First Village of the North

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Canal at Cheshire - Shropshire border south of Audlem

Each month, Audlem Online writes an article about the village that's published in the Whitchurch Gossip and Market Drayton Gossip magazines.

Many in Audlem receive a free copy of one of these publications. Some Audlem Online readers, however, live outside their free distribution area and may want to read what's said about the village in print.

This was the February article. The theme was triggered by a photograph sent to Audlem Online.

#First village of the North
The photograph, taken days ago by Audlem resident Geoff Smethurst, shows a pleasant winter canal scene. But beneath Geoff’s feet is a significant line — yet one that’s unseen and unmarked.

For this is where the North of England starts, where Shropshire becomes Cheshire, where the West Midlands become the North of England.

There’s no border guards, no customs — although many years ago tolls were collected near the border. One of the first roads a traveller from Whitchurch or Market Drayton will encounter in Audlem is Tollgate Drive. Sadly, the toll gate is no more. It was demolished in 1947 but for many years had been used to collect tolls on carriages — although a return journey on the same day was free!

Many centuries earlier, soon after the Norman conquest, Cheshire was virtually independent, passing its own laws, and imposing its own taxes. That period came to an end in 1237, forty years before the date Audlem’s magnificent St James’ church is said to date from.

Local borders have been of interest more recently when, in 2008, Audlem’s website announced on 1st April — note the date — that Audlem was applying to become part of Wales. The reason — free prescriptions and no hospital parking charges. 

Amazingly, the very same day, prescription charges and hospital parking fees were increased by the Government and hospital authorities. Sensing a good story, Audlem Online ran an electronic poll asking if the village really should apply to join the nearby Principality.

Most in the village sensed the tongue-in-cheek nature of the poll and voted accordingly -  over 1,000 people voted with over 60% in favour of applying! Perhaps Alex Salmond and the SNP should visit Audlem to find out how to get the right result in a referendum.

The result of the Welsh vote was five TV programmes, including three at prime-time on BBC1, One national newspaper, the Independent, ran a full-page article on Audlem and radio stations as far away as New Zealand and Canada covered the story in detail.

Last year, the BBC’s The One Show returned to Audlem. The village was to refurbish its toilets, viewers were told, just as hundreds of public toilets across the land were being closed. Audlem would rival Manchester — both could boast one working public toilet.

Audlem’s splendidly refurbished conveniences are now open bearing a plaque: The First (or last) Public toilets as you arrive in (or leave) The North of England.

Audlem takes its role in the North seriously. A few years ago it was declared Village of the North beating off competition from as far away as Berwick upon Tweed. Visit Audlem and you’ll soon see why it won.

Today, the First village of the North is well-known for its many events and Festivals. including its Carnival which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year on 4th June. Look out for news of these events on Audlem Online, in the Gossip magazine and Audlem leaflets to be published very soon.