Kingham: Britain's favourite village
By Valerie Elliott, The Times Countryside Editor
Nov. 11, 2004

It is not so much a village as an extension of the A40 from Ladbroke Grove.

That was the verdict of Alex Neate James, best known as bass guitarist with Blur, and celebrity newcomer to Kingham, Oxfordshire, which is named today as Country Life UK favourite village.

"I even got a capuccino here this morning at the farm shop, amazing isn't it?" he said.

Just over a year ago he swapped a Soho flat in Central London for a magnificent £2 million 200-acre Cotswold stone farmhouse, 2,000 sheep and a new recording studio on the outskirts of the village.

He is working on a new album but was willing to talk about his move to the village which is now certain to be a new stamping ground for tourists on the Cotswold trail.

Kingham is not a typical chocolate-box village. It is certainly no Burford, or even Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, nearby magnets for second-homers, antique dealers and American visitors.

It is a long, straddling village and its graces are not obvious on a wet, grey November day. Villagers seemed surprised that they had won the accolade, though were pleased that it would raise house values.

The village has not had so much attention since Norman Scott, the gay lover of the former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, lived in Squirrel Cottage.

The only intrigue today is finding the culprit who stole the clothes pegs from Joan, landlady of the Tollgate Inn and scattered them on the village green.

So what brought Alex Neate James, 35, to put down roots in Kingham? The former grammar school boy from Bournemouth always thought that he would live by the sea but said that friends had sold him and his wife, Clare, a film producer, on the delights of the Cotswolds. Their first son, Geronimo, arrived a year ago and the Neate Jameses have now immersed themselves in rural life.

"What's great about Kingham is that it is a real community and I am very happy here. I also like the village green. There is a feudal system still operating in the Cotswolds that is totally old-fashioned. It's a bit like living in a P.G. Wodehouse novel. I'm not yet sure if that's a good or bad thing, but we are very happy."

He won over local people last year when he agreed to open the summer fête and even declared it better than the Glastonbury Festival.

Kingham is different because it is a village that lives and works and is deemed a good place to live. It has its village green lined with lime and chestnut trees, a stunning medieval church with belltower and graveyard, St Andrew's, a red telephone kiosk and elegant clusters of homes in mellow Cotswold stone. Prices for a two-bedroom terraced cottage start at £200,000 and a family home could be £1 million. A four-bedroom home, the Nook, is on sale at £695,000.

Kingham also has a mix of cheaper rented housing which gives the community a balance. People living in these homes are the backbone of village life. Cherie Gregory, for example, 37, who has lived there all her life is lollipop lady, cook and cleaner at the village school.  

The real pull of the village is the 80-minute train to Paddington. "I get to Kingham station in six and a half minutes yomping over my fields," the musician said.

At least a third of the 750 population commute to Oxford or London.

The exodus of academics, bankers, stockbrokers and lawyers begins on the 6.40am service. People turn up for work at the village industrial estate ‹ there are 18 units including a restorer of vintage cars, an upholsterer, and an audio-visual design company. Other people work from home. One writes romantic novels, another composes advertising jingles.

Kingham primary school boasts some of the best results in Oxfordshire, with 96 per cent of pupils achieving above level four in national tests. Irene Beever, headteacher for 15 years, is besieged by parents hoping to secure a place for their children. The school has such a special place in the community that in just two years local people raised £240,000 to build a school hall.

The village was a flurry of activity yesterday. Windows were being renovated at one house and cleaned at another. An extension is going up at another house. Local people worked on allotments and people were out riding and walking their dogs.

People have the choice of a bowls club, dog club, gardening club and an over-70s lunch club on other days.

THE JUDGING
* The criteria: architectural merit, beauty and setting, quality of life, amenities, vibrancy, community sport, transport, village green.
* Judges included: the Duchess of Devonshire, Sir Roy Strong, Julian Fellowes and Olga Pollizi.

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