Where Were We?

Last week I opened the subject of British street addresses; today the subject broadens to include villages and towns.

Entering Normandy, population 2987.  The "Please Drive Slowly" sign is common all over England.This is where things really get sticky, because while I live in Normandy, which is in the county of Surrey, the Royal Mail has seen fit to give me an official postal address that puts the house in Ash, the next village to the west. They also put us in the county of Hampshire, even though neither Normandy nor Ash is in Hampshire. If you think that’s confusing, I’ll agree with you; I’ve lived a total of eight years in Normandy and I still don’t get it.

Normandy lies between two bigger towns, Guildford and Aldershot. To get the flavour of the two towns, consider my gym, which has a branch in each. In Guildford, the gym is next to the Friends (Quaker) meeting house and across from the Guildford Institute, which provides continuing education classes, book discussion groups and creative writing groups, that sort of thing. In Aldershot, the gym is upstairs over a bowling alley and a tattoo parlour. You park next door in the parking lot/car park of a grocery that until recently advertised its name as “Buy-Lo”, apparently so low-budget it couldn’t afford a “W”.

If you live in a British village, your postal address includes the name of your village, the name of your post town—the place, as far as I can tell, where your mail/post is sorted—and the county. We pay Guildford-level taxes to the Guildford Borough Council, so it’s irritating to be told that our post town is Aldershot. I am typing this from Normandy, Guildford, Surrey, but my address is in Ash, Aldershot, Hampshire.

Pusseys Copse

Map segment showing Pusseys Copse and Wanborough Station

You could say that Normandy lies between two cultural poles, or use a British expression and say that it falls between two stools (because there’s nothing in life that can’t be described with a metaphor from a pub, right?) We’re not too posh and not too down at heel. Normandy, in fact, is hard to pin down. And it turns out that Normandy as I know it is not even actually a village—which I only learned after living here several years.

I knew it wasn’t a very village-y village. American readers may have pictures in their heads of what English villages are like, pictures based on Olde Worlde images of storybook villages—and I can assure you that those villages do still exist. There are several of them around here, with people in white clothes playing cricket on village greens, ducks in the ponds, and everything. That stuff is real, but we’re not that kind of village. We’re more the kind of village you get when you draw a line on a map across a main road someplace, and then draw another line a little further down the road, and say “From this line to that line? That’s a village.”

Map showing Backside Common

Map showing Backside Common

Except that they didn’t. Despite the fact that everybody calls it a village, it’s a parish, which takes in the village of Normandy plus the hamlets of Wyke, Christmas Pie, Flexford, Pinewood, and Willey Green.

I live in Wyke. Wyke is a modern spelling of Wucca, a location noted in the Domesday Book. Local historians tell me the word wucca might indicate a connection to dairy farming or—though it’s hard to see how you’d get these mixed up with milk cows—to religion or witches (as in Wicca), probably having to do with a nearby Roman temple. Christmas Pie, in case you’re wondering, is thought to be named for a local family called Christmas, with pie being a corruption of an Anglo-Saxon word for a small field.

Map showing Willey Green

Map showing Willey Green

I used to live in Willey Green. The name doesn’t sound very funny until you realize that Willey Green boasts a Backside Common and a Pussey’s Copse, and there, I think, we’d better leave the subject of place names. (I don’t have access to my camera right now, but I’ve clipped some maps and posted those to show I’m not making it up.)

So we’ve established Normandy is a parish. And parishes are divisions of the church, right? No, not in this case (though it’s true that there is no separation of church and state here—a strange idea to Americans).

St Mark's, Wyke

St Mark's, Wyke

The lowest level of the local government is the parish council and the parish is the district it administers. The parish council is the first hurdle for planning applications and has jurisdiction over such facilities as our new village hall—a place for local theatrical groups to perform, local artists to show work, and local clubs to meet. Unfortunately, a former clerk of the parish council ran off with the money for the new village hall a few years ago, so things are developing rather more slowly than planned. They’ve managed to finish everything except paving the car park, though, and that will come in time.

Normandy Village Hall

Normandy Village Hall

You might think that having the village hall in the village itself is not remarkable, but here, where everything else is topsy-turvy, it stands out. Normandy’s church is in Wyke, and while Normandy’s train station is in Normandy, it’s called Wanborough Station. A big-wig from Wanborough, the next village to the south, gave the land for the station on condition it would be called Wanborough Station.

And the name Normandy itself? You might think that it’s named for the more famous place in France, but everyone seems certain that France has nothing to do with it. Then again, there’s enough anti-French sentiment here that refusing a connection with France could be a matter of habit. And it isn’t, they say, named for the village pub, which is called the Duke of Normandy. Nobody really knows. One theory holds that the name is a corruption of No Man’s Land, since the site originally lay in between the lands of various manors.

There is enough misdirection in the place names here, right down to my house—which has both a name and a number, and both an address where the house actually, physically is and a different address for the post—that you start to feel that it’s not entirely out of place that Guildford has connections with Alice in Wonderland. Which is a story for another time.



Filed under Culture

3 responses to “Where Were We?

  1. I have to admit that when someone says “English village” I think of The Prisoner’s village. Did it have a name? I don’t remember. Nor do I remember who Number 1 was. The Prisoner himself? I believe that was one of the possibilities. But I do remember the posh green lawns, the charming cottages, and the sixties-futuristic furniture. Though I’ve been to Britain, this is the image that comes to me when you say “English village.”

    I live in a place that isn’t a place. We have a place name on our postal address that actually doesn’t exist! And I believe the state of Louisiana has parishes. And they were founded by the French, so you see how mixed up it all really is!

    • Within the world of the Prisoner, the village had no name, and was always only “The Village”. The Prisoner was number 6.

      It was filmed at a unique Welsh village called Portmeiron, a sort of village-sized folly constructed by an eccentric designer to be a sort of utopian community, as I recall. Maybe I’ll do a post later about the place. The cottage used for external shots of Number 6’s house is now shop selling Prisoner memorabilia.

      I think I’m safe in saying it’s the only British village that looks anything like that!

  2. Pingback: So You Want to Be a Citizen (part 4) « M E Foley's Anglo-American Experience Blog

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