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  • Historic England: Worcestershire by Stan Brotherton

    Unique Images from the Archives of Historic England

    Worcester Road, South of the Unicorn Inn, Great Malvern. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Worcestershire, Amberley Publishing)

    Historic England holds an extraordinary archive of images, both historical and new, of England’s amazing architectural heritage. This particular book represents a small and select slice from that remarkable collection. The trick for this book was working out a way to gather together a representative mix of photographs (say 50/50 in colour and black-and-white) from right across the county and across a range of interests. Where was I to start?

    As it turned out, it was exceptionally easy to start. I simply started trawling through the online archive of Historic England – https://archive.historicengland.org.uk – and noting all those images I thought particularly interesting. The next steps, however, were more time-consuming and intensive.

    Having assembled a collection of images, the next step was to analyse them by location. I wanted a good spread of images from right around the county; from the Cotswold Edge, Bredon Hill, the Malverns, the Vale of Evesham, the industrial northern edge of the county, the county town Worcester, and anywhere in between. Next was an analysis by type of location: that is, by city, industrial town, market town, and village. I paid particular attention to ensuring that every Worcestershire town was represented (typically many times): Worcester, Droitwich Spa, Evesham, Stourport on Severn, Kidderminster, Bromsgrove, Redditch, Malvern (Great, Little, Link and Barnards Green), Pershore, Bewdley, Tenbury, Upton on Severn, Alvechurch and Broadway.

    St Nicholas's Church, Church Lane, Dormston. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Worcestershire, Amberley Publishing)

    As a separate exercise, I asked friends and relations what they considered to be the most notable and interesting places to visit in Worcestershire. Examples included the Elgar Birthplace Museum, Hartlebury Castle, Evesham’s Almonry, Harvington Hall, Morgan cars, Witley Court, Shelsley Walsh, and the Bull at Inkberrow (an inspiration for the pub in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers).

    There were also some images which I particularly wanted to include. I wanted to have an image of Lechmere House (Hanley Castle) so that I could talk about the local inspiration for some of P.G. Wodehouse’s wonderful stories. I also wanted a street scene from Great Malvern so that I could mention C.S. Lewis being inspired by a Malvern lamppost (shining through the falling snow) to write that iconic scene in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” which introduced Narnia. Additionally, I wanted to have an image of Dormston because I could then write how J.R.R. Tolkien would visit the area to visit his aunt Jane Neave (who lived in a farm known locally as “Bag End”).

    Pump Rooms, Tenbury Wells. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Worcestershire, Amberley Publishing)

    Cross-checking these lists identified a handful of gaps – so it was back to the Historic England archive to find new images. On a couple of occasions there were no handy images available from the archive so I hunted out alternative sources (including the web, personal collection, friends and family).

    I now had an interesting and wide-ranging assembly of images. What, however, did they have in common? And how were they different? In other words, how could these images best be grouped?

    How about geographically, by area and place? However, with this approach there’s a risk that the reader will simply hunt out their own area of interest (for me it would be my home town of Evesham) and not worry so much about the rest.

    How about chronologically? That might work, but the end result would probably seem radically incoherent. After all, it might give the impression that the early days of Worcestershire were concerned solely with church-building, with later years specialising in country houses, and with later centuries focussed on industry. While that might indeed be true of the surviving architecture, it’s not true of the centuries themselves. After all, in every age there has been religion, business, wealth, village life, and more.

    Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blesses Mary the Virgin, Worcester. (c. Historic England Archive - Aerofilms Collection, Historic England: Worcestershire, Amberley Publishing)

    How about functionally? This doesn’t work cleanly because old buildings often have complex histories. A church might have since become offices (e.g. St Mary’s, Wythall) or been declared redundant (e.g. St George’s, Redditch). In a similar fashion, a country house might now be a tourist attraction (e.g. Witley Court) or a hotel (e.g. Farncombe) or a school (e.g. Pull Court) or just a ruin (e.g. Old Hewell Grange).

    The approach finally adopted was to loosely organise the images by theme with chapters on abbeys, village life, agriculture, churches, country houses, industry, and street scenes. Within each chapter the images could be further sorted chronologically (not exactly, but broadly). This meant for the first chapter (on abbeys) I could start with Worcester Cathedral (founded c.680) and conclude with Mucknell Abbey (moved to Stoulton in 2007). Interestingly, this approach left with me a stump of images which did not easily fit into any particular category – such as the Tenbury Pump Rooms, the Lickey Monument, and Treasure Island Amusement Park. How to cope with them? The answer was to create a whole new category called “The Surprising, Special and Curious”!

    Broadway Tower, Middle Hill, Broadway. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Worcestershire, Amberley Publishing)

    The choice of the first image seemed obvious. The book is about Worcestershire, so we start with Worcester’s most iconic building – the Cathedral. The last was a bit trickier, but to me the answer also seemed rather obvious – Broadway Tower. After all, as the caption to that final image says: “It is, perhaps, the perfect place to end our current exploration. After all, from here, on a clear day, you can see all of historic Worcestershire.”

    Having sourced sufficient images and sorted out the organisation of the book, there remained one final job. To write the captions! The series brief stated that each caption should be a maximum of 50-60 words each in length. So for each of the final 150 images I ideally needed to write something which was interesting, informative, entertaining, and concise. For some places, this was wonderfully straightforward and I could write up a “potted history” (e.g. for Salters Hall). For other places, it was a trickier business and required a solid amount of research and consideration.

    There then followed the ongoing recursive process of thinking, researching, writing, reviewing, swapping out images, sourcing new images, and thinking again. After multiple revisions and re‑workings, I finally found myself with a completed manuscript and a looming deadline. Hopefully the reader will find the book an informative and entertaining read. As stated in the introduction, the aim of the book is “… to showcase this singular, wonderful and fascinating county. Hopefully the reader will be inspired to discover new places, or rediscover old ones.”

    Stan Brotherton's new book Historic England: Worcestershire is available for purchase now.

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