Look back with Little: Changes to country life

Part of the traditional heart of Bloxham
Part of the traditional heart of Bloxham

In April 1979 Country Life magazine published an article entitled Oxfordshire’s Changed Villages.

This was written by M.M. Bates and B.V. Cudmore who identified major contrasts with the outcome of a 1943 survey of rural North Oxfordshire by the Agricultural Research Institute of Oxford University.

I suspect few people will have read the text of the forties study. Much greater awareness is apparent as a result of a film called 24 Square Miles. This embraced parishes between Banbury and Chipping Norton and revealed huge discrepancies in the provision of facilities and services as between villages. In the commentary accompanying the film John Arlott refers to electricity supplies leapfrogging certain places.

Details of the 1943 survey are contained in a book entitled Country Planning.

Especially interesting is the final chapter headed Where do we go from here? This opens with a statement of the two most important targets for such planning.

The first was to make land utilization in general and agriculture in particular more efficient. A second objective was to bring living conditions and life opportunities for the countryman up to the standard achieved elsewhere within the community.

Towards the end of this chapter readers are assured that there are no implied threats to the attractiveness of villages. Instead the survey presenters were keen to ensure that the pattern of settlement should reflect each successive generation. In saying this they were conscious of just how far planning and reconstruction had to go before ‘the life of the countryman both materially and culturally is likely to approach the fullness of contentment’.

The 1979 Country Life article views the 36 years gap as sufficient to permit a transition from farming villages to mainly commuter villages.

It sets out to reveal the consequences of this change of emphasis.

The growth of car traffic was paralleled by a loss of bus services accompanied by a mismatch of timetables and identified needs.

Two main problems arose: the impact of parking on the environment and the subdivision of villages by increasingly busy roads.

Whereas in the 1940s most new housing was infilled into the existing pattern of development, by the 1980s village fringes had become target locations as illustrated in Bloxham, Bodicote and Deddington. In the case of the last of these developers called Triprocus Properties submitted a proposal for four detached dwellings which they wanted to erect near to the Clifton Road.

Many local people complained that these would spoil the view across the Cherwell Valley. Cherwell District Council assistant planner Clive Bodley commented that the site was not within reasonable development limits and the housing would aggravate the existing settlement straggle along the Clifton Road.

In 1943 village shopping was typically represented by a general store along with a butcher and baker possibly with the addition of a visit from a Co-op van.

By the late 1970s some new housing developments had relocated shops which diverted business from the village centre stores.

Equally important was the increased spending power combined with greater mobility that meant that journeys to town became less an occasion and more a weekly routine with the inevitable impact on village services.

One of the biggest changes between 1943 and 1979 was the marked growth of private car traffic identified by the Country Life article.

Busy roads carrying through traffic turned into village divides, often with additional damage to pavements and verges making walking and cycling around the village more hazardous.

In Adderbury concern was about the impact of the A423 traffic upon property, health and the environment, which prompted Councillor Aline Smith to chair a pro-motorway pressure group.

Despite reservations villages such as Bloxham and Hook Norton got best kept village awards.

In 2014 proposed new developments mean both are striving to retain rural village status.

l I am grateful to Darren King of the Katharine House Hospice shop for the Country Life magazine.