26 April 2020 by Suyen Hu
I think some time ago when I was writing my book I found this old map of my village in 1886 (below) with its many orchards. All these orchards were still there when I was a boy. I was tidying up some old files today and came across a Planning Department map showing the village as it is today. What a contrast.
The old map suggests how pretty the village was: houses well-spaced out and apple trees everywhere. These were big trees, not the little bushes we see in orchards these days. My grandmother’s house was in plot number 492 (lower left quarter of map) and the orchard (plot 494) was where we spent many happy hours playing and climbing. Every tree had a different character and I knew them all. The two fields (493, 499) behind my Grandmother’s house were owned by her, and now by my cousin, and we also farmed plots 496, 435 in the north, behind the village Foundry and blacksmith. I knew those fields, and many others, like I know my garden now: the shape of the ground and the trees in the hedgerows. My great-aunt Alice lived at plot number 514, surrounded by orchards, and her house (just off the map) was called Orchard Cottage. I have her old wooden settle in my front porch now. My uncle lived at number 506 beside the village school. The village baker was opposite. He kept his horses in 433. The village shop was 498. All gone.
Now every orchard is gone too (map above). Those along the village street have been replaced with houses and bungalows. Many of the old farmhouses, including my grandmother’s and the very fine house opposite in 491, have been demolished and replaced by modern houses squeezed onto every space. Others such as the big orchard on plot 488 behind my grandmother’s house have been cut down and turned into grass fields. The lines of trees, shown schematically along some field boundaries, were English elms which have been wiped out everywhere by a disease, though the hedges survive. Surrounded by green fields, the village is still a popular place to live, especially for retired and professional people from cities like Birmingham and Bristol; that is the problem. But when I compare those two maps, I feel sad at what has been lost.