Somerset Life

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The Somerset Life article in January 2002 was my first magazine piece and as a result the magazine takes pride of place in a frame in my office. It was titled Winsford to Winsford. Below is the slightly amended version that appeared in the Chronicle in this version the emphasis is on Winsford Cheshire. In Somerset Life it was Winsford Somerset.

Comparing the Winsfords
By Paul Hurley
 
Prepared for the Chronicle
 
On occasions people living in Winsford Cheshire have received mail meant for Winsford in Somerset. But where is this other Winsford? Few have heard of it and fewer have been there. There are many Buckland’s, Carlton's and quite a few Newtown's in Great Britain. But there are only two Winsfords. These two however are similar in name only.
 
Winsford in Somerset is situated on the edge of the Exmoor National Park and it is arguably one of the prettiest villages in the country. It obtained its name from its location as it sits astride the river Winn and a ford over the river is located there.
 
Narrow lanes approach the village and on entering it, one is met with a picture postcard scene. A thatched pub called 'The Royal Oak' dominates the
Village Square
with a war memorial and cobblestone Packhorse Bridge almost opposite. The road from the ford leads up to the parish Church of St Mary Magdalene, which stands, proudly on a hill overlooking the square. The church has a history going back to the twelfth century and its 90-foot tower can be seen for miles around.
 
After passing through, a short journey along another narrow lane takes the traveller to the Exmoor National Park with miles of moor land and picturesque countryside.
 
Although a very small village, Winsford in Somerset does boast one famous son.
 
Ernest Bevin who was born into poverty there in 1881, the son of a farm labourer. The house in which he was born stands opposite the Wesleyan chapel and bears a plaque commemorating the event. He was the first General Secretary of the, then, new Transport and General Workers Union.
 
In 1940 he was elected to Parliament as the Labour MP for Central Wandsworth. After a short time in office as a backbench MP, he was unexpectedly promoted. The promotion was to the senior post of Minister of Labour. This position was made even more important by the needs of the 2nd World War, which was then in its early stages. In a speech in July 1943 Bevin put forward his plans for the mining industry stating that if sufficient men between the ages of 18 and 25 years could not be made available, then he would have to consider boys under the age of 18. His young miners became known as 'Bevin Boys.' He became Foreign Secretary in 1945 and died suddenly in 1951 at the age of 70, his ashes are buried in Westminster Abbey.
 
Winsford in Cheshire on the other hand is a sprawling overspill town with more than one Industrial Estate and sitting astride the Cheshire plain. It too derives its name from a ford, this time in the river Weaver. The details of this are lost in antiquity and there are no definite records of how the name came about. It is believed that there was a man called Wynne who had a ford named after him. Alternatively, another suggestion is that the original name for the town was Wainsford as there was a ford there that farmers crossed with their hay wains. The river was later made navigable and Winsford became a shipbuilding centre. The main parish church is the Saxon church of St Chads which, rather unusually’ is sited in a valley away from other buildings. Folklore has it that the church was originally sited in the town, but the devil picked it up and carried it off. When the townsfolk asked for Gods help, he was made to drop it and it ended up in its present location!
 
Winsford did not suffer from the effects of wild brine pumping in the last century to the same degree as Northwich. Some of the older buildings however do look somewhat lopsided and the town has large and picturesque lakes called Flashes that were caused by subsidence. This occurred before regulations came into force as a result of spectacular subsidences in the Mid Cheshire area. Prior to these regulations, any person could drill into vast underground ponds of water saturated with salt from the salt seams. When the water was removed, to be evaporated, in order to remove the white salt, the holes were left empty and naturally without support, they collapsed. As did everything above them at ground level!
 
Winsford has, through the years, had very few famous residents, a notable exception being Sir John Swanwick Bradbury who in 1925 was created the 1st Baron Bradbury of Winsford. He was born in
Crook Lane
in a house that like Bevin’s birthplace bears a commemorative plaque. As the First Secretary to the Treasury he gave his name to the first one-pound notes as they bore his signature. They became known throughout the country as Bradbury’s.
 
Perhaps a lesser-known fact about Baron Bradbury was that from 1919 to 1925 he was the Principal British Delegate to the 1st World War Reparation Commission in Paris. It was the draconian demands upon Germany by this Commission that contributed to the downfall of democracy and the ascent of National Socialism in Germany, Hitler and the Second World War.
 
Winsford in Somerset is a pretty chocolate box village with a small population on the edge of a major national park. As a romantic weekend retreat or for exploring the vast Exmoor National Park it is ideal, especially if you stop at the old Royal Oak Inn with its low ceilings, inglenook fires and good food.
 
Winsford in Cheshire is more of an industrial centre with a far higher population and in close proximity to major cities. Parts of it are far less attractive than its Somerset namesake. Closer inspection however reveals that Winsford in Somerset may be on the edge of the Exmoor National Park. But Winsford in Cheshire is on the edge of the most beautiful and picturesque countryside that makes up Mid Cheshire and the Cheshire plain. To sit at the side of the Winsford Flash and not be enthralled by the beauty of it is to miss the best that nature, with human assistance, has to offer.
 
Our Winsford is presently undergoing a facelift; the shopping centre is no longer a miserable 1960’s ‘precinct’ of dull concrete. Further building and better planning will ensure that it will enjoy a far better reputation for quality in the coming years than it had in the past. Winsford in Cheshire has a lot to look forward too. Winsford in Somerset has reached virtual perfection with no further change needed.
 
A village and a town with the same name but both quite different, both however have their famous sons, their beautiful countryside and their own unique styles. 
 

Copyright Paul Hurley