Aldbury: The Open Village by Jean Davis (book review).

Why should you or I be interested in ‘Aldbury: The Open Village’ by Jean Davis? If you’ve seen the original ITV series ‘The Avengers’—particularly the episodes ‘Dead Man’s Treasure’ and ‘Murdersville’—or ‘The Champions’ ‘The Experiment,’ then you’ve already been introduced to Aldbury. The village center with its sizable pond is a frequent feature. It has appeared in other ITV series as well, but back in the day, it was much more challenging to identify filming locations.

If you refer to the IMDb link, www.imdb.com/search/title/?locations=Aldbury%2C+Hertfordshire%2C+England%2C+UK, you’ll find that several famous films and TV shows have been shot here. The pond area is especially popular for filming, which piqued my interest in literature about the village. Jean Davis has penned other books, including ‘A Visitor’s Guide To Aldbury’ in 1980, which I’ll review next. This book, however, delves into the village’s history, largely preserving its old-world charm—likely a factor that drew directors to the location. I was astonished by the significant historical context it offers. Davis includes numerous maps and early photographs, painting a rich picture of this farming village, complete with a sizable church.

One notable aspect of this book is the extensive research Davis conducted. Drawing from parish records and other respected references, she doesn’t shy away from discussing the hardships endured by the poor and landowners. The consequences of low wages, job scarcity, the poorhouse, and prevalent diseases such as smallpox provide a sobering counterpoint to idealized historical narratives, particularly for those intending to write an idyllic science fiction story set in the past.

Naturally, I’m curious about any references to elements I’ve seen in the aforementioned TV series. The eight houses, known as Slanted Row then and Barrack Row now, were built as replacements for farmhouses near the pond in the late 1820s. On page 125, there’s a familiar image of the site, complete with a pub.

It’s worth mentioning that the book only covers up until the beginning of the 19th century. Nonetheless, it offers valuable insight into life in Aldbury, blending tales of landed estates with poaching and the occasional murder. Although it’s doubtful that these aspects influenced directors who filmed there later on, I’m not entirely surprised that there are three books about the place. Typically, in the UK, it’s towns that receive such attention, not small villages like Aldbury.

GF Willmetts

July 2023

(pub: Jean Davis, 1987. 176 page illustrated small softcover. Price: varies. ISBN: 0-9512688-0-5)


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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