Worcester Cathedral is an impressive and fascinating building in it's own right, but a nearby structure that forms part of the Cathedral precincts is of particular interest to us as a mystery of Mercia.
The Edgar Tower is a huge gatehouse that was once the entrance to the now vanished Worcester Castle. Once a wooden building that formed part of the old “burh” walls first commissioned by Alfred the Great, it was replaced with a grand tower of stone during the 1300s and remained as one of the gates into the city as the castle fell gradually into disrepair. The tower got it's name from a statue of the Anglo Saxon king Edgar the Peaceful that stood on the tower for centuries before being replaced by the newer gallery of Mercian bigwigs that look down on the visitor today.
So with the castle vanished save for half a wall and some odd blocks, the Edgar Tower is now associated with the looming edifice of the cathedral behind it, even originally being called St Mary's Tower after the cathedral's dedicated saint. So what's mysterious about it? Curious marks on a wall to the left of the tower are a part of a legend that still has life today. They look like the scratches of an animal, a bear perhaps, and to hundreds of Worcester children, myself once included, that's what they were. The truth is a little different but a bizarre supernatural spectre that allegedly still haunts the tower is connected to these scratches.
During the English Civil War the city of Worcester “changed hands” several times over but with the return to England of Charles II it became a formidable Royalist fortress and his headquarters. Since the Dissolution of the Monasteries decreed by Henry VIII the cathedral had gone through some lean times, with the presence of Henry's brother Arthur being buried there in an elaborate chantry near the tomb of King John one of the things that kept the former abbey in some kind of repair. The cloisters that used to know only silent monks padding about were now used as stables for the Royalist horses, and a solitary guard was stationed between the Edgar Tower and the cathedral cloisters one night before the Battle of Worcester.
It was a full moon, and as the trooper peered up and down the open land around him something caught his eye. A tall, shambling figure was approaching from the tower. This wasn't one of the guards from the tower gatehouse, this was...a bear! Not just a bear either, to the soldier's horror it appeared that it's head was off it's shoulders, hanging in front of it. It “so effrighted him” that he stood mute, in shock, as this ghastly spectre staggered towards him. As the moon began to illuminate the figure it lifted it's claws threateningly then...disappeared. The trooper ran for all he was worth, deserting his post and making his way home to Kidderminster, where it is said he “laid down his arms soon after and lived religiously and without blame”.
A terrifying thing to behold then, and in more recent times the ghostly headless bear has been spotted by staff and pupils at the nearby Kings School more than once. This brings us back to the odd scratches on the wall by the tower. Everybody told us that they were the scratches of the bear wanting to come in through the gatehouse, and even today on ghost tours of the city this is a popular legend. I suspect they are more likely formed by travellers to the cathedral scraping part of the stone off as a souvenir, or perhaps even Parliamentarian soldiers doing the same as a keepsake of their victory in the city. It is curious though how each set is formed in the shape of a paw!
Walking through the Edgar Tower gate is an absolutely essential part of a walk around Worcester city, leading either down to the riverside or to the cloisters, the choice is yours, but perhaps best to avoid moonlit nights...
The impressive gateways under the tower
Edgar Tower from the cloisters
Edgar Tower viewed from the front
Edgar Tower - this was once one of the gates into the city
The "bear claw" marks on the wall next to the tower - what are they?
Some of the curious scratchings on the wall adjoining the tower
The mighty gates of Edgar Tower
The impressive gateways under the tower