By Elizabeth Pratt (member of the NP group)
It is fair to say that the scale and rate of expansion of Moreton over the past 15 years is unprecedented. However, this is not to say that the town has not previously undergone significant development and change that has impacted upon its inhabitants and workers.
While we might bemoan the heavy traffic that passes daily through the town, Moreton’s growth from the 17th century onwards owes much to its prime location on the Fosse Way and the Oxford/London Road, which allowed it to readily source, transport, and sell goods – especially at the height of the wool trade. Of course, the volume and nature of traffic would have been very different before the invention of the motor car; but nevertheless, High Street would have been a hive of activity, particularly on market day.
Inns were established on High Street to cater for travellers as well as townspeople; the entry for Moreton in Kelly’s Trade Directory of 1870 lists The White Hart (in existence by 1608), The Black Bear (in existence by 1746), The White Lion, The Bell (opened by 1774, following the closure of The George), The White Swan (opened by 1842), The Railway Inn, The Unicorn Inn (later re-named, see below), and The Crown. The latter was located on Oxford Road, adjoining the Curfew Tower. Above a door on a gabled extension to the High Street side, a ‘ghost sign’ (the traces of a painted sign) reading CROWN INN is visible.
Census data reveals that in the mid-19th century, the proprietor of the Crown Inn was a man named Edwin Wood. In 1841 and 1851, he was living somewhere on High Street and working as a Barber / Hairdresser. In 1861, Crown Inn is given as his address and his occupation is recorded as Hairdresser and Publican. At this time he lived with his wife Elizabeth, daughter Elizabeth, and a young servant, a bar maid, called Jane Webb. By 1871, Edwin seems to have remarried and employed a different bar maid (Jane, in all likelihood, having left to be married herself), but records suggest he died in 1877/1880.
The population had apparently risen rapidly between 1801 and 1851; and the town was served by the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway from 1853. A number of civic buildings and facilities were constructed in Moreton during the second half of the 19th century: an Infants School (1851), two cemeteries on London Road (1867), the Cottage Hospital (1873), a Boys School (1881), Redesdale Hall (1887), and The Mann Institute (1891). The appearance of the High Street was transformed by the planting of an avenue of trees along its length, from the A40 junction up to Dormer House School.
Kelly’s Trade Directory for 1906 advertised the following establishments at Moreton: The White Hart Hotel, The Black Bear Inn, The White Lion, The Bell Public House, The Swan Hotel, The Railway Hotel, The Redesdale Arms Hotel (formerly The Unicorn), and The Crown Inn (with Allan Robert Holbeach now the proprietor). The re-branding from public house/inn to hotel might suggest that the town was starting to take advantage of the very nascent Cotswold tourism industry.
Other Moreton businesses advertised by Kelly in 1906 included four grocers, three bakers, two butchers, a fishmonger, several brewers, two chemists, three printers / stationers, builders, two carpenters, a basket maker, a rope-maker, a blacksmith, two ironmongers, a chimney sweep, two coal merchants, a steam plough proprietress, a coach builder, a cooper, two saddlers, a cycle agent, boot and shoe makers, a hairdresser, a tailor, a draper, a fancy draper, an outfitter, two watch makers, a photographer, and a painter.
Some historic photographs of High Street are available through Historic England’s ‘View Finder’ website (link provided at the end of this article). There are images of The Crown Inn taken by photographer Henry Taunt in 1880, 1890, and 1910. These show a wooden sign and various advertisement plaques affixed to its Oxford Road frontage as well as that of Curfew Tower. Such fittings were common at this time; other photographs show painted and metal signs on other buildings along High Street. A ghost sign can be seen on the Hayman Joyce building; there seem to be two inscriptions, one painted over the other, but both are unintelligible.
Between 1821 and the end of the 19th century, the number of houses in Moreton apparently increased by fifty per cent. The cusp of the 20th century would have been an interesting time for its residents; and the First World War was unknowingly just around the corner. The town continued to evolve in the interwar and post war decades, responding to wider social and economic circumstances such that has resulted in the loss of traditional shops and the growth of services related to the tourism industry.
The challenge for the coming decades will be to ensure that the town is able to provide adequately and sustainably for both its resident and visiting population. The Neighbourhood Plan offers the opportunity to formulate policies, in line with those presented in the Local Plan, that will successfully manage further change.
Further Reading / Resources
The Genealogist (requires subscription)