(originally published - February 2010)
Mrs June Marvin has kindly lent me a book published in 1924 called Unknown Warwickshire by Mary Dormer Harris, which gives insights into Oxhill shortly after the First World War. The writer loves the village, which in her romantic style she calls “an enchanted land”, but acknowledges too of a sense of decay, and depopulation. Besides its quiet beauty, Oxhill is also “a dying land”. She talks to a former resident, who still returns to help with haymaking each year. He speaks of about thirty cottages that have fallen down in his lifetime, orchards not renewed, arable fields allowed to “tumble down” to grass, and the young of the village leaving to find work elsewhere.
Emigration, the death toll of the War, and the import of cheaper corn from Canada had hit English farming hard, and cottages lay abandoned. A thatched cottage soon decays and becomes a ruin. Thirty cottages seems at first surprising, but we should bear in mind that these often built in rows of five or six, providing only one-up, one-down accommodation. There was such a row behind Elmville, in an alleyway that ran between Gilks Lane and Blackford Way. This row was decaying by 1905 - it is several units shorter on the Ordnance Survey of 1905 than in that of 1886. (As an aside, Blackford Way, the modern name, was described as “Hunt’s End” in the 1891 census, after a resident, and as “Manor House Lane” in 1901 - the lane formerly going on to the Manor. Lane names were not then fixed: these are descriptions rather than titles.) That same lane had 11 dwellings listed in the 1891 census: 7 in 1901. There are 5 now.
Fern Cottage, Main Street was built on the site of former cottages, and the roadside buildings now part of Fellows House and The Old House once formed five more. (These were long unoccupied – Mrs Colyer remembers the one being used for Sunday School in her childhood being so run down, she was scared that something would fall on her!) Next to the Peacock were two rows comprising seven cottages, which gradually fell into dereliction. Two cottages once stood on the site of Amberway, Main Street. The1886 Ordnance Survey map shows buildings in the orchard next to the Malt House which are subdivided much like a row of cottages: these were gone by the time of the 1905 edition. A cottage behind the Sett referred to as Thackwell’s Lone Cottage has left no trace now. The censuses of 1881, 1891, and 1901 report uninhabited cottages numbering 15, 21 and 16 respectively. Some of these represent the casualties I have listed; some will have been later reoccupied, others left to wind and weather.
The Oxhill man to whom the author spoke thought there was no hope for the area unless the land was fully cultivated again, and in some ways, his village has died. Agriculture is no longer the main employer, and most people work in surrounding towns. More houses have sprung up, but at the expense of the orchards that he valued. But although a less rural village, the spirit of the place lives on. If talk of enchantment seems a little strong, it is still a good place to live.