Warwickshire's changing landscape - CPRE

11:02 21 July 2010

Polesworth Abbey

Polesworth Abbey

The proposed high speed rail link has focused attention on the damage to the Warwickshire countryside.

Up and down the centuries the ordinary man has been at the mercy of the endless changes wrought to the landscape. The changes continue, as they always will, but now, happily, everyone is free to speak his mind and take a small, but effective part in resisting or planning them.
These reflections are prompted by a book I have been reading, Warwickshire Landscapes, The Story so Far, an exhaustive physical history of this county, written by Mick Jeffs, a member of our local CPRE team and a Warwickshire man born and bred. His book, a labour of love written from a wide knowledge including a career in local government, is beautifully presented and illustrated. If you would like a copy visit www.shaybooks.co.uk
The author, by the by, is in favour of high speed rail, but he is of the firm opinion that we must find a better route than the one proposed.

To contact the Campaign to Protect Rural England phone 01926 494597 or visit www.cprewarwickshire.org.uk

The Warwickshire Council for the Protection of Rural England recently held its AGM. A talk on high speed rail provoked long and lively debate. Was the proposed route the best? Should the line not run alongside main roads? But this would use even more land. The dead space between road and rail? Can we afford it? With clogged up roads and air pollution, can we not afford it?
We, and many other groups and individuals, particularly the HS2 Action Alliance, want to know exactly where this railway line goes, if at all. Major changes to the landscape concern everyone.
How recently, how very recently, has this democratic right been established?
Throw your mind back to the coming of the railways and the countless acres of farmland they swallowed up. Many were dismayed, but who could challenge this radical social development?
A century ago trains left Rugby in nine different directions. Now, only four are left. The lines that went south to London, north to Sheffield, Leicester and the Midlands, and west to Leamington Spa are memories. No doubt many people hated their arrival and as many vainly grieved when the Beeching axe fell on them.
We are concerned at the loss of hedgerows, that small fields are becoming vast prairies. But what were the feelings of those countrymen living from the end of the 15th to the mid-19th centuries who had their rights to graze their cows and sheep on open land taken away when that land was enclosed?
Throw your mind back further. There were once 20 abbeys, monasteries and priories in this county. What hands were raised to protest against their dissolution, plunder and aggrandisement by rich, greedy men, and the end of the social life that went with them? Protest was worse than futile; it was death.
But consider the plight of those who lived when the monastic way of life was created, in the 12th and 13th centuries. What redress was given to the inhabitants of Cryfield, the village demolished to make way for Stoneleigh Abbey, or the settlements of Upper and Lower Smite who were displaced by Coombe Abbey?


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