Bodenham - Broadfield Court, Herefordshire
PUBLISHED: 15:47 09 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:18 20 February 2013
A directory of Herefordshire published in 1851 contains the following entry, "Bodenham, a pretty village, situated about eight miles north of Hereford, it contains several good houses, and has a very romantic and pleasant appearance".
In order to find Bodenham in those days the given grid reference was 52 09' 25" N, 2 40' 59" W which places you on the little bridge over the River Lugg near the village centre. These days the traveller might well be tempted to use postcodes and satellite wizardry. Once in Bodenham, by whichever navigational aid has taken your fancy, you will still find a charming, picturesque village. And should you enter the code HR1 3LG into your satnav you will find yourself at one of those "good houses" of Bodenham - Broadfield Court.
Mentioned in the Domesday Book, Broadfield has, inevitably, suffered mixed fortunes over the centuries.
Changing hands at the whim of royal patronage in the 13th century, becoming the property of a monastic order in the 14th century and private property from the 16th century onwards. Its grounds have seen extensive opium poppy cultivation (for war-time morphine production) and a chapel used to celebrate Mass. For the past four decades it has belonged to the James family who have written another chapter in the story of the estate - wine-making. Keith James, who bought Broadfield Court in 1968, had an unusual introduction to viticulture. His daughter-in-law, the Shakespearean actress Alexandra James, explains: "During the war Keith was a POW in Italy. He tunnelled his way out, bribed guards with cigarettes, escaped and was taken in by a sympathetic Italian
farming family. In return for sheltering him, Keith worked in their vineyard. Thus began Keith James's passion for making wine. It was to come to fruition years later. Soon after acquiring Broadfield Court Keith planted vines in the walled garden. These proved so successful that he expanded the acreage to, at its peak, 19 acres of vines. "There was not much English wine around in those days and it wasn't highly regarded," says Alex. How things have changed. Today Broadfield produces around 17,000 bottles of acclaimed whites, ross, sparkling and
dessert wines each year. "Some years are better than others," admits Alex, "and the last two have not been so good but this year is very promising." The James family work hard with the experts at the Three Choirs Vineyard near Newent in Gloucestershire. This ensures that the Broadfield product is just as they want it, spending many months in the blending stage before the wine is accepted and bottled. Broadfield wine is available throughout
the region but best tasted, perhaps, in the caf and gardens of the estate itself. There is something special about tasting wine just feet away from the vine that produced the grapes. And much of the food served in the caf comes from the nearby walled garden, abundant with all kinds of fruit and vegetables. There is another dimension to Broadfield Court. "When Keith first came here" says Alex, "the place needed a lot of work. They stayed at The Green Dragon in Hereford for months and months." The house is closed to the public but, explains Alex, "it is a wonderfully mysterious house and walking through it you can't help but wonder who else has wandered those corridors." Broadfield is now available for functions - weddings and conferences and recently, a classic car rally. Should hunger and thirst overtake you in Bodenham, Broadfield Court is not the
only establishment where you can enjoy fine Herefordshire fare. Located on the edge of the village is a black and white pub - England's Gate. Its name derives from being the first (or last, depending on direction of travel) coaching stop between England and Wales and not, as some have suggested, because Bodenham was thought
to be on the border between the two. The building dates from the 16th century when it was a private dwelling. It
isn't clear when it first became a pub but it saw service as the home of a shoemaker and of a brewer. By the start of the 20th century it had stables, barns and a cider mill and was run as a pub until the death of its owner in the 1980s. Some years of dereliction and neglect followed but it was eventually bought and renovated by the present owners. Proprietor Evelyn McNeil explains the problems: "We spent a good part of six months on repairs and
renovations. Now we serve freshly-made dishes, using local produce as much as possible." The commitment to the local economy extends to the drinks too with ciders, perrys and beers from many of the county's brewers and cider-makers. "The pub's history is fascinating," says Evelyn, "with many stories of the ghosts of dogs as well as of humans." Bodenham has another surprise in store for visitors. In the 1920s an area of farmland a little to the west of the parish church was given over to pits for gravel extraction. Eventually these workings were abandoned leaving the pits to fill with water. Now managed by Herefordshire Council, Bodenham Lakes are a nature
reserve and public amenity spread over about 100 acres. The nature reserve with a variety of habitats, especially for wildfowl, is off limits to the public but parts of the lakes are accessible and there is a small canoeing and sailing centre. The 1851 directory was right to recognise Bodenham's attractive appearance. The village has expanded but the essential ingredients for a delightful English village remain. That you might encounter unearthly spirits with your drink at the pub or find the odd opium poppy in the garden at Broadfield (they still appear now and then - although when they do they are, perhaps, the property of the NHS) simply adds to the charm and mild eccentricity of Herefordshire life.