Tradition has it that the building was founded as a hospital around 1085 by Saint Wulfstan, then Bishop of Worcester. However the hospital was built around a much earlier Saxon chapel dedicated to Saint Gudwal - which was located to the North of the present building. The building attributed to Saint Wulfstan was a monastic institution designed to act as a hospital. It seems to have been established with the needs of travellers in mind. Its location, just outside the city walls beside the Sidbury gate, put it at the junction of the main roads from London, Bath and Bristol. Here it could provide travellers with aid should they arrive after the closing of the gates at night. The first written record of its existence does not occur until the 13th century, in 1240 in "The Miracles of St. Wulfstan". This collection of stories refers to a Thomas of Eldersfield who was blinded and castrated after losing a judicial duel. According to the story Thomas was cared for at the Hospital of St. Wulfstan by Ysabel [sic] a lay sister who took pity on him. Thomas went on to make a miraculous recovery, having both his sight and manhood restored by a miracle of St. Wulfstan. The basic facts of this story appear to be true, as the legal case definitely went before the royal justices in 1221. This would suggest that the hospital was certainly in existence at that point.
This chapel was a substantial structure as the remains of stone pillars from the building to be seen in the garden suggest. The Hospital itself eventually assumed a shape typical of this period, a H with the Great Hall forming the crossing point between two wings, which still exist today. Most of the building dates from the late fifteenth century and is of timber framed construction. Much of this timber frame would have been cut to size and fitted together in the timber yard before being dismantled and re-erected on site, making timber framed buildings amongst the first "pre-fabs". So that each piece was put together in the right order, the timbers were marked by the carpenters. These marks can be seen throughout the building usually in the form of roman numerals. The spaces between the beams were in-filled with wattle and daub. The wattle, a woven construction of wood was covered by the daub, a plaster whose ingredients could include mud, lime, cow dung, horse hair or straw. After serving its original function for nearly 500 years, the hospital was among the last monastic institutions to be dissolved by Henry VIII in 1540.
On the 22nd August 1651, Charles II marched into Worcester at the head of 18,000 men, and set up his Headquarters in the city. William, 2nd Duke of Hamilton, was the Royalist Commander in Chief and he and other officers were billeted at The Commandery. The Royalist troops spent the next two weeks preparing the city's defences, including the fortification of Fort Royal Hill behind The Commandery and City Walls alongside the building. A week later, Oliver Cromwell arrived in Worcestershire with 30,000 men of the New Model Army. On the 3rd September, battle commenced at around noon with Cromwell's attack. After several strategic gains, the Royalists were quickly overrun and the army were soon retreating in panic. At the Sidbury Gate outside The Commandery a massive slaughter took place as soldiers tried to flee. By the end of the day, Charles was a fugitive, Hamilton lay dying in The Commandery and England was no longer governed by a monarch with Divine Right. "Say you have been at Worcester, where England's sorrows began, and where they are happily ended." Hugh Peter 1651.
The Commandery has been used for many different purposes over the many years it has been around. These include: a Church, a house, a monastic hospital, hotel and in present day, a museum open to the public. In its current form, it displays six different periods of history, focusing on the characters and stories that affected The Commandery itself at those times. The periods covered are as follows: The Medieval period, when The Commandery is said to have been founded (possibly 1085, though it may have been up to two centuries later). It served as an almshouse as well as a place of hospitality for pilgrims and other travellers and was most probably founded by the Order of St John of Jerusalem, the Knights Hospitallers, who named their administrative areas commanderies. The Tudor period, when, following the suppression in 1540, The Commandery became the residence of the Wyldes, a family of clothiers who remained in possession of it until 1785. The Civil War, when The Commandery was used by Charles II's forces as headquarters during the Battle of Worcester. The Georgian period, when after its sale by Thomas Wylde in 1785 The Commandery was split into several family homes. The Victorian period, when The Commandery housed a pioneering school for the "blind sons of gentlemen". The 1950s, when The Commandery was used as a printing factory by the Littlebury family. The Commandery includes multimedia exhibits, interactive displays and children's activities.
Most of the collections are presented so as to be viewable from wheelchair height; however some displays in flat cases may be difficult to view for wheelchair users. Four rooms of the garden wing of the Commandery are not accessible to wheelchair users however all the other rooms on the tour are. Interpretation boards are provided for most exhibits. Interactive exhibits, audio interpretation and opportunities to be hands on are provided throughout and where possible have been located at accessible heights. Lavatories are located on the ground floor in the canal wing of the building. Another four toilets are located in the garden wing of the building comprising of two unisex and one male and one female. The main toilet block in the canal wing consists of three separate areas, ladies, gents, accessible toilet (unisex) and baby change facilities. The museum tour is interpreted with an audio guide with adjustable volume and a T setting for the hearing impaired. Written translations of the audio tour are available from the shop/reception on request. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : The Commandery, Sidbury, Worcester, WR1 2HU
Transport: Worcester Foregate Street (National Rail) then bus 1 mile. Bus Routes : 26, 44, 303, 309, 349, 350, 363 and 550 stop near by.
Opening Times : Monday to Saturday 10:00 to 17:00; Sunday 13:30 to 17:00.
Tickets : Adults £5.50; Concessions £4.50; Children (5 - 15) £2.50.
Tel: 01905 361821