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The Vicar’s Letter
19th January 1966
My dear People
While one is glad to think of more houses being built in Badsey, it will be sad to see the end of the old Georgian house known as “The Poplars”. Though a sorry picture of dilapidation in recent times, it has formed a dignified feature of High Street, its colourful red brick contrasting with the sober grey stone of Seward House. Many of the older people can remember it as the home of Mr & Mrs William Pethard, who kept a coal business there. Mr J Lees-Milne, in his Shell Guide to Worcestershire, mentions that there are several houses of this period in Badsey “in red brick with tuck pointing and large sash windows under rusticated lintels – a characteristic feature of these parts”. One can see these characteristics in Vine Cottage [in about 2000 the name was changed to Meadway House] and Pool House as well as the Poplars.
What was Badsey like a hundred years ago? May’s History of Evesham (1845) refers to the “airiness of its street and the substantiality of its principal buildings”. May does not however mention that a horse-pond lay right across the middle of the street (Pool House is named from this). But no doubt the street had become a good deal more passable since 1841, when the Vestry ordered that all cattle found trespassing on the highways should be impounded by the parish surveyor (that is, if the order was enforced).
Badsey was an unimportant place outside the mainstream of national life, being just off the turnpike road. The village ended at the National Day School (now the British Legion Club) [in the 21st century, this is now The Pub in a Club], built in 1854 on land given by Mr Richard Ashwin (for all the land north of Badsey Manor House belonged then to Aldington Manor). In view of the cost of recent renovations, Legion members may be interested to hear that the school was built for £372. A hundred years ago the population of Badsey was about 450 and Aldington 140 (both together having fewer people than Bretforton).
This was before the great agricultural depression had set in, and the big farmers were still the rulers of the village. Two of them, Joseph Jones and Thomas Byrd of Aldington, were the churchwardens that year. Before the formation of county, district and parish councils, the churchwardens and other parochial officers elected annually at the Easter Vestry formed the “local authority”. But poor law administration had been largely taken out of their hands since 1834, and they were no longer allowed to levy a compulsory rate for the maintenance of the church. Church rates were made voluntary in 1853 and abolished altogether in 1868. At this time therefore church collections were a novel but increasingly necessary source of income.
In this year of 1866 two separate sums, quite large for those days, had to be raised in Badsey by public subscription, and it took more than one year to do it. All that year the church bells (six) were silent. They had been pronounced dangerous the previous autumn, owing to their mutilated state. They were taken down, repaired and re-hung (not till Aug 1867) by Henry Bond of Burford for £55.
It was not until 100 years ago that the churchyard came into the possession of the church! In 1657, during the Protectorate, the Wilson family, newly become lords of Badsey Manor, obtained a 1,000 year lease of the churchyard. In 1866 Mr Edward Wilson, who resided then in Cheltenham, put up the lease for sale. Now was the chance for the Church to gain ownership of the churchyard, which was in a deplorable state, if they money could be found. But opposition arose from a dangerous quarter. The formidable Thomas Hall, a doughty dissenter who had become prosperous through being one of the pioneers of market gardening in Badsey, was determined to obtain the land, in order, as he openly boasted, to deny it to the Church. He planned to block the access to the church from the village street, by building cottages and a public house.
The story of what happened is told in the late A H Savory’s Grain and Chaff from an English Manor (though in reading his account one must remember that his information was at secondhand, as the events were a little before his time). The sale was to be by auction (in July). The Vicar, the Rev Thomas Hunt, unable to raise the money in the time available, appealed to Christ Church, Oxford, the patrons of the living, for help. They agreed to send an agent to represent them at the sale, but his identity was kept a closely guarded secret. He even got off the train at Honeybourne and walked, so that his arrival would not be noticed at Evesham. When the Vicar stopped bidding, to the delight of his opponent, the unknown bidder went on, until Thomas Hall had to give up in despair, but relieved to think that the Vicar had been knocked out. So Christ Church bought the manorial rights and the churchyard for £185, on behalf of the parish. “If I’d known the pairson was a goin’ to ‘ave it,” said Thomas Hall (according to Savory), “I’d a made ‘im pay a pretty penny more nor that.”
The Vicar and his warden Joseph Jones later raised the money by public subscription. The other churchwarden, Thomas Byrd, refused to have anything to do with it. Thomas Hall had been his bailiff (another story has been told me by one of T Hall’s descendants to account for Mr Byrd’s being under an obligation to him, but I’m keeping that under my hat). Mr Joseph Jones later grazed his sheep in the churchyard, and fell out badly with the Vicar when the latter planted the present yew hedge. But that is another story.
There is much more that could be written about Badsey in 1866. But next time there is space for historical notes it is really Wickhamford’s turn.
Your sincere friend and Vicar