diamond geezer

 Friday, March 22, 2019

The village of Meriden, in the green belt between between Birmingham and Coventry, is the traditional location of the centre of England, which is marked by a medieval cross on the village green. [map]

Nobody's 100% sure how the designation emerged. It could be because it was in the centre of Warwickshire, England's most central county. It could be because Meriden was the approximate halfway point on the main road between London and Chester, three days travel from each (although this definition ignores a substantial portion of the country). It could simply be because the location of the village 'looks right' when you see it on a map. Or it could be that an 18th century pub landlord invented the fact to drum up passing trade. But a proud national tradition was maintained until 2002 when cartographical pedants at the Ordnance Survey determined that the true geographical centre of the country was in fact 11 miles away on a farm in Leicestershire. The villagers of Meriden choose to ignore this fact. [alternative monument at Fenny Drayton]

The monument on the village green is a stepped octagonal plinth supporting a tapering sandstone shaft - heavily worn and now sadly decapitated. Tellingly it's no longer in the precise location where it was originally erected, further down the road by the village pond, but was moved up the hill to the new village green in the 1820s. It was then shifted again as part of improvements during the Festival of Britain in 1951, and tarted up slightly to create more of a focal point. It's no longer possible to get up close, the structure having been surrounded by a guard rail and a flower bed, but the descriptive plaque placed in front is a welcoming touch. [Pathe news report, 1943]

As is befitting for the centre of England, the closest buildings along the edge of the green are a village shop, a library and a chippie. The Spar has a tea room round the back which does all day breakfasts, the library is tiny and hosts the local defibrillator, and the chippie was closed on my visit so I can't vouch for its cuisine. Tellingly the next few shops along the parade are a closed supermarket, a beauty salon, an interior design boutique and a closed cafe. Across the way is the village Telephone Exchange, named in that lovely 50s lettering everyone likes, plus a variety of quite old and not very old housing. And at the far tip of the green is another monument, much taller, dedicated to a surprising cause.

Meriden's reputation as the centre of England made it the ideal location for a nationwide war memorial to fallen cyclists. The British Army had 14 cycling battalions during the First World War, used mostly for reconnaissance, and the conflict's first casualty is believed to have been a cyclist on a scouting mission. A granite obelisk was erected in Meriden in 1921, paid for by £1100 of public subscription, and became a popular rendezvous for the cycling fraternity. A couple of additional plaques have since updated the obelisk to cover WW2 and all global conflict. An annual memorial service is still held on the village green each year - the 98th will be held this spring - with tea and cakes in the village hall to follow for the lycra-clad attendees. [BBC radio report, 5 mins]

Meriden's now a small commuter village with a population close to three thousand, and no longer on the main road, the A45 having bypassed it in the 1950s. Administratively it's part of Solihull, although Warwickshire begins 100m beyond the last back garden. It's not the prettiest village in the area (Hampton-in-Arden down the road is much quainter) but it is comfortable and cosy, with grey-haired ladies out mowing the front lawn, well-groomed teenagers giggling on the green and a selection of 'pub and dining' opportunities. The post office is a particular throwback, with bags of compost and potted pansies stacked out front, a sign saying "Motor Tax Available" tied to the front gate, mention of National Girobank beside the entrance and a hair salon still perming away in the room above.

Meriden is, absolutely, Middle England. But it's not the middle of England any more, not since geography proved otherwise.

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