"The Chronicles of a Country Parish" - A village appraisal of Sulgrave published in 1995

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In 1988, Sulgrave Parish Council was approached by Northamptonshire ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) to undertake a Parish Appraisal. This project, given the title “Parish 2000” and supported by Northamptonshire County Council and the Wildlife Trust, was to ask every village in the county to take stock of what it has, how it has become what it is, and to consider what should be the strategy for the future.

It was to be a modern Domesday Survey with a particular spotlight on rural life and the rural environment. A chance to look back and discover the past, to be aware of what we have in the present so that we can decide on future needs and future action.

Martin Sirot-Smith volunteered to be the Co-ordinator of the project (never dreaming of how it would snowball and create hundreds of manhours of work!), and all villagers were invited to an open meeting held in June 1988 in the Church Hall. There was an excellent attendance and at that meeting a committee was set up to plan the appraisal to ensure the maximum amount of participation in the whole project. Sub-committees were also set up to deal with the various areas the appraisal was to cover.

Sulgrave Local History Society undertook to deal with all the historical aspects of the project. Ian Nelson, the Parish Appraisal Officer for the county, was invited to talk to the Society; to explain how to tackle the organisation of the research, which sources of historical information were likely to prove valuable, and how such information could be presented. The Society then arranged a series of meetings relating to various aspects of village life. Villagers were encouraged to bring their own memories, artefacts and pictures to stimulate evenings of oral history. Various members were asked to write up these different aspects of Sulgrave’s past and over a period of two years a vast amount of material had been gathered.

Sulgrave Tree Warden, George Metcalfe, undertook to organise a year-long survey of the natural life, habitats and land usage within the parish. A large number of villagers were involved in small groups; studying, searching out and recording every aspect of wildlife in Sulgrave.

Parish and District Councillor, Sidney Wootton, agreed to produce a survey of all the buildings in the parish, many of which he and his family building firm had worked on, or indeed built, over the years.

Via these sources much of the information and material that was gathered was included in displays and exhibitions at the local history museum at Sulgrave Manor during 1992 and 1993.

In 1990, Sulgrave Parish Council supported an Appraisal Questionnaire that sought to discover the basic structure of the village population; how people used the facilities within the parish, where villagers worked, which mode of transport they used, which clubs and societies they supported. It also gave householders the chance to air their views on a number of aspect of village life and to suggest what could be done in the future to improve the quality of life for everyone in Sulgrave.

Ian Nelson was invited back at the end of 1991 to address another open meeting entitled “Towards Publication”. He showed how other villages had presented their appraisals. It was generally felt that with the vast amount of superb material that had been collected in Sulgrave, the aim should be to produce something even better than those on view. An appeal was made for people with word processing, design and graphic skills to become part of the production team, and at this point Heather and Mike Crawshaw affered to produce the appraisal on their desktop publication system. Now the really hard work was to begin!

An editorial team was drawn together to write up the material; to illustrate and select pictures; to decide upon formats, styles and titles; to re-edit and proof-read every page and to design layouts. As work slowly progressed it was evident that what in 1991, the core date of the appraisal, looked as though it would be a fifty-page booklet was becoming a fullscale, well produced book of over two hundred pages! Thus as sights were raised higher, the quality and standard of final production had to be equally improved. Fortunately over this period the ability of domestic reprographic hardware to produce top quality results increased enormously. It was equally fortunate that through Ian Salisbury help was at hand from the graphic department of the Law Society, thus enabling the use of some very old photographic material and other illustrations that were greatly enhanced by the latest equipment. At this point too, Dany Novello, Heather and Mike’s daughter, joined the production team, and there is no doubt that this book would not have been possible without their tireless help and constantly cheerful contribution.

Time, however, had been slipping by, and it was felt that certain sections of the appraisal, particularly the questionnaire, needed updating prior to publication.

Thus in October 1994, every household was asked to complete a survey so that the views and aspirations of all the inhabitants of Sulgrave at the time of going to print could be presented in as up to date a manner as possible. The response rate of 92% shows just how positive villagers felt about such a project.

The number of people involved in one way or another in this appraisal has been quite fantastic and all contributions, whether large or small, have played an important part in the end product.

The then Chairman, Councillor Rodney Henn,
receives the first copies of the Chronicles on behalf of the Parish Council
Photo: Peter Mackness

Particular mention should be given to the original working groups, the editorial committee and the production team. Without the unstinting efforts of all concerned, nothing could have been achieved anywhere near the quality you see before you now.

It is hoped that all Sulgrave villagers feel this resultant publication has been worth the wait and effort! It does not purport to be a definitive survey, a complete history or a perfect report. Apologies to those whose labours have not been fully reproduced in the final chronicles.

An incredible amount of material had to be condensed into what is still, it is hoped, a readable and enjoyable narrative. Doubtless there will be a few omissions and errors, but it is hoped that what is here will not only interest you but also be of lasting value.

After all, we still read the Domesday Book!

Martin Sirot-Smith,
Sulgrave Parish Appraisal on behalf of the Sulgrave Parish Council.