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Guarlford History Group

The Guarlford Story


In her account of the origins of Baldenhall and Guarlford, Joan Bradshaw quotes 'Coriander', writing in the Malvern News in December, 1963: "I have been discovering what an interesting place the parish of Guarlford is. I feel that the study of its people, and its past and present history, could be a life's work." While it has been virtually a life's work and interest for Miss Joan Bradshaw, who comes from a long established village family, and we are indebted to her for providing many of the sources of this History, the present authors embarked upon their work in the early years of a new century, the twenty first, conscious of the need to record Guarlford's story while much of it could still be found in the memories of the village's older residents. Following Guarlford's celebration of the new millennium and then, in 2002, of the Queen's Golden Jubilee, it seemed the right moment to try to capture something of the history and distinctive character of this small Worcestershire village.

Though Guarlford shares much with every other English village, particularly of course in its agricultural past, there is also a history, which is unique to each place. It is this distinctiveness, this uniqueness, which we endeavour to trace here, using documentary sources, old maps, photographs and, above all, the memories of those whose families have lived in Guarlford for many generations. What is it about this place, which makes it different from other English villages? The answer must be found in the lives and history of the people and families who have made their lives here over the centuries and their interactions with one another.

While the main emphasis of the History falls on the late nineteenth century and the whole of the twentieth century, both because this relatively recent period is best remembered and also because it is the time of Guarlford's life as a village which is most likely to be of interest to our readers, it is no less important to trace, as far as possible, the earlier history of the settlement, so that there is a more complete picture of the slow evolution over the centuries to the Guarlford we know today. The History therefore looks at the earliest traces of this place in the archaeological record, then goes on to the medieval records of the village as far as they exist, to the rise and fall of Baldenhall, and to the evolution of the place and place name which finally became "Guarlford". As time passes, the historical record becomes progressively fuller and maps, in particular, help in providing a framework for establishing the patterns of ownership and settlement, the Foley Estate map of 1744 being one important example. Certain features and buildings give shape to the local landscape, most prominently Guarlford Court, while national events such as the seventeenth century's Civil War at least came near to the village and left some mark, albeit small.

In his book, Rural Life in Victorian England, G. E. Mingay says: "In the nineteenth century the English countryside saw more rapid and remarkable changes than had been wrought in perhaps all the preceding centuries."(p.9) Guarlford, however, was not very directly affected by the industrialisation which so transformed the physical and social landscape in other parts of England, and the county of Worcestershire remained predominantly agricultural; but forces of change were at work that would culminate eventually in the first of the World Wars, an industrialised war, causing casualties even in this quiet corner of the country. Life in nineteenth century Guarlford, then was the last long phase of relative stability, before the following century's upheavals and, arguably, the biggest watershed of all, the Second World War, after which the old ways, certainties, and close knit community life were never the same again. It had been a community which had its prominent families and major landowners, such as the Foleys, whose property embraced so much of Malvern, and it had been a community defined to a considerable extent by the local farms, farm owners, workers and families. One of the oldest farms, for instance, and one whose history is quite fully documented is Woodbridge Farm, purchased by the Lane family in 1775 and in their ownership until very recently, when all but a few acres were sold. Other farms such as Fowlers, Dripshill, Grove House, New House and Little Clevelode provide the backdrop against which Guarford families lived and worked. Life and work were hard, wages were meagre, and expectations modest; but, in common with all their fellow countrymen and women throughout England, those who spent the whole of their lives here and who rarely ventured beyond the confines of the village also had their pleasures and community based pastimes, not knowing or owning the motor cars and television sets which today open up a much wider world. The church of St Mary the Virgin and the chapels gave, with the Christian calendar, a structure and a meaning to life for which many in the present might experience a kind of nostalgia, a longing for a spiritual home in a predominantly secular age; the village school gave its children the security of having the essential knowledge and skills needed in later working life. Both in the case of the church and the school there was a source of continuity in village life, a continuity also provided, in particular, by the long incumbency of two Rectors of the parish, John Bateman Wathen, Rector for forty eight years, and Frederick John Newson, Rector for fifty years.

Village life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is generally well documented, and from the turn of the nineteenth century onwards there is an increasingly rich harvest of photographs that has been gathered to provide a vivid visual account of the changing scene, a generally tidy and orderly looking one in various settings outside homes and farms, with the people in photographs taking an obvious pride in their appearance. Shops, businesses, clubs and societies all add to the texture and tapestry of Guarlford life, together with times of entertainment such as fetes and whist drives; and so, too, do moments of drama and tragedy such as the moving photograph of the burial of one of the Panting brothers, brought back to Guarlford for a military funeral, and that of the RAF Beaufighter which crashed in Guarlford in the Second World War. Moreover, since 1894, there are the minutes of the Parish Council to give another narrative of local events and concerns, with the Women's Institute also providing a further perspective through its records.

The last twenty five years have not seen great changes in themselves, rather they have seen the consolidation of the changes that had already taken place. With the exception of the Men's Club during this period, a meeting place that had been housed in part of the former Malt House, the physical appearance as well as the general character of Guarlford have changed comparatively little. Community life, though inevitably and sadly not as vigorous as in the past, continues, another part of the Malt House, the Village Hall, providing the parish with an invaluable meeting place for Harvest Festivals and other occasions. The Rectory field is still the setting for the annual fete, while Cherry Orchard has seen recent Millennium and Golden Jubilee celebrations. Pride in the appearance of the village was recognised by a Worcestershire County Council award in 2002 for a restoration of the pond in the village centre, a centre, which had been a gathering point for the young for many years

Those who live in Guarlford today, like the inhabitants of ancient settlements the length and breadth of the country, walk where countless generations have walked before. Lives that were rich and fully lived, though often beset by hardship, have left little, if any, trace; but perhaps with the help of this brief history and some small effort of imagination we can at least see some of the ghosts of the past, rather in the way that the evocative photograph of the Panting funeral reproduced in the book restores the presence of the people who mourned the soldier's passing, though we, for our part, should celebrate ALL our predecessors as we recall a world we have otherwise lost.