Bewdley – “A Small Historic Town with Many Surprises to Uncover”

Bewdley, in rural Worcestershire, has a strange quality that always lifts my spirit when I visit. My observations are that I am not alone in experiencing this, judging from the happy faces of the many visitors there whenever I visit. I am very happy to return over and over again.
It’s as though the place smiles at you from every corner…never a frown even in inclement weather.

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View over rooftops to St Anne's Church with Severn Valley Railway loco in the distance

View over rooftops to St Anne’s Church with Severn Valley Railway loco in the distance.

By today’s standards it’s a small town with only just over 9000 inhabitants and covering an area of about 8 square miles – the outskirts of it mainly recent housing.
But, it is derived from a very important town in the middle ages when populations were measured in 100’s rather than tens of 1000’s.
In the 17th and early 18th centuries it was one of the major inland ports of the west midlands. Why? Because it was situated on the River Severn and river transport was so much faster and able to carry large and heavy roads than carts on the non-metalled roads.

Being a small town, you’d think that you could see all things of interest in about an hour.
Not so! The centre is one of the most concentrated urban areas of interest that I have encountered. And what’s more, the proactive Council seems intent on uncovering and exhibiting more and more historic, natural and architectural treasures.
In the core of the town, running along the River Severn, there is an abundance of historic buildings and hardly any modern ones to interrupt and spoil the theme (hooray!). Many date from the 17th century – wall plaques indicate this.

At weekends and holidays, the town is a magnet for folk from nearby and ones from farther afield like me who have previously encountered the town. A particular attraction and delight is the long-established and quality fish and chip shop close to the river bank at Severn Side North adjacent to the splendid Bewdley Bridge (there is another good one in Load Street across the road). This is a perfectly good reason to return to the town for many, especially as the riverside provides a perfect spot to eat your fish and chips from a takeaway parcel (regrettably no longer newspaper!).

A Little History

The town was founded by Secular (non-religious) Lords, the Mortimers of Wigmore, in the late 13th century and passed from the family to the Crown in 1472, becoming a borough and hence self-governing and escaping control by the local Lords.
It used to be a major inland port for tall ships navigating the River Severn from the Severn Estuary to serve the industries of the Midlands. This was overtaken by the building of canals such as the Staffordshire and Worcester, Droitwich, Worcester and Birmingham and the Birmingham Canal Navigation (BCN).
Today there is a ford creating a weir towards the south of the town centre and the limit of navigation is just north of Stourport, some 5 km south. So how all the cargo ships managed to reach Bewdley bridge I don’t know.
Seven Facets of the town fall naturally to mind in my exploration of Bewdley:

  • Severn Side North
  • Severn Side South
  • Streets and Buildings
  • Museum
  • Gardens
  • Shops and Pubs
  • Railway.

You can view Bewdley in this Google Map in a separate page.

Severn Side North

This riverside street contains a number of pubs and eateries catering for seating outside along the river in good weather. A little beyond the street is parkland which is a pleasantly green area to relax in and view the river with its occasional boats and many swans, geese and ducks.

Severn Side South

This is the favourite place for first time (and no doubt regular) visitors. It’s 360degree views take in the ancient buildings in the street, the Bridge and across the river Wribbenhall Quays and the Tudor houses adjacent to Beales Corner, and some superb willow and other trees.

The current splendid stone bridge, built by Thomas Telford in 1798, is actually the third one to cross the River Severn at this point. The original one was replaced by Bewdley Old Bridge in 1483 which was destroyed by floods in 1795 – a shame as it had a Gate House on it which contained a toll-gatherer and a prison!

Sitting here watching the river go by is the place to eat your fish and chips from two splendid chip shops in Load Street.

Streets and Buildings

There are seven known buildings inscribed with dates between 1600 and 1642. These introduced fireplaces and chimney stacks instead of an open hall and a louvre outlet for the smoke. Also introduced during this period were three or more stories where restricted room meant upward rather than outward development. One such building is the Bailiff’s House in High Street dated 1610 and shown in the gallery below.

17th century building in High Street.Finding the others is a treasure hunt but a well worthwhile activity. The one shown left is somewhere in High Street and is obviously a modern-day plaque.

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While, this one  is probably original and the building is included somewhere in the gallery below.

 

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Museum

Hidden behind the Guildhall in Load Street is the Information Centre and then the old Butchers Shambles. The latter now houses a museum, craft and artists centre, a herb garden, a cafe and activity centre. A great deal of effort has been put in by the Council and others to create a visitor centre with something of interest to all ages and a celebration of Bewdley as a historical town. The museum’s theme is collection and interpretation of evidence of the town’s past. The whole is full of surprises and a must to visit.

Gardens

The Queen Elizabeth II Gardens have a history stretching back to the 16th Century. They are located through the Shambles (Museum, Craft Centre, etc). There are several areas each distinct in character, some a relaxation and enjoyment of greenery and flowers, others allowing more active recreation and of particular interest to families.

Shops and Pubs

If you wander around and really look at the buildings in the central streets you will find a great variety of pubs and shops the latter mostly independents and hence unusual. There are market stalls, bakers, delicatessens, brick-a-brac, sweets and more.

Severn Valley Railway

This important preserved railway runs from Kidderminster to Bridgenorth with an important stop at Bewdley with classic views of Steam (and Diesel) locos and trains and authentic station platforms and ticket office. The visitor is well catered for with a cafe and shops for the casual visitor as well as the enthusiast.