A brief history of Evesham
Evesham’s origins date back to AD 701 when, according to tradition, a swineherd by the name of Eof had a vision of the Virgin Mary while looking after his pigs. Eof related the story to Egwin (or Ecgwin), the Bishop of Worcester, who travelled to the site where Eof had seen the vision and then saw it himself. Eof’s vision is commemorated in a sculpture located in front of the Town Hall on the corner of Bridge Street and Vine Street. The name “Evesham” comes from the Old English Eof’s Homme, meaning Eof’s land. This became Eveshomme and finally Evesham.
While the vision may be legendary, the fact is that in response, Egwin founded a monastery, later to become Evesham Abbey and one of the most important and wealthiest in the country.
In 1265, Evesham was the setting for the Battle of Evesham, the second and definitive battle of the Second Barons’ War. Simon de Montfort, leader of the rebel barons, was trapped within the loop of the River Avon by royalist forces and, greatly outnumbered, the rebels were massacred on the fields of Green Hill to the north of the town. Simon’s remains, such as they were, were interred in the Abbey at the foot of the altar. The location of his burial is now marked by a memorial stone.
The Abbey itself thrived until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. After being surrendered to the king in 1540, the Abbey was demolished and plundered with only the free standing bell tower and a few fragments of walls left in place. Stone taken from the Abbey is found in many buildings from the era, and many looted sculptures are now at Abbey Manor House. The Abbey’s almonry survived and is now the town’s heritage centre and museum.
The institution now known as Evesham Town Council was founded in 1605 when the town was granted a Royal Charter by James I. Records show that Evesham’s charter was granted on the request of Prince Henry, James I’s eldest son and heir to the throne. The young prince in turn appears to have been influenced by his chaplain, the Reverend Dr Lewis Baylie, who happened to be combining his royal duties with serving as the vicar of Evesham at the time.
Henry never lived to ascend to the throne, dying of typhoid fever at the age of 18 in 1612. But his name lives on not only in the town’s charter (and his emblems on the town’s coat of arms) but also in Prince Henry’s High School which also owes its existance to the charter.
Despite this royal patronage, Evesham remained a relatively modest rural market town. The loss of the Abbey had meant the end of monastic wealth, and the town had little else of note. This changed again with the coming of the railways in the 19th century.
Prior to the construction of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway (later to become part of the Great Western Railway) in the 1850s, Evesham had limited transport connections to major cities. The River Avon was navigable, but circuitous and slow, while highways were rough and even slower. Evesham’s agriculture was, therefore, based primarily around crops, such as cereals, which could withstand lengthy travel times from farm to customer.
The railways, though, meant that cities such as Oxford, Worcester, Birmingham, Bristol and even London were less than a day away. And, by happy coincindence, the fertile soil of the Vale of Evesham turned out to be perfect for growing the kind of high value, short shelf-life crops that were greatly in demand in the expanding, industrialised cities. The fields of wheat and barley were replaced by apples, pears, plums, cabbages, onions, and what is now Evesham’s signature crop, asparagus – all harvested ready to be whisked off to eager customers waiting at the other end of the railway line.
These changes brought new-found prosperity to the town, something that is reflected in the name boards of Evesham’s mayors – “Market Gardener” became one of the most common occupational titles in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Not that everybody appreciated the changes. Edmund New, writing in his “Book of Evesham” in 1904, lamented the loss of the corn fields and their replacement with what he considered to be the “tiresome regularity” of orchards as well as the “modernisation” of shopfronts by the use of plate glass windows.
Evesham escaped significant damage during WWII, but the town was host to an Emergency Medical Scheme military hospital which was used by the RAF for the treatment of injured airmen. A section of the nearby Waterside Cemetary is the final resting place of many of those who did not recover. Following the war, the military hospital was transferred to the newly-formed NHS and is now Evesham Community Hospital.
Although previously navigable, the River Avon fell out of use for transport following the construction of the railways, and by the 1930s it had become effectively impassable with the deterioration of the locks and weirs. Following the end of the war, restoration of the Avon began under the auspices of the Lower Avon Navigation Trust and by 1962 the river was again open as far as Evesham – the first ever successful restoration of a former navigation by an entirely voluntary organisation. Work continued, and by 1974 the river was open all the way to Stratford-upon-Avon. The river now is the focus of much of the town’s leisure industry, with boating and angling being important aspects of the town’s economy.
21st century Evesham is still the focus of one of the country’s major fruit and vegetable growing areas, although these days the cabbages and asparagus leave by road rather than rail. Vale of Evesham Asparagus is now a legally defined food name with Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status. Although the business parks on the edge of town are still home to leading food production and packing companies, technology and online retail are now a key part of the mix.
Evesham’s town centre, in common with many others across the country, is having to rebuild following the Covid pandemic. But Evesham has a history of resilience and bouncing back from hard times. The Councillors and Officers of Evesham Town Council are proud to serve a community which is forward looking and open hearted. We hope you’re proud to be here, too.