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Fourty years in the Cotswolds

PUBLISHED: 10:54 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 14:54 20 February 2013

The view of chipping Campden that appeared on the front cover of the first issue of Cotswold Life

The view of chipping Campden that appeared on the front cover of the first issue of Cotswold Life

Forty years ago, life in the Cotswolds was still very much as it had been for centuries. Then it all became desirable real estate ... <br/><br/>By Mark Child

The very first issue of Cotswold Life included a letter from Brigadier Ross Howman (Rtd.), of Withington, which read: SIR, What an interesting idea - a magazine devoted to Cotswold Life. I can think of no place in Britain more likely to provide fascinating material - material which should be recorded while our, shall we say, mature generation is still able to do so. There are a number of interesting underlying messages here. One is the subliminal perception that the magazine had come into being at a time of change in the Cotswolds; another is a fear of potential intellectual loss, possibly as a result of those changes. Then there is the suggestion that Cotswold Life's primary purpose might be to wring the past out of its older inhabitants.


In fact, there was a great degree of truth in all of this. Until the 1960s, most of the old orders were still in place in much of the Cotswolds. It was not just that its traditions had been maintained; commentators on the Cotswolds in the 1960s were able to write that, in the matter of village life at least, very little had altered for centuries. After more than a hundred years of railway travel and four decades of leisure motoring - although this was interrupted by the Second World War and hindered by the years of economic austerity in its wake - the area was still relatively unexploited by tourism. It was nibbled at by visitors rather than bitten off, and external influences were slight.


Indeed, today's tourist industry is strong in the Cotswolds, and it is vigorously marketed; hard to believe there was so little of it to speak of forty years ago. Streets in country towns that were then lined with residential cottages, are in many instances now lined primarily with small traders. Whole town centres such as Worcester and Banbury have been remodelled or rebuilt over the years, the work being carried out in order to develop regional shopping centres, and thereby facilitate visitor attractions and tourism. Even as late as the mid 1970s, the region was still being promoted for its 'peaceful tranquility', its small towns commended for 'their neatness', and those that bustled were said to do so 'in an ordered way'. The difference was that visitors then were expected to be content simply to look at the Cotswolds. It was not an interactive experience.


Imagine Bourton-on-the-Water before the little country garage was turned into the Cotswold Perfumery; when the model village and Birdland were the only attractions on offer there. The Railway Museum at Winchcombe, and the town's Folk & Police Museum are products of the intervening years; so too, are the Police Museum at Tetbury, the Bishop's Palace excavation and the Town Museum at Witney. The list of relatively new visitor attractions would be very long, because this is what has happened everywhere. Contemporary tourism has demanded greater degrees of interaction, and the response has been to open houses and gardens; establish wildlife parks and havens; develop specialist retail centres; create innumerable visitor attractions; and lock many of the churches in case of vandalism and theft. Even as its fringes still dripped twee, the soul of the Cotswolds was changing to the hard-nosed business ethic on which its whole economy now depends.


The Cotswolds has always been marketed in terms of its landscape, but this has changed quite considerably over the last forty years. Thousands of trees were lost to Dutch elm disease in the 1970s and '80s; and many areas of old broadleaf woodland have since been cleared to be replaced by conifer plantations. Much of the large open sheep pastures that still characterised the area as far as guide books were concerned in the '70s, have become arable land where cereal crops are grown. In place of the area's traditional, ubiquitous money-spinner, there are now pigs, beef and dairy cattle. Large tracts upon which great dirty white and woolly flocks nibbled the turf have become, in their seasons, bright yellow with oilseed rape or blue with linseed, as farmers have been encouraged to convert with the aid of subsidies and other financial incentives. As the trend continues towards making biodiesel for motor vehicles from sustainable vegetable sources, it is likely that fields will become increasingly multi-coloured, and less green.


The difficulties for Cotswold farmers have been more acutely felt following a period in the 1990s when farm incomes rose, only to be dashed to unprecedented lows in the new millennium, in the face of insurmountable global competition and supermarket price wars. Many traditional farms, some worked by generations of the same family, have been forced to shrink or diversify in ways that would have been unthinkable less than half a century ago. The trend now is back to organic produce, grown and bought locally.


Throughout all of my growing-up days, all the fruit and vegetables consumed in our household came either from our own garden or the garden and allotment my grandfather ran two miles away. Everything was organic, freshly picked in season just before it was needed, or 'laid down' as appropriate, for use out of season. Our own inertia, cavalier attitude to air miles, and seduction by supermarket blandishments have largely put a stop to the fun of growing and cooking one's own produce; but in this regard the Cotswolds is very much in the front of the groundswell, as it were back to the future. In 1986, the UK's first organic shop was opened, at Stow-on-the-Wold, and it is still there.


Farmers' Markets are the new upholders of organic and local. The first was opened in Bath in 1997; the Stroud Farmers' Market, where there can be around sixty stalls, began two years later; and there are now some twenty-five regularly taking place around the Cotswolds. These also provide retail outlets for farms that specialise in single breeds. So too, do the farm shops - of which there are some twenty-seven in our area - which have become the new corner shops for fresh and flavoursome produce. Supermarkets cannot match their variety, and, in this regard, stand very impoverished by comparison. However, as we can compare them with supermarket produce, we can appreciate how good farmers' markets and farm shops are as regards quality, variety and value for money.


Financial strictures and declining workforces have also affected Cotswold farmland boundaries; economics and fewer available agricultural craftspeople have resulted in a lessening in traditional ways of hedgerow management, and many old farmland dry stone walls are in very poor condition. Dry stone walling is, however, a reviving craft in the Cotswolds. It has found favour in a non-agricultural capacity around new up-market residential developments, and to mark the boundaries of properties bought by the super-rich outsiders.


Cotswold Life came about at a time when the means by which countless visitors got about the area, and which had really opened it up and kept its tourist trade going for well over a century - the railways - was coming to an end. The Great Western Railway took over a number of original lines in the Cotswolds from independent railway companies in the 19th century, and thereafter invested money, effort and printed publicity in marketing the Cotswolds as a holiday destination. The area was largely shown as comprising countryside, notably with sheep (in black and white, of course), Gloucester Cathedral, Hereford Cathedral, and Tewkesbury Abbey.


Rail travel had been the single most important factor in developing the region as a tourist destination. If there had been no visitors before they arrived in their motor cars, the Cotswolds might have remained dormant and relatively unexplored for much longer. More of its fabric would have crumbled unnoticed; more heritage would have been lost; and much of what is being restored, remodelled and conserved over the last two or three decades would have disappeared before there was any possibility of saving it. This is especially true of stone barn conversions to residential: a trend that reached its peak during the 1980s and '90s, and which has now generally fallen out of favour with the planning authorities.


Of course, numerous historic country houses had already been raised to the ground. In the largest towns and cities of the Cotswolds, the redevelopment programmes of the 1960s and the 1970s were already in full swing, as local authorities everywhere gave in to the developers. These effectively gutted whole neighbourhoods, replacing the fabric of heritage with the architectural howlers that still characterise large town centres. There is something very sad about reading plaques, attached the walls of architectural mediocrity, that describe what once stood on the site, knowing full well that it was swept away as part of a 'programme of beautification'. Were these buildings still there today, they would be restored, remodelled and given new life as important elements in the local heritage.


The Gloucester Civic Trust, which formed in 1972, is one of the organisations that came about as a result of the previous destructive decade, to conserve the build fabric and exploit tourist potential. The work of such pressure groups is directly responsible for the continued existence of much that we still enjoy. Issue number one of Cotswold Life hit the bookstalls just as the post-war regeneration programmes took hold in the area's peripheral towns and cities.


The 1960s was also the time when Richard Beeching's Reshaping of British Railways fell heavily on the area, with station closures often preceding line closures. All of these, from the 1950s onwards, had a dramatic effect on life in the Cotswolds for decades to come. Some lines, such as those that connected Stroud and Dursley through Nailsworth, Malmesbury and Dauntsey, Upton-upon-Severn and Great Malvern, Chipping Norton and Kings Sutton, Over Junction at Gloucester and Ledbury, Broom Junction and Fenny Compton, Blenheim & Woodstock and Kidlington, were all closed in the decade or so before the '60s. Over the next few years passenger trains stopped between Dursley and Coaley, Ashchurch and Upton, Cheltenham Spa and Kingham, Kingham and Chipping Norton, Yarnton Junction and Fairford via Witney, as did the Cotswold line that ran right through the heart of the area between Cheltenham Spa and Andover.


Beeching simply consolidated the programme as it stood in 1963. Between then and 1968, the Cotswolds lost its rail passenger services between Ashchurch and Evesham, Tetbury and Kemble, Kemble and Cirencester, Oxford and Bicester, and Stratford-upon-Avon and Cheltenham. It is on twenty miles of the latter line that the steam and diesel heritage railway - the preserved Gloucester Warwickshire Railway that was established in 1981 - has been operating between Cheltenham and Toddington. It is one of the most evocative and fascinating pieces of living industrial heritage in the Cotswolds.


Despite the government's intention to shift such rail passengers as there were on these unprofitable lines to buses, many villages were not on bus routes. Once again, the effect on residential life in the villages was considerable, as rural areas became increasingly isolated. Ironically, rather than consolidating village shops and post offices as crucial centres of community, it helped to make them uneconomic. This has led to closures everywhere, and few are still clinging on. A feature of latter years has been the number of shops and pubs being kept alive by consortia of residents.


The rebuilding of industries - in many cases by effecting sweeping changes from traditional occupations to new technologies - necessitated an intake of workers trained in new skills, and their overseers. These people were beginning to see the advantage of living in nearby Cotswold villages, where, in the mid 1960s, it was still the norm to pick up cottages for a song, and modest houses for just a few notes more. More than three-quarters of the businesses in the Cotswolds have fewer than one hundred employees; this has been the case for more than a decade.


Cotswold Life came into being just after 582 square miles of Cotswold countryside was designated in law, in 1966, as a special landscape to be protected for future generations. Twenty-three years later, a further 208 square miles were added. This is the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that we know today; it is the largest AONB in the country. Its first management committee, the Joint Advisory Committee for the AONB was made up of local authorities and other bodies in the area. It has gone through a number of changes: the AONB Partnership was formed in 1999, and currently comprises thirty-four member organisation, of which half are local authorities, and includes a wide range of farming and other interests. The Cotswold Conservation Board came into force in 2004.


The main objectives, however, have always been to conserve the area and enhance it. In 1968, the Cotswold AONB Voluntary Warden service was established, and this group thrives, members often using their own craft skills in a practical way. One of their original drivers was the need to dissuade landowners from covering over or hiding old established rights of way, and it is still part of their mandate to ensure that footpaths are kept open.


The protection afforded by the AONB is partly responsible for the notion that the Cotswolds remains unspoiled and unchanged: that its appearance hardly differs from decades ago, and that the long-gone village spirit somehow continues to live in the present. This stems from the endemic nature of the build fabric, building restrictions, and the unchanging nature of the distinctive local vernacular whether applied to centuries-old properties or sympathetic new build. It has little to do with contemporary social infrastructure, traditional occupations and population demography - the historic bases of Cotswold life. In fact, hand-in-hand with the decline in the type of traditional agriculture that sustained them, Cotswold villages have become significantly sub-urbanised over the last few decades.


In the same period, most Cotswold villages have expanded; stone barns and other former agricultural buildings and industrial sites such as mills have been converted either for business needs or to residential on a scale that never happened before. This has also helped to sustain the illusion that little has changed; yet large mills that once provided work for many people who lived in cottage settlements may now be luxury apartments. In some places, this has added significantly to the 'virtual' population of the area. It is a virtual population now, because the absentee resident has become part of a trend over the last few years.


These are second- or multi- home owners whose main dwelling might be almost anywhere, sometimes abroad, and who visit their Cotswold properties at weekends, or even less frequently. In rural areas, this is very evident; in the country towns it is less so because visitors give a superficial veneer of bustle, but it is nonetheless as acute. One of the biggest changes in the Cotswolds over the last few decades has been the migration of the established rural population, either in order to find alternative work or seek affordable housing.


In the evening, all over the Cotswolds, security lights may be on, but no-one is at home, and many properties are uninhabited from one month's end to the next. This is one of the reasons why so many wheelie bins - a fairly recent innovation - are rooted to their roadside collection points all week. No-one can blame vendors for wanting the highest possible prices, and no-one can blame buyers who can afford it from wanting an investment in such a beautiful region. But uninhabited investment does not make the kind of good neighbours on which village communities were traditionally built and maintained; indeed, it rarely makes for any kind of neighbours at all.


Lately, I have several times heard the term 'Fortress Cotswolds' applied to the area. Over the years, members of the royal family have made their homes in the Cotswolds, and, increasingly, high profile media people have followed suit. As an increasing number of media personalities and other successful business people take root here, so are more and more buildings disappearing behind electric gates and elaborate security systems. One of the latest enterprises, initiated by an opportunist entrepreneur from Tewkesbury, involves taking coach loads of celebrity spotters on Hollywood-style tours of the estate gates of the region's rich and famous.


All of this said, the quality of the build fabric in the Cotswolds villages is better now than it has been for generations. One way or another, vast amounts of money have come into the area in the last few decades as near-derelict properties - from small country cottages to large country houses - have been variously renovated, updated and remodelled or enlarged. A lot of this is down to those recent incomers, many of whom - when in residence - are supportive of such village shops that still exist. If this had happened sixty or seventy years ago, our build heritage would have been so much richer. It was inevitable that, with so many people no longer working on the land, properties would become available and would be snapped up by city dwellers or those looking to their future in retirement.


This brings us to a burning problem of the moment, which has been smouldering for the last few years; the partial social exclusion of the endemic population. The number of people living in rural areas is growing at twice that of the national average, but the growth mainly comprises incomers who are wealthier than the native population, and generally in a relatively advanced age bracket. Because of the type of work traditionally carried out in the Cotswolds, and its relatively low pay, about one-third of Cotswold households are said to be on less than one third of the average national weekly wage. Couple this with the Right to Buy programme that has depleted social housing stock, and it becomes immediately apparent why so many more affluent outsiders are able to snap up available properties, and so many native families find it impossible to do so.


Investment by incomers has enabled an upturn in the prosperity of the Cotswold's self-employed sector; those skilled in building and fitting-out properties have very healthy order books. The trend has also given a huge boost to local craft occupations, working in the spirit of the Cotswold Arts & Crafts movement - such as makers of bespoke fitted furniture and kitchens. It has also enabled some individuals to use their skills more profitably than previously. For example, it has enabled traditional carpenters to specialise in oak framing, meeting a growing market for constructing extensions, conservatories and outbuildings using this traditional building material.


Inward investment has also enabled self-employed people who offer new and fairly trendy services to live and work profitably in the Cotswolds. Incomers have brought with them a desire to retain the comforts that are important to them elsewhere, and the last couple of decades have seen a proliferation of the health and beauty sector. This has also enabled such businesses as feng shui consultants, interior designers, specialists in period house decor, and the like, to flourish. Forty years ago, much of the Cotswolds would have viewed most of this with great scepticism; in some quarters it still does.


The Cotswolds has always held inspiration for artists and craftspeople, but there are more now than ever before living and working in the area. The knock-on effect of this has been a marked increase in galleries in the region's towns and cities, and the number of artists, working in rural locations, who house their own galleries or regularly open their studios to the public. In the matter of fashion, the recent trend has been to bring the world to the Cotswolds. Forty years ago the vogue was for clothing made in India; later it London designers' labels were sought after in the region's salons; now we are very much into a boutique-style fair trade culture. Small businesses are tucking themselves into former cottage front rooms and modest new retail developments on brownfield sites, selling clothes from all over the world. The difference is, they are now at pains to tell us exactly which South African or South American tribe or village made the clothes; exactly how it benefits them; and of the very personal relationship the proprietor has with each maker and product. Forty years ago, few customers would have cared.


It is interesting to recall that the last forty years also covered the whole life span of Concorde, the aircraft that put Fairford on the map. The British prototype had been rolled out at Bristol in 1968, and, from 1969, tests were carried out on it at Fairford's RAF Air Support Command base, before Concorde went into service in 1976. The programme brought chief test pilot Brian Trubshaw to the Cotswolds, where he made his home and became one of the early 'celebrities' to live in the region. Trubshaw died in 2001, and Concorde's last flight was carried out two years later.


Few enterprises in the Cotswolds so well facilitate the contemporary lifestyle as the Cotswold Water Park in the south of the region. When it began to be developed, in the 1970s, everyone believed that we had been delivered at the dawn of an unprecedented age of leisure. Computer technology would mean, we were told, that greater profits could be made and wages would rise for just a three- or four-day working week. We would all have more money, and more time on our hands in which to spend it. How naive in the extreme we all were.


The Water Park was to be the Cotswolds' solution to all that time on our hands. Here are some forty square miles of countryside, in three sections, including 146 lakes formed from half a century of mineral extraction; water sports, leisure activities, recreation and tourism are all catered for in what is essentially an inland resort with nature reserves, archaeological sites, beaches, and modern luxury buildings. It is a hugely successful complex. A Strategic Review and Implementation Plan 2007 has just been published for the future of the site.


Food and drink has become one of the great triumphs of the Cotswolds; its hotels, hostelries and restaurants of every type compete for accolades that encompass the quality of food, service, dcor and atmosphere. We now have celebrity chefs and multi-award-winning eateries of every type. In 1967, most pubs sold little more than drink, crisps and pickled onions; if you wanted a meal, you went to a restaurant or a hotel. Wine was said 'no longer to be a novelty', and restaurant menus typically gave you a choice of soup, egg mayonnaise or prawn cocktail; steak and vegetables or a curry dish; fresh fruit salad and ice cream, fruit tart and custard, or biscuits and cheese. The surroundings were almost certainly dowdy. Cotswold Life's first restaurant critic - whose calling card announced to the establishment that it had 'just had a visit from Jeremy Bates (of Cotswold Life)' - was pictured smoking, presumably an after dinner cigarette. He also occasionally wrote his reviews in verse. I can't see any of this finding favour with our own dear Katie.








The very first issue of Cotswold Life included a letter from Brigadier Ross Howman (Rtd.), of Withington, which read: SIR, What an interesting idea - a magazine devoted to Cotswold Life. I can think of no place in Britain more likely to provide fascinating material - material which should be recorded while our, shall we say, mature generation is still able to do so. There are a number of interesting underlying messages here. One is the subliminal perception that the magazine had come into being at a time of change in the Cotswolds; another is a fear of potential intellectual loss, possibly as a result of those changes. Then there is the suggestion that Cotswold Life's primary purpose might be to wring the past out of its older inhabitants.


In fact, there was a great degree of truth in all of this. Until the 1960s, most of the old orders were still in place in much of the Cotswolds. It was not just that its traditions had been maintained; commentators on the Cotswolds in the 1960s were able to write that, in the matter of village life at least, very little had altered for centuries. After more than a hundred years of railway travel and four decades of leisure motoring - although this was interrupted by the Second World War and hindered by the years of economic austerity in its wake - the area was still relatively unexploited by tourism. It was nibbled at by visitors rather than bitten off, and external influences were slight.


Indeed, today's tourist industry is strong in the Cotswolds, and it is vigorously marketed; hard to believe there was so little of it to speak of forty years ago. Streets in country towns that were then lined with residential cottages, are in many instances now lined primarily with small traders. Whole town centres such as Worcester and Banbury have been remodelled or rebuilt over the years, the work being carried out in order to develop regional shopping centres, and thereby facilitate visitor attractions and tourism. Even as late as the mid 1970s, the region was still being promoted for its 'peaceful tranquility', its small towns commended for 'their neatness', and those that bustled were said to do so 'in an ordered way'. The difference was that visitors then were expected to be content simply to look at the Cotswolds. It was not an interactive experience.


Imagine Bourton-on-the-Water before the little country garage was turned into the Cotswold Perfumery; when the model village and Birdland were the only attractions on offer there. The Railway Museum at Winchcombe, and the town's Folk & Police Museum are products of the intervening years; so too, are the Police Museum at Tetbury, the Bishop's Palace excavation and the Town Museum at Witney. The list of relatively new visitor attractions would be very long, because this is what has happened everywhere. Contemporary tourism has demanded greater degrees of interaction, and the response has been to open houses and gardens; establish wildlife parks and havens; develop specialist retail centres; create innumerable visitor attractions; and lock many of the churches in case of vandalism and theft. Even as its fringes still dripped twee, the soul of the Cotswolds was changing to the hard-nosed business ethic on which its whole economy now depends.


The Cotswolds has always been marketed in terms of its landscape, but this has changed quite considerably over the last forty years. Thousands of trees were lost to Dutch elm disease in the 1970s and '80s; and many areas of old broadleaf woodland have since been cleared to be replaced by conifer plantations. Much of the large open sheep pastures that still characterised the area as far as guide books were concerned in the '70s, have become arable land where cereal crops are grown. In place of the area's traditional, ubiquitous money-spinner, there are now pigs, beef and dairy cattle. Large tracts upon which great dirty white and woolly flocks nibbled the turf have become, in their seasons, bright yellow with oilseed rape or blue with linseed, as farmers have been encouraged to convert with the aid of subsidies and other financial incentives. As the trend continues towards making biodiesel for motor vehicles from sustainable vegetable sources, it is likely that fields will become increasingly multi-coloured, and less green.


The difficulties for Cotswold farmers have been more acutely felt following a period in the 1990s when farm incomes rose, only to be dashed to unprecedented lows in the new millennium, in the face of insurmountable global competition and supermarket price wars. Many traditional farms, some worked by generations of the same family, have been forced to shrink or diversify in ways that would have been unthinkable less than half a century ago. The trend now is back to organic produce, grown and bought locally.


Throughout all of my growing-up days, all the fruit and vegetables consumed in our household came either from our own garden or the garden and allotment my grandfather ran two miles away. Everything was organic, freshly picked in season just before it was needed, or 'laid down' as appropriate, for use out of season. Our own inertia, cavalier attitude to air miles, and seduction by supermarket blandishments have largely put a stop to the fun of growing and cooking one's own produce; but in this regard the Cotswolds is very much in the front of the groundswell, as it were back to the future. In 1986, the UK's first organic shop was opened, at Stow-on-the-Wold, and it is still there.


Farmers' Markets are the new upholders of organic and local. The first was opened in Bath in 1997; the Stroud Farmers' Market, where there can be around sixty stalls, began two years later; and there are now some twenty-five regularly taking place around the Cotswolds. These also provide retail outlets for farms that specialise in single breeds. So too, do the farm shops - of which there are some twenty-seven in our area - which have become the new corner shops for fresh and flavoursome produce. Supermarkets cannot match their variety, and, in this regard, stand very impoverished by comparison. However, as we can compare them with supermarket produce, we can appreciate how good farmers' markets and farm shops are as regards quality, variety and value for money.


Financial strictures and declining workforces have also affected Cotswold farmland boundaries; economics and fewer available agricultural craftspeople have resulted in a lessening in traditional ways of hedgerow management, and many old farmland dry stone walls are in very poor condition. Dry stone walling is, however, a reviving craft in the Cotswolds. It has found favour in a non-agricultural capacity around new up-market residential developments, and to mark the boundaries of properties bought by the super-rich outsiders.


Cotswold Life came about at a time when the means by which countless visitors got about the area, and which had really opened it up and kept its tourist trade going for well over a century - the railways - was coming to an end. The Great Western Railway took over a number of original lines in the Cotswolds from independent railway companies in the 19th century, and thereafter invested money, effort and printed publicity in marketing the Cotswolds as a holiday destination. The area was largely shown as comprising countryside, notably with sheep (in black and white, of course), Gloucester Cathedral, Hereford Cathedral, and Tewkesbury Abbey.


Rail travel had been the single most important factor in developing the region as a tourist destination. If there had been no visitors before they arrived in their motor cars, the Cotswolds might have remained dormant and relatively unexplored for much longer. More of its fabric would have crumbled unnoticed; more heritage would have been lost; and much of what is being restored, remodelled and conserved over the last two or three decades would have disappeared before there was any possibility of saving it. This is especially true of stone barn conversions to residential: a trend that reached its peak during the 1980s and '90s, and which has now generally fallen out of favour with the planning authorities.


Of course, numerous historic country houses had already been raised to the ground. In the largest towns and cities of the Cotswolds, the redevelopment programmes of the 1960s and the 1970s were already in full swing, as local authorities everywhere gave in to the developers. These effectively gutted whole neighbourhoods, replacing the fabric of heritage with the architectural howlers that still characterise large town centres. There is something very sad about reading plaques, attached the walls of architectural mediocrity, that describe what once stood on the site, knowing full well that it was swept away as part of a 'programme of beautification'. Were these buildings still there today, they would be restored, remodelled and given new life as important elements in the local heritage.


The Gloucester Civic Trust, which formed in 1972, is one of the organisations that came about as a result of the previous destructive decade, to conserve the build fabric and exploit tourist potential. The work of such pressure groups is directly responsible for the continued existence of much that we still enjoy. Issue number one of Cotswold Life hit the bookstalls just as the post-war regeneration programmes took hold in the area's peripheral towns and cities.


The 1960s was also the time when Richard Beeching's Reshaping of British Railways fell heavily on the area, with station closures often preceding line closures. All of these, from the 1950s onwards, had a dramatic effect on life in the Cotswolds for decades to come. Some lines, such as those that connected Stroud and Dursley through Nailsworth, Malmesbury and Dauntsey, Upton-upon-Severn and Great Malvern, Chipping Norton and Kings Sutton, Over Junction at Gloucester and Ledbury, Broom Junction and Fenny Compton, Blenheim & Woodstock and Kidlington, were all closed in the decade or so before the '60s. Over the next few years passenger trains stopped between Dursley and Coaley, Ashchurch and Upton, Cheltenham Spa and Kingham, Kingham and Chipping Norton, Yarnton Junction and Fairford via Witney, as did the Cotswold line that ran right through the heart of the area between Cheltenham Spa and Andover.


Beeching simply consolidated the programme as it stood in 1963. Between then and 1968, the Cotswolds lost its rail passenger services between Ashchurch and Evesham, Tetbury and Kemble, Kemble and Cirencester, Oxford and Bicester, and Stratford-upon-Avon and Cheltenham. It is on twenty miles of the latter line that the steam and diesel heritage railway - the preserved Gloucester Warwickshire Railway that was established in 1981 - has been operating between Cheltenham and Toddington. It is one of the most evocative and fascinating pieces of living industrial heritage in the Cotswolds.


Despite the government's intention to shift such rail passengers as there were on these unprofitable lines to buses, many villages were not on bus routes. Once again, the effect on residential life in the villages was considerable, as rural areas became increasingly isolated. Ironically, rather than consolidating village shops and post offices as crucial centres of community, it helped to make them uneconomic. This has led to closures everywhere, and few are still clinging on. A feature of latter years has been the number of shops and pubs being kept alive by consortia of residents.


The rebuilding of industries - in many cases by effecting sweeping changes from traditional occupations to new technologies - necessitated an intake of workers trained in new skills, and their overseers. These people were beginning to see the advantage of living in nearby Cotswold villages, where, in the mid 1960s, it was still the norm to pick up cottages for a song, and modest houses for just a few notes more. More than three-quarters of the businesses in the Cotswolds have fewer than one hundred employees; this has been the case for more than a decade.


Cotswold Life came into being just after 582 square miles of Cotswold countryside was designated in law, in 1966, as a special landscape to be protected for future generations. Twenty-three years later, a further 208 square miles were added. This is the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that we know today; it is the largest AONB in the country. Its first management committee, the Joint Advisory Committee for the AONB was made up of local authorities and other bodies in the area. It has gone through a number of changes: the AONB Partnership was formed in 1999, and currently comprises thirty-four member organisation, of which half are local authorities, and includes a wide range of farming and other interests. The Cotswold Conservation Board came into force in 2004.


The main objectives, however, have always been to conserve the area and enhance it. In 1968, the Cotswold AONB Voluntary Warden service was established, and this group thrives, members often using their own craft skills in a practical way. One of their original drivers was the need to dissuade landowners from covering over or hiding old established rights of way, and it is still part of their mandate to ensure that footpaths are kept open.


The protection afforded by the AONB is partly responsible for the notion that the Cotswolds remains unspoiled and unchanged: that its appearance hardly differs from decades ago, and that the long-gone village spirit somehow continues to live in the present. This stems from the endemic nature of the build fabric, building restrictions, and the unchanging nature of the distinctive local vernacular whether applied to centuries-old properties or sympathetic new build. It has little to do with contemporary social infrastructure, traditional occupations and population demography - the historic bases of Cotswold life. In fact, hand-in-hand with the decline in the type of traditional agriculture that sustained them, Cotswold villages have become significantly sub-urbanised over the last few decades.


In the same period, most Cotswold villages have expanded; stone barns and other former agricultural buildings and industrial sites such as mills have been converted either for business needs or to residential on a scale that never happened before. This has also helped to sustain the illusion that little has changed; yet large mills that once provided work for many people who lived in cottage settlements may now be luxury apartments. In some places, this has added significantly to the 'virtual' population of the area. It is a virtual population now, because the absentee resident has become part of a trend over the last few years.


These are second- or multi- home owners whose main dwelling might be almost anywhere, sometimes abroad, and who visit their Cotswold properties at weekends, or even less frequently. In rural areas, this is very evident; in the country towns it is less so because visitors give a superficial veneer of bustle, but it is nonetheless as acute. One of the biggest changes in the Cotswolds over the last few decades has been the migration of the established rural population, either in order to find alternative work or seek affordable housing.


In the evening, all over the Cotswolds, security lights may be on, but no-one is at home, and many properties are uninhabited from one month's end to the next. This is one of the reasons why so many wheelie bins - a fairly recent innovation - are rooted to their roadside collection points all week. No-one can blame vendors for wanting the highest possible prices, and no-one can blame buyers who can afford it from wanting an investment in such a beautiful region. But uninhabited investment does not make the kind of good neighbours on which village communities were traditionally built and maintained; indeed, it rarely makes for any kind of neighbours at all.


Lately, I have several times heard the term 'Fortress Cotswolds' applied to the area. Over the years, members of the royal family have made their homes in the Cotswolds, and, increasingly, high profile media people have followed suit. As an increasing number of media personalities and other successful business people take root here, so are more and more buildings disappearing behind electric gates and elaborate security systems. One of the latest enterprises, initiated by an opportunist entrepreneur from Tewkesbury, involves taking coach loads of celebrity spotters on Hollywood-style tours of the estate gates of the region's rich and famous.


All of this said, the quality of the build fabric in the Cotswolds villages is better now than it has been for generations. One way or another, vast amounts of money have come into the area in the last few decades as near-derelict properties - from small country cottages to large country houses - have been variously renovated, updated and remodelled or enlarged. A lot of this is down to those recent incomers, many of whom - when in residence - are supportive of such village shops that still exist. If this had happened sixty or seventy years ago, our build heritage would have been so much richer. It was inevitable that, with so many people no longer working on the land, properties would become available and would be snapped up by city dwellers or those looking to their future in retirement.


This brings us to a burning problem of the moment, which has been smouldering for the last few years; the partial social exclusion of the endemic population. The number of people living in rural areas is growing at twice that of the national average, but the growth mainly comprises incomers who are wealthier than the native population, and generally in a relatively advanced age bracket. Because of the type of work traditionally carried out in the Cotswolds, and its relatively low pay, about one-third of Cotswold households are said to be on less than one third of the average national weekly wage. Couple this with the Right to Buy programme that has depleted social housing stock, and it becomes immediately apparent why so many more affluent outsiders are able to snap up available properties, and so many native families find it impossible to do so.


Investment by incomers has enabled an upturn in the prosperity of the Cotswold's self-employed sector; those skilled in building and fitting-out properties have very healthy order books. The trend has also given a huge boost to local craft occupations, working in the spirit of the Cotswold Arts & Crafts movement - such as makers of bespoke fitted furniture and kitchens. It has also enabled some individuals to use their skills more profitably than previously. For example, it has enabled traditional carpenters to specialise in oak framing, meeting a growing market for constructing extensions, conservatories and outbuildings using this traditional building material.


Inward investment has also enabled self-employed people who offer new and fairly trendy services to live and work profitably in the Cotswolds. Incomers have brought with them a desire to retain the comforts that are important to them elsewhere, and the last couple of decades have seen a proliferation of the health and beauty sector. This has also enabled such businesses as feng shui consultants, interior designers, specialists in period house decor, and the like, to flourish. Forty years ago, much of the Cotswolds would have viewed most of this with great scepticism; in some quarters it still does.


The Cotswolds has always held inspiration for artists and craftspeople, but there are more now than ever before living and working in the area. The knock-on effect of this has been a marked increase in galleries in the region's towns and cities, and the number of artists, working in rural locations, who house their own galleries or regularly open their studios to the public. In the matter of fashion, the recent trend has been to bring the world to the Cotswolds. Forty years ago the vogue was for clothing made in India; later it London designers' labels were sought after in the region's salons; now we are very much into a boutique-style fair trade culture. Small businesses are tucking themselves into former cottage front rooms and modest new retail developments on brownfield sites, selling clothes from all over the world. The difference is, they are now at pains to tell us exactly which South African or South American tribe or village made the clothes; exactly how it benefits them; and of the very personal relationship the proprietor has with each maker and product. Forty years ago, few customers would have cared.


It is interesting to recall that the last forty years also covered the whole life span of Concorde, the aircraft that put Fairford on the map. The British prototype had been rolled out at Bristol in 1968, and, from 1969, tests were carried out on it at Fairford's RAF Air Support Command base, before Concorde went into service in 1976. The programme brought chief test pilot Brian Trubshaw to the Cotswolds, where he made his home and became one of the early 'celebrities' to live in the region. Trubshaw died in 2001, and Concorde's last flight was carried out two years later.


Few enterprises in the Cotswolds so well facilitate the contemporary lifestyle as the Cotswold Water Park in the south of the region. When it began to be developed, in the 1970s, everyone believed that we had been delivered at the dawn of an unprecedented age of leisure. Computer technology would mean, we were told, that greater profits could be made and wages would rise for just a three- or four-day working week. We would all have more money, and more time on our hands in which to spend it. How naive in the extreme we all were.


The Water Park was to be the Cotswolds' solution to all that time on our hands. Here are some forty square miles of countryside, in three sections, including 146 lakes formed from half a century of mineral extraction; water sports, leisure activities, recreation and tourism are all catered for in what is essentially an inland resort with nature reserves, archaeological sites, beaches, and modern luxury buildings. It is a hugely successful complex. A Strategic Review and Implementation Plan 2007 has just been published for the future of the site.


Food and drink has become one of the great triumphs of the Cotswolds; its hotels, hostelries and restaurants of every type compete for accolades that encompass the quality of food, service, dcor and atmosphere. We now have celebrity chefs and multi-award-winning eateries of every type. In 1967, most pubs sold little more than drink, crisps and pickled onions; if you wanted a meal, you went to a restaurant or a hotel. Wine was said 'no longer to be a novelty', and restaurant menus typically gave you a choice of soup, egg mayonnaise or prawn cocktail; steak and vegetables or a curry dish; fresh fruit salad and ice cream, fruit tart and custard, or biscuits and cheese. The surroundings were almost certainly dowdy. Cotswold Life's first restaurant critic - whose calling card announced to the establishment that it had 'just had a visit from Jeremy Bates (of Cotswold Life)' - was pictured smoking, presumably an after dinner cigarette. He also occasionally wrote his reviews in verse. I can't see any of this finding favour with our own dear Katie.








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