The official TV-tie in to the popular Channel 4 programme 'Penelope Keith's Hidden Villages'Explore the most interesting and beautiful examples of British village life in this lavishly illustrated book, published as a companion volume to the highly successful Channel 4 television series, 'Penelope Keith's Hidden Villages'. Featuring gorgeous illustrations and dust jackets from Brian Cook's iconic designs, the book explores the villages as they appeared then and now.It's hard not to be enchanted by rural villages. From thatched roofs, charming churches, bunting, cream teas and the local landscape, they capture our imaginations. Structured by region, this book follows Penelope's journey through Britain across all four series, including the idyllic villages found in the Costwolds, the cosy cottages of East Anglia and the treasures nestled in the North Yorkshire moors.Pictured alongside Brian Cook's iconic illustrations, Hidden Villages of Britain takes you through the fascinating history and the curious customs and characters unique to each village and how they survive in the present. From bog snorkelling in Llanwrtyd Wells and gravy wrestling in Stacksteads to cheese rolling down Cooper's Hill in Brockworth and dwile flocking (where contestants seek to soak their opponents with a beer-soaked cloth outside the village pub), snippets of the history, life and traditions of each village are fully explored.Whether you are looking for a place for your next holiday, a guide to Britain's rural landscape or have a love for Britain's most inspirational settings, this book is perfect for the armchair traveller.
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A Brian Cook artwork used as a poster for the British Travel and Holidays Association.
Argyll and Bute
Wales and the North West
The South West
Sussex and Kent
Devon and Cornwall
A scene of the Sussex Weald by Brian Cook, used for the cover of South Eastern Survey by Richard Wyndham, 1940.
There are more than 100,000 villages in Britain, each with its own tale to tell of historical shenanigans, hard graft and contemporary larks. From woodland settlements, to coastal fishing villages, from mining communities in Wales and Cornwall, to northern villages forged by industry, they are all places of work, traditions and community. What they are not is places mired in the past: four million British people live in villages and they continue to flourish and develop with initiatives like farmers’ markets and community-run shops and pubs breathing new life into centuries-old settlements.
The story of Britain’s villages is as old as its people. Prehistoric man gathered together in wooden hut circles and, come the Iron Age, hamlets sprang up to house the farming populace. The Romans imposed order on unruly communities, with straight roads and villages laid out on rectilinear grids, but this was only a blip: once they had gone, the settlements returned to haphazard agricultural hamlets.
Order was restored once again with the Anglo Saxons in the late 600s, and villages spread across central England, replacing scattered homesteads. A new grid system of horizontal and vertical axes was introduced, as were boundaries, enclosures and regular plots. Barns and mills also appeared in many of the wealthier communities.
But it was after the Norman invasion of 1066 that the village as we recognise it was born. Cottages were built along streets around a central focus, usually a church, bridge, mill or manor house presided over by the lord of the manor. The poorer folk lived in wattle and daub cottages, which, if they were lucky, had their own private courtyard, vegetable patch and pen to keep an animal or two. The size of the village depended on whether it had a market. If it did, it was held in the nave of the church on Sundays, until protests from the clergy forced them out into the street or marketplace, which became the village’s new hub. Often, these larger villages grew to become market towns with a charter to hold markets or fairs.
Many of these elements still exist in contemporary villages, augmented by more recent additions, such as a pub, shop, village hall or post office. Although cottages from before 1600 are unlikely to have survived, newer homes are often built on their footprint, so the layout of a village often remains the same. As the centuries have rolled on, each village has evolved and grown on a piecemeal basis. Different styles of vernacular architecture, from timber-framed cottages to Victorian brick buildings, sit, side by side, embodying a 3D-representation of the village’s history.
Alfriston Clergy House in East Sussex.
A rural idyll shown in a Batsford guide.
The history of each British village is colourful and action-packed – don’t be fooled by its tranquil and often idyllic appearance: an intriguing and hidden world lies beneath the thatched roofs and church bell towers waiting to be discovered.
Although there is no strict definition, a village is generally defined as a small settlement in a rural setting. It is larger than a hamlet (which earns the right to call itself a village when a church is built), and smaller than a town. Most have agricultural, quarrying, fishing or mining origins: homes were built where the work was. The population of villages ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand, and most are clustered around a central point, most frequently a church or village green – known as a nucleated settlement – although some are strung along a river or line a clifftop. Villages are considered idyllic places to live, far from the noise and pace of city life, and with a close and supportive population.
This is not the full picture, of course: many have become dormitory places for commuters, with many facilities such as pubs and village stores disappearing. As bus routes vanish, villages can be claustrophobic and isolating places to inhabit for those without cars. A new spirit is afoot however, with committed and active villagers taking control of pubs and stores, ensuring that ancient traditions and customs are kept alive and holding annual village events that bring life into the village’s heart.
During the 1930s, a small publishing house, Batsford, produced a series of books that captured the essence of British rural life. The subjects covered included villages, gardens, castles, cottages, county guides, and elements of the landscape, including hills, seashore and trees. They were a snapshot of British country life, chronicling the world of work – haymaking and ploughing, fishermen at their nets – as well as villages clustered around the church or village green, and the rolling and verdant landscape that surrounded them.
While the authors varied from one title to another, one man was responsible for their memorable covers. Brian Cook Batsford’s instantly recognisable artwork with its carefully drawn images and large areas of flat, bright colour, sang out from the bookshelves. His distinctive style, with its bold use of clashing colours, boosted sales of the books, which are still keenly collected today. The consistency of the covers was largely because Brian Cook worked as an illustrator and designer at Batsford for 20 years, from 1928 until 1950. After studying at Repton Art School, he went to work for his publisher uncle Harry Batsford, even changing his name to Brian Batsford at Harry’s request in 1946 – Harry had no heirs and Brian was to inherit the company.
English Village Homes, published in 1936; The Beauty of Britain, published in 1935.
The financial crisis of 1929–31, prompted Harry Batsford to dispense with the services of authors and illustrators and most writers. The only survivors of this staff cull were Charles Fry (who wrote the guides with Harry) and Brian. The first book cover designed by Brian was The Villages of England when he was 21, followed by The Landscape of England, whose jacket was the village of Combe Martin, featured on here of this book.
Brian pioneered the use of the Jean Berté watercolour printing process, in which plates were cut in soft rubber and printed with water-based inks, rather than oil. A separate plate was used for each colour, which accounts for the blocks of colour in Brian’s work. Brian had little regard for the finished product and threw away the covers or ‘wrappers’ as he called them, placing books on his shelves in their cloth bindings. Fortunately, the production manager at Batsford, Francis Lucarotti, kept every jacket safe in an album.
Brian Cook Batsford inherited the business when Uncle Harry died in 1952. Unfortunately for lovers of his artwork, his new responsibilities as Chairman (a position he held until 1974) meant that his output as an illustrator and designer dwindled. He threw his energy into running the company and into his duties as Conservative MP for Ealing South. Despite the change in his circumstances, his love for the British countryside endured. He moved frequently, living all over Britain, all the while taking an active interest in the conservation of buildings and the countryside. After retiring, Brian returned to painting, and when he was 75, he exhibited new work at the Hayward Gallery and the Parkin Gallery. He died in the appropriately scenic village of Winchelsea in 1991.
The Legacy of England, published in 1935; How to See the Country, part of the series of Home Front handbooks published in 1940.
Sitting between Glasgow, Loch Lomond and the Western Isles, Argyll and Bute is an area that often gets overlooked. This is a shame as its villages – sprinkled around the ragged coastline, overlooking deep sea lochs and scattered across the islands of the Inner Hebrides – are well worth seeking out.
This is a landscape of peninsulas and islands where boats are as essential as cars for getting about. More ferry journeys are made in this region than any other part of Scotland, taking locals and visitors to and fro over the sea lochs between fingers of land, including the famous Mull of Kintyre.
The Batsford guide to the region described the area’s villages as ‘usually consisting of little more than a single street of low, whitewashed houses following the main road or fronting a loch. With a general shop, a school and one or more small kirks.’ Things have moved on since then, of course, and although the villages are still remote, many have adapted to change and are now thriving communities.
The harbour at Tarbert, seen across Loch Fyne.
During the early 1900s, you could cross the harbour at Tarbert by walking from one fishing boat to the other. The village was shaped by herring fishing, with 88 boats setting sail daily across Loch Fyne, each with a four-man crew. Evidence of herrings were everywhere – shopkeepers would find fish scales in their tills, deposited from the coins of fishermen.
Times change, of course, and although the fishing boats no longer go out, Tarbert is still a bustling and lively village and home to 1,000 residents. Its position on an isthmus little more than 1 mile (1.6km) wide at the narrowest point of the Kintyre peninsula, means that life in Tarbert will always be about the sea and about boats. Every July, the village’s Traditional Boat Festival attracts vessels and visitors from all over the UK for a weekend of activities that nod to Tarbert’s maritime past.
The village economy at Tarbert was reliant upon herring fishing.
Another important element of the village’s past is the legend of Magnus Barefoot, a young King of Norway who repeatedly raided the west coast of Scotland on longships in 1093. Under constant siege, King Malcolm of Scotland thought it was time to broker a deal with the Viking. He said that Magnus could have all the islands off the west coast separated by water and navigable by ship. When Magnus reached Kintyre he sat at the helm of his boat as the crew hauled it over the isthmus at Tarbert, thus deviously turning it into an island to plunder at will. This legend is re-enacted by villagers every year when they drag a longship from the far loch through the village to the harbour.
For 200 years, the village of Crinan with its lighthouse, hotel and café, has been a canal service station, albeit a very pretty one. Situated on the western end of the Crinan Canal, it has seen cargo boats, fishing vessels and more recently yachts, sail past and out into the Sound of Jura. The canal is a man-made waterway connecting Glasgow with the Western Isles thus avoiding the need to sail around the often-treacherous Mull of Kintyre. Nine miles (14.5km) long, it links Loch Fyne to the Atlantic, and rises from sea level to 65ft (19.8m) and back down again, passing through 15 locks and under seven swing bridges. Its construction in 1801 meant that working vessels could make the journey to the ocean with speed and in safety.
Crinan was really put on the map, however, during a royal visit in 1847. Queen Victoria, Albert and the children were touring the west coast when they realised that the canal was a handy short cut. They boarded a decorated horse-drawn barge and set off accompanied by cheering crowds.
Following their lead, 40,000 people took a similar journey, bringing prosperity and change to the villages along the canal’s route. Steamers ran trips from Loch Fyne to the canal’s entrance at Ardrishaig, where passengers disembarked to board a canal boat, The Linnet. Trips up and down the canal were tremendously popular and went at a leisurely pace so tourists had plenty of time to take in the sights and spend their money as they went. Nowadays, it’s mostly yachts that sail out of Crinan heading out to sea and the Western Islands beyond.
Argyll and Bute has the most inhabited islands of any part of Scotland. The Isle of Bute is one of them and is the location of a charming and unexpected village: Kerrycroy. Seven half-timbered, Tudor-style buildings sit overlooking a sea loch and a village green. The story of how this very un-Scottish settlement came to be built is all about the house in whose grounds it was built: Mount Stuart.
This extravagant neo-Gothic building is the seat of the Marquess of Bute. The family still owns most of the island but in the 19th century their wealth and power was legendary, extending as far as South Wales, where they were involved with the docks and the coal trade.
This wealth is manifest in Mount Stuart, which is said to contain more Italian marble than any other house in Britain. It was also the first home in Scotland to be lit by electricity, centrally heated and with its own telephone system. It was also the first anywhere to boast a heated indoor pool, Roman innovations aside.
Kerrycroy was the project of the 2nd Marquess of Bute and his first wife, Maria North, who wanted her own private village away from the house. The Marquess had made his fortune as an industrialist (he built Cardiff Docks) but led a relatively secluded life at Mount Stuart. In 1818, to please the Marchioness, who was a little homesick for England, her husband agreed that she could design a model village in the grounds in a quasi-English style. The village has half-timbered houses, a village pub and a school. It was inhabited by workers from the estate but was created as a gift.
Watching your destination appear on the horizon from the top deck of a ferry is one of the most romantic ways to travel. Feeling the sea spray as the hull of the boat breaks the waves and watching seabirds dive for fish is a refreshing change from being cooped up in a car.
Part of the pleasure of visiting the Western islands of Scotland is getting there on the ferry. Successful trips depend on a thorough knowledge of the Caledonina MacBrayne ferry timetable. The company, known as Calmac, is the main ferry company connecting the mainland with its peninsulas and with the islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides. These routes are classified as ‘lifeline services’ and are vital to the inhabitants of the islands who rely on them for essentials and to get to and from the mainland.
Not all Scottish ferries are Calmac, though. The ferry to Easdale, which takes children to their schools in Oban and brings provisions back is run by four local ferrymen who live on the island with their families and there are similar small operations all over the country.
1. Mull to Iona, Scotland
Leave the car at Fionnphort on Mull and hop on the ferry to Iona. Ten minutes later you will alight on the white sandy beaches of Scotland’s most spiritual island.
2. Falmouth to St Mawes, Cornwall
A mind-clearing trip from bustling Falmouth across the wide-open mouth of the Carrick Roads estuary to the delightful village of St Mawes with its fish restaurants and attractive seafront.
3. Sandbanks to Studland, Dorset
A quick jaunt across Poole Harbour takes you from the opulence of Sandbanks and its millionaire’s homes to the dunes and villages of Purbeck including Corfe Castle.
4. Southwold to Walberswick, Suffolk
A row boat transports foot passengers from the seaside town of Southwold to the tea rooms, pubs and galleries of Walberswick.
5. Portsmouth to Fishbourne, Isle of Wight
Leave the busy harbour of Portsmouth behind and begin exploration of The Isle of Wight at this village beside a creek.
The ferry leaves the shore at Gigha.
Cows on the island of Gigha, with the ‘Dancing Ladies’ in the background.
Gigha looks like a traditional island with a grocer, a post office and a hardware shop, but unlike neighbouring islands, it is run in a most unusual way. The tiny island – 7 miles (11.3km) long and 1½ miles (2.4km) wide – is currently home to 165 residents. It is a thriving community with well-run amenities, but it has not always been like this.
Over a period of many years, a succession of landowning lairds bought and sold the island for profit, neglecting its infrastructure and not investing in its future. When Gigha was put up for sale once again in 2001, the islanders decided to take matters into their own hands. At the time, there were 87 residents on Gigha, many of who were retired and from fishing and farming backgrounds. Nevertheless, the islanders, encouraged by their local MP, established the Gigha Heritage Trust and raised the £1 million necessary to buy the island; they then went on to raise a further £4 million to improve facilities and infrastructure, from drains to new housing.
One of the Trust’s initiatives has been to install wind turbines, known locally as the Dancing Ladies of Gigha. These not only provide sustainable energy but create revenue: surplus power is sold back to the national grid and the income raised has been invested in building snug, warm eco houses.
A short walk from the village takes you to Achamore House and Gardens, once the home of the laird, but now managed by the Trust. The 54-acre (21.8ha) estate with its walled garden and woodland requires a lot of manpower to maintain. True to the spirit of the island, volunteers pitch in to help with a range of tasks from weeding to grass cutting.
Stretching along the edge of the Kyles of Bute sea channel, the villas of this pretty town have a distinctly Victorian air, especially when the world’s last seagoing paddle steamer, The Waverley, sails past on its way to Arran and Bute.
Things are less genteel on the town’s sports ground, which also overlooks the loch: this is home to Kyles Athletic, one of the best shinty teams in Scotland. For those unsure of what shinty is, the Batsford guide describes the game brilliantly: ‘This lively pastime might be called hockey in the rough, with no nonsense about it. Sticks and rules of a relatively free and easy kind. It’s the sort of game that village boys might improvise with crooked bows and a knot of wood on the common land in the evening.’
Shinty arrived in Scotland from Ireland 1,000 years ago. Today there are 3,000 registered players and 38 of the 50 clubs are based in small communities like Tighnabruaich. The village is also the home of the shinty stick, which is made by three generations of the Blair family – Neil, John and Christopher – all shinty players themselves. Unlike cricket and hockey, shinty players use different sticks depending on the position in which they play. Each stick is made from hickory and can take several days to make.
A 19th-century engraving depicting a game of shinty.
This tiny island of just 25 acres (10.1ha) was once the unlikely capital of the Scottish slate industry. Roof slate mined in its seven quarries has been used on buildings all over the world, as far away as Australia and Canada. Easdale’s quarries were most productive in the 1700s when 500 people lived here. However, in 1850 a storm flooded all the quarries and, with no means of pumping out the water, this put an end to the island’s slate economy. The quarries became pools of water and the village shrank to four people; it looked as if Easdale was going to become a forgotten island.
Fortunately a new community sprang up, and there are now 71 homes on the island, as well as a folk museum, a concert hall, a shop and a pub. Much of this is due to the work of the Easdale Island Community Development Group, which is run by residents. The village’s heritage can be seen in the slate roofs of the former miners’ cottages, which glisten prettily in the rain due to a high percentage of iron pyrite (also known as fool’s gold).
Slate is also the driving force behind Easdale’s new international notoriety. Every September, the island hosts the World Stone Skimming Championships in one of its disused quarries. This is much more than a village sport: up to 350 stone skimmers travel here from as far as Poland and India to take part. They compete to skim a piece of slate the furthest (it must bounce at least three times) and competition is fierce and lively: an unusual but effective way to keep the island flourishing.
The World Stone Skimming Championships, held annually at Easdale.
Stone skimming and shinty are just two of the sports that are enjoyed in British villages. They may sound unfamiliar but they serve the same purpose as more familiar games like cricket: they bring everyone together, and encourage friendly competition with other communities.
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