It all started when I was reporting on the Parish Council meeting in April. Chairman Steven Godwin raised an item on the agenda, a plan to develop the council website to include a section on the history of our villages. My ears pricked up. There was a need for volunteers to create content and carry out research.
This seemed a good opportunity for my wife Jenny and I to work together; she has an interest in history and studied the subject as part of her Open University degree; I am a compulsive writer and have taken an interest in the history of Long Marston after researching the history of the Village Show a couple of years ago.
After a quick discussion over the breakfast table, there was agreement that we might actually do something useful together. Normally the secret of our long marriage has been that we go our separate ways, Jenny to do whatever she does with horses, me to watch football and cricket. But we decided that this could work without leading to the divorce courts.
Our decision was to email the Chairman to confirm our interest and he said that he would inform the council but we would need to wait for other volunteers to come forward. I welcomed this and made the point that our joint IT skills are very limited and that was the kind of volunteer we needed.
No volunteers came forward but we pressed on and Steven agreed to come to a socially distanced, unmasked, but all round double jabbed, meeting at our house, convenient for Steven to pop round after a session at his nearby allotment. We had already communicated by email and phone so I had a pretty good idea of what he had in mind – the basic framework would be a timeline going back to the very beginnings of our villages, divided into various ages of history, probably starting with the Romans and ending up with today. We would also show what happened in the country as a whole, to show how village development was driven by changes outside.
In fact we had done some initial work to discuss at that first meeting, following a trawl of the Internet and a couple of history books. It was encouraging to find so much material, including Dick Gomm’s history of Wilstone and numerous references to Long Marston’s history, including the famous witches tale and wartime bombings. This seemed to go down well but, as no other volunteers had come forward, it was agreed that we need to do more. An advert in the Newsletter was prepared, making specific reference to the need for IT skills.
In the meantime, the need for those skills became more obvious. I made enquiries about the process necessary to put our work onto the Council website and it was clear that I would have to make contact with the team that host the site and that idea filled me with dread. It would be like trying to speak another language. But, just as we were wishing we had never started this, the cavalry came riding in the form of a response to our Newsletter plea. Someone called Oliver Partridge rode in from over the horizon.
We were encouraged by the email address which included ‘Tring Website Design’ and Oliver’s willingness to help, which was confirmed in a telephone conversation. A welcome bonus was his previous involvement as a Long Marston resident in a Facebook group ‘Long Marston Nostalgia’ and the website ‘LongMarston.org, both of which had much material on village history. He was also just the person we needed to open up a dialogue with the Council website hosts.
The next step was to arrange a meeting between Steven, Oliver and the two of us, to agree a way forward. It then emerged that both Steven and Oliver had allotments on the Potash Lane site, even though they had never met. It was therefore convenient to hold the meeting down the lane at our place after allotment duties had been completed.
The meeting produced the breakthrough that changed the project fundamentally and made it more exciting and challenging, while also simplifying the process. Instead of including our ever growing material on one section of the council website, we would create a new website with links between the two. Oliver was confident that by using something called WordPress, he could create a new site at minimal cost and within days ‘TringRuralHistory.co.uk was born.
It was agreed that including all the timeline from the Iron Age till the present day would be overload so we should start with just one time period. After some lively debate we agreed to start with the twentieth century and then extend to earlier times as subsequent stages. The argument was that this was where people would have greater interest and where we could create live content based on the recollections of those who are still alive. Already we have had the pleasure of interviewing long term residents Eunice Hall, Neil Dean, Wally Braginton, Daphne Bateman and Don, Alan and David Winfield; their memories of our villages before and after the war are already posted on the new site.
Since then the content has grown from two more directions. Firstly content – and particularly photos – from the other websites mentioned above; secondly more offers of content as the word about our activities has spread. Particularly appreciated has been the Potted History of Long Marston and the Story of Wilstone, a beautiful book by John and Janet Painter, kindly lent to us by Janet. A further source has been past copies of Village Newsletters going back to 2003, which Jenny and I went through, highlighting articles of historical interest to go on the website. A true labour of love.
So where to now? Our main immediate task is to create the interest that will drive traffic to the new website and this article is one way of encouraging readers to give it a try. We would also love to have more of residents’ memories and volunteers for interviews will be much appreciated. We hope to develop other ways of creating interest, for example quizzes on past history, involving local schools and special features on subjects of interest. There will be a monthly email update and you can sign up for this on the website.
But, in the end, success depends on your response.