No one knows how Meriden, near Coventry came to be known as the centre of England for more than 500 years. Maybe it began with drovers moving livestock diagonally through the country, finding Meriden to be three days from London and three days from Chester. Maybe it was dreamed up by tallow light in the Bull’s Head: a novel way to draw coaches to the inn. Geographically it wasn’t a farfetched imagining, though, and nor is viewing the old boundaries of Warwickshire as England’s symbolic heart.
On Meriden village green in the West Midlands (formerly Warwickshire), a 1951 plaque declares that the wayside cross above it marks the traditional centre of England.
Where is the new centre of England?
According to more recent (and accurate) calculations by Ordnance Survey in 2002, the geographic centre of England has been found to be a field at Lindley Hall Farm in Leicestershire – 11 miles from the original site.
What are the Midlands counties?
Landlocked Warwickshire borders with seven Midlands counties: Leicestershire and Staffordshire in the north and Gloucestershire and northern Oxfordshire in the south, its feet in the golden Cotswolds. To the east, Northamptonshire, the Rose of the Shires, and in the west, Worcestershire and the West Midlands, where JRR Tolkien’s imagination would take flight to create the rustic Shire of Middle Earth. Warwickshire is the county Henry James described as “mid-most England, unmitigated England”: wooded, undulating, and largely undramatic until met with half-timbered houses and lias-built (lias is a kind of limestone) churches. There it becomes idyllic. This is the home of modern rugby, George Eliot, and a playwright we’ll meet soon.
The best villages to visit in the Midlands
Of the many villages waiting to catch our eye, Welford-on-Avon is also one of the prettiest. Set in a bend of the River Avon, four miles south-west of Stratford-upon-Avon, it has a Norman church perched above timber-framed cottages, which are rendered plump and endearing with white- painted plaster and bonny thatched heads. Local lore has made the flagstone floors and cosy replaces of the 17th-century Bell Inn the scene of our unmentioned writer’s final ‘merry meeting’. Easier to prove is Welford’s other most English of boasts: to have one of the country’s tallest maypoles.
Boat Lane, Welford-on-Avon, Photo © William Matthews