Henley, Warwickshire

PUBLISHED: 23:50 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:20 20 February 2013

Henley High Street

Henley High Street

Warwickshire Life editor Colin Clark enjoys some traditional ice cream and untraditional English 'summer weather' when he visits Henley in Arden.

Warwickshire Life editor Colin Clark enjoys some traditional ice cream and untraditional English 'summer weather' when he visits Henley in Arden.

It won't surprise you when I tell you it was raining when I visited Henley in Arden - it was the middle of July, what else would you expect? It did stop, but then it started again. Then it stopped, then it started again. It was, in fact, the typical sort of summer day we should be used to by now, what was all that about global warming?

But the showers weren't a problem because the great thing about Henley is there is always somewhere of interest you can pop in to get out of the rain, and that's exactly what I did. I was more than happy to shelter in the town's famous Henley Ice Cream Parlour and popping into the Bluebell for a quick bite to eat was really no hardship.

The 16th Century Ice Cream Parlour and Tea Rooms, has served the delicious Henley Ice Cream since the 1930s when brothers Harry and Arthur Fathers bought the Henley milk round and small grocers shop from Mrs Hewins, who had been trading under the Tudor Dairies name since 1893.

They continued to deliver milk in Henley and in 1934 started to use leftover milk to make ice cream, which was sold in the shop. Word soon spread of this delicious ice cream made only with the very best ingredients, and in 1937 it was voted the best ice cream in the U.K.

By 1938, the number of customers visiting the parlour brought the traffic in Henley to a standstill, requiring the introduction of a uniformed employee to direct traffic in the High Street!

When the brothers retired in 1959, the business was sold and ice cream production to the Henley recipe stopped. However the parlour is now under the ownership by Cindy and Steve Brittan, who have the ice cream made to the traditional recipe, using only quality ingredients.

The Bluebell is Henley's oldest pub, dating back to the 15th century, and the high arch entry that used to allow stagecoaches into its yard are still visible.

A visit to St John the Baptist Church was both interesting and another way to keep dry before, can you believe it, the sun came out in fine style to allow me to enjoy the short walk to St Nicholas Church in the neighbouring parish of Beaudesert. Unfortunately the church there was locked but the sun carried on shining and I spent a very nice thirty minutes walking around the beautiful churchyard.

The reason two churches, which have for years shared the same vicar, are so close together dates back to when Beaudesert and Henley were two separate parishes and residents of Henley were forced to travel to Wootton Wawen to worship. The journey was thought difficult and dangerous and so. in 1367, a chapel was built on the St John the Baptist site for the people of Henley.

The showers started up again so I headed up the High Street to the very welcoming Henley Heritage Centre - and what a find that turned out to be. If you are planning to visit Henley this summer make the Heritage Centre a definite port of call.

Situated in one of town's oldest buildings, part of it dates back to 1345, the Heritage Centre is an immaculately kept record of the town's past with some superb exhibits all divided into nine sections.

The two people on reception on the day I visited couldn't be more helpful, or knowledgeable, and I learned all about two of the town's very famous sons.

The first, William James, described as Father of the Railway System, was born in Henley in 1771, was behind many transport breakthroughs of the time, most notably as owner of the Stratford Canal, promoter of the Stratford - Moreton tramway and the brains behind the development of the Liverpool to Manchester railway.

The other is writer Keble Howard who was one of twelve children of the Reverend George Bell who was vicar of Henley from 1876 to 1914. He was born John Keble Bell in 1875 but found fame as a writer under his pen name of Keble Howard.

You can also learn about Gwen Way (nee Driver) and her life as a parlour maid before the Second World War at Beaudesert Park - all really fascinating stuff

But the sun was shining again and I had chance to witness some poultry sales at Henley market. The market is open every Wednesday for the sale of eggs, poultry and produce as well as a car boot sale. There is a horse and tack market on the first Saturday of the month and a furniture sale ever 2nd and 4th Saturday. For more details call 01564 792154 or 793211.

The parishes of Henley and Beaudesert are now really the same town although Beaudesert is the elder of the two 'manors.'

The powerful De Montfort family originally settled there after the Norman Conquest and named the area Beldesert, meaning Beautiful Waste in Norman French.

A castle was built at the end of the 11th century and a market charter was granted 1140. Beaudesert prospered and Henley began to grow as a result of that prosperity.

Henry III granted Henley a market charter in 1220 but the town's fortunes suffered when Peter De Montfort sided against the king in a feud between Barons and the Crown and he was killed at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. After the battle the triumphant Royalists burnt down the town's castle to the ground.

The town did however begin to prosper again by the end of the century and became one of the most important market towns in the area. The 15th century market cross, one of the few still in existence in Warwickshire, can still be seen where the old market place would have been.

So full of interesting and important building of architectural interest is Henley that one mile of the town's High Street is actually a conservation area. The Guild Hall, the Old White Horse and George House, now the home of The Pantiles Bride, are tremendous examples of Tudor buildings.

The old red brick school, built in the late 19th century, is also worth a look, although it hasn't been used for education since the 1950s, as is the good, old fashioned police station.

In fact the whole High Street is like one big, and very interesting, history lesson. Take the cars from the side of the road and you feel you could have stepped back in time. Another excellent example of how well blessed Warwickshire is when it comes to historic buildings and great places to visit.

But it's raining again and I must be on my way. But I'm determined to return with my ice cream-loving wife so we can take an uninterrupted stroll along the High Street and beyond into the beautiful countryside with our Henley ice creams in our hands and, hopefully, suncream on our noses - it has got to stop raining before the end of summer, hasn't it?

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