Richard Belcher writes…

Today we met a Queenslander, living in the chocolate box perfection of the postcard village of Broadway. His story was one of love and loss, and being exiled by circumstances beyond his control. A story that stretched from Brisbane to London, to Guildford then the Cotswolds.

Late last year he found himself married and living in Surrey. The marriage wasn’t working out and he found himself no longer married and ready to go home. He was intending to backpack around the world, gradually walking the long way home. The coronavirus put paid to that.

So, instead of tramping across plains and mountains, he decided to go into exile in Broadway, working in a pub. And meeting us. All very surreal.

The other surreal thing about today was the discovery of the Blockley Riot of 1878.

It seems that there were more pubs in Blockley than people back in 1878. The townspeople, it would appear, were inebriated most of the time. This led to a lot of poaching, or so Richard Belcher claimed. Belcher was a regular letter writer to the Evesham Journal Herald.

While the lead up to the night of the actual riot may have been because of a few stolen rabbits and fallen boughs of trees*, the actual ruckus was a little more tangible.

The entire blame could be lain at the door of Sergeant Dury, erstwhile local copper. Not one for the intricacies of police relations with the public, he was more au fait with heavy-handed rough housing. And the locals didn’t like it.

Rather than holding some sort of public or royal commission into the behaviour of the police, the locals figured that such heavy-handed treatment should be sorted with heavy-handed treatment in return. Mind you, there was a sort of Trial by Drinkers in a local pub.

On the night of the riot, Drury was involved in a violent altercation with a chap called Jones. The fight resulted in the policeman receiving a black eye. Jones trotted off to his favourite pub, The Crown, and, no doubt, told everyone in the bar about his victory over officialdom.

Drury wasn’t particularly liked in the town so I’m sure there was a lot of laughter in the bar. Drury, however, was also not one to take the effrontery of a black eye lying down. He headed up to The Crown with the intention of settling the score with Mr Jones.

I don’t think Drury was thinking very clearly. He surely couldn’t have been under the impression that Jones would be drinking alone, drowning his sorrows with only bar staff for company.

As soon as Drury popped his head through the door, the mood changed from one of cruel jibes to something akin to a lynching. As one, the drinking horde surged towards the policeman. Drury, staring his own mortality squarely in the eye, reversed direction and ran for the relative safety of the new police station.

The door of the police station proved to be a slight barrier to the mob as they kicked it down and dragged Drury out into the street.

A street, incidentally, upon which we find ourselves staying at the moment. Not that the police station is there any more. In fact, I’m fairly certain there’s no police station anywhere in Blockley these days.

There is a very nice cafe, though, where we took our midday coffee today.

Mirinda had spent the morning working on her new article, perched high up on the garden (not) attached to the cottage while I worked on researching a few of the Surrey fallen, listening to Radio 3 in the comfort of the inside of the cottage.

The cafe was very busy. A big group inside were taking a lot of the service staff and spreading them quite thin as we waited. Not that we were the only ones waiting. A fair few people gathered outside, waiting for their take away orders, masks slipping and grumbles starting.

One particularly vociferous lady, possibly the head of the local WI, was amazed at the crowd. Mind you, her discussion with two other ladies soon moved on to the more important news that her hairdresser wasn’t as good as the one in Broadway where a second lady had had hers done in the week.

On close inspection of both the ladies in question, I was astounded that anyone could see any difference in their hair. They both sported blonde bobs of identical lengths. It was all very serious though.

Having enjoyed our coffee to the accompaniment of some delightful local grumbling, Mirinda led us on a meandering walk back to the cottage. We then had lunch before heading out to Broadway. Which was our adventure for the day.

When I say ‘adventure’ I mean we sat outside at the Broadway Hotel for a drink before walking up and down the high street, admiring the warmth and delights of this Lilliput Lane made real.

Donning masks to walk around an antique shop, we realised that it wasn’t a lot of fun so we left pretty quickly. Once the mask rule is abandoned, we shall re-enter shops. Until then, there’s always the Internet. And just walking up and down the high street.

Back at the cottage, I made dinner before we settled down to watch the Kimmy Schmidt interactive movie, Kimmy Vs the Reverend. Riotously funny and very entertaining.

Speaking of which, Sergeant Drury, having been dragged out into the street was beaten up a bit before being rescued by a couple of chaps who protected him (and his family) until order was restored and the drinkers returned to their beer and the riot ended.

Of course there was justice, of a sort. A few Blockley men were handed sentences at the Midsummer Sessions at Worcester but, as Mr Belcher mentioned at the time, a lot of the so-called ring leaders were not locals and had escaped conviction by leaving town.

It’s quite hard to imagine a riot erupting on the streets of Blockley in 2020. Or in Broadway. Mind you, if the economy continues the way it’s going, riots may just be around the corner. Though, rather than a policeman, it might be a politician being dragged out and held responsible.

Interestingly, the clock attached to the building in the photo above has been fixed a few times. It was originally gifted to the town of Broadway by public subscription to commemorate the jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. It was then repaired on the Coronation of QEII in 1953 and again repaired on her jubilee.

I’m surprised they didn’t buy a more reliable clock.

* The tree bough story is a bit strange. Apparently a high wind had blown a rather large branch of a tree across a road, blocking traffic. A local chap, helpfully cleared the branch, loaded it on his cart and took it home. He unloaded it and thought nothing of it. Well, until the landowner appeared and accused him of stealing it. Maybe Mr Belcher was right.

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