The village of Audlem is to be found in the county of Cheshire, to the south of Crewe. The village has a population of 1,790 residing within the civil parish of 2,348 acres, and the village itself stands at the intersection of the A525 which runs from Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire to Wrexham in Wales, and the A629 which runs from Nantwich in Cheshire down through Market Drayton to Newport in Shropshire; indeed Audlem lies only a mile north of the Cheshire-Shropshire border. Audlem most notably features the decorated and perpendicular church of St. James which stands on a mound in the centre of the town, parts of which date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and the Market House with its eight stone pillars. The village has its own Audlem St. James' Church of England Primary School, and lies within the boundaries of Cheshire East unitary council (at least it will in 2009 when the changes take effect) where it forms part of the Cholmondeley ward that duly returned three Conservative councillors by some considerable margin at the Local Elections in 2008.
The name of Audlem is derived from the Old English 'old lyme', where lyme means 'elm tree' and by association 'forest', hence the number of place names featuring the word lyme. The village appears in the Domesday Book as 'Aldelime', when the manor was part of the feudal barony of Shipbrook which was in the possession of Richard de Vernon. It was granted a charter for a market by Edward I in 1296, although perhaps the most exciting event in its history occurred during the English Civil War when there was a skirmish nearby at Moss Hall Fields on the 19th May 1644. A grammar school was founded soon after in 1655, although presumably this was a replacement for an existing school, as there is a minor Elizabethan poet known as Geoffrey Whitney the Younger, who went to school in Audlem and devoted one of the poems in his Choice of Emblems (1586) in praise of that establishment.
During the eighteenth century the village was the home of Dr John Bellyse (1738-1829), known as the 'Cockfighting Bellyse' and there is a memorial lamp stand erected in the village in commemoration his son and successor Dr Richard Baker Bellyse, which reminds the world that "yet death will seize the doctor too". However the most significant event in the village's history was when the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal was built between 1827 and 1835 and passed right through the village. This later merged with the earlier Chester Canal when both were acquired by the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company, and became known as the Shropshire Union Main Line or the Shropshire Union Canal as it is known today.
Thanks to the fact that the canal passes through a largely rural landscape, the Shropshire Union Canal is now a popular holiday route, and Audlem, like many other locations en route, has benefited from becoming a tourist attraction. Indeed Audlem is described by Visit Chester and Cheshire as "an ever-popular picturesque village in the heart of Cheshire's Upper Weaver Valley set beside the Shropshire Union Canal", and by British Waterways as an "increasingly important destination in itself", with a "popular waterside public house" and "extensive moorings" and the "southern gateway to the Weaver Valley Regional Park". In recognition of its picturesque qualities, in 2005 the village won the Calor Northern Village of the Year and was also a recipient of the Defra 'building community life' award, and in the following year it won Cheshire's Best Kept Village award as it had done before in 1975, 1976 and 1989. Whilst, no doubt in order to promote its attractions to would be tourists, the Audlem Music Festival and Carnival Weekend is held every May; June features the Audlem VE Festival, and the month of July begins with the Audlem's Proms On The Park, the Audlem Open Garden and Scarecrow Competition, and ends with the Audlem Festival of Transport.
It was during the spring of 2008 that Audlem succeeded in at least briefly, achieving some kind of national and indeed international fame when the story emerged of the proposal that the village should secede from England and rather become part of Wales.
It seems the whole idea started as an April Fool's Day joke on the Audlem.org website, which suggested that by joining Wales the village could enjoy the benefits of "free prescriptions; free parking at NHS hospitals, and a Grand Slam winning rugby team". Unfortunately it wasn't true that the Welsh enjoyed free parking at National Health Service hospitals, any more than it was true that "every Welsh village with more than ten dwellings" had a "large Sports Centre", but nevertheless when the local Leighton Hospital in Crewe suddenly doubled its parking charges, some of the residents decided to take the matter further and decided to place an poll on the Audlem website.
Whilst it is perfectly true that if you drove west along the A525 for nine miles or so you would indeed hit the Welsh border, Audlem did not necessarily seem the most obvious candidate for secession from England, but nevertheless it was claimed that there were "at least four Welsh-speakers in Audlem", whilst one resident named Ralph Warburton, argued that "We're so close to Wales, we get more response from Wales, we get a lot of tourists from Wales and we feel we should be part of Wales". However as one of the organisers, Bob Cartwright put it, "The poll will be seen, we hope, as a humorous way to make a serious point". The 'serious point' being in this case, that since Devolution granted a degree of autonomy to both Scotland and Wales, various differences have emerged between the provision of public services between England and these two nations, a fact which has frequently led the English to complain that they are getting a raw deal compared to their Celtic neighbours.
As of the 26th May 2008, the website had registered a total of 1,167 votes on the question of 'Would you like Audlem to apply to be part of Wales?'. 762 of which had voted in favour of joining Wales, with 386 against and 19 unsure, which appeared to suggest that the issue had excited some interest in the community, since it was this was certainly more than the 557 people who had voted on the issue of double yellow lines in the village centre. However there appeared to be no way of knowing whether all those who had voted were indeed Audlem residents and one suspects that many were simply other interested parties who just happened to be passing by.
- Audlem Online at http://www.audlem.org/
- Audlem at www.thornber.net/cheshire/htmlfiles/audlem.html
- English Poetry 1579-1830
- Origin of the suffix "-Lyme"
- The Domesday Book online
- Audlem Project Ensures Boaters Stay Locked On Course, 14 February 2007
- The County of Cheshire: Cheshire Townships, Cities and Major Villages - General
- Visitcheshire - Audlem
- English village holds vote to join Wales, Daily Telegraph, 24/04/2008
- English village votes to be Welsh, BBC News, 25 April 2008