PUBLISHED: 16:23 08 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:09 20 February 2013
Bromyard isn't taking the recession lying down - its enthusiastic and enterprising residents and traders are getting all dressed up to showcase the town's attributes Words and pictures by Chris Poole
Bromyard isn't taking the recession lying down - its enthusiastic and enterprising residents and traders are getting all dressed up to showcase the town's attributes.
Words and pictures by Chris Poole
"Civil Society" is a term much favoured by those agencies around the world that concern themselves with democracy. Often the vibrancy or otherwise of civil society is used as a measure of the democratic "health" of that community. Britain, fortunately, seldom has its democratic credentials called into question and in rural Herefordshire that vitality in our communities is very evident. Nowhere more so, perhaps, than at Bromyard. This small town on the eastern edge of the county is renowned for its festivals and the civic enthusiasm demonstrated by its citizens.
Town Clerk Mike Cresswell - himself born and bred in Bromyard - runs through the events of a typical Bromyard year, "First there is the Town Criers competition with Criers from all over the country descending on Bromyard. Then we have a Spring Festival of poetry and music. Shortly after that the Scarecrows' parade, and then the Bromyard Gala. Later in the year we have a folk festival and, of course, the Christmas lights ceremony as the year draws to a close." At the drop of a hat, it seems, the people of Bromyard dress up and put themselves on parade. When the new library opened in 2004 it was complete with a carved wooden frieze some 30feet long depicting the Bromyard story. Mike Cresswell recalls the opening, "The people promptly created the costumes shown in the frieze and put on a procession through the streets to mark the arrival of this important amenity."
This summer you might encounter Bromyard ladies in period costume for an entirely different reason. Concerned about the appearance of empty shop windows as economic conditions darkened, Broad Street resident Jayne Webster came up with the inspired concept of filling empty windows with tableaux representing, imaginatively, Bromyard's heritage. "It all started during a conversation with my husband over breakfast," Jayne explains. "The growing number of empty windows gave the town a depressing feel and we decided to do something about it." An approach to one of the leading estate agents in Bromyard established that a shop-window could be offered at no charge. Using their own collection of artefacts and those borrowed from friends, Jayne created a Victorian parlour in an empty window in Broad Street. Soon afterwards came the General Store, complete with a traditional counter and till under the watchful eye of a shopkeeper known, affectionately, as Donald.
Bromyard's Heritage Trail, as the shop windows have become known, has gone from strength to strength. A toyshop has been so much admired by children that they want to know when it will open as a real shop; a ladies' dress shop, a laundry and a workroom have all attracted attention. "It keeps changing," explains Jayne "with people continually offering us things for window settings and displays and, of course, as conditions improve window spaces become fewer." A very welcome development that has led to negotiations with the Council for using Bromyard's Heritage Centre for future displays. Word of this unusual initiative has spread with visitors from Birmingham and further afield coming to see the displays.
Jayne and others involved in this innovative and imaginative enterprise now need to raise funds for dummies and mannequins. Plans include offering Victorian teas at the Falcon Hotel- one of Bromyard's distinctive black and white hostelries. The landlady, Sylvia Silver, is an avid supporter of the project. Ladies in period costume offer teas at the hotel and guided tours of the displays. They have organised a summer soire complete with a quartet and guest singers and, on September 5, a show at St Peter's Church where models will strut the catwalk wearing traditional and classic wedding gowns.
The imagination and skills that the Heritage Trail organisers are bringing to the enterprise seem endless. Bromyard has its own theatre, The Conquest. Sylvia Silver has written a play about Bromyard in 1886. Called Mr Jenks and Mr Phipps the players will perform it at the Conquest Theatre in September to raise funds for the shop-windows.
Concern for Bromyard's heritage is not all about dressing up and pageantry. The town has an active Local History Society. Its impressive converted warehouse has climate-controlled space to preserve archives, a well-equipped research room and an exhibition space. This year, timed to mark the centenary of Morgan cars, its exhibition is devoted to the Morgan story with its strong family connections in nearby Stoke Lacy.
The National Lottery made an award to the Society for a project to research and document the town's historic buildings. The survey, by Leominster-based expert Duncan James, has now been completed. He has visited and examined over a hundred of the town's buildings, making a photographic record containing thousands of images of important clues and features. "Property owners in Bromyard were so helpful and cooperative'" says Duncan "they recognised that a detailed examination of the layers of a building helps in understanding and preserving important features." He adds: "Bromyard was full of surprises. Early buildings hidden beneath the fabric of later structures provided insights into the historical development of the town." The first presentation of his findings proved so popular that the theatre was filled to capacity and a second event has been organised.
Bromyard has yet another surprise in store. Those seeking a break from the bustle of the town will find, a little to the north, the peace and tranquillity of Moors Meadow. Set in spectacular Herefordshire countryside here there are seven acres of gardens and meadows developed over the past 50 years by Ros Bissell and her parents. There are hundreds of varieties of trees and shrubs, some from far away, with seemingly endless paths and walks through this organic wonderland. Ros and her mother open their enchanting sanctuary to the public for part of the year (see www.moorsmeadow.co.uk).
If ever an example of a community weathering a setback and giving up none of that vital interest in its own heritage were needed then Bromyard and its population are a fine example. The townspeople may have a predilection for donning fancy costumes - but Bromyard is all the richer for it.