Elmley Castle (population 497), nestling at the northern slope of Bredon Hill, is reputed to be one of the 10 most beautiful villages in England and is a classic ‘picture postcard’ village.
The earliest reference to Elmley occurs in the year 780AD in a charter of King Offa granting land to the Church of Worcester there, but the place was cleared and settled by the Saxons possibly 160 years before this. At his time the village was called Elm-laeh, meaning clearing in an elm wood.
We have one clear glimpse of Elmley, shortly before the Norman Conquest, and that is to be found in a charter of Bishop Lyfing of Worcester granting a lease of church lands there in 1042. The boundaries of the ancient settlement appear to be not very different from those of the present parish.
The castle at Elmley was built shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066 when Elmley passed to the Norman High Sheriff of the county, Robert D’Abitot. Walter de Beauchamp later succeeded the D’Abitot estates. The Beauchamps later became Earls of Warwick and the family coat of arms, the ragged staff, is to be found inscribed on the ancient font that stands in the parish church of Elmley.
Walter de Beauchamp was succeeded by his son William who took over the castle at a time which more or less coincided with the feudal wars of 1135-1153. During this time many new castles were built and many old ones brought up to date and it is more than likely that the castle of Elmley was extended at this time. The Castle of Worcester suffered severely at the hands of the Barons, with the result that the nearby castle of Elmley not only gained in strategic importance but actually supplanted Worcester as the chief seat of the Beauchamps.
As the castle on the hill grew in importance, the small Saxon church in the village had to be extended. In 1234, Walter Beauchamp received a gift of 10 does and three bucks from the King for the Deer Park behind the church. To this day Elmley still has its deer.
The latter half of the 13th Century saw the final glory of the castle. A number of Elmley men fought with the Royalist baron Beacuamp in the Battle of Evesham in 1265, which saw the demise of the barons leader, Simon de Montfort. The good service rendered by Lord Beauchamp seems to have induced the King to bestow some special privileges on the village. He granted the inhabitants the power of holding a market every Wednesday and an annual fair for two days on the Feast of St Lawrence and the following day, August 10th and 11th. These markets required space; that is why, so tradition has it, the main road through the village as far as the church gate is exceptionally wide. There are the remains of the old market cross in the village.
William Beauchamp’s death marked the end of the greatness of Elmley Castle, which was allowed to fall into a state of gross neglect. As time passed by this great castle became a quarry for the building of houses in the village, farmsteads and dry walling. The old bridge which crosses the Avon at Pershore was certainly constructed from stone taken from the castle.
In 1544 Henry VIII sold the Manor of Elmley, including the castle and park, to Christopher Savage and so the Savage family became the sole owners of the Manor of Elmley. Shortly after this, the Savage family built their mansion house behind the church. The mansion stood as the home of the squires of Elmley until it was sold in 1948. It has since made way for a housing estate.
In the year 1575, a unique event occurred in the history of the village – the visit of Queen Elizabeth I. There are very few villages in the realm which can boast of a visit and stay by the reigning monarch. The exact reason for her visit is unclear but she arrived from Worcester on Saturday, August 20th, 1575, and remained until Monday 22nd when she and her large retinue were entertained by William Savage. It is to this date that we attribute the introduction of the ancient oak pews in the church.
Elmley Castle’s main street has changed relatively little in the last 400 years, although there are modern housing development in other parts of the village. The village has an active social side with a first school, cricket club and village stores open several days a week.
At one time not so long ago the village had three pubs but the Plough Inn and the Old Mill have now closed. However, after being closed for several years, the Queens has recently reopened under new ownership.