A Short History Of Bredon Hill
Bredon Hill is the largest of the Cotswold ‘outliers’ and is the only Cotswold hill to lie fully within Worcestershire, although part of the escarpment at Broadway also lies within the county. Both peaks have distinctive 18th century follies at their summit.
Bredon Hill is dotted with standing stones, it has three Iron Age forts, a Norman castle, a holy well, a disappeared cave and a folly. A host of tales and folklore add further mystery.
Poets and novelists such as A E Housman, John Moore and Fred Archer have written about it.
There are sites that were of relevance to our pagan ancestors in the shape of the Bambury Stone, the King and Queen Stones and the stones at Bredon’s Norton.
Iron Age forts, built by the Dobunni tribe, dating from around 200BC or earlier, exist at Conderton, Elmley and Kemerton Camp.
There is further evidence of occupation of Bredon Hill in the Saxon period. The Kemerton Charter of 779AD describes ‘the city of Baenintes Burh atop the hill Broedun’ and the Pershore Survey of 972AD describes the top as a city. Most of the villages around Bredon Hill have origins in this period but this one was within the old Iron Age hill fort of Kemerton Camp.
The hilltop village appears to have become deserted around the 11th Century because it is not recorded in the Domesday Survey.
The construction of the Norman castle at Elmley began around 1080, to maintain authority over the newly conquered Saxons. The founder of the castle, as well as of Worcester’s long gone castle, was Urse D’Abitot, the Sheriff of Worcestershire and friend of William the Conqueror.
During the 12th Century the castle came into the possession of the Beauchamps, as did the castle at Worcester, although Elmley was their chief seat.
After falling into a state of disrepair in the 14th Century, the castle was taken by rebels in 1321. Although it was still habitable in the early 1500s, by the 1540s it was in ruins and became something of a quarry for local building repairs. Stone from Elmley Castle was reportedly used to repair Pershore Bridge following the Civil Wars of the 17th Century.
A smuggler named Captain Bell was responsible for one of the more unusual buildings on the slopes of Bredon Hill, at Kemerton. It is written that he wanted to build a castle with the proceeds of his criminal activities, so in 1820 he transformed a row of labourers’ cottages into what is now a very fancy large house with battlements and turrets.
The house, known as Bell’s Castle, is now a private residence. It is said that Captain Bell’s more illegal activities were brought to the attention of the law and he was hanged in 1841. He is said to have been buried near Pershore Abbey, but there is no sign of his grave.
Parsons’ Folly stands at the summit of Bredon Hill and is visible for miles around. The folly, being 39ft tall, takes the height of the hill from 961ft to exactly 1,000ft.
Historians can’t agree about who built Parsons’ Folly. Rev R H Lloyd says this folly was built around 1714 as a summer house for Williams Parsons of Kemerton. But a correspondent to Country Life in 1960 claims that the folly was built as a ‘prospect house’ for Mr Parsons of Kemerton in the late 18th Century.
The last inhabitant of Bredon Hill appears to have been a hermit who lived in the ruined Parson’ Folly before its repair in the Second World War.
Parsons’ Folly is certainly the most visible landmark for many miles around and every Good Friday, pilgrims from villages around Bredon Hill meet on top of the hill next to the folly for a Christian service.
Bredon Hill is also notable for its standing stones, the best known of which are the King and Queen Stones and the Bambury Stone, though there are others.
Both the Bambury Stone and the Kings and Queen Stones have healing folklore attached to them and are considered places of power by modern witches. The tradition of going to kiss the Bambury Stone for good luck on Good Friday is one shared with many other stones around Britain.
Other standing stones – Bredon’s Norton Stones – stand alongside a path linking Upper Westmancote to the Manor at Bredon’s Norton, beside Aldwick Wood.
There used to be a cave on Bredon Hill but it is something of a mystery. In the 18th Century a clergyman, Dr Derham, wrote about the hill’s long vanished cave, although it is not clear exactly where it was located.
Bredon Hill has been the subject of plenty of folklore over the centuries. The best known piece of folklore relates to its control over the local weather. There is a rhyme which goes:
“When Bredon Hill puts on his hat
Ye men of the Vale beware of that.
When Bredon Hill does clear appear
Ye men of the Vale have nothing to fear.”
Another piece of folklore surrounds the ‘Beast of Bredon’, a large black cat that has been sighted on various occasions roaming the hill, especially in the mid-1990s. But despite efforts by the authorities to track it down, its existence remains a mystery.
Fred Archer (1915-1999) grew up and farmed in Ashton-under-Hill and became well known for his books about life in Bredon Hill in the early part of the 20th Century. Books such as The Secrets of Bredon Hill and A Hill Called Bredon gained him thousands of literary fans from near and far.
The author John Moore (1907-1967), who was born in Tewkesbury, described life on and around Bredon Hill in the early 20th century in The Brensham Trilogy.
And the scholar and poet A E Housman (1839-1936), who was born in north Worcestershire, wrote this poem called, simply, Bredon Hill:
In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.
Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.
The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away:
‘Come to church, good people;
Good people, come and pray.’
But here my love would stay.
And I would turn and answer
Among the springing thyme,
‘Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church in time.’
But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strown,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.
They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she,
And would not wait for me.
The bells they sound on Bredon,
And still the steeples hum.
‘Come all to church, good people,’
Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.