The Vale of Evesham, Worcestershire - Badsey, Bretforton, Blackminster. Emms, Jelfs and Purple Eggs.
The Hob Gnostic Chapel
The Vale of Evesham
The Vale of Evesham, Worcestershire, is a strange place, even by the standards of the English West Midlands. The local telephone directory is unique in England for not having Smith as the commonest name (though it is still common enough). Around Evesham, and nowhere else in the country, more people are called Emms or Jelfs. Ever heard these names before? I thought not. The village of Badsey, just outside Evesham, is reckoned to be the incest capital of the UK, but they offset that by growing the world's finest plums, called yellow eggs and purple eggs. That's OK too, because here the hens lay plums. They also grow asparagus which they call gras, except for the early thin stalks. These are called sprue unless you've lived there long enough to call them prue.
One of the best pubs in the area, and the only pub in the world to be named after asparagus, is the Round of Gras, in Badsey. It's a few years since I've visited, but for a time it was a twice weekly event, when I used to play badminton for an even smaller local village, Bretforton. Good times, and great guys.
You see, the Vale of Evesham is the land that time forgot. Its great days have always been in the past. Simon de Montfort, often credited as the first Parliamentarian, was killed in the Battle of Evesham in the early 14th Century. Out-maneuvered and outnumbered by Henry III's army, Simon and his men were forced into a loop of the River Avon, cornered and massacred to a man. The best wine I ever made was from brambles gathered on Dead Man's Ait, the ait (blind branch) of the Avon where Simon wasn't actually killed but might have been - such is the mix of local rumour and history. The place felt dark.
About 300 years later, the Civil War created some excitement in and around Evesham, but nearby Worcester captured most of the headlines. And later still, the Industrial Revolution bypassed the Vale completely as a rural irrelevance without clay or coal. (If you are a history student, don't quote me. This is a five-beer late-night hub, ok? Then again, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings - though I don't much care for either epithet).
Which is why the Vale made it to the late 20th Century with its 14th Century traditions largely intact. I have not been there since 1998, so I can't, in conscience, guarantee that the rarest tradition of all, that of the Hob Gnostic Monastic Brethern, is still active. But if it is not, it should surely be revived, before memories fade.
(The Ritual of the Bengeworth Order of Hob Gnostics)
The River Avon winds through Evesham
by Corporation Meadow and the Crown
where Henry Workman set his triple arch
to couple Bengeworth parish to the town.
And crouching in the Meadow under limes
an ancient chapel rests on staddle stones,
its oaken frame age-blackened but unbowed,
its lapped larch boards displaying sombre tones.
And here Hob Gnostic faithful come to pray.
Time hallowed rites are theirs. No passing fad
or fashion sways them from their ritual.
They bear the scorn of all who think them mad.
The priestly hands are raised and in the choir
strange books are read but not a note is sung.
Hob Gnostic choirs are silent as the grave
of which they read. Then, to the aisle, among
the worshippers is brought the holy font
full charged with molten cheese, a rare Gruyere.
With hands up-raised and fingers splayed they wait
for solemn peace to follow silent prayer.
And bending low they dip their fingers in
the liquid cheese, a symbol of their love
for humankind, then, straightening as one,
draw cords of flowing gold to heaven above.
The choir still reads of death, quite silently,
as Avon bears its secrets to the sea.
Thank you for reading!
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