THIS year has marked the centenary of the completion of arguably Worcester's most impressive and imposing piece of Victoriana - the Hopmarket block.

The only close competitor for the architectural accolade is the Victoria Institute in Foregate Street.

The present Hopmarket block was built in 1900 to replace a much smaller Hopmarket Commercial Hotel, pulled down to make way for the widening of The Foregate.

Such was the rapid growth in Worcester's "traffic" of the time - horse-drawn trams, waggons and carriages - that the original 18th Century hotel had to be demolished.

We can see from photographs of the 1880s that the frontage of the building protruded out much further into The Foregate, making this quite narrow.

The "new" block contained a large hotel, now mainly converted to flats, with hop storage warehouses at the rear.

City historian Bill Gwilliam says a hop market was first established at The Foregate in 1731, with the profits going to the relief of Worcester's poor and needy.

Interestingly, surplus income from Hopmarket rents today is still distributed to those considered locally, to be in need. This is done through a charitable trust administered by the city council.

In the 18th Century, Worcester's was the largest hop market in the kingdom with annual sales averaging 20,000 pockets, though Bill says there were some extraordinary yearly fluctations in the early 19th Century.

These varied from 48,000 pockets in 1808, to just 1,530 in 1817.

Foregate Street was widened long ago leaving the Hopmarket Commercial Hotel jutting out into The Foregate and, during the 1890s, the city council began agonising over the need to pull down the building for essential road widening work.

The Foregate was then just 18ft wide and could no longer cope with the increasing flow of horse-drawn "traffic".

Thus it was that, at the turn of the century, the council had the old hotel demolished and the new Hopmarket block built.

Bill Gwilliam says the new block was designed by local architect A.B Rowe while the fine terracotta work was produced by Messrs. Doulton of Stoke-on-Trent.

"The style is flamboyant and decorative, as of its era, and has great merit," suggests Bill. "A glance at the city sky-line shows how much poorer the townscape would be without its pinnacles and cupolas."

The "new" Hopmarket Hotel eventually closed in the early 1960s. I well remember its once busy and bustling bars and its warm, inviting atmosphere. It was certainly one of the first "pubs" I ever went into. As a junior reporter, colleagues and I would often visit the upstairs Hopmarket cocktail bar after having worked late at the Evening News offices in Trinity Street.

I vividly recall one evening having a quick interview with Stuart Surridge, the captain of the Surrey cricket team when some of the players came into the cocktail bar. It was after Surrey had clinched the County Championship at the New Road for the umpteenth season in a row in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Those were the days!

Alas, the Hopmarket stood empty for some years during the late 1960s and 1970s, and there were even calls among some city councillors for it to be pulled down.

Thankfully, these pleas went unheeded, otherwise Worcester might have been left without any significant Victoriana!