Mention the name Strensham to most people familiar with driving the motorways of England and they will think of the service station on the M5 in Worcestershire. Now an award-winning and expensive rest-stop filled with McDonalds, Pizza Hut and numerous facilities deemed essential for the modern traveler (even toilets) it was not always so. The first concrete and glass structure was put up by the Kenning Company in 1962 and swiftly developed the reputation of being the place to go for weak tea and over-priced food which it successfully sustained for two decades. It was then bought by another company who upgraded all services, and then came RoadChef in 2001. The rest, as they say, is history.
But history began a long time ago in Strensham. In the ninth century no less, when Streongham (“strong village”) was land and a manor house owned by Pershore Abbey. Over the next five centuries a thriving community grew up under the patronage of the Russell family, one of Worcestershire’s leading dynasties, and a church was built circa 1370 with nave and chancel, and a tower a few years later. The parish was dedicated to St John the Baptist. Fast forward six hundred and forty three years …
Driving the northbound land of the M5 and approaching the Strensham service station the parish church can be (carefully!) glimpsed on a rise to the east. But the problem is there’s no motorway exit! The nearest junctions are Worcester South (twelve miles to the north) or a convoluted detour via the M50 to the west, and as you’ve passed that exit by now there’s no looking back! No, the way to Strensham parish church is not via the motorway but by a more sedate series of country roads from Worcester or Tewkesbury. And therein lies the reason why the parish died a slow death in the 1970s and 80s. It was literally cut in half by the building of the M5 motorway.
I had learned that St John the Baptist had finally and reluctantly closed its doors in August 1991 citing a decline in the electoral roll and an inability to fund necessary repairs. The deeds and keys were handed over to the Churches Conservation Trust which still cares for its fabric. Would the building be open that day I visited in May of this year? The answer was no, but all was not lost. As I walked up the surprisingly well-kept path a man riding a tractor in the next field stopped his mechanical beast and called out, “If you want the key it’s hanging on an old brick pillar near the old rectory – down that driveway!” I thanked him and retrieved an enormous iron key. The heavy church door opened effortlessly, and a treasure chest was opened!
(To be continued.)