Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Guiting Power - Real and Imagined

I have made mention of my impression that the Cotwolds are just a little "too cute".  It was an area of considerable natural beauty with rolling hills and nice little towns built in lovely locally quarried stone.  When it was "discovered" by artistic types circa 1900 they did some excellent work in preserving the marvelous things they had found.  But did they perhaps also improve upon things a bit?

Guiting Power is a good case in point.

It sure is pretty when you walk into it from the south.

Very quaint.  Here's a nice little village green.

It has a post office, a village store, a bakery, an old church and not one but two pubs.  Pretty impressive for a place with a population under 300.  But when you settle in to stay the night there it becomes apparent that this Time Warp Quaint is sustained by artificial means.

There is some serious money here.  We stopped in for a drink at one of the pubs and found out that it was the place that the local "Horsey Set" frequented.  Posh, lots of pictures of race horses on the walls.  The barkeep was a guy from Italy.

The entire village was in derelict condition circa 1900.  In the 1930s there was the first stirrings of an effort to buy up the whole place, putting it into the hands of the Guiting Manor Annuity Trust.  This preserved the structures intact, allowed local residents to remain in them...and banned most structural and cosmetic changes.  Continuing perhaps the theme of things not being exactly as they appear, the driving force behind the establishment of the Trust was a certain Raymond Cochrane. Cochrane was born a hermaphrodite, one of those rare individuals whose anatomy is ambiguous.  Raised as an upper class woman, Cochrane later rebelled, alienated his/her family and had a very early gender reassignment surgery. Cochrane arrived in Guiting in the 1950s and made preservation of the village a personal passion.

We stayed in a nice B & B across the way from The Farmer's Arms, which is the other and more authentic pub in the village.  Over a tasty rabbit pie - that gave me grim satisfaction as I thought of the pests eating our garden back home - various tales of the village came forth.

The policy of locals being the preferred tenants is still in place, but swank Londoners can find a way nowadays.  The entire community is shortly going to be upgraded to the fastest internet connections in the UK courtesy of a music producer who lives and works remotely there.  We also heard that the Trust still has charge of every aspect of the village.  You can't put a new gate on your fence, you have to wait for the appropriate workmen to come and do it for you.  

On the way into town we had noticed that next to the church there was an open field where sheep were grazing around some old foundations and all about some curious earth works.  We were assured that the former was the remains of an ancient Anglo Saxon church and the latter a genuine Bronze Age barrow where intact human remains had been found.  

I had begun to have doubts about the authenticity of many things in Guiting Power.  Those Trust approved workmen sounded just a little too zealous....

Here is the top of the monument in the village green.  It looks centuries old but has a WWI Tommy leaning on his Enfield rifle.  This may not be a conscious effort to deceive as the local stone does weather quickly and gracefully, but certainly serves as a reminder to keep one's eyes open.

Guiting Power supposedly dates back to at least 780 AD.  A church of course would be one of the first things that the Anglo Saxons would build.  I have no doubt that the Trust's archaeologists found the remains of an early church here.  I have equal confidence that what they found was a sad and random little collection of stones that were later reassembled and enhanced with plenty of extra parts.  Those Trust workmen are such industrious chaps.

Oh, and that ancient barrow.  Here's what it looks like today:

Such an astonishing degree of preservation!  Such clear definition of the mounds and the surrounding enclosure ditch!  Such.....such nonsense.

It took a bit of looking around the internet to sort this out.  The Trust's official site does describe it as a reconstruction but other references say a barrow has been there long enough to show up on Ordnance Survey maps.  The truth of it seems to be that a rather unimpressive barrow did exist here from ancient times.  I found a comment on a message board devoted to the study of barrows that really sums it up well:

What was previously a 38m diameter 1.5m high Bronze Age Round Barrow (which a 1992 excavation proved was a 'well preserved Barrow') has had what many people would call 'The Mars Bar treatment' (now very much smaller and a lot more costly) - the propaganda states that the reconstructed barrow (a flat topped mound 20m in diameter) 'reflected the original barrow' - well anything is possible these days, especially with considerable imagination, in the Cotswolds - perhaps it should be named 'Designer Barrow' -

Is this Preservation Gone Too Far?  It is a fair question.  One could debate it over a pint at The Farmer's Arms and have an enjoyable evening of it.  The pub looks authentic and the local residents are in fact members of a functioning small community.  If the whole enterprise has perhaps a little more help that the casual observer might notice, well, its better than many other possible ways that Guiting Power could have ended up.

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