If you have ever had to do some local history research about the city of Worcester, one of the first books you might think of looking in to check your facts is Valentine Green’s The History and Antiquities of the City and Suburbs of Worcester, in two volumes published in 1796. It contains some beautiful engravings. The life of the author and his history make for an interesting story.
Valentine Green was born in 1739 at a place called Salford near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire. Green’s father was a dancing master but Valentine’s talents lay elsewhere, because in 1760 he was made an apprentice to Robert Hancock an engraver of Worcester. Five years later, he arrived in London and took up mezzo-tint engraving. His talent meant that his work was shown at the prestigious Royal Academy in 1774. A year later he was made mezzo-engraver to King George III. He was then very fortunate to be granted the exclusive right to engrave and print copies of pictures in the Dusseldorf gallery by the Elector of Bavaria in 1789[i].
Disaster struck in 1792 during the French Revolutionary wars, when an invading French army destroyed the gallery and inadvertently ruined Green’s lucrative business opportunity. Despite this, Valentine Green’s talent meant there was a demand for his work and around 400 engravings of famous artists’ works took place over the years.
Green’s book on Worcester was originally published in a smaller version in 1764. This was expanded for his new edition. He used Rev. Treadway Nash’s Collections of the History of Worcestershire to help him and used Nash’s papers with his permission. He also used documents kept in the city archive, the British Museum and other bodies. For the Cathedral, he was fortunate to be able to access documents reproduced in other works. As Green acknowledged, checking the facts carefully “was the most irksome part” of his duty.
Although Green was a good mezzo-tint engraver, the drawings and engravings in the Worcester book were in fact done by a variety of other artists. They include a map of the city and suburbs surveyed by George Young, engravings of city parish churches, the Audit Hall and the infirmary and coins and trade tokens. A view of Worcester was drawn by James Ross and engraved by S. Sparrow, whilst Ross also drew several important views of parts of the Cathedral also engraved by different people.
The first volume of Green’s history discussed Roman Worcester, then toured the Cathedral looking at the clergy and the monuments. It also mentioned Worcester Castle and notable events in the city’s past. In volume two, Green gave a survey of the present condition of the contemporary city, including its civil government, parish churches, charitable institutions such as alms-houses or the infirmary, persons of note from Worcester through history, seals and coins. The appendices in volume two are also packed with useful information from an inventory of plate from the late medieval Cathedral Priory, and transcripts of other interesting or important documents relating to the city, royal visits, civil government, parish obituaries and notes on the siege of Worcester from a variety of sources.
Valentine Green did not come back to Worcester for the famous investigation of the tomb of King John when it was opened and the body studied. However, he wrote the pamphlet on the event, which took place on 17th July 1797. It details how previous writers had followed each other and assumed the tomb in the quire was empty because they believed erroneously that King John had been buried in the Lady Chapel. They were convinced that his body was still there. Green, perhaps with his engraver’s attention to detail, was determined to check the facts rather than lazily assume something was true because someone said it was so. He therefore gained permission for Mr. Sandford a surgeon to lead the study and the engraver James Ross to record the event[ii]. Having got the permission of the Dean Dr. Arthur Onslow (see a previous blog article), they undertook the venture and discovered the body was indeed still in the tomb[iii].
King John was dressed in a crimson damask robe, which had faded over time to a brown. They also found that a sword in a scabbard had been placed in the King’s left hand. However, both the sword and scabbard had deteriorated. The lower legs were covered in material, which was secured at the ankles, but it was not ascertained if this material was leather or cloth[iv]. Green also wrote about the coffin, such as the interior length of the tomb being 5 feet 7 inches, and some general remarks. Unfortunately, this very rare opportunity to study a royal burial was shortened by a hoard of impatient onlookers. Their behaviour forced the Cathedral authorities to order the tomb be closed[v].
Valentine Green went on to be the keeper of a private organization for displaying artists’ works called the British Institution from 1805 until his death in 1813[vi]. His legacy locally is a valuable historical record of what was known in the late eighteenth century. He is also the person posterity must praise for asking that the tomb of King John be opened to prove that he was still there and the tomb should not be moved.
Edith Ophelia Browne and John Richard Burton (eds.), Short Biographies of the Worthies of Worcestershire, E. G. Humphreys for the authors, Worcester 1916.
Valentine Green, The History and Antiquities of the City and Suburbs of Worcester, 2 volumes, W. Bulmer for the author, London 1796.
Valentine Green, An Account of the Discovery of the Body of King John in the Cathedral Church of Worcester July 17th, 1797, London and Worcester
Pat Hughes and Annette Leech, The Story of Worcester, Logaston Press, Woonton Almeley 2011.
The Dictionary of National Biography. The Concise Dictionary part 1 from the beginnings to 1900, Oxford University Press, London 1965, p.530
[i] Edith Ophelia Browne and John Richard Burton (eds.), Short Biographies of the Worthies of Worcestershire, 1916, p.63
[ii] Pat Hughes and Annette Leech, The Story of Worcester, 2011, p.153
[iv] Valentine Green, An Account of the Discovery of the Body of King John in the Cathedral Church of Worcester July 17th, 1797, p.5
[v] Pat Hughes and Annette Leech, The Story of Worcester, 2011, pp.154
[vi] Edith Ophelia Browne and John Richard Burton (eds.), Short Biographies of the Worthies of Worcestershire, 1916, p.63; The Dictionary of National Biography. The Concise Dictionary part 1 from the beginnings to 1900, Oxford University Press, 1965, p.530