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Words on writing

Favourite quote today, from Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules on writing: No. 10 “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”

In a word: village

Our Pinner Village…..

What does ‘village’ mean to people these days?  What exactly IS a village in 21st-century Britain?   Can you still be a village in a 24×7, open-all-hours, addicted-to-busy mobile world where people communicate predominantly by email and text message?   Can you still be a village if you have streets full of ‘chain’ shops?   (Don’t all write in at once, please….)

What about the global village, the Westminster village, the ‘village mentality’?  What message does the word village convey in those phrases?

According to the Internet encyclopaedia Wikipedia, Pinner isn’t the village it used to be…  Wikipedia reports:  “In recent years many chain stores have opened up on Bridge Street, making the suburb less ‘village like’ and more in line with other suburban shopping developments.  The chain stores themselves have created a fair amount of retail competition, especially as almost all the stores have equivalents run by independent owners that are nearby.”

So are we still a village here in Pinner?  Let’s look at some definitions.  What do English language courses teach, for example?  Pimsleur English courses not only define words but also give helpful phrases for students to learn context and common usage.  They say that village means ‘a very small town’ and their typical example of how to use the word is: “I will never get used to living in a village.”  Right then.   Not exactly the most positive introduction to English village life….

Size matters, it seems.  The definition of a village as ‘smaller than a town – larger than a hamlet’ is found in all the major dictionaries, from Collins to Websters to Chambers and on into the modern Internet directories too.

Wikipedia offers its own definition, expanding on the theme to include village inhabitants and fixtures:  ‘a clustered human settlement or community, larger than a hamlet but smaller than a town or city. Villages are normally permanent, with fixed dwellings.”  We’ve got lots of fixed dwellings – well mine is, anyway – so we’re OK on that score.

The focus on ‘settlement’ is also evident across the Atlantic (no expense spared here in search of answers) where the United States Department of the Interior, Fish & Wildlife Service defines village as ‘a permanent settlement with one or more year-round residents’.  So Pinner definitely still qualifies as a village under the regulations applicable to migratory bird subsistence harvest in Alaska.  A relief to us all, you’ll agree.

Things start to go downhill, however, when we consult the Urban Dictionary of modern ‘street’ language.  Apparently, village now has a whole new negative connotation and is used as an adjective to refer to anything conducted on a small scale, with a very low standard.  Charming!  Do they offer anything more encouraging?  Ah yes, they do get more serious and return to the size metric, conceding that village as a noun means ‘a small town, larger than a hamlet and usually containing between 100 and 2000 people’.  That’s more like it.

The Ordnance Survey narrows the size descriptor even further, saying that a village is ‘usually described as a centre of population with an area less than 2.5 square kilometres (1 square mile). A village will always have a church.’  We’re still in the running then.

So now we’ve identified comparative and actual size requirements for our village, what about location?   Back to Wikipedia, which records that the major factors in the type of settlement pattern characterising a village are: location of water sources, the organisation of agriculture and landholding and the likelihood of flooding.  Yes, we all know more than we want to about the likelihood of flooding in this area, as soon as we give the HA5 postcode to household insurers…

Wikipedia then reminds us about telling changes in our country’s development. ‘The Industrial Revolution caused many villages to grow into towns and cities; this trend of urbanisation has continued, though not always in connection with industrialisation. Villages have thus been eclipsed in importance, as units of human society and settlement.’  As long as we can boast community activities such as Pinner Fair, the St George’s Day celebrations and our Pinner Pantomime Evening, for example, we continue to retain our village atmosphere and involve newer inhabitants in village life, to make sure we aren’t swallowed up in London’s all-enveloping outskirts.

On balance, then, the results of our ‘virtual world tour’ certainly indicate that we can still be a village if we’re smaller than a town but bigger than a hamlet, if we have a church, some other fixed dwellings and a clustered human settlement incorporating one or more year-round residents (that’s you, dear reader).

We may be part of a global village, but it’s comforting to know that even when we’re talking about wide geographical expanses, what we’re really saying is that, even today, ‘village’ life is about shared values, shared experiences and a shared sense of community.


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“That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.”  (Raymond Carver)