The past is chaotic and complex. History aims to create coherent narratives to make meaning. What to do with those bits of the past that don’t readily fit into a history? How about a book like an ‘A-Z’? Evesham, like everywhere, has plenty of such snippets.

There were a numerous local mysteries to consider. One is the location of “Long Street” – mentioned in a grant of 1415 but with no modern equivalent. There are different local theories but no definitive answer (though I propose a speculative answer). There’s also the matter of what happened to all the old stones which once comprised the long-lost Evesham Abbey (where are those stones now?). Then there’s the question of the town’s possible link with the famed Robin Hood. And what about (speculative) lost pathways in the parish churchyard? And lost alleyways? And where (exactly) was the monastic hospital by the bridge? And what about Jacob’s Ladder?

From the Norman Gateway you can just about see the site of the abbey’s north porch.

Long-standing local lore claims that Evesham Abbey was the third (sometimes fifth) wealthiest abbey in the county. This naturally makes folks think that our long-lost abbey was particularly prestigious. However, the available documentary evidence (at Domesday and Dissolution) makes it clear that the abbey, while wealthy, was second tier. Important, but not too important. Rich, but not that rich.

Most usefully, writing ‘Evesham A-Z’ provided the perfect opportunity to talk about the town’s local historians: William Tindal, George May, and E.A.B. Barnard. Truly splendid local scholars (though sometimes troubled) who deeply enriched our understanding of the town’s fascinating past.

Flooding of Waterside during ‘The New Century Flood’ of (VEHS)

This was also a wonderful opportunity to consider the meaning of many of the town’s various and varied street names, whether based on descriptions, destinations, local landmarks, local folks, national moments or modern themes. Very often such names preserve elements of how the world once worked. A striking example: the modern ‘Cowl Street’ was, in earlier ages, known as ‘Coal Street’ – the former suggests a tentative echo of monastic times; the latter tells us that this was where coal was sold. An extraordinary difference!

This was also the perfect opportunity to write about the town’s very long history of flooding. Certainly, the historical record of such events has improved dramatically. Early reports talk about “a terrible storm” or “such a downpour of rain” or “very heavy rain”. Only in recent times (since 1848) has local flooding been subjected to objective measurement (with techniques improving steadily over time). This is why we know that the flooding in July 2007 was the worst on record. Technically, many old floods might have been much, much worse; but we have no way to prove it.

Key locations during the oppression of the Quakers in Evesham 1655.

For most entries (A-Z) it was relatively easy to identify an interesting local historical snippet. For the letter ‘Q’ there were the ‘Quakers’ (who radically upset the local order; and were strenuously suppressed). For ‘S’ there’s the series (sequence?) of sculptures scattered around the town. For ‘U’ there was the local coaching house ‘The Unicorn’ (long since converted into regular housing). Actually, for many entries there was too many possible entries (with ‘A’ and ‘B’, in particular, I had lots to choose from). And then we come to the end of the alphabet…

I was lucky with the entry for ‘X’ as there’s a useful bit of Victorian slang – ‘X Division’ – which denotes swindlers and thieves. This allowed me (happily) to talk about the formation and early days of the local police force. For ‘Y’ I was fortunate in the town having been visited by the well-known agriculturalist Arthur Young (c.1769). And then we come to ‘Z’…

The police station moved to Oat Street sometime in the 1890s (part of the site now occupied by Wallace House). (VEHS)

For the final entry in ‘Evesham A-Z’ I wanted something that was appropriately concluding (rather than “just another entry”) which would also allow me to reflect on the rather arbitrary (albeit useful) organization of any ‘A-Z’. In the end I opted for ‘Zodiac’ which allowed me to wrap up a collection of additional local oddments while inviting the reader to conjure up their own local alternatives.

Stan Brotherton's book A-Z of Evesham is available for purchase now.