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Littleburys‚ the Printers

In 1888 when the Littlebury family leased the Commandery as a printing works they moved from much smaller premises which Joseph Littlebury described in his diary as "difficult to manage".

The Commandery c1880 by Dr P. Hughes

The family bought the entire premises in 1905 and began to make dramatic improvements. The print works occupied most of the western wing whilst additional sheds and outbuildings were constructed alongside the canal to form a larger working area. These contained workshops for compositors and binders plus machine shops where the printing itself was done.

As general printers the variety of work produced by the company was wide, everything from Christmas cards to "Exchange and Mart" magazine. By the middle of the century Littleburys were employing around 50 people and were also operating their own publishing company. Through this publishing company they produced a number of guides to the city of Worcester plus guides to other towns and a variety of maps.

The family were considered good employers with many of their staff staying from apprenticeship to retirement. The family themselves lived in the eastern wing where Joseph Littlebury began to repair some of the damage done in previous years. The driveway through the Great Hall was blocked up and the room restored as closely as possible to its original state. In 1935, the Painted Chamber was re-discovered under layers of whitewash and restored by Edith Matley-Moore, a local expert in medieval wall paintings. Rooms were furnished in a style considered appropriate to the period of the building and these were photographed and sold as postcards along with artists impressions of life in the Commandery in times past. The Great Hall and other historic rooms were opened to the public at selected times of the year. Visitors were charged 1 shilling for entry with the proceeds being donated to Worcester Royal Infirmary.

Other areas of the building were converted to provide a home for the works manager and his family. There were also two flats for caretakers, at the front of the building a sweet shop, whose manager leased a home within the building , whilst in the grounds stood two cottages.

The Littlebury family continued in residence until 1973 when David Littlebury, Joseph‚s son, decided to retire and close the business. The Commandery was sold and all the contents from the historic rooms to the print works auctioned off, much of the machinery however was purchased by other printing firms and is still in use today.

Museum Life

In 1973 when David Littlebury decided to sell the Commandery, Worcester City Council moved to purchase the building in order to safeguard its future. On its purchase the building was found to be in need of extensive restoration which took until 1977 to complete. The restoration touched on many areas of the building, in particular the western wing where many of the makeshift buildings connected to Littlebury‚s printing works were demolished. An additional programme of restoration took place between 1988 and 1990 on the front of the building where many of the main support timbers had to be completely replaced.

In 1977 the Commandery was opened, as a museum, by the 15th Duke of Hamilton, the descendent of the 2nd Duke who died in the building from wounds received at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The original displays were concerned with the history of the Commandery and life in Worcester. There were displays of industrial workshops, a large costume gallery and also an exhibition relating to the English Civil Wars. After eight years dealing with local history the Commandery acquired a national focus when it was re-designed as the country‚s only Civil War Centre, thereby reflecting the important role the City played in this conflict. Today, as part of the City Council‚s Museum Service, the Commandery continues to present new displays to the public whilst at the same time caring for a historic building which is itself the most important exhibit we have.

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© Worcester City Museums

Origins and early history
The Miracle of Thomas of Eldersfield
The Wylde Family
Civil War Headquarters
Repairs and Re-buildings
College for the   Blind
Littlebury's the Printers
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