WHEN is a village not a village? That is the question posed by the Rector of one parish church which he had always supposed to be in a village until he was told otherwise.
Rev Rick Simpson, Rector of St Brandon’s at Brancepeth, four miles west of Durham, was moved to write an article in his church newsletter after transport bosses claimed that the settlement was not a village.
Residents’ long-running fight to have the speed limit on the A690 Durham to Crook road reduced through Brancepeth took a tragic turn last November when pensioner Ellen Hendry, 81, was knocked down and killed as she tried to cross it.
But both Durham Police and Durham County Highway bosses have argued against cutting the speed limit from the current 40 miles per hour to 30mph, saying the road does not in fact pass through a village.
This has prompted Rev Simpson to write: “We learned in January that Brancepeth is not a village. This news comes from Durham County Council and Durham police, who do not regard our village as a village for traffic regulation purposes. The revelation has of course disturbed not only the present villagers but also a number of historical figures, who now discover posthumously that they were sadly mistaken.
“The eighty archers from Brancepeth village who went to fight at Agincourt have asked for compensation.
“Bobby Shafto is so upset that his fiancee may not live in a village – as she has deceived him into believing – that he has apparently gone to sea. She is reported to be heartbroken.”
Rev Simpson, 42, rector at Brancepeth for the past two years, explained: “I wrote the piece tongue-in-cheek but with a very serious message. The county council is applying criteria from a 2004 Department of Transport document which suggests that – for traffic purposes – a village where a 30mph speed limit would usually be applied will as a rule of thumb have 20 houses fronting onto the road.”
Durham County Council acting head of highway management Dave Wafer said: “It is the council’s intention to conduct a traffic speed survey on that stretch of the A690 through Brancepeth and to work with the police to establish whether any action may be necessary.” Robert Shafto was an 18th Century MP who was the subject of a famous North East English folk song and nursery rhyme:
Bobby Shafto's gone to sea,
Silver buckles on his knee;
He'll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!
The song is said to relate the story of how he broke the heart of Bridget Belasyse of Brancepeth Castle, County Durham, where his brother Thomas was rector, when he married Anne Duncombe of Duncombe Park in Yorkshire.