History of Bromyard Off the Top of My Head

by Hugh Nicklin of Stoke Lacy, September 2017.

By about six billion years the earth had formed. As it cooled the hard plates on its molten core floated about, so Bromyard wasn’t where it is now. It was near Antarctica and, passing through equatorial climes on its way north it saw flora and fauna no longer to be found here except in fossilised form. The plate on which Bromyard stands was volcanically more active in the distant past, and East Herefordshire was given its general topography when a horrifying series of eruptions peeled back the rock strata along the line of the Malvern Hills, threw them westwards and tilted them skywards. In Worcestershire the same strata still lie peacefully under the Severn plain, but in Herefordshire they were exposed to weathering, which explains the many little crests of hills that radiate away from the Malverns to the west, of which Bromyard Downs and Bromyard itself are an example.

The earth settled down and, fortuitously supplied with just the right cocktail of elements to support life, saw life begin. Various species competed for food, but their internecine struggles were complicated by extinction events often involving asteroid impacts. There will have been dinosaurs in Bromyard, but an extinction event put paid to them. Mammals, tiny by comparison to the dinosaurs, proved better able to survive the asteroid impacts, and flourished. Early man, puny though he was, used his brain to organise collective action against competitors. Gathering food and hunting animals, man emerged from Africa and colonised the globe, including the European peninsula which later became the British Isles and Bromyard.

The last ice age formed glaciers which reached as close to Bromyard as Wigmore. As they retreated they deposited their ‘terminal moraine’ (debris) just south of Wigmore, blocking the river Teme. The Teme could no longer flow south to the Wye, and was forced to take its present course towards Worcester. It was already doing this by the time the first human eye fell upon it.

Farming and domesticated animals reached Bromyard. Not being as fertile as Worcestershire, the Bromyard area probably remained less densely populated as the Bronze and Iron Ages came and went, although there is evidence of human habitation from that date. Some of the human habitations are in the form of defensible spaces, because by about 13,000 BC war had been invented. The Iron Age Celts, who we see illustrated in the Asterix cartoons, were warlike. They conquered the Bromyard area, which became a frontier region between the lands of the Dobunni tribe based near Cirencester, the Silures in south Wales and the Ordovices in Shropshire. Julius Caesar raided Britain in 55 and 54 BC, and although he never got anywhere near Bromyard, Roman life began to penetrate Britain. Bromyard saw Roman wine jars before Roman soldiers.

In 43 AD the Romans arrived. Defeating the south eastern Celts on the River Medway, the Romans sent an unmistakeable signal to the other Celts. The Dobunni immediately capitulated, but the Silures and the Ordovices did not. Advancing from Gloucester the Roman forces made for Wales, probably by-passing Bromyard. The defeat of the Ordovices and Silures under the refugee Caradoc, perhaps in Shropshire, meant that Bromyard passed peacefully under Roman rule without seeing ‘a lance thrown in anger’. Any people of standing in the area would be humoured for a while, and then their lands taken under Roman administration when they died. The things that happened to Boadicea in East Anglia probably happened to the local rulers in Bromyard, but they bit their lips.

The Romans built roads in Herefordshire, but none passed through Bromyard. The main route passed from the military town of Wroxeter near Shrewsbury via Leintwardine and Magnis (the Roman town just west of what is now Hereford) towards the legionary base at Caerleon. Another road connected Magnis with Worcester, passing not many miles south of Bromyard through Stretton Grandison. Stretton (the name means ‘the town on the Roman Road’) was also connected with Roman Gloucester by the unmistakeably Roman section of the A417 and A419. Roman artefacts are unusual in north east Herefordshire, far from these arteries, as Bromyard is, but we can be sure that Roman tax collectors and military surveyors traversed the hillside on which Bromyard now stands. There were occasional disruptions of the Roman peace, and a recent coin hoard found in Leominster probably represents an insurance policy which was never cashed. The extent to which the lives of the poor in a place like Bromyard were influenced by Roman culture is controversial. Some of them may even have been Christian.

When the Roman army withdrew in 410 AD, Roman life continued. The Romanised British ruling class tried to continue a Roman style regime and were largely unsuccessful. King Arthur held the Germanic invaders up for a while from his base somewhere to the south of the M4. From the west came Irish raiders. Many of the leading Romanised Britons withdrew to Brittany, and so there are no battle sites near Bromyard showing Roman-uniformed Celts transfixed by Saxon weapons. There was a battle of that kind north of Bath in 577 AD, which split the Romanised Britons into Welsh and Cornish, severing the links between the Celts in Cornwall and those in Wales. No villas in Herefordshire appear to have been sacked or pillaged. Instead a group of Germanic people known as the Magonsaete moved into the area and ruled over the existing population, which continued to exist even though it may have been reduced by epidemic diseases. We know it continued to exist because the DNA of the English pre-1948 population is much the same as that of those here when the Romans arrived. People have speculated on what the new settlers thought of the wonders of Roman civilization whose remains they could still plainly see not far from Bromyard. Not far south of Bromyard is Ullingswick, whose name suggests that a Germanic lord called Ull occupied an existing Roman settlement or ‘vicus’. ‘Ingas’ means ‘people of’, so Ullingswick is ‘The old Roman village where Ull’s people live’. On the other hand ‘Pencombe’ reflects the survival of Celtic speaking Roman Britons. It is plainly the Welsh words Pen-y-cwm, meaning ‘Head of the Valley’.

Twenty years after that battle near Bath (at Dyrham), St Augustine landed in Kent with his band of Christian missionaries sent from Rome. Conversion of the various Saxon kingdoms proceeded. The Magonsaete got given a bishopric based at the new Saxon town of Hereford. The Bishops of Hereford proceeded to incorporate the land where the broom enclosure (‘Broomyard’) stood, making it into a Christian parish with a priest.

There then followed 400 years of peace and consolidation under the Saxons. The Magonsaete were incorporated into the kingdom of Mercia, then Wessex, and eventually England. The status quo was refined in various ways concerned with taxation, local law courts and personal status. From 793 onwards England was subjected to Viking raids and it is conceivable that the year 877 saw armed Vikings set foot in Bromyard as they moved south looking for King Alfred (though the route down the Severn Valley would have been more obvious) He gave them a bloody nose at the Battle of Ethandune, and by the Treaty of Wedmore, Bromyard was soon safely back in the Alfredian domain south and west of a line from Manchester to London. There are no villages whose names end in –by anywhere near Bromyard. Bromyard is not in that part of the country known as the Danelaw.

Saxon settlements like Bromyard did not have walls round them like ninth and tenth century French villages do. This was because the peaceful succession of Saxon kings was reflected in general peace across the country. There were of course criminals in Saxon England, so Bromyard would have seen the occasional hue and cry, and Munderfield had its stocks, but in general property rights were respected. Roads passed through the middle of villages. In southern France, by contrast, there was total anarchy. The people fled to their local warlord’s castle for protection, and built their houses in a circle round it, with no windows facing outwards. Roads by-passed these strongpoints. Nothing underlines more clearly the peaceful nature of Anglo-Saxon England than the absence of any such fortified villages here. Bromyard remained at peace.

Unfortunately the Vikings continued their raiding, and the anarchy in France spilled over into England. The weak Edward the Confessor had no heirs of fighting age. Harold Godwine was the obvious pragmatic choice. It was a constitutional choice, because the English crown was not bound to descend by hereditary principles. Harold had quarrelled with his brother Tostig. Harald Hardraada, a Viking who had recently been guarding the Emperor of Byzantium, decided to install Tostig on the throne of England. William the Bastard, descended from a Viking who had conquered Normandy in the tenth century, also proposed to seize the English throne, making up an elaborate story that Harold had promised the throne to him. The unfortunate conjunction of the two attacks was made worse by the Channel winds: Harold was defeated at Hastings, and French anarchy descended on England and Bromyard. It was some consolation that the leading anarchist was a control freak, and William the Conqueror, for it was he, maintained order firmly, chopping off the feet of even his own barons if they crossed him.

William shared England out among those like Roger de Lacy, who had put their lives on the line for him at Hastings. The Pope had blessed William’s illegal invasion, so the king rewarded the church, too. Near Bromyard, Roger de Lacy got Stoke Lacy, the Bishop of Hereford got Bishop’s Frome and the Canons who staffed Hereford Cathedral got Canons’ Frome. The Normans built castles on the lands William had given them, but the villagers were not allowed to build their houses round them. The castles were to control, not to protect them. From Bromyard Downs you could see the ‘Motte and Bailey’ castle built on ‘British Camp’ on the Malvern Hills, one of several in the area.

The people of Bromyard will have been informed of their duties as taxpayers and soldiers under the new regime, and will not necessarily have shed tears at the departure of their old, Saxon ruling class. Bromyard made no trouble, and so was spared what William did to the people of the North who did make trouble. There was some difficulty in western Herefordshire with the new Norman earl of Hereford and some Welsh intruders, but a new earl soon sorted that out. When a new Viking invasion threatened in the 1080s William suddenly found himself on an east coast cliff top with three men and a dog instead of the formidable ‘feudal host’, the army which he could theoretically call on as of right in any crisis. That Christmas he called his followers together at Gloucester to ask them what had kept them, which will have been terrifying. The result for Bromyard was that commissioners appeared asking a lot of very specific questions about who held what land, and what they owed in terms of money and military service in return for it.

The results for Bromyard and everywhere else were written down in the Domesday Book, and can still be read in one of several copies which still remain. This showed Bromyard as a small settlement with the usual collection of freemen, villeins and serfs, plus a small religious establishment still organised by the (now Norman) bishop of Hereford. People owed military or other special services, and dues usually paid in the form of livestock or other farm produce. To the church they owed the ‘tithe’ a notional ten percent tax. The Normans appointed locals to manage their tenants, whose language they could not understand. This produced some interesting words like ‘dray horse’ – this represents what the manager thought the Norman had said when he had actually said ‘cheval de trait’. The manager knew that a cheval was a horse, but he did not know that ‘de trait’ meant ‘for dragging’. Since the Norman was using the word for a horse which ‘dragged’ a cart full of wine barrels about, and he now wanted one to ‘drag’ barrels of beer, the misunderstanding caused little problem.

Some Bromyard men may have gone with Norman lords to fight in obscure Norman disputes, but not many of them will have gone on the First Crusade. The Normans had only been in England for 30 years, and did not feel that they could leave a potentially mutinous English population under the control of a small garrison while they went to the other side of the known world to recover Jerusalem. The Pope overlooked this, as William and his Normans had done a lot of church building in stone in their new English lands. Bromyard church will have been rebuilt in stone at this time. When they attended church most of them could not understand what was being said because they didn’t know any Latin. This helped to avoid the kind of awkward questions about inconsistencies and improbabilities in Bible narratives which were asked 400 years later when the Bible was translated into English. Many of the Bible’s stories would have been explained by the priest or his deputy, in English, by reference to pictures painted on the church wall. In the long intervals of peace Bromyard got on with feeding itself. This it did without using the traditional ‘three field system’ of the school history books, because Bromyard acres were not susceptible to being organised into vast flat fields as were places to the east. Apart from feeding itself, Bromyard had to supply things like clothes and shoes, and craftsmen existed to provide them.

Bromyard had its first experience of democracy in the following year when it was called upon to send representatives to Simon de Montfort’s new parliament. Being in a border county and not too far from Wigmore, stronghold of the Mortimer marcher lords, Bromyard will have quickly heard of the liberation of the heir to the throne from Hereford Castle, where he had been imprisoned after the Battle of Lewes in 1264. Roger Mortimer III, with no doubt several men who knew Bromyard, joined Prince Edward’s army and took part in the manoeuvrings between Hereford and Evesham which ended with the defeat and death of Simon de Montfort. Simon’s head, with his genitalia in its mouth, will have passed near to Bromyard on its way from Evesham to being presented to Lady Mortimer in Wigmore as a souvenir.

What had upset the marcher lords about Simon de Montfort was his political and matrimonial flirtations with the Welsh. Many men from Bromyard went with Edward I’s army to hunt down Llewelyn the Last and put an end to the independence of Wales in 1282. Life in Bromyard became less likely to be interrupted by Welsh raiders, and the town entered a period of prosperity lasting more than 40 years. Peace having broken out, some economic advantage would have been extracted from the passage of herds of Welsh cattle passing through on their way to areas where English people wanted to eat them. These herds passed along ‘Drovers’ Roads’ from west to east. The cattle were often kept away from the main roads and towns because of the damage they did with their hooves. The drovers, however, soon proved to be men of substance who could be relied upon to pay for accommodation and other things as they passed. Despite their origins, they did not ‘Welsh’ on deals, and their probity led over time to success in banking. The road linking Leominster with Bromyard and Worcester was a main artery of this trade.

In the early years of the fourteenth century Bromyard was hit by climate change. This was the beginning of a decade or so of exceptionally cold and wet weather, during which harvests were difficult to collect and animals prone to disease. Land in less fertile places might well be abandoned. Inadequate supplies of food weakened the population, making it more susceptible to epidemic disease. As if on cue, in 1348 the Black Death arrived in Bromyard, killing about a third of the people in particularly horrible ways.

By this time the Hundred Years’ War was under way, and some Bromyard archers may have been recruited to fight in France, and stayed on to make money as highwaymen called ‘routiers’ during intervals when the war was officially suspended. After the Black Death had passed workers found themselves in short supply, so they were better placed to demand higher wages or a change in their status making them freer than before. Some English workers pushed this, and the government passed a ‘Statute of Labourers’ to keep them in their place. It was, however, fairly easy to play one lord off against another, and wages and conditions improved. The fortunes of war fluctuated, but being deep inland Bromyard did not suffer from seaborne raids whenever the French had got the upper hand in the Channel. The people of Bromyard did not find themselves being raped and pillaged while their lords and masters loitered at a safe distance, as happened in Kent and Essex. They did not have quite the motivation which the people of Kent and Essex had to express their annoyance in the ‘Peasants’ Revolt’, which therefore did not affect Bromyard. The Revolt and subsequent repression passed the town by, but the slow movement away from ‘villeinage’ continued. This was a state where a poor man was forced to remain in one village and scratch a living once all the work on the Lord’s land had been done.

King Richard II was smart enough to outwit the peasants, but not the barons. He annoyed them and was deposed in 1399. Bromyard may have seen the odd Welsh raider associated with the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr, or other stresses arising from the deposition of Richard II. The best archers will have been recruited to go with Henry V to Agincourt. Sadly the king’s early death made his possession of the French crown a problem for his son Henry VI. In 1453 the English barons were already divided when news arrived that the French had not been idle since Agincourt, but had built up their skill with firearms. The longbow men were now yesterday’s men, and the English were crushed in two mighty battles in France that our historians have kept pretty quiet about. Not 1% of those who read this will have heard of the battles of Formigny or Castillon. If there were any men of Bromyard still trying to extort protection money from French peasants it was now time to come quickly home to the boring peace of Herefordshire. Deciding whose fault the defeat in France had been, and who should now rule England, gave rise to some excitement in the Wars of the Roses. Small towns like Bromyard had very little to do with these quarrels of the great and bad, although I shall not be surprised to find examples of old soldiers from the French wars unable to shake off the habit of pillage in England.

By the time Henry VII came to the throne in 1485, serfdom had pretty well disappeared, and Bromyard was inhabited by farmers and labourers. So many of them had now learned to read that the King had to ask the Pope to alter the rule which said that if you could read a verse of the Bible you could have a first crime free because you qualified as a clergyman. Hardly anyone in Bromyard will have noticed the Cabots’ voyages to America starting in 1497. The beginning of imperialism would be as obscure in Bromyard as its end. No-one in Bromyard joined the Cornish Rebellion of 1497.

Not many people in Bromyard challenged the religious status quo. The churches were well attended and there were monasteries close by which provided some relief to poor beggars. People would have been surprised by the news that Henry VIII’s commissioners had found widespread fraud and other malpractices in monasteries in relation to relics and pilgrimages. There would not have been a great rush to read the Scriptures in English. Rogues and vagabonds, deprived by the Dissolution of the Monasteries of the relief they had been accustomed to getting from the monks, will have arrived in Bromyard to beg. New landowners appeared who had been rich or clever enough to get hold of former monastic lands.

When Edward VI came to the throne there would have been surprise at and distaste for the new protestant services, and many Bromyard people will have hidden their catholic regalia in the hope of another change of direction, which duly arrived with Queen Mary. Confusion will have broken out at the start of Elizabeth’s reign when the doubt which she encouraged about her religious position spread across the country. Catholicism will have persisted in many houses in the Bromyard area. From the Bromyard Downs the beacon lit on the Malvern Hills will have been visible, and its message to prepare for invasion will have been noted, and rusty weapons cleaned. All this time inflation was rising, and the rogues and vagabonds were more and more visible. In Bristol in 1595 an attempt was made to disqualify a candidate for mayor on the grounds that he was a villain. The judge declared that ‘there are no more serfs in England’, and at a stroke the men of Bromyard were free, and therefore entitled to privileges conferred by Magna Carta on ‘free men’. Being free did not guarantee you against being poor, and a workhouse was built in Bromyard to accommodate some of the ‘rogues and vagabonds’ soon after the passing of the Poor Law of 1598.

Not many of the issues which gave rise to the Civil War will have been felt particularly strongly in Bromyard, but nevertheless the war will have divided families. There were battles at Ledbury and Worcester, and the Mortimer seat at Bampton Bryan to the north of Wigmore was taken by the parliamentarians, but the fighting got no closer than that. Eventually the Royalists were defeated, and Bromyard came under the military rule of the Major Generals. Non parliamentary taxation continued under Oliver Cromwell as it had begun under Charles I. Churches became even plainer and various nonconformist chapels appeared. Fun became suspect and there could be no pudding at Christmas.

Liking processions and Christmas pudding, Bromyard welcomed the Stuart Restoration in 1660, but there will have been some pain as old Royalists realised that they were not going to get back what had been taken from them under Cromwell. Many old and new gentry families prospered. Bromyard adjusted itself to the regime changes of the late 17th Century and accepted the Hanoverian succession with minimal disruption.

In the eighteenth century Bromyard will have participated in the revival of the aristocracy, with horse racing on Bromyard Downs attracting wagers. Cricket, too will have been played for money. A blacksmith might share a partnership at the crease with an earl, something which was spectacularly not the case in France. Foxhunting perpetuated the skills of the former knightly warriors. The broken countryside round Bromyard would have seen a regular guerrilla war between poachers and gamekeepers. A mysterious increase in the population will have seen some people from Bromyard migrate to Birmingham to find work in the new metal industries. A very small number may have found their way to the sea and participated in the imperialist expansion of the period. More and more schools will have been built, and from mid-century onwards, Methodist chapels. The middle classes will have patronised Wesleyan Methodist chapels, and the poor the Primitive Methodist chapels. Turnpike trusts improved the roads and left tollgate houses as a permanent memorial. New cheaper consumer goods became available, in particular china and textiles. Elections in Bromyard will have produced the usual shambolic scenes of bribery and intimidation at the hustings, and men acceptable to the local landowning class were generally elected.

Bromyard shared the general distaste for the French Revolution. Not having any major industry it was insulated from the effects of booms and slumps which were beginning to cause economic distress. Even its poor families ate beef on a regular basis, which Nelson’s sailors noted was not the case with French peasants. Pressure elsewhere gave a different selection of Bromyard men the vote in 1832, though there will not have been much pressure for it in Bromyard. The following year money from government funds became available to subsidise schooling for the first time. Bromyard workhouse will have become more severe as a result of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which required that life in the workhouse should be worse than life as the poorest employed labourer. Personal tragedies will have resulted, but not many people in Bromyard will have been Chartists, demanding votes for all men and annual parliamentary elections. Any who were will have made the fairly long journey in those days to Staunton in Gloucestershire, where there was a Chartist village. Probably well over half the people attended church or chapel on Sunday. News will have filtered through of the ridiculous idea that humans were descended from apes. A major change will have been the arrival of the railway linking the town with Worcester and Leominster. Bromyard people could travel on at least one train a day in either direction at the minimum fare, thanks to the Railway Passengers Act of 1844.

In 1867 a peculiar alignment of political forces saw the Conservative Disraeli push through a significant enlargement of the electorate, giving votes for the first time to some working class men. Since the Conservatives had traditionally opposed reform, as indeed had many Liberals, the politicians thought they had to address the condition of the poor men who would soon be voting. Between 1868 and 1880 a whole series of laws was passed improving living conditions for ordinary people. It was felt that voters (by the liberals) and soldiers (by the Tories) ought to be more literate than before, so in 1870 elementary education became universal. Bromyard, already with its Church of England school, will not have needed to elect a ‘School Board’ to find places on the rates. The discovery in the 1850s that cholera was a water borne disease led to the provision of clean water and efficient sewage disposal. Gas street lighting was provided. Men of Bromyard will have joined the army from time to time and served in imperial disputes across the globe. Sometimes they will have been farm labourers finding it difficult to get work because of the agricultural depression starting in 1879. Some local men will have despaired of English agriculture and emigrated to places like Canada, Australia or New Zealand. The County Councils Act of 1889 saw the Bromyard roads quietly tarmacked without fuss. The wild gambling infested cricket of the past gave place to orderly leagues played on the half a day extra in the week which restriction of working hours allowed. Football was also organised into leagues (much sooner than rugby), but Bromyard had teams in all three sports and many others.

The confidence and pride in British achievement across the world will have been reflected in Bromyard’s celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Bromyard’s MP will, though, have heard worrying stories from those in the know about the fact that the new United Germany and the slightly older United States were setting new standards for geopolitical greatness which Britain could not hope to match. Flag waving jubilees, and the new curriculum for British History published in 1899[1] helped to conceal this uncomfortable fact from the people of Bromyard.

The twentieth century began with unwelcome news of unexpectedly difficult struggles against the Boers, but there was soon a new king, and new ideas. Radicals elsewhere demanded social security, and in 1909 the people of Bromyard found that they were entitled to Old Age Pensions. In 1911 they found that they were entitled to pay for them via National Insurance, but since Mr Lloyd George assured them that they were getting 9d for 4d they accepted it. Some Bromyard men will have served in the army in Ireland, and there would have been discussion about Irish terrorism and Ulster resistance in Bromyard pubs. We can safely say that there were not many discussions about Serbia, a far off country of which the people of Bromyard knew little. But in July 1914 an event in Serbia saw volunteers from Bromyard signing up to fight the Germans. Casualty lists came back, and in 1916 all the fit young men of Bromyard were conscripted.

At the end of the war there was a war memorial to build. Bromyard’s is one of the thousands of diverse British war memorials whose diversity reflects the uncertainty as to what the war had been about. Some of the heroes came home, and some of them found fit homes. Bromyard danced the Charleston and went to the movies, but then came the Slump. Agricultural mechanisation caused much unemployment and poverty in Bromyard. Britain had joined the League of Nations, and pacifism meant that army careers were no longer an easy alternative path to take. Bromyard welcomed the return of Mr Chamberlain from Munich with ‘Peace with Honour’, and the people did not generally understand why they were having to build air raid shelters and try on gas masks a year later when war broke out and no fighting happened.

Bromyard went to war whatever the war was for. All the young men were conscripted immediately, and when the fighting finally did happen some will have made the brief round trip to Belgium and back via Dunkirk. Bromyard did not figure much in the Baedeker guide book, so it saw no German bombers. It did see rationing and the blackout, and the black market, and eventually more names on the War Memorial of men who had died from Malaya to Murmansk. During the latter part of the war the government explained to Bromyard that the war was about fascism.

At the end of the war Bromyard voted for Mr Churchill, but it got Mr Attlee, American loans, state secondary education, prefabs, social security and the National Health Service. It lost India. It did not notice the coal, iron and steel industries being nationalised, but at the railway station the logo changed from the GWR to British Rail. The line to Leominster closed, but the diesel railcar pottered up and down to Worcester.

The people of Bromyard hardly understood that Britain had been bankrupted by both the world wars, and had lost the empire which had paid for its clean water, street lamps, new schools and benefits. There were still many receipts flowing into the country from former imperial territories and from overseas sales of British goods, which still had the reputation of being ‘the best’. Though the small economy of Bromyard was not much affected by change, the great industries which had powered Britain’s former greatness were now in trouble. Coal, iron, shipbuilding and steel suffered from competition. Railways were less in demand, and Bromyard lost its railway station to the Beeching Axe, but private cars and buses meant that it did not return to its pre-railway isolation. British motorbikes suddenly turned out to be significantly slower, more expensive and more unreliable than Japanese ones. Coalmines, ironworks and utilities were denationalised and closed or privatised. In Bromyard the names on some of the shops changed. The effects of this were masked by the bonanza of North Sea Oil, and the people of Bromyard, along with all the other people in Britain, remained in the top 20% of the world’s wealthy.

The Labour Government of 1945 inaugurated a period of experimentation in social policy. For 5000 years it had generally been assumed that if you did not work you would starve. Housing had been a private matter, but now Bromyard saw council houses. The workhouses from 1834 onwards had been a reluctant concession to the poor, who were made to work hard in them. The Labour government abolished the workhouses, and paid people not to work, on the grounds that their not working was someone else’s fault. Bromyard’s workhouse closed.

Believing that the British Empire had been an engine of monstrous injustice, the Labour government gave away India. Given the bankruptcy which the Labour government inherited and its expensive programme of nationalisation and reform, the cost of continuing to rule India against its will would have forced the abandonment of India anyway. The bloodbath of Indian independence was caused by ethnic and religious conflict, but the government now moved to recreate the same ethnic mix in Britain. It announced that all former commonwealth citizens had the right to come to Britain. Conservative governments continued the policy. Britain had absorbed many immigrants and generally cold shouldered them at first. People stopped noticing them once they spoke English with regional accents, and they ‘integrated’. You could not fail to continue to notice black people, so their integration took a lot longer. Bromyard did not have a shortage of bus conductors, so not many black people moved there. A general mood of brotherhood and interconnectedness, plus a belief in the trading advantages, led to Bromyard voting in favour of the entry to the Common Market in 1975.

Meanwhile state secondary education had had a false start with the building of separate secondary schools and grammar schools. No one had thought out what a suitable curriculum for secondary moderns should be. It was generally assumed that it would be a summary of human knowledge simplified and bowdlerised for children, the same as in the grammar schools. No-one had tried this out on children of moderate abilities with indifferent parents. The results were quite shocking. Children did not learn much, and were often mutinous and hostile where it had been supposed that they would be grateful and civilised. This was wrongly interpreted by the government, which decided that it was the stigma of having been rejected that was causing the problem. At enormous expense the Grammar schools were made to open their doors to all. Bromyard’s Grammar school, which had like the others worked in a rough and ready way, went comprehensive. However, no-one had still any idea whether a summary of human knowledge was a good preparation for ordinary children. The children who had failed to learn and become mutinous in the secondary moderns went on failing and becoming mutinous in the new comprehensives, but the failure had to be covered up because it was a scheme on which the great and good had staked their reputation.

In 1990 the Tory government decided that the schools were failing because they were beginning to modify their courses to meet the needs of the less able. Being useful was regarded as insulting to the poor. The less able were being cheated of their chance to learn the simplified and bowdlerised summary of human knowledge, and so being deprived of the chance to become colonial administrators or university lecturers. The National Curriculum of that year compelled all children to learn the summary of knowledge. Children in Bromyard and elsewhere had now to be bored, annoyed and humiliated learning eleven years of trivia before they could begin to think about employment or, even worse unemployment.

For 5000 years societies had generally condemned the use of hallucinogenic drugs and homosexuality. In the 1960s Bromyard had to deal with the new orthodoxy that these things were fine. Later the Bromyard medical establishment had to add AIDS to its collection of sexually transmitted diseases.

In the 1990s Bromyard’s isolation as a result of railway closure suddenly began to disappear as computers made their appearance and with them the internet. A new inter-generational isolation began to appear as Bromyard’s youth quickly mastered access to its own world of interests, whilst the older folks struggled with the new technology.

Britain’s old industries were dying, and Bromyard responded with an imaginative plan to make itself the capital of festivals. Its calendar filled up with festivals of speed and scarecrows. Not having grown too fast it was slow to attract big supermarkets, and retained many small shops. The growth in the UK population saw Bromyard called upon to find space for 500 new houses. Bromyard’s population was aging, and immigration, the rising cost of wonderful new treatments and the aging population impacted on the National Health Service, and so on Bromyard’s section of it. It was evenly divided on #Brexit, having neither major trading links with the European Union nor massive Muslim or Eastern European immigration. Resolutely middle English, it faced the future.



[1] And satirised by Sellar and Yeatman in ‘1066 and all that’

*****