The beauty of the mellow, honey-coloured old stone buildings of Broadway has made it an all-time favourite of many visitors to Worcestershire. It is undoubtedly one of the most attractive villages in the country and not without good reason has it been called ‘the show village of England'. American tourists in particular are drawn to it and flock there at all times of the year; interestingly, before tourism became big business, the village was known locally as the ‘Painted Lady of the Cotswolds'.
Broadway is the quintessential Cotswold village with its long broad street that gave it its name, lined with gracious houses and cottages built of golden Cotswold stone that appears to glow in the sunlight. There remains a pleasing lack of informality in the houses built between the 16 th and the 17 th century by craftsmen who best knew how to apply Cotswold stone. Steep gables rise above a jagged roofline of dormer-windowed cottages, bay windows peering from beneath mottled stone tiling, weathered chimney stacks of varied size and height and the whole medley broken-up by the occasional thatched roof or half-timbered frontage.
The parish records speak of hospitality being offered at a Broadway hostelry as far back as 1532 when the village was an important staging post. A typical journey from London to Worcester took approximately 17 hours, including stops and changes of horse - at one period Broadway boasted 33 public houses, an extraordinary number for such a small place. In point of fact the history of the area is many centuries older than this 16 th century record. Broadway was settled by the pre-historic Beaker people around 1900BC, and later during the Roman occupation the hills above the town were again utilised - both left their imprint in time upon the area. Broadway as a settlement, was probably established after the Battle of Dyrham in AD557 by the victorious South Saxon armies as they advanced against Worcester - the settlement is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.
Broadway's main street climbs away from the village up the steep Fish Hill, which is topped by the bizarre looking Fish Inn. Originally a summerhouse built on the estate of a local landowner in the 18 th century, it boasts a sundial on its roof and stands 800ft above sea level. Beyond the inn the gradient increases to more than 1000ft at Broadway Beacon, the second-highest point in the Cotswolds after Cleave Cloud. This high point is crowned by one of the best known landmarks in the Midlands, the glorious folly that is Broadway Beacon. Built in 1800 by the Earl of Coventry, it served no other purpose than that he could view it from his family seat at Worcester almost 20 miles distant. Visitors can climb to the top of this 65ft tower and on a clear day witness the most spectacular views stretching across 100 miles to the Black Mountains of Wales, taking in over 12 English counties in one panoramic sweep.
The architect of this wonderful piece of romantic whimsy was James Wyatt (1747-1813). Combining Norman and Saxon styles he employed a darker stone than the local honey-coloured Cotswold for its construction, with the aim of creating a sombre silhouette complete with scowling gargoyles. The tower now houses three displays: an exhibition of William Morris the Victorian artist, a sheep and wool farming display and a potted history of this once isolated folly.
Broadway Tower today stands in, and is a part of, a delightful country park where a small flock of the rare Cotswold sheep is maintained. This heavily fleeced breed descends directly from the old Roman Longwool breed, which had practically disappeared from the Cotswolds by the mid 20 th century.
To the west of Broadway Beacon is Bredon Hill, very similar in that it rises to over 900ft and has a Gothic folly clinging to its slopes - this is the 18 th century Parsons Folly named after its perpetrator. On its summit, which again offers magnificent views across many counties, are the remnants of prehistoric and Roman earthworks. Encircling the hill is a network of narrow lanes linking a number of charming villages and hamlets, all of which are a joy to visit.
At the foot of Bredon Hill is the village of Elmley Castle, alas now without its 11 th century castle, which fell into decay in the 16 th century. Again, this village is one of the most attractive in England, with a wide main street, bordered by a tree-lined brook down one side, and picturesque black-and-white cottages with thatched roofs, drystone walls and delightful gardens. The street leads to a well preserved 15 th century stone cross and to St Mary's Church with its handsome tower and battlements; within the church are some fine English sculpture in the medieval tradition.