Amongst the various royal visits to Worcester over the centuries perhaps the most notable are those of King John who spent Christmas in the city in 1214, and Queen Elizabeth I in 1575 when she visited the tomb of her uncle Prince Henry in the Cathedral. Less celebrated is the visit of King George III, who came to Worcester in August 1788.
In Worcester Cathedral Library’s collection is a unique, day-by-day account of this visit, compiled by Thomas Pitt. Pitt was a Worcester man having been a King’s Scholar, a Chorister, the pupil of Elias Isaac (Organist of the Cathedral 1747-93), and finally Organist of the Cathedral himself from 1793-1806.
His account of the Royal visit that summer of 1788 is in the form of a handwritten journal, which describes in vivid detail the major events, and includes pasted-in examples of contemporary printed ephemera, including concert tickets and programmes.
At the start of his journal Pitt tells us something of the preparations for the visit, including details of two band rehearsals in College Hall on the 4th and 5th of August. The band was an impressive ensemble, comprising some 119 people including “12 of the King’s private band”. He also gives an insight into the security arrangements, which included “10 of the High Sheriff’s Javelin men” and “60 Soldiers from Ld. Harrington’s Regiment of Foot”.
The King and his company, including the Queen and the three elder princesses, arrived on the evening of Tuesday 5th August and were entertained by a “General Illumination” in the City and suburbs. Pitt then gives a detailed account of the visit proper.
Wednesday 6th August
At 9:00am “His Majesty’s Levée” (a term borrowed from the court of Louis XIV, whose entire day was ritualized, including the levée, the official rising of the King in the morning) was attended by the Bishops of Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester and representatives of all the foremost nobility, clergy and gentlemen of the county. The King’s party was staying at the Bishop’s Palace (now known as the Old Palace), very near the Cathedral.
Soldiers were stationed at the North Door of the Cathedral to welcome the Royal party at 11:30, who were then accompanied to the throne. During their entrance they were accompanied by Handel’s anthem “Zadok the Priest”, and also a piece written by Pitt himself. In Pitt’s journal he has pasted a contemporary broadsheet listing all the Handel anthems that were played, and has annotated the broadsheet with the names of those performers that sang the lead parts. He also includes a ticket for the event, which informs us that the admittance price was “half a guinea”.
“Near 700 persons” attended the performance, and the collections at the door raised £141 11s 6d for widows and orphans.
In the evening an estimated six hundred people attended the Grand Concert at College Hall, which was followed by a Ball that “continued till past two”. The Royal party did not attend, but instead “took a survey of the cathedral” and afterwards “drank tea at the Dean’ry – where they staid about an hour”.
Thursday 7th August
Another morning concert was arranged for the Royal party, which included “A Grand Selection of Solemn Music from Handel”. Again Pitt tells us that “near five hundred persons” attended, and that £71 14s 0d was collected for widows and orphans.
Preparations were also made at College Hall for the reception of the Royal Family. The King attended in the morning with the Dean, and indicated he would attend “one of the Ev’nings”, a reference to one of the several evening concerts planned.
In the afternoon, the Royal party “walked in the City” and took a tour of the “China at the Warehouse of Mr. Flight in the High Street, where they purchased a considerable quantity of elegant Tea China”. From there they went to the carpet factory of “Messrs. Michael and Watkins, in Silver Street”. On their way to the factory the crowd became so great that it threatened to overwhelm the Queen, who with the Princesses took refuge “in the dwelling house of Mr. Michael ‘till their coach came” which the King had gone to the Palace to order. The King, in order to avoid the crowds “went thro’ a number of passages so intricate as to find the way into a public street with difficulty”. At this point we are told he encountered a person “in Liquor” who offered the King his services. The King replied that “persons in Liquor were frequently too zealous” and recommended that the man “go home to bed”.
In the evening a “Grand Miscellaneous Concert and Selection from Jephtha” was performed in College Hall. Pitt’s annotations on the programme tell us that the First Act consisted of “Solos, Concertos & Italian Songs”. Around five hundred people attended the performance, but their Majesties were “not present”.
Friday 8th August
At 9:00am various dignitaries of the city went to the Palace to request of the King the honour of a visit to the city. The King accepted. The procession from the Palace to the Guildhall, in addition to the expected dignitaries, included representatives from the companies of Iron Mongers, Clothiers, Cordwainers, Mercers, Tailors, Bakers, Glovers, Butchers, Barbers and Vintners, all walking “two & two” with their accompanying flags and pages.
A “Triumphant Arch covered with Gilt Laurel” was erected at the door of the Hall, adorned with the inscription “Long Live the King”. In the Assembly Room “an elegant assortment of Sweetmeats, Fruit and Wine” was laid out. Here the King drank a glass of wine and wished prosperity on the City of Worcester.
The procession then returned to the Cathedral, where they were treated to a performance of Handel’s “Messiah”. Here “upwards of two thousand persons” attended, and donations of £379 16s 6d were collected, including one of £200 from the King himself.
That evening the Royal party came to College Hall at “Five minutes before seven” for another concert. Owing to confusion over the start time a number of the band failed to show, and initially few people were in the room. The concert eventually started and “by the time the first full piece was over, the Orchestra was filled”. The performance ended soon after 10:00pm, and the Royal party was conducted to their carriages by the Stewards, Dean and Sub-Dean, each holding a candle. The rest of the company retired to the Deanery, and afterwards there was “a good Ball”.
Saturday 9th August
On his final morning in Worcester the King rose early and “took a survey of the country from Castle Hill”. He then returned to the Palace and took breakfast, and went again to the China works, where he was most impressed with “the process”. He left ten guineas to be distributed amongst the workmen, and on leaving the factory was heard to say to the Queen “our holidays are now over”.
The Royal party left Worcester about eleven o’clock, when their departure was “greatly regretted by the surrounding thousands”. They subsequently met for a public breakfast at Digley House (possibly Diglis House?) with about six hundred people present “some of whom danced on the green till near Four o’clock”.
As a summary of this prestigious visit Pitt provides us with a detailed list of all the various presentations made to the King and Queen, including “a pair of Bedside Carpets of Worcester Manufactory to the Queen” and “six pair of gloves for the King and Twelve pair for the Queen, Manufactured by Mr. Burlingham – Worcester”.
The King also empowered the release from two prisons “any number of Felons, who might be thought deserving, in consequence of which, 18 were discharged many of whom were under sentence of Transportation for life, others for the Terms of fourteen and seven years”.
Finally, as a lasting tribute to the high esteem the King held for Worcester’s great trades, he gave permission for Messrs. Flight China Manufacturer, Hall the Printer, and Michael & Watkins Carpet Manufacturers “to put His Majesty’s Arms over their respective doors”.
In all it would seem the Royal visit to Worcester in 1788 was a resounding success.
All quotations are from Worcester Cathedral Library’s autograph copy of Thomas Pitt’s firsthand account of King George III’s visit to Worcester during August 1788
Worcester Cathedral Library Music Collection D6.9