What makes the perfect village
Date of Article
Feb 10 2011

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The quintessential chocolate-box village conjures picturesque visions of fetes on long summer afternoons, cosy cottages overlooking a well-kept village green studded with cricketers, a cosy pub proudly serving the local brew and scenery that has all the bucolic wildness of a Hardy novel.

But what constitutes the perfect English village is largely subjective: some prefer a friendly local shop or village hall within walking distance, while for others a quaint country church or an active local community is an absolute must.

Carter Jonas’s head of London country agency, Jasper Feilding, says: “If you asked a townie to describe their idea of a quintessential village they would probably mention historic churches, duck ponds and country pubs.

“But the reality might be that the village shop has closed down, the pub is under threat and the council doesn’t grit the lanes in and out of the village during the winter, leaving people stranded or unable to get home.

“Also the sense of rural isolation – which is not for everyone – doesn’t always disappear during the summer months. Mid week many of the more popular and picturesque places can be ghost villages as the weekenders return to London for the working week, only returning for the following weekend. This is not just restricted to the south with many inhabitants of the northern towns and cities choosing to weekend in areas such as the Yorkshire Dales.”

For the majority of homebuyers, who don’t plan to use their property solely as a rural getaway, a village’s local amenities, as well as its accessibility, are likely to figure high.

A country pub, says Jasper Feilding, often features on his applicants’ priority lists. “For some homeowners a friendly local pub where they can have a pint before lunch on a Sunday is all important. Naturally the atmosphere is as important as the brew. It’s often the camaraderie that is the biggest draw.”

David Smith, senior partner at Carter Jonas, says: “Being in the catchment area for a good school often rates highly when people are looking for the perfect village, although a village hall for bridge groups, amateur dramatics or even badminton are also excellent for fostering that sense of community. But what constitutes the quintessential village is ultimately down to the individual.

“In my view, the best British villages have their own identity, a decent enough population to sustain their local amenities and, of course, rolling hills, pretty streams and all those aesthetics you’d hope for in the quintessential English countryside.

“Generally speaking, though, a village should not be too remote. It should be within easy reach of a railway station, preferably with connections to a major city, and a good road network, although the less traffic noise the better. Basic shopping facilities are important, and these can only be sustained with a decent sized population of between 500 and 1,000 people.”

The intimacy of rural village life isn't, however, exclusive to the countryside. It is also being replicated in London, which many property experts increasingly view as a collection of urban villages. Quaint village charm can be found in various areas of the capital, including Clarendon Cross in Holland Park, Marylebone High Street, Connaught Street close to Hyde Park and Elizabeth Street in Belgravia.

The dynamics of the city have affected the make-up of urban villages. Because amenities are usually in competition with nearby high streets and larger supermarkets, urban villages are usually back-to-back with boutique shops selling everything from organic produce and designer clothes to arts and crafts and kitchenware.

Think quality produce sold in delicatessens and farmers’ markets, fresh bread and cupcakes sold alongside flowers and organic vegetables at market stalls on pavements, and little independent cafes serving all-day brunch. Urban villages promise the best of both worlds: the perks of village life with the convenience of London living, hence the price tag.

Summarising, Jasper Feilding, says: “The main difference between rural and urban villages is the air and the green fields. Both boast quality of life, but in ways that will attract some and put off others. It's all down to you, the individual. What we often find is that people snapping up homes in urban villages are not necessarily ready for the isolation of country life.”