Broadway and William Sheldon, Lord of the Manor, played a small but interesting part in the English Civil War which raged from 1642 to 1651. Both King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell (who led the Roundheads, the Parliament of England’s armies), stayed in the village during the war, albeit not at the same time. At one such visit during the Civil War, Charles met with Broadway’s local landowner William Sheldon who at the time owned the land where the present Manor House and our holiday cottages are situated.
The following article about Charles’ visits to Broadway and his meeting with William Sheldon was written by Chris Mowbray:
King Charles paid his first visit to Broadway in June 1644 when he rode through to Worcester to secure the Royalist garrison. Having completed this task, he went back through Broadway en route to his base at Oxford and spent the night at the home of Mr Savage, a Royalist supporter.
The following May, he again passed through Broadway and stopped for the night. It is interesting to note that rather than stay in a private house this time, he put up at the Lygon Arms, then a more modest inn called the Whyte Harte. It was here that he met William Sheldon, the Lord of the Manor.
The founder of Wiliam Sheldon’s wealth was his great-uncle, Ralph Sheldon, a tenant farmer of the monks of Pershore who owned the parish of Broadway for more than 500 years. A History of the County of Worcestershire published in 1924 quotes earlier sources which reveal that there was a bitter quarrel in 1533 between the Abbot and his tenants over land tenure and taxes. Several inhabitants of Broadway accused the Abbot of disregarding their common grazing rights and Ralph Sheldon seems to have been the ringleader. Just three years later came Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monastries and England’s break with the Roman Catholic Church and , in the ensuing melée, Ralph Sheldon became first the lessee and later the owner of extensive church lands which included ‘fisheries, fowling, warrens and woods’.
The meeting between King Charles [although nominally head of the Church of England, it is well known that he had Catholic sympathies] and William Sheldon was probably difficult. The former must have been fearful that he was dealing with an anti-Catholic and a closet Parliamentarian who might turn Broadway against him, while the latter feared being denounced as a traitor.
But would the capture of Broadway by the Roundheads really have made one jot of difference to the Royalist cause? The answer is yes because, small though it was, it was the gateway to the shire and therefore to Worcester which at the time was an important inland port with a tidal river giving navigable access to the sea. Broadway straddled the old pack-horse route from Worcester to London at a point where it soared from the floor of the Severn Plain over 1,000ft onto the Cotswolds. Such a taxing climb or decent needed fresh horses so there was a thriving trade in overnight accommodation. Whoever controlled Broadway would also control which armies could reach Worcester from Oxford and London.
Charles’ caution with William Sheldon counted for nothing. The introduction of Cromwell’s New Model Army in the same year led ultimately to the defeat of the Royalists and in January 1649 the King [Charles I] was beheaded in Whitehall. The Royalist faltered on for two years longer until the defeat of Charles II at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651 and his flight into exile.
Cromwell spend the night before the battle at the Whyte Harte [Lygon Arms] in Broadway where Charles I had interviewed William Sheldon six years before, and was quartered on the first floor of the east wing. However, his taste of ultimate power was relatively brief because he died in 1658 and the Monarchy was restored in 1660.
William Sheldon continued to hold the Manor until his death in 1680 when his lands passed to his daughters and the family name died out. The Manor House was reconstructed in the early 1980s and is now the centre of Broadway Manor Cottages, a holiday cottage business attracting visitors from all over the world.Worcestershire Life, September 2008