Gloucester accepts a posy from Arwen Lockley at the opening of Crowngate in November 1992. (Image: Newsquest)

However, none of the above seemed to be in the habit of opening shopping centres, so it fell to the lady with a title from down the road and suitably

charming she was.

Certainly very different from the figure who had opened the Blackfriars development, so named because it occupied the site of an ancient order of monks.

That was Ken Dodd, the goofy comedian, in the summer of 1969. Try as you might you couldn’t see the Duchess suddenly producing her tickling stick.

Despite its demise old Blackfriars did have its fans. Former Worcester city councillor Davis Barlow recalled: “In 1969 I was working in marketing for Cadbury Cakes, which had its head office - as well as its main bakery - at Blackpole.

"I have a strong memory of the sales department, which wished to create a good impression with PriceRite, hiring Bob Monkhouse to open the new PriceRite on Blackfriars' opening day. A fee of £1,500 is a figure which sticks in my mind. It was more than I earned in a year!"

Reader Richard Morris added: "My first ever real memory of Worcester was watching the bulldozers and wrecking balls take down Blackfriars as a small

child." While Helen Heaume said: "I remember my mum Alison Heaume buying her tights from the lady at the denim stall in Blackfriars. And I remember buying a bag of Sindy accessories for 99p from the toy stand in the middle! Great memories."

A revamp of Worcester’s lower Broad Street retail area had long been on the cards. In early January 1966 the City Council’s town planning committee gave its backing to an application by Centrovincial Estates Ltd to start the first stage of what was called “a £4m Broad Street redevelopment scheme”.

This duly materialised and changed the face of that part of Worcester forever. Among its gems was the Ages Past nightclub with its prehistoric scenery and suitably dark interior. An innovation for Worcester at the time and a copy of Brum if the truth be told, but sadly short lived.

However Crowngate aimed to set the retail bar rather higher. For a start it was almost twice the size of Blackfriars, covering lower Broad Street and cutting

across to include Bank Street, Bull Entry and Deansway.

It comprised two areas, Friary Walk, which was basically the old Blackfriars, and Chapel Walk, a completely new section from Broad Street to Deansway.

Together they covered  a third of the city centre. Including an archaeological dig, the work took around six years to complete and created the biggest disruption to daily life Worcester has ever seen.

Bizarrely one of the development’s most popular features turned out to be its large under cover bus terminus, which was a mega improvement for passengers used to huddling out of the weather in Angel Place.

When it was all over the daily chaos was soon forgiven and forgotten and crowds packed the malls at its opening.Although unlike Doddy’s Day there were no souvenirs to be bought or autographs to be sought. Minor royals don’t do that sort of thing. Here are a few pictorial memories of the birth of Crowngate, minus Lady Di who didn’t have the date in her diary.