The History of Ilmington - Chapter 1
In January, 1973, it can still be claimed that Ilmington retains much of the character of a genuine country village. This may well be due to the quite large number of elderly people whose families have lived here for generations, one of them since 1600. Their country skills and memories of the past are a rich mine of interest and knowledge for those who wish to work it. Some of the old crafts still survive; stone masons, one of whom will tell from which quarries the stone of the buildings came; a hurdle maker whose hurdles are carried as far away as Berwick, and who also supplies much of the county with climbing frames and garden seats; a garage which is much more than an ordinary garage, seeming to continue some of the traditions of the wheelwright's shop whose premises it has inherited, and certainly serving as a meeting place for those who have leisure for discussion of affairs in general. There is still a number of farmers, both large and small, but they employ now very few people, the farms being largely mechanized. This, however, does not prevent farming from remaining a major interest, and perhaps this is reflected in the well tended gardens of so many, and the generous work put into the cutting of verges and displays of flowers often outside the gardens. The village is proud to have won the trophy for the best kept large village of the Shipston Rural District for the third time in four years.
It has many natural advantages, some of which, particularly its shape, are puzzling to visitors. Its beautiful church, parts of which date from the 12th century, is central but no roads lead to it. Adjacent is 'Bury Orchard', an open space marked with 'Fish Ponds' on the map. It has two village greens and woe betide any who encroach thereon, save for the tethering of an occasional donkey, Jersey cow or pony. Its Council estates and a private building estate lie on the North East. Nearly all its houses are grouped and many are now the result of conversion of a number of cottages to one larger house. Much of the building is of stone, which in early morning and at sunset takes on a startling golden colour. Ilmington is, however, tolerant of brick, indeed at one time this seems to have been fashionable. It has lost nearly all its thatch, but few of the new roofs are unsightly. Above all, it has retained as orchards so many of its little cottage closes, and these in spring and autumn are one of its chief glories.
In addition to its church, it has a Catholic chapel with a resident priest, a Wesleyan chapel, both of these being mid-19th century, a post office, two inns, a village hall, one of the first to be built with help from the Carnegie Trust in 1933; a fine playing field with a good stone pavilion, and a Junior and Infant school of one of Warwickshire's good new designs dating from 1957. The old Victorian Gothic school of 1858, of which everyone was so proud when it was opened, still remains a rather sad derelict shell. Besides its post office, the village had until this year an excellent butcher's shop and village store. The former is to disappear, but greatly to the relief of the village as a whole, the store is to be continued in new hands. Transport consists of buses to Stratford on Fridays and to Shipston on Saturdays. Fortunately there are also two taxis. Ilmington lies about eight miles south of Stratford upon Avon, four and a half miles northwest of Shipston on Stour and five miles northeast of Chipping Campden, its own shape is shown on map 1.
Employment, except for that already mentioned, must largely be found outside the village in the neighbouring and even distant towns, in a precision factory at Shipston and in the Royal Engineer Stores Depot at Long Marston. Few of Ilmington's young people can find employment here. Older children are taken to Campden Comprehensive School or to Shipston High School; a few go to Stratford, but for this must have private transport. People must go to Shipston when in need of a doctor, where there is a fine health centre, but a village doctor would be greatly appreciated. A policeman lives here, but this village is not his special care; even the roadmen work in gangs, visiting this village only once every few weeks. There is, however, a resident rector, and as previously mentioned, a resident Catholic priest. The village is fortunate in these, although the rector is shared with Stretton-on-Fosse.
For a village of something over six hundred people, with its retired population just about equal to the child population, and the majority of its workers away all day, a considerable number of clubs and activities are successful in maintaining themselves in a viable condition. Both bell ringers and choir have begun to flourish again, helped in the former case by teenagers. There are Brownies, Guides and Sea Scouts, the latter having to join with another village. The over-sixties club flourishes with regular meetings during the winter, shopping expeditions and garden and general expeditions in the summer. The Women's Institute has its faithful group of members, is active in entertainment, and last year carried off the prize at the Local History Exhibition in Shipston. The playing field is used regularly by the football, cricket, tennis and bowling groups, and in the autumn a Horticultural Show, and in the spring a fête are arranged, whose proceeds help with maintenance. Sometimes a harvest supper, and sometimes a pig roast make their appearance as revivals of old customs. Whist drives and dances in the village hall are arranged as clubs need funds, and latterly efforts have been made to hold regular discotheque meetings for teenagers, without too much disruption from 'out town' people. Brownies, Guides and the school at its harvest festival are assiduous in bringing gifts to senior citizens, and these gifts are always most charmingly presented.
Cultural groups of various kinds flourish from time to time, sometimes privately, sometimes run by the Local Education Authority. Painting, poetry, literature, local history, dressmaking and keep-fit classes have been among these, but often recourse must be had to Shipston or Stratford, as with many varied interests groups are small. Many, especially of the younger ones, prefer to leave the village to find their entertainment, but for those who have their own resources and a real love of the country in all its moods, the village is a haven of refuge and peace, remote from much of the meretricious quality of some modern life.
The future is uncertain. The village is conserved but the speculators have found it. Public transport without subsidy is both inadequate and uneconomic. Only the village stores and the post office of its once numerous shops remain. Its fabric seems reasonably safe, but will its genuine village life be maintained in the face of soaring land prices, speculative building, free enterprise and the affluent society?
In less than a year since this was written, four new houses are nearing completion, a large barn is being converted to an even larger house, five cottages are being restored and enlarged, and a further one has received minor alterations. Two more are awaiting restoration and a further major development is pending. It is true that the Rural District Council houses built since 1919 must have greatly changed the character of the village. These, however, house a number of the old and young Ilmington people. This is less likely to be true of the present developments.
Map 1 - Based upon the Ordnance Survey Map with the sanction of the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office, Crown Copyright reserved