Retirement hobbies often include golfing, bowls, or holidays, but when chartered surveyor Roger Sweet gave up work 10 years ago, he set about a different task as Katriona Ormiston discovered
ROGER Sweet has been on an incredible journey and the photos he took along the way are now online.
The 70-year-old, from West Hagbourne, near Didcot, started out exploring the Oxfordshire villages neighbouring his own.
After a decade of journeying, the dad-of-three has now visited every village and small settlement in the county — all 310 of them. And he has oxfordshirevillages.co.uk to show for his hobby.
The website has more than 2,700 photos of the villages and a description of each from the man who has been to every one.
It has clocked up almost half a million hits.
Mr Sweet, 70, said: “It was with tongue in cheek that I declared that I would eventually try to photograph every village in Oxfordshire, not thinking for a minute that would be remotely possible.
“It just sort of evolved – I started taking photos and moved onto the next village but I never knew I might get to every village in the county.
“I think it is quite an achievement, I’m quite proud of having done it – and there is a lot to show for it with so many photos.
“There is a record now for everybody showing every village in the county.”
Mr Sweet started in his own village of West Hagbourne before moving on to neighbouring East Hagbourne and other South Oxfordshire villages in 2004.
He finally finished north of Banbury at Wardington and Cropredy in October last year.
He said: “For the first few years it was just South Oxfordshire, then it was Vale of White Horse, West Oxfordshire and then Cherwell.
“When I first started everything was on my doorstep but by the end of it, it was taking me up to an hour to get there.
“I didn’t even know there were villages in Oxfordshire north of Banbury.”
Mr Sweet, who is originally from Middlesex, moved to West Hagbourne 26 years ago and worked as a chartered surveyor in Reading.
The widower said one of the best things he noticed about the county was how each village and area was different.
He said: “There isn’t a typical Oxfordshire village. We have such a variety of buildings in traditional local styles – with timber framed walls or walls of white chalk, golden ironstone, Cotswold stone, flint or brick, and thatched, stone, tiled or even slate roofs, and all this makes the villages in each area so different.
“Surely not many counties can match this variety.
“That was one of the things I was surprised about – all the different types of villages and houses. It makes for an interesting county.”
One of the problems Mr Sweet ran into was how exactly a village was classed as a village – places used to be classed as a village only if they had a parish church, but the definition is outdated now.
So he visited every small settlement that was more than just a few houses.
Mr Sweet said: “It is quite hard to identify what is and what isn’t a village – West Hagbourne doesn’t have its own church but if anyone tried to tell West Hagbourne it wasn’t a village I think they would be lynched.” His website of Oxfordshire villages has had 458,663 hits including from countries like Australia, Singapore, Serbia, the United Arab Emirates, and Spain.
As a result he has clocked up a series of bizarre questions from website visitors, including, “What is the name of the colour of paint on that house, because I want to paint my own that colour?” and “Please can I have your permission to use that village green for a charity event.”
Mr Sweet said he did think of starting up a new project – perhaps visiting every village in the Berkshire Downs next – but arthritis is holding him back.
ROGER'S CASE STUDY 1: CLIFTON HAMPDEN
CLIFTON Hampden, pictured, is an attractive Thames-side village which in the main is bypassed by the main road.
The village High Street is largely quiet and unspoiled, although between the bridge and the A415 traffic lights it can be busy.
Clifton Hampden has an attractive old bridge which is worth crossing as the well-known Barley Mow pub is on the other side.
The village and The Barley Mow were featured in Jerome K Jerome’s book Three Men in a Boat, and in 1885 Dickens’ Dictionary of the Thames said of Clifton Hampden: “Clifton Hampden, this picturesque little village, is situated at the foot of a bold bluff, which rises abruptly from the somewhat flat country around. The cliff is surmounted by the church and vicarage, and is clothed with luxuriant trees down to the water's edge. The village, a pretty collection of old-fashioned cottages, all of which are bright with flowers...”
This description could have been written today. The old-fashioned cottages are still there, many of them listed, and make for a very attractive scene well worth a visit.
Clifton Hampden is about four-and-a-half miles south-west of Abingdon on the A415, and about one and a half miles north of Long Wittenham.
ROGER'S CASE STUDY 2: WROXTON
WROXTON, pictured, is an extremely attractive village of local honey-coloured ironstone cottages, many of them thatched and dating from the early 17th and 18th centuries.
In the centre of the village is a small green with thatched cottages all round and a picture-postcard duck pond.
To the south of the village is Wroxton College which is housed in the buildings and grounds of Wroxton Abbey.
The building is a modernised 17th century Jacobean manor house which was built on the foundations of a 13th century Augustinian priory.
Wroxton College is an overseas campus of the American Fairleigh Dickinson University.
In the Abbey grounds (which are normally open to the public) there is a dovecote in the style of a Gothic octagonal tower with battlements, sometimes referred to as the Wroxton Castle.
As well as the dovecote there are two other follies — an obelisk and a folly in the form of two 40ft towers with an arch between. On the western edge of the village, on the North Newington Road, is a 17th century guide post which gives directions (with carved hands) to Banbury, Chiping Norton (sic), London, and Stratford, and with various forms of sundial on each of the four sides.
Wroxton is about three miles west of Banbury on the A422 Banbury to Stratford-upon-Avon road.
RECOMMENDED PLACES TO VISIT
In the Vale of White Horse
Ashbury captured in all its country glory
- Stanford in the Vale
In South Oxfordshire
- East Hagbourne
- Clifton Hampden
In West Oxfordshire
- Minster Lovell