‘After six months, hundreds of nominations, thousands of miles and an outrageously good lunch, we have done it,’ says Country Life’s Features Editor, Rupert Uloth in this week’s magazine (November 11). ‘In the Ritz Hotel’s innermost sanctum, the Trafalgar suite, the name that villagers throughout England have been awaiting tensely was prised from the judges. Olga Polizzi gave a cry of delight as her fellow assessors conceded that her nomination, Kingham in Oxfordshire, deserved the accolade of England’s favourite village.’
Country Life readers were asked to submit their nominations, qualifying their proposals by judging the village on a number of criteria.
Here, Camilla Edwards puts Kingham under the criteria spolight to demonstrate why it stood out and caught the judges’ eyes.
Pevsner praises the church, St Andrews, its rectory ‘one of the finest small houses of this date (late 17th century) in the county’ and its school. Kingham Hill School, founded under charitable auspices and built between 1886 and 1914 in traditional Cotswolds style. The main school buildings are placed at random on the hillside and connected by narrow tracks.
CHARM, BEAUTY AND SETTING
Sitting on the eastern edge of the Cotswolds, unlike most of Cotswold villages that are built on the hills, Kingham is in the Evenlode Valley that runs between two of the highest market towns in the region, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire and Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. ‘We’re just in Oxfordshire, at 300ft, in the crux of the valley with hills around us, says Chris Harvey, a former chairman of the Paris Council and retired village postman. ‘This is one of the reasons why we have a village green – many other Cotswold villages don’t as they’re on a hillside.’
QUALITY OF LIFE
‘No motorways or no flight paths nearby but Kingham has its own train station, a mile from the centre of the village which is a great asset,’ says Mr Harvey. Kingham is on the mainline to oxford, reading and London Paddington, and to Worcester, Hereford in the westerly direction.
Over the last five years 13 new ‘affordable, duel ownership’ houses (the housing association keeps 50% of the equity) have been built on the edge of the village. The houses conform to the Cotswold style, being built in Cotswold or reconstructed stone. Only for people who have ‘a need’ and village connections. Four of 13 houses are rental properties.
‘Fifteen years ago some villagers realised the need for affordable housing,’ says Mr Harvey. ‘Kingham was one of the first villages in the area to apply via the parish council for planning permission for them, under a special dispensation allowing the building of a affordable housing on sites where permission would not normally be granted.’
In addition, there is a small development of 4-5 houses in converted farm buildings and the old bakery, plus three new ‘executive’ houses have been built beside the village green, by private developers (cheapest £635,000).
Formed in 1929, today it is still a vibrant club run by villagers. ‘It serves good beers and it kept very smart.’
The Plough Inn, The Green (01608 658327)
A traditional drinking pub. No food, except sandwiches. There are 2 village Aunt Sally teams – the Plough’s and the British Legion’s – who both compete in the local league. (‘The Cotswold national sport is Aunt Sally which is a form of skittles played outside.’)
Tollgate Inn, Church Street (01608 658389)
Hotel until 8 months ago, now a country inn with 10 bedrooms, a restaurant and public bar housed in a converted farmhouse, 2 doors from the church and 2 away the village shop.
The Mill House Hotel, Station Road (01608 658188)
Formerly an old mill mentioned in the Doomsday Book, now an upmarket hotel with two AA Rosettes. Restaurant, conference centre, swimming pool and, in the garden, one of the best-preserved sheep dips in the county.
Kingham Village Stores & Post Office, Church St (01608 658235)
The shop offers a drying cleaning service, delivers newspapers and stocks ‘a normal range of food’.
Kingham County Primary School, The Green 01608-658366
201 pupils (boys and girls), from villages within a 10-mile radius of Kingham.
‘The school is in particularly beautiful setting,’ says Irene Beever, the headmistress. ‘We have an orchard, a wild play area and 2 playing fields and the school takes part in all the community activities.’
Kingham Hill School, 01608 658999 1.3m outside Kingham, overlooking the village Originally a school for disadvantaged children. After the Second World War it became an independent boarding (80%) and day (20%) school with roughly 250 girls and boys, 11-18 years old. It is still runs as a charity, offering bursaries and financial help for up to 40% of their students.
‘Kingham Hill school, near Oxford, has a significant number of pupils who would otherwise be in care or with foster parents, according to the head, Martin Morris. He says there are many children from disintegrating homes who desperately need stability. Founded by a Victorian philanthropist to rescue street children, 40 per cent of Kingham Hill’s pupils get help with fees and all its scholarships are means-tested, although dwindling investment income has forced the school to take some day pupils and nearly 60 per cent of pupils are full fee-payers. Former pupils include Andrew Adonis, who is now an education adviser to Tony Blair.’ TES, January 9, 2004
VIBRANCY AND COMMUNITY SPIRIT
‘Beautiful’, large village hall, built in 1910, as a gift from Charles Baring Young, whose land bordered the parish. Today it is used for PCC meetings, talent show club, lunch club for the house bound, indoor bowls, mothers and toddlers’ group, theatrical performances, village gardening club.
The Kingham Gardening Club
Holds 2 flower shows a year, in spring and summer in Kingham Village Hall, with exhibitions of prize plants and vegetables, plus a children’s section.
They also organise the annual ‘Kingham in Bloom’ competition to judge the village gardens on their ‘all-year-round colour.’
The Plough Cricket Club and Kingham All Blacks FC play on the village recreation ground and are about to rebuild their pavilion with football association funds, local authority grants and funds raised by the football club and the Kingham villagers.
Kingham Events Committee- organises the village fete, a bonfire night and the village comedy review called Kingham Capers – with comedy sketches, sand dancing and performances by a local rock band.
Inspired by reports that global warming would soon give the Cotswold a comparable climate to Bordeaux, a group of friends planted 400 vines in a friend’s plot of land in the village (with the help and advice from Joe Edwards, Castle Wines, Bampton).
Chris Harvey and other villagers also make 35-50 gallons of cider a year, with apples from local orchards. The apples are pressed using the hydraulic press in Mr Harvey’s garden shed (which they also use for pressing the grapes). The pressing day, in October, has becomes something of a village event – last year’s cider is supplied and friends and villagers who want to join in come bringing food.
Kingham Road Race
Held every July for the last 25 years. A running race, open to all, over a ‘tough’ 7.5m. course. ‘Over the years the race has attracted runners of the very highest quality,’ says Chris Harvey. Former Great Britain international John Solly set the course record in 1991, in a time of 37 minutes, 10 seconds.
The 100-year old engineering works in Threshers Yard has been turned into light industrial units and offices – an upholstery firm, a company renovating vintage cars, carpentry and several offices are based here.
The old cattle market, (1 mile from the village centre, almost opposite the station) has also been turned into light industrial units for East-West Herbs, a tile-making company and a bowling equipment firm. Villagers who work here walk to work from Kingham, as do those employed at the adjoining nursing home. Opposite is a joiners and carpenters workshop that make high quality balustrades and staircases.
This year the village hosted a brigade of antique tractors travelling from Liverpool to Spain to raise money for cancer charity. Michael Devas, a villager, read about their trip in a trade magazine and invited them to stop off en route in Kingham. He organised for the village’s b&b’s and the pub to put the drivers up for free, had baseball caps made to sell in order to raise money and a marquee was erected on the village green to hold the welcome celebration. Local Kingham farmers turned out in their tractors and antique vehicles to greet the convoy.
Vicar, the Rev Tony Canon, lives in the village, and ministers to 3 or 4 parishes.
Kingham station is on the mainline from London Paddington and Hereford. Buses meet nearly every train (6-8 trains a day), and the service delivers people to outlying villages and to the local market town, Chipping Norton.
A school bus takes older children the comprehensive at Chipping Norton.
At one the end of the village are the playing fields used for football and the firework displays. The village green itself is used for the fete, by visiting circuses or funfairs and by the children from primary school for May Day dancing.