Thursday 18 January 1990

Visual Changes Of Wiltshire Villages


"Visual Environmental Changes Of Wiltshire Villages" was the subject of Bryan Woodruffe's lecture given at the January 1990 meeting of Warminster History Society.

Strictly speaking, this was not an historical subject, as it relates to the present. However, members found Mr. Woodruffe's lecture absorbing, with its clear and unbiased presentation of the facts and statistics. His slides showed a county-wide pattern of change in the making.

"The primary cause of change is greater affluence," explained Mr. Woodruffe. "People can choose where they live because they can afford to commute to work."

The accepted term for the movement of population to the villages from the towns is 'counter-urbanisation'. It is happening all over Europe and also in America and Australia.

"Not all villages grow at the same rate," said Mr. Woodruffe, "and the planners tend to go with the trend, rather than to try to reverse it. They feel that if a parish is declining, it must be with good reason."

"In most cases, Wiltshire villages have grown without spoiling the overall visual effect," he added. His thinking was that the undulating countryside can accommodate development, if some care has gone into its conception. Often the inappropriate planting of non-idiferous trees (noteably Cypress Leyandii) stands out as eye-sores more than any new building.

Out of the 300 villages in the county, perhaps 15 to 20 have an unfortunate rash of modern houses, the Ministry of Defence and local councils being the worst culprits, was Mr. Woodruffe's opinion.

"Listed buildings benefit from current prosperity," said Mr. Woodruffe, "with newcomers wanting to buy and refurbish old buildings." In most cases the results were satisfactory and enhanced the overall look of the village.

He thought that the church and the school were still focal points for village life, and when these were closed the community suffered. Very few chapels remained outside the towns, and while some had been converted to private residences, others had been demolished, including what had been the oldest Baptist chapel in Wiltshire.

Mr. Woodruffe's slides were a wonderful reminder of the beauty of this county, and he left his audience with a feeling of optimism for the future.

At next month's meeting of the Warminster History Society, Danny Howell will present another of his slide shows.