Alvechurch is a village in Worcestershire, just south of Birmingham. Close enough to have an 0121 phone number1 and a B48 postcode, but just outside the range of the cheap city buses. Redditch is the closest town, but the village belongs to the rural district of Bromsgrove.
Alvechurch is a nice size for a village. It's large enough to have the full range of everyday requirements, but small enough to be a community. There are three churches and two schools; a village hall and a church hall; a football club and a cricket club; three pubs, two restaurants, a chip shop and two Indian takeaways; two very good butchers, a baker, a greengrocer, and a small supermarket; a doctor, a dentist, a vet, an optician, and a pharmacy. On the less practical side it also has three ladies' hairdressers, four estate agents, and a maker of wedding gowns. If you can't get what you want in the village, you'll find it easy to get it somewhere else. There's also a railway station, a motorway junction, and a canal wharf.
Despite all these facilities, the village is small enough that you recognise most of the people that you see from day-to-day and it's a very pleasant place to live and work.
A visit to the local pub in the evening can be interesting to the visitor. You walk along the pavement until it ends, under the railway bridge in the dark, over the (single track) canal bridge in the dark, and you find the pub just before the lane ends at a field gate.
The pub is the base of the local morris dancers. They are a traditional 'black face' or 'ragged' side; nothing like the clean-shaven dancers in their white costumes who wave handkerchiefs and bells for the tourist trade in Stratford. These wear beards and rags, black their faces, and dance with staves. Meeting them at the bar is a surprise for the visitor. Meeting them outside in the dark is a shock.
The land around Alvechurch is mentioned in a charter of King Offa in 780 AD, but the first details of the village itself come in the Domesday Book of 1087. By that time, there was a church but no mill and the village was worth 100 shillings.
The Bishop's Palace was built in the 13th Century and the village grew larger and more prosperous over the next 300 years until the bishops moved to Worcester around the time of the Reformation. The palace decayed and now only the moat and fish ponds remain.
Half the population died in the Black Death in the 14th Century and local tradition has it that the bodies are buried on the outskirts of the village in Pestilence Lane. This may or may not be true, but the story was taken very seriously when the M42 motorway was being planned. Test pits were dug in Pestilence Lane and the samples were checked for traces of contagious diseases. Nothing was found and the 'Hopwood Services' were built on the site in 1998. Not a bad name, but 'Pestilence Services' would have been more interesting.
Alvechurch remained a small agricultural community from the 14th to the 18th Century, but small industries grew up as the canal and railway reached the village. These faded away in the 20th Century and the village is now mainly residential. There are, however, a surprising number of businesses based in homes and small offices around the village. As an example, there is a gunsmiths, a brewery, and a boat builder.
Traces of the rural heritage remain in the strangest places. Alvechurch had a hiring fair for farm hands every October, where workers would parade before the landowners who were looking to take on workers for the year. After being hired, workers would spend the rest of the day at the fair as a holiday. A maid would carry a mop to show the sort of work she was after and the event was known as the 'Mop Fair'.
The 'Mop' still travels around local villages. It's purely a fun fair now, but every year it takes over the centre of the village on the first Wednesday of October and the tradition continues.