Broadway, Worcestershire: 50 years on
PUBLISHED: 11:19 27 October 2017
Fifty years ago the first issue of Cotswold Life rolled off the press and Nigel Smith came kicking and screaming into the world...in the very same house his mother has been born in. Tracy Spiers reports
As printers produced the first copy of Cotswold Life 50 years ago, in Broadway, 23-year-old Mary Smith was celebrating the birth of son Nigel in the very home she was born in.
So, who better to ask what Broadway was like in 1967 than Mary, whose family goes back five generations in this picturesque quintessential Cotswold village?
I meet her at a fortuitous moment and find her surrounded by old postcards, preparing a talk she and Nigel, representing Broadway History Society, are giving that afternoon about the very subject I have come to see her about. Two years ago Mary and her friend Debbie Williamson set up the society with the aim of sharing Broadway’s heritage with new villagers.
Talking to Mary I recognise that what was present tense in 1967, is now history and its incredible to realise just how much our world in terms of technology, shopping experiences, community life has changed within five decades. Broadway reflects this, and yet there is an air of timelessness about the beautifully preserved village, helped by the fact buildings lining the main High Street are Grade II listed. The infrastructure and outward appearance looks as it did to a certain extent in 1967. What has altered is what lies within – and it these interesting details I look to Mary to provide.
“Broadway was a hive of industry then. We had the Gordon Russell Factory based at the back of the High Street, where the Museum and the Tourist Information Centre is now. That is the only part left of the old factory. The Show Room was on the main street, where Russell’s Fish and Chips, Trinity House and Russell’s Hotel and Restaurant are.”
“I remember Gordon Russell. He was very hands on and a fine craftsman of his day. His brother Don was proprietor of the Lygon Arms in 1967.”
Interestingly the legacy left by Sir Gordon (1892-1980), who was awarded a knighthood for his services to design in 1955, lives on thanks to the Museum named after him. Opened in 2008, the Museum is in Russell’s original Grade II listed drawing office and workshop.
“He employed a large number of people at the time. He had been inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement but wanted to make good design accessible to as many people as possible. From this base, the company had a profound influence on British design, throughout the country and world-wide,” says Verity Elson, Manager of the Gordon Russell Design Museum.
“Educating the next generation was such an important part of Gordon Russell’s life. He was Director of the Council of Industrial Design and as a museum we are continuing his legacy through our schools programme and by supporting young designers. We support design prizes for young furniture makers and we are about to launch a national design prize.”
So, what about the shopping experience in 1967? According to Mary, apart from two main landmarks – namely The Lygon Arms and Broadway Hotel – the rest of the buildings have changed in terms of what they are used for today.
As I look at her postcard collection, it is fascinating to hear about H.H.Collins, the butchers which had a pie factory and slaughter house. Today it is an estate agents. Mrs Thompson’s Knitting Shop used to be in the building where Trinity House Modern art gallery is. St. Patrick’s Tea Rooms was also a well-visited venue in the 1960s. Fifty years on, the building is still as popular as home to Broadway Deli and Café.
“Back in 1967 we would have had three or four grocery stores. There was J.B Ball’s Store, which is now the Edinburgh Woollen Mill; there was Dickie Franklin’s grocery; The Midland Stores was run by a dear old chap called Mr Beale and there was the Co-op grocery at the top of the High Street next to Prior’s Manse, the oldest house in Broadway,” recalls Mary, whose grandfather had a building firm in the 1960s based in the High Street, called Charles Steward and Son Ltd.
“The Co-op butchery was on the site where the library is now. Although it was demolished, locals still call it Co-op Corner.
At the top of the High Street, we had a pet shop, baby shop, fruit and veg shop, bakers, wool shop and sweet shop. There was Joe Keyte’s Alley which went from the High Street to Colletts Fields. We called it that because Joe had a caravan at the bottom. Nearby there was also a cobbler called Mr Godfrey who went under the name “Wemendem.”
Walking along the High Street today, Broadway has retained that personal customer touch with an eclectic mix of independent shops, offering an impressive selection of fashion boutiques, homeware stores with local handmade crafts and souvenir gift shops. High fashion outlet stores, Michelin star restaurants, antiques and art galleries are also among them. The shopping experience is different to that of 1967, but it hits the spot for those looking for a bit of retail therapy.
Some traditional shops such as Hamiltons Sweet Shop, still sells the sticky treats children in the 1960s would have loved. Owner Sheila Campbell, who also runs the Candle Shop, says there is something about sweets which takes us back through the decades.
“We do sell a lot of Dolly Mixtures, Sherbert Fountains, Dib Dabs, toffees, fudge and Rhubarb and Custard, all of which relate to our childhood memories. We didn’t set up as a nostalgia outlet but because we have laid the sweets out in jars the way they used to do, it takes people back,” she says.
Back in 1967, Broadway had recently lost their railway. Broadway’s station was demolished by British Rail in 1963. Fifty years later, the golden age of steam is set to return to Broadway with GWR (Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway) painstakingly rebuilding the station and restoring it to its former glory. Due to finish this year, it is hoped by early 2018, trains will return as Broadway will join the existing railway, which currently runs from Cheltenham Racecourse through Winchcombe and Toddington to Laverton, two miles short of Broadway.
The number of cars driving through Broadway may still be on par with those travelling in and out in 1967. Up until the late 1980s it was a different story. Heavy traffic made it dangerous for locals to cross the roads and it was too much for a village, designed originally to accommodate horse and stagecoach travel. In 1998, the opening of Broadway Bypass meant the village could preserve its timeless past. Neil Hilton, owner of Hilton China, previously known to locals as “Sticky” Green’s Men’s Outfitters in 1967, believes it was a significant change for Broadway.
“Before the bypass, the High Street was the main route to London. Pavements were crowded with people and 25 tonne lorries rolled through the village 24 hours a day and so the houses closest to the road would shake,” he recalls.
“Since the bypass opened, Broadway has become a destination village. People come because they want to visit Broadway rather than just passing through. It is quieter now and but it enables the visitors to have a more pleasant shopping experience.”
One building which did draw visitors into the village in 1967 was Tudor House, originally built in the 17th century as a coaching inn to serve the Ludlow to London route. In the 1960s it was the headquarters for H.W.Keil Ltd, major dealers in antique furniture. Today visitors enjoy it for a very different reason. It is now Broadway Museum & Art Gallery and tells the village’s story of travel and trade, captures its time line and showcases work of artists.
“Broadway’s initial prosperity came from its ecclesiastical roots and the fleeces on the back of its sheep. We celebrated this at the Museum on Wool Day in September. Coaching filled the gap when the broad street no longer thronged with sheep,” explains Gill Parker, Broadway Museum’s Operations Assistant.
“In 1660, when this building was the second significant coaching inn in the village, it was known as The Angel Inn. Stage coach travel was considered dangerous and many a traveller would say a prayer or ask their guardian angel to look after them on the journey!”
“In the 1960s people would have come here to look at Mr Keil’s antiques. He was one of the leading dealers in antique furniture in the world and the Queen Mother was one of his clients,” she adds.
Today visitors can enjoy looking at some unusual and impressive pieces of furniture which Mr Keil would have had in his showroom, such as a late 17th century English press cupboard which catches my eye.
Tourism and community life
In terms of Broadway’s main industry in 2017, Mary Smith believes it is tourism.
“I guess we depend on tourists. We do get a lot of walkers going to Broadway Tower. It is lovely up there and I guess the views haven’t changed,” she says.
Looking at Broadway’s social calendar, there is a lot which pulls visitors in. In recent decades festival fever has hit this village which attracts different audiences far and wide. It celebrated the Broadway Arts Festival in 2016, an event held biennially, which pays tribute to the arts heritage and provides a showcase to local artists and recently held a Broadway Ferrari Day. It has a thriving Food Festival and a popular late night Christmas shopping market over two consecutive Fridays (November 24 & December 1 2017) where shoppers can indulge in the village’s late night shop opening hours and enjoy street entertainers, food stalls and live music.
It also has a fantastic state of the art children’s playground which is well laid out and as I discovered, can occupy little people for a good hour or so.
As for community life, Mary believes this has changed, certainly for her.
“Looking back, it has changed in many ways. It was a lovely time to bring up children in the 1960s. I knew everybody in the road, today I don’t. There are hardly any of us who are locals now, who grew up here, everybody else has moved into the village,” she says.
It means there is a potential issue to solve in the 21st century which didn’t exist in 1967. Neil Hilton has noticed an increase in the number of houses being turned into holiday rental cottages or as second homes for occasional use. “What Broadway needs are residents who will occupy these buildings on a permanent basis, and use the local shops, services and facilities on a regular basis,” he adds.
Broadway is after all an attractive place to own a house or cottage for its sense of timelessness. It attracted a group of American colonists in the 1880s, known as the Broadway Colony. It was in Broadway where John Singer Sargent painted Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, now considered an important part of our national art history. Artists and creative writers have continually been inspired by Broadway’s surrounding countryside over the past 50 years. Earlier this year Trinity House in 20 High Street (part of Gordon Russell’s showroom in 1967) which specialises in Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Modern British and 19th Century works; opened Trinity House Modern at number 35 High Street to focus on contemporary art. It proves art is just as important today as it was years ago.
“As Broadway has been so well preserved, the locations which inspired the artists like John Singer Sargent are still in existence, so there is a link to those worked as artists then and now,” says Noah Warren, International Art Dealer and Advisor for Trinity House Modern.
As I sit with Mary and listen to her reminisce and remember life in 1967 as a new mother, we come to the conclusion that although the people who worked in the shops and businesses themselves are no longer the same, the beautiful outward appearance is still as it was.
“They cannot change the frontage of the shops so walking through Broadway is as I remember it,” she confesses.
The Village Green too has retained its character and in 2017 I can’t resist eating an ice cream with my twin daughters to prove that the simple pleasures enjoyed by parents and children alike in 1967 are still as pleasurable fifty years on.