When you look at a map of Alcester, you could compare it to a body; the major housing areas connected by a network of roads, or arteries, with other supporting ‘organs’ by way of schools, shops and churches, and at its centre there is a large green area representing the lungs, breathing health into our community. On the one side of the river the Jubilee Fields are now an excellent facility supporting all walks of live. However, the potential other side of the river has been somewhat overlooked. To the north there is the River Arrow Local Nature Reserve, an almost secret oasis where you can enjoy a wonderful variety of habitats and native wildlife (more information about this can be found at: http://www.warwickshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/reserves/river-arrow-nature-reserve ).
Then South of this is the Ancient Monument Site of Alcester Abbey spreading over two fields separated by an ancient ditch. The Benedictine Abbey at Alcester was founded around 1138 by Ralph le Boteler and is estimated to be a medium sized independent monastic house (similar to the picture to the left). The existing Ragley Mill probably occupies the site of the Abbey Mill, and remains of what is believed to have been the gate house were found on the Alcester Grammar School site. However nothing else remains visible of the rest of the Norman abbey and its countless buildings likely to have included a cloister, chapter house, infirmary and dormitories. It is said that the Abbey suffered through negligence of its Abbots leading to its severe impoverishment until its dissolution in 1536. All traces of the buildings were then quickly erased as the ruins were used as a convenient quarry for the remodeling of the ancient manor house, known as Beauchamp Court, and for the repair of the bridge at Bidford. Its then said that the dilapidated Beauchamp Court was used as materials to rebuild Warwick Castle. Early forms recycling you could say!
So what is to become of the site now? Historic England recently downgraded the site to “of risk” indicating its recent neglect. Alcester Town Council have been approached to take on the conservation management of the ancient monument site and are in the process of formulating a management plan. This plan includes the purchase of the land (facilitated by a PWLB loan), so that it remains in the ownership of the Town for the future. However, the long term vision for the site is much more than just protecting it. Imagine the opportunities; providing a green open space for the increasing West side of the town, of farm animals to see and support, riverside walks looping all round this green corridor, and creating a beautiful environment in which is currently part of hidden Alcester. What a wonderful asset to the town.
September 2016 update – Alcester Town Council agreed to start proceedings to obtain a loan from the Public works Loan Board for the sum of £75,000 to be repaid over a 20 year period.
December 2016 update – In a shock decision Stratford-on-Avon District Council Cabinet turned down the proposal for ATC to take on the free hold of the site known as Abbey Field, South Field, North Field and the Alcester Arrow Nature Reserve.
January 2017 update – ATC have refused to 99 year lease of the area of land owned by SDC. ATC are confident this will not affect the long term vision for the site and its accessibility to the residents of Alcester, providing SDC honor their maintenance of the site.