The Wilstone Story; from ‘dying village’ to integrated community

This interview with Wally Braginton, long term resident of Wilstone, tells the story of his time there and how the village was saved from terminal decline by the commitment of new residents to creating a vibrant and mutually supportive community.

Following the brief from the Parish Council to develop a village history website, a number of major differences have been revealed by our research into the histories of Long Marston and Wilstone.

When enquiring about Wilstone it has been so much more difficult to find long term residents. You may think that I am falling into the Long Marston habit of regarding anyone who has been here less than seventy years as a newcomer. But the fact is that, to research fully the way that the two villages have developed, you need to speak to the few people who go back that far. And in Wilstone that proved challenging.

Many readers will remember Dick Gomm and value everything that he did as a local historian; he informed everyone about Wilstone’s history, going way back into ancient times. But it is his writings about the 1960s that are of most interest here. He wrote that in the early 1960s, there were serious concerns that the village was in terminal decline. Though we should not regard the Bucks Herald as the font of all wisdom, it confirmed Dick’s view, stating in 1962 that Wilstone was a ‘dying village, bleak and unattractive’.

Though it is difficult to make comparisons so far back in time, this analysis does seem in sharp contrast to the picture of Long Marston in the 1950s and 1960s, as described in previous articles; a new village hall in which the weekly Saturday night dance was an attraction to all the villages around, Go Kart racing on the nearby airfield, Gymkhanas and Brass Band parades. And all those local businesses providing services and employment, compared to Wilstone, which only had a village shop and a small corner shop (now Colin Reedman’s house at the end of Long Row).

To find out more about Wilstone around this time, I made enquiries about the longer term residents and it was suggested that I contact Wally Braginton. Wally became a resident of Wilstone in 1961, just before the Bucks Herald made that devastating comment mentioned above. He and his wife Annie arrived as a newly married couple, pleased to be moving into such a relatively small village, very different from the urban atmosphere of Harrow Weald where they had lived previously.

Perhaps it was the euphoria of newly married bliss but Wally found no signs of terminal decline. He recalled that it was quiet and peaceful, his being one of only 5 or 6 cars in the whole village. The happy couple moved into their bungalow on Chapel End Lane, one of four new constructions. Any problems they had were due to poor initial house construction but these were eventually resolved. Because of his career as a mechanical engineer, Wally and Annie later spent periods in various overseas locations, renting the house while away (he recalls renting once to two young air hostesses who ‘brightened up the village’!). These locations included Mauritius, Antigua, Ethiopia and Bahrain so Annie managed to develop her suntan during this period!

In contrast to the negative descriptions by Gomm and the Bucks Herald, Wally found that Wilstone soon developed into a lively and well integrated community. He recalls organised games on the recreation ground and was particularly proud when showing off his red basketball gear! The village show – with the regular visits of celebrities each year – was also important to the development of village life; another proud recollection for Wally is when his daughter Helen gained first prize in the guinea pig competition.

Wally recalls an element of rivalry between Wilstone and Long Marston, which may have been an extra motivation for Wilstone to recover from its ‘terminal decline’. One difference between the two villages was that, unlike Long Marston, there were no old established families dominating village life. There were farming families – in particular the Meads and the Gregorys – but the development of village activities and social interaction seems to have been a joint community effort from new people coming in and working together. Wally also confirmed that the Half Moon and the village shop have been important to him and other villagers in the improvement of the village as a community, as has been the remarkable growth of the Meads Farm shop nearby.

My thoughts after talking to Wally are that maybe Long Marston’s past reliance on a few families has been a mixed blessing. Previous articles have confirmed how the Winfields, the Deans, the Chandlers et al gave so much of their time and energy to make Long Marston the lively village of the 1950s and 60s when Wilstone was seen as being in decline. Yet it was not possible to keep up that momentum as new generations of the families moved away or found other priorities in their lives. The message from Wilstone’s recovery is that new people coming into our villages must make their contribution to social activities if we are to be more than a number of homes that happen to be close to each other.

Wally now lives on his own in the same bungalow that he moved into with Annie 50 years ago. Annie sadly died around 20 years ago and he has had to deal with the passing of Helen, his only child, quite recently. This was made even more difficult by this happening in Canada so that, during lockdown, Wally was unable to visit. But this is a remarkably resilient man who accepts his fate philosophically and makes the best of life. He told me that he is able to cope because he has ‘four ladies’ looking after him. Perhaps this the best possible example of Wilstone as a village where people help each other and is no longer in terminal decline.

Image credit: Tony Cashen Photography

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