Preservation by Neglect

eighteenth century, Burford was humming with activity. This was the era of the stage-coach, and there was no A40 then. All that traffic passed through Burford, and over that ancient Windrush bridge. There were forty regular coaches per day. Not everyone was just passing through, either. In addition to the existing industries, Burford now manufactured rope and clocks and clarinets. Not many towns can claim a thriving clarinet industry in its history.

But this was Burford's high point. The nineteenth century saw the end of the stage-coach trade, and people were drawn to the cities. When the main East-West road (later the A40) was built across the head of the town in 1812, Burford became a backwater.

Particularly through the agricultural depression (1870 on), Burford was probably a sorry-looking place. But the neglect proved to have positive benefits. There were no grandiose Victorian edifices built, to disturb the gentle, sloping line of Burford's rooftops. Sturdy buildings from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries survived, unembellished.

In the 20th century, a greater appreciation of such buildings led to sensitive renovations and conversions, creating this picture-book prospect which attracts the tourists today.

A twinge of malevolence crosses my mind when I look at these cottages, once home to extended families of grandparents, parents and many children, all working hard at some part of their communal living, now owned by commuting couples, childless or with children nannied or boarded. They probably only visit at weekends.

Yes, it's just envy.

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