Ambridge came under the microscope this week as a team of academics invaded the village to conduct in-depth surveys, give demonstrations and even dig archaeological test pits in residents’ gardens.
Led by Cara Courage, PhD student at Brighton University, Dr Nicola Headlam of Liverpool University and Dr Peter Matthews of Stirling University, the boffins camped on the village green. ‘They were generally quite well behaved,’ said local resident Gemma Hawkins, ‘but they did keep us awake with their cider drinking, wassail songs and arm-wrestling contests to see who deserved the most enormous research grant.’
The Ambridge Observer was given exclusive access to the research team (well, not really. They were on telly and radio all day. Ed). Here’s our round-up of events:
Why we all like it up Lakey Hill
Lakey Hill is set to be become England’s smallest theme park, as ethnographers claim it holds a unique position in rural culture.
‘Lakey Hill is possibly the dullest place in Borsetshire,’ said Prof Lyn Thomas of Sussex University. ‘And yet it holds an almost supernatural fascination for local residents.’
Prof Thomas’s research found that nearly every woman in Ambridge had been taken up Lakey Hill at some point, and for many it represents a reassuring sense of place and home.
‘When you consider the disasters that occur when people travel outside Borsetshire – for example to Cumbria, or to a motorway service station – it is hardly surprising that they prefer to stay close to Lakey Hill,’ said Prof Thomas.
‘Of course, dramatic events do happen in Ambridge, such as someone falling off a roof, or having an emergency C-section, ‘ she added. ‘But generally, Lakey Hill is the backdrop to all the most dull events in the village – lambing, cricket, the fete, Stir-Up Sunday, Bonfire Night and the Christmas lights.
'Unlike most theme parks, Lakey Hill will have no tourist attractions whatsoever. That’s exactly why people will like it.’
Theatre-goers to get Moor this Christmas
After last year’s triumph with Calendar Girls, Ambridge will be staging a production of Othello this Christmas.
Shakespearean tragedy is not typical festive fare, but scholar Abi Pattenden concluded it was the ‘perfect choice’ following her studies in the village.
‘Othello is a play about the differences between ‘seeming’ and ‘being’ – deception and honesty,’ she says. ‘Spending time in the Bridge Farm shop, I’ve observed there is a perfect Iago –a master of deceit and manipulation – and sadly, a very convincing Desdemona, the flawed yet innocent wife.
‘Casting the play should be easy and I feel it would have intense resonance with the village – although hopefully Lynda Snell can write a happier ending.’
‘This sounds like a very suitable production,’ said Peggy Woolley of the Women’s Institute. ‘After showing their assets last year, it would be good to demonstrate our members’ more traditional skills, like seaming. I always sew mine by hand – much better than the machine, don’t you find?’
Dispute divides community orchard leaders
The future of the community orchard at Grange Farm hung in the balance this week as a row broke out between its founding members.
‘I don’t know how it happened,’ said Dr Samantha Walton of Bath Spa University. ‘I was just chewing the fat with Joe Grundy and Jim Lloyd over a pint of cidre nouveau, when I pointed out that Joe’s approach to the orchard comes from a place of authority, proximity, memory, reality and knowledge. Whereas Jim views the orchard from a more classically informed standpoint of romanticism, distance, history, mediated knowledge and nostalgia.
‘Suddenly it all kicked off. They practically came to blows over whether proximity or mediated knowledge made better cider. But fortunately I brought the conversation round to poetry and there was one thing we could all agree on: John Keats was merely a warm-up act for the Ambridge Folk Laureate, Bert Fry.’ (Hear, hear! Ed)
Junior diggers do the dirty
A community archaeological dig involving Ambridge youngsters had to be abandoned early after artefacts were found to have been deliberately planted.
Professor Carenza Lewis of Lincoln University and her colleague Clemency Cooper revealed that a hoard of high-status Roman Samian ware, dug up in Grange Spinney, had in fact been made out of Plasticine by Molly and Tilly Button.
‘I can’t believe it,’ said Prof Lewis. ‘We've been organising these Higher Education Field Academies all over the country and usually find that the teenagers are enthused and inspired. We’ve never come across such a thorough and devious attempt at sabotage before.’
The fake finds were particularly disappointing as test pits in other parts of the village had proved unproductive. ‘All we found was some old bunting, buried in the garden of Woodbine Cottage,’ said Prof Lewis. ‘I don’t suppose you know who it belongs to?’
Tomorrow’s Farming World comes to Ambridge
Ambridge’s farmers were treated to a futuristic vision of labour-saving, safer farm work with a demonstration at Brookfield.
‘Farming exposes workers to a wide range of musculo-skeletal risk factors, such as twisting, jumping, heavy lifting, vibration and long working hours,’ said Professor Neil Mansfield of Imperial College, London. ‘Yet the design of farm machinery has in some ways changed little since the war.’
Tony Archer, David Archer and farrier Chris Carter were among those who groaned in agreement when Prof Mansfield pointed out the dangers of injuries from animals.
But not everyone was convinced of the merits of cutting-edge technology. ‘I don’t like the look of this driverless tractor,’ said Ed Grundy. ‘It would put me out of a job – and I’ve not finished paying for my new one yet! My Em would go mad.’
Adam Macy said he was ‘in two minds’ about drones that plant trees and crops robotically. ‘I have very happy memories of drones; my former colleague Charlie Thomas was a fan,’ he said, wiping away a tear. ‘But if we used drones in the polytunnels, and no longer needed a fit, young workforce to come over from Eastern Europe – well, I might have some reservations about that.’
‘I’m no NIMBY’, protests parish councillor
Mrs Lynda Snell of Ambridge Hall has taken ‘extreme exception’ to research by Dr Peter Matthews of Stirling University, which concludes she is a ‘middle class warrior’ determined to preserve Ambridge as a rural idyll.
Dr Matthews pointed out that despite numerous applications, not a single unit of affordable housing has been built in Ambridge parish in the past 30 years. ‘People like Lynda use their social capital, education and persistence to produce outcomes that are not always beneficial for the community as a whole,’ he said.
‘I am shocked,’ sniffed Mrs Snell. ‘All I can say is, I’m no NIMBY. My new shepherd’s hut is a perfect example. It’s housing, and it’s affordable; Robert and I can afford it easily. That Dr Matthews seemed such a nice young man too. I’m glad I didn’t offer him a glass of sherry.’
Local GP faces ethics probe
Dr Richard Locke, who recently returned to live in Ambridge, faces a disciplinary hearing and may be struck off following a ‘shocking breach of professional boundaries’, according to an expert in medical ethics.
‘It only took one chat with Susan Carter to put me in the picture,’ said Professor Deborah Bowman of London University. ‘The rules are absolutely clear; doctors do not date patients, or the families of patients. But Dr Locke not only had a relationship with the mother of his patient Daniel Hebden-Lloyd; Shula herself had previously been under his care for fertility treatment.
‘Of course, boundaries can be harder to maintain in a rural setting,’ said Prof Bowman. ‘And I understand that Dr Locke may be under considerable social pressure, as Shula keeps arranging his parties and lending ponies to his step-daughter.
‘This may provide context, but no excuse. Even though these events date back some years, I’m afraid I shall be referring Dr Locke to the Clinic for Boundary Studies for urgent re-education.’
‘Explore your care options’, families told
Three experts were on hand to answer questions at a well-attended health and social care seminar held at St Stephen’s: Jo Moriarty of King’s College, London, independent social work education consultant Helen Burrows and Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole of Manchester Metropolitan University.
‘I was concerned to hear that Bethany Tucker, a little girl with Down’s Syndrome, had moved away from Ambridge because her parents felt she would not get the support she needed,’ said Dr Runswick-Cole.
‘It seems the family were also subject to some mundane disablism – comments made at the village shop, for example. It is a shame that services weren’t more proactive in helping Bethany settle into a local school, but I still feel this would be preferable to living in Birmingham,’ said Dr Runswick-Cole. 'In fact I have started a campaign, #BringBackBethany, which I hope will go viral.’
Ruth Archer of Brookfield said she was ‘devastated’ to hear from Jo Moriarty that she could have accessed more support for her late mother, Heather Pritchard, both in Northumbria and Ambridge.
‘Me poor mam, I’d no idea we could have got her an alarm system, grab rails and a wet room,’ she said. ‘If we’d done all that, instead of trying to move the whole farm up north and then putting her in a care home, she might still be with us.’
‘So much distress could have been avoided,’ agreed Ms Moriarty, ‘especially for Ruth’s mother-in-law Jill, who would never have had to move her writing desk into a stately home. But sadly, families in rural areas do have to fight to find out what support is available.’
Speaking in the context of the new law against controlling and coercive behaviour, social work expert Helen Burrows said she hoped to raise awareness of domestic abuse. ‘An over-protective partner may be a concern,’ she said. ‘If, for example, a man insists on attending all his pregnant wife’s medical appointments, we might flag that up.
‘But in that case, social workers would probably face a wall of hostility and may come away thinking that perhaps the situation is not that bad,’ she said.
Mrs Pat Archer, whose daughter Helen is expecting her second child, said she found the seminar 'interesting, but not relevant'. ‘It must be awful for people,’ she said. ‘Imagine that happening in your family. We’re so lucky Helen has Rob.’
Society’s hot topic for debate
The next meeting of the Ambridge Union will debate the motion: ‘This house believes that Ambridge society is a microcosm of anti-utilitarian medievalism.’
The debate will be chaired by Dr Philippa Byrne of Oxford University, who says: ‘Proposing the motion will be Emma Grundy and Fallon Rogers, who will explain how their vision for the Ambridge Tea Room exemplifies the values of the Arts & Crafts movement, with its reverence for preserving and beautifying the past through craft.
‘Rob Titchener will speak against the motion. His approach to the design of the Bridge Farm shop and treatment of staff represent the drive towards modernisation at all cost, together with disdain for the value of meaningful work.
‘I anticipate a lively debate with informed comment from the floor,’ says Dr Byrne. ‘I gather Jolene Archer, for one, believes modern Ambridge reflects Thatcher-era neoliberalism rather than a return to Victorian values as such.’
Tickets for the debate cost £5, to include tea or coffee and an Ambridge Tea Room fondant fancy. Proceeds to the Village Hall appeal.
Villagers hear themselves as others hear them
An ‘Accent Analysis’ workshop held by Dr William Barras of Aberdeen University proved extremely popular, with residents keen to find out more about their vocal foibles.
‘Dr Barras couldn’t explain why my George sounds all posh, when he’s lived with me and Ed so long,’ said Mrs Emma Grundy. ‘But he did say that my mum Susan is ‘hyper-rhotic’. I asked him if she could get some ointment for it, but he said it only meant she put a lot more ‘r’ sounds into words than other people do.’
‘Some residents were able to bring recordings of their voices when they were younger, which was fascinating,’ said Dr Barras. ‘Mrs Shula Hebden-Lloyd was amazed when I pointed out how far her vowels had dropped over the years!’
Mrs Pat Archer also said Dr Barras’s workshop was a delightful surprise. ‘I’d completely forgotten I was Welsh!’ she said. ‘It was only when we played a tape from 1974 that I remembered, look you!’
Campaigners fight on as planners ‘move goalposts’
Campaigners for and against Route B – the controversial new road that would split Ambridge in two – vowed to fight on this week as it was revealed that planners’ assumptions could be completely wrong.
Following a detailed study of local maps, Christopher Perkins, reader in geography at Manchester University, has concluded that the course of the River Am has moved substantially in recent years and was ‘straightened out’ in the early 1990s.
‘It seems that the landscape of Ambridge was not as fixed in previous years as it is now,’ said Mr Perkins. ‘There are also significant landmarks, such as the Berrow Farm mega-dairy, the Ambridge bypass and Arkwright Hall, that do not appear on any maps.’
‘This is excellent news,’ said Justin Elliott of Damara Capital. ‘If the maps aren’t correct, we can just draw some new ones and drive Route B right through!’
‘Typical planners!’ said Lynda Snell of the SAVE campaign. ‘One blue line on the map looks just like another to them. Now they’ll have to put Route B somewhere else!’
For more information on Academic analyses of life in rural Borsetshire, visit http://www.caracourage.net/the-archers-fact/