Is traditional English country life vanishing today? We like to think some of the spirit of Old England still survives in our own village here.
The popularity of the book and film ‘Akenfield‘ and of TV ‘period dramas’ of the past show there is still a nostalgia for a lost world of vanishing English country life.
Living in a village, as we do, forces us to think local and become aware of a sense of our own place and to listen to local voices, especially those of the older generation. Ronald Blythe did this. “‘Akenfield‘ largely wrote itself,” he says, “and, bred in village life, I merely listened, watched and wrote it down.” Mary Mitford did the same in her 19th century sketches of village life, ‘Our Village‘, so too did John Clare in his ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar‘.
“A small world of our own where we know every one, are known to every one, interested in every one, and authorised to hope that every one feels an interest in us….. and to learn to know and to love the people about us, with all their peculiarities, just as we learn to know and to love the nooks and turns of the shady lanes and sunny commons that we pass every day.”From Mary Russel Mitford’s ‘Our Village’
Welcome to Our Village
Before sunrise, life stirs in our West Sussex village with the sound of an early morning delivery lorry unloading at the village store. Soon there will be other sounds. People on the way to work, the voices of children going to school and later, mums with toddlers in push-chairs bound for the play group.
By mid-morning the village shop and post office will be busy – a good place for meeting and chatting with friends. The whole village comes here one time or another. There’s even a butcher who also sells locally grown veg. Many English villages these days have lost shop, post office and even school. We’re privileged to have all three, including a well-used Village Hall. The old school opposite the church (above photo) is now the local library. I know many in other villages would envy us with all these facilities.
Today the local fields are deserted, but in the distant past many of the villagers would have been at work there. When we first came we used to hear sounds of the cows in the fields of the local farm. Now the farm grows wheat. We are reminded that we are still in the countryside by the smell at muck -spreading time and, at harvest time, by the busy hum of the combine harvester at work.
The lively Parish Church presides over everything. The sound of its clock holding the village together as a centre point of reference, calming and slowing us down like the ‘sleeping policemen’ that have been put in to slow the speeding traffic passing through the village.
Thursday is bell practice evening as they joyfully ring out across the cold winter air. The bells are very much part of life here, they carry memories and remind us of Old England.
Evening in the Village
As light begins to fade, from our rear kitchen window we look out over the village rooftops nestled together out of the winter winds and cold.
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,From Edward Grey’s ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
Today, with work finished for the day, we have no ‘lowing herd‘ or ‘weary ploughman‘ but instead relieved commuters returning from work. We watch lights begin to come on as the village settles down for a winter evening at home.
Last week the roads into the village centre were closed for our ‘Traders’ Evening’ with open shops, library and church, plus a peal of church bells to celebrate. It was a festive occasion with carol singing in the street. Village life is alive and well in this village even in winter I’m pleased to say.
Our history goes back to c 1700 BC showing evidence of a Middle Bronze Age settlement. Our Roman Villa site, a mile from the village was excavated in 1937. People have lived here for a least 3700 years and have clustered round our 12th century Norman church, for the past 800 years.
With the decline of traditional country life most media attention these days focuses on the noise and commotion of city life. Quiet village life in its modern form can offer something much more worthwhile and satisfying. Somewhere to belong, put down roots, get to know neighbours and join in something of village life. Community is a precious thing. We’re grateful to have found it here.