Evesham

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Evesham is a market town and a civil parish in the Local Authority District of Wychavon in the county of Worcestershire, England with a population of 22,000. It is located roughly equidistant between Worcester, Cheltenham and Stratford-upon-Avon. Evesham lies within the Vale of Evesham, an area comprising the flood plain of the River Avon, which was once a major centre for market gardening. The town centre, situated within a meander of the river, is regularly subject to severe flooding. In 2007 the floods were the most severe in recorded history.

The town was founded around an early 8th century abbey, which was once one of the largest in Europe. The abbey was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, with only Abbot Lichfield’s Bell Tower remaining. During the 13th century, one of the two main battles of England’s Second Barons’ War took place near the town, marking the victory of Prince Edward who later became King Edward I.

Evesham is derived from the Old English homme or ham, and Eof, the name of a swineherd in the service of Egwin, third bishop of Worcester. It was originally named Homme or Haum and recorded as Eveshomme in 709 and Evesham in 1086. The second part of the name (homme or ham) typically only signifies a home or dwelling, but in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire was commonly applied to land on the sides of a river, generally in bends of a river, which were liable to flood.

Some sources (notably Tindal) incorrectly cite ‘holm’ as a source for the town’s name; but this is simple ignorance of early forms of the name. Some sources (Rudge, Tindall, Lewis, May, etc.) incorrectly give the name of the swineherd as Eoves, but it should be Eof, as explained as long ago as 1920 by O.G. Knapp:

It is impossible that Eoves should have been the Swineherd’s name for several reasons. In the first place the letter ‘V’ is not found in the Saxon alphabet , having been brought to this country by the Normans; so that Eofeshamme, given in one of the charters, indicates the older and better form of the name… But even if Eofes is older and more accurate than Eoves it cannot be the original form of the name. A moment’s reflection will show that if Evesham means the meadow of some person, the name of that person must be in what Grammarians call the Genitive (or Possessive) Case, Singular. This in modern English is nearly always denoted by ‘s placed at the end of the word; the apostrophe showing that a vowel has dropped out of the termination. Anglo-Saxon had a larger selection of endings for the Genitive Case, but the one in –es (the original form of our modern ‘s) belonged to what are called ‘strong’ Masculine nouns, which usually ended in a consonant. Eofes, therefore, would be the natural Genitive of a man’s proper name, Eof. Ferguson suggests that the original form of the name might have been Eofa, but such a name would correspond to the ‘weak’ nouns which made their Genitive by adding not –es but –an; in which case the name of the town would have been Eofanham, as is shown in the case of Offenham, the Ham of Offa or Uffa. We may therefore take it as certain that the real name of the Swineherd was not Eoves, Eofes, or even Eofa, but Eof. And this is not a mere theoretical reconstruction, for Eof was actually a Saxon name… The form Eoves, though current for many centuries, is a mere blunder.

Evesham Abbey, which became possibly the third largest in England, was founded by Saint Egwin, the third Bishop of Worcester, in around 701 AD, following the vision of the Virgin Mary to a local swineherd or shepherd named Eof.

An entry in the Great Domesday Book of 1086 lists Evesham, mentioning “Two free men; Two radmen; Abbey of St Mary of Evesham; Abbey of St Mary of Pershore; Edmund, Abbot of St Mary of Pershore; Walter, Abbot of St Mary of Evesham; Aethelwig, Abbot of St Mary of Evesham; King William as donor; Odo, Bishop of Bayeux; Ranulph; Turstin, Abbot of St Mary of Pershore; Walter Ponther; Westminster, Gilbert Crispin, Abbot of St Peter.”

The abbey was redeveloped and extended after the Norman Conquest, employing many tradesmen and significantly contributing to the growth of Evesham. Income for the abbey came from pilgrims to the abbey to celebrate the vision and visitors to the tomb of Simon de Montfort. As a result of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, Evesham Abbey was dismantled in 1540 and sold as building stone, leaving little but the Lichfield Bell Tower. The abbey remains are a Scheduled Ancient Monument (No. WT253), and parts of the abbey complex, Abbot Reginald’s Wall (registered monument) and the ruins of Abbot Chryton’s Wall (Grade II), are English Heritage listed buildings. The abbey’s coat of arms is used as the crest of Prince Henry’s High School.

Following the Battle of Lewes a year earlier, where Simon de Montfort had gained control of parliament, the Battle of Evesham in August 1265 was the second of two main battles of the Second Barons’ War. It marked the victory of Prince Edward, who led the 8,000 strong army of his father Henry III, over the 6,000 men of de Montfort, and the beginning of the end of the rebellion. The battle was a massacre; de Montfort’s army were trapped in the horseshoe bend of the river, and although de Montfort and his son were killed, Prince Edward’s victory was not decisive towards the King’s hold on the country, and the struggle continued until 1267, after which the kingdom returned to a period of unity and progress that was to last until the early 1290s.

The medieval town developed within the meander of the River Avon, while Bengeworth developed to the east on the opposite bank of the river. In 1055 a market was granted to the Saxon town by King Edward. In the 11th century Leofric, Earl of Mercia, had a hunting lodge at Bengeworth. Leofric founded Holy Trinity Church with his wife Godifu (Lady Godiva). Godifu, who died in about 1067, is possibly buried at the abbey. During the reign of King Stephen, William de Beauchamp erected an adulterine castle at Bengeworth, whose occupants vied for control of the town and abbey. When Abbot William had the castle destroyed between 1149 and 1159, he consecrated the site as a graveyard to prevent the castle being rebuilt.

Evesham was a borough and market town in the hundred of Blackenhurst in county of Worcestershire and after 1837 head of the Evesham Poor Law Union which took responsibility for the administration and funding of the Poor Law, and built a workhouse for that area.

Evesham is a town and civil parish governed at the lowest tier of local government by Evesham Town Council, part of the Wychavon District of the County of Worcestershire. The council is chaired by a mayor.

Evesham is situated on a horse shoe shaped peninsula almost completely surrounded by water in a meander of the River Avon between Stratford-on-Avon and Tewkesbury. The modern town encompasses Bengeworth and Greater and Little Hampton, which were originally independent villages on the opposite bank of the river. Evesham is linked to Bengeworth by Workman Bridge and Hampton by Abbey Bridge, or New Bridge the first completely structural concrete bridge in the country. The Cotswold hills stretch from the east to the south-west, while to the west the area is bounded by the Malvern Hills. To the north the land is flat with gentle undulations. The Avon, a tributary of the River Severn, is navigable but mainly used by leisure traffic and there is a marina providing moorings.

The River Avon at Evesham has always been susceptible to heavy flooding which is well documented from the 13th century. In May 1924 floods at Evesham ranked 5th in the annual flood list 1848 to 1935. In May 1998, Evesham was one of the towns worst hit by record flooding along the River Avon. The river rose 19 feet (5.8 m) in just a few hours, sinking tethered narrowboats, flooding areas of Bengeworth, and threatening the 19th century Workman Bridge as static homes from a riverside caravan site broke up and became wedged in its arches. In July 2007 Evesham had its heaviest rainfall for 200 years, reaching more than 320% the average in some areas. In the Severn catchment, it caused some of the heaviest floods recorded, and in Evesham the flooding was the worst in its recorded history.

Due to its exceptionally fertile soil, market gardening is carried out on a commercial scale in the surrounding area, known as the Vale of Evesham, which is known for its production of fruit and vegetables. A decline in the second half of the 20th century resulted in the closing of Evesham’s Smithfield Market while the Central Market stopped being used for produce auctions. Between 1983 and 2008, Evesham was home to computer manufacturer Evesham Micros, later renamed Evesham Technology. It was a significant contributor to the United Kingdom’s domestic computer and digital television market. At its peak, the company employed up to 300 people with a chain of 19 retail stores in towns and cities throughout the UK. It went into liquidation in 2008.

Retail and food outlets are provided for in the traditional high street and the Riverside Shopping Centre, and Four Pools Lane Retail Park. Evesham Country Park, located out of town, has a garden centre, shops, a miniature railway and a wildlife centre.

In 1728 the London to Worcester road through Evesham was turnpiked as was the Evesham to Alcester road in 1778 improving communications in the area. Evesham is at the junction of the A46 and A44 trunk roads – the 4 miles (6.4 km) £7 million, A46 single-carriageway bypass to the east of the town opened in July 1987 as the A435.

The River Avon is a navigable waterway linking the River Severn at Tewkesbury to the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal at Stratford-upon-Avon. The river between the town and Stratford is managed by the Upper Avon Navigation Trust, and below by the Lower Avon Navigation Trust, reflecting the administration of the river since the Restoration, when the lower Avon required only modest repairs, but significant investment was required above the town. The ancient Hampton Ferry links the town to Hampton.

In 1845 an Act of parliament was passed for the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway and Evesham Railway Station opened between Honeybourne and Pershore. The station is on the Cotswold Line from Oxford to Worcester, Great Malvern and Hereford. There are trains every 45–55 minutes to London Paddington that take approximately 1 hour 45 minutes and trains to Birmingham take around 90 minutes (changing at Worcester).

It is possible that the 8th century Saxon Minster Church of Evesham Abbey was founded on the site of an even older church. The medieval town had two parish churches, All Saints and St Lawrence built within the abbey precinct. Religious establishments in Evesham include All Saints Church, Evesham Baptist Church, Evesham Evangelical Church, Evesham Methodist Church, St Andrew C of E Church, St Mary & Saint Egwin Church, St Peters Church, Vale Of Evesham Christian

Evesham had a distinctive dialect, which locals called “Asum Grammar”, or “Asum Grammer”. The editor of the local newspaper quoted extracts from a fictitious dictionary of the language. In 1891, a glossary was published of words and phrases in South-East Worcestershire, comprising the district around Evesham and Pershore. This publication itself built on that of an 1882 author identified only as “Mrs Chamberlain”. Prior to the 1882 book, little attention had been paid to the dialect of “the old Worcestershire folks”, despite it being “interesting and peculiar”. A decline in the dialect was already being noted, attributed at that time to standardisation of English schooling, something noted also by later writers on English dialects. The dialect continues to decline, but is stronger in older generations. More recent factors in its decline are attributed to changes in the market gardening scene, where the dialect was to be heard at its fullest, and the impact of television. In the local dialect, “Asum” is a contraction of the town’s name. Asum was an ale produced by the now defunct Evesham Brewery. “Eve-shum” is the more common phonetic pronunciation, but “Eve-uh-shum” is not common.

Evesham Arts Centre was built in 1979 and is staffed and operated by volunteers. It provides a venue for professional and amateur performance. Events hosted include drama, stand-up comedy, brass bands, orchestras, pantomime to ballet. The centre has a raked 300-seat auditorium, full technical facilities and film projection and a 60-seat studio space for smaller productions. The centre’s foyer it is an exhibition space for local artists. The centre is managed by the Evesham Arts Association, a registered charity.

The Regal Cinema reopened in December 2009. Its Grade II listed building was designed in 1932 by architect Hurley Robinson. who was responsible for several public buildings in classical and Art Deco styles, including 55 other cinemas. The Regal is the most important surviving example. In 2009 the cinema signed a contract to show all Universal Studios films. It also serves as a community arts centre, offering a programme of music and stand-up comedy.

Medieval Evesham, and the Earl of Evesham, inspired a novel Winning His Spurs by historical fiction author G. A. Henty. Local folklore is provided for by the Legend of Evesham surrounding the life of Eof, an 8th century swineherd credited with the founding of the town, and St Egwin the Bishop of Worcester who founded the abbey and who whose feet had been fettered and the key thrown in the River Avon. According to the legend, the key turned up in Rome inside a fish. On returning to Evesham, Egwin declared that a monastery be built on the spot where the key had been cast in the river. A major landmark is the statue of Eof by the sculptor John McKenna that was funded by the townsfolk and unveiled in the market place in June 2008.

A local museum opened in 1957 and funded by the council, The Almonry Museum, the Heritage Centre, and the Tourist Information Centre are housed in a 14th century half timbered building that was the home of the almoner of Evesham Abbey. Exhibits include many items of local interest including an exhibition themed on the battle of Evesham.

Evesham is twinned with: Dreux, France; Melsungen, Germany; and Evesham Township, New Jersey, USA.

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