In July 1981, Steph and I (and three year old Hannah) set up home in Bromsgrove, a market town in northeast Worcestershire of just over 29,000 inhabitants (2001 census), almost equidistant between Birmingham and Worcester (map).
But, if everything goes to plan, we’ll be leaving Bromsgrove later this year. In mid-January, we put our house on the market and once that’s sold and a new home identified, we will relocate to the northeast of England to be closer to our younger daughter Philippa (who was born in Bromsgrove) and her family. Our elder daughter Hannah lives in Minnesota in the US Midwest, so for her and family it’s immaterial whether we remain in Bromsgrove or move north. In fact, we’ll have just as good air links to the USA and beyond from Newcastle International Airport (NCL) as we currently enjoy from Birmingham Airport (BHX).
But why did we choose Bromsgrove all those years ago?
In March 1981 we returned to the UK from Peru, after spending over eight years with the International Potato Center (CIP) in Peru (1973-1975) and Central America, in Costa Rica (1976-1980). After leaving Costa Rica in November 1980 (and moving back to Lima for a few months), we were expecting to move to the Far East with CIP. To the Philippines, actually. But then, everything changed.
A teaching position opened at The University of Birmingham at the end of 1980, and I flew to Birmingham in January 1981 for an interview. Having passed that hurdle, and looking forward to a long career in academia, we made plans to return to the UK as I was due to begin my new job as Lecturer in Plant Biology (in the School of Biological Sciences) on 1 April. Our top priority was to find somewhere to live. But where?
Even before returning to the UK we had asked Steph’s parents (who lived in Southend-on-Sea in Essex) to contact estate agents (realtors in US parlance) for available properties in the area covering the west of Birmingham to the southeast, and within 10-15 miles of the university. We had already decided that we did not want to live in Birmingham itself.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, there was a pile of more than 100 property description sheets waiting for us in Southend that we quickly whittled down to a manageable number based on location, price, amenities, proximity to schools, and the like.
I moved to Birmingham at the end of March, while Steph and Hannah remained behind in Southend with her parents until we could find our own home. That didn’t take as long as we had expected. I took the details of short-listed properties with me to Birmingham, and during my first (maybe second) week on the job, took an afternoon off to go house-hunting.
I settled on Bromsgrove as the first place to visit, simply because it was within easy reach of the university (about 13 miles) on perhaps the most direct direct route south out of the city. In any case I had several colleagues who also lived in Bromsgrove and spoke well of the town.
Remarkably, the house we settled on, in the Aston Fields area on the east of the town, was just the second one I visited that afternoon. I knew immediately that this particular house was full of promise and phoned Steph that evening that she should hop on the train the following day to take a look (and at others in Bromsgrove). By that weekend we had made an offer, and set about raising a mortgage.
Three months later we moved in (on camp beds for the first night) as our furniture and personal effects would be delivered the following day. Having put these into storage the previous November in Costa Rica (not knowing where they would next end up) we looked forward with great anticipation to seeing everything once again.
So began our life in Bromsgrove, never realizing that a decade later we would be on the move yet again, to the Philippines, and rice research at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, 65 km south of Manila.
I moved to the Philippines in July 1991, but Steph and the girls did not join me until just after Christmas that year. From then until the end of April 2010 (when I retired and we moved back to the UK) our home remained unoccupied (though furnished), and we would spend our annual leaves there. It was also our bolt hole in case of any emergency and we had to leave the Philippines at short notice.
Since May 2010, we have settled back into Bromsgrove life, and it’s proved a great location for travel around the UK.
Over the past few years I have explored Bromsgrove on foot in my daily walks, and which I have described in a set of posts, Walking with my Mobile, on this blog. And Bromsgrove turns out to be a more interesting town than I had realized.
As a market town, Bromsgrove grew up straddling the Birmingham Road, the A38 (now by-passing the town center) that connects Birmingham as far northeast as Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, and with Cornwall in the southwest of the country.
Between Worcester and Birmingham it follows the route of a Saxon salt road. Droitwich, just a few miles south of Bromsgrove, is famous for its brine baths and salt production.
Take a look at some of the sites along the old A38 route through the town center, along the Birmingham Road, the High Street, and Worcester Road. In the 1980s the High Street section was pedestrianised.
The local council has recently erected interesting information boards around the town center highlighting historical details around the town.
One of the most impressive buildings in the town is the Tudor House close to the junction of New Road and the High Street/Worcester Road.
The spire of the 12th century church of St John the Baptist, dominates the Bromsgrove skyline and lies at the heart of the town. The spire can be seen from miles around.
At the north end of town proudly stands another impressive Church of England church, All Saints, with a square tower. The body of the church dates from 1872; the tower was added in 1888. It houses an impressive set of stained glass windows made by local craftsmen.
Gazing south over the middle of the High Street stands an imposing statue of one of Bromsgrove’s favorite sons, the poet Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936), author of the collection of poems A Shropshire Lad.
The Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts was active between 1898 and 1966, and was responsible for some iconic works, including the six meter tall Liver Birds on the Royal Liver Building on Liverpool’s waterfront, and the main gates of Buckingham Palace.
Many of the pieces were constructed in the Guild’s workshop on Station Street, just off the Worcester Road.
Bromsgrove was connected to the canal system in 1815 when the Worcester and Birmingham Canal was finally completed. It lies about two miles due east of the town center. The railway came to the town in June 1840. New Road was opened off the southern end of the High Street to connect the town center with the station. A new station was opened in 2016, and the line to Birmingham was electrified in 2018.
In the churchyard of St John the Baptist are two significant graves, of Thomas Scaife and Joseph Rutherford, engineers on the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway, who died when a locomotive boiler exploded in Bromsgrove station in November 1840, just a few months after the station had opened.
Another claim to fame is the independent fee-paying Bromsgrove School, founded in 1553 (and re-endowed in 1693).
It occupies a substantial parcel (40 ha) of real estate to the southeast of the town center. There is quite an impressive list of Old Bromsgrovians.
The local Conservative MP is the Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid, erstwhile Chancellor of the Exchequer until last week, when it seems he was manoeuvred out of government.
So, later this year, 39 years of ‘residence’ in Bromsgrove comes to an end. Bromsgrove is growing, expanding – like so many towns – and maybe it won’t be too long before Birmingham creeps over the Lickey Hills (north of the town) and Bromsgrove is absorbed into the greater West Midlands conurbation. There are already rumors that Birmingham wants to build overspill housing in the Bromsgrove administrative area.
Nevertheless, the northeast and Northumberland beckon, and once we have settled down there, we look forward with enthusiasm to exploring a part of England that we already know but with which we are not yet too familiar. Exciting times ahead.