Editor’s Blog – notes from an English village

In praise of a Victorian suburb

Red brick villas with the coal smuts long since polished away
Red brick villas with the coal smuts long since polished away

Something I like about our village is that the suburbs are not far away… You can turn right and go off into the wide open prairies , or go left and soon find yourself back in the comforting embrace of a genteel Victorian suburb. Newnham is slightly gone to seed Victorian red-brick gentility with a hint of bohemia. Amble down these streets in a state of hushed reverie. Consider that Ted Hughes, Silvia Plath and Sid Barrett have lived not a stones throw from where you stand. Admire the privet hedges, the sanded-smooth red bricks and the white painted porticos faintly echoing late Victorian ‘Queen Anne’ – that ultimate pastiche style – so brazenly on display down the road at red-bricNewnham College.

Every now and then a private road opens off, with its own painted sign and air of rarified exclusivity. There are views over the playing fields, the soft play of light on washed acres of absolute green, tints of rainy gold in the wide sky above the sycamores by Granchester Road. This is England so english it aspires to escape from itself. Surely no postman would dare to walk down this gravel lane and deliver anything so mundane as a circular.

An exclusive road
An exclusive road

In between the houses, hints of wildness that Ted must have appreciated and Syd, perhaps, crept past hurriedly. A barred window pierces a brick wall at waist height, the glass painted dark brown…  the private road has its private passions; small high windows hint at lost souls and writers with back rooms in the parental home who dare not leave the enclave.

High window, writer's cell or dreamer's garrett?
High window, writer’s cell or dreamer’s garrett?

Back on the main drag there are huge ash trees left over from the pastured past. Broken down fences and with escape holes for foxes. This is urban twee with the country near enough to encroach easily. The rushy meadows with wheeling buzzards and owls beating the bounds at dusk are felt if not seen.

Ash on the corner
Ash on the corner
Here be foxes...
Here be foxes…

In summer an army of tourists will pass through this quiet zone, this genteel fantasy world and give it hardly a thought. But behind the iron railings and the writhing wysteria are old houses with secrets and their vernacular dynasties in decline.

An old manse, on outskirts of Newnham,
An old manse, with secrets to tell?

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