Cotswold Life

Brad­shaw back pocket

Our very own Michael Por­tillo arms him­self with an 1863 Brad­shaw and tack­les the Cotswold Line, from Ox­ford to Worces­ter

- WORDS AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: Michael Portillo · Oxford · Oxford University · Clarendon Parish · Anne of Great Britain · Winston Churchill · Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom · Rochester · Henry VIII of England · Shipton · Cheltenham · John Betjeman · Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway · Anne of Austria · Blenheim Palace · John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough · Charlbury · Witney · Henri, comte de Paris, duc de France · Kingham · Chipping Norton · Bourton · Adlestrop · Stow-on-the-Wold · Charles I of England · Somerton · Blockley · Evesham · Fladbury

I fancy my­self a mini Michael Por­tillo. OK, I don’t have the gar­ish pink jacket, green trouser combo pre­ferred by the erst­while politi­cian cum TV trav­el­ogue host, but

I do have an 1863 Brad­shaw (that’s the tatty rail­way guide that Mr P. con­sults, that lays out a town’s cre­den­tials and gives him clues re. where to stay). I’ve de­cided to tackle the Cotswold Line, not the whole of it, but the bit be­tween Ox­ford and Worces­ter, and I’m go­ing to let my Brad­shaw be my guide. If you wished, you could carry on through the Malverns to Here­ford, but I’ll leave that for another jour­ney.

First, a tiny bit of his­tory. The line betwixt Ox­ford and Worces­ter came about by virtue of an Act of Par­lia­ment of 1845 and opened six years later in 1851 as the ‘Ox­ford, Worces­ter and Wolver­hamp­ton Rail­way’ (yes, it had in­dus­trial pretension­s in those days). Rail­way com­pany acronyms (OW&WR in this case) of­ten gave the wags food for thought, and for this one they came up with the ‘Old Worse & Worse’. Then, a dozen years af­ter the open­ing of the line came my Brad­shaw. I’d like to say it’s a bat­tered orig­i­nal like Mike’s but it’s ac­tu­ally a fac­sim­ile, as my bud­get doesn’t run to such ex­trav­a­gances. *note to edi­tor*

I promised my­self that I wouldn’t throw in any ‘dream­ing spires’ clichés when eu­lo­gis­ing about Ox­ford but I see that I did al­ready in an oblique man­ner. So, in 1863 Ox­ford had a mod­est pop­u­la­tion of 27,560 (155,000 to­day). The sta­tion is a mile from the city cen­tre, and I should stay at the Claren­don, Mitre or Roe­buck. The Claren­don is an in­ter­est­ing one for it was a coach­ing inn for 400-odd years (The Star), chang­ing its name to the Claren­don in, wait for it, 1863. My

Brad­shaw did well to cap­ture that. The ho­tel was de­mol­ished in 1954 to make way for Wool­worths and the site is now the Claren­don Cen­tre (shop­ping). The Mitre was another coach­ing inn that ceased trad­ing in 1969 whilst the Roe­buck, yet another coach­ing inn, was closed in 1924, and al­though largely de­mol­ished the year af­ter, much of the façade has been re­tained for to­day’s Boots. I’m al­ready think­ing that my Brad­shaw is a snap­shot on a de­parted world, but maybe I’ll have more luck when I set off down the line. It’s time for un­du­lat­ing hills, pleas­ing church spires (spires again) and that es­sen­tial Cotswold Stone. Bring it on.

Han­bor­ough (to­day’s spell­ing) was Hand­bor­ough (of 1853) in my Brad­shaw, which men­tions Blenheim Park and the ½ mil­lion quid that was ‘ex­pended’ in Queen Anne’s reign to build mag­nif­i­cent Blenheim Palace for the 1st Duke of Marl­bor­ough, John Churchill. There was a li­brary of 17,000 vol­umes (a few more than I have) and a costly col­lec­tion of paint­ings, well, un­til ‘re­cently’ (1861) as a fire a cou­ple of years prior to my guide had car­ried much of that off. The park ex­tended to some 2,700 acres. Brad­shaw

wasn’t to know that Han­bor­ough had fame await­ing it just over a cen­tury later when it was the des­ti­na­tion for Sir Win­ston Churchill’s fu­neral train (Jan­uary 1965), it be­ing the near­est sta­tion to his rest­ing place at Bladon. The sta­tion lost its ‘d’ in 1992.

My guide now moves on to Charl­bury, ig­nor­ing the fact that there are two ‘stops’ be­fore that at Combe & Fin­stock, ex­cept that your train prob­a­bly won’t stop at ei­ther. The rea­son Brad­shaw omit­ted them is their much later open­ing, Combe in 1935 and Fin­stock the year be­fore (as ‘Fin­stock Halt’). Both sta­tions are ba­sic, sin­gle-plat­form af­fairs, with just one train in each di­rec­tion a day (none at the week­end). Combe has a lit­tle shel­ter down be­low at road level, whilst Fin­stock has one on the plat­form. As rail­way sta­tions go, they’re not grand, but they’ve sur­vived, un­like one rather fa­mous one that we’ll come to later on this jour­ney. There’s also another that closed, then re-opened.

‘At More­ton-in-marsh, Brad­shaw urges me to stay at ei­ther the Unicorn or the White Hart’

Mean­while, back in my Brad­shaw, the Bell is rec­om­mended at Charl­bury and

I’ve scored. It’s a ‘beau­ti­ful 18th cen­tury Cotswold stone build­ing’ lo­cated at the heart of town. I’m dis­ap­pointed Brad­shaw doesn’t ex­pand on Charl­bury, which I know has a pop­u­la­tion of a lit­tle un­der 3,000 to­day, an old church, St. Mary’s, that has 12th-cen­tury ‘bits’ and Saxon an­tecedents, and a rather nice Ja­cobean drink­ing foun­tain (1897) that was erected to com­mem­o­rate a visit by Queen Vic­to­ria. The rail­way sta­tion it­self (1853) is a ‘beaut’ as it has its orig­i­nal Grade II Listed wooden chalet-style struc­ture, which is very ‘Brunel­lian Ital­ianate’. Brad­shaw seems more in­ter­ested in the sur­round­ing area, for ex­am­ple, Ditch­ley (two miles dis­tant), which he points out was the birth­place of the ‘no­to­ri­ous Lord Rochester’ (this would be John Wil­mot, the 2nd Earl, 1647-80, who was known for his ‘rak­ish’ life­style and his ‘bawdy’ po­etry). I say. Brad­shaw also men­tions Wy­ch­wood For­est, which I’m com­ing to.

Wy­ch­wood, or Wy­ch­wood For­est, is

a 1,240 acre SSSI north of Wit­ney. Brad­shaw de­scribes it as ‘a fine wooded track of much syl­van beauty’. A hunt­ing lodge was built here for Henry VII and most of the Tu­dor mon­archs stayed here whilst hunt­ing in the for­est, in­clud­ing that piggy-eyed, bad-tem­pered, ul­ti­mately gout-rid­den porky named Henry VIII. Brad­shaw dis­misses As­cott sta­tion, another one of 1853 (As­cot­tun­der-wy­ch­wood from 1880) merely stat­ing that we pass it be­fore ar­riv­ing at Ship­ton. As­cott and Ship­ton are two of three ‘un­der-wych­woods’, the other be­ing Mil­ton. Brad­shaw is more ef­fu­sive at Ship­ton (also 1853), al­though he says noth­ing about Ship­ton it­self, pre­fer­ring to ex­tol the virtues of Bur­ford, four miles south, and ram­ble on about a dustup of 752 AD, the so-called ‘Bat­tle of Bur­ford’, fought be­tween the ri­val An­glo-saxon king­doms of Wes­sex and Mer­cia.

I’ve ar­rived at King­ham, which Brad­shaw doesn’t men­tion (as such). It opened as ‘Chip­ping Nor­ton Junc­tion’ in 1855 when the branch to ‘the an­cient town’ opened and my guide eu­lo­gises about the place, pep­per­ing his de­scrip­tion with not only ‘an­cient’ but ‘ven­er­a­ble’. In 1862, a fur­ther branch opened to Bour­ton-on-the-wa­ter, ‘a small vil­lage on the side of a Ro­man Foss-way’. C.N. Jcn. must have been busy, but it’s a junc­tion no more, as the branches (of the Ban­bury & Chel­tenham Di­rect Rail­way) were closed in the 1960s. The sta­tion had been re­named King­ham in 1909. Adle­strop is a closed sta­tion on the main­line, im­mor­talised by an Edward Thomas poem, as is Stow Road, as the name sug­gests, the near­est sta­tion for Stow-on-the-wold. Both are men­tioned in my Brad­shaw.

At More­ton-in-marsh, Brad­shaw urges me to stay at ei­ther the Unicorn or the White Hart. The Grade II Listed Unicorn has been re­cently re­fur­bished and now of­fers book­able, ser­viced suites, whilst the White Hart Royal is a 17th-cen­tury coach­ing inn that had Charles I stay a cou­ple of times and is More­ton’s most cen­trally-placed ho­tel. Brad­shaw de­scribes the Mar­ket House and gets another men­tion in of the ‘Foss Way’ be­fore we head on our way again through the closed sta­tions of Blockley and Cam­p­den, ar­riv­ing at Honey­bourne, which was the junc­tion for the Strat­ford-on-avon Branch, so off Brad­shaw goes to ‘Bard’s-ville’. Honey­bourne (1853) closed in 1969 but re­opened in 1981 and now awaits the ar­rival of the Glouces­ter­shire War­wick­shire Steam Rail­way.

My guide and I have ar­rived at Eve­sham, where I grew up. The sta­tion is a ¼ mile from the town and I’m urged to stay at the Crown, which is in Bridge Street, but no longer a ho­tel. Eve­sham, pop­u­la­tion 4,680 (c.24,500 to­day) was (and is) ‘en­gaged chiefly in agri­cul­ture’ with ‘a lit­tle stock­ing and rib­bon man­u­fac­ture’ and ‘re­mark­able for the mitred Abbey’. I have some Eve­sham asparagus grow­ing in my gar­den. We pass through Flad­bury (closed) to ar­rive at Per­shore, where the sta­tion is in­con­ve­niently two miles from the town, so we would have needed a con­veyance to get us to the An­gel, which con­tin­ues to op­er­ate in the High Street. The ‘sta­ple man­u­fac­ture here is stock­ings’ and Per­shore’s abbey also gets an air­ing. John Bet­je­man con­trib­uted a poem about the sta­tion. Worcesters­hire Park­way is the new­est sta­tion on the route, hav­ing only opened in Fe­bru­ary 2020. It pro­vides a split-level in­ter­change be­tween our Cotswold Line and the Cross Coun­try Bris­tol-birm­ing­ham route. I like to think Brad­shaw would have been im­pressed.

And so, we si­dle into Worces­ter Shrub Hill and the end of our jour­ney. This is the city of my birth, the ‘Faith­ful’ or ‘Loyal’ city due to Worces­ter’s stead­fast sup­port for the Royal party in the English Civil War. Brad­shaw of­fers lots of op­tions for ac­com­mo­da­tion (five), as you’d ex­pect in a city of 31,227 (c.100,000 to­day). The sta­tion’s most no­table fea­ture is its Vic­to­rian Grade II* Listed for­mer ladies’ wait­ing room on Plat­form 2B. I exit the sta­tion, with my fac­sim­ile Brad­shaw in my hand, and head into the city for some di­ver­sion­ary ac­tiv­ity.

REF­ER­ENCES:

Brad­shaw’s Hand­book, 1863 (fac­sim­ile copy, 2012). Ox­ford Mail (www.ox­ford­mail.co.uk) Ox­ford His­tory (www.ox­ford­his­tory.org. uk) The Bell Inn, Charl­bury (www. the­bellinn­charl­bury.com) Charl­bury Church (www.charl­burychurch. co.uk) White Hart, More­ton (www. white­hartroyal.co.uk) Worces­ter News (www.worces­ternews.co.uk)

 ??  ?? Per­shore
Per­shore
 ??  ?? Combe
Combe
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Fin­stock
Fin­stock
 ??  ?? Adle­strop
Adle­strop
 ??  ?? Worces­ter Shrub Hill
Worces­ter Shrub Hill
 ??  ?? Per­shore
Per­shore
 ??  ?? Worces­ter Shrub Hill
Worces­ter Shrub Hill
 ??  ?? Eve­sham
Eve­sham

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