Mark Langford takes a look at Alvechurch, an overlooked haven with plenty going on.
It’s not hard to see the attraction of Alvechurch.
It might sit somewhat in the shadow of its more glamorous near-neighbour Barnt Green, but it has a charm all of its own and a community heart that beats strong.
Nestled on the outskirts of Redditch and Birmingham it has everything the commuter needs – good road and rail links, good schools, shops and pubs.
The Red Lion and The Swan pubs sit prominently on the High Street which was once the main Birmingham to Redditch Road until the opening of the by-pass over a decade ago and has slowed through-traffic to a more sedate and manageable level. The recently-opened Crown Meadow First and Middle School is an impressive new complex that already has parents from outside the village keen to get their children on its books.
Barnt Green, it has to be said, does have the glitzier shops – bespoke furniture and clothes boutiques and a coffee shop/delicatessen.
In Alvechurch the shops are more prosaic, with the village square housing a user-friendly range of stores.
These range from Indian and Chinese takeaways and restaurant, and the Co-op to the award-winning EJ Crow butchers who has scooped a range of awards over the years for its sausages and pies.
Those who enjoy a drink and a bite to eat can take their pick with the pubs.
In the village itself the Red Lion caters for the food end of the market, while The Swan is the more traditional ‘drinking’ type of pub.
Real ale lovers however may decide to go a couple of miles outside the village to the Coach and Horses at Weatheroak.
Sited on the old Roman road of Icknield Street it has a cellar boasting a wide range of real ales and is home to the renowned small brewery Weatheroak Ales.
Houses in Alvechurch vary, ranging from pre-war former council homes on the south eastern side to the executive on the north and a wide range of semi and detached dotted throughout.
At the heart of the village are the older houses and cottages dating back at least 200 years, including Bear Hill which leads up to St Laurence church, which commands the local skyline.
Ann Chester, branch manager of Darren Blower estate agents in Alvechurch High Street said the village was as popular now as it ever had been.
“Once people come here they tend to stay here.
“Alvechurch is what you would call a proper village i.e. shops, pubs, a railway station and having a brand new school. It is very close to the M42 and the M5, Birmingham and Redditch are close to hand and there is also the canal.
“There are a lot of doctors and lecturers here because of the Cross City line rail link to the university and Queen Elizabeth hospital complex.”
Ann said, that despite the credit crunch and the effect on the housing market, prices in the Alvechurch area had remained stable.
“In Alvechurch a three-bedroom traditional semi-detached was £250,000 two years ago. It is about the same value now,” she said. “Two years ago demand was crazy, I could sell somewhere without having to even print a brochure and although it’s calmed down a bit since I’m still short of houses.
“There is a nice feel to the place, you never hear of any real trouble and it is close to Barnt Green, which is still a place people aspire to.”
Yet Alvechurch is far from being a mere dormitory village in north Worcestershire. A sense of community beats strong.
Withybed Green is a small enclave on the east of the village, separated from the bulk of it by the Birmingham-Worcester canal which bisects it.
Houses here are typically mid-Georgian/early Victorian and at the heart of it is The Crown, set in an idyllic spot at the side of the canal.
Run by Dave and Tricia Fisher since 1984, every year the regulars organise a cycle ride along the banks of the canal to Worcester in aid of the Acorns Children’s Hospice appeal, which has raised thousands for the charity.
It is also the setting every New Year’s Day for the Alvechurch Morris Men to gather and entertain visitors who come from far and wide to savour the friendly atmosphere.
Further down the canal can be found the famous Alvechurch Marina.
This part of Worcestershire has long been a draw for narrowboat fans as the canal network criss-crosses the Midlands.
The Worcester and Birmingham canal is well known for its locks, 58 in all climbing 428 feet from the level of the River Severn in Worcester up to Birmingham, which sits at around 900ft above sea level.
Just a couple of miles from Alvechurch down towards Redditch is the famous Tardebigge flight of locks, which has 30 locks and makes for hard but interesting work for crews.The locks fill and empty very quickly so it’s possible to do them all in an (energetic) morning!
Alvechurch Marina is one of the leading centres in the Midlands for canal boat hire and also has a large number of Off Line and On Line moorings, ranging in length from 25ft to 70ft.
There is also the extra and very convenient attraction of The Weighbridge, a small pub in Scarfield Wharf at the side of the Marina which has long provided sanctuary for exhausted boaters at the end of the Tardebigge flight.
Alvechurch can trace its origins back to the eighth century. The name means the church of the Lady Aelfgiva, possibly a relative of King Athelstan.
King Offa gave the land forming the parish to the local church in the late 8th century and it is mentioned in the Domesday Book. In the 13th century it had a weekly market and an annual fair. From the 19th century to the mid twentieth century there was a brick factory in Withybed. Other local industries included nail and needlemaking.
Famous former residents include writer Fay Weldon, author of Life and Loves Of A She Devil, and former Arsenal player Alan Smith grew up here.
Smith started his football career at Alvechurch FC before signing professional forms with Leicester City in 1982 and forging a goalscoring partnership with Gary Lineker.
After five seasons with the Foxes he eventually went on to even greater things with Arsenal, scoring 86 goals in 285 appearances for the Gunners between 1987 and 1995.
Alvechurch also boasts a well-established cricket club which plays in the Worcestershire League.