SATURDAY November 16 1996
The Birmingham Post
Down Your Way
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.
A village that's on line to the future
The ancient village of Suckley gets visitors on the internet,
says Ross Reyburn
Tradition: The village's old hop houses and kilns,
set against the backdrop of the Suckley Hills.
"I put it on the Internet last Christmas and we are getting about
three accesses a day.
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
"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.
"There was a gentleman in Canada who found it. His grandparents used
to live in Suckley. He was searching the internet for the word
"I know of only one other village on the Internet - Little Haywood
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.
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
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
"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.
Ambition: Entrepreneur Mr Edward Holloway among his
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."
- 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
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
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
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
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
The above article has been re-published here on the
Suckley Village Web Site
with the permission of Ross Reyburn and the Birmingham Post.