What Makes Worcester’s Tudor House Museum so Special?

Above: Tudor House, Friar St, Worcester. Photo by Elliott Brown via CC BY 2.0

In the popular imagination, Worcestershire is probably best known for its namesake sauce, Edward Elgar, scenery, porcelain, the site of the last battle of the English Civil War… and more recently for lending its name to the setting of the third Shrek movie. Adding to all this for me is Worcester’s Tudor House Museum (THM); a whimsical, weird, and completely brilliant venue.

I volunteered weekly at the THM between the winter of 2018 and the summer of 2019, and I admit my bias towards it upfront. The space is palpably loved in a way somewhat unique to small, local museums, with an atmosphere of conviviality and joy, and it has ethnographic qualities which ground it in the lives of Worcester locals going back half a millennium and show a side of life not often emphasised. It is a monument to centuries of Worcester’s working-class history and, prior to COVID-19, was a staple of local school groups and residents, as well as a renowned tourist attraction.

The building’s history

The museum is situated on Friar Street; ‘Worcester’s oldest (and prettiest) street’ according to the THM’s website, and an area of Worcester that maintains the aesthetic of cobbled streets and classic 15th and 16th century white-and-black architecture. The museum building is formed from three mid-16th century houses, the foundations of which were laid as early as the 13th and which were bought and integrated by Richard Cadbury in the early 20th century.

At various points in its history the building has served as weaving and carpentry workshops, a brewery, a bakery, the home of a solicitor’s widow, an infamous pub (the Cross Keys), a café owned by the Cadbury’s, a WW2 warden’s office, and a clinic and dentist’s office to name but a few. It has a storied past, and each room of the contemporary building is dedicated to interpreting and telling these stories in a way which centralises the real, lived experiences of those who inhabited and left their mark on the space.

The Tudor Coffee House
PHOTOGRAPH BY The Changing Face of Worcester

The museum’s approach

The museum leans towards replica items which can be picked up and played with, creating a tactile learning environment which compliments the labels and leaflets. The THM’s learning ethos appears to me to centre around a deeply human way of teaching and learning history. While it’s not aimed specifically at children, it appeals to the inner child in all of us while maintaining an extremely high standard of educational output. The museum also has an extensive history of hosting craft and writing workshops for all ages, which facilitate practical skill sharing as well as providing spaces for the local community to meet and learn. I would argue that many of the workshops they run for kids, such as the ‘Evacuee Experience’ and ‘Make-Do and Mend’ are exercises not just in abstract history or practical skills, but also in empathy; connecting kids to the lived, tangible experiences of their predecessors which is often obfuscated by a purely theoretical approach to history.

Current projects

Bedfellows: the recreation of Tudor-style curtains and a counterpane for the four-poster bed, using contemporary techniques and designs generated through workshops involving the local community. This project is funded by the National Lottery, Arts Council England, and the Elmley Small Grants scheme.

The four-poster bed
PHOTOGRAPH BY Tudor House Museum

Changing Face of Worcester: a project aiming to digitise and archive the photographic collections of Clive and Malcolm Haynes donated to the museum in the early 2000s. Approximately 8,500 photographs have been digitised so far, and there are many more to do. If you’d like to know more or get involved, more info can be found here.

Revealing the Past: a project to research the history of the building and tell its original story. The project particularly focusses on the building’s cloth manufacturing past - which dates back to the 1520s - and well as restoration of the embossed ceiling in the Tudor Chamber. This ceiling is the only surviving embossed ceiling in Worcester, and its design of roses, fleur-de-lys and horses will be returned to its former glory through funding from the National Lottery.

Embossed ceiling
PHOTOGRAPH BY Tudor House Museum

Awards and support

The museum exists in its current form due to the efforts of a small group of volunteers who formed the Worcester Heritage & Amenity Trust, following the closure of the council-run Museum of Local Life in 2003. In 2008, the lease was taken on by Worcester Municipal Charities, providing a ‘secure foundation’ and allowing the museum to grow to ever greater heights. In recent years the THM has won multiple accolades at the West Midlands Volunteer Awards including ‘Above and Beyond Team’ and overall ‘Judges Award for Excellence’ in 2017, ‘Warmest Welcome’ in 2018, and was named overall ‘Group Winner’ in 2019. Certainly during my time there, I was repeatedly struck by the passion and dedication shown by both the volunteers and the management.

The museum survives on donations, choosing not to implement admission fees; itself an unusual feature for a small local museum and it is a space deeply loved by the ensemble of Worcester residents who volunteer there. If you’d like to donate, volunteer, visit or support, check out their website. I really can’t recommend the Tudor House Museum enough - it is a love letter to the city and the county; going beyond the popular image of museums as spaces of disembodied looking and making a lasting impression on all who visit.

Visitor information

Website: tudorhouse.org.uk

Location: 38-42 Friar Street, Worcester, WR1 2NA. The museum is a ten-minute walk from Worcester Foregate Train Station, and a fifteen-minute walk from Crown Gate Bus Station. The nearest accessible carpark is the Cathedral Car Park.

Admission: free, donations welcome (card only). THM would like to remain free, so please give generously!

Opening Hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 10am – 4pm. Pre-booking 24hr in advance is currently required: contact manager@tudorhouse.org.uk or call 01905 612309.

Catering: there is an on-site coffee shop, with dairy and gluten free options available.

Accessibility: the building is very old and has uneven floors and narrow, steep staircases. There is no lift, although a DVD ‘Alternative Visit’ shows the upstairs rooms (accompanied with a free tea or coffee), and there are places to rest on both floors. There is a large toilet on the ground floor, and guide dogs are welcome. More information can be found on the museum’s accessibility page.

COVID-19 specific information: all museum guests must wear masks (unless they have a valid, pre-disclosed reason not to) and sanitise their hands upon entry. More information and the COVID-19 Visitor Safety Statement can be found on the website.

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Natalie McGowan

Natalie McGowan has an MSc in Visual, Material, and Museum Anthropology from the University of Oxford and a Bachelor's in Ancient History from the University of Birmingham. Natalie has been involved in local heritage in the West Midlands since 2013 and LGBTQ advocacy since 2015, and has a special interest in the use of museums as spaces of social healing and tolerance. They are currently working with Mainly Museums as a Contributing Editor, volunteering for the Museum of Transology as a website volunteer, and Bury St. Edmunds Guildhall as a social media volunteer.