The Domesday Book was published in 1086. Nine hundred years later, the Hampshire County Museum service decided to mount an exhibition in the Winchester Great Hall, and in it, to feature a ‘typical’ village of the time. Although East Meon has no buildings surviving from that time, its layout has not changed and it was important as the property of the Bishop of Winchester, who held his assizes in The Court Hall. Unbeknownst to anyone in East Meon, we were chosen as ‘The Domesday Village’.
A splendid model was built to illustrate what East Meon would have looked like at the time. (After the exhibition in Winchester was finished, the model was sold to La Musee de la Tapisserie in Bayeux – a floor below the great Bayeux tapestry.) The Sunday Times agreed to publish a colour supplement on the project – featuring a fanciful illustration of William the Conqueror on the cover.
The village formed a steering group, uncertain whether we should publicise the project and gear up for possible hordes of visitors, or try and limit the publicity and the damage. Michael Blakstad was co-opted to act as PR adviser, since he was working at TVS at the time. He pointed out that it is more challenging to limit publicity than to encourage it! At times, our debate resembled scenes from the novel Clochemerle. A key issue was providing WC facilities for short-taken visitors. Parking was, of course, an issue, especially for charabancs. It was felt that the shops and pubs (yes, there was more than one shop then) should seize the opportunity to provide refreshments.
In the end, it was decided not to initiate publicity ourselves, but to prepare the village for the possible invasion. Parking for buses (and a temporary WC) were made available at the lay-by half a mile south of the village on the Clanfield road. Peter and Audrey Street, who lived until recently at the School House, opened their garden to the public (they specialised in growing geraniums). This proved to be the springboard for the subsequent Gardens Open events which raise money for the Good Causes Fund. Another by-product of the Domesday Village year was the planting of several English native trees along the footpath beyond the cricket field.
In the event, the village was not swamped … there was certainly an increase in the number of visitors, but the arrangements for parking &c were adequate. Tricia and I did suffer reputation damage as a result of the Sunday Times colour supplement. We were fairly new to the village, yet two separate photos appeared of the Tudor House, where we then lived. One was of the north side, describing it as a substantial Tudor hall house, the other of the street side, with a caption proclaiming it as a Georgian building. The photographer had obviously not kept good notes and thought these were of two different building, but it was known that the then editor of the ST was a friend of ours, Andrew Neil and we were suspected of using undue influence to get our house publicised! Andrew pointed out in our defence that he had very little to do with the colour supplement…
Click here for the feature on East Meon published by The Sunday Times Colour Supplement in May 1985, announcing its Domesday Project.
For source materials on the Domesday Village, in the online archive, click here.