The name of England’s favourite village came a step closer this week as 20 classic examples ranging from the Scottish border to the south Cornish coast made it into the final 20 of the Country Life competition, sponsored by estate agents Strutt & Parker.
Inspired by nominations from readers and those responding to questionnaires in Strutt & Parker offices across the country, we have been able to narrow the search to four nominations in each of the five regions of England.
Now it remains for our celebrity judges to select the winner in each region, to make up the shortlist of five finalists who will go forward to the final judging in September. It will not be an easy task.
Each judge will be travelling to the four nominated villages in his or her region, where they will use the judging criteria to make their choice: architectural merit and character; charm, beauty and setting; community spirit; quality of life; amenities (including post office, pub, shop, village hall, primary school and identifiable local bobby); vibrancy (does it have an annual village fête?); transport; and village green. Local residents and parish councillors will no doubt be keen to help them decide.
In the South-West, Oscar-winning script writer Julian Fellowes, who lives near Dorchester, will have to weigh up the charms of Cerne Abbas, which one reader described as ‘perfect but not too perfect’- even the telephone box has a ‘Dorset lean’. Will this impress him as much as the colourful, charming and bustling Polperro, which John Betjeman considered ‘picturesque in the extreme’.
In the South-East it is up to hotelier Olga Polizzi to ask whether the Domes-day village of East Meon, in the lee of a sublime stretch of the South Downs, is more deserving than Lurgashall in West Sussex, with its cricket on the green, Tudor rectory, pretty church and active Women’s Institute.
The Duchess of Devonshire has the challenge of the North to meet, with the magic of Lancashire’s Downham so un-spoilt that even television aerials are banned. She will have little time to dally as she will also have to visit Norham, near the Scottish border and Romaldkirk in Co Durham.
Sir Roy Strong has nobly offered to visit the shortlisted Midlands villages, and will cast his eye over Cropwell Bishop in Nottinghamshire and its Stilton-making creamery, as well as the weeping ash on the village green of Irnham in Lincolnshire.
In East Anglia, Essex has a contender in the delightful settlement of Finching-field. The Earl of Leicester will have to determine whether this merits his favour more than the summer-holiday appeal of Burnham Market in north Norfolk.
After selecting the regional winner, each of the judges will present their case at a lunch where the final voting will take place. We are seeking a village which is not merely a worthy champion of village life in the 21st century but which encapsulates the qualities that made Pevsner eulogise, Betjeman wax lyrical and ex-patriates dream of returning home.
The winner will be announced in an October issue of Country Life. May the favourite village win.
Judge: Olga Polizzi
East Meon, Hampshire
Lurgashall, West Sussex
Judge: Julian Fellowes
Cerne Abbas, Dorset
Donhead St Mary, Wiltshire
Judge: the Earl of Leicester
Burnham Market, Norfolk
Earl Soham, Suffolk
Judge: Roy Strong
Cropwell Bishop, Nottinghamshire
Judge: the Duchess of Devonshire
Askrigg, North Yorkshire
Downham, Lancashire (Lord Clitheroe)
Romaldkirk, Co Durham