made in April 2015 in the days before the celebration of Easter
from the City of Worcester in England to the Ironstone Parishes, Oxfordshire
concluding at the village of Balscote
being in the first part, an honouring of the creation of the Ironstone Pilgrimage Trail
and of the second, a gentle pedestrian investigation of the English countryside
Sure man was born to meditate on things
And to contemplate the eternal springs…
The journey is taken as a pilgrimage across a portion of England known for its fruitful vales then onwards into the stretch of hills once the supplier of iron stone for the smelting works of South Wales.
How is this a pilgrimage?
Is there devotion and an expectation that the outcome will be an increased chance of eternal rest, peace in a Glorious Presence?
A beginning by the windy Severn River, gulls circling & the cathedral a starting point
Only the wanderer Knows England's graces, Or can anew see clear Familiar faces. And who loves joy as he That dwells in shadows? Do not forget me quite, O Severn meadows.
The wanderers exploring ‘England’s graces’. What may they be in this crossing of the very ‘middle’?
“Britannia’s rural charms, and tranquil scenes,
Far from the circling ocean, where her fleets,
Like Eden’s nightly guards, majestic ride,
I sing; O may the theme and kindred soil
Propitious prove, and to the’ appointed hill
Invite the Muses from their cloister’d shades,
With me to rove, and harmonize the strain! ”
The route is as a ‘belt’ across the middle of England.
“The pictured scene they View, where Avon shapes
His winding way, enlarging as it flows,
Nor hastes to join Sabrina’s prouder wave.
… and, if the tuneful maids
Their presence deign, shall with Parnassus vie.
Level and smooth the track which thither leads!
Of champaign bold and fair.
… Thanks, Miller’! to thy paths,
That ease our winding steps.
Thanks to the fount,
The trees, the flowers, imparting to the sense
Fragrance or dulcet sound of murmuring rill,
And stilling every tumult in the breast! ”
The route crosses an area that many, especially of the traditional romantic kind, would regard as being almost archetypal of what England ‘is’.
“This pastoral Englishness is quite narrow, and only really talks about subverting one kind of Englishness. There’s little about the blasted heaths and the peaks (though the Lakes are mentioned in passing). Perhaps it tells u something about some of the assumptions made about an English identity.”
Quite so! An equivalent west – east journey across central northern England would present a very different vision than that which follows on from here.
The pictures follow the route and were taken with the intention of providing the view of two visitors from the western hills as they become pilgrims in searching for meaning & understanding of ‘England’.
One aspect of the walk was to observe & note the orchards, particularly of apples. One of the common (romanticised) beliefs of those not resident in a rural area such as the South Midlands, is that orchards are common and cider is a local product. It certainly was the case – and may still be so…
Pilgrimage: a creative act – a placing of self onto the landscape & becoming, however briefly, a part of it.
Worcester to Church Lench
The maps, using satellite image, reveal much – and demonstrate (through the brown colouring) how much of the so called ‘green and pleasant land’ is now intensive, arable agriculture. There are very few areas of woodland.
Worcester (‘Wuster’) is curiously a place associated with individuals who were seemingly
chance survivals, (Wulstan the last surviving pre-Conquest bishop)
failed monarchs (John Johan sanz Terre)
hopeless survivals (Prince Charles) though in this final case there was eventually an invitation to return.
As the pilgrims leave the city of Worcester the remembrance of a last battle is placed:
Nearby is Fort Royal Hill where Royalist guns were captured and turned on their owners.
This journey starts with a last battle and finishes by crossing the site of, nine years earlier, the first battle: Edge Hill. The Civil Wars, occurring across the whole of the British Isles was, nationally & in percentage terms, the bloodiest conflict in British history (c.12.3% of the population – cf. 2.4% in WW1).
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson visited the sites in 1786 (following a tour roughly similar to that followed by many of their nation to this day: London- Oxford – Stratford). Adams was not averse to preaching to the locals:
“Edgehill and Worcester were curious and interesting to us, as scenes where freemen had fought for their rights….. Tell your neighbors and your children that this is holy ground; much holier than that on which your churches stand. All England should come in pilgrimage to this hill once a year.”
Interestingly (given the political developments in the UK during 2014/15) the conflict at Worcester was largely a battle between invading Scottish troops and the English army supplemented by many willing levies and volunteers.
Cromwell’s ‘crowning mercy’ for the pilgrims will be to finish the walk & be relieved of present suffering (felt even as they depart Worcester).
Before then, complete rest such as this, is unlikely.
Immediately after crossing the motorway that follows the eastern edge of Worcester are the first signs of fruit – this year’s blossom (blackthorn/plum) & last year’s fruit (apple).
As the fields open out – so do views – of distant Bredon Hill
“In summer time on Bredon….”
It isn’t and there are no bells sounding ‘so clear’ nor lovers, nor mouners but there is parkland and there are ancient oaks
Give me a land of boughs in leaf
A land of trees that stand
Where trees are fallen, there is grief;
I love no leafless land
There never having been any national class based revolution in the UK, it is not entirely surprising that such situations occur. Members of the Berkeley family were active politically during the C17th revolutions,the interregnum & after it. Many families survived for centuries owning and managing their estates – though the lines of descent often claimed as ‘continual’ are, when examined closely, somewhat tenuous & large estates have been fractured through taxation policies introduced in the C20th.
A ‘Hah-Ha’ marking the edge of the gardens at Spetchley and providing an animal proof barrier that does not interrupt the view across the landscape.
Whatever local control by the landowning aristocracy may have been possible once, at some point it was lost and others began to intrude.
‘Interests’ may have prevented railways from passing through certain places but the promoters of the Brave New Industrial World generally succeeded – and so it is that Worcester is by-passed by the main line that connects Scotland, the North of England, Bristol and the West Country.
The ‘interests’ in Worcester seem to have been favourable to the (Birmingham – Gloucester) railway but
……the railway’s chief excuse for avoiding Worcester was revealed, that it was ‘in consequence of the bad levels near Worcester, the nearest point of approach is a little beyond Spetchley Park’ – this was about three and a half miles from the city centre; it was to become a journey by horse omnibus – ‘fifteen people huddled aboard for the best part of an hour of tedious jolting’ …….
Worcester, a continually successful commercial centre since Roman times, suffered.
“Worcester maintained its stable, centuries-old position as a cathedral city in an agrarian landscape and a commercial and industrial base primarily geared to that landscape.”
The landscape through which the journey passes is largely undistinguished – a gentle rolling countryside but one that contains many buildings indicating the development of domestic architecture – often unassuming.
A C19th brick house – a ‘cottage’, with outbuildings that possibly suggest, by the use of the local stone, earlier developments.
The most commonly used stone along the route is Lias replaced at the end by the iron yielding stone of the title.
… and beyond the brick cottage, an older construction using timber for the framework and straw for a roof. Such ancient houses are no longer the habitations of the local agricultural worker but rather the prized possessions of an affluent professional & mobile work-force.
The fruit trees survive, somehow, from an earlier time.
The route, following asphalt lanes becomes a rough track – known as Edward’s lane, leading across ‘Edward’s ford’. Who was Edward?
At a guess, the name was created at some point in the C19th by those wishing to trace the route of an important military march.
In 1265 Prince Edward led an army from Worcester to near the town of Evesham and defeated in battle the founder of the first English Parliament, Simon de Montfort.
Thus this journey, with King John of Magna Carta fame, buried in Worcester & the final moments of Simon de Montfort occurring to the south of the route, links two events celebrating anniversaries in 2015: An 800th and a 750th. Both are seen as crucial moments in the development of democracy in Britain and thus (according to British National Myth) its development elsewhere.
Given the difficulties that democratic systems have in being truly ‘democratic’ the British Myth may be a ‘Bold Claim’ of little or no consequence.
Maybe the myth is about as accurate as that relating to the British countryside – which itself, in its development over the centuries, is a wondrous demonstration of the successful impact of power, money, individual influence & control over any attempt to ensure fair distribution of what ultimately is ‘natural resource’. What is ‘the Common Weal’? Where may be found ‘the Common Good‘? Can there ever be ‘A Crowning Mercy’?
The possibility of this route being that of Prince Edward is appropriate. It follows reasonable ground away from the lower, wetter ground by the river Avon and also, if followed through to the point north of Evesham where Edward placed his army, is correctly positioned.
There is no evidence…. but why not imagine? (they had to have used this route or another nearby)
There is an indication in these pictures that this route was of some importance – by its width – but that may be due to cattle droving in the C18th/19th.
This ‘do not cross in flood’ could only apply to motorised vehicles or horses… it was much too deep to wade.
Simon de Montfort’s baggage train abandoned in the rout & massacre his forces suffered? – possibly not.
At last, after half a day – an orchard…. but not one of any present commercial value.
The old meets the new. Which name attracts attention?
The route being followed has many ancient names – indicators of settlement stretching back for many centuries.
Some are personal.
(pronounced ‘Beecham’) from the French, a place name ‘Fair Field’, but refers to the important Norman-French mediaeval family who in C13th were Earls of Warwick. The attachment of the personal name to the Saxon name ‘Naunton’ indicates possession of the manor – now village – of Naunton Beauchamp.
Others are simply descriptive:
‘Piddle’ has a Germanic origin (‘Saxon’) indicating low, marshy ground. The present day use of the term for the act of urination also suggests that it may relate to a small stream. In the C19th some were so offended by the urinatory implications that in places in the west of England the word piddle’ was replaced by the word ‘puddle’.
Puddle means a small pool – often rather dirty. In the early C19th Naunton was also known as Dirty Naunton and the inhabitants were described as being ‘civil’ but unused to strangers.
Which in some way leads to another part of the sign
Many places in the British (not just ‘English’) countryside are now easily accessible and many residents: ‘the strangers’ (as our inhabitants of Naunton must have seen them) are now the majority.
Along the whole route of this walk the villages now serve primarily as residential settlements for those wishing live outside the immediate environs of a large urban space. There may be few shops or schools, public transport may be poor or non-existent but most of these ‘commuting’ families will have two cars & the financial resources to travel as required.
Consequently & because of a national housing shortage & the easy access to major centres, there is considerable pressure to build new housing estates in what were once remote villages. These developments are not necessarily serving the needs of existing residents whose incomes are based on low paid work (which agricultural wages often are).
Some of the proposed developments in villages along the route are for estates that are equivalent to small towns – in two cases the proposals are for 300 houses being added to existing largely rural settlements.
The Bloor Homes publicity emphasises a sense of rural romance: “A South Worcestershire village surrounded by rolling countryside with all of the modern shopping, leisure and educational facilities you need less than 20 minutes drive away in Worcester, Alcester and Pershore” – calm and peaceful lives lived in houses that have all the conveniences available in towns or cities – notice in the link the use of a rather rustic footpath notice.
The countryside – ‘rural Britain’, is, for developers simply an ‘added extra’ in ‘selling the dream’. There is no attempt to suggest it has its own and distinctive work patterns (agriculture), life and life-style that operates in patterns quite different to those used to urban life.
The locked church of Naunton Beauchamp
Nearby: & how nice – how beautifully “rural” – a lodge for squirrels… Modern Brick, Modern Romance – ‘the house in the country’ – modern cars (to allow access to work in the city).
We all sleep well
A first day with no climbs, except away from the river in Worcester (slow and steady for an hour or more). Then across a broadly level landscape until the ascent to ‘The Lenches’ with views back to distant & further, Shropshire distant, hills.
“What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content.
Is see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again”
(A. E Housman)
Actually Alfred, much as I appreciate, even maybe am filled with that feeling & sentiment, you express, I beg to differ.
This journey continues and finds ‘happy highways’, yes, forever it looks back with sharp and sometimes painful memory, Worcester, Spetchley, Edward’s lane…. but it moves forward with anticipation – if only anticipation of the creation of more sharp memories of ‘lost content’, drawn from the experience of this walk – & ones that will form part of remembered joy & hope and maybe even ‘content’: its all been said before – Paradise Lost & Regained.
Church Lench – centre of a collection of small settlements on a north – south aligned ridge. The word Lench probably refers to the use of terracing for cultivation – ‘lynchets’ or ‘links’ (which only survives as ‘golf-links’).
The administrative parish also includes Ab Lench, Atch Lench and Sheriffs Lench and in total has 600 residents
As the major settlement Church Lench contains the socially important Lenches Club.
“The Lenches Club, known locally simply as ‘the Club’, is a not-for-profit organisation and a treasured amenity in the Lenches and surrounding villages.
The Club boasts a large sports bar, with Sky Sports, two pool tables, darts and a skittles alley. This room also doubles as a sizable function room, complete with permanent staging area. The Club also has a quiet, comfortable lounge bar and terrace, with sweeping views over the Worcestershire countryside.
The Club has been here since 1948 when a local landowner provided a site in Church Lench for the development of a private club. It now serves as the Lenches’ only drinking establishment, offering a rotation of guest ales, wines and spirits. Dedicated to maintaining the quality of our real ale provision, an application has recently been submitted for Cask Marque Accreditation. To find out more about what this means for our valued punters, click here. Traditional pub food is also served seven days a week from the Club Kitchen.”
As well as ‘the Club’ Church Lench has a Village Hall (rebuilt in 2008) adjacent to the Parish Church & which provided overnight accommodation.
“The hall is run by a voluntary management committee comprising members of the community and they are responsible for the maintenance, improvement and hiring of the hall.”
The hall shares origins and purposes very similar to other such buildings – growing out of sense of community sensibility.
To hold and maintain the Village Hall as an amenity for the benefit of the local community, and to organise and encourage social and recreational events for the enjoyment of community members and as a means of raising funds for the upkeep of the Hall.
On seventh of April, 1933 a plot of land was conveyed to the community of Church Lench by Archibald Powell of Church Farm for the sum of £5. The community was defined as the Parish of Church Lench and its immediate vicinity, and was represented by a group of some fourteen local residents who agreed to act as a Council of Management, hereinafter called the Management Committee. The use of the land and its subsequent development was defined as physical and mental recreation, social and moral and intellectual development for the benefit of the inhabitants of the community.
The first Village Hall that was built on the land existed until 2006 when the current Hall replaced it. In line with the purposes outlined above, it is now used for social and recreational purposes, together with meetings of committees and use as a voting station for local and national elections. Examples of regular users are Lenches Pre-School, W.I., Parish Council meetings and of course the Management Committee.
The Church Lench Village Hall has charitable status.
There is no membership of the Village Hall itself. All activities and meetings are by arrangement with and subject to the approval of the Management Committee. “
Below ‘The Club’ are sports fields
“The Lenches Sports Club is a registered charity (no. 1060468) that exisits to supply sport and recreation facilities to the surrounding community. The facility is centrally situated in Church Lench and serves an area of about 40 sq.km.”
and to one side a community orchard – a gift made to the village in 2008 by previous residents.
The orchard has an intentional informal management – a space where ‘growth’ of all kinds, human and natural can occur, where villagers can gather, play, picnic and in the autumn freely collect fruit.
As traditional orchards have declined so has grown an awareness of the need to conserve and develop what remains – this orchard is one such place
Church Lench to Stratford on Avon
The route through Church Lench passes the front of the school – place at which young students are confronted each day with the a firm moral reminder
Feed My lambs
From All False Doctrine and Schism Good Lord Deliver us”
Who could deny the sentiment? Though quite how we interpret this statement in the 21st century is maybe difficult to assess (and maybe it always was).
More ‘vernacular’ – as well as the name notice the small padlocked gate…. why?… and the decorative placing of an old (securely fastened) agricultural implement all betray something of the attitudes & desires of the inhabitants.
Do beggars ‘roost’ – and singly or in ‘mumurations’, gathering in spectacular formations at sunset and then settling on an unsuspecting habitation?.
As this sign lacks an apostrophe we may assume that this is a place used by multiple numbers of the species ‘beggar’…. or is it just a statement placed intentionally and designed to encourage intellectual stimulation for anyone passing.
Maybe it was accidentally omitted from the King James Version of the Bible
‘The foxes have holes, beggars roost and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head’
Through Atch Lench . Very small now, it was once, at the time of the Domesday Survey the largest local settlement.
The ‘cruck construction’ of one house indicates considerable age – and the later additions are clearly viewed
On the eastern edge of the Lenches the views cross Avon valley & the Vale of Evesham, towards the Cotswold hills….
….. after which the route crosses the county boundary, leaves Worcestershire, enters Warwickshire and descends along tracks shared by walkers, horses, trail bikes (motorised and pedalled).
Descent to the valley and the delights now available to adorn gardens across England.
An island is always likely to be a place dependent on trade of one sort or another. There will be comings and goings – throughout history. There is also always a sense of separation, even isolation.
So it is with the nations of the British Isles – historically at the nether-end of continental developments, agricultural, social, cultural. The Industrial Revolution provided briefly (in historic terms) a reversal. Now times have changed and again the islands are resuming their peripheral status.
Industrial development produced a large population and therefore the connections that were created remain important.
The Romanticised English countryside is largely the creation of the C18th.
There was a desire for maintaining a new and commercially related, social & economic control (‘privatisation’), which in part produced the ‘enclosing’ of open land with the intention of increasing agricultural production.
Commodification & private ownership became the ‘standard’ by which we still live.
Britain set out, more or less deliberately, to become a highly urbanised economy with a large urban proletariat dispossessed from the countryside, highly concentrated landownership, and farms far larger than any other country in Europe. Enclosure of the commons, more advanced in the UK than anywhere else in Europe, was not the only means of achieving this goal: free trade and the importing of food and fibre from the New World and the colonies played a part, and so did the English preference for primogeniture (bequeathing all your land to your eldest son). But enclosure of common land played a key role in Britain’s industrialisation, and was consciously seen to do so by its protagonists at the time.
The wealthy, many inheritors of ancient estates, developed informal ‘arcadian’ landscapes around their properties and images of these romanticised landscapes maintain a significant hold over popular conceptions as to what ‘should’ constitute ‘rural countryside’.
The growth of large towns in the late C18th & C19th and the globalisation of the C20th (sadly best represented by two ‘World’ wars) thus required the ‘countryside’ to be industrially productive. In a small island, that which is not productive becomes a place for rest and relaxation (& in which to romanticise).
Now, following the ravages of the C20th & recent rapidly changing global production processes – the Vale of Evesham famous for its ‘market gardening’ grows product in sheds and under polythene – and maybe not entirely in the Vale of Evesham.
Approaching Bidford on Avon there was a curious discovery – of a type that only occurs when walking.
A metal bench containing donors name followed immediately by the village sign indicating (as is common) an international link.
The, presumably accidental, juxtaposition (especially in this year, 2015) provides, for those inclined to reflection, its own complex message.
“I am the enemy you killed, my friend……
Many things, over a century, have changed.
…..and into territory that exudes, manufactures & promotes the ‘England’ that now many outsiders regard as ‘typical’ and which many residents are only too pleased to accept (even if their lives and fortunes are based on a completely different & contrasting reality).
“Hail, beauteous Avon, hail! on whose fair banks
The smiling daisies, and thoir sister tribes,
Violets, and cuc,koo-buds, and lady-smocks,
A brighter dye disclose, and proudly tell,
That Shakspeare, as he stray’d these meads along,
Their simple charms admired, and,in his verse
Preserved, in never fading bloom to live.”
(Richard Jago: “Edge Hill, or the Rural Prospect delineated and moralised”. This poem is quoted throughout this report)
This is ‘Shakespeare Country’.
An unattributed story has The Bard say
“I have drunk with Piping Pebworth, Dancing Marston, Haunted Hillboro’, Hungry Grafton, Dodging Exhall, Papist Wixford, Beggarly Broom and Drunken Bidford and so presumably, I will drink no more”.
Thus, aware of such lines, others have encouraged the myths as in Benjamin Stone’s photo (1900) of ‘sippers and topers’ from Bidford Mop Fair
Marketing publicity reminds all, that specific places have ‘associations’… thus the Old Falcon in Bidford
provides the setting the reputed drunkeness of Shakespeare that produce the lines above.
The Falcon, as with other buildings in Bidford show a mix of stonework – the Lias stone being layered with the more robust pale yellow ‘oolitic’ limestone, its presence being an indicator of reasonably local resource.
Over the Avon….
… and past an orchard – another that is, seemingly, none too well cared for
It was once the habit in some places to cut such a pole for community celebrations. Now – the proud (‘one of the tallest’) maypole of Welford is made of aluminium….. progress? Why bother?
The maypole is often regarded, in ‘middle’ England, as being particularly ‘theirs’ even though the earliest UK reference is for one in Mid Wales.
As ever, compared with continental equivalents, the Brits have reduced the physical structure to a matter of pointless practicality.
The Priapic Yggdrasil of Welford – probably not but, as ever, in Yorkshire, ‘they’ are bigger… and are still made of wood (which, whatever the meaning and purpose, one would have considered is an essential for their construction & ‘state of being’)
The need for a roof becomes an art form – with its own skills and traditions.
… and, given the labour required, only available to a certain income level.
Weston on Avon:
“All Saints: A remarkable church, not large, but all of a piece, built evidently at the end of the C15″
(Nikolaus Pevsner ‘The Buildings of England: Warwickshire’)
The ‘dressed’ stone is mostly limestone, again, laid with blue lias.
The final part of day two follows, to Stratford from the Milcote Crossing, the route of the old Great Western Railway line built to connect the industrial Midlands with the holiday resorts of the South West. It was also more than that – providing a route for iron ore trains to the South Wales iron and steel factories.
It was one of the railway lines closed in the 1970s and now features in a campaign to re-open… partly to improve the necessary regional transport infra-structure & also to reduce vehicle congestion.
A major section of the line is now operated by the volunteer managed Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway
The route is now maintained as a cycle trail.
The day finishes at Stratford Methodist Church, opposite Holy Trinity Parish Church in which is buried Will Shakespeare.
The day of arrival was that called in the UK Maundy Thursday. The Stratford Methodists had arranged a special meal which celebrated the Jewish Passover due to its association with the Christian ‘Easter’ story.
One particular aspect of Methodism has and remains a deep social concern that members believe should be ‘lived out’ – through action not simply words.
The following notice signifies one of those actions
The efforts to balance environmental & social need against excessive insatiable desire and outrageous gain are not new:
“Yet he who reigns within himself, and rules
Passions, desires, and fears, is more a king—
Which every wise and virtuous man attains;”
“But to guide nations in the way of truth
By saving doctrine, …
Is yet more kingly. This attracts the soul,
Governs the inner man, the nobler part;
That other o’er the body only reigns,
And oft by force—which to a generous mind
So reigning can be no sincere delight.”
(John Milton. “Paradise Regained.” )
Stratford on Avon to Halford
In this walk there is almost no Shakespeare.
Stratford was a place for rest alone.
Shakespeare is a side-show (of some considerable proportions) but worth ignoring as in many ways the Shakespeare Business is but yet another aspect of the Britain that lives within a series of myths of dubious value.
These myths bring coinage from afar, they produce financial ‘return’ but when considered, may been seen as a sadly depreciated state in which to live; – a nation carried forward on the insubstantial dreams of what never was – simply a chocolate box cover image beneath which the contents have long since mouldered away and the box itself gently rots.
The encouragement to develop such imagery has a long history:
Stratford upon Avon is interesting as it is the scene of the birth death and sepulture of Shakspeare. Three doors from the inn is the house where he was born as small and mean as you can conceive. They showed us an old wooden chair in the chimney corner where he sat We cut off a chip according to custom. A mulberry tree that he planted has been cut down and is carefully preserved for sale…
The curse upon him who should remove his bones which is written on his gravestone alludes to a pile of some thousands of human bones which lie exposed in that church…
His name is not even on his gravestone. An ill sculptured head is set up by his wife by the side of his grave in the church
…… dank & misty
Over the Avon on the bridge that once carried the Stratford and Moreton Tramway and along the track to Clifford Chambers
The route follows the River Stour, a tributary of the Avon.
After Clifford Chambers is Preston on Stour.
One of the principles of pilgrimages such as this is that the route to the destination is as near direct as minor roads and footpaths will allow (no major, traffic busy roads). Attention is given only to that which occurs on the route. Thus (unless an extra day is allowed – and it wasn’t), important sites (such as in Stratford) are ignored.
There are always places sufficient of interest – and they are usually encountered accidentally – to provide stimulation for the reflective pilgrim.
Preston on Stour is one such place.
The village church, St Mary’s, is also well worth a visit. It is rather like stepping back in time as you wander up the main footpath. Sheep are still used to keep the grass down and the yew trees date back half a millenium.
It may seem thus and many aspects of life in Preston do seem to be out of ‘another time’. Preston parish church and the Alscot estate lands around it provide evidence of what ‘was’ and of the manner in which a modern economy is being developed – by the descendants of those who created the present physical structures.
James West, Joint Secretary to the Treasury (very modern sounding title) bought the estate in 1749 and ‘re-developed’ in the Gothick manner. His house additions and re-buildings were slightly later than the first examples of Gothic revival – but he was being architecturally very ‘avant-garde’
Whilst the politics of the C18th were more closed than those of today (no Universal Suffrage), certain ways and methods of working continue – ‘influence’ both at personal and social level continue, money can assist in bringing success out of seeming failure & individuals and groups can be ‘persuaded’ by inducements.
Oliver Cromwell’s comment noted at the start of the walk: ‘for aught I know, a crowning mercy‘, has truth in that the defeat of Royalty was ultimately the defeat of what, in France, gained the title ‘Ancien Regime’ and allowed the freedom for a commercially based conservative gradualism to become the pattern for the UK and, for good or ill, so it remains.
The revolutionary developments of C17 created freedom for entrepreneurial commerce and the purchase and building of country houses on large estates.Estates may have been simple residential style purchases exactly paralleled by modern house purchases (income from paid employment) but maintenance and development either continued to be secured by such ‘external’ resources or the development of what the estate provided (such as mineral extraction). Income from agricultural production was important but not necessarily sufficient to satisfy the needs and demands of the owners.
The present developments at Alscot include imaginative and creative use of the inherited resource (‘Hot Desking’, ‘Virtual Offices’) quite in keeping with the ‘daringly modern’ ‘Gothick’ redevelopment of the house by James West
The Parish Church, part of the Grand Scheme of Things constructed by Richard West & an engrossing encounter. The building demonstrates many aspects of received local tradition and social structure & continues to provide space in which a community may express itself.
Therein, one may surmise, is the holiness of place.
The stained glass – again part of West’s development, is very similar to examples at Strawberry Hill, London – the house regarded as the first major example of Gothic Revival in Britain, constructed by Horace Walpole. The link is another example of the degree to which West was very much a part of the “Fashionable Elite” and of the way that rural residence was becoming an extension of an essentially urban society.
The Parish Church, an expression of a family interest & influence, is now also one that carries the marks of many others important to community life.
The ‘standard’ hanging on the left is a mark of tragedy.
The Women’s Institute tapestry of images significant to Preston in 1990.
As ever the ‘WI’ organisation demonstrates itself as a very important cultural institution.
In many villages without a WI many important structural village networks would fail.
Even in 1990 that particular tractor (mid-’60s) provides a somewhat romantic image & some images will in time require explanatory notes – does the Library Van (blue ‘bus’) still visit and the red telephone box…..?
Millennium Map – the red telephone box still stands proudly present.
In the mid- C19th the village of Preston was ‘modelled’ by the owners of Alscot – new housing and a school.
In 1848 the second James Roberts West built a parish school, the earliest feature of his model village, and he continued to own and maintain it (Victoria County History)
‘The village is very rewarding’ notes Nikolaus Pevsner.
The various developments – C18th and 19th say something of the attitudes and social ethics of their time. The Victorian provision of houses & schooling being much in keeping with the ‘tenor’ of the period. What, we may muse, will be seen as representing the ‘tenor’ of our times (2015)?
In a district where the countryside and settlements are subject to very careful maintenance and manicuring the Crimscote village sign is truly ‘A Wonder’. Has it been left simply as a reminder to residents of an older and less tidy age?
The local housing increasingly shows a change in the available stone.
Whilst some encounters are simply remarkable.
From the edge of Newbold into Ettington Park
The lands once belonged to a family called Shirley who, as is not unknown in the UK, claim to have been owners of the land since before…. well longer than any other family has owned land they still own. The Shirleys have departed. A Shirley Association web site (‘Preserving the Shirley heritage since 1978’) states “the Shirleys are regular visitors to Ettington Park and have local farming interests even to the present time around Ettington.”
The site also informs that the hotel following damage by fire in 1980) “with an injection of capital from sufficiently interested parties, the house was restored to its former glory as one of the great hotels in England, and in keeping with present day expectations, incorporates every modern facility the leisure seeking guest could wish for.”
The ‘leisure seeking guest’ – the term has the potential for multiple interpretations (multiple guests, multiple types of leisure seeking).
In the extensive grounds are to be seen the Wishing Well, ancient Cedar trees, and underground passages with concealed entrances and exits.
So, being concealed at both ends, may never be found!
The pilgrims considered that their dress style would probably not be encouraged within the smart confines of the Hotel, thus they scuttled across the front of the building and frightening only a grazing munjac deer, found a secure shelter in the ruins of the church that was ruined (along with the whole village) by a previous Shirley owner as it obstructed a desired parkland development. How very ‘Gothic’ – Oh! We Brits do so love ‘The Gothick’
“Wandering this woody maze, and human food
Nor tasted, nor had appetite. That fast
To virtue I impute not, …
Though needing, what praise is it to endure?
But now I feel I hunger; which declares
Nature hath need of what she asks. Yet God
Can satisfy that need some other way,
Though hunger still remain. ”
(J. Milton: Paradise Regained)
God may choose to satisfy ‘some other way’…. maybe it was a God-Send that the pilgrims had been able to purchase emergency rations from a friendly butcher in Welford on Avon. For here it was, at Ettington (originally spelled ‘Eatington’) that the pilgrims consumed the miraculously undamaged Welford Pie.
All washed down with Stratford tap water.
What could be more Romantick?
“In this wild solitude so long should bide,
Of all things destitute, and, well I know,
Not without hunger.”
After a restful luncheon the scuttling process continued as they used the munjac trail under bushes and briars to achieve a good path leading over fields to Halford
Halford: & arriving just as the ‘heavens opened’ and rain poured down as a blessing ‘from on high’, & one greatly appreciated, with pint in hand & from inside the Halford Bridge Hotel.
Halford to Balscote
Overnight accommodation in the Village hall.
A curious name – ‘hut’. Suggests an interesting history, as the present village hall was originally an agricultural barn then a Primary School with a yard in which stands a small brick building holding the above notice.
The more common term for community centres in small settlements is ‘village hall’ – as may be seen:
But regardless of name the Halford Village Hut Committee is of the same type, structure and purpose as the thousands of other such organisations in the UK.
As a registered charity its accounts are required and then published
Registered charity number: 504012
Halford Village Hut’s method of operation:
- Provides buildings/facilities/open space
What services Halford Village Hut provides:
- Amateur sport
- Economic/community development/employment
Halford Village Hut provides services to:
- Elderly/old people
- Children/young people
- The general public/mankind
Where Halford Village Hut operates:
Halford Village Hut’s charitable objectives:
Upon trust for the purpose of physical and mental training and recreation and social and moral and intelletual development through the medium of reading and recreation rooms library lecture classes recreations and entertainments or otherwise as may be found expedient for the benefit of the inhabitants of halford in the county of warwick and its immediate vicinity without distinction of sex or of political religious or other opinions.
These places are physical expressions of a society in which ‘free association’ is a core value.
Stone building in the village passed through are probably largely C18th in origin – and next to the village hall is one with added – probably C19th – brick window bays providing more internal light.
From Halford the route followed field paths to Idlicote, where in front of the large manor house stands a dovecote – wandering round which caused a resident to shout a warning that the ‘land is private’. There were no doves.
Idlicote Parish Church provided another insight into British history.
The structure is focused not on the traditional altar but on the ‘Three Decker’ pulpit, with pews arranged to allow the ‘hearing’ (by reading and preaching) of ‘The Word’ rather than the distant observation of The Mass. The structure is thus post-Reformation – the present woodwork from the C17th.
Pews for the congregation, with an extra large space (on right) for the local Squire and family
and a gallery for musicians
Beyond the church are remnants of walled gardens and a few surviving apple trees
Beyond Idlicote the lanes lead to another small settlement: Whatcote, with the usual village notice board
and an interesting recent development – of community reclaiming its civil involvement in the parish church
The building remains a fully functioning church
But is a place where the local community may gather – in this case for a funding raising Easter Coffee Morning (in process of finishing when the pilgrims arrived but who were warmly welcomed).
One recurring theme found in all the small communities through which the walk passed – and was most clearly demonstrated in Whatcote, is the considerable value provided by a building which local residents are able to own and manage. The cooperative spirit is embedded in the legal structures but legal form is never sufficient. The legal form has to be simple & an expression of a social spirit, desire or ethic. The legal form ‘supports’ that spirit.
The term usually used for this ‘social desire’ is ‘a sense of community’. Whatever the meaning that the word ‘community’ may have, it attempts to explain the need that humanity has to ‘belong’ to ‘feel a part of’ something greater & deeper than oneself.
All the various village halls and community centres encountered along the route were vibrant and provided the small rural communities with places where all residents, whether long established or new arrivals (products of recent housing developments) could, voluntarily, work together to create places in which they all share a sense of belonging.
Taking a church building and formally developing it as something more than just a place for the expression of a particular religious belief is to return the building to one of its ancient and traditional functions. The building is ‘laying itself open’ (an action which replicates the frequently presented crucifixion image of the founder of Christianity) to all. In so offering it has the potential to gain new energy and new purpose.
Local building stone now has a very ‘iron’ colouring.
Leaving Whatcote involved crossing the ridges and furrows of the mediaeval Open Field farming system.
The whole process of planting, sowing and harvesting was managed through communal agreement. Ploughing probably required a large team of oxen which, though maybe owned by individual villagers, would have had all share in the (non-monetary) costs of the process.
The ploughing process produced the ridges which served to increase the area of cultivated land and improve drainage.
“The “brave new world” of a harsher, more competitive and capitalistic society from the 16th century onward destroyed the securities and certainties of land tenure of the open-field system.”
Beyond Whatcote were large arable fields – and given the rain of yesterday, mud.
The progress over such fields was slow but eventually a resting point in Tysoe – the last village on the route through Warwickshire.
Old facilities now simply ‘historic features’.
The ascent of Edge Hill on a track marking the western edge of the ‘first’ battle of the Civil wars that the memorial in Worcester commemorated.
“The summit’s gain’d! and from its airy height The late trod plain looks like an inland sea, View’d from some promontory’s hoary head, With distant shores environ’d;
well not exactly ‘summit’ but onto the ridge or ‘Edge’ and into Oxfordshire. Trees prevent any distant viewing of the type lauded by Jago
“Such is the scene! that from the terraced hill
Displays its graces; intermixture sweet
Of lawns and groves, of open and retired.
Vales, farms, towns, villas, castles, distant spires,
And hills on hills, with ambient clouds enrobed,
In long succession court the labouring sight,
Lost in the bright confusion. Thus the youth,
Escaped from painful drudgery of words,
Views the fair fields of science wide display’d,
Where Phoebus dwells, and all the tuneful Nine;
From the ‘edge’ and into the ‘Ironstone’ villages.
“Hail, native British Ore! of thee possess’d, We envy not Golconda’s sparkling mines, Nor thine, Potosi! nor thy kindred hills, Teeming with gold. …..
“Hail, native Ore! without thy powerful aid We still had lived in huts, with the green sod And broken branches roof’d. Thine is the plane, The chisel thine, which shape the well arch’d
dome, The graceful portico, and sculptured walls.”
“Hail, native British Ore!
For thine is trade, that with its various stores
Sails round the world, and visits every clime,
And makes the treasures of each clime her own,
By gainful commerce of her woolly vests
Wrought by the spiky comb; or steely wares,
From the coarse mass by stubborn toil refined.
Such are thy peaceful gifts! ”
The route used is that described as the Stratford Way on the map of 1732. This was a period when Oriel College Oxford was beginning to expand its ‘interests’ and become a significant local landowner.
Issues noted throughout the walk are exemplified here – with the addition of iron stone quarrying
“Hail, native British Ore!
……And War to thee
Its best support and deadliest horror owes,
The glittering falchion and the thundering tube,
At whose tremendous gleam and volley’d fire
“At whose tremendous gleam and volley’d fire
Barbarian kings fly from their useless hoards,
And yield them all to thy superior power. ”
The descent to the village & views across the open field ‘lynchets’ and quarried hillsides above Shenington
Perplex’d a while he stands, and
Now that bless’d seat of harmony divine
Explores his way, with giddy rapture tired:
(& after a few moments):
…… some sage Mentor, whose experienced feet
Have trod the mazy path, directs our search,
And leads us wondering to their bright abodes.
Final events and an extra section to Wroxton
Accommodation on the final evening was in the very modern Balscote Village Hall
A product of real community effort – as the BBC reported
Balscote, Oxfordshire opens village hall
After 15 years of fundraising Balscote, Oxfordshire, has its own village hall.
The Balscote Village Hall Trust initially hoped to have the building ready in time for the new millennium.
Project manager Terry Allen said: “We’ve raised a total of about £220,000. The village saved £75,000 of that total – that’s just about £1,000 per house.”
Work began on the new building in October. The residents previously used a marquee for village gatherings.
Mr Allen added: “We couldn’t afford a hall so we had a marquee.
“It was the only way we could get the community together on a regular basis.”
The village hall is a timber building, which was made in Estonia and delivered on three articulated trucks.
Mr Allen said the first event at the new hall would be “a bit of a knees-up just for the village”.
and whilst walking away from Balscote passes by a wildlife reservation owned by the Banbury Ornithological Society & based in one of the iron-stone quarries that have, in places considerably lowered the land level. Balscote and Wroxton quarries were connected by rail to Banbury until closure in 1967
The quarries no longer are sourced for iron but some still operate commercially
The extra element of the pilgrimage – its ‘eastward extension’ – was to Wroxton, whose church contains an excellent monument to Sir William Pope, who became first Earl of Downe – an Irish earldom which he purchased for £2500 in 1628.
One of the two sons – shown faithfully kneeling, pre-deceased the father in 1624 dying of
‘a most pestilent fever mixed with the smallpox … very much grieved in soul for his debts, and for the troublesome estate he should leave his distressed lady in and her children’.
and to the poet Jago – ever romantic & gazing from his Edge Hill, there is a conclusion
“The Graces reign. Plains, lulls, and woods reply—
The Graces reign, and Nature smiles applause.
Smile on, fair source of beauty, source of bliss!
To crown the master’s cost, and deck her path
Who shares his joy, of gentlest mariners join’d
With manly sense, train’d to the love refined
Of Nature’s charms in Wroxton’s ‘ beauteous groves”
And mindful of the words of Cromwell quoted on a stone in Worcester, the journey & its completion
‘is for aught I know, a crowning mercy’