BEAUTY they say is in the eye of the beholder, but you would probably need to be an enthusiastic industrial archaeologist to fall in love with what is now a large and fairly scruffy building lining Shrub Hill Road in Worcester.

Yet this vast expanse of bricks and grimy windows is acclaimed as one of the finest Victorian industrial buildings in the Midlands. Indeed many moons ago it was the scene of probably the grandest event the city as ever staged.

Today it is home to a number of SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises), but it began life with far more elevated ambitions. Its proximity to Shrub Hill railway station probably provides a clue.

In 1864 a number of leading executives of the old West Midlands Railway established the Worcester Engineering Works Company along Shrub Hill Road to build locomotives and rolling stock. The men concerned - AC Sherriff, Thomas Rowley Hill, Walter Holland and others – were men of ideas, used to working in a big way and everything was planned on a grand scale. Including the size of their factory.

Unfortunately for this visionary company, after one prosperous year money became more difficult to obtain and a slump knocked the bottom out of the locomotive market.

WEWC drifted along until 1871 when it hit the buffers and the works, which covered the whole of the Shrub Hill estate below the station, were sold for a song. New owners West Central Wagon didn’t last long, but then in 1882 with the huge building empty someone came up with a cunning plan.

It was suggested the site would be ideal to hold a “great exhibition”, all the rage at the time. After all the 54,000 sq ft available was a much larger space than other provincial exhibitions had used. And so in July 1882 the Worcestershire Exhibition opened.

It brought together people from the area like never before anxious to see the wonders of the Victorian age. The event showcased the county’s art and industry and was visited by more than 200,000 people before it closed in October. In its four halls were carpets, gloves, boots, buttons, fine china, carriages, boilers and ironwork to mention but a few of the delights to behold.

After the Worcester Exhibition closed, Kay and Company had part of the site and then in 1903 Heenan and Froude took over the engineering shops and helped build Worcester into one of the Midlands engineering centres of the 20th century

During the two world wars the works were used to produce guns and aircraft parts and it’s said that in 1918 a considerable number of aero-engines, which were no longer needed, were buried in pits at the back of the main shop. Industrial archaeological dig anyone?