Ewelme is a small village, situated at the western end of the Chilterns in Southern Oxfordshire. For much of the 20th century, watercress was part of a thriving local business, with distribution stretching as far as Covent Garden.
Huge watercress beds stretched through the whole of the village, running from south east to north west along the stream. This stream, which was fed by springs, supported the watermill in the village as well as others further along its course. However, during the late 20th century, increased regulation and greater competition from other sources saw the watercress industry go into decline, with production and growth almost ceasing completely.
Fortunately, 25 years ago, the Chiltern Society agreed to purchase the beds and have invested in a programme of conservation and revival ever since. Today, the society and residents are celebrating this 25th anniversary of protecting an important cultural and historical asset with a natural preservation programme.
The Ewelme Watercress Beds and Local Nature Reserve is run by a happy band of volunteers who help to keep these beds in good condition. It’s a programme that has not gone unnoticed by the super-sleuth location scouts of our favourite detective show, which is what led to the beds being included in episodes of Midsomer Murders, and why we’re joining in with the celebrations and helping to promote their work and encourage more visits.
Episodes including Beyond the Grave, The Black Book, Small Mercies and the Sword of Guillaume have all featured scenes shot in and around Ewelme.
Of course, there is much more than just the beds. At the west end of the village is the parish church of St Mary the Virgin, with a tower dating back to the 14th century. In the churchyard you’ll find the grave of Jerome K. Jerome, author of the legendary ‘Three Men in a Boat’, which did so much to popularise boating on the River Thames at nearby Henley.
Also in the village is Ewelme School and cloister, the pond and some redbrick alms houses dating back to 1437. It’s a charming place to explore, a quintessentially English village and characteristic of the Southern Oxfordshire region.
Open Days and Guided Walks take place around the Watercress Beds Local Nature Reserve on the first Sunday of each month with a 2pm start time during summer months (May - September) and a 10.30 start time in winter (October - April). Adults cost £3 and no booking is required. If you’re keen to learn about ‘Nellie Bridges’ and Henry VIII’s King’s pool - this is the walk for you.
Ewelme lies just south of the B4009 Benson to Watlington Road, about five miles east of Benson.