EVESHAM, a borough and market-town, and the head of a union, locally in the Lower division of the hundred of Blackenhurst, E. division of the county of Worcester, 15 miles (S. E.) from Worcester, on the road to London, 13 miles (N. E.) from Tewkesbury, and 93¾ (N. W. by W.) from London; containing 4245 inhabitants. This place was originally called Homme or Haum, from the Saxon holm, a word particularly appropriate to the peninsular form of its site. The appellation Eovesholme, or Eovesham, is said to be derived from Eoves, a swineherd in the service of Egwin, third bishop of Wessex, a Saxon province and bishopric, part of which now forms the diocese of Worcester. Eoves is said to have had an interview with the Virgin Mary on the spot, and to this circumstance is attributed the erection of an abbey for Benedictine monks, the foundation of which was laid in 701, and the building completed in 709, when the charter was confirmed: it was consecrated in 714, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, by Bishop Wilfrid, the successor of Egwin, who had retired hither after resigning the bishopric of Worcester to the pope. The convent received large grants of land from the Anglo-Saxon kings and nobility, as well as from other benefactors both before and after the Conquest; its possessions were ample, and its privileges numerous: the abbots sat in parliament as spiritual barons. It shared the fate of similar institutions, being suppressed on the 17th of November, 1539, at which time the revenue, as appears from a corrected return to the Augmentation Office, given in May's History of Evesham, amounted to £1829. 10. 0½. The buildings and site of the monastery were then alienated by the king, and the former, with the church, were ultimately demolished, and the materials sold: the clock tower, a sculptured arch which led into the chapter-house, some out-buildings, including part of the almonry, and a portion of the boundary walls, are the only remains of the edifices. The handsome isolated tower, so great an ornament to the town, was erected by Clement Lichfield, the last abbot but one, and is a beautiful specimen of the later English style, strengthened with panelled buttresses, and crowned by open battlements and pinnacles; it was originally a gate of entrance to the monastic cemetery, and a clock tower to the monastery. At the general demolition, the tower, according to Nash, was purchased by the inhabitants. It is 110 feet high, and about 28 feet square at the base; the sides are adorned with tracery. In 1745, a clock with chimes was put up in this tower, by Edward Rudge, Esq. The adjacent church of St. Lawrence, formerly a parochial chapel subordinate to the monastery, after being suffered to remain in ruins for nearly a century, has at length been restored in all its pristine beauty, at an expense of more than £2500, raised by subscription, aided by a grant from a London Society; great attention has been paid to the preservation of a strict uniformity of style, and the whole now forms an interesting specimen of ecclesiastical architecture.
The most memorable occurrence in the history of the town is the decisive battle which was fought here, on the 4th of August, 1265, between Prince Edward and Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, by whom Henry III. was detained a prisoner. The combat was characterised by savage ferocity; and of those who fell victims were the earl and his son, about 160 knights, and 4000 of their followers. The bodies of the earl and his son, with those of Henry and Hugh le Despenser, are said to have been interred in the abbey church, before the high altar. The issue of the contest, by releasing the captive monarch, turned the tide of his fortunes, and led to that success by which he was subsequently reinstated on the throne. This celebrated battle was fought about three-quarters of a mile from the town, at a place near the old London road, which crosses a small stream subsequently denominated Battle Well.
The town is pleasantly situated on a sloping eminence rising from the bank of the Avon, by which river it is watered on three sides, and over which is a stone bridge of seven arches, uniting it with the parish of Bengeworth, which is within the borough. It has been greatly improved, under an act passed for paving and lighting in 1824; and consists of two principal and some inferior streets, of which the High-street is particularly spacious. A public subscription library was founded in 1819, an horticultural society in 1827, a literary institution in 1838, and an agricultural association in 1841. The country adjacent is remarkable for its interesting scenery, and for the extreme richness of its soil, which produces earlier and more abundant crops than that of any other part of the county. Near the town, large portions of ground have been converted into gardens, horticulture constituting the chief occupation of the labouring class; asparagus attains great perfection, and is extensively cultivated, and vegetables are conveyed hence to towns in the surrounding district. There are two corn-mills, a mill for extracting oil from linseed, and two ribbon manufactories. In 1845 an act was passed for a railway from Oxford, by Evesham, to Wolverhampton. The market is on Monday; and fairs are held on February 2nd, the Monday next after Easter week, Whit-Monday, the second Monday in August, September 21st, and the second Monday in December. The inhabitants were incorporated by a charter granted by James I. in the first year of his reign, which confirmed their respective privileges, and conferred others. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76, the corporate body now consists of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors; the municipal and parliamentary boundaries are co-extensive. The borough sent members to parliament in the 23rd of Edward I., but after that king's reign it discontinued till the commencement of that of James I., since which period it has uninterruptedly returned two representatives. The right of election, prior to the year 1818, was vested in freemen and paymasters, or persons resident paying scot and lot; it was then restricted to the freemen, resident and nonresident. By the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, the non-resident electors beyond seven miles have been disfranchised, and the privilege has been extended to the £10 householders: the mayor is returning officer. The number of borough magistrates is eight, who, with certain of the county justices, hold petty-sessions weekly, all commitments being made to the county gaol. The powers of the county debt-court of Evesham, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Evesham. The town-hall is a plain building in the market-place, lately much improved.
The borough includes the parishes of All Saints, containing 1647; St. Lawrence, 1516; and St. Peter Bengeworth, 1082 inhabitants; formerly, together with most of the surrounding villages, in the peculiar jurisdiction of the Abbot of Evesham. All Saints' comprises 365 acres, and St. Lawrence's 428; Bengeworth, lying on the eastern bank of the river, and consisting of 1281 acres, was added to the borough by the second charter of James I., and is described under its proper head. The living of All Saints' is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £10. 16. 0½., and has a net income, including the curacy of St. Lawrence, of £208; the patronage and impropriation belong to the Crown. The church of All Saints', formerly a chapel to the abbey, appears to have been built prior to 1223, and is an irregular structure, with a tower and spire; the porch at the western entrance is embattled, with pinnacles at the angles: on the south side is a small chapel built by Abbot Lichfield, the roof of which is finely groined, and adorned with fan-tracery; in this chapel the remains of its founder are interred. The church of St. Lawrence, already referred to, exhibits a rich specimen of the later English style, and has attached to it on the south a chapel of exquisite beauty; the tower and spire are of earlier date: it contains 848 sittings, 716 of which are free. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, the Society of Friends, Wesleyans, and Unitarians. The free grammar school, which was connected with the monastery, was, after the dissolution of that establishment, refounded by Henry VIII., who, in lieu of its former revenue, endowed it with £10 yearly from the exchequer, which sum is still paid; and by the charter of James I., it was incorporated, and placed under the government of the mayor and council. A national school is supported, a British school has just been established, and there are several small benefactions. The poor law union of Evesham comprises 30 parishes or places, of which 20 are in the county of Worcester, and 10 in that of Gloucester; containing in the whole a population of 13,892. Walter of Evesham, a writer of celebrity, and John Feckenham, Dean of St. Paul's in the reign of Mary, were both monks of Evesham Abbey. Sir Charles Cocks, Bart., on his elevation to the peerage on the 17th of May, 1784, assumed the title of Lord Somers, Baron of Evesham, which is held by the present Earl Somers.