The lost village of Tump

Somewhere in the middle of deepest South Shropshire lies the lost village of Tump.

You will not find Tump on any map. There are no physical remains of its former glory. Not a single stone left to remind us of its past significance. Archaeologists have dug trenches. Treasure hunters have swept fields. Historians pored over church records. All have failed to find a single significant piece of evidence to confirm that Tump ever existed. It is as if the place just disappeared.

Yet, the legends say that Tump was, in its day, the most important village in all Shropshire. A centre of trading. A beacon for arts and culture. Known for the quality of the goods that were made there, the crops that were grown in its fields, the bravery of its men at times of war. Wealthy, successful, sophisticated. Tump was the place that all other places aspired to be.

So, what happened? How did a place of such high repute vanish from the map? Become just a memory? A legend?

Well, it has much to do with geology…..

Tump originally lay, like many similar villages, in the folds between the South Shopshire Hills. For, whilst North Shropshire lies upon a flat plain perfect for arable farming, the Southern half of the country is a world of wooded hills and fertile valleys more suited to mixed farming – fruit trees and vegetables thrive in the sheltered dales but most farmers keep a scattering of sheep in order to derive some income from the otherwise less productive highlands. Tump’s founding fathers were migrant farmers in search of the perfect spot where they could stop their wanderings, settle down and make a good life for themselves and their families. They chose to place that spot at the meeting point of two steep-sided valleys, beside the mighty River Sabrina. The valleys offered protection for their crops. From the river they would take, not only, water but also fish. And protection too – this time protection for themselves from enemies that might attack them. By sighting the village with the river behind them, the villagers, if attacked, need not worry about defending their rear and could commit all their force to the fore. Better still, they chose to place Tump  at the  point where the river meanders in such a fashion as to surround the village in a three-sided embrace. Rendering it  supremely easy to defend, almost invulnerable to invasion.

Sitting within the embrace of Sabrina contributed heavily to Tump’s early success. It gained a reputation as a safe haven. A place of richness where Nature provided plentiful bounty. A place where it was easy to live well. And, feeling safe as they did, the people that lived there had the confidence to be creative. To innovate. They developed new ways to sow crops, new ways to fish, new ways to cook and preserve their food. So, Tump also became known as a centre of innovation and progress. Unsurprisingly, people were drawn towards Tump and many stayed on there. Thus the village grew. Grew in size, population and reputation. Became a beacon of light to all those who wanted a better life.

This growing sense of separation was strengthened by the geology of the place. For the village sat on a mixture of rock types – some softer, more porous than others. And, over time, as the river ran over these rocks, it wore them down at different rates, altering its course to follow the line of least resistance. Slowly but steadily, the river’s gentle meanders became more pronounced. Slowly but steadily, Sabrina closed her embrace. Until, eventually, Tump was almost entirely encircled by water. Connected to the rest of Shropshire only by the narrowest of land bridges – just wide enough for a horse and cart to cross. And, in times of flood, when the river was in spate, even this fragile connection was lost.

So it was that the villagers of Tump came to regard themselves as living on an island. To see themselves as an island race.

They fell into the habit of defining themselves by their separation. Emphasising their differences from the other villages of South Shropshire. Forgetting that, for all of their history, they had been connected – part of the same story. Ignoring the fact that they were still a part of the same county. Denying the truth that it was merely an accident of geology that separated them. They chose to forget that they shared a common ancestry with the other villages. To forget that people had always moved between the villages: for work, for trade, for marriage. To forget that this movement was healthy: a thing to be encouraged. Life is defined by movement. That which does not move soon dies.

Instead of remembering their beginnings – remembering that the founders of the village had originally come from afar, that the village had grown through successive waves of incomers. Instead, the villagers of Tump chose to see the arrival of outsiders as a potential threat. They foolishly fostered the notion that a village is a static, unchanging entity. And that the identity of a village can be frozen in time, remain the same forever. They began to construct the identity of Tump. Construct it from a mixture of nostalgia and half-truths. It was a strong and toxic brew. So powerful was the story they span around their village that they convinced themselves that it was true.  And they began to believe that they needed to defend this truth against dilution.

Pride in their village turned to arrogance. The people of Tump began to believe that they were somehow superior to the other inhabitants of Shropshire. That the riches they enjoyed were theirs by right. That they were justified in taking measures to ensure that the riches remained with their rightful owners. They built a high wall across the thin strip of land that linked Tump to the rest of Shropshire. Soldiers guarded the wall at all hours. Strangers were not permitted to go beyond it. Laws were passed that only those that were born in Tump may stop overnight in the village. The rest must have left the village by sundown or else be thrown in prison. Strangers were forbidden to fish in the Sabrina River.

“The fish,” argued the people are Tump, “are ours by right. You cannot take them from our river.”

No matter that the water in the river came from the mountains of Wales and merely passed through Tump on its way to the coast. No matter that the fish in the river were themselves travellers migrating from their breeding grounds in the South to others in the North. Fish and water saw no borders, no limits to their roaming. But, as far as the citizens of Tump were concerned, at the moment when fish and water passed through what they had declared to be their borders, the fish were their property. And woe be-tide anybody who attempted to take their property.

Convinced of their right to exploit Nature’s bounty, the people of Tump became increasingly dismissive of the neighbouring villages. They ignored the long history of co-operation between settlements. In the past, it had been recognised that each village had a particular strength: the apples grown in Aston Munsfast made the tastiest cider, the cows of Upper Downcott produced the sweetest milk, all had something special to offer the others. If they co-operated and traded fairly with each other, they could all live a good life. Yet, now, the people of Tump grew increasingly suspicious of the other villages. Certain as they were of their own superiority, they began to believe that the other villages were getting a better deal from trading than they were. Wasn’t it true that Tump always seemed to have to put in more and receive less? They couldn’t prove it but the Villagers of Tump were sure that they were being cheated.

So, they decided to stop trading with the neighbouring villages. They would seek out other trading partners further away who would offer better terms. After all, everyone knew that whatever goods came out of Trump were the best. Their reputation was golden. They would have no trouble finding new trading partners. It would open up new opportunities, new worlds.

And so it was that Tump became an island. Ideologically and literally. The Tump Ruling Council decided that the wall was not enough. Determined migrants could scale a wall, enter the village and cause who knows what harm. Instead the Council ordered that the narrow remaining land bridge be dug away completely until the river flowed in to fill the gap and Tump was completely surrounded by water.

Finally, the people of Tump felt safe. Their borders were impregnable. No-one could get in. Or out. They cut off all trade with neighbouring villages so they no longer had to worry about being cheated. They were free. Free, strong and wealthy. The day that the waters closed around Tump was declared a holiday for all the village. There was great feasting and celebration. The future was bright – that was certain.

But, as is often the way, the things that were Tumps greatest strengths turned out to be the root of Tump’s undoing. That which giveth can also taketh away. Pride and geology made Tump great. Pride and geology destroyed it. Pride in one’s history and achievements is all well and good, but the villagers of Tump let pride swell to arrogance. They became blind to their own short-comings and failed to recognise the merits of the other villages. They took great joy in their own success, which is good, but mocked and belittled the success of others, which is not. Understandably, the neighbouring villages grew tired of Tump’s attitude and, eventually, refused to trade with their old partner. “Fine,” said the citizens of Tump. “There are many other villages further afield. New counties. New countries. All waiting to be discovered. We will trade with them.” And so it was. And, at first, the plan seemed to go well. The brave citizens of Trump sent their representatives far and wide to seek out new trading partners. Many new lands were discovered. Many potential new markets for the goods of Tump which were famed all over the world. Except they weren’t. Outside Shropshire, Tump was just another village. Strangers were not impressed by self-importance and tales of past glory. They wanted value for money. High quality at a cheap price. Negotiations were tough. Deals not so easy to come by. Out there, there were no rules. No sense of working together to secure a decent quality of life for all. it was a free for all. In order to secure new markets, the Tump traders had to sell themselves cheap. Cut their profits to the bone. They walked a constant knife’s edge between success and disaster. Life was hard.

And then their old trading partners in the neighbouring villages sharpened the knife’s edge. “If you wish to transport your goods across our lands,” they said, “you must pay tolls in order to do so.” It was no use the people of Tump complaining – they had no choice. They had to pay. And when the tolls were raised, they had no choice. Raised again – they had to pay.

And so the citizens of Tump fell on the knife of their own arrogance. Trade became harder and harder. Profit margins thinner and thinner. Less and less wealth flowed around the village. The people had to work more and more and had less and less. And, as is often the way when there is less and less, the people of power in Tump were reluctant to share the hardship, unwilling to give up the wealth to which they were accustomed.  Whilst some starved, others feasted.  Discontent grew. The villagers of Tump fell upon themselves. The poor, on the edge of starvation, tried to take what they needed to survive. The better off defended what they felt was theirs. Blood flowed in the streets of Tump. Homes were burned. People died.

And, as the people of Tump fought amongst themselves, geology delivered the fatal blow. That Summer there were terrible rains across the whole of Shropshire. Weather like there had never been seen before. A deluge. Over the course of ten days heavy rain fell without pause. A massive amount of water fell upon the land. It had to go somewhere. The nature of the rock beneath the land, whether it was porous or hard, determined the flow of the flood.

So, as their houses burned in flames, the citizens of Tump watched as the waters flooded into their streets. The River Sabrina swelled and her embrace became a death grip. In a matter of hours, the island of Tump sank beneath rising waters. By the end of the day, Tump had disappeared altogether.

So, when you look upon a map of Shropshire, you will search in vain for the village of Tump.  Look instead for a lake that has no name – and think upon it.

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