Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bredon, Worcestershire


‘Where do you thinking you’re going?’ asked Alan Bennett, taking on cliché-ridden sermons in Beyond the Fringe and implying that a swift trip out of the back of the railway station without showing a ticket could turn into a journey to the bad place. Looking at this scene in the middle of Bredon in Worcestershire reminded me of such directional questions. In the Middle Ages, when St Giles’ church behind the trees was built, most people did not travel very far at all, until the hoped-for final journey to meet their maker; church spires pointed upwards, towards heaven, the one direction that mattered. By the time the rationalist 18th century came along, things were different. Industry was expanding, and with it trade and the necessary roads – and we needed road signs to guide us and tell us how far it was to the next town.

It wasn’t quite as simple at that, of course. In the Middle Ages, some people – pilgrims, masons, those fighting during wartime – did make long journeys. And road improvement was beginning well before the industrial revolution took hold. But it’s still true that many of our early road signs – milestones, fingerposts, and fancy obelisks like this one of 1808 – date from the 18th and early-19th centuries, the time when the turnpike trusts were building and maintaining roads and charging people tolls for the privilege of travelling on them.

There was plenty of turnpike activity in southern Worcestershire in the 18th century, though I’ve not been able to establish who put up this obelisk with its happy combination of stone and cast iron. It’s one that’s not so strong on directions – there are no arrows and, unlike some obelisks, this one does not use its faces to indicate the direction of different places.

But for all its shortcomings, the obelisk is a visual asset to this village rich in visual assets. And it does give mileages to half a dozen local towns – from nearby Tewkesbury to more distant Evesham. So after 1808 travellers through Bredon knew where they were in the scheme of things. They could decide whether to pull in at Tewkesbury for the night or carry on to Upton on Severn – and if quizzed by the parson about their destination they could come up with a credible answer.


Peter Ashley said...

What a lovely set of evocative English names. Tom Jones' inn at Upton, Betjeman's bells ringing out over orchards in Pershore and Housman's "...snows at Christmas / On Bredon top...".

Anonymous said...

Lovely composition and a fine structure. We have a similar, though less pointy, obelisk (actually, if it's non-pointy, I suppose it's really a very tall milepost) on the Richmond side of Richmond Bridge, which must date from c1780. See it here:

The tollbooths on the bridge are sadly, long gone.

(By the by, I've just bought a copy of the h/b English Buildings Book for the 16 year old nephew's Christmas present. All part of his education!)

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: And Tewkesbury was John Moore's Elmbury, while Bredon itself, I think, was his Brensham.

Philip Wilkinson said...

DC: Thanks for the link. I remember this stone now I see it - good carved lettering.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Oh, and DC, thanks for buying the book. Every purchase helps, and I hope it is educative!