A postcard from...Broadway
PUBLISHED: 16:33 13 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:39 16 September 2019
Tracy Spiers visits Broadway, a chocolate-box timeless village where art, beauty, food and leisure are in abundance
Having visited Broadway many times, my aim was to seek out people and places I had perhaps missed before. On this occasion however I had chance to see the village with fresh eyes and from a different perspective. I have in the past climbed Broadway Tower and enjoyed the views from the top. But on this trip, I viewed this famous landmark through a microscopic lens. It was the most intricately carved miniscule work of art - a teeny tiny replica of the tower embedded in the eye of a needle. Famous for his world-famous micro-sculptures, listed in the Guinness Book of Records for the smallest artworks in history, Dr. Willard Wigan MBE has just launched a permanent exhibition at Broadway Museum and Art Gallery. I was fortunate to meet him and some other interesting individuals on my recent trip to this chocolate-box timeless village where art, beauty, food and leisure are in abundance.
- I never get tired of driving into Broadway with its characteristic wide high street, honey-coloured period buildings and wide grass verges. The street through this village was an ancient 'ridgeway' and once the main road from Worcester to London. As it has a wide street or a 'broad way,' it became the obvious choice for its name. Today, whilst the businesses within the Cotswold stone buildings have changed over time, the character and beauty of the exterior has not. All the houses in the High Street are made from local limestone including the roof tiles.
- My lovely mum, Jan and I are as always given a warm welcome by all we come across on our visit. The village has a great reputation of being a hospitable place. Back in 1600 there were up to 33 public houses offering refuge and provision for passengers using the stagecoaches which passed seven times a day between London and Worcester. The railway arrived in 1904, with the last passenger train running in 1960. Last Easter however GWR started running trains again to Broadway.
- Our mission this time is to seek out shops we haven't visited before. In Cotswold Court, we discover Betty & Violet, a delightful vintage lifestyle boutique named after owner Ali Hocking's two grandmothers. "One of them was a great maker, sewer and knitter who ran clubs and was very community spirit minded. They were both very nostalgic and whilst they have been gone a few years now, I remember them fondly and wanted to name the shop after them," says Ali, who makes her own original hand-made designs using old items that have been loved in a previous life. Her shop, which has a carefully curated selection of antiques and collectable, is now running creative workshops and a club for vintage inspired people. Ali's shop is more than a shop, it is a place to remember with fondness and I can't help thinking of my own two grandmothers Kitty and Lilla, who both had exciting sewing boxes and button tins which kept me enthralled for hours.
- Not far away is John Barleycorn's, which sells a variety of award-winning beers, ciders, gins and foods such as chutneys and jams from small Artisan producers, local breweries and farmers. There's an amazing range of names which catch our eye including Fosse Way Mead and Lindisfarne Toffee Vodka liqueur. Owned by Phill Bowen, this quaint, small but compact shop, is a great find.
- We head towards Broadway Hotel, built in 1574 and overlooking the village green, where we chat to manager Richard Tebay. It's a building of half stone and half-timber and was originally built as a rural retreat for the Abbots of Pershore. It became a hotel in 1930. "It's a nice village, it does attract tourists but we have a great amount of support from the locals which gives it a lovely feel," says Richard. "Even today, we have our regulars having lunch with friends, along with those who have just come here for the day."
- It doesn't take long before the subject of food is mentioned and the popular Broadway Food Festival, which takes place on The Green, on Sunday, September 15. Like many food-related businesses, the Broadway Hotel takes part in what has become an important part of the social calendar in this community. The festival emphasis is on top quality local produce and provides a unique opportunity to meet those who grow and create it. Local growers and farmers will be showing and sampling seasonal produce and meat, whilst artisan coffee roasters, brewers, cider makers, millers, bakers, bee keepers, jam makers, confectioners and cheese makers will explain their crafts. There will be ample opportunity for those attending to sample some tasty morsels. Some of the area's best chefs will demonstrate great ways to use fantastic local products in a programme of practical cooking demos. Naturally Broadway's own cafes, pubs and restaurants will provide their usual delicious food and drink, supplemented by a feast of food-to-go on The Green. This will be the sixth annual Broadway Food Festival and attracts residents and visitors from further afield - more than 5,000 attended in 2018.
- I pop into Broadway's Tourist Information Centre where volunteer Keith Chamberlain tells me that leading up to the food festival on Saturday, September 14, is Broadway Horticultural & Craft Show on The Green. Taking place from 1-4.30pm, this traditional community event celebrates locally grown fruits, vegetables, flowers and ornamental plants, as well as baked goods, jams and craft items. I come out of the TIC with armfuls of leaflets including "Broadway - A Village Walk," a useful tool to help visitors discover more about the charming High Street. Next door to the Tourist Information Centre, is one of the village's two museums, the Gordon Russell Design Museum recognising the work of renowned 20th century furniture designer, Sir Gordon Russell. His father, Sydney Russell bought the Lygon Arms and set himself the task of making it into the finest hotels in the country. Gordon repaired the hotel furniture before designing and making his own. Incidentally during the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell spent the night here before the Battle of Worcester, while King Charles I had previously used the building as a meeting place for his royalist supporters.
- We visit the village on a Monday, a day when the Gordon Russell Design Museum is closed, so I go to the Broadway Museum & Art Gallery, which tells the history of Broadway and displays items loaned by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It is here where I meet Willard Wigan who now has a permanent exhibition of over 25 micro sculptures, entitled Through the Eye of the Needle. They are all smaller than a grain of sand and invisible to the naked eye so a microscope is needed to see them. Incredibly detailed, one can see the likes of the Last Supper, King Henry VIII and his wives, a humming bird, dinosaur, Shakespeare and the Olympic torch. "At home, when the heating pipes made noises, I imagined a tiny person was in there skipping with a rope. The fantasy world of tiny things became my escape," he says. "I started making homes for ants because I thought they needed somewhere to live." Willard, who has been awarded an honorary doctorate for his awe-inspiring work, admits it was his mother who encouraged him to create sculptures as tiny as he could. By then he was already carving tooth picks. "She told me, "make them smaller and your name will get bigger," and she was right. I guess I wanted to defend the word nothing and to show people that just because they can't see something, does not mean it is not valid. The little things make bigger things happen." This extraordinary exhibition - a collaboration between Broadway Museum and Art Gallery and Broadway Luxury, a neighbouring art, home and lifestyle showroom - is a must-see and I am so glad I happen to visit on this occasion and meet the master of these miniatures. Another exhibition currently housed here is Painting Faces - The Art of Flattery, which runs until September 8. Focusing on the 18th and 19th centuries, this show explores the relationship between cosmetics and portraiture and proves that the urge to create flawless versions of ourselves exists regardless of culture and time.
- One of Willard's sculptures, as mentioned in my introduction, is the village's famous landmark, Broadway Tower, a folly built for the 6th Earl of Coventry in 1798. One of England's outstanding viewpoints, the tower is worth climbing, not only to see the exhibitions on its three floors explaining its history and showing work of William Morris, but for the visual rewards at the top - glorious panoramic scenery displaying miles of rolling countryside. The Tower is open daily.
- Art is very much a core of Broadway's identity. Morris lived at Broadway Tower for a time and invited many of his like-minded friends to visit the village. It inspired the likes of Frank Millet, Henry James, Alfred Parsons, John Singer Sargent, the actress Mary Anderson de Navarro and Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Broadway Arts Festival recognises this unique artistic heritage and takes place again next year from June 5-14 when it will offer a hugely varied schedule of events that include celebrity talks, workshops, demonstrations, exhibitions, music, and theatre of the highest quality for all ages to inspire, encourage and entertain anyone with an interest in the arts. I am a personal fan of one of Broadway's contemporary artists, Jeremy Houghton, so can't resist looking at his vibrant, eye-catching original work at Trinity House Modern where it is being shown for the gallery's summer exhibition.
- The landscape around Broadway is stunning and is part of the Cotswold Way, so there is ample opportunity to walk, hike, cycle or run in a beautiful setting. As the village skirts the base of the Cotswold escarpment, there are many walks to choose from at the Tourist Information Centre. For younger members of the family the village, the Activity Park is a definite hit, providing a wonderful play and adventure area for toddlers to teenagers and picnic tables with breath-taking views. I am without child or teenager today, so miss my sneaky swing.
- As in previous visits, one thing that strikes me about Broadway is that it is self-contained and has a rich collection of independent retail shops, restaurants and cafés. One of its long-standing local independents is Cotswold Trading, which has just celebrated its 21st birthday. Over the years, I have bought many a Christmas present for my daughters here. This award-winning destination store has an impressive selection of stylish, beautifully designed products and specialises in bringing chic homewares and gifts to the country set, and has helped thousands add some inspirational quirky touches to their homes and gardens. "We are always changing our range to keep up to date with current trends so we have a flavour of what people can buy in London, whilst maintaining our countryside feel," says Marketing Manager Rachel White. "The fact we have just celebrated a landmark anniversary shows the store is very much an accepted part of the community."
- Mum and I leave Broadway inspired, and as Willard Wigan highlights, whilst it may be a small village, it is a community with a big voice and a big heart.