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Thread: England's Green and Pleasant Land

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    Default England's Green and Pleasant Land



    ENGLAND’S GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND

    And did those feet in ancient time
    Walk upon England's mountains green?
    And was the holy Lamb of God
    On England's pleasant pastures seen?






    I have added illustrations and comments in italics to the following Los Angeles Times story partly about a nation honing its taste for the twee…My apologies to the author; his article is in there—complete-- among my barnacles.





    True Love of Country in England

    City dwellers are moving to villages in record numbers. Rural economies benefit, but some say at too high a cost to the locals.

    By John Daniszewski

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    Four Views in Kingham (pop. 969)

    KINGHAM, England — When Chris Harvey walks out of his house, Wiggals Corner, and ambles around the streets of his adopted village, the retired postman and amateur cider-maker rarely gets too far.

    That’s because Chris has to pass right by all the villagers’ yardless front doors. The ones who want to chat can just step out and greet him:


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    It's a "hullo" there, and "a bit of a chat" here, and once again he is convinced that he was right to move to Kingham, which he calls "the friendliest village in England." When he left his London suburb 32 years ago, his father said he was daft to head for the sticks, an hour and a half from the capital; he should buy a nice suburban semi-detached instead.


    A nice semi-detached, but not suburban.

    What seemed crazy at the time has turned out to be a trend. Britain is now believed to be the only country in Europe that has a net migration out of, rather than into, its cities.



    Good rail connections[!], the high price of city homes, a quest for a better life, and Britons' inbred love of the countryside are some of the explanations offered for the exodus. But it is a double-edged sword.


    The English all squawk about the rail system, which in fact is superb; they should experience Amtrak.

    Although the newcomers may bring a needed dollop of vitality to the countryside and in some cases create businesses and jobs, they also push up real estate prices for longtime residents.

    As longtime resident of a neighborhood where newcomers pushed up real estate prices, I must express heartfelt thanks to those who did this for me, and I’m sure my fellow oldtimers feel the same. I can refinance my house every few years for dizzying amounts and am made prosperous beyond my wildest dreams; my neighbor buys a new Corvette every now and then. I look forward to even more pushing up of real estate prices with grateful anticipation.



    Some villages have ceased to be real communities; rather, they have become picture-book places inhabited by people who commute elsewhere for work and don't take an active role in local life.

    This is a somewhat difficult phenomenon to illustrate, since it doesn’t show up much in photos; buildings look about the same whether the occupant is a commuter or not. On those rare occasions when new suburban development is allowed in England, however, the difference is evident from the air. Here the road separates an old village (far right) with its idiosyncratic development pattern, from the newer suburb with its looped spaghetti street pattern and its ritualized lots, reminiscent of suburbs everywhere, with their uniform setbacks and standardized fitting of house to lot. This is a pretty benign example, but Suburbia nonetheless:



    Meanwhile, farming, the original activity of the village, hardly figures at all in the employment picture today. Only 1.8% of Britons now farm, the lowest percentage in the nation's history. (Since the advent of tractors, fewer farmers are needed to work the land.) Small holdings increasingly are being bought up by the incoming urbanites and often are kept up merely to look pretty, or leased out to existing farm concerns. (Efficient agribusiness also doesn’t require lots of farmers.)

    Britain’s return to rural tenant farming recreates feudal business patterns in which the squire rents out his land for agriculture. This pattern has been in relative abeyance for centuries and is now surging back. It’s pretty common in the U.S. too, but in the U.S. even more farms have reverted to second growth forest (scrub). This is the main reason England’s countryside looks so much prettier, with those sweeping vistas and wide-open spaces. (Rural Pennsylvania and parts of Maine are among the American exceptions that somewhat resemble England; in a few places you might even find a genuine village, though they’re now very rare in North America.)


    Farmland with manor house.


    Vast vistas.


    A squire’s house.


    A prosperous yeoman’s comfy cottage. Does the yeoman commute?


    This yeoman farms.

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    In Kingham, the bulldozer magnate Anthony Bamford has acquired much of the surrounding gentle hills and fields. For the last two years, his wife--(breaking ranks with those carpetbaggers who don’t get involved in local life)-- has added to the area's cachet with an eye-catching cafe and farm shop that sells prize-winning organic and gourmet foods, including artisan breads and cheeses, produce and sausages, mostly from the couple's own farms. (I’m sure the politely-amused oldtimers continue to shop where they always have.)


    An establishment for yuppies.

    It's so fancy that some locals have dubbed it the "Harrods of the Cotswolds." In their literature, the proprietors say they are particularly proud of the "dog parking" area fitted with watering bowls. Although the prices may be high for many locals, the shop draws a steady stream of connoisseurs and tourists, and their pounds sterling, to Kingham.


    Pounds sterling are shipped principally on summer weekends in the pockets of (much too) brightly-colored clothing, and sometimes in shorts, which locals never wear. Pounds sterling are actually more attracted to towns than to villages.

    This village of 700 (Kingham actually has 969, according to the census) people in Oxfordshire County, on the edge of England's famed Cotswolds region, has a history that dates at least to the Domesday Book of 1086. It was recently honored by Country Life magazine, the bible of the country set, as its favorite village in England, much to the amazement of some inhabitants.


    A chocolate-box village.

    "I'm a bit surprised, because it isn't a chocolate-box type of village," parish council Chairman Keith Hartley told reporters after the accolade. "It's more of a working village than a tourist village. But it's got a great all-round atmosphere."


    A village is a very small but distinctly urban place surrounded by farmland (or, rarely, wilderness). It differs from Suburbia in that people walk. A frequent hallmark of a truly walkable small place is that there are no or few sidewalks. This is not an oversight or a hardship; you generally have the street to yourself when on foot. (Sure beats speed bumps.) This condition was noted and reproduced by the designers of Poundbury and Seaside, who are observers of the real rather than theoreticians of the abstract.
















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    Unlike some villages that have lost all their indigenous life, Kingham still has a primary school, a small industrial area, a combined post office and shop, three pubs, a charming hotel built on the site of the town's medieval flour mill and a main-line railway station. Fairs and football on the village field are still part of the local scene.

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    A village school and (abandoned) industry (what a great house this would make for a yuppie).

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    Two village post office shops: Combe (left) and Evershot (right).

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    Village Inns with pubs: the drinkers arrive (and more importantly, leave on foot; the travelers arrive by car (find the car park access in both photos). If a drinker arrives by car and proposes to leave while tanked (the English word for this condition is “pissed”), the publican can suggest a nice upstairs room for the night.


    Football in the Stroud Valley.

    According to the Countryside Agency, a governmental body set up to attend to the concerns of rural residents, 14.1 million people — 28.5% of England's population — live in rural districts. The rural population has grown by 13.7% in the last two decades, with a quarter of the new arrivals settling in the southwestern countryside, an area that has remained bucolic despite its relative proximity to London.




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    Bucolic: wouldn’t it be nice if we could preserve a little more of that in our own poor, battered, abused, and sprawl-afflicted land. On every visit I marvel at how much better preserved and more scenic Europe’s countryside is (and don’t forget the cities.). We are said to inhabit “America the Beautiful”, but most of the beauty here has retreated to designated preserves; the National Parks are like ghettoes of beauty. And even these--as annual budget cuts begin to show effects-- grow increasingly threadbare.

    The agency estimates that 115,000 people move to the country from urban areas each year. Since 2000, 352,000 more people have moved into England's rural areas than have left them; half of the migrants were between the ages of 25 and 44 — in other words, the prime working years.


    A migrant or just a tourist?

    As novelist John Lanchester put it in a recent essay for the Guardian newspaper, an elegy for the less-spoiled countryside he remembers, "In other words, every year a city slightly bigger than Exeter disappears, and reappears wearing green wellies and complaining about the bypass. This has been going on for a decade and a half."


    A person “wearing green wellies” (rubber boots): a necessity in rural England’s moist climate.

    At least you can walk in the British countryside without fear of being shot for trespass by an irate farmer. A system of country lanes allows you to hike (or even bike) from end to end of Britain without trespassing or using highways. Many take advantage of this fact to walk across fields, moors and downs as shortcuts from village to village.

    Novelist Lanchester’s contention that the countryside was formerly less spoiled is technically somewhat true, but not by much; Britain’s virtual ban on rural development guarantees that. The novelist should visit the United States for a more dramatic view of what spoiling the countryside can mean.

    The migrating “city slightly bigger than Exeter” has actually depopulated the northern cities containing the legendary mills. Their population is moving to the economically greener pastures of London, while wealthy Londoners are drifting into the idyllic countryside.


    And did the Countenance Divine
    Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
    And was Jerusalem builded here
    Among these dark Satanic mills?


    It means that urbanites moving to the countryside find that their neighbors are an awful lot like them.


    Local or transplanted urbanite? Does it really make much difference?

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    "If my own experience is anything to go by, your neighbors in the sticks are more likely to be thirty- and fortysomething graphic designers, IT consultants and, of course, journalists, than smock-wearing yokels," said Hester Lacey, writing in the Guardian about her experience moving to the country.


    Possibly a yokel, but missing the smock.

    Digression: There is currently a great wringing of hands in Boston over the de-yokelization (or actually de-Italianization) of the North End, which urbotourists prize for its gaggles of elderly male Sicilians. These stand or sit around on sidewalks and comment in two languages on the passing scene. Their fadeout is commonly regretted on forums by epicures of the urban, but perhaps for selfish reasons; how many grousing middle-class habitues of the new North End Starbuck’s have considered that a picturesque Sicilian flaneur might actually be
    grateful to retire to Son-the-Doctor’s suburban McMansion and its limitless television reruns sampled in air-conditioned comfort?

    I myself regret having missed seeing the Chinese in Mao costumes, Turks in fezzes (I missed this one by eons), cowpokes in six-guns, and tennis players in white slacks, and I will probably miss Peruvian women in bowler hats; but I did manage to catch the Combat Zone and the line-up of floozies on the rue St. Honore before they moved to the Internet. And like many New Yorkers, I miss the three-card monte in Times Square.

    Picturesque humanity as part of the ambiance: I agree that generally I find people like myself boring—at least in gaggles on the sidewalk, though not so much in one-on-one conversation, for which I prefer the like-minded. On the sidewalk I favor groupings of rap singers, turbaned Sikhs, Orthodox Jews, even juvenile delinquents (at a distance) or (best of all) pretty girls-- but
    someone obviously likes all those Starbucks; how else do you explain their proliferation and success?

    It is, however, fairly hypocritical of us to bleed our hearts over the preservation of lifestyles not our own and a “sense of community” we find hard to pin down. This is not, after all, the survival of species, and what do we really know about the merits of other ways of life?

    Can we be so dead sure that “yokel” who sold his leaky cottage to the London stockbroker for two cool million did the wrong thing for himself and his family? Maybe he and his wife can be found today by the pool in Acapulco, margarita in hand.

    We rue the passing of this or that community, but isn’t there also a Starbucks community (unexotic) fading in to replace it? As we get prosperously post-Industrial, sooner or later everyone turns into a yuppie. Are we perhaps anthropologists? And if we were…?

    Ultimately, I think we just find
    ourselves boring. Maybe we should start wearing fezzes.


    A local shopper pauses in a country town to enjoy a cup of tea. Or perhaps: A shopping tourist pauses in a country town to enjoy a latte.


    Could go either way on this crew, though locals generally don’t wear shorts. Still, the bicycle is kind of old-fashioned…


    Standing at the very edge of the town of Shaftesbury, a man and his son (grandson?) survey the country beyond the (now-vanished) town walls. Are they tourists? Or could they be locals? Does it matter?

    Land-use rules imposed by planners since the late 1940s have suppressed suburban sprawl in Britain. One result is that truly rural landscapes beckon just beyond city limits. Much of the countryside remains postcard perfect: a pastiche of green fields and small woodlands, dotted by neat villages and church steeples, and unmarred by malls, billboards, fast-food eateries or other eyesores.








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    According to the Countryside Agency, people say the country offers a better quality of life in a cleaner environment with less crime. Also, as mobility improves, more people are willing to live farther from work.


    If you can afford it, why not?

    Richard Wakeford, the agency's chief executive, is an example. He lives in Gloucestershire, 100 miles from London, and travels there three days a week. But with cellphones and broadband Internet access, he can stay on top of his job from almost any location, he says.



    "This is the new paradigm," he said. "You don't need to be anywhere anymore. And that is the liberating factor."





    In some areas, the arrival of city people bent on preservation is boosting the economy. There has been a revival in such trades as blacksmithing, thatching, dry stonewalling and woodworking: The "heritage building sector" has become a $4-billion-a-year industry, employing up to 500,000 people.

    This turn of events was predicted decades ago by the prescient Leon Krier, who also knew that forecasting it was one way to help make it happen. (Best to prophesy those things that you would actually like to see transpire. An optimistic outlook generally helps improve the future.)

    .
    A new stone wall takes form, reviving long dormant skills. Would you rather build a stone wall in the country or work on Ford’s assembly line for the same money? There is also renewed interest in the trade of thatching.

    "Crafts no longer exist to service agriculture and the traditional rural community but, instead, the lifestyle needs of … the new genus of country dweller," the agency said in a recent report.


    A newly-built stone wall encloses a court to make a precinct for two houses. Are the occupants related? Could you imagine being able to do this under conventional American suburban zoning?

    In addition, each self-employed migrant to rural areas creates an average of 2.4 jobs, said Aileen Stockdale, a professor of land economy at Aberdeen University who helped conduct a recent study on the subject for the Royal Geographical Society.


    Down the hill, a quite newly-thatched roof or two. What do you bet some of the more beat-up tile roofs shortly follow suit, now that the cost of thatching is headed down?

    Too often, she said in a telephone interview, the influx of city types is perceived in negative terms. But her research showed that many people who made the move were shifting to self-employment and launching new businesses. They present the potential for rural economic regeneration, she said.


    Thatched roofs of varied vintage enhance rural cottages and probably yield a handsome return at resale time. A “cottage” in rural England is often a rowhouse.

    “Community” and a little urbanity surrounded by countryside: isn’t that what we say we hope to get in the suburbs? So we make up zoning laws to bring it to us as surely as gasoline puts out fires.

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    In fact, it is something of a myth that all the migrants are commuting into the cities. "The vast majority" finds work within 12 to 15 miles of where they settle, she said.

    .
    Some seriously small residences. Have they heard of mandated minimum square footages?

    Another professor, Anne Power of the London School of Economics, sounded an alarm this month that the rising migration from urban areas was disturbing the social balance, and urged the government to take steps to discourage it and regenerate cities. (Agree about regenerating cities; not sure about discouraging migration.)


    A place where some forms of social balance are restored daily.

    Urban "depopulation leads to depleted services, empty property, a growing sense of abandonment, decay and population polarization, with the poorer left behind," the professor of social policy told the BBC.

    Bring me my bow of burning gold:
    Bring me my arrows of desire:
    Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
    Bring me my chariot of fire.


    * * *

    In Kingham, some people do commute to London — the 7:25 a.m. train gets to Paddington Station before 9. But others work in and around Oxford, the growing college town, which is half an hour away.



    Simon Merton, a real estate agent in Moreton-in-Marsh, about 20 minutes from here, said the factors driving sales in Kingham were good schools and "the desire to get out of London."



    "What starts as leaving London and renting a cottage for weekends becomes buying a house in the Cotswolds and selling out in London," he said.

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    In the current market, it takes 1 million pounds, nearly $2 million, to acquire a five-bedroom house in the area that includes a garden, tennis court and paddock for the children's ponies.

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    There is no dearth of demand, he said. "We have about 800 people on our list at the moment. They are a mixed bunch, some from town, some wanting to move within the area, but they all have over 500,000 pounds to spend."

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    One person who made the move in recent years is Derek Thomas, 64, a retired aerospace engineer who sold his suburban London house at a profit and bought a light-filled converted stable in Kingham. He joined the walkers club, and his wife signed up for the Women's Institute service organization nearby.





    "My wife never stops telling me how much she enjoys it," he said of their new home. "Here you can look up and see the Milky Way. It's so beautiful at night."














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    Sometimes people find that country life falls short of expectations.



    "A lot of people in England have an idealized picture of rural idyll and living in a thatched cottage surrounded by rose bushes without actually seeing the wider picture of being perhaps isolated from services," said Nigel Ellway, a spokesman for the Countryside Agency. "A number of journalists ask me if I have figures about the number who move back later after being disillusioned. The answer is, I don't know."



    Wakeford, the agency's chief executive, said one ongoing concern was how to keep the countryside affordable for those who grew up or worked in rural areas.



    In the Yorkshire Dales, a particularly beautiful part of England that has become a favorite destination for migrants, the area National Park Authority is considering a plan to mandate that all newly built housing be sold only to people who are local or take local jobs. With even small cottages now selling for more than $300,000, the aim is to prevent the area from becoming unaffordable to all but wealthy Londoners.





    If the plan succeeds, other districts are likely to follow suit.



    Kingham's novel response to the problem was to build 13 "dual-equity" houses in the village's traditional honey-colored limestone. People linked to the town, such as children of residents, could live in them and become part-owners at a reduced cost; the rest of the ownership would stay with the governing local council.


    The construction quality of yore is—amazingly—matched. All that’s missing is 400 years of grime. That will come, because these houses will last that long.


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    John Parslow, owner of the Mill House Hotel, was a courier company executive before he decided to retire and buy the ultra-comfy hotel 10 years ago.


    A comfy hotel.

    The business has had its ups and downs, he said, sitting in front of a roaring fire in the bar area. But he enthused over the pleasant aspects of country life — knowing the neighbors, the scenery and walks, the celebrations on the village green and the peacefulness.


    Another comfy hotel.

    Harvey, too, has an almost infectious enthusiasm for Kingham. Whether pointing out the tomb of a Norman knight in the 14th century church, the wooden beams of the parish hall or the embroidered banner carried in 19th century marches, the retired postman is an unabashed salesman for the rural way of life.

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    VILLAGES IN CONTEXT:


    A Cotswolds village.


    Bere Regis.


    Abbotsbury.


    A very large village (or maybe really a small town): Bridport.

    Two longtime residents, Derek Tyack, 67, and Frank Palmer, 78, welcome the village's more recent economic renaissance. But they also sound a little wistful about the past.

    Before the carpetbaggers started buying homes, they came as tourists to gawk at the pcturesque scenes that included buildings, countryside and the locals. There were also a few bona fide tourist attractions. What would otherwise be the sleepy village of Cerne Abbas is overrun with tourists come to see The Giant:


    Cerne Abbas.

    The Giant adorns a hillside just outside the village. He’s evidence of how long people have lived hereabouts if you believe those who say he’s neolithic.


    The Giant of Cerne Abbas.

    Others think he’s a Seventeenth Century hoax; that’s when he was first mentioned in print.



    He seems real enough to those who come to him to have their shortcomings mended:



    You can imagine what the gift shops sell.

    * * *

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    STREETSCAPE OF LARGE VILLAGES/SMALL TOWNS:

    CERNE ABBAS: Three street scenes, the last featuring some medieval cottages.







    CORFE:

    An especially picturesque village:



    Tourists come here to climb to the ruined castle:



    Corfe really is somewhere between a large village and a small town. Most buildings touch throughout, and there is more commerce than just the usual village pub(s):




    Abbottsbury has the population of a village (480) but something of the built-up look of a town.


    You could say the same of Puncknowle (pop. 451; 1891 pop. 427).


    Evershot.


    Lyme Regis.

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    Shaftesbury, a market town with lots of commerce (pop. 6209).


    New houses in the town of Dorchester (pop. 16,171).


    Dorchester.


    Dorchester.


    Lyme Regis.


    The town of Sherborne boasts three-story buildings, but the countryside is still…just over there.


    A house in Sherborne that Sir Walter Raleigh might have known.


    Christchurch: an attractive town.


    Christchurch: Eighteenth Century New York must have resembled this.


    Christchurch: somebody let in a little modernism. Could be worse, but it does introduce a certain machine order. Mass production in a run of three. Were they looking to save on architectural fees? Or is it just that modernist architects are
    required to think this way?

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