The Daily Mail speaks for this mythic region—the Guardian against it. The butt of snobbish jokes, "middle England" is still the place in which politicians most want to be loved. So where is it?by Paul Barker / May 21, 2005 / Leave a comment
The man looks out at the Rollright Stones from his little wooden hut, with the weariness of wardens the world over. By the door is an honesty box (50p a person) and a glass jar with six dowsing rods for you to borrow. The trust he works for was established eight years ago to try to defend these once-obscure megalithic remains—now thought by some to be magical—on the Oxfordshire-Warwickshire border. Passionate paganists, satanists, pantheists and mere tourists threatened to overwhelm them with their hugs, kisses and sheer weight of feet.
I am here, in the English midlands, in a Tolkien-like quest for middle England. I wonder if I have found it in this very strange, but also strangely tamed, place. Many of the components are here: a rural dream, a hint of DIY, some voluntary work, a passion for tidiness, a scarcely hidden eccentricity.
When I pull up in the new lay-by, two solidly built middle-aged women volunteers, in baggy jeans and waxed jackets, are bending over to creosote the fence. The trust’s brochures mention ley lines, witchcraft and druidism, as well as water-divining. To my eye there is little sense of magic left, but it may be different at dawn or dusk. A family wanders around the circle, with the youngest child always on the verge of ignoring the “do not climb” signs. “On a good day, we get 400 visitors,” the warden says. How do they behave? “A few nutters, as you can see from the paint splashes on the stones.” On the wall of his hut is a bleached-out CCTV photo of a young man suspected of paint-daubing: £1,000 reward. “They got him,” the warden says. But why do it? “People are people. Why do they blow up 200 people in Madrid? Some have a grudge, or think they can change the world. Him, perhaps he’d had a row with his girlfriend the night before, and she was a pagan. Who knows?”
Have I found the grail? Middle Englanders, like the warden, often use crime as a social yardstick. Crime and Social Change in Middle England (2000) is one of the rare academic studies with “middle England” in the title. The criminologist authors Evi Girling, Ian Loader and Richard Sparks investigated Macclesfield in Cheshire, “this unremarkable, relatively untroubled, moderately prosperous English town” and former home of Brian Redhead, the long-time cheery presenter of the Today programme.…