BEWDLEY, a borough, market-town, and chapelry, having separate jurisdiction, in the parish of Ribbesford and union of Kidderminster, locally in the Lower division of the hundred of Doddingtree, and in the Hundred-House and W. divisions of the county of Worcester, 14 miles (N. W.) from Worcester, and 126 (N. W.) from London; containing 3400 inhabitants. This place, in Camden's "Britannia" called Bellus Locus from the pleasantness of its situation and the beauty of the surrounding scenery, anciently obtained also the appellation of Beaulieu, of which its present name is a corruption. In the 13th of Henry IV., a petition was presented to parliament from the "men of Bristowe" and Gloucester, praying that they might navigate the river Severn without being subject to new taxes levied by the men of Beaudley. At this time Bewdley appears to have enjoyed many privileges, among which was that of sanctuary for persons who had shed blood: it was extraparochial, but, by letters-patent granted by Henry VI., was annexed to the parish of Ribbesford. Edward IV. gave the inhabitants a charter of incorporation in the twelfth year of his reign; and Henry VII. erected a palace here for his son Arthur, who was married in it by proxy to Catharine of Arragon: the prince dying soon after at Ludlow, his corpse was removed to this town, where it lay in state previously to interment in the cathedral of Worcester. Bewdley was formerly included in the marches of Wales, but by an act of parliament, passed in the reign of Henry VIII., was added to the county of Worcester. During the civil war in the time of Charles I., that monarch, who had been driven from Oxford by the parliamentary forces, retired with the remnant of his army to this town, where he encamped, in order to keep the river Severn between himself and the enemy. Whilst staying here, he was attacked by a party of Scottish cavalry, when several of his officers, and seventy men, were made prisoners; and in these attacks the palace was greatly damaged: the site is now occupied by a dwelling-house, and not a single vestige of the original edifice can, with certainty, be traced. The more ancient part of the town was built at a greater distance from the river, and the portion now called Load-street is supposed to have been merely the place where the inhabitants loaded their boats: there were four gates, two of which were standing in 1811, but have since been entirely demolished.
The town is beautifully situated on the western bank of the river Severn, over which a light and elegant stone bridge was erected in 1797: the street leading from the bridge diverges right and left, but extends farther in the latter direction; it is paved, and lighted with gas. The houses in this street are in general well built, and of respectable appearance, and there are some handsome residences in the vicinity, among the most distinguished of which are Winterdyne, Ticknell, Spring Grove, and Ribbesford House; the inhabitants are amply supplied with water, the air is salubrious, and the surrounding scenery richly and pleasingly diversified. Some years since, Bewdley was a place of considerable trade, having two markets and four fairs, and for a long period was the mart from which the neighbouring towns were supplied with grocery and other articles of consumption; but in consequence of the recent construction of canals, that portion of its trade has been diverted to other towns. The manufacture of woollen caps, known by the name of Dutch caps, was introduced here in consequence of the plague prevailing at Monmouth, where it had previously been carried on, and being encouraged by legislative enactments in the reign of Elizabeth, it continued for some time to flourish, but has now declined, and the present trade is principally in malt, the tanning of leather, and the making of combs. The market is on Saturday; and fairs are held on April 23rd, July 26th, and December 10th and 11th. The inhabitants were first incorporated in the 12th of Edward IV.: they received additional privileges from Henry VII., which were confirmed by Henry VIII.; and James I. granted a new charter. The corporation now consists of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors; the mayor and late mayor are justices of the peace, and two permanent magistrates have also been appointed. Bewdley sent members to parliament so early as the reign of Edward I., after which there was a long intermission. The elective franchise was again conferred by James I., since which time it has returned one member to parliament: the borough embraces the town of Stourport, three miles distant, also the Forest of Wire: the mayor is the returning officer. The town-hall is a neat building of stone, erected in 1808, with a front decorated with six square pilasters supporting a pediment, in which are the arms of the family of Lyttelton; under the hall is the entrance into the market-place, which has an arcade on each side for stalls, and an open area in the centre; at the extremity are two small prisons, one for malefactors, the other for debtors.
The township comprises 2840 acres. The living is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £8 per annum, paid out of the exchequer, the revenue of a dissolved chantry which formerly existed here; net income, £220; patron, the Rector of Ribbesford. The chapel, a neat stone edifice, at the upper end of the street leading from the bridge, was erected in 1748, by the old corporation, aided by a subscription among the inhabitants and a brief, and has recently undergone considerable alteration by the expenditure of more than £800, contributed by the corporation and the inhabitants. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Wesleyans, and Unitarians. The free grammar school, founded and endowed in 1591, by William Monnox or Monnoye, and further endowed in 1599 by Humphrey Hill, was made a royal foundation by charter of James I.; the endowment, augmented by subsequent benefactions, produces an income of £46. The Blue-coat school, for thirty boys and thirty girls, has been enlarged, and united to the National School Society, two good rooms having been built for 160 children. Almshouses for six aged men, founded by Mr. Sayer, of Nettlestead, in the county of Suffolk, and endowed with £30 per annum, were rebuilt in 1763, by Sir Edward Winnington, Bart., member for the borough. Burlton's almshouses, for fourteen aged women, were founded and endowed in 1645; and eight other houses were erected, and endowed with £6 per annum, in 1693, by Thomas Cook. John Tombes, a celebrated biblical critic of the seventeenth century; and Richard Willis, Bishop of Winchester, and principal founder of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, were natives of the town.