Worcester’s ceramics, swans and sauce.

Arscott at the Bevere Gallery

You would not normally associate the city of Worcester (pronounced Wuster) with the pong of rotting fish and other ingredients, but it is thanks to a certain Lord Sandys in the 1830s that two local chemists, John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins were approached  and paid to come up with an anchovy-based sauce that the former had tasted in India and which he wanted to have made. However, it was deemed to be a disappointing flop and abandoned in a barrel, only to be rediscovered many months later and, to everyone’s surprise, the taste had mellowed into what we know as Worcestershire Sauce. To this day, the ingredients are allowed to ‘mature’ for 18 months before being blended and bottled in Worcester.

Best in a Bloody Mary

Those of you unfamiliar with this dark brown liquid will want to know what you do with it. Well, I like to sprinkle it into the mincemeat when a making Cottage Pie. Or Spaghetti Bolognaise: pour it in to the mince whilst it is simmering away and add a nice big splash just before you serve it up.  The company suggests a splash Worcestershire sauce in your baked beans, or your fish and chips, even in your green salad. They seem to imply that it goes with pretty much anything, but I would personally keep it well away from, say, bananas, or ice cream, or Spotted Dick. Whatever you do, do not sprinkle it into your single malt whisky, but a drop or two in a Bloody Mary is a must. Above is a picture of the sauce; the watch strap is not a Rolex but a cheap one I bought locally. I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m making a fortune out of my ceramics

Worcester Cathedral from the river

I expect you know why I’m going on about Worcester – I was delivering ceramics to the Bevere Gallery, which meant driving on the bridge over the River Severn into the city with the Cathedral sitting impressively over the dark water away to the right. The bright white specks floating about in the almost Worcester Sauce – coloured river are swans, which are always here because for many years the area between the railway viaduct and the Worcester Cathedral Ferry has been designated as a Swan Sanctuary. There is now a large and healthy population of Mute Swans on the water. Fishing in this area is banned and the swans are supported by a number of organisations including the City Council. The local Tourist Board extols “the natural beauty and general friendliness of these swans”. Note the word “general” – in other words, keep away from them or they could turn nasty, like the notorious one in Cambridge called Mr Asbo (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) that had to be deported because it kept attacking people and boats. But, yes, they do look spectacular in the river.

Mr Asbo strikes again

There was no time to stop at the cathedral and say hello to King John who was buried here in 1216 after contracting dysentery in Lynn. John is most famous for agreeing to the Magna Carta, which was a charter of demands made by John’s rebellious barons and the basis for much of our present rights as individuals. When he died he had lost most of his French lands, and was in the midst of a civil war against many of his own barons, though the current consensus is that John was a hard-working administrator, an able man, an able general, albeit with distasteful, even dangerous personality traits, including pettiness, spitefulness and cruelty, which is why he is always the “baddie” in the Robin Hood movies. Anyway, here’s a picture of him getting angry because someone forgot to put the top back on his bottle of Worcester Sauce.

Bad, bad King John

But I digress. I was on my way to the Bevere Gallery, an oasis of ceramic calm on the outskirts of the city, where visitors can really enjoy a high quality and varied selection of pieces on display and then sit down in the café and enjoy what’s on offer (the food is very good). Bevere is the name of an island in the Severn, 2 ½ miles N of Worcester. It is supposed to have been a resort of beavers; was a retreat of the inhabitants of Worcester during the plague of 1637; and is now, they say, a good bathing-place. It commands a fine view of the Abberley and the Malvern hills.

“Interior” vase at Bevere

And talking of ceramics, how could I not mention Royal Worcester porcelain which used to be made here in the 18th century until the Severn Street factory was closed down in 2006? One of its best-sellers was the Evesham Gold series, and samples can be seen at the Museum of Royal Worcester. There were various factories each producing distinctive wares: Flight and Barr, Chamberlain, Hadley and Sons, Kerr and Binns, Grainger and Dr Wall ( Dr John Wall perfected a recipe for porcelain that could withstand boiling water and this discovery led to the fame of the factory).

Evesham Gold

But back to the Bevere Gallery. Informality is an essential element here. You are encouraged to look at, handle and talk freely and openly about what you see – you can be as rude or polite as you like. Stuart and Clare like to engage and talk about the making and creative process. They also hold a Makers’ Lunch, an informal opportunity to talk with ceramicists and artists whose work is exhibited; an unpredictable two hours of conversation with open and frank discourse with the invited maker. They would be very happy to welcome you.

Crouch vase at Bevere