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What Makes a Proper Village?

(My column for the January edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

cover of January issue of Hawkesbury Parish News
Slightly crumpled thanks to my letterbox (the parish mags are delivered to our doors by volunteers)

Driving back from Cribbs Causeway recently, I was bemused to spot what looked like a drab, chunky office block with big white letters on the side proclaiming it to be the “Village Hotel”. According to its website, it’s “a modern hi-tech hotel,” which doesn’t sound very villagey at all to me.

I first noticed the misappropriation of the word village years ago when managing the PR for the launch of the UK’s first factory outlet retail park, Clarks Village in Somerset. Clarks Village boasts 90 shops and 1,400 parking spaces. That’s a village? That’s news to me.

Confusingly, a billboard close to The Village Hotel invited me to move to “The Villages” at Charfield. Apparently, these are the new housing developments springing up in Charfield.  What do people who live in the village of Charfield say when a house-hunter asks directions to The Villages? I’d be tempted to say, “Which village would you like? Charfield, Hawkesbury, Hillesley, Kingswood? There’s no shortage of villages around here.”

Cover of All Part of the Charm
My collection of columns from the Hawkesbury Parish News & essays about village life is available to buy in paperback and ebook

The National Geographic Society’s definition describes a village as “larger than a hamlet, smaller than a town”. But to me, a true village means so much more – a community with a heart and a soul, with personality and spirit, where everyone looks out for each other and where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, to the benefit of all its residents.

And if anyone is still unsure, I have just one piece of advice: visit Hawkesbury Upton to witness a first-rate village in action. I’m glad to say it’s the only village in this village.


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

3 thoughts on “What Makes a Proper Village?

  1. I have this half-romanticised, half-terrifying view of “proper” villages – guess I’m going to buy your book (and add it to my endless TBR pile…) now 🙂

    1. Haha, yes, I have! It was arch-rival to Clarks Village when I was involved in its launch, and the two sites were racing each other to completion so that they could laim to be the first of their kind in the UK. Bicester is much more upmarket than the Clarks one – posher/costlier brands – and designed to look like some kind of Nordic or New England settlement, all weatherboarded houses and walkways. On the few times I’ve been, it was full of busloads of Japanese tourists (I think there are daytrips from central London) – and Jeremy Clarkson. Completely surreal.

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