The Old Palace - A living heritage of Christian ministry and hospitality
27 March 2008
The Old Palace, in Deansway, Worcester, has been a place of ministry, administration and hospitality since the 11th century. Its fantastic heritage is not only about the architecture but also its people centred use. So, over the years, the building has seen many changes from its original Norman style, with major rebuilding and extensions through the Medieval and Georgian periods and many adaptations since.
During the current decade there has been an ongoing programme of conservation together with adaptations to meet needs for access for people with disabilities. Prior to committing this work the Diocesan Secretary commissioned a review of alternative office locations. "While we looked elsewhere, the decision to stay in the Old Palace was sensible financially in terms of the rent we pay to the Cathedral which owns the building and because the City of Worcester is both near the middle of the diocese and has good public transport and road links."
With the Bishop's move from Hartlebury Castle to Worcester, his offices are now to be located in the Old Palace. Bishop John, the 113th Bishop of Worcester, is enthusiastic, "I'm really looking forward to working from the Old Palace. As well as the convenience of working with the diocesan staff who are already based there I also value the historic link with such an important building from which most of my predecessors have carried out their ministry, journeying around the diocese and welcoming people to Worcester."
The Diocesan Secretary stresses that this is also good overall use of the Church's assets for the Bishop's and Diocesan Offices to be co-located. The costs of Bishop's Offices are the responsibility of the Church Commissioners rather than being met from diocesan or parish funds. The cost of the work associated with the existing kitchen is being met from a trust fund.
Stephen Sedwell, a specialist conservation architect with ASTAM GBC of Gloucester, has drawn up the plans in liaison with officers of English Heritage, the City Council and the Cathedral's experts. While some alterations are necessary they are being kept to a minimum and the opportunity is being taken to remove less satisfactory work from the last century. At the same time services to the existing kitchen will be upgraded to current conservation and environmental health standards. This is enabling important conservation work to be undertaken to interior panelling and restore features that have been hidden for many years. Robert Higham, Diocesan Secretary, commented, "Great care has been taken by the architect in consultations to ensure that the alterations needed for the Bishop's Offices meet current needs as well as taking the opportunity to continue to conserve this historic building."
The Bishops of Worcester used the Old Palace as one of their official residences up until the middle of the 19th century when the Dean took it over up to the Second World War. In the 1950's it was re-established in its role as the Church House for the diocese as the centre of diocesan administration, as a place of ministry training and of hospitality for people from around the diocese. It even has its own "supporters club" of about 200 members who contribute to its upkeep.
There can be few such important buildings in England still in use today for some of the purposes for which they started life 900 years ago. As the Old Palace is a Grade 1 listed building any alterations come within the listed building controls of Worcester City Council. Also, because it is within the Cathedral Precinct, it is necessary to meet the Church's own conservation laws which are administered by the Cathedral's Fabric Advisory Committee whose members include specialists in heritage matters.
The Cathedral's Fabric Advisory Committee has now approved the plans. Detailed consultations have been held with Worcester City Council's planners and conservation officer and plans agreed with English Heritage. Applications are now being made to the City Council for listed building consent with a view to the work being undertaken in the summer.
The Diocese of Worcester is one of 44 dioceses in the Church of England. It covers an area of 671 square miles and includes parishes in the County of Worcestershire, the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley, and a few parishes in northern Gloucestershire, south east Wolverhampton and Sandwell.
From: Rachel Edwards, Acting Press Officer for the Diocese of Worcester and the Bishop of Worcester
Tel: 01905 20537 Mobile: 07852 302516 Fax: 01905 612302Email: DCOadmin@cofe-worcester.org.uk