Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A pantry of toil for the gentry

So, Mary Queen of Shops thinks we should organise town centres more like businesses? I guess that means town centres should set up helplines that really value our call.

Luckily, Beacon Hill isn’t a town. It’s a suburb of Hindhead, itself a Ghost Village, lobotomised since the invention of the motor car, by the A3. The A3 was a spear through the heart of Hindhead. The thunder of forty-ton trucks and pumping petrol drove everyone, except petrol station workers, away. They love the smell of petrol. Were Conan-Doyle alive today, he’d be spinning in his grave. And Louisa Conan-Doyle would be coughing for England.

When the railway arrived in Haslemere in the late nineteenth century, people who could afford the fare could take a day-trip to “Little Switzerland” and enjoy the bracing air. The area round Haslemere got the nickname because of the way it snuggled into the corrugated landscape. Unlike today (not,) rail travel in them far-off days was for the wealthy. And the air in Hindhead was, indeed, delicious.

George Bernard Shaw, well known for his gentle and liberal views,led the rush, building a stately pile down here. Arthur Conan-Doyle’s wife Louisa was a frail little thing so the creator of Sherlock Holmes built her a house in Hindhead celled, punningly, Undershaw. Those Victorians eh?

Louisa died in 1906 and Conan-Doyle, by all accounts, went potty, joining up with his magic mate, Harry Houdini, to expose fake spiritualists. Meantime, JW Turner (him of the Fighting Temeraire) painted a rather savage picture of the three footpads hanged on Gibbet hill in Hindhead for the murder of a simple sailor, Apparently, the dangling corpses could be seen from Guildford, a lesson the people of the town probably took to heart. "Let's not do that with the drunken sailor!"

To cap it all, the then Prime Minister, Labour’s Lloyd George, moved on to a huge estate just down the road. Suddenly, a load of working class people were needed in the area to till the soil, clip the hedges and serve dinner. Thus was Beacon Hill born. A pantry of toil for the gentry.

Nowadays it’s slightly more classy - or less, depending on your disposable income. There’s a butcher, a post office(!), a convenience store, a chemist, a deli, a children’s clothes shop and a splendid Italian restaurant. There’s a Chinese takeaway, an Indian takeaway, two garages and three churches. There’s a few empty shops too.

Since the tunnels coincidentally healed Hindhead’s yawning wound, the air’s been just like that which the Victorian intelligentsia so coveted. Maybe we can can it!

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