Bidford-on-Avon has an intriguing past. Chris Upton reports on a town which boasts a famous visitor.
The story goes that William Shakespeare was once involved in a drinking match in Warwickshire. Roused from his stupor the following day, the Bard neatly rounded up his impression of the little villages close to his place of birth:
Piping Pebworth, Dancing Marston,
Haunted Hillboro, Hungry Grafton,
Dodging Exhall, Papist Wixford,
Beggarly Broom and Drunken Bidford.
The rhyme did not appear in print until the Gentleman’s Quarterly published it in 1749.
It’s an intriguing little poem, with a pedigree of three centuries at least, even if it’s unlikely ever to feature in the collected works.
It tells of two hamlets – Grafton and Broom – struggling to make ends meet (or meat), whilst another was happy to carouse late into the night.
Why was Bidford so prone to alcoholic excess ?
Bidford-on-Avon – with its population of some 5,000 people – is the largest of all this catalogue of villages, and probably by definition to be considered as a town.
It had, after all, a chartered market and an annual fair from way back in the 12th Century, most likely held in that bit of the town to the north of the parish church, where the High Street widens markedly.
A celebrated and ancient bridge, battered and bruised by the centuries and by over-ambitious lorry drivers, delivered trade and customers across the Avon to the town. It’s still a perilous crossing today, despite the traffic lights.
Bidford’s market had become defunct by the end of the 18th Century, overtaken by the larger one in neighbouring Stratford, which was only seven miles away. But what it contributed to the course of the town’s history and development remains.
Where there is a market, there are farmers and traders, and there is also thirst, and the need for sustenance, and perhaps, overnight accommodation.
Even today Bidford has more pubs than all the other villages in the list combined. On a recent visit I counted four, all lined up along the High Street.
If you’re considering one of those alcohol-free days recommended by the Government, better to head somewhere else.
Ironically, however, the most striking public building in the town, despite its Shakespearean associations, is no longer a public house.