History of the County Museum

A history of Hartlebury, seat of the Bishops of Worcester for over a thousand years and home to the Worcestershire County Museum.

The original manor of Hartlebury was given to the Bishops of Worcester by King Burgred of West Mercia in 854ad. By the 12th century an unfortified manor house with an accompanying chapel had been established. In 1255 Bishop Cantelupe began to fortify the building by surrounding it with a moat.  This process was continued by his successor Bishop Gifford who obtained a license to crennalate, or add battlements to, the building in 1288.

Hartlebury has been used as the primary residence of the Bishops of Worcester since the mid 16th century and during the Civil War the Castle was used as a garrison for 120 of the Kings soldiers, who were housed in the Great Hall.  After a two-day siege in 1646 the troops surrendered to Parliamentarian forces. Some parts of the castle were then demolished, others were used to hold Royalist prisoners.

The Bishops returned towards the end of the 17th century and each occupant made efforts to improve what had by then become a Bishop’s Palace. The north wing was added, small lodges were built either side of the main entrance gates, the stables and coach house were built and the Saloon was re-furbished.

Over the centuries there have been many royal visitors at Hartlebury including Edward I, Elizabeth I, George III and the present Queen.

Although the Castle continued to be a home to the Bishop some areas of the site were later given other uses.  For example the building which had originally been the stable block was used as a college of clergy in the early twentieth century and as a recovery hospital for soldiers during the First World War, it is now used as Visitor Reception.

In 1966 the north wing of the castle, previously the servant’s quarters, opened to the public as the Worcestershire County Museum. The museum aimed to tell the story of the people of Worcestershire and at the heart of the museum collection was the Tickenhill Collection amassed by the Parkers of Bewdley. Today the museum collection covers many periods and themes including horse-drawn vehicles, costume and social history as well as room sets such as the Schoolroom, Laundry and Scullery.

Outside you can visit the walled garden, transport gallery, cider mill and nature reserve, exploring over 1000 years of history in one fascinating place. The Castle, gardens and grounds have been open to the public since April 2018, owned and managed by Hartlebury Castle Preservation Trust.