Providing Access for Royal Visitors to the Three Choirs Festival

Royal visits to Three Choirs Festival have often posed a problem for the Dean and Chapter: how should the Royal visitors enter the Cathedral?  Usually for both dignity and security they need a dedicated and exclusive entrance, but when a large attendance is expected the number of access points to the Cathedral can seem rather small. When Prince Charles visited in 2017 to hear Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius the north door was reserved for him and the audience entered through the cloisters, but in earlier years, when members of the Royal Family have stayed for several days, more radical solutions have been found.

The earliest of these was in 1788 when King George III visited with Queen Charlotte and three princesses as guests of Bishop Hurd at the Bishop’s Palace. Thomas Pitt, at that time acting as assistant organist, wrote[1]

“at eleven the soldiers were station’d at the North Door, which was appropriated for the Royal Visitants only, another door having been made on the occasion for the general accommodation”.

He didn’t mention where this other door was made, but Valentine Green marked it on a plan of the Cathedral in his History and Antiquities of the City and Suburbs of Worcester of 1796.

Valentine Green’s plan of the Cathedral. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

In this detail from the plan the letter “o” in the north quire aisle is identified as “A temporary entrance opened 1788, now closed”. The Royal party occupied a gallery newly constructed below the west window with a gold-fringed canopy of crimson silk, while the singers and instrumentalists performed from tiered seating before the organ screen. Both the gallery at the west end and the “orchestra” at the choir steps had been constructed in a bare three weeks, which was all the notification the King gave of the visit[2], but the arrangements met with general praise, even if the distance between the Royal visitors and performers was rather large.

For the next Royal visit, when the Duchess of Kent and her daughter the Princess Victoria attended in 1830, the preparations were even more elaborate. Victoria would have been eleven; her coronation was eight years off, but her arrival excited much attention and the local paper referred to “the Duchess and her interesting daughter”[3]. They were guests of the Dean, George Murray, who also happened to be the Bishop of Rochester and whose deanery stood north-west of the Edgar Tower.

Lord George Murray, Dean of Worcester. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

The Musical Festival was to be in the quire, as it always had been apart from the year of George III’s visit.  A tiered platform for the musicians (there were 60 instrumentalists and 70 singers that year[4]) was erected close to the organ screen, facing east.  As the quire was enclosed by wainscot and stone screens, carpenters built elaborate, tiered seating in the aisles and retrochoir that was raised high enough to see over the screens and spacious enough to accommodate the large audiences expected.  A huge chancel gallery stretched from the back of the altar to the east window and seated 800, and two further galleries were constructed over portions of the north and south quire aisles.  The Duchess and her daughter were seated on a raised platform between Prince Arthur’s chapel and the doorway to the south aisle.  Their “compartment” was covered in scarlet cloth and provided with two antique chairs, with cushions formerly used by George III and his consort, and the royal arms were richly emblazoned in gold behind the seats.

To enter the Cathedral the Duchess and Princess Victoria, accompanied by the Bishop of Worcester and the Bishop of Rochester respectively, climbed a staircase from the deanery garden to a temporary opening formed by removing a window in the Dean’s Chapel (the south-east transept), then followed a raised platform leading to the Royal seats. 

A tinted engraving of the old deanery next to the Transept Chapel. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

This engraving from 1819[5] shows the deanery and its garden in the foreground and the Cathedral and south-east transept behind. The Cathedral window used may have been on the east side of the transept as the space between the deanery and transept was rather restricted.

After the service the Chapter House was used for entertaining the visitors, and the Dean had invited selected nobility and gentry. A window had been removed from the deanery and a covered walkway led from it to a window of the chapter house, which had also been removed and from which a staircase descended to the floor inside. 

Old deanery buildings and transept. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

This painting, with the south-east transept of the Cathedral on the left and three buildings said to be part of the deanery on the right, shows the state of the passageway between them, and the poor condition of this explains why a covered walkway was constructed rather than expecting the royal visitors to walk down the passageway.

The plan below[6] shows the extent of the deanery buildings at the time, which included those marked from 1 to 5, along with the Guesten Hall. Nos. 1 to 3 are thought to have been old monastic buildings and can be seen in the painting above, and the one marked 3 served as the Dean’s kitchen, but may previously have been the “chapel abutting on the garden” that is mentioned in the Parliamentary Survey of 1650.[7]  The exact path of the covered walkway between the deanery and chapter house is not known.

A plan of the old deanery buildings. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

The arrangements were elaborate and, although every Worcester festival at this time entailed ambitious timber structures, 1830 proved to be an exceptional year and the construction work must have made work for a small army of carpenters.

Richard Newsholme.

[1] D6.9 Thomas Pitt’s notes on the visit of George III

[2] The chapter gave permission for stewards to erect the gallery and orchestra on 15th July 1788, having just been notified by the King. (A80 Chapter Act Book, f.40v)

[3] Berrow’s Worcester Journal, Thurs 16th Sept 1830, issue 6663

[4] The Times, Thurs 16th Sept 1830

[5] From James Storer, History and Antiquities of the Cathedral Churches of Great Britain, vol. 4, London, 1819.

[6] Plan from Add MS 91, an album of Mr Shuttleworth, master of the choir school in the early 1900s.

[7] T Cave and R A Wilson, The Parliamentary Survey of the Lands and Possessions of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester, Worcestershire Historical Society, 1924, p.170


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