Westmill: 'Just one enormous family'
PUBLISHED: 17:06 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:48 20 February 2013
Westmill is a village which look like it comes straight out of a period drama but at its heart is a thriving community. Here residents tell Jessica Clark why they love their village
JUST a glance over the picturesque village of Westmill could effortlessly transport you to another time. Just a handful of cars are scattered over the largely untouched village centre, which forms a perfect postcard setting with its collection of cottages, a triangle green and centuries old church reaching into the skyline. In fact, the quaint village is so timeless that it has been the setting for the period drama Foyle's War over the years. But despite this, residents believe Westmill has moved with the times, creating a 'unique' village drawing more newcomers every year. Cut off from the rest of Hertfordshire by countryside, the village sits just a couple of miles south of Buntingford and north of Ware where many of the residents travel for shopping or to commute into London.
LIFE LONG RESIDENT
Like many rural villages, Westmill was a farming area with cottages, dating back to the 17th century, springing up to house the workers. Three farms still operate in the village but not with the scale of workers they once had. Mavis Backhouse, 83, was brought to the village during the Second World War to join the Land Army. At just 17-and-a-half she was determined to leave her East London home and help with the war effort. But after falling in love with both the village and her future husband, Victor Pegrim, she never left Westmill. Mavis married into one the earliest family lines in the village and was one of six Mrs Pegrims.
She says, 'When I was growing up I would read books about the countryside and look at the pictures of farms - and when I got here it looked just like the pictures.
'It was so different to the life I had, I liked the people and their attitude - it was a much slower pace of life. It was an adventure for me and I have loved the village ever since.
'People say you must live in a village for 30 years before you're accepted - but it's not like that here. The village has of course changed gradually over the years, but the core of it is the same - the same spirit exits.
'Things have to change, it's positive, for example when I first moved here hardly any of the houses had bathrooms!'
A feature of Westmill which receives great support is the village church. Dating back to the 11th century, the beautiful St Mary the Virgin Church is appreciated by the whole village and not just its congregation. Always packed to the rafters for the Christmas Eve carol service, last year the 269 residents helped to raise enough money to repair the bell tower. Church warden Judy Thody, 68, is heavily involved in the church's life and well rooted in the village, growing up in the village with her family who had been there hundreds of years owning the village pub - The Sword Inn Hand, which still thrives today. Judy and her husband Michael returned a few years ago to the village they loved.
She says, 'It's changed because when I was tiny most people worked in farms but it has moved well with the times. It's a fantastic village - there's nowhere like it in the world. I think it's lovely that we have a lot of newcomers because many of them join in the village life.
'It's a very friendly and caring village, and there's amazing support for the beautiful church and we can all meet in the Tea Room. Living in Westmill feels like being part of one enormous family.'
Ray and Sylvia Brown
Westmill Tea Room is the perfect addition to the pretty village green, and it's not just the location that makes it the centre of attention. The 1920s music compliments the dcor of poster adverts from the beginning of last century along with a selection of gifts which could have easily been found on the shelves of a 1950s store. It's easy to imagine villagers sitting outside the Tea Room next to the green on a hot summer's day enjoying a slice of home-made cake and swapping news.
It first opened as a food shop in the late 1800s and over the years a sub-Post Office was added - but unfortunately it fell victim to the recent cuts and will close next year. Ray Brown, 61, who took over Westmill Tea Room with his wife Sylvia about two years ago, believes it has a bright future. He says, 'We had visited it before and as soon as we heard it was for sale we wanted to buy it.
'It's a full-time job running the tea room but it's a lovely way of life. We chose to keep it in a nostalgic style and keep it as a traditional tea room, it works very well.
'You can sit outside the shop on the village green and almost imagine being somewhere else. We have a lot of locals visit, passers-by as well as cyclists and walkers. It's amazing how quickly we got to know everyone and their families. We like it so much because the people make you feel very welcome and the customers are so nice.
'From hearing about its history it doesn't sound like it has changed that much, which I think is a nice feature - we still have a place in this community and I think that will continue.'