The Village Green, British Customs
If you wanted to conjure up an image in your mind of all that is special in the quintessential British village, the village green would have to be close to the top of your list. No village is truly complete without this focal point at its centre; it is usually the most visible landmark in the village, save perhaps the church.
To qualify as a village green, the land must be common land and have been used by the members of the local community for legitimate sports and pastimes by right for at least 20 years. These pastimes typically include cricket, village fetes, walking the dog and even blackberry picking. Historically, the land may well have been used for common grazing and in some cases may have served as the location for more sinister things such as lynching, whippings and the village stocks. Today, few village greens retain memorials to such times. Although the village of Gretton in Northamptonshire still retains its stocks and whipping posts on its green. Most villages prefer to preserve more positive aspects of their village life through the conservation of the village green. Many provide benches and other facilities to encourage people to tarry awhile and enjoy the tranquillity of the village green.
One of the classic uses for the village green is the annual village fete. For many villages this is the high point of the year. Typically, it will take the form of a collection of stalls and marquees, where the locals will sell some of their garden produce, home baking and even arts and crafts. Tombolas and other games of chance are a must to complete the picture; along perhaps with flower and vegetable shows. These shows are often keenly contested for the coveted village first prize; an annual opportunity to get one over on any rivals in your village! For some it is indeed the pinnacle of their year; to win first prize being just reward for their toil throughout the rest of the year in their gardens. For the loser, however, it means disappointment another year of hard work and brooding before their chance comes to reassert themselves.
The village green is not exclusive to Britain. But, in order to paint an accurate picture of life in a British village, it is important to understand the essential role played by the village green in helping to retain the unity and identity that has long existed in British villages.