On my way home from Cheltenham in August I took the advice of my AirBnB host and stopped off in the Worcestershire village of Broadway, a place I’d been wondering whether to visit since spotting its picture on an office calendar. Named for its wide main street, the village has a sweeping village green and a plethora of pretty houses built from local stone, with many buildings dating from its heyday as a staging post in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
After the railway reached nearby Evesham in 1852, the town became a tranquil haven for Victorian writers and artists, notably (from my point of view, and that of this blog post) William Morris. More on him later… The village began to receive another influx of regular visitors with the advent of motor car tourism in the early 20th Century, and was popularised by J.B. Priestley, amongst others (lots of old postcards of the village can be found here and here). In the 21st Century, the place abounds with antique shops and gift shops, art galleries and museums, and hotels and holiday cottages, but still retains a rustic and calming feel – at least on the day that I visited.
Following a picnic lunch on the village green, and a visit to some of the gift shops and art galleries, I calculated that my timings were a little out, and while I’d enough time to explore the nearby Broadway Tower, I was going to have to drive there if I had any hope of arriving home in daylight. So I wandered back to where I’d parked my car, taking a few more photos along the way, then drove the couple of miles further on to inspect the folly that James Wyatt designed for Lord and Lady Coventry in the late 18th Century.
The Tower stands on one of the highest points in the Cotswolds, offering (on a clear day!) a view encompassing sixteen counties. Thought to be originally the brainchild of the great Capability Brown, who carried out much landscaping for the Earl of Coventry, the Tower is Saxon in style, but has suffered much more extensively from the weather than many of the castles on which it was based. It was already in a state of disrepair in early Victorian times; however, some fifty years later, its dilapidated beauty was one of the inspirations for William Morris to become greatly involved in buildings preservation.
There was a William Morris exhibition taking place in the Tower when I visited, and I was distracted for quite some time by design books of upholstery fabrics and wallpapers. I did eventually find my way to the top of the tower, and took in the breath-taking views, although I can’t be certain I spotted all sixteen counties. The Tower’s position led to its use as an observation post by Royal Observer Corps from the Second World War until 1991. During the Cold War, a Secret Nuclear Bunker was built a couple of hundred metres from the Tower, but sadly they weren’t open to visitors while I was there.
I plan to go back to Broadway next year on a day when the bunker is open, and I’ll make sure I have time then to walk through the country park up to the Tower as well as visiting the village again. Finally, my visit to the William Morris exhibition has already proved inspiring for my own house renovations: I found a pair of crimson cushion covers in his Strawberry Thief design in the British Museum Shop, and they now have pride of place on the repurposed pew (from the church where Mum and Dad got married) in my dining room.