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Broadway, Worcestershire

PUBLISHED: 08:31 04 June 2010 | UPDATED: 15:08 20 February 2013

The Broadway Hotel

The Broadway Hotel

Mark Child returns, with camera and pen, to the border outpost of Broadway that he first visited 40 years ago...and received an enigmatic welcome

Hoping that the riot of colour before me might somehow transfer itself onto the black and white film in my new Ilford Sportsman camera, I took careful aim. A door in my field of view opened, revealing a mossy individual in a flat cap. Even through the viewfinder, it was clear that he preferred my space to my society. "'Ere," he said, "you the noospapers?"



I assured him that I was not; that I was only someone who should have known better than to point my camera at his beautiful garden, and at the cottage beyond, which was his home. I was very sorry, but it was all so attractive that I could not help myself. "You want to take a picture of the place hereabouts that's half in Worcestershire and half in Gloucestershire," he suggested. "They can go to bed with their heads in one county, and their feet in the other," he continued, and, warming to his subject, "or boil a kettle on the fire in one county and drink a cup of tea over the border without moving a step. Dividing line goes right through the fireplace, you see." I asked him where, in Broadway, this house was to be located. "Ah," he said, closing the door with a knowing leer, "that would be telling."



That interview took place in 1964, on the very first occasion I visited Broadway. I still do not know whether such a place of county-straddling qualities ever existed, but Broadway is close enough to the edge for it to be feasible. Indeed, it always has been on the edge of something; once, it was a thrust of Mercia, on the edge of Wessex and Wales, and was ever just tipped over the Cotswold escarpment.



Thomas Habington, who was implicated by association with the traitors in the Babington Plot to kill Elizabeth I, imprisoned, and eventually released onto his father's estate at Hindlip House, near Worcester, thereafter amused himself in antiquarian research and in surveying the whole of the county. When he came to Broadway, he wrote: 'the fertile vale of Eveshome and her fowle ways to a fair rose on Broadway Hills'. So far, so good; but that was somewhere around the late 1590s, and it was a different Broadway then.



But, all that aside, my encounter illustrates an enduring difficulty for the residents of the village, which was encapsulated by a writer many years ago: 'Broadway needs no added attractions to make people want to walk its golden cottage-lined main street and gaze into crooked, mullioned windows'.



I have visited Broadway many times over the last forty or so years, and it is clear that gazing into crooked, mullioned windows has not diminished as a visitor pastime. Even when one makes a preliminary enquiry, the response can be surprising. Wishing quite recently to photograph a particularly appealing private property there, I explained my purpose to the woman who came to the door, and asked her permission. "Are you Japanese?" she shouted. I said I was not. "That's alright, then," she said. "Bloody tourists hang over the garden wall and take pictures all the time without so much as a by-your-leave. As long as you're not Japanese, you can do what you like!"



Don't you like the thought that your pretty cottage could be hanging on a wall in Tokyo, being much admired?", I ventured.



"I do not," she snorted, shutting the door firmly. I hadn't had the nerve to tell her that my camera at the time had been made in Japan.



There are, of course, different points of view. Another resident told me how irksome it is in high season to be continually answering the door to visitors, especially when they expect to be given a guided tour of her ancient cottage. "I don't in the least mind anyone photographing the outside of the place and the garden. Before we came to Broadway, my husband and I took innumerable photographs of private properties here just because they were so attractive. We fell as much in love with the place when we were at home looking at the pictures as we did when we visited. We can hardly object to others doing exactly what we did, and we certainly don't subscribe to the 'I'm alright Jack, now you can stay out' attitude of some of the residents."



This is, of course, one of the typical attitudes of those members of the aspirational middle class of middle England, who feel a need to respond to what they see as a national failure to pull up the drawbridge. It is understandable that the residents of places like Broadway, who must withstand wave after wave of seasonal invaders, might want to build their own. By way of compensation, they sometimes acquire what others might consider to be an over-developed sense of local patriotism. Yet one often finds that this is just a surface veneer on the conscience of the relatively newly arrived nouveau riche. Their wealth has usurped the needs of the indigenous population. Scratch that veneer, and you find only insecurity. You will find too, a kind of stand-off simmering beneath the surface of Broadway.

So, if it views camera-wielding visitors with scepticism, how does Broadway approach artists? In many cases, they are painting the very same scenes that the photographers are capturing. "Oh, artists are legitimate," I was told. That, in a place that specialises in art galleries, some of which have considerable international reputations, is good news.



It seems, however, that the landscape painter is preferred in Broadway on a point of professionalism: that his or her persuasion carries more credence than that of the snapping visitor. The former is perhaps seen as having made a valued judgement, thereafter committing time and consideration to the job in hand. The other's medium of capture is ubiquitous, indiscriminate, and therefore perceived to be of less value.



It was, after all, that master craftsman William Morris - who was well- acquainted with a good few painters of note - who set a precedent in that respect by alerting his friends to the appeal of Broadway. Artists, novelists and craftspeople began to stay there, and to buy property. This awoke the village from a reverie to which some of its residents would like to return. It was also a reverie that suited the 19th- and early 20th-century incomers seeking solitude and beauty. Ironically, they were the catalysts for what Broadway has become, and it is all in stark contrast to their ideals.



Of course, it wasn't all down to them; in the days before the motor car took over, cyclists came in their droves. Some brought their cycles on the railway after the iron road arrived at Broadway in 1904. Others pedalled in such quantities down Fish Hill that a 19th-century guidebook exhorted: 'Broadway Hill has no dangers for cyclists and by avoiding it they lose one of the finest panoramic views in England'.



It was the same view that gave bibliophile and craft printer Sir Thomas Phillipps the sense of isolation he craved in his book-lined eerie of a folly that the Countess of Coventry had made on Fish Hill. This is the very same panorama that seduced William Morris, and from where we can all still see that, despite contemporary misgivings, there remains a rural England in a rural landscape.



It took the age of the motor car to bring Broadway nearer to home for those who could afford such transport, and it was the motor vehicle - before the by-pass was built - that nearly shook Broadway to its knees. In between, it had become fashionable to speak unkindly of the village. Sir Bertram Windle, writing in the second decade of the 20th century remarked: '



... its charms are rapidly being destroyed, and even those who knew Broadway thirty or even less years ago will find it now an altered and much deteriorated spot'. In the 1930s, Humphrey Pakington wrote that 'there is a hint of preciosity about the place' and 'vulgarity has begun to creep in'. H.J. Massingham described Broadway as 'this unpleasantness', and suggested an alternative route that avoided it, for those travelling beyond it to the north.



Even Nikolaus Pevsner, who gave it the enduring tag line, also warned: 'Visit on a fine Saturday afternoon in the summer, and the cars and coaches and their milling-round inmates will have smothered all its delights'. The latter was written nearly half a century ago.



Now it is true of almost any day of the week, and his suggestion to go instead 'on a breezy spring or autumn weekday morning' would now make very little difference. Perhaps it is only in the low, golden light of a bright, very late autumnal afternoon - when there may be a slight easing off of visitors before the pre-Christmas rush - that Broadway can really be enjoyed in its naked glory.



Of course, I have no first-hand knowledge of how Broadway changed in the opening decades of the twentieth century. However, I do know that by the 1960s it had become fashionable to almost blame the village for meeting the needs of the crowds who came there, and, in our time, to be no less critical of those who still do so. Yet virtually every writer has tempered his criticism with a, sometimes begrudging, caveat that for all its apparent debasement, Broadway is not a place that should be missed.



It may be, as Hammond wrote in the 1970s, that: '... in the main street modern buildings obtrude and things have been done to old buildings which should never have been sanctioned'. Yet his words are still true in that 'taking all in all one can fairly say that while not every prospect pleases, most of them do'. One wonders what he might have made of The Russells, the fairly recent village development just off-centre at Broadway.



When the development opened, I wrote: 'Some will hate its very existence, on the principle that it potentially encourages a socio-imbalance; others will welcome the opportunity for new blood and an improved commercial infrastructure. Those who think that what Broadway has developed into is merely a summary pastiche of its various reputations, must at least concede that this is a step back to the real world'.



This is indeed the case. It is also true that the residential Russells has attracted more absentee owners than many permanent residents would prefer, but most of the properties are actually lived in.



The initial fears that much of the estate might be purchased by London buyers, either on a buy-to-let or investment basis, have largely prove to be misguided. Even so, these are attractive properties; those who live in these new houses must expect some visitor attention, in much the same way as do householders in those that are old. There is no reason why visiting landscape painters should not find attractive corners of The Russells to replicate on canvas.



The residents of Broadway have a resistance to new developments because the village is, in several ways, quite extraordinary. Local estate agents describe it as 'unique', and say that it is very different even to such a place as Chipping Campden, nearby.



Although most of Broadway's residents will fight tooth and nail to preserve its village status, there is no doubt that the place has a greater range of facilities than there are in most small towns. It would be easy to say that these exist only because of the large number of visitors throughout the year - Broadway does not have an out-of-season - that have kept them going, and that without the visitors they could not be sustained.



That is too much of an over-simplification, and is probably not true. According to Hayman-Joyce, the village's independent estate agents, the residents are so loyal to the village, and its endemic commerce and trade, that Broadway would thrive even without its visitors.



In their words: "It is a good-spirited place, whose community very much comprises well-off people who have taken early retirement - are actively retired - and typically spend some of their time abroad. The residential community is very tight knit, behaves like a network, and is very loyal to the village." Once in, residents tend to stay put; but if they do relocate, it is more often than not within Broadway.



The houses and cottages in the village are mostly historic, and all are special. The Cotswold dream, even later in life, is attracting an increasing number of potential buyers to Broadway. They are looking for a period property with character and style, built of Cotswold stone. Broadway has these in abundance.



Lately, however, demand has outstripped supply, with more people registering their interest than there are available quality properties in the village. The upper high street, where there is a good mix of small cottages and large country homes, has become particularly desirable, because many of them have acres of land attached.



Estate agents tell me that there is no average price, because there is no average property. Period properties in the village currently sell for between 450,000 and 5 million; modern houses from 350,000 upwards. Hamptons' office in Broadway says the village is in demand for large family homes, and people who are downsizing from country estates are in the market for large cottages.



London buyers look to Broadway for their Cotswold retreats, and retirement buyers make enquiries from all over the country. As I write, Hayman-Joyce has just sold a villa in the main street for 1.9 million, and is just about to put a fine Georgian property in the upper high street onto the market at 2.25 million. Hamptons has sold Top Farm Cottage in upper high street to a couple who were downsizing; and Twelfth Cottage in Church Street is another recent sale.



According to R.A. Bennett & Partners, a high proportion of people who retire to Broadway are downsizing in the process, and may be looking to spend between 400,000 and 550,000 on a period cottage. That said, they recently sold a converted butcher's shop in the centre of the town for 325,000.



The area known as The Sands, a short walk along the Leamington road from the village, is also very popular with people relocating in their retirement; there, a two-bed terrace might cost 170,000 and a detached house up to half a million pounds. It all means that the cost of much of the property in Broadway is at the kind of level that elsewhere would probably carry a greater degree of privacy than is possible here, where every nook and cranny of Pevsner's 'show village of England' is under continuous scrutiny.



In the words of one resident: "You have to learn to love the visitors, the painters, the photographers, and the outsiders who are all the time in your shops. It is no good coming to live in Broadway and then complaining about these things. That's like choosing to live next to a place that has a public entertainments licence, and then forever moaning about the noise levels of the music!"



And there is a lot of music in Broadway, and I am not just speaking of the concerts and courses at the Farncombe Estate Centre. Or of the jazz and folk music to be had at the Crown & Trumpet. It is music that has come down the years in a symphony of history, each note etching itself on a score written in the fabric of its time.



There are such high notes: St Eadburgha's church of the 12th century; Abbots Grange and Priors Manse of the 14th; the Broadway Hotel and Shakespeare Cottages of the 16th; the almshouses, Farnham House, the Lygon Arms, Tudor House and Wisteria Cottage of the 17th; Broadway Tower, The Swan, Russell House and Picton House of the 18th; Broad Close of the 19th; Peel House and the Lifford Hall of the 20th; and The Russells of the 21st. And all the time an underlying melody, written in the Cotswold vernacular over three or four centuries, ripples along.



Hoping that the riot of colour before me might somehow transfer itself onto the black and white film in my new Ilford Sportsman camera, I took careful aim. A door in my field of view opened, revealing a mossy individual in a flat cap. Even through the viewfinder, it was clear that he preferred my space to my society. "'Ere," he said, "you the noospapers?"



I assured him that I was not; that I was only someone who should have known better than to point my camera at his beautiful garden, and at the cottage beyond, which was his home. I was very sorry, but it was all so attractive that I could not help myself. "You want to take a picture of the place hereabouts that's half in Worcestershire and half in Gloucestershire," he suggested. "They can go to bed with their heads in one county, and their feet in the other," he continued, and, warming to his subject, "or boil a kettle on the fire in one county and drink a cup of tea over the border without moving a step. Dividing line goes right through the fireplace, you see." I asked him where, in Broadway, this house was to be located. "Ah," he said, closing the door with a knowing leer, "that would be telling."



That interview took place in 1964, on the very first occasion I visited Broadway. I still do not know whether such a place of county-straddling qualities ever existed, but Broadway is close enough to the edge for it to be feasible. Indeed, it always has been on the edge of something; once, it was a thrust of Mercia, on the edge of Wessex and Wales, and was ever just tipped over the Cotswold escarpment. Thomas Habington, who was implicated by association with the traitors in the Babington Plot to kill Elizabeth I, imprisoned, and eventually released onto his father's estate at Hindlip House, near Worcester, thereafter amused himself in antiquarian research and in surveying the whole of the county. When he came to Broadway, he wrote: 'the fertile vale of Eveshome and her fowle ways to a fair rose on Broadway Hills'. So far, so good; but that was somewhere around the late 1590s, and it was a different Broadway then.



But, all that aside, my encounter illustrates an enduring difficulty for the residents of the village, which was encapsulated by a writer many years ago: 'Broadway needs no added attractions to make people want to walk its golden cottage-lined main street and gaze into crooked, mullioned windows'.



I have visited Broadway many times over the last forty or so years, and it is clear that gazing into crooked, mullioned windows has not diminished as a visitor pastime. Even when one makes a preliminary enquiry, the response can be surprising. Wishing quite recently to photograph a particularly appealing private property there, I explained my purpose to the woman who came to the door, and asked her permission. "Are you Japanese?" she shouted. I said I was not. "That's alright, then," she said. "Bloody tourists hang over the garden wall and take pictures all the time without so much as a by-your-leave. As long as you're not Japanese, you can do what you like!"



"Don't you like the thought that your pretty cottage could be hanging on a wall in Tokyo, being much admired?", I ventured.



"I do not," she snorted, shutting the door firmly. I hadn't had the nerve to tell her that my camera at the time had been made in Japan.



There are, of course, different points of view. Another resident told me how irksome it is in high season to be continually answering the door to visitors, especially when they expect to be given a guided tour of her ancient cottage. "I don't in the least mind anyone photographing the outside of the place and the garden. Before we came to Broadway, my husband and I took innumerable photographs of private properties here just because they were so attractive. We fell as much in love with the place when we were at home looking at the pictures as we did when we visited. We can hardly object to others doing exactly what we did, and we certainly don't subscribe to the 'I'm alright Jack, now you can stay out' attitude of some of the residents."



This is, of course, one of the typical attitudes of those members of the aspirational middle class of middle England, who feel a need to respond to what they see as a national failure to pull up the drawbridge. It is understandable that the residents of places like Broadway, who must withstand wave after wave of seasonal invaders, might want to build their own.



By way of compensation, they sometimes acquire what others might consider to be an over-developed sense of local patriotism. Yet one often finds that this is just a surface veneer on the conscience of the relatively newly arrived nouveau riche. Their wealth has usurped the needs of the indigenous population. Scratch that veneer, and you find only insecurity. You will find too, a kind of stand-off simmering beneath the surface of Broadway.



So, if it views camera-wielding visitors with scepticism, how does Broadway approach artists? In many cases, they are painting the very same scenes that the photographers are capturing. "Oh, artists are legitimate," I was told. That, in a place that specialises in art galleries, some of which have considerable international reputations, is good news. It seems, however, that the landscape painter is preferred in Broadway on a point of professionalism: that his or her persuasion carries more credence than that of the snapping visitor. The former is perhaps seen as having made a valued judgement, thereafter committing time and consideration to the job in hand. The other's medium of capture is ubiquitous, indiscriminate, and therefore perceived to be of less value.


It was, after all, that master craftsman William Morris - who was well- acquainted with a good few painters of note - who set a precedent in that respect by alerting his friends to the appeal of Broadway. Artists, novelists and craftspeople began to stay there, and to buy property. This awoke the village from a reverie to which some of its residents would like to return. It was also a reverie that suited the 19th- and early 20th-century incomers seeking solitude and beauty. Ironically, they were the catalysts for what Broadway has become, and it is all in stark contrast to their ideals.


Of course, it wasn't all down to them; in the days before the motor car took over, cyclists came in their droves. Some brought their cycles on the railway after the iron road arrived at Broadway in 1904. Others pedalled in such quantities down Fish Hill that a 19th-century guidebook exhorted: 'Broadway Hill has no dangers for cyclists and by avoiding it they lose one of the finest panoramic views in England'. It was the same view that gave bibliophile and craft printer Sir Thomas Phillipps the sense of isolation he craved in his book-lined eerie of a folly that the Countess of Coventry had made on Fish Hill. This is the very same panorama that seduced William Morris, and from where we can all still see that, despite contemporary misgivings, there remains a rural England in a rural landscape.


It took the age of the motor car to bring Broadway nearer to home for those who could afford such transport, and it was the motor vehicle - before the by-pass was built - that nearly shook Broadway to its knees. In between, it had become fashionable to speak unkindly of the village. Sir Bertram Windle, writing in the second decade of the 20th century remarked: ' ... its charms are rapidly being destroyed, and even those who knew Broadway thirty or even less years ago will find it now an altered and much deteriorated spot'. In the 1930s, Humphrey Pakington wrote that 'there is a hint of preciosity about the place' and 'vulgarity has begun to creep in'. H.J. Massingham described Broadway as 'this unpleasantness', and suggested an alternative route that avoided it, for those travelling beyond it to the north.


Even Nikolaus Pevsner, who gave it the enduring tag line, also warned: 'Visit on a fine Saturday afternoon in the summer, and the cars and coaches and their milling-round inmates will have smothered all its delights'. The latter was written nearly half a century ago. Now it is true of almost any day of the week, and his suggestion to go instead 'on a breezy spring or autumn weekday morning' would now make very little difference. Perhaps it is only in the low, golden light of a bright, very late autumnal afternoon - when there may be a slight easing off of visitors before the pre-Christmas rush - that Broadway can really be enjoyed in its naked glory.


Of course, I have no first-hand knowledge of how Broadway changed in the opening decades of the twentieth century. However, I do know that by the 1960s it had become fashionable to almost blame the village for meeting the needs of the crowds who came there, and, in our time, to be no less critical of those who still do so. Yet virtually every writer has tempered his criticism with a, sometimes begrudging, caveat that for all its apparent debasement, Broadway is not a place that should be missed.


It may be, as Hammond wrote in the 1970s, that: '... in the main street modern buildings obtrude and things have been done to old buildings which should never have been sanctioned'. Yet his words are still true in that 'taking all in all one can fairly say that while not every prospect pleases, most of them do'. One wonders what he might have made of The Russells, the fairly recent village development just off-centre at Broadway.


When the development opened, I wrote: 'Some will hate its very existence, on the principle that it potentially encourages a socio-imbalance; others will welcome the opportunity for new blood and an improved commercial infrastructure. Those who think that what Broadway has developed into is merely a summary pastiche of its various reputations, must at least concede that this is a step back to the real world'.


This is indeed the case. It is also true that the residential Russells has attracted more absentee owners than many permanent residents would prefer, but most of the properties are actually lived in. The initial fears that much of the estate might be purchased by London buyers, either on a buy-to-let or investment basis, have largely prove to be misguided. Even so, these are attractive properties; those who live in these new houses must expect some visitor attention, in much the same way as do householders in those that are old. There is no reason why visiting landscape painters should not find attractive corners of The Russells to replicate on canvas.


The residents of Broadway have a resistance to new developments because the village is, in several ways, quite extraordinary. Local estate agents describe it as 'unique', and say that it is very different even to such a place as Chipping Campden, nearby. Although most of Broadway's residents will fight tooth and nail to preserve its village status, there is no doubt that the place has a greater range of facilities than there are in most small towns. It would be easy to say that these exist only because of the large number of visitors throughout the year - Broadway does not have an out-of-season - that have kept them going, and that without the visitors they could not be sustained.


That is too much of an over-simplification, and is probably not true. According to Hayman-Joyce, the village's independent estate agents, the residents are so loyal to the village, and its endemic commerce and trade, that Broadway would thrive even without its visitors. In their words: "It is a good-spirited place, whose community very much comprises well-off people who have taken early retirement - are actively retired - and typically spend some of their time abroad. The residential community is very tight knit, behaves like a network, and is very loyal to the village." Once in, residents tend to stay put; but if they do relocate, it is more often than not within Broadway.


The houses and cottages in the village are mostly historic, and all are special. The Cotswold dream, even later in life, is attracting an increasing number of potential buyers to Broadway. They are looking for a period property with character and style, built of Cotswold stone. Broadway has these in abundance. Lately, however, demand has outstripped supply, with more people registering their interest than there are available quality properties in the village. The upper high street, where there is a good mix of small cottages and large country homes, has become particularly desirable, because many of them have acres of land attached.


Estate agents tell me that there is no average price, because there is no average property. Period properties in the village currently sell for between 450,000 and 5 million; modern houses from 350,000 upwards. Hamptons' office in Broadway says the village is in demand for large family homes, and people who are downsizing from country estates are in the market for large cottages. London buyers look to Broadway for their Cotswold retreats, and retirement buyers make enquiries from all over the country. As I write, Hayman-Joyce has just sold a villa in the main street for 1.9 million, and is just about to put a fine Georgian property in the upper high street onto the market at 2.25 million. Hamptons has sold Top Farm Cottage in upper high street to a couple who were downsizing; and Twelfth Cottage in Church Street is another recent sale.


According to R.A. Bennett & Partners, a high proportion of people who retire to Broadway are downsizing in the process, and may be looking to spend between 400,000 and 550,000 on a period cottage. That said, they recently sold a converted butcher's shop in the centre of the town for 325,000. The area known as The Sands, a short walk along the Leamington road from the village, is also very popular with people relocating in their retirement; there, a two-bed terrace might cost 170,000 and a detached house up to half a million pounds. It all means that the cost of much of the property in Broadway is at the kind of level that elsewhere would probably carry a greater degree of privacy than is possible here, where every nook and cranny of Pevsner's 'show village of England' is under continuous scrutiny.


In the words of one resident: "You have to learn to love the visitors, the painters, the photographers, and the outsiders who are all the time in your shops. It is no good coming to live in Broadway and then complaining about these things. That's like choosing to live next to a place that has a public entertainments licence, and then forever moaning about the noise levels of the music!"


And there is a lot of music in Broadway, and I am not just speaking of the concerts and courses at the Farncombe Estate Centre. Or of the jazz and folk music to be had at the Crown & Trumpet. It is music that has come down the years in a symphony of history, each note etching itself on a score written in the fabric of its time. There are such high notes: St Eadburgha's church of the 12th century; Abbots Grange and Priors Manse of the 14th; the Broadway Hotel and Shakespeare Cottages of the 16th; the almshouses, Farnham House, the Lygon Arms, Tudor House and Wisteria Cottage of the 17th; Broadway Tower, The Swan, Russell House and Picton House of the 18th; Broad Close of the 19th; Peel House and the Lifford Hall of the 20th; and The Russells of the 21st. And all the time an underlying melody, written in the Cotswold vernacular over three or four centuries, ripples along.


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