SATURDAY November 16 1996 The Birmingham Post

Down Your Way

A village that's on line to the future
The ancient village of Suckley gets visitors on the internet, says Ross Reyburn
    [Picture of Suckley Hop Kilns]
Tradition: The village's old hop houses and kilns, set against the backdrop of the Suckley Hills.
The church chimes of the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist in the Worcestershire village of Suckley can be heard in Paris, New York, Sydney or Hong Kong.

Suckley Church Keith Bramich, the son of the village postmaster, is responsible for this curious state of affairs as he put Suckley on the Internet, the computer service with more than 30 million users world-wide.
"It seemed an interesting thing to do to give the village a bit more publicity," says Mr. Bramich, a computer consultant working in Basingstoke, Hampshire.
"There is about a megabyte of information, a lot of photographs and a sound file of the church clock chiming.
"It's not the bog-standard Westminster chime.
"I put it on the Internet last Christmas and we are getting about three accesses a day.
"There was a gentleman in Canada who found it. His grandparents used to live in Suckley. He was searching the internet for the word Suckley.
"I know of only one other village on the Internet - Little Haywood in Staffordshire.
As well as getting current information about the village, Internet users can discover this is where the world's first hop-picking machine was produced by Bruff Engineering and how a 100ft deep well was found when the Cross Keys pub was being extended last year.
Suckley is a sprawling village with three striking features.
Situated in countryside designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, it has the Suckley Hills providing a superb scenic backdrop. And you don't have to drive for long along the parish's winding country lanes before an impressive black-and-white medieval farmhouse or the imposing hop kilns with their distinctive white cowls come into view.
Suckley is really a village without a true centre. Its two pubs, The Nelson, which majors on food and the game of skittles, and the Cross Keys, an old-fashioned drinkers' haunt, are at different ends of the parish.
The church is perched on high ground. Behind the church is the successful Victorian village school where head teacher Mrs. Jill Shepherd and two other full-time teachers look after 67 children.
But although the village hall is not far away, the area lacks the feel of a village centre. The village post office and shop are in a completely different location at Longley Green on the edge of the parish.
    Jill Shepherd
Tuition: Headmistress Jill Shepherd outside Suckley School where, with two other full-time staff, she teaches 67 children.

The area's heyday as hop-growing teritory is over, but the kilns survive in various guises.
By the crossroads at Suckley Green behind the White House, a three-storey Queen Anne country house needing a coat of paint to live up to it's name, kilns have been converted into homes. And the stables once used by the North Ledbury Hunt run by the Twinberrow family are also housing.
Aanother set of kilns act as both a home and office where managing director Paul Chandler runs the Travel Club of Upminster, Essex, and his wife, Ursula Mason, operates Courtyard Designs, a company selling traditional timber outbuildings.
Mr Chandler inherited the travel club from his father.
"I ran it by modem," says Mr Chandler, who was previously running a computer company in Malvern.
"When my father died, I decided to take over the business and not move because Suckley is such a nice area. All the office staff except me are in Upminster - I go down for one day a week. I can look at anything that is happening on the computer.
"I once phoned to correct a spelling mistake in a letter.
"I thought they had sent the letter but I was reading the letter here in Suckley as they were typing the letter on a computer in Upminster."
By the village church at Lower Court Farm, other village hop kilns are filled with eye-catching sets of cane furniture in the showrooms of Holloways.
This family business, selling up-market conservatory interiors and garden ornaments, opened in 1991. "They advertise in The Lady, " was the reverential comment of one villager.
Edward Holloway, who runs the firm with his wife Diana and his mother-in-law Mrs Vivienne Sheward, regards the venture as an example of the way farmers have to adapt to survive.
"People in the countryside have to be flexible otherwise everything just becomes a dormitory," says Mr Holloway, who also runs the family farm.
"Some of the suites we do are our own - we have collaborated with designers.
"We find people are looking for something a bit different and it is because of that they come to Suckley."
The family hop business closed due to a combination of market forces and hop-wilt disease. A short drive away at Upper Court is one of the surviving Suckley farms producing hops.
    Edward Holloway
Ambition: Entrepreneur Mr Edward Holloway among his garden ornaments.

The Huband family do not welcome strangers on their farm as they don't want hop-wilt disease spreading to their land.
"The disease is soil-borne," said Mr Walter Huband, who is chairman of Suckley Parish Council. "It could be on your shoe.
"We prefer people don't come in with their vehicles. We get people to dip their feet in a foot trough of disinfectant."
Unlike many villages, Suckley has remained unscarred by development and two cul-de-sacs of council homes provide the only significant change in the post-war landscape. "We've got no private housing estates," said Mr Huband. "We are in an area of outstanding natural beauty so we don't have too much trouble with planning applications."

Location of Suckley FACT FILE
  • Suckley is believed to have been an Anglo-Saxon settlement with the name meaning "wood where the birds are found".
  • The Domesday Survey of 1086 indicates a thriving manor. "There were at least 56 farming families dependant on the land for their existence, a beekeeper, fishermen and millers," wrote local historian Phyllis D. Williams. "The population of the Manor could have been in excess of 400 people."
  • The Church of St. John the Baptist was rebuilt by Victorian Architect A J Hopkins and his design has had a luke-warm reception. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner in his Buildings of England series described it as "a big elephant-grey church in the Late Geometrical Style" while the late great Sir John Betjeman remarked that this was a building that would "grace a Birmingham suburb". Beyond the church's attractive wooden oprch entrance can be found a large 12th century Tub Font indicating that there had been a church on the site from early Norman times.
  • The Worcestershire Way runs for four miles through the village from Knightwick to Longley Green by the slopes of the Suckley Hills. This section of the footpath is in the Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Toby Mifflin
Memory man: Former Suckley station worker Mr Toby Mifflin at his home, Spiders Castle.
    Memories of when the steam trains ran
Only a dip in the landscape by a line of trees where the railway line once ran offers a hint that a station stood there. And the nearby private residence offers no clue it was once the stationmaster's house.
Suckley Station closed in 1963. But Toby Mifflin can show where the platforms and station building stood when he became a junior porter in 1941 after leaving the village school.
"The station was just in the neighbouring village of Knightwick on the Worcester to Leominster line," recalls Toby, a railwayman for 51 years.
"There must have been five or six working there in the war years including two signalwomen. You had about 16 passenger trains a day."
The armies of hop pickers arrived in the village by rail. "Every farm grew hops - people used to come in their thousands from the Black Country," recalls his wife June.
The station transported local farm produce and sent Bruff Engineering machinery all over the world. Founded by the late Albert Brookes, the firm produced the world's first hop-picking machine in the 1940s. Today Country Cookers, manufacturers of the Nobel kitchen range, and Schoenemann Engineering occupy its site.
Derek Symonds, a fitter assembler with Country Cookers, started working for Bruff Engineering in 1974 and remembers how the firm was a victim of its own success.
"The hop-picking machines lasted too long, they were too well-made, and the market also dropped," he recalls.
As well as a station, the village had a two-pump garage along with a shop run by Mrs "Ray" (Rachel) Boucher in the 1960s. She lives near where the petrol pumps once stood and remembers service was rather different in her day as she used to serve car drivers looking for petrol at all hours.
"I remember getting up to serve someone at one in the morning and then they waited for a halfpenny change," she recalls.
She also remembers a well-known village lady complaining that she could smell burning rubber after she had been driving for miles with her handbrake on.
    The Old Railway Line and Station at Suckley
Then and now: The old railway line and station at Suckley (above) and as the site is now (below) with the magnificent Scots pine tree still standing.
Suckley Station as it is now

The above article has been re-published here on the Suckley Village Web Site with the permission of Ross Reyburn and the Birmingham Post.