Villagers unite to repel invaders and keep idyll pure

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VISITORS WHO flocked to the Gloucestershire village of Lower Slaughter yesterday tucked into their bank holiday picnics, watched the locals trimming their wisteria, and uncorked their champagne by the river Eye.

It could have been a scene from any one of the Cotswolds' picturesque villages, which teem with visitors throughout the summer months. Except that here, unlike at other nearby tourist destinations, the visitors were decidedly unwelcome.

For in Lower Slaughter, famous for its Saxon mill and quaint bridges and described as one of Britain's prettiest villages, residents have voted overwhelmingly against installing any tourist facilities which might encourage visitors.

In a survey conducted by the parish council, the 179 households insisted that public amenities should be kept to a minimum, car parking should not be expanded, and there should be no public lavatory, no post office and no tourist information board.

Far from it. Instead, notices saying "No Barbecues" should be displayed by the river to deter picnickers and the Guide Friday open-air tourist bus - which chugs through the village at five miles an hour and is painted dark green to blend in with the landscape - should be banned, they told the parish council.

Peter Brown, who was painting the windows of his Riverside Cottage, was indignant when a passing tourist asked if "people actually lived here". "Yes, I do," he said. "Lower Slaughter is not a museum. It's where I live."

Only one person does provide for the day-trippers, a former jazz singer from the legendary Ronnie Scott's club in London who set up a gift and craft shop in the village five years ago - and he has now found himself resented by the locals. If they had their way, he would be shipped back to Soho tomorrow.

"There's a lot of resentment from the local people because they want to keep Lower Slaughter to themselves, for themselves, which I think frankly is a bit unfair because it is arguably one of the prettiest villages in the country," said Gerald Harris, 42. "If they could they would put a front gate on the road leading here to keep everyone out."

Mr Harris's shop, styled as a museum and situated in the mill which featured in the 1086 Doomsday Survey, is tucked away at the back of the village. The only signpost he is allowed to advertise his emporium is, as he puts it, "a little brown sign with a figure of a man walking and an old Shakespearean house with an M in the middle, which is supposed to represent a museum". When he puts forward alternative suggestions at council meetings, he says, he is shouted down.

But despite minimal marketing his business is growing - and not just in the summer. "The trade after five years is building up," he said. The winter break is getting shorter and shorter. People realise they can avoid the crowds and come in September through to November." Among his biggest sellers are jazz compact discs, of which he sells between two and three hundred a weekend at pounds 10 a piece. Any tourists to Lower Slaughter tend to take in Mr Harris's shop, ice-cream parlour and riverside tea room, but all the visitors yesterday agreed that the charm of the village lies elsewhere. And, curiously, more than one supported the villagers' actions.

An Anglophile American woman, who declined to be named, said. "If you've got something like this keep it. Britons do not appreciate their country. The postal service was the best in the world but now you are going to privatise it and make it a mess. Your train network and Radio 4 were fabulous institutions that are now being undermined... this is not America where everything is a shopping mall. Why not keep it that way?"

Sallyanne Haddon, 41, of Burbage, in Leicestershire, agreed. "Keep it as it is," she said. "It's natural and unspoilt. That's why we like it. If it got too commercialised the whole thing would die."

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