Bewdley Town Council
History of Bewdley
Bewdley started its life in around the beginning of the fourteenth century and its name is derived from “beau lieu” meaning beautiful place. The settlement of Wribbenhall is much earlier, however, and mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. A very early (possibly prehistoric) track that crossed the river by ford was responsible for the town’s birth, and along with the River Severn itself was an important means of communication for many centuries to follow.
The village was part of the Ribbesford Parish which after the Norman Conquest was granted to Ralph de Mortimer.
Parts of the early town stood on what is now Wyre Hill where several very old timber framed buildings still exist, including one known as the The Old Town Hall, where in 1376 Bewdley was granted its first market which was a huge accolade. In the early fifteenth century, Bewdley was inherited by Richard Duke of York who resided in the Manor of Tickenhill. The town’s first Royal Charter was granted in 1472 by Edward IV who had inherited the town from his father the Duke of York.
The Tudors continued to favour Bewdley, and Tickenhill Manor was gifted by Henry VII to his son Arthur who was married by proxy there in 1499 to Catherine of Aragon. Arthur died a young man in Ludlow and was brought back to lie in Bewdley before being buried at Worcester Cathedral. In 1507 Henry VII granted Bewdley a new Charter.
Both Elizabeth I and Mary stayed in Bewdley at Tickenhill and James I granted a new Charter in 1606.
The bridge at this time was quite elaborate with a central arch, above which were a gatehouse and a prison. Bewdley was a centre of trade on the Severn and at the height of its prosperity. Industry in the town included weaving, rope making, glove making, capping, snuff making, coracle making, tanning and making of parchment and other goods made from horn.
The Civil War intruded on this pleasant state of affairs and Bewdley, being mainly sympathetic to the Royal cause, was to see several affrays in the area. Prosperity returned, however, and in addition to its other industries brass founding and pewter making began. In 1708 Queen Anne gave Bewdley another Royal Charter which remained the governing Charter until the Borough ceased in 1974. In 1710 she presented the Corporation with its magnificent silver maces which are still used today by the Town Council on formal civic occasions. During the 18th Century fortunes were made from the lucrative river trade and some of the lovely Georgian architecture, an important feature of Bewdley, was erected. Bewdley was a fashionable centre, the scene of many balls and assemblies. In 1737 a workhouse was founded, in 1745 St Anne’s church was built and following the demise of the old bridge, which had collapsed in parts, a new bridge was built in 1798 to plans by Thomas Telford.
Trade in the latter part of the of the 18th Century started to decline with the opening of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal, which connected with the river Severn at nearby Stourport. Bewdley in effect had been by-passed for the first time, and although the towns people petitioned at that time for a canal to be cut from Bewdley to Kidderminster, the easier and cheaper route to Stourport was chosen as the terminus for the new canal. In 1863 the opening of the Severn Valley Railway also had its effect on the town’s prosperity with a subsequent loss of trade. Today, however, this effect can be seen by the virtually untouched and preserved town centre almost as it was in its more prosperous days. Of course, the town today thrives on its riverside location, historic buildings, museum and its location on the fringes of the ancient Wyre Forest.
So why not make a day of it and learn more about our beautiful historic town!