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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A gentle undemanding stroll through an English Village

This small undemanding guide to the English Village would make an ideal gift for a townie or visitor to England just before they drive off into our rural byways. Divided neatly into 10 chapters, each section conveys a sense of the traditions and formation of the features of a typical english village. The Village green, the pub, the church and the big house are all here. I particularly enjoyed the section on the big house - the legacy of manor houses has been frequently undervalued and Wainwright makes us understand what they contributed and underlines the appeal of such series as Downton Abbey or Cranford.
Simplistic black and white woodcuts serve as illustrations - colour pictures would have helped bring the text to life (my only quibble). As will be apparent from its size, this is more of a general guide than an in-depth examination, but it packs a lot of information into a small space.
And talking of houses - I highly recommend Simon Jenkins paperback book England's Thousand Best Houses, a brick-shaped county by county guide to the big houses referred to in Wainwright's book. Jenkins is chairman of the National Trust and gives succint descriptions of each house's history, quirks and claim to fame.
Each house warrants at the most a couple of pages in this paperback, but again it is surprising just how much information can be compressed into such a small space. For historical fiction writers, this is your best guide to where to see period houses. All the houses in the book are open to the public and helpfully graded with stars to denote their importance. Oddly enough, I have often found the houses rated 1 star such as Lancaster's Cottage Museum to be more interesting than those rated with 5 stars, an accolade reserved for edifices such as Windsor Castle.

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