The History of Evesham
The original part of Evesham sits in the loop of the River Avon and gained its name from Eof, or Eoves, a swineherd who supposedly saw a vision of the Virgin Mary at what is now Evesham. Eof told his story to Egwin, the Bishop of Winchester , who reacted by building a great abbey on the site of the apparition in 709 AD. Eof’s Ham has since become Evesham. Eof’s legend has been commemorated in Evesham town centre with a bronze statue of him that was erected in 2008.
On the outside of this natural loop sits Bengeworth, once a completely separate settlement with Knights and a castle. It sat opposite and sometimes in competition with the monks of the abbey in Evesham proper. This boiled over to more than just a little local friction when drunken knights went on the rampage and damaged graves in the abbey graveyard. The retribution from the clergy was swift and devastating, and the castle was razed to the ground. The area where the castle stood was then sanctified as a graveyard to prevent rebuilding of the fortifications.
Evesham was the site of a great battle, the Battle of Evesham , on 4 August 1265. A struggle for the crown had seen Prince Edward, later to be King Edward I , locked up by usurper and the Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort. The battle went very badly for de Montfort who started the day hopelessly outnumbered and ended it literally in pieces. The unfortunate Earl’s body was decapitated by the victorious supporters of Edward. The Battle of Evesham is a very significant event in the history of Great Britain as it restored the then threatened autonomy and authority of the monarchy. Simon de Montfort was buried under the high alter at the abbey.
The abbey at Evesham dominated the landscape and the economy of the town in its early years. The Benedictine monks there had flourished, due in part to the wonderfully fertile land in the vale of Evesham. The abbey had become one of the richest in the land. During the Middle Ages, the English abbeys were the PLCs of the day. They were not just places of worship and dedication, they were carefully run economic power houses.
The wealth and power of the church eventually brought about its almost complete destruction at the hands of a jealous and plotting Henry VIII . He oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries, stripping them of their wealth and redistributing their lands to himself and his friends. The buildings themselves were often torn down by the locals who would recycle the stone for their own purposes. This was the fate
met by Evesham’s once mighty abbey, which was pulled down by the very people who had lived their lives in its shadow. Now only the abbey’s bell tower still stands.
Despite the destruction of the abbey, Evesham still has a wealth of historic buildings. These include a 15th Century timbered merchants house called the 'Round House', now occupied by a Bank. Other notable structures include Abbot Reginald's gateway, a Norman arch leading to the abbey site, itself flanked by the 15th century Walker Hall and Church House. In the High Street is Dresden House, a late 17th Century town house that was once occupied by Dr Baylies, physician to Frederick the Great of Prussia. Over in the Bengeworth is an ancient manor house historically owned by King Canute .
Evesham’s history has inevitably featured the River Avon itself. Tucked away on a bend in this mighty river the town has fought a long battle with flooding, usually a losing one. Records of severe floods go back to the 13th century and include the severe flooding of May 1998. But the worst in the town’s history are those that struck after record rainfall in July 2007 when the town was inundated again by the swelling Avon.