Pride of place in nostalgic Knowle

PUBLISHED: 01:16 21 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:01 20 February 2013

Pride of place in nostalgic Knowle

Pride of place in nostalgic Knowle

A fiercely protective community has helped to ensure the survival of this very special Warwickshire village, reports Marsya Lennox

A fiercely protective community has helped to ensure the survival of this very special Warwickshire village, reports Marsya Lennox

In 1936, intrepid chronicler Arthur Mee listed some of Knowles treasures for his Warwickshire edition of The Kings England.

Among them was one of the oldest inns in the country, 15th century at its core, and marked by its beautifully made iron sign depicting a white swan.
Three years later, The White Swan was wiped off the High Street landscape, a tragedy that still stabs at the heart of Old Knowle.

Locals believe that the demolition heralded 30 more years of architectural vandalism: the clearance of picturesque old cottages, the residential development of surrounding fields and new retail domination of the village centre.

Knowle needed a champion and in 1962, one was named. It was, and still is, The Knowle Society, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in June next year. There were some more losses, buildings sacrificed to make space for the modern shopping precinct. But the new Knowle guardians became a persuasive force, fighting for conservation area status and helping to save the priceless Chester House that is now the showpiece library.

The determined band of volunteers had vowed to fight for the protection of Knowles remaining heritage. Within a year of the societys foundation there were 145 members. Today, there are 3,000.

Knowles expanded population, now around 11,000, sounds more town than village to interested outsiders. Those who love living here, however, vouch for the unmistakable atmosphere that goes with a small community. And its nothing to do with numbers in a community of freethinkers.

The Knowle Societys exemplary newsletter reports on every issue, campaign, worry and triumph while reminding of the village heritage all locals can celebrate.
Listed phone contacts have a traditional ring to them, listed with Knowle as their prefix, not the impersonal modern area code.

David Bower, born and bred here, a member of the society and editor of its publication admits responsibility. He likes to show phone numbers in the old-fashioned way, generally emphasising that we are local. Another long-established resident and society committee member, Janet Erzen, is in no doubt about Knowles village character.

When I say Im popping into the village, Im told, See you in about two hours then. People in the shops know you and everyone stops to talk. Knowle used to have six greengrocers. It now has one. But there are two, traditional and well established butchers.

There is the specialist bakery, deli and coffee shop, independent fashion retailers, upmarket mens outfitters, home wares and interiors, pet shop, convenience store, Tesco Metro, hair and beauty salons, estate agents, banks and just two charity shops.

Chartered surveyor, John Ozwell heads the independent Hunters group which has its headquarters in the High Street. For such a small, village high street, we have about 16 food outlets. People still come here to go out for a bite to eat and it makes it a fun place to be.

Empty shops are a rarish sight, quickly snapped up when they do become available. Currently, Knowle is looking forward to welcoming a new and much longed-for hardware shop. And there is a buoyant mood among some long-established businesses. Diane Hurdley of interiors and giftware specialist Carlys has recently moved premises from one High Street shop to another.
This was to make room for a new Costa Coffee outlet, bit of an eyebrow raiser in conservative Knowle.

It has brought in some new faces, which is fantastic, said Diane, who has been in business locally for 10 years. And its nice for the wealthier schoolchildren who have lots of dinner money! Yet Knowles shoppers still demand and support choice. The High Streets bakery and coffee shop remains as busy as ever, despite the arrival of a big brand name.

Business is good in Knowle. We have been busy through the summer which is fabulous and I think it is because there are a lot of independents which makes us different from the normal high street, said Diane.

Theres another big name knocking at the door of a generally, unimpressed Knowle. It is Waitrose and its concentrating minds. Though this upmarket food giant bestows middle-class honour on all towns it even considers, Knowle is not sure that its needed.

Even scaled down plans are causing some worry over increased traffic, access for delivery lorries and loss of some housing. Though supporters admit that quality food, whoevers selling it, will always go down well in Knowle.

A magic wand in the hand of locals might simply plop Waitrose into Tescos place. But nothings so simple in the real world of planning and development.
David Bower said: Most people feel positively inclined towards Waitrose as a company but that doesnt mean that what they do wont have an unintended destructive impact on the more subtle benefits of life in Knowle.

Knowle holds onto that special something that many would say another old village, Solihull, lost some time ago. Knowles strength is emphatically community over housing stock, Solihulls is housing stock over community.
The green belt still casts a protective ring around Knowle. The High Street has resisted too much progress, and the village holds on to some buildings of distinction.

The Knowle Society and its dedicated volunteers have helped preserve even the lost past in a superb collection of items in their own local history collection: postcards, documents, photographs, books. Every Saturday morning, upstairs at Chester House, it is open to the public, 10 am to 12.30, staffed by wonderful volunteers.

But Knowle, and its custodians, dont live for, and in, the past. The exemplary archives grow continually with items and records that matter today in the best tradition of real historians. Local man Mike Humphreys has been busy painting scenes of Knowle, from landmarks to tiny hidden corners, recording it as it is now.

A selection will be featured in The Knowle Societys commemorative Golden Jubilee calendar, being launched officially on October 1. Romantics might long for those far-off village days when High Street cottages outnumbered passing vehicles. But enough of Old Knowle has survived to inspire both its 21st century population and its many admiring visitors.

When people come here, they find such a lot of historic interest. And shopping is just part of a day out, added Diane Hurdley of Carlys. People who have not yet come to look dont know what they are missing. Janet Erzen concludes that Knowle, with its village advantages is a lovely place to live.

Obviously it has grown and changed over the years, but we like to think that if the original members of the Guild of Knolle, founded in 1412, were to walk down the High Street today, they would still recognise it.

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