Little Thurlow Parish Council, probably like every other Parish Council in the land, began wondering in 1997 what special activities it should sponsor to mark the millennium in the year 2000. We wanted to devise a project that would be genuinely local in character, would involve as many people as possible, and would oVer some possession of permanent value to every household. We therefore wanted something that would not literally go up in smoke, like a bonfire, or down the throat, like a drinks party. No doubt private enterprise will in any case provide memorable events of this kind when the time comes . . .
Instead, we hit on the idea of producing a modern equivalent of Domesday. Thurlow was in fact mentioned in the first Domesday book of 1086 and had its origins well before that, so it has already enjoyed a history of over a thousand years. We planned to involve the whole community and it is in many ways still a community in compiling a record of life today and in the recent past, drawing on the experiences and memories of everyone living here in 1999. This volume tries to provide that record.
The book divides into three main parts. First, there is an anthology of general essays written by villagers past and present about different aspects of village life: for example, the history (both human and natural); the land and its use; important institutions such as the Church, the school, the pub and the W.I.; major families who have left their mark on the village both the famous ones like the Frinks, the Ryders and the Vesteys, and the equally important local dynasties of the Day, Eley, Smith and Rowlinson families which are all still represented here today; and stories of life and work here from those with memories going back a generation or more. Secondly, there is a section derived from questionnaires and the tapes of interviews that were conducted with each household to record people’s impressions and experiences of the village. There is a separate piece on each family or household where it was possible to undertake an interview (86 out of a possible total of 101) and these are arranged in the sequence of the Parish register, as in a continuous walk around the village. And finally, there is a corresponding plates section with pictures of all the dwellings in the village, in the same sequence as the interviews and including in the pictures as many as possible of the inhabitants. The overall survey is as complete as we could make it, though of course it could never be entirely fixed and final since life and change have gone on even as we have been working. A few of the people interviewed have now left the village and, sadly, one or two have died.
The working-party has acted throughout as a team in planning the volume, but there have also been some particular divisions of labour between us. Mary Hilton and Iris Eley undertook the arduous work of interviewing all the households and transcribing the results. Kate Atherton has been especially concerned with writing and coordinating all the historical and demographic material. Pauline Crooks and her family have undertaken the photography, and Pauline herself did most of the keyboarding of the volume. Jeremy Mynott edited the text and arranged the production. But we have all cheerfully interfered with each other’s work and we present the results very much as a joint effort.
We would like to thank everyone who has been involved in this project, whether as contributors, informants or advisers. And we would like to record our special thanks to those who have generously offered financial support, without which the work of preparation and production could never have been undertaken. Edmund Vestey made a handsome private contribution, matching the initial subvention from the Parish Council, and Suffolk Acre made a crucial award from their Millennium Fund to cover the high costs of the colour origination and printing. We were also grateful for the technical professional help received from Hamish McIlwrick in supervising manufacture, Deborah McLauchlan for disk manipulation and copyediting, and Dale Tomlinson for design.
Each household is to be presented with a copy of the finished volume at the end of 1999 as a personal possession and it is expected that other copies will be made available for public sale thereafter to others. And just to demonstrate that this really is the end of one millennium and the beginning of the next we have also established a website on www.littlethurlow.org for interested enquirers anywhere in the world. The tapes, questionnaires, texts and a larger selection of the photographs will be kept as an archive for any future possible research use.
We finish with this thought. This is no history or academic study of a grand or sophisticated kind. It is just a chronicle of how things are now in one small village in rural Suffolk, and how they have seemed to ordinary people in recent memory. But don’t therefore be deceived into thinking that these are only ‘the short and simple annals of the poor’, in the words of Thomas Gray’s famous Elegy. In fact, even in a village of just over 200 people, the more journalistic slogan ‘all human life is there’ really is true. As we discovered, and as you will see…
KATE ATHERTON, PAULINE CROOKS, IRIS ELEY, MARY HILTON and JEREMY MYNOTT
1 March 1999