The King Charles House
The King Charles House is another pub that deserves to be put under the Mysteries of Mercia spotlight. Nestled along Worcester's historic New Street, the building dates back to 1577 and was once part of a huge dwelling that took up the entire street corner.
During the English Civil War the corner house was owned by Sir Rowland Berkeley, a prominent Worcester man who actually became MP for the city after the war. He was appointed High Sheriff of Worcestershire, a family tradition as his grandfather was the city bailiff and as we will see – the house became a part of it too. When Charles II arrived in Worcester for what was to be the final battle of the war he summoned Berkeley to the city and took the house over as his headquarters. We all know the rest, and as Cromwell and his troops crashed through the Sidbury gate to complete their victory Charles fled along New Street and into the house through what is now the main pub entrance.
Loyal locals did all they could to stall the pursuing Roundheads, with carts and oxen being pushed into their path, but still they came. Charles hid behind furniture in the house while his men desperately looked for a way to get him to safety. The nearby St Martin's gate was relatively quiet during the fierce fighting so this became their goal. As Captain Hamilton led the very last cavalry charge of the Civil War down New Street in a final doomed manoeuvre to stall the advancing enemy, Charles left the house by the back entrance, disguised in a huge cloak, and on to his escape through the gate.
King Charles House, as the inn was and is forever known now, still retains many interior features from the Civil War period, the most striking of which is the amazing wood carving frieze over the main fireplace. This wasn't in the house originally, but was removed from a house of the same period when it was demolished and set in place here. Nobody is 100% sure what story or proverb the various panels are telling, but the devil seems to feature in most of it. The central panel shows Satan bursting in through a window, terrifying a group of men playing cards on a table, underneath which one of them hides in fear. A possible puritan warning against the vice of gambling? I'm not sure, as the section underneath seems to show some men drinking beer from tankards while Lucifer toasts them with a pint himself from the side. Some have suggested that the whole thing is an allegory for the Civil War itself, with pairs of men in whispered conversations on the side panels, but the three green men topping the whole thing off confuses even more.
Another altogether darker feature of the King Charles House is a seemingly innocuous trap door in the floor towards the rear. The entrance to the pub cellar? I'm afraid not. When the hatch is lifted the secret is revealed. This is an oubliette, a tiny dungeon where prisoners would be shoved into and forgotten about. It is bottle shaped in profile and the hatch is the only way in or out. As said earlier, the various residents of the house seem to have been a long line of sheriffs, magistrates and bailiffs, and the oubliette was definitely pressed back into service by one such magistrate during the 1700s to hold the next day's accused before their court appearances – and possible execution. I can't imagine the men and/or women stuffed down there having much of a night before their fateful day dawned!
As you'd imagine the pub has it's fair share of resident ghosts, with a male figure in period dress appearing on and off and various bumps, groans and footsteps all being heard by staff over the years. The pub is now it's own building, with the corner house now broken up into various uses, but luckily they seem to have retained lots of the original structure and features from 1577. Craddocks ales are in residence and I recommend their Saxon Gold, but hopefully when things get back to normal the famed pies and mash will be back on the menu.
If you are ever in Worcester the King Charles House is a must, worth it for the ales alone but to sit and drink where a king planned his campaign then hid while a battle raged outside – not many pubs can boast that.
The King Charles House
Carved frieze from the mid 1600s above the fireplace
One of the frieze panels showing the devil interrupting a card game, the chap under the table looks terrified
The oubliette - wouldn't want to spend the night in there!
Love God - honour the King - 1577
From this house King Charles II escaped his enemies after the Battle of Worcester September 3, 1651
A statue erected outside depicting Charles II sneaking out of the city out of the house