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Bewdley in 1835

BEWDLEY, a borough and market-town of the county of Worcester, in the lower division of Doddingtree Hundred, and in the parish of Ribbesford, 114 miles N.W. London, and 13 miles N. by W. from Worcester. The town was formerly within the jurisdiction of the marches of Wales. It was made part of the county of Worcester, by an act of parliament passed 34 and 35 Henry VIII c. 26.: it had previously been put within the parish of Ribbesford, by a private act in the reign of Henry VI, having till then been extra-parochial. It stands on a declivity overhanging the western bank of the Severn, and from the pleasantness of its situation was called in Latin Bellus locus, and in French Beaulieu, from whence by corruption the present name of Bewdley is derived. In Domesday Book, Bewdley, there called Ribeford, is reckoned among the townships belonging to Kidderminster, and is said to be in the king’s demesne. It was waste in the time of Edward the Confessor. In the reign of Edward I it was a manor belonging to the Beauchamps, the first Norman earls of Warwick ; it afterwards passed to the Mortimers, earls of March, and with the other lands of that earldom was annexed to the crown when Edward earl of March, became king, under the title of Edward IV. In the 12th year of this king, Bewdley received its first charter of incorporation. After this the town seems to have increased in importance, and in the reign of Henry VIII we find it thus noticed by Leland : ‘The towne self is sett on the syde of an hill : soe comely, a man cannot wish to see a towne better. It riseth from Severne banke by east, upon the hill by west ; soe that a man standing on the hill trans pontem by east, may discerne almost every house in the towne, and at the risinge of the sunne from the east, the whole towne glittereth (being all of new building) as it were of gould. By the distance of the parish church (at Ribbesford), I gather that Beaudley is a very new towne, and that of ould time there was but some poore hamlett, and that upon the building of a bridge there upon Severne, and resort of people unto it, and commodity of the pleasant site, men began to inhabit there ; and because that the plott of it seemed fayre to the lookers, it hath a French name Beaudley, quasi ‘Bellus Locus.’

The hill on the slope of which the town is built is called Ticken Hill, or more properly Ticcen Hill, or Goat’s Hill, which name the town itself is said to have borne in the early period of its history. In Leland’s time there was a fine manor-house on the top of the hill, which Henry VII built as a residence for Prince Arthur, and which is said to have been the scene of the festivities attending his marriage with Catharine of Aragon, afterwards queen of Henry VIII. There appears to have been some previous building on the spot. That which Leland saw was nearly demolished in the civil wars, but was afterwards rebuilt, and forms a mansion, the commanding prospects from which are much admired.

Independently of its municipal contentions, there is no fact of any interest in the subsequent history of Bewdley, except that Charles I removed hither from Worcester, in order to keep the Severn between him and the enemy. It does not appear from the corporation books that the town went to any larger expense than half a crown on the occasion of this visit.

The manor of Bewdley remained annexed to the crown through several reigns. In that of James I it was held by the Prince of Wales. After that it went through several hands, and since the reign of Charles II has been held by lessees from the crown.

The borough obtained a charter of incorporation in the third year of James I, by which it was to be governed by a bailiff and twelve capital burgesses, who were empowered to elect the other corporate officers, as high steward, recorder, and others of inferior rank. The town was also enabled to send one member to parliament, which it has ever since continued to do. Several accounts state that Bewdley had four annual fairs and two market days previously to this charter. Nash, however, states that Edward IV granted fairs to be held on the feast days of St. George, St. Ann, and St. Andrew, and a market on Saturday. These are the same that are granted in the charter of James, and which are still in use. The history of the charter is curious. The corporation surrendered it to Charles II and got a new one from James II, by which the borough was governed for twenty years. But when Queen Anne came to the throne this charter was declared, on account of some informality, to be void, and that of James I was confirmed. The different charters being respectively upheld by contending parties in the borough, a double return of officers was the consequence ; nor was the matter terminated without a long and expensive lawsuit, by which the old charter was confirmed. During the first thirty years of the present century the greatest number of electors polled at the election of a representative in Parliament did not exceed twenty-four, the bailiff and burgesses being the only electors; by the Reform Bill the limits of the borough were greatly enlarged for parliamentary purposes so as to include 484 qualifying tenements, of which the town alone contains 193. The population of the parliamentary borough is between 7,000 and 8,000 ; that of Bewdley proper was, in 1831, 3,908, of whom 2,021 were females. There is, however, on the other side of the Severn, connected with Bewdley by a bridge, the suburb of Wribbenhall, which, although not included in the municipal limits, appears to form part of the town. Its population is no where stated separately from that of the parish to which it belongs : but it contains thirty five qualifying houses, and is thus noticed in the Boundary Reports - ‘This suburb contains several good houses, also a large carpet manufactory, and some warehouses by the river side, which afford employment to the inhabitants of Bewdley.’

In its original state, as is the case with most old towns in this part of the kingdom, the buildings of Bewdley were of timber ; but the principal street is now as well built and paved as any other in provincial towns of similar rank. There are three principal streets : that is, a street leads in a direct line from the bridge and then diverges to the right and left, so that the three together give a ground form, approximating to that of the letter Y, with its foot extending to the river. The chapel of ease was, like the rest of the town, of timber, when Leland was there ; it was replaced in 1748 by the present structure, a neat stone building erected by subscription, and capable of containing 1,200 persons. A large proportion of the inhabitants are Dissenters, for whom there are various places of worship. Bewdley being in the parish of Ribbesford, it has only a chapel of ease for the accommodation of the inhabitants. The living is a perpetual curacy in the diocese of Hereford, of which the rector of Ribbesford is patron. The last returns state the annual income at £100 per annum.

The town-hall of Bewdley is a very commodious modern building of stone standing on three arches, which are furnished with handsome iron gates. The front is decorated with six square pilasters, which support a pediment. The arches underneath afford admittance to the market-place, which consists of two rows of stalls under arcades, with an open area in the centre, having altogether a very neat appearance. The stone bridge of three arches over the Severn, is a very handsome modern structure, guarded with balustrades.

A free grammar school was established at Bewdley under the charter granted to the town by King James. Some endowments had previously been made for the purpose, particularly by William Monnox, who gave £6 per annum secured upon lands ; and John, George, and Thomas Ballard gave the site of the school. The charter declared the object of the school to be, ‘for the better education and instruction of young children and youths within the borough, liberties, and precincts, in good arts, learning, virtue, and instruction,’ and that it should be called ‘The Free Grammar School of King James of England in Bewdley.’ The charge of its revenues was entrusted to the borough corporation, under the stipulation that they should apply them to no other use than to the benefit of the school ; they were also to make written statutes for the government of the school, and to appoint the master and under-master, who were to enjoy their offices during the ‘well liking of the said governors.’ Numerous small additions have since been made to the endowments of the school, the revenues of which arise from a rent-charge on land at Shepperdine in Gloucestershire, chief rents, rents of houses in Bewdley, and the tolls of the market. The amount is uncertain. The master has a salary of £30 and a house free of rent, taxes, and repairs. There is no under-master. ‘The school’ (remarks Carlisle in 1818) ‘is open as a free grammar school to the children of all the inhabitants, but there are none at present upon the foundation. The master has about 30 boarders.’ He adds, that no copy of the statutes is now extant. The master has charge of a collection of books given by the Rev. Thomas Wigan for the use of the clergy and laity of the neighbourhood. There is also in the town a school, supported by the corporation and inhabitants, which affords a plain education, with clothing, to thirty boys and as many girls.

The advantageous situation of Bewdley on the Severn formerly rendered it an intermediate station for the commerce between the ports of the Severn and the inland towns, and gave it a most flourishing carrying trade. Goods were then sent on the river from Bristol, Chepstow, and Newnham to this place, whence they were sent not only to the neighbouring towns, but to Manchester, Sheffield, and Kendal, by regularly established wagons, which returned laden with inland manufactures for exportation. A considerable carrying trade still exists ; and the Boundary Report observes, ‘The town of Bewdley can hardly be said to be in a state of decay, although the changes in the internal navigation of the country have deprived it of its former commercial importance. Its market, its retail trade with the surrounding country, its situation on the Severn, and some small manufactures, afford employment to its population, in which may be reckoned a considerable number of respectable inhabitants.