I’m sure everyone in the world is as ridiculously fascinated by the quirks of towns as I am, so here are the tales of my most recent journey around Britain. Because Captain Scott and Marco Polo may have got about a bit, but they never went to Much Wenlock or Coalville did they?
The first night of my latest tour was in Cranleigh, between Guildford and Horsham in Surrey, that claims to be the ‘largest village in England’.
As a village it’s a perfect, with parish notice boards and a community notice board in the High Street and it’s probably permanently ‘in bloom’, and you can get tea and scones but not a kebab, and half way through my scone, I noticed a man of about seventy with a very straight back, making tutting noises while reading a newspaper. Eventually he harrumphed, which is to say he didn’t make a harrumph noise, he actually said “Harumph”, and disgustedly put the paper down. Then said out loud to the room “Hah. The Daily Mirror, I might have known.”
That’s how perfect a village Cranleigh is.
But its finest qualities, like anywhere that perfect, are its glorious imperfections. For example, the BBC website reported recently “Smash-and-grab raid at Cranleigh furriers. A large quantity of fur clothing has been stolen from a specialist retailer in the second such raid in four months.”
This seems a fitting heist for Britain’s largest village, and the Town Guild is probably delighted that local thieves have the taste to rob fur and not hold up an off licence like the common Labour-voting villains you get in Woking.
More impressively, there are one or two hotels in the village, and one of them has as scathing a set of reviews on Trip Advisor as you can imagine, culminating in this splendid prose: “Stayed here for one night on business as everywhere else in Cranleigh area was fully booked. Well, no wonder. It was a dirty, dank and smelly room, the sheets had a blood stain on them and there were pubic hairs in the sink.”
The big issue currently agitating the village, I was told by everyone I spoke to, was the opening of a branch of Betfred in the High Street. I can only imagine this was done as a joke, as no one would dare be seen going in, and in any case Betfred would have to train the locals, such as the man with the straight back, to shout ‘GO ON GO ON GO ON GO ON BAAAA FUCKING NAG’ then screw up the betting slip and complain ‘That’s the tip from the Daily Mirror, I might have known’.
And Cranleigh has a hidden radical past. According to ‘The History of Cranleigh’, In 1829 the villages around Guildford such as Cranleigh witnessed the spread of riotous marches and destruction of machinery. The mill at Allbury was burned to the ground.”
Then in 1838 “A great many of the labouring men are apt to get drunk. They go into the street and do things they are ashamed of and fall out of the wagon and sometimes kill themselves.”
But their finest moment was maybe in the weeks prior to the 2012 Olympics, when the nearby roads were set to stage part of the road cycling event. Because the local paper had to report that, to the village’s shame, this graffiti appeared one morning on the route –
The crime was seen as so serious it attracted the following comments on the paper’s website:
Great! Now I know what I have to do get some of the local roads resurfaced, although I’m sure my artistic talents don’t match up to those in the picture!
Right now I’m actually welling up slightly at the sheer level of patriotism and national pride shown here for the 2012 Olympic Games. The artist’s daring juxtaposition of raw human sexuality and the thrill of competitive sport implores all of us to look deep within ourselves. Stevie Wonder
Note to Surrey Police: This was definitely done by a man. If a woman had done this it would have been much smaller!
Mike B, Epsom
In any case, it seems to me the whole raison d’etre of Cranleigh is founded on a marvellous fraud, as it’s only the largest village in England because they’ve called themselves a village. There’s no definitive way of telling one from the other, so Manchester could declare itself a village and Cranleigh’s claim would be in ruins.
Among the comments sent to me about Cranleigh on twitter were –
“Cranleigh wants to be Godalming, but it doesn’t know how.” Sadly I lost the name of the person who sent that, then
“For bonfire night they have a torch lit “march” down the Main Street. It looks like they are going to start burning crosses.” From Martyn Hutchby
“Snotty public school. Played S African side at rugby. RFU sent black referee. Look on SA faces when he set scrum priceless.” From Charlie Addiman.
And “Massive local scandal, Bet Fred opened in the high street, locals fuming it was not sushi bar.” From Richard Hillery.