IF OUR THURSWELL IS A TYPICAL English village, assuredly Mallingham is a typical country town, only inclining to the picturesque side rather than the sordid. Like most picturesque towns, it is more highly appreciated by strangers than by its own inhabitants. Its one long street crawls along a ridge of the Downs, and from the lower level of the road that skirts this ridge and meanders among fat farms and luscious meadows, with an old Norman church here and there embowered in immemorial elms and granges mentioned in Domesday Book, steep lanes of old houses climb to the business street. It is really impossible to reach the town without a climb of some sort; and this fact, which made the site an ideal one, from the standpoint of the mediaeval founders of its walls and gates, remnants of which may yet be discovered by any one searching for them in a true archaeological spirit, causes a good deal of grumbling among the residents on both levels, who have to face many climbs in the course of an ordinary day's work. But motoring strangers, who pass through the town by the hundred every day, travelling between the two fashionable coast resorts, glance down the narrow lanes and say, “How simply lovely!” or “Doesn't it remind you of Nuremberg?” Perhaps it does remind them of Nuremberg—I have known people who affected to be reminded of Sorrento at Brighton—but for my part Mallingham only reminds me of an English country town, the convenient centre for a ten-mile area of villages. Enough business is done in its properly called High Street to allow of two banks keeping their doors open, and of half a dozen shopkeepers making modest fortunes in the course of a hundred years or so, and retiring from their half-timbered places of business to the avenue of red brick villas with well fires and radiators which an enterprising “developer” of one of the manors perceived to be a long-felt want. But the shops go on from generation to generation with the old names over the front, and in many cases with the family of the new generation living on the premises in the good old way. Only in this sense, however, may the tradesmen be said to be “above their business”; there is not the least disposition on the part of any of them to appear anything beyond what they are, for the simple reason that they do not think that the world holds anything better than a Mallingham tradesman. And, indeed, I am not sure that the world holds anything less ambitious. The aspirations of most of them do not go beyond the acquiring of a plate-glass frontage. Occasionally this dream literally crystallises, and when the crates are known to be actually awaiting delivery at the Goods Station, the “consignee” of the waybill is pointed out to strangers by the simple casement shopkeepers with bated breath and an occasional break in the voice. It is understood that the plate-glass front can only be achieved by a limited number of traders, and for years it was accounted a gross piece of presumption for any one whose lineage as a shopkeeper could not be traced through at least three generations of bill-heads to make a move in the direction of a “front”; but just before last Christmas a bolt from the blue fell upon the astonished town, for the two demure old ladies who kept a small millinery shop (with gloves and table linen at the farther end) put up bills on their small latticed window announcing a cheap sale in consequence of “impending alterations.” Now that particular shop front had remained unchanged for certainly a hundred and fifty years—perhaps two hundred and fifty years—and the two old maiden ladies who had looked after it for close upon half a century seemed the most conservative of persons, so it was taken for granted that the alterations which were “impending” had reference only to the affixing of a new sun-blind in good time for the summer, or perhaps an outside lamp to make the winter nights more cheerful.

After a considerable amount of discussion on the subject an informal deputation waited upon the ladies to obtain information on a matter which, it was understood, affected the well-being of the whole community, and which was approaching a stage when a specific pronouncement one way or another was absolutely necessary.

Then it was that the truth was revealed. The maiden ladies had, they confessed, been surreptitiously discussing the putting in of a plate-glass front, and they had come to the conclusion that as they were both old and life at best was uncertain, they should not any longer procrastinate the carrying out of a scheme which the growth of the town and its increasing importance fully warranted, they thought.

It took just four days to fix the new front in its place; but it was the topic of the town for months, and even now you will see an occasional group of town people discussing the innovation and wondering what things are coming to.

The dimensions of the topic were, as I ascertained for my own satisfaction, nine feet broad by seven feet high. This was the premier pas. It led to the extravagance of a sunk letter sign, picked out in gold, an outside lamp, and a spring sun-blind, all of the most conventional pattern, and all to my mind in the condition of the “party in a parlour” in the Wordsworth parody. In short, a charming old house with many features of interest was transformed into a foolish hybrid thing—a single sheet of plate-glass on the ground floor, beneath two pairs of small cottage casements with delightful stone eaves. So prosperity turns out the picturesque or, at least, relegates it to the basement, and so a street with all the charm of past centuries clinging to it is fast becoming commonplace, and strangers driving through it laugh at the feeble attempts to give the commercial air of Harrods to a row of cottages—about as sensible a proceeding as it would be to attempt to assimilate the façade of Hampton Court with that of Hampton's in Pall Mall.

Happily there are still some sixteenth-century eaves left and also some eighteenth-century bow windows—the gentle curved bow of the eighteenth century, not the detestable obtuse-angle things of the mid-nineteenth—and happily the spirit of commercial enterprise does not pervade the entire community. Several of the houses that have been turned into shops contain admirable chimneypieces and panelled rooms, with an occasional fire-back and basket grate. It seems, too, that there must have lived in the place a century or so ago a master workman with a great fancy for decorating chimneypieces after the style of Adam; for in many of the rooms of sixteenth-century houses may be found quite good examples of the early style of Robert Adam. In one house there is a fine parlour decorated throughout in this way.

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