Evesham is a market town and a civil parish in the Local Authority District of Wychavon in the county of Worcestershire, England with a population of 23,576, according to the 2011 census. It is located roughly equidistant between Worcester, Cheltenham and Stratford-upon-Avon. It lies within the Vale of Evesham, an area comprising the flood plain of the River Avon, which has been renowned for market gardening. The town centre, situated within a meander of the river, is regularly subject to flooding. The 2007 floods were the most severe in recorded history.
The town was founded around an 8th-century abbey, one of the largest in Europe, which was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, with only Abbot Lichfield's Bell Tower remaining. During the 13th century, one of the two main battles of England's Second Barons' War took place near the town, marking the victory of Prince Edward who later became King Edward I.
Evesham was a municipal borough from 1835 until 1974 (the municipal borough status was lost for towns with the arrival of district municipalities). It absorbed some outlying parishes in the early part of the 20th century: Evesham All Saints and Bengeworth-St. Peter in 1924 and Great and Little Hampton in 1933. Its population was 23,576 according to the UK census of 2011.
Evesham is derived from the Old English homme or ham, and Eof, the name of a swineherd in the service of Egwin, third bishop of Worcester. It was originally named Homme or Haum and recorded as Eveshomme in 709 and Evesham in 1086. The second part of the name (homme or ham) typically only signifies a home or dwelling, but in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire was commonly applied to land on the sides of a river, generally in bends of a river, which were liable to flood.
Some sources (notably Tindal) incorrectly cite 'holm' as a source for the town's name; but this is simple ignorance of early forms of the name. Some sources (Rudge, Tindall, Lewis, May, etc.) incorrectly give the name of the swineherd as Eoves, but it should be Eof, as explained as long ago as 1920 by O.G. Knapp:
It is impossible that Eoves should have been the Swineherd's name for several reasons. In the first place the letter 'V' is not found in the Saxon alphabet , having been brought to this country by the Normans; so that Eofeshamme, given in one of the charters, indicates the older and better form of the name... But even if Eofes is older and more accurate than Eoves it cannot be the original form of the name. A moment's reflection will show that if Evesham means the meadow of some person, the name of that person must be in what Grammarians call the Genitive (or Possessive) Case, Singular. This in modern English is nearly always denoted by 's placed at the end of the word; the apostrophe showing that a vowel has dropped out of the termination. Anglo-Saxon had a larger selection of endings for the Genitive Case, but the one in –es (the original form of our modern 's) belonged to what are called 'strong' Masculine nouns, which usually ended in a consonant. Eofes, therefore, would be the natural Genitive of a man's proper name, Eof. Ferguson suggests that the original form of the name might have been Eofa, but such a name would correspond to the 'weak' nouns which made their Genitive by adding not –es but –an; in which case the name of the town would have been Eofanham, as is shown in the case of Offenham, the Ham of Offa or Uffa. We may therefore take it as certain that the real name of the Swineherd was not Eoves, Eofes, or even Eofa, but Eof. And this is not a mere theoretical reconstruction, for Eof was actually a Saxon name... The form Eoves, though current for many centuries, is a mere blunder.
Evesham Abbey, which became possibly the third largest in England, was founded by Saint Egwin, the third Bishop of Worcester, in around 701 AD, following the vision of the Virgin Mary to a local swineherd or shepherd named Eof.
An entry in the Great Domesday Book of 1086 lists Evesham, mentioning "Two free men; Two radmen; Abbey of St Mary of Evesham; Abbey of St Mary of Pershore; Edmund, Abbot of St Mary of Pershore; Walter, Abbot of St Mary of Evesham; Aethelwig, Abbot of St Mary of Evesham; King William as donor; Odo, Bishop of Bayeux; Ranulph; Turstin, Abbot of St Mary of Pershore; Walter Ponther; Westminster, Gilbert Crispin, Abbot of St Peter."
The abbey was redeveloped and extended after the Norman Conquest, employing many tradesmen and significantly contributing to the growth of Evesham. Income for the abbey came from pilgrims to the abbey to celebrate the vision and visitors to the tomb of Simon de Montfort. As a result of Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, Evesham Abbey was dismantled in 1540 and sold as building stone, leaving little but the Lichfield Bell Tower. The abbey remains are a Scheduled Ancient Monument (No. WT253), and parts of the abbey complex, Abbot Reginald's Wall (registered monument) and the ruins of Abbot Chryton's Wall (Grade II), are English Heritage listed buildings. The abbey's coat of arms is used as the crest of Prince Henry's High School. Two surviving buildings with links to the abbey are the Middle Littleton Tythe Barn and the Almonry Museum and Heritage Centre, which is housed in the old almonry of the abbey and also displays artifacts from excavations there.
Following the Battle of Lewes a year earlier, where Simon de Montfort had gained control of parliament, the Battle of Evesham in August 1265 was the second of two main battles of the Second Barons' War. It marked the victory of Prince Edward, who led the 8,000 strong army of his father Henry III, over the 6,000 men of de Montfort, and the beginning of the end of the rebellion. The battle was a massacre; de Montfort's army were trapped in the horseshoe bend of the river, and although de Montfort and his son were killed, Prince Edward's victory was not decisive towards the King's hold on the country, and the struggle continued until 1267, after which the kingdom returned to a period of unity and progress that was to last until the early 1290s.
The medieval town developed within the meander of the River Avon, while Bengeworth developed to the east on the opposite bank of the river. In 1055 a market was granted to the Saxon town by King Edward. In the 11th century Leofric, Earl of Mercia, had a hunting lodge at Bengeworth. Leofric founded Holy Trinity Church with his wife Godifu (Lady Godiva). Godifu, who died in about 1067, is possibly buried at the abbey. During the reign of King Stephen, William de Beauchamp erected an adulterine castle at Bengeworth, whose occupants vied for control of the town and abbey. When Abbot William had the castle destroyed between 1149 and 1159, he consecrated the site as a graveyard to prevent the castle being rebuilt.