Local communities have a fight on their hands saving village greens from developers, according to the Open Spaces Society. The campaign groups says there has been a doubling of applications for protective status for village greens in the past 12 months, with London communities determined to guard their remaining open spaces more jealously than most.
It is exactly 40 years since The Kinks released their classic single The Village Green Preservation Society, which illustrates just how much the group’s lead singer and the song’s writer, Ray Davies, was ahead of his time.
Though most would not associate London living with an idyllic life of sitting round a village green, with its cricket pitch or pond, edged by a pub, a clutch of rose-covered cottages and a looming church spire, the capital does have its “greens”.
They are not always green, as it happens, but they are precious open spaces, preserved for families who love a focal point, somewhere to gather and gossip. Pimlico Green, for example, is now paved over but is enjoyed by all the locals who flock to its Saturday farmers’ market.
Village greens can be found in most London boroughs, with some of the finest in Streatham, Croydon and Lambeth. At Christmas, at Haven Green in Ealing, a temporary skating rink proved an astonishing success.
© Barry Phillips
In north London, Mill Hill Preservation Society has just celebrated the granting of village green status to Simmonds Mead. The move means the local council can never sell the land for development.
“It’s a haven on the A41,” says Zenda Green, who fought for Simmonds Mead’s preservation. “It has walnut trees and a stream and little bridges. Local children love it.”
To qualify for village green status, people in the community must have enjoyed its use for at least 20 years. Once registered, a village green is significantly protected from development. The Open Space Society calculates that there are now 3,650 registered greens in England, covering about 8,150 acres.
Granting village green status to a piece of open space can be very good news for home-owners lucky enough to be overlooking it.
© Mark York
A house for sale on Brook Green in west London will sell for £1,000 a square foot, says local agent Bective Leslie Marsh, whereas those not directly on the green drop to between £700 and £800 a square foot. The firm sponsors a tennis tournament there every July in conjunction with West London Action for Children. “It’s a fantastic day out that really cements the family and community,” says its David Jubb.
* Village green status: to find out more about registering open space as a village green, visit www.defra.gov.uk and follow the links to village greens.
Have a ball in one of London’s friendliest ‘villages’
Richmond Green is one of the grandest greens in London, fringed by fine William and Mary houses and several good pubs. An annual black-tie May Ball is held there in a marquee. In aid of the Orange Tree Theatre, the ball is a glitzy event, heavily patronised by the big names of stage and screen.
© Krestine Havemann
Former teacher Jan Temple, who lives nearby on Old Palace Terrace, is a regular at the ball, and also walks her dog on the green daily. “The ball gets bigger every year and is great fun,” she says. “I love the fact that it is such an easy walk home.
“I’ve never known a place like this. I have lived here for nine years now and find it very villagey. People are always friendly and those with families use the green for playing. This is the friendliest place I have ever lived.” However, Jan will soon be moving as she wants to be closer to her children, now that her first grandchild is on the way. “Though I shall be sad to leave,” she says, “someone else will be able to enjoy the house and this wonderful green.”
Great place for kids
Parsons Green, SW6, is the hub of family-orientated activities. Kirsty Burnham and her two-year-old daughter, Lucy, are regular visitors to the green, only a 10-minute walk from their home.
“We go to toddlers’ classes at the church on the green and all the children play there,” says Kirsty, a part-time estate agent, but soon to have her second child. “In the summer there is the fête, a lot of the little schools have their sports day on the green and there are also some great pubs.
“I have lived around the green since I was three years old. There is a great community spirit. It gets mums out of the house and gives us an opportunity to socialise.”
Top commuter village greens
Chiddingfold Green hosts the annual Guy Fawkes bonfire, is surrounded by wonderful houses and has a great pub, The Crown, which sits opposite a lovely church.
Beckenham, south London, has a green close to its high street and to beautiful Victorian St George’s Church.
About once a month through the spring and summer, a French market fills the street leading to the green, where a small funfair is set up to entertain the children. It is also used for a vast number of community events.
Kingham green swung the votes for the village to come top of Country Life’s poll to find England’s favourite village last year. Firework displays, cricket, football, the fête and visiting funfairs all happen on the green in front of the village school, which puts on a display of May Day dancing.
The much photographed village green of Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire has remained more or less unchanged for centuries.
The duck pond is a destination for all little children who come to feed, what must be, the fattest ducks in the county. Film and television companies regularly recreate period scenes here, with its backdrop of fields and rolling hills. It is small but has all the ingredients — pond, pub, an ancient church with lych gate and wisteria-clad cottages with white picket fences.
Its very active community uses the green for its summer fête, Easter prayers and Christmas tree, where friends gather for The Lights. It has been years since anything came up for sale here, though, so you might also try Haddenham, eight miles from Oxford and with a full set of credentials: solid church, pond, village green and a train station.