OUR VILLAGE by Mary Russell Mitford (Bracken Books 1992)
Originally published as an ongoing series articles in 'The Lady's Journal' during the 1820s, and released in a collected format in 1824, 'Our Village' is an everyday account of the Berkshire village of Three Mile Cross in the parish of Shinfield. This particular edition is beautifully illustrated throughout by paintings and details from the period that relate directly with the subject under discussion, thus providing an enchanting visual reference to complement the pictures being drawn by the text.
It does have to be said that whilst the language is very rich in description and in telling the tales of everyday life in the rural hamlet, the story presented does seem rather rosy and idyllic, which whilst chiming nicely with a popular romantic image of rural life in the past - and which presumably catered for the refined tastes of the readers of the aforementioned Journal - sits a little less easy with the picture presented by other rural accounts of the time. Perhaps the inhabitants of Three Mile Cross were just lucky... or perhaps Ms Mitford saw only what she chose to see?
Despite this possible drawback, the information packed into these pages is of immense value for anyone trying to get a feel for what rural life was like on a day to day basis in the 1820s. The characters Mitford draws of the inhabitants, their habits, their homes and their professional goings on are a joy to read, and impart all sorts of villagey folklore and popular thought. The days spent watching people enjoy the snowfalls, or going to the races, or experiencing the country cricket match give the reader a closeness to the people of the time unrivalled in drier academic tomes, and consequently bring our own ancestors that bit more to life in our imaginations.
For this reason alone, this book would be fascinating reading for family historians - and absolutely essential for anyone with early 19th Century ancestors living in our near Three Mile Cross, who may well find themselves unearthing a pen picture of their very own forebears!
An enjoyable, if slightly twee, portrayal of rural life from long ago that is well worth dipping into.
Available online in downloadable formats, but only in the old priint versions and without the equally useful paintings.