Gazette & Herald: A picture-postcard scene in Langton A picture-postcard scene in Langton

CLAIRE METCALFE travels up the A64 and back in time to meet a modern thriving community which enjoys its links with the past.

STUNNINGLY beautiful, but with only around 90 adult residents, no pub, post office or shop, it would be easy to assume that Langton was a village without much life - the kind of place people retire to or commute from.

In fact, it is surprisingly lively, with two schools and a busy parish church and, crucially, a vicar living in the village.

Most of the buildings fall within the Langton Estate, owned by Richard Howard-Vyse, whose home looks onto the village green. It is a traditional Yorkshire estate, which includes listed cottages, farms and riding stables.

When you ask someone how far back their connection with the village they live in goes, you don't often get the response "the 1600s".

But Mr Howard-Vyse's grandmother was a Northcliffe, and the first of these Northcliffes - Sir Thomas Northcliffe, bought the estate in 1650.

Another, later Colonel Thomas Northcliffe, together with his wife Ann and son General Northcliffe Northcliffe, rebuilt Langton as a model village in the first half of the 19th century, and their initials can be seen on many of the cottages.

They were built from stone quarried out of Langton Wold, the ridge north of the village, which differs from most of the Wolds by being limestone rather than chalk.

Originally, the Northcliffes lived at Langton Hall at the end of the village, but it was taken over and used by the army during the Second World War, and after that it was let to Woodleigh School, which it is still home to today.

To have such a stake in a village that your ancestors built it makes you care a lot about it. Mr Howard-Vyse, chairman of Langton Parish Meeting, is robust in his protection of Langton.

"A few years ago someone from Ryedale District Council told us they were going to print 1,000 leaflets promoting tourism in Langton," he said. "I rang them up and asked what good tourists would do since we didn't have a pub or a shop and they said we might get more use of the telephone box!"

His grandmother, Mrs Cecil Howard-Vyse, planted the flowering cherry trees which stand in the village, and explode into a mass of blossom in May, and he in turn talks of which trees need replacing and replanting.

Mr Howard-Vyse is also very supportive of the schools in the village - he gives Langton Community Primary School the use of a much-loved slice of land called the leafy glade', just across from the school building, and in summer sports day is held on the village green.

Like the village itself, Langton Community Primary School is not to be overlooked as a quaint out-of-touch affair. With an excellent academic reputation, it attracts pupils from a large geographical area.

"We have children coming from Malton and Norton and neighbouring villages, but there are also quite a few from the village itself, which is nice," said headteacher Anne Myers.

She added: "I think we have a lovely school here, with particularly good grounds, and people are always surprised and impressed at how big and light and airy the classrooms are."

The school has just been extended to accommodate a new library, ICT suite and cookery area, which Mrs Myers said will make a big difference.

"Before the children did cookery in a corridor, which wasn't very good. The new resources will make a big difference to us."

When I visited, a group of mums were busy organising a photo shoot for the school calendar - with children dressed as characters from a different story book for each month.

They are all part of Friends of Langton School, which organises fundraising activities throughout the year.

"As much as anything it's about keeping in contact," said teaching assistant Saskia Syms, who also has a child at the school. In the summer they have a barbecue and the friends have just held a wine tasting evening, and they also arrange for theatre groups to come in to the school and give performances.

Another mum, Tracy Hunter, is one of the team who train the pupils through their cycling proficiency tests.

"There's a lot going on here, it's a busy school with a great atmosphere," she said.

At the other end of the village is another, independent school - Woodleigh Preparatory School.

Visiting it is like taking a step back in time. Children fill the grand old building with the sound of music practice and choral singing in between their formal classes. Outside they can climb trees and build dens like an idyllic vision of a 1940s childhood.

"There's a tradition of carving initials into the big old trees in the grounds," said headteacher Michael England.

"It was very touching not so long ago when an ex-pupil lost his father, who also attended the school, and I happened to find a branch with his initials carved in it, which I was able to hand over," he said.

Mr England was in many ways born to the role of Woodleigh headmaster. His grandparents founded the school, and his father was headmaster before him. He was even born in one of the staff bungalows.

He is very proud of the school's legacy, and its tradition of freedom and responsibility for the four-to-13-year-olds it educates.

"If you trust children you find they won't let you down, or if they do, it's never as badly as you think it will be."

The parish priest also does confirmation classes with the children.

The Rev Michael Sinclair came to the parish of West Buckrose nine years ago, and since then the parish has expanded to take in more churches. Langton lies at the heart of the parish, surrounded by churches in Scagglethorpe, Settrington, North Grimston, Birdsall, Burythorpe, Leavening, Acklam and Westow.

With almost 100 square miles to cover, and a rotation of services to ensure that most churches get at least one Sunday service a month, Rev Sinclair is a busy man.

"I am very ably supported by a loyal group of lay people," he said. But even for people who aren't regular churchgoers, St Andrew's provides an important focus for village life.

"The whole issue of the church in the countryside is a big one," he said. "Only 25 or 30 years ago there would be four or five people doing my job. This is why we've become one parish, so people understand we're one church, we're worshipping in Langton and it brings us together, and you get a good social mix across the villages and it makes the job more possible."

He added: "The problem with many villages is that they are beautiful but have very few facilities. There are no shops or post offices and fewer pubs, it creates problems and hardships for people who don't have their own transport.

"The church is the only focus of the community and that's why it has a very important role to play in the village. Even if people don't come regularly I think they appreciate the presence of the church."

Calendar highlights include the annual harvest supper and a carol service for each school, as well as the usual Christmas and Easter preparations, plus the garden fete which is a big day for the parishes.

"Each church has its own stall and tea, cakes and refreshments are made and served by people in the village," he said. "Children from the primary school do traditional country dancing and everyone usually has a wonderful day."

As he describes it, I get the reassuring feeling that a little piece of that idyllic village life we all fear is gone forever is alive and well in Langton.


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