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Name:Bishop’s Palace
HER Reference:WCM96015
Type of record:Building
Grid Reference:SO 849 546
Map Sheet:SO85SW
Parish:Worcester (Non Civil Parish), Worcester City, Worcestershire

Monument Types

  • BISHOPS PALACE (MEDIEVAL - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)

Associated Events

  • Old Bishops Palace (Ref: WCM100588)
  • Watching brief on ground investigations, Old Palace, Deansway (Ref: WCM101272)
  • Old Palace access works (Ref: WCM101329)
  • Old Palace lift shaft (Ref: WCM101330)
  • Old Palace, Conservation Management plan (Ref: WCM102043)
  • Restaurant floor, Old Palace (Ref: WCM101581)
  • Old Palace, Deansway, Photographic Survey (Ref: WCM102702)

Protected Status

  • Listed Building
  • Scheduled Monument
  • Scheduled Monument
  • Scheduled Monument
  • Scheduled Monument
  • Scheduled Monument

Full description

DEANSWAY (West side) The Old Palace
22/05/5 4
(Formerly Listed as: DEANSWAY (West side) The Deanery)


Medieval episcopal palace.

A single large building since the 18th century, this monument incorporates a number of separate, free-standing, medieval structures that are at present insufficiently understood to be treated separately.

The present form of the building owes most to work done for Bishop Hough, c.1719-1723, by the architects William and Francis Smith, notably the front (east) wing and its formal neo-classical facade. This is built of red sandstone ashlar with white ashlar dressings, is of 11 bays (4-3-4), with the arms of Bishop Hough on the central pediment; the façade is symmetrical about the central entrance, and of two storeys. All windows in the façade are sash windows with cambered arches and moulded ashlar surrounds with stepped keystones.

Other major post-medieval building episodes that are known are: substantial alterations to the chapel in the 1560s for Bishop Sandys; embellishments for Bishop Skinner (including the chapel), c.1663-70; repairs and rebuilding of the west elevation c.1759-74; and the addition of a bay window for Bishop Hurd, c.1781-7 {1}.

The façade disguises a cluster of individual buildings accommodated to the slope down to the west. The earliest (on present understanding) is at the south-east corner of the complex, an east-west building of Romanesque date, with a two-bay quadripartite-vaulted undercroft sunk west-east into the hillside. Its superstructure has a round-arched door and similar single-light window (jambs of Highley stone, blocked) visible at ground level in the south elevation.

The core of the complex is the so-called 'Abbot's Kitchen' undercroft with the 'Great Hall' above. The undercroft is lit from the west and north but is mostly below courtyard level to the east. Roofed with four bays of quadripartite rib vaulting, springing from corbels in the walls, with an additional longitudinal rib and with bosses at the intersections. The north wall has a tall lancet window and inserted fireplace. The doorway in north-east corner gave access to an octagonal stair-turret and thus to the upper floor. The window in centre of the west elevation is fully-developed Decorated in style, suggestive of (?) a later 13th-century date for this range. Blocked sharply-pointed window in east wall (ref to record made of the E face of this wall in c 2000 by Dr Peters, WCM 101232). Doorway at north end of west (end) wall now gives access to outside, formerly to base of a latrine tower shown on the west façade in the Buck Bros. 'South-west prospect of the City of Worcester', 1732. {add as ref}

The principal access to the undercroft is via the stepped entrance at its south-east corner, covered by a vaulted two-storey porch with a wide outer doorway flanked by two small loop windows. Over the vault is the entrance to the Great Hall, approached by the principal staircase and formerly by stairs down to the south. The hall has a flat panelled timber ceiling and is lit by a window of five stepped trefoil-headed lancet lights with transoms and a continuous hoodmould on the outside. To the south of the Great Hall, accessed via a doorway in the third bay from the west, are the remains of the chapel. Now a small chamber lying north-south, this incorporates a probable former vestry between the Great Hall and the former chapel chancel. The chapel originally lay east -west, but its nave was demolished and the remaining chancel and vestry amalgamated and re-orientated north - south for Bishop Sandys in the 16th century. The former chancel arch survives blocked within the present chapel's west wall, and the five-light window in the south wall is traditionally said to have been moved there from the west end of the former nave. A small courtyard probably originally lay between the south wall of the Great Hall and the nave of the chapel {2}.

Beneath the chapel is an undercroft said to contain 'massive Norman work...and a wall with a large entrance, now blocked, which is enclosed by a lobby but was once an outside wall', together with an inserted mezzanine floor level {3}. A medieval wing extends north from the west end of the Great Hall. At undercroft level are two chambers with quadripartite vaulting with semi-octagonal ribs. The southern chamber incorporates a former external buttress to the (earlier) great hall. The northern chamber, and the north end of the wing, have been truncated and the end rebuilt, together with the whole superstructure, c.1763 by Bishop Johnson. According to Barbara Ronchetti {4} there are 'three round-headed Norman arches at ground level providing a walkway in front of the vaulted undercroft and supporting rooms above'. But doubt is cast on this interpretation by the (former) retained architect Dr J E C Peters, who maintains that 'there is no evidence of Norman work north of the south wall of the chapel' {5}. ref 5 needs to be checked

The east (courtyard) elevation retains its medieval sandstone fabric. East of this, on the north side of the Great Hall and undercroft, is a small courtyard between the medieval north-west wing and the early 18th-century wing behind the principal façade. The north side of the courtyard was formerly occupied by a building interpreted as a 15th- or 16th-century kitchen, whose south wall survives and closes off the courtyard. Part of the kitchen's north wall and fireplace are incorporated in the curtilage wall to the north {6}.

To the south of the chapel, a further 13th-century vaulted undercroft lies north-south, communicating at its south end with the surviving (south-east) Romanesque range. It is of four quadripartite-vaulted bays. Above, the superstructure is traditionally designated the solar, and attributed to Bishop Giffard. Two Decorated-type windows in the west elevation have two trefoil-headed lights beneath a round quatrefoil light with sunk spandrels either side. To their south is a massive projecting chimney-stack. The north end of this range appears externally to have been truncated by the massive neo-classical block that dominates the middle of the western elevation, attributed to Bishop Stillingfleet from 1691.

The palace was taken over by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1843, refurbished internally, and sold to the Dean and Chapter for use as the new Deanery. It remained in this role until 1941 and has since been used as offices. The palace was damaged by a serious fire in 1943, at which time many architectural features normally concealed by panelling were revealed {7}. Interpretation of the 'Great Hall' as the principal hall of the later 13th century may be flawed. Comparison of its floor-area with other sites suggests a more probable interpretation as a first-floor chamber or secondary hall, associated with a much larger ground-floor hall nearby, since demolished (see WCM 96644). The 1651 map of Worcester ('as it stood fortified'...) shows the palace as a castle-like building, possibly reflecting and emphasising corner turrets and former crenellated parapets to the Great Hall.

There has been no comprehensive survey of the building; no accurate or recently surveyed ground plans are available, and the only known measured elevation is of the principal east façade. Plans, and a number of drawings of architectural detail were however made in the early 19th century by James Ross {8}.

( add sources {9} and {10})

excavation of lift shaft and associated works, and various watching briefs, by Monmouth Archaeology, 2004-05

Cross-reference to: the Lay Cemetery, WCM 96385.

Formerly the Episcopal Palace, now Diocesan offices. Origins c1200-35, additions c1268-1302 for Bishop Godfrey Gifford (including the Abbot's Kitchen and Abbot's Hall); additions and alterations (including substantial alterations and truncation of the Chapel) c1560s for Dr Edwin Sandys re-using earlier materials; further embellishments for Bishop Skinner (particularly to Chapel) c1663-70; additions and alterations to east facade probably c1719-23 for Bishop John Hough by architects William and Francis Smith of Tettenhall, Staffordshire; extensive repairs for Dr James Johnson including some rebuilding to west facade c1759-74; further alterations including addition of bay window to drawing room for Bishop Richard Hurd c1781-7. Red sandstone ashlar to front facade with white sandstone ashlar dressings (including pilasters, architraves, floor bands, cornice, and copings; pinkish-brown brick stacks with ashlar cornices, and pots, plain tile roof.

PLAN: complex with irregular additions and irregular floor levels. The Palace is situated on a slope, so that the rear (west) facade has an additional lower storey, which includes at north west the medieval Abbot's kitchen, above which (to first floor) is the Great Hall. To the south of the former hall porch is the Chapel which formerly ran the length of the hall but was truncated so that the chancel only survives, its liturgical axis was altered in the process (for Dr Sandys), the main window, now to south, overlooks a small courtyard. There is a further courtyard to the north of the hall. The
east facade (now the main facade) was regularized with an addition 1-room deep including central hallway.

EXTERIOR: Main (east) facade: 2 storeys (with further, lower storey and attics to rear), 4:3:4 first-floor windows. Central breakforward with end pilasters and wide, segmental pediment containing arms of Bishop Hough; cavetto-moulded cornice and embattled, coped parapet. Plinth has shaped, roll-edged copings which form sill band to ground-floor windows. Double cavetto-moulded first-floor band. Ground floor has 6/6 sashes; first floor has mainly 9/6 sashes. All sash windows are cambered-arched and in moulded ashlar surrounds with stepped keystones; first-floor windows have moulded sills and aprons. Central first-floor window is an oculus with radial glazing bars and has tooled architrave and 4 voussoirs. Central entrance, double 8-raised-and-fielded-panel doors with 2 raised and fielded panels over and plain fanlight, in pilastered surround and with cavetto-moulded architrave and keystone. Rear (west) facade of 2 and 3 storeys with attics, 4 irregular bays. From left (south): canted 2-storey bay, the ground floor of which is open with 3 round arches and has within a trefoil-headed lancet; to first floor are three 1/1 sashes with blind boxes. Second bay of 2 storeys with attic, 1 first-floor window; ground floor has flight of steps to pointed-arched entrance with plank door with raised 'Y' moulding, then 2-cusped-light window with quatrefoil to head and hoodmould. First-floor band surmounted by window of 5 stepped trefoil-headed lancet lights with transoms and continuous hoodmould. Above, to attic storey a small lancet light with louvered cover. Third bay breaks forward. 3 storeys with attics, 3 first-floor windows. Chamfered plinth, continuous first- and second-floor sill bands. Ground and third floors have 8/8 sashes; first floor has 6/6 sashes, all in plain reveals, and with sills to ground and first floors. 3 attic roof dormers have casement windows. The right return of the third bay has entrance to ground floor a plank door with fanlight, similar sash windows to first and second floors. Fourth bay is recessed: 2 storeys with attic, 2 first-floor windows. Ground floor has 2 pointed lancets; first floor has half a 2-light window with geometrical tracery to head; hoodmoulds. Gabled attic dormer has casementwindows.
External: stack to facade; right end has off-set buttress to angle. To north courtyard a 12/9 cambered-arched staircase sash with thick ovolo glazing bars and retaining much original glass. To south, internal courtyard a 5-light Perpendicular window.

INTERIOR: lower ground floor has Abbot's Kitchen with four bays of rib-vaulting, the ribs spring from corbels approximately 1.25 metres from ground and form quatrepartite bays, but with an added longitudinal ridge-rib with foliate bosses. Blocked pointed window to east with 2 orders of roll-moulding and hoodmould with face stops; further opening with pointed plank door and roll moulding. Tall lancet window in west wall has deeply-chamfered reveals. Inserted fireplace to north wall, also a pointed doorway (part blocked) and further entrance a pointed plank door to south wall in double-chamfered pointed arched opening withhoodmould. To north-east a C17 closed-string, dogleg staircase gives access to great hall, shaped rod-on-vase balusters and shaped handrail. Further vaulted passages to undercroft and cellar with further medieval openings and walls. Ground floor: central hallway has wide staircase with elaborately carved tread ends and 3 balusters per tread, a central barleytwist-on-vase between rod-on-vase; shaped handrail with slight wreath and curved, wider lower step. Dado with raised and fielded panelling. Moulded cornice. C17 dogleg staircase to south has rod-on-vase balusters, ramped and shaped handrail, shallow wreath and carved tread ends. First floor: tall arch to head of main staircase gives access to landing and, to north, the Great Hall (over Abbot's Kitchen). Great Hall much redone, roof with ovolo-moulded beams on arched braces. To east end a large Perpendicular doorway with a steep arch with 2 orders of continuous ovolo mouldings and hoodmould; early C17 chimneypiece with overmantel (removed during late C18 from one of prebendyl houses) has strapwork to overmantel and coats of arms; allegorical female figures over caryatids; panelling to dado. Chapel retains trefoil-headed piscina, 5-light late Perpendicular window with stained glass probably c1800 in south wall; C17 panelling with shaped dentil cornice, panelling to rear of altar has Serlio-type decoration and fluted pilasters; arch and canopied bishop's pew to rear; altar rails have onion-on-vase balusters; roof has panelled vault on carved corbels; black and white marble tiled floor with Minton tiles in lobby. To south, the landing has a C17 pointed-arched door with lozenge decoration in pointed-arched surround with 2 orders of roll-moulding. A short flight of stairs to west has barleytwist-on-vase balusters and shaped handrail, this gives access to former entrance to chapel.
Original joinery survives including panelled shutters, 6-panel doors, 8-raised-and-fielded-panel doors, some with tooled architraves; original plasterwork includes moulded cornices.
One room on ground floor at south has chamfered beam with ogee stop.

HISTORICAL NOTE: by the early C13 a Bishop's house stood on the present site of which at least two internal walls survive. The Bishop's Palace was sold to the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral in 1846 for ,3,000. It remained as the Deanery until 1941. During the Second World War it was let to the Ministry of Works (1941-50), now Diocesan offices. The palace has hosted three royal visits: in 1575 Elizabeth I, her Council and Household stayed here; James II stayed for three nights in 1687; George III and members of the royal family stayed in 1788. Between 1719-23 Bishop John Hough paid a total of ,1,164 to William and Francis Smith for work done at the Palace, this probably included the removal of a Gatehouse and adjoining stables and Bowling Alley and other buildings to east of the Palace, with rebuilding of east part. Their work is typically a fine example of the Baroque tradition

(Craze M: The Old Palace Worcester: 1996-; The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: Worcestershire: Harmondsworth: 1968-1985: 315-6). {1}

record needs overhaul
Multiple refs to be checked and updated including fieldwork

Sources and further reading

<1>Unpublished document: 2001. Revised list of buildings of special architectural or historical interest. Department of Culture, Media and Sport, London. 217-219.
<2>Monograph: 1924. History of the County of Worcestershire IV. 408.
<3>Article in serial: Ronchetti, B. 1991. The Old Palace. Worcester Cathedral: report of the first annual symposium on the precinct. Barker, P, and Guy, C, Worcester Cathedral, Worces. 10.
<4>Article in serial: Ronchetti, B. 1991. The Old Palace. Worcester Cathedral: report of the first annual symposium on the precinct. Barker, P, and Guy, C, Worcester Cathedral, Worces.
<5>Unpublished document: ?. Peters, JEC, 10-4-2000: letter to writer, City SMR file???? CHECK.
<6>Monograph: 1924. History of the County of Worcestershire IV. 408.
<7>Article in serial: Ronchetti, B. 1991. The Old Palace. Worcester Cathedral: report of the first annual symposium on the precinct. Barker, P, and Guy, C, Worcester Cathedral, Worces. 11-13.
<8>Cartographic materials: Ross, J. Pub by Worcester Cathedral, Worcester. 1815. Plans and details of the Palace at Worcester, 1815.
<9>Monograph: Pevsner, N. 1968. The buildings of England: Worcestershire. Published in Harmondsworth. 315-6.
<10*>Monograph: Collier, R H. 1954. The Old Palace, its History and Associations. Published in Worcester.
<11*>Article in monograph: Atherton, Jill, Morris, Richard K. And Tatton-Brown, Tim. 2013. The Old Bishop's Palace, Worcester: some observations on its medieval fabric. Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society. Ancient Monuments Society. 57.
<12*>Correspondence: Fleming, T. 2012. Application for Scheduled Monument Consent - approval.
<13>Bibliographic reference: 1938. Worcester Official Guide.
<14>Internet Site: Historic England. 2019. National Record of the Historic Environment Monument Database.

Related records

WCM96016Part of: Bishop’s Palace enclosure (Monument)