British columnist Rogers serves up an extremely palatable mix of historical fact, local color, and the necessary pinch of gravitas, as urban ways spread ever deeper into what was once rural England.
Twelve sections, from “Approaches in Time” to “Exits,” contain previously published columns offering a wry, intelligent status report on rural life. Rogers first describes how in 1980 he and his family bought a small cottage in the Northamptonshire village of Blakesley, moving to the country for reasons both sentimental and practical, as do many others. These newcomers, he notes, have dramatically changed village life: most of the men leave home before 9 a.m. to commute to city jobs, and townsfolk no longer bound by the land have little in common and do not know one another. This has been going on since the 1850s, when for the first time more British people lived in cities than in the countryside. Today, 84 percent of the population visits visits rural areas as a nostalgia-driven “leisure activity.” Going against the current nostalgia for all things rural, Rogers demonstrates that life in the country has always been hard. People were pushed off the land in the Middle Ages when wool became king (more than 13,000 acres in the Midlands alone were turned into sheep ranches between 1485 and 1500), and villagers later lost their right to common grazing land when hedges were planted. Not all the wealthy preyed on the poor: the author portrays one squire who generously paid for much-needed improvements while housing his mistresses in village cottages. Along his way, Rogers meets with local aristocrats like Sir George Sitwell, talks to farmers overwhelmed by bureaucracy and to the village’s oldest inhabitant, who has seen the horse replaced by the car, a Methodist Chapel turned into a showroom, and the railway station fall out of use.
A thoughtful and deliciously entertaining collection.