The Church of “St. Michael the Archangel, near the City of Worcester”, served a small but important parish, which included the ancient Sanctuary, the Bishop’s Palace and Castle or County Prison. The parish remained outside the confines of the City and exempt from its jurisdiction until 1832.
When the Cathedral became monastic it was necessary to make provision for the spiritual needs of this district, and the Church of St. Michael was built in the north east corner of the College Churchyard. The Churchyard had been the only important cemetery in the neighbourhood from Saxon times, and the church no doubt owed its dedication to the fact that it was to serve as a cemetery chapel. The Archangel Michael was always considered to have a special interest in the burial of the dead.
The Sacrist of the Cathedral had from the beginning been responsible for burials in the Churchyard, and, after the building of St. Michael’s Church, he became its patron but seems to have left this duty to the Rector.
There were no Cathedral Registers until 1693, so that all records which concern the Cathedral and its precincts must be sought in the registers of St. Michael’s Church.
The parish s is fortunate in having registers, dating from 1542, and also a very complete series of churchwardens’ accounts from 1539 to 1881; those from 1539 to 1603 have been printed and published. From these sources we can obtain a picture of the parish and its inhabitants. A new church of little interest was built in 1842, on the north side of the newly constructed College Street, and in 1881 the parish of St. Michael was united with that of St. Helen.
The few mural inscriptions which remain can be found in this latter church; and some grave-stones which formed part of the floor of the old church may still be seen in the Churchyard.
The Worcestershire Archaeological Society published a short article in vol. XIX of its Transactions, entitled “Old St. Michael’s Church and the College Churchyard”.
Or, as it is more generally called, St. Michael in Bedwardine, is a chapelry in the lower division of Oswaldslaw hundred. It is bounded on the east and south by St. Peter’s parish, on the west by the Severn, and on the north, by the parishes of St. Alban and St. Helen. It includes within its limits, the cathedral churchyard, the episcopal palace, and the charnel-house, north; and the castle, with its hill, down to the river south of the cathedral, which, with its precincts, is wholly surrounded by them to the Severn. This parish, in 1775, contained 99 houses, and 622 inhabitants.
The church of St. Michael is a peculiar, in the gift of the dean and chapter of Worcester. About the year 1551, this living lapsed to the crown, and has so continued ever since, it not being worth while to pay the expence of the seals, &c. on account of the smallness of the rectory ; it is, therefore, held by licence. The first incumbent was Will’us de Norton, pbr. 12 kal. Oct. 1280, according to Bishop Giffard’s Register, f. 109. a. The present minister is the Rev. Thomas Clarke, M. A. This church, which is situated at the north-east angle of the cathedral, is an ancient building ; its inside, by the last fitting up it received, hath been rendered extremely neat, decent, and commodious. A new altar-piece, communion-table, and a pulpit, embellished with good carvings, which, with a new gallery and pews, have given it altogether a very respectable appearance.
The boundaries of the manor of Guestenhall (the hall of which yet remains within the precincts of the cathedral) cannot well be ascertained, as they extend into all parts of the city, and almost into every street where the church had either lands or houses. In the Parliamentary Survey is the following account of some of its customs: “There is a court leet and court baron belonging to this manor, where the tenants are bound to appear, as well leaseholders as copyholders; the freeholders hold by fealty and rent.
“The fines upon the copyholders are uncertain, and the copyholders may take for as many lives as they can agree with the lord, there being no custom for any certain number; their fines are arbitrary, at the will of the lord. The heriots reserved in money upon the copies, and upon some leases, which usually are a year’s rent, payable only upon the death of the tenant in possession. The widow has her free bench.
“In 1649, there were about 36 freeholders, whose rent amounted to 7l. 18s. 11d.; 62 copyholders, whose rent was 26l. 14s. 4d. ; and 127 leaseholders, whose rent was 155l. 14s. 4d.”
The precincts of the cathedral, in 1779, contained 28 houses and 201 inhabitants.
Source: Green, Valentine. The History and Antiquities of the City and Suburbs of Worcester. London, Printed for the Author by W. Bulmer and Co. 1796.