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A Mask of Death in Worcester

Odd things lurk in the back alleys and yards of our cities. In Worcester this strange head with its pained expression is set into an alcove next to the fire exit of a branch of Costa coffee. It is actually the original death mask of one William Guise, a tailor in the city during the English Civil War.

On the eve of the Battle of Worcester in the September of 1651 Guise overheard plans being made to launch a surprise attack on Cromwell's camp. He turned traitor, creeping out of the city walls to inform the Parliamentarian forces of the intended Royalist assault, but was caught as he tried to return.

He owned up but was summarily hanged, left swinging from the sign of the Golden Keys inn.

After Cromwell's final victory Guise's widow was awarded an annual pension of £200, a considerable sum at the time. Her husband's face was cast then set into the wall of the Golden Lion Inn which she owned for some time, and it has stayed in position there ever since. While old William now casts his disapproving stare at Costa staff taking smoking breaks on the steps, undergoing the occasional indignation of cigarettes placed in his mouth - I even once saw him sporting a pair of Elton John style sunglasses - the traitorous tailor has been here for almost four centuries and will be here long after the taste for coffee fades.

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