Derbyshire’s Thankful Village Bradbourne

Poppies: Weeping window finished in Derby on Sunday, a homecoming for the touring installation which commemorates the centenary of the First World War. While poppies have become a symbol by which to remember the war dead, some villages saw all of their men return – these became Thankful Villages.  

Storge editor Sarah Lay explores Derbyshire’s Thankful Village, Bradbourne, and how musician Darren Hayman has captured these places in a recent project, ahead of his Indietracks Festival appearance with The Hayman Kupa Band next weekend. 

Have you heard of a Thankful Village? A hundred years on from World War 1 it might not be a phrase you’re familiar with but for some communities it is a poignant marker in their history. For a Thankful or Blessed Village was one where all the men returned alive from the Great War. When more than 700,000 British soldiers lost their lives, these communities to which all men returned numbered fewer than 55.

The phrase itself was coined by author and journalist Arthur Mee in his set of guidebooks, The King’s England, in the 1930s. In the introductory volume Enchanted Land, he listed 33 such places and while the number is now expanded to just more than 50 it is still a strikingly low number considering around six million men were conscripted the war effort.

Bradbourne in the Derbyshire Dales saw 18 men go to serve, and 18 men survive and return to their home. The population of the village at the start of WW1 was around 130 and those who went to serve were aged between 18 and 44 when they returned, a good proportion of those of age and able-bodied in the rural community.

Musician Darren Hayman, a well known figure on the indiepop circuit for his solo work and bands including Hefner, visited all of the Thankful Villages for a recent solo project of the same name. He created a track of some sort in each location, usually not directly referencing the Great War but rather using their status as a folk map in order to explore and capture something of the Thankful Village community.

Usually recorded in the village tracks are often in song but also include spoken word, found sounds and interviews with villagers. He returns to Derbyshire this weekend to play Indietracks Festival at the Midland Railway Centre with his new band, The Hayman Kupa Band, but it was in November 2016 that he found himself in Bradbourne.

Arriving in the rain Hayman was in an uncertain state of mind. As he did in many of the other villages he made his way to the church. He writes in the Thankful Villages blog, “I tapped out a rhythm on the pew in front of me. There are many things that a church can be in these small places, but the one thing it has almost consistently been for me through the first phase of Thankful Villages is a refuge.”

No stranger to capturing community and local lore in his work – other albums have included an instrumental one with a focus on lido’s, updates to 17th-century folk songs, and an Essex Opera – delved into the history of each village beyond the moment that made them Thankful. In some places he was inspired by the story told on gravestones, in others the written rather than engraved records. But in Bradbourne Hayman said, “I’m not religious and never have been but I’ve felt safe in every church in every Thankful Village and I don’t feel safe very often. I sang selfishly for, and about, myself. When will my heart be still.”

There is no War Memorial in Bradbourne but a plaque, placed in 2014, now commemorates the returned soldiers and the collective relief that must have been felt in this small Derbyshire community, and the stilling of their hearts at the safe return of their men.


You can find Darren Hayman‘s Thankful Villages project here. He performs at Indietracks Festival with The Hayman Kupa Band on Saturday 29 July, he will also be in conversation with the Storge’s Sarah Lay and Pete Darrington ahead of the band’s set. You can get tickets and more information about Indietracks via their website.

The Derbyshire Lives Through The First World War project has more information on local history, records and commemoration in the county.

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