In September 2014 I drove north out of London to visit my second and third Thankful Villages. I had plans for the third village but I had no idea what I was going to do in Culpho.
I wanted some of the trips to be researched beforehand, but I also wanted to visit others blind and react immediately to landscape and location. Culpho, in Suffolk, was where I started to realise that my previous conception of what a village was, might be wrong. I’d visited places that I thought of as villages but I guess they were always on some kind of tourist route. I was now visiting the in-between places, handfuls of buildings that had seemingly fallen out of God’s pocket onto green and yellow lawns. These scattered homes seemed to have nothing connecting them except a meandering lane. There were large gaps between the houses and no high street. Where was the centre? Where was the focus?
It made me consider the challenge ahead, to find a narrative or idea in every village. It wasn’t going to be enough just to wander through these places with a camera and notebook; wikipedia wasn’t going to tell me all I needed to know. I needed to engage with these communities, I had to stop hiding.
So there I was, in St Botolph’s Culpho graveyard, perched precariously on a £5 camping stool with a harmonium and a baritone ukulele, trying to figure out what Culpho sounded like. I thought it sounded minor key, with soft repeated arpeggios. It had long melodic phrases that descended then turned up at the end in a question mark. That’s what Culpho was, a question mark. It was asking me what I was doing there.
Someone tapped me on my shoulder and I jumped out of my skin. The church warden had seen my car and was worried about theft from the church. I was now literally being asked what I was doing.
I would find that in the Thankful Villages people are occasionally suspicious of a man with a camera and a microphone but never unfriendly. They are also rarely that impressed by the project itself, but they do love a good chinwag. The warden took me inside the church and showed me of what she was most proud, the church windows which her husband had slowly and lovingly restored.
I had thought that this dispersal of buildings had no centre but it did, the centre was the church. I also realised that church wardens weren’t there to keep you out, they were there to let you in as well.
I drove further north to St Michael, South Elmham to talk to another warden.