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Beyond the Rural Idyll: Exploring Depictions of the Rural Landscape. 


Lucy Calvert 


Camberwell College of Arts 

Completed: 2020 


Word Count: 8669  


Table of Contents 


Section 1: The historical depiction of the non-metropolitan landscape 

1.1: Introduction 

1.2: History of the picturesque 

1.3: Socio-economic context 

1.4: Absence of human occupation 

Section 2: The landscape today 

2.1: Chris Chapman and Silence at Ramscliffe  

2.2: Television and Countryfile 

2.3: Countryfile and the Far Right 

2.4: Paul Reas and Flogging a dead horse 

Section 3: Possession and hostility in the rural idyll 

3.1: Ingrid Pollard  

3.2: The National Trust  

3.3: Litter Campaigns 

3.4: National Identity 

Section 4: Selling the non-metropolitan 

4.1: Paul Reas and the marketing of history 

4.2: Airwicks 

4.3: Rebecca Chesney 



When viewing depictions of rural life, at times the line between fact and fiction becomes increasingly blurred. Depictions involving romantic village squares in the rolling hills and strolls away from the complexities of life, dominate media imagery. Although the rural idyll developed out of desires to escape the urban life, and the pastoral came from traditions of working the land, over time the rural idyll and pastoral themes have become almost inseparable from one another and the ideas of everyday rural life. In this, the cultural idea of rural life has become almost mythologised as a better way of life dominated by agriculture. 

Although this serves many in being a place to escape and relax it often disregards the issues of communities living there and the way the rural idyll might negatively affect our culture as a whole, creating issues of accessibility and representation. 


There are many ways of defining the line between the urban and rural. One of the most widely used is the geographical method of the 2011 Rural-Urban Definition for Small Area Geographies (RUC). It divides the UK into 9 categories forming “its reliance of the identification and characterisation of physical settlements.” (Peter Bibby Urban and Rural Area Definitions for Policy Purposes in England and Wales: Methodology Peter Bibby, Department of Town and Regional Planning, University of Sheffield, School of Computer Science, University of Nottingham ). This method is much more physical than cultural, it suggests that one is more rural if physically living in a “farmstead” than the edge of a small rural town. However, this disregards the socio-cultural environment someone identifies themselves within. Additionally, this also disregards those owning second homes in the rural empty, those looking for a sublime release to their everyday lives in the urban, living between two communities. These are the faults within applying a socio-cultural status using the quantitative data of people’s addresses. Instead, Rosemary Shirley presents that it needs to be seen as both a mindset and culture, something that is much more geographically broad. Shirley comments that “working with the idea of the non-metropolitan creates the conditions for recognition that there are multiple degrees of countryside” and that it “defamilarises the notion of the countryside and in this process allow for some otherwise generalised complexities of the non-urban landscape to emerge.''(Rosemary Shirley (2015), Rural Modernity, Everyday Life and Visual Culture, Routledge, Abingdon, England, page 4)  It is the ability to allow room for the complexities that most appeals to me. I will be looking into the notion of simplicity in the conception of the rural idyll and so want to allow conversation to open it into a space away from the entrenched ideas of the rural idyll. 


Within this investigation, I will firstly be analysing how the rural idyll developed through historical depictions of the landscape and what were the significant cultural themes in its development. Furthermore, I will look at how these themes translate into the contemporary rural idyll. I will then investigate how pastoral ideals feed into a national possession of the non-metropolitan space, which in turn develops into a question of national identity. Lastly, I will investigate how the romantic ideals are integrated into advertisement and commercial industry. Within the four sections I will be questioning why the rural idyll exists, what motivates it, and how it plays a role in our culture today. 




Although the pastoral emerged in the 1300s, through the influence of Italian poets and later politicised through writers such as Shakespeare as seen in As You Like It (1599-1600), it was in the late 18th century that modern day conceptions of the non-metropolitan developed. It was in this period that there was a shift from poets using the rural as a dreamy setting, to the laws of the Beautiful, Picturesque and Sublime, defined and outlined by leading theorists Burke and Price. Their theories dominated depictions of the rural and land, in turn, playing a huge role in the creation of the rural idyll. However, Burke and Price were not the only powers at play. The Beautiful, Picturesque, and Sublime were accelerated by social change leading to a wider craving for the security of the pastoral. Thus, dreamy ideas of the empty sleepy village and a culture enveloped by the rituals and simplicities of working the land were born.  


With the increasing social insecurity felt by the upper classes in the 18th and 19th century, there was a hole ready to be filled by the ideologies of theorists such as William Gilpin, Edmund Burke, Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price. With their writings came the introduction of the artistic approaches- the Picturesque, Beautiful and Sublime. These, inspired by Richard Payne Knight’s poetry Beautiful and Sublime were first outlined by Edmund Burke. The Sublime aimed in creating the strongest emotion that one is capable of feeling, one that is motivated by awe and wonder. Something that was adopted widely and can be seen in Richard Wilson’s Llyn-y-cau, cader Idris (figure 1), in which the deep landscape and endless pool created a vast and overwhelming grandeur. In contrast the Beautiful tends to give pleasure in its lightness and delicacy. Meanwhile Price commented, “the picturesque fills up a vacancy between the sublime and the beautiful” (Price, U, 1810, Essays on the Picturesque I, London, page 114).  seeking to remove the presence of modernity and human clutter in favour for what was seen as the rough realities of nature. Although all sections are important ideologies in our relationship to the landscape, it is the conception of the picturesque that defined the rural idyll landscape.  It saw “A tree,” that was “struck by lightning was something other than merely beautiful or sublime- it was “picturesque” (Robert Smithson, Edited Simon Morley (2010), Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape//1973, , The sublime, page114 ) This is because the landscape in this case is being actively shaped by nature, as opposed to human intervention. It was this focus and fetishization of natural dominance that became widely adopted. This can be seen in Figure 3, The Lock (1834). The foreground is dominated by plants growing wildly, almost to the point unnatural growth, while the tree in the background masterfully looks over the scene. However, there are people in the picture, something which does not necessarily fit into Price’s Picturesque, yet, they are still dominated by the will of nature as they fight to curb the powers of the river. Additionally, picturesque paintings do often have the presence of people within them. However, they act as colourful decorative additions, often involved in tending the land as opposed to being a focus.  

As the search for the Picturesque continued there was a fetishization of its relationship to nature in order to get closer to it. However, in truth they were getting closer to a rural idyll that never really existed. One that was empty of the human and agricultural activity that was so integral to the makeup of the non-metropolitan in this period, therefore, leading to a highly curated view searching for a romantic nostalgia based on fiction. This can be seen through the Picturesque’s creation coming firstly out Price’s discipline of landscape gardening for ruling classes. This shows how the picturesque was never truly based on the realities of the wild rural landscape. Instead it came from a garden, a place defined by control and curation, designed as a product of leisure and aesthetic pleasure. This supports the picturesque  being driven by romantic notions designed to fulfil the needs of escape and relaxation. 

Through it’s originating in the gardens of stately homes it is arguably a product for the urban ruling class to use as a holiday alternative to their urban town houses. A suggestion clearly displayed William Combe’s illustrations (in figure 2), intitled The Tour of Doctor Syntax. His series of illustrations were accompanied by a poem by Thomas Rowlandson. Together they satire the Picturesque and those that follow it, depicted in the image as members of nobility. Through the poem it describes how Dr Syntax is constantly stopped by inconveniences, such as, being disturbed by the bleating of sheep, and eventually falls into a lake while attempting to find the picturesque perfect angle from which to sketch a ruined castle. This is a direct mocking of the picturesque implying its fictitious depiction of the rural landscape, one designed for those outside the everyday non-metropolitan. 



It was ideological theorists that curated the concepts of the Sublime, Beautiful, and Picturesque. However, perhaps more significant was the cultural environment that made room for these ideas to be adopted. This is because ideologies are rarely excepted without the willing of the public. Thus, we must examine what it was that meant these ideologies became so engraved in 18th and 19th century culture. It would be inaccurate to suggest that people at the time were unaware of the realities of rural life. Instead it was more a case of choosing a more romantic view to fulfil a desire for distraction and escape, in favour of a more simplistic way of life. 18th century Britain was amid a socio-economic upheaval that developed late into the 19th century.  

Upheaval that was seen in both the agricultural and industrial revolutions, the mass migration from rural communities to the urban and the common rioting of suppressed workers as industries changed and developed. This upheaval created great anxiety amongst people in Britain particularly the ruling classes who still had the French revolution (1789-1799) fresh in their minds. In turn, there was a national desire to escape and search for a more comforting place. A significant contribution was the Enclosure Acts that begun in the 1750. The act hugely changed the physical structure of the landscape as it created fences and structures dividing land. It led to an expulsion of peasantry, whom once had a right to roam. Creating increased hostility between peasantry and landowners. In turn, the image of the rural became steeped in nostalgia, for what was seen as less adverse times. Therefore, suggesting a development from the rural idyll being just a geographical escape from the city to also becoming a time escape, reaching back to a romanticised ideal of the past. 

The act of closing off land began a movement towards intensive farming techniques, something that was a key feature of the agricultural revolution. With the introduction of intensive farming techniques (such as selective breeding and farming machinery) came  a greater interest in farming as a source of great profit the upper classes. Animal portraiture at the time of the agricultural revolution was traditionally connected with the nobility’s hobby of hunting. However, as the agricultural revolution got hold, the commercial agricultural concerns began to seep into animal portraiture. One of the earliest examples of this was the painting The Blackwell Ox by George Cuitt (Figure 4). The painting came inscribed with “Bred and fed by Christr, Hill Esq” (George Cuitt, the Elder, (1743-1818), The Blackwell Ox, Available https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21325/lot/203/ (Accessed 23/11/19)in turn directly linking the painting back to the breeder. Additionally, figure 4 focuses on desirable traits, such as short legs and large hindquarters (the location of the most valuable cuts),  therefore,  giving the impression of it being a source of promotion for agricultural products, as opposed to a real study of the animal. All this led to the increased feeling of possesion that the upper urban classes had over the rural. Despite evidence of this interest being a financial one, contempory sources have suggested other motivations. Agricultural Engineer George Andrews stated, “the practices of those gentle, who, having pockets which overflow with wealth from other sources..... carry on their agricultural operation regardless of the great question whether it will pay or not” ( G.H. Andrews,(1852) Agricultural Engineering I Buildings, John Weale, London, page 7). Thus implying that it was the facter of hobby that motivated these paintings not the drive of econmoic investment. This further supports the idea that the non-metropolitan was becoming a place of play and leisure. Although both reasons for agricultural portraiture, as seen in figure 4, are in fact opposing they do imply an increased feeling that the non-metropolitan was become a possesion of the urban upper classes. Whether that was expressed through a place to spend a holidaying weekend or for capital investment, there was an increase in the non-metropolitan shifting to please the wills of the metropolitan.  



Despite the search for pure picturesque depictions of the natural landscape, the rural was still heavily populated. This helped to create an altered depiction of the workforce in favour of Burke’s beautiful. From the desire to escape came a removal of any aspects seen as dirty and unappealing – those attached to farming peasantry in the landscape. Some see George Stubbs’ The Reapers 1783 as a shift “away from classical pastoral scenes towards representations of contempory agricultural labourers” (Alice Carey, Edited Verity Elson and Rosemary Shirley, (2017), This Land,  Creating the Countryside: The Rural Idyll Past and Present, Paul Holberton, London, Page 80). In this there is a suggestion that because the workers have become the focus, there is a move away from the ideology of Burke and Price, however, the painting is sterile, and the workers lack any mud or dirt from their clothes, thus, fulfilling the upper-class craving of stability and security.  The purifying of farm labour removes any forced engagement with its harsh realities, and, the adversity and suppression felt by labourers at the time. It also helped to continue to reaffirm the idealising of the rural as fresh, clean and healthy. Something common at the time due to its use as a treatment for illness. The painting also plays another role, the positioning of the landowner, sitting strongly and firmly over his worker, solidifies the feeling of power and control. Therefore, leading to the removal of complex issues relating to the labourers. How widespread the desire for solidifying power was, can be seen through the contemporary success of the painting.  Although The Reapers may not be a painting driven by the Picturesque it is still littered with many of the same themes of picturesque painting  It would be simplistic to say that urban people of the time were unaware of the realities of Victorian agricultural work and the unrest that was felt there. However, it can be said this passive continuing of this romantic ideal was a side effect of a desire for escapism at the time and an avoidance of social unrest. 


The desires to remove human issue can be seen also in the development of practical laws of painting. William Gilpin, a key writer in picturesque landscape painting promoted that “cattle are so large, that when they ornament a foreground, a few are sufficient. Two will hardly combine. Three make a good group- either united-or when one is a little removed from the other two.” “This detachment prevent heaviness and adds variety. It is the same principle applied to cattle, which we before applied to cattle, which we before applied to mountains, and other objects” (William Gilpin (1786), Observations, Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, London, Vol 2, pg 258-59). In this he relates living beings to being a negative. Although he uses the example of cattle, he acknowledges it’s transfer to other objects and as he amounts cattle and mountains to objects one can assume the same is said for people. In turn, he displays common attitudes towards the function of rural landscape painting. A function that was not defined by attempting to capture true depictions but something that is aesthetically pleasing. In turn leading to the removal of human presence for the favour of natural components. 


Gilpin's writings and ideas gave way to the popular Victorian device, the Claude Glass (Figure 6). The Claude glass involved a pocket size convex mirror to shrink and frame the reflection, tinting it darker to appear flatter and more like the aesthetics searched for in paintings. In turn discouraging artists to see the rural as a deep complex collage of human interaction.  Instead they were encouraged to capture it as still and flat. Art Historian Steven Jacobs relates this back to the Picturesque. He describes how “picturesque refers both to a certain kind of landscape that is suitable as a subject for a painting and to a fragment of reality that could be viewed as if it were part of  painting”.(Steve Jacobs, (2009) The Photoresque: Images Between City and Countryside, Myvillages, The Rural page 128). Therefore, suggesting the choosing and eliminating of aspects of the reality of human presence based on their aesthetic appeal. Ultimately displaying the controlled nature of the Picturesque.  




Despite the history of rural landscape painting contributing to an empty idealised space, artists in recent years have begun to engage in the problems facing rural life. Photographer Chris Chapman recorded the realities of the foot and mouth disease at a Devon farm in his series Silence at Ramscliffe. The brutal and striking realities of this are shown in figure 7 Although Chapman’s work does not necessarily portray the rural every day, in fact it displays an extremity, the work does contribute to a widening conversation of the complexities of the non-metropolitan. In turn, informing the simplistic dreamy image often portrayed. The importance of this can be seen in twenty-three of the artist’s photographs being included in the Devon foot and mouth inquiry (2001). The inquiry explored the effects of the handling and controlling of the disease had in the countryside. In turn, the images contributed to the inquiries result. Its importance is shown in the reports comments on the images as being an “essential record of the realities experienced on one Devon farm” capturing “the sad picture of slaughter, of pain and descending and consuming silence that so many farms experienced during the epidemic” (Mercer, I. 2002, Crisis and opportunity: Devon foot and mouth inquiry 2001. Tiverton Devon Books, Page 87). The inclusion of the images and how they were valued in the report shows the importance that depictions of the landscape still have in navigating non-metropolitan life. Therefore, displaying the role imagery has in understanding the role of the rural idyll today. 



Although the social structure today is very different from that of the 18th and 19th century, some themes of the rural idyll remain. This most commonly comes in the medium of escapist television. Rosemary Shirley states that the long running BBC show Coast “became such a stalwart, is well known for providing a quantity of relaxing escapism ahead of a working week” (Rosemary Shirley (2015), Rural Modernity, Everyday Life and Visual Culture, Routledge, Abingdon, England page 7). Thus, creating the habit of seeing the non-metropolitan as a space for leisure and escapism, therefore getting people into the routine of overlooking issues that approach the non-metropolitan. However, there are in fact rural escapist television works across the week (one of the most notable being Escape to Country). So, suggesting it is not just as a pre work buffer but is also something to be used as a stimulus to relax. Yet the idea of “escapism ahead of a working week” can be seen in the increasing of the number of shows, therefore increasing the intensity of the projection of the rural idyll, on Sunday evenings. The common schedule of Antiques Roadshow followed by Countryfile creates the perfect night of relief. Raymond Williams commented that “The common image of the /country is now an image of the past.” (Raymond Williams, (1973) The Country and the City, The Hogarth Press, London, England pg 297) this is still apparent today and is clear in the show Antiques Roadshow. Regularly hosted in large historical stately homes with a small village idyll title reel (displayed in figure 9) it encapsulates a feeling of an idealised summer afternoon in the rural idyll presented with a side of historic nostalgia.  


The Sunday night programming schedule is an anchored by Countryfile, the BBC’s flagship program on rural correspondence. On a weekly basis it reaches an average audience of 6 million, showing its wide reach. Openly“25% say they watch to help them escape, relax and enjoy the beauty of the countryside.”(Heather Hancook (2014), BBC Trust Impartiality Review: BBC coverage of Rural Areas in the UK, BBC, London, Pg 20)  Showing it acts as a key player in escapist Sunday night television. The BBC Trust Impartiality Review noted it’s wide ranging coverage, including biodiversity of threats from wide native invasive species or the labelling of meat slaughtered by religious law. However, there have also been reports combating this. The same reviews noted feedback stating, “it doesn’t talk about the shadow side, the dark side of rural community. I can’t remember it ever talking about rural poverty and deprivation” (Julie Nelson, Rural Officer, Church of England, BBC Trust Impartiality Review: BBC coverage of Rural Areas in the UK, BBC, London). Suggesting it falls into the same habits of cleansing the landscape as George Stubbs’ The Reapers (1883). Yet other feedback has stated that “It is accurate. “Each segment that it does there’s a lot of work put into it and they cover it very thoroughly” (Rural, Northern Ireland (2014), BBC Trust Impartiality Review: BBC coverage of Rural Areas in the UK, BBC, London) supporting good representation. On first appearance this supports the view that the program is inclusive. However, on closer inspection the evidence only suggests the good coverage of the subjects they cover. It neglects to note the variety of subjects tackled. Arguably the presence of escapist TV is not unique to programs based on the rural. The whole genre of TV Drama is designed to offer an escape from everyday life, as is Reality TV. However, in the context of Countryfile the escapist views are presented as truth and therefore play a different role. Neil Postman suggests the significance of this in stating “I do not mean to imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive” people of “contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result.” (Neil Postman (1985), Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Viking Penguin, Methuen, England.) This relates strongly in relation to Countryfile with regular depictions of ancient, redundant crafts and seasonal lambing segments it often acts as a form of entertainment while presenting itself as a news program. This is made more significant as half of its audience identify as living in the urban, and therefore might not experience the non-metropolitan regularly, in turn potentially giving the impression that the non-metropolitan is dominated by agriculture and nature when in fact “only 15% of the rural workforce is employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing. (Heather Hancook (2014), BBC Trust Impartiality Review: BBC coverage of Rural Areas in the UK, page 16). Thus, showing the majority of people work outside agriculture. However, it does also show how the challenges of agriculture do impact a significant proportion of rural communities, but a larger proportion are not involved in agriculture and have concerns outside of it. Therefore, Countryfile at times offers a one-sided view of the non-metropolitan. However, it appears less of an issue of misrepresentation, seen previously through the sanitised paintings of George Stubbs (1883), and instead is an issue of an unbalanced view due to Countryfile’s reliance on entertainment segments.  



Countryfile has attempted in the past to feature the problems of the rural outside agriculture. Yet when they have presented the less appealing political issue of the rise of the far right in the South West it received huge public backlash. The Express reported with the title “It’s ‘beyond a joke’ Fury at BBC Countryfile over Political Segment on rise of far-right”, (Helen Daly (30/09/19), It’s “beyond a joke”: Fury at BBC Countryfile over political segment on rise of far-right, Express) stating peoples questioning of the validity of the segment in what many understood to be a farming show. Countryfile reported on the group’s British rival and Generation Identity, targeting rural communities playing on concerns of environmental change and images of English Heritage cites. They pull on existing ideas of the non-metropolitan being a cleaner and healthier place. Something recognised by professor Roger Griffin stating it may “look like a harmless appeal to have a cleaner, healthier Britain, but actually deeper than that is something which links it in with a traditional theme of fascist language” (Professor Roger Griffin (2019), Countryfile interview, Countryfile, BBC, Tuesday, 8 Oct 2019). The backlash brings about the question of whether it is the projection or demand which plays a bigger role in the rural idyll. Although this is less extreme in the context of the BBC due to their commitment to diverse coverage, this can be noted  more often in  popular TV shows as they are put forward at primetime showings. This can be seen when Countryfile moved from daytime TV show to a prime Sunday night slot. Thus, suggesting the wills of the programme potentially being swayed by the audience’s demands. The backlash clearly displays a broad desire to keep Countryfile, and therefore rural imagery, on agriculture and nature. However, the Express also reported public understanding of the dominance that agriculture has on the show instead of being a balanced current affairs programme, therefore,  people’s confusion is not unfounded. In turn this is suggestive of the reliance Countryfile has on entertainment content, therefore, supporting the idea that Countryfile are contributing to the rural idyll as opposed to challenging it.  Countryfile’s popularity and reliance on entertaining topics suggests a cultural struggle with consuming the non-metropolitan outside the format of leisure and the pastoral. Therefore, suggesting many of the same themes of the 18th century views of romantic simplicity wrapped up in farming ideals. 



Paul Reas acts to question the way the non-metropolitan experience is often expressed with the encasing of entertainment as shown by Countryfile. In Flogging a Dead Horse, the images represent the heritage industry’s development into being an arm to the leisure industry. A development that has been seen by some as “blasphemes the by exhibiting, selling and trivialising the sacred objects of social realism”, (Stuart Cosgrove (1993), Flogging a dead Horse, Cornerhouse, Manchester) although, this often relates to post-industrial towns due to this being the series focus. There is also a clear statement on the reasserting of the appeal of the idyllic rural England in the 1980s. This is not more apparent than in the work Harvest of a Bygone Age. The image depicts a couple, in contemporary clothing, staring at a re-enactment of historical agricultural practices, not only this, the object used to marvel at is based on dramatized historical depictions of the landscape, absent of the true gruelling realities of Victorian farm labour. A disparity recognised by Val Williams, when talking of the series, “The present is in direct and uneasy juxtaposition with the past, just as the fact is with the fiction.” (Val Williams, (1993) Elegies Revisited Photographs by Paul Reas 1985-1993, Cornerhouse, Manchester). Thus, suggesting our contemporary ideas of the non-metropolitan are routed in fictions, nostalgic ideas of the rural idyll. Therefore, Paul Reas raises attention to the heritage industry contributing to the ongoing mythologizing of rural.  

 The human components in the photograph, lifelessly look upon the workforce, implying an analysis of how we culturally engage with the landscape. How there is an engagement with it that involves not engaging at all, by being passive viewers, marvelling at its beauty and simplicity even when presented with the idea of labour. A separation even more apparent in the figure 12. We, as viewers of the photograph, look upon a family as they supposedly view the landscape resembling the painting in the  photo. They present looking slightly confused having to be directed by the guide, supposedly not quite seeing the same landscape as the painting. potentially harking back to the edited nature of historical landscape painting described in section 1. This is a slightly mocking display of how separated people are from the realities of the landscape. This is further pushed by the choice of participants being dressed in pristine suits having just clambered through a hedge to reach the true view of the sublime painting, outfits that would not be worn by people working on the same land the family stand on. Thus, further displaying the disparity and divide between who rural images are designed for and the individuals occupying the land they supposedly display.   




The racial hostility alluded to in section 2.3 with the presence of Generation Identity in the South West, is a key feature in the work Pastoral Interlude by Ingrid Pollard. As a Black artist she explores what it feels to be an ethnic minority in the non-metropolitan. Bringing up themes of unease and outsiderism, placed in the context “Ownership of land commerce, economic development, and English involvement in Atlantic slave trade” (Ingrid Pollard: Pastoral Interlude 1988, Ingrid Pollard Photography, accessed 20/09/19, available, http://www.ingridpollard.com/pastoral-interlude.html ) when visiting the lake district. Thus, alluding to the same racist hostility alluded to by Generation Identity specifically targeting rural areas.  

Through the work she positions herself physically into the landscape of the lake district, drawing the viewer to think about the visual representation of the landscape in relation to ethnic minorities. With the description’s underneath add a consciousness to the figure in the image, giving the figure more emotional depth and drawing the viewer to think of the experiences of people from ethnic minorities in the non-metropolitan. This is asserted further by the nature of the comments, “it’s as if the Black experience is only within an urban environment. I thought I liked the Lake District; where I wondered lonely as a Black face in a sea of white. A visit to the countryside is always accompanied by a feeling of unease, dread” (Ingrid Pollard (1988), Pastoral Interlude, shown in figure 14). In this she expresses the isolation and hostility felt by ethnic minorities when visiting the rural. However, in the circumstance of the lake district, with her describing the lack of Black faces in the crowd this is not an active racial objection. So, meaning it is a wider cultural factor that has led to the inequality felt by Pollard. 


Through her work Pollard exposes the dark side of the British tourism and leisure industry. The English countryside is littered with the large stately homes from English history. Each displaying the wealth accumulated across the colonial empire acting as dark reminders of British Power. Something displayed at Dyrham Park in figure 16 which was once owned by William Blathwayt (1649-1717). Due to his position, as Surveyor and Auditor General of the Colonies, he oversaw the expansion of the colonial empire and in turn an increase in its profits from plantations, which resulted in great personal gain. This has led to the house being spattered with objects acting as reminders of England's suppressive past. This can be seen in figure 15. Due to Britain’s reliance on the colonial empire, these objects are common in many stately homes across the non-metropolitan landscape, contributing to a discomfort around the rural environment for people from ethnic minorities. However, the national trust is attempting to combat this with the introduction of their program, Challenging Histories. It is aimed at repositioning the history of Dyrham Park, to greater reveal its true history and make the experience more accessible, yet this is being put in place in only a small collection of stately homes and so the wider experience is still one of unease. This does non the less show a change in attitude and therefore gives for a more inclusive experience in the future. However, due to the national trust playing such a large national role in people’s exposure to history, the attitudes may already be set for a lot of people, thus, it may be a long time before we see the programmes effects.  It is the wider environment that contributes to the overall feeling of being an outsider when visiting the rural. So, the feelings and culture set by the stately homes impact other areas, thus, playing a role in the feelings of not belonging that were felt by Pollard. 


The positioning of these houses represents a power balance that lends itself to lord and servant. This gives force to the idea that the non-metropolitan is a place for the middle and upper classes to escape to, as opposed to an active place of work and diversity. Although this has lessened due to the houses no longer being owned by aristocratic landowners, they still act as a striking reminder of the past. Interestingly, Alice Carey suggests these feelings are not just reflected in the past, but in the modern day seen through the dominance of the micro villages arriving in some of London’s most expensive areas. Thus, suggesting the idealised view of village life is created for the benefit of well-off urban visitors as opposed to necessarily being the norm. Additionally, dominance over the agricultural identity and fashion by the royal family, something which began by Queen Victoria’s marketing link to the pastoral, acts as an upper-class ownership of the rural image. Additionally, Alice Carey expresses “The specific performance of royal rural rootedness reflects a wider tradition of paternalism and power” (Alice Carey (2017), Edited Verity Elson and Rosemary Shirley,  This Land, Creating the Countryside: The Rural Idyll Past and Present, Paul Holberton Publishing, London) Thus, suggesting the presence of themes of upper class possession seen in the 18th and 19th century. Nonetheless the “tradition” noted by Carey is no longer the dominating social structure. In turn, the divide in non-metropolitan experience is no longer dominated by class, yet there is a common stereotype of the National Trust being dominated by the urban middle classes. However, this may be caused more by the non-metropolitan being dominated by tourism, therefore, leading to various costs to entry, leading to a lack of accessibility for those unable to afford the tourist sites and holidays. Additionally, the present of micro-villages in expensive areas can potentially be attributed to the historic association of the rural being a cleaner better way of life. Therefore, those more affluent can afford to spend excess wealth on a more desirable area. Despite this there is a feeling that the pastoral belongs to just one demographic of people, a demographic that is not necessarily made up of the people that live and work there. 



Although looking back to the height of colonialism and divided class structure can help to understand the hostilities and unwelcomeness mentioned previously, it is perhaps just as important to look at developments in between. This is because they can sometimes give a clearer view of our concepts today. 

 The visual wording of WI anti-litter campaigns makes it easy to make the link between unwanted litter and unwanted others, in the rural landscape. With the presence of litter came a disruption to the purified landscape of the rolling hills. The 1930s creation of the campaign coincided with the increased usage of modern materials such as plastic. In turn, the presence of plastic litter became an embodiment of the increasing modernisation of the world. Therefore, arguably the rejection was a sign of the ingrained nostalgic conceptions of the rural. Of course, no one can deny the negative effects litter can have on wildlife, however, that is not the focus of the campaign. Instead the campaign is focused around this idea of invasion and rejecting both people and objects. Despite figure16 first appearance of friendly smiles it is more hostile than at first glance. The women depicted stand in an almost barricade, creating a barrier between the viewer and the countryside behind. The plaques displayed stating, “Please take litter home” gives this idea of people being invited into the non-metropolitan, and so an idea of leaving. In turn creating a hostility towards visitors suggesting a divide and a feeling of unbelonging. It also turns the rural into an object that the WI seek to protect. This is made more significant due to the presence of the same notions of the “Keep Britain Tidy” campaign are still present today, seen in figure 7 



There have long been links between the rural and national identity. Early representations can be seen in John Bull (figure 18). A prosperous farmer regularly seen in a union flag waistcoat, thus linking his embodiment to national identity. Later forms can be seen from the role WW2 propaganda (figure 19), displaying a direct link between the rural landscape and Wartime fighting. To the adoption of it by Margret Thatcher, stating in her “Of course, we must protect the villages and rural areas which are such an important part of our national life” (Margret Thatcher (20/09/88), Speech to the College of Europe ("The Bruges Speech") Thatcher Archive: COI transcript, Bruges ). In this Thatcher is describing the English life as though it is defined by the culture of the village. However, in 1988 most of the English population in fact, lived in the metropolitan, thus creating this strange juxtaposition of the village life being the definition of the everyday life of the population. It also maintains this notion of ownership as though every member of the national population has a right to experiencing the village, regardless of the desires of the communities that live there. It presents the village as the embodiment of England’s population, therefore, suggesting that the national makeup is almost completely white and operating in the rural idyll. This therefore, leaves out a large demographic of the population from the embodiment of Englishness.   


This link to national identity has been seen to play to the hand of far-right organisations. This can be seen through rise of the group Generation identity and the organising “holding night—time gatherings at English Heritage and National Trust sites” (Countryfile, (08/10/19), BBC One, BBC), using them as a place of propaganda training. Thus taking advantage of the rural heritage sites to motivate participants to develop into ethno-nationalists which uses the justification of shared  heritage to condone racism and “believe that it is vital to preserve, not just the race, but the countryside and the environment,” (Countryfile, (08/10/19), BBC One, BBC). The nature of campaigning based on images of the rural heritage industry can be seen in British Revival’s promotional videos seen in figure 20. Additionally, the video later depicts images of wartime soldiers. Thus, linking the rural to a aggressive need to be  protect. This is something seen in a lesser sense in Thatcher’s ideas of needing to protect the English economy and in turn the rural village against foreign powers. However, Nick Daines (a consultant for Prevent, the Home Office scheme that tries to stop people from being radicalised.) suggests another significant factor in the rise of the far right. He suggested that “In outlying areas, there’s less opportunities to mix with people from different diverse backgrounds, for example. There’s access to mainstream media and online content that is going to be easily accessible when you’re in rural areas, that isn’t perhaps balanced out by experience” (Nick Daines,(08/10/19), Countryfile Interview, Countryfile, BBC One, BBC). Therefore, suggesting other more local reasons for racial hostility in the rural. However, in this suggestion Daines also acknowledges the role of media and online content and how it is  dominated by imagery. Therefore, the tentative linking between national protection and non-metropolitan landscape by Thatcher and the “Keep Britain Tidy” campaign can be propelled into more extreme ideas through Generation identity and British Revival’s promotional media imagery.  


This media content often comes in the form of magazines. This England magazine, that claims to be England’s bestselling quarterly magazine, was shown by Edensor how in the simplified and cleansed view of the countryside. He reported in an analysis of the magazine, “anything ‘out of place’ stands out as un-English” (Tim Edenson(2002) National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life , Berg Publishers, Oxford, page 43). This coincides with the feelings of Pollards work, being the Black face in a sea of White creates a disruption to the eye and therefore with the reaffirming of the keep Britain tidy Campaigns there is a feeling of not belonging. The statistical evidence for this hostility can be seen through the 2004 report by the Commission for Racial Equality showing that out of the 8% of the population, made up of ethnic minorities, only 1% visit the rural. Giving the impression that the non-metropolitan has problem with accessibility. However, as a result of the report many newspapers began to investigate this subject and recording positive experiences of residents from ethnic minorities. Additionally, some of them gave alternative reasoning behind the percentage, “"It's more about culture and tradition. A lot of Asians want to go back to the country they came from rather than go on holiday in the English countryside."”.  (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2004/oct/09/raceintheuk.ruralaffairs Laura Smith, (09/10/04), Villagers bristle at accusation of rural prejudice, The Guardian).  However, this is not the case for all people from ethnic minority backgrounds as many were born in the UK and don’t consider themselves as having another country of origin. Thus, suggesting another reason for the lack of ethnic minorities visiting the non-metropolitan. Alongside this Edenson also suggests a degree of nostalgia in the image of the village. He noted “No youths are present in any picture, certainly no non-white locals or visitors are depicted and the urban is kept out. This England is located in the distant past, with little evidence of any post war development”. (Tim Edenson(2002) National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life , Berg Publishers, Oxford, page 42) In this Edenson collects the issues of inequality in representation and images based on the past. This can be understood as the 1950s, just 5 years after the war, there was a significant increase in immigration to the UK from the West-Indies and Afro-Caribbean countries. This led to a huge increase in the UK’s Black population. Therefore, this desire for a romantic pre-war past could also be seen as a racist message.  



The romantic rural idyll, developed in the 18th and 19th century’s, was shown to still be present today as shown in section 2. This presence is often displayed in the selling of goods 


Paul Reas’ work displays a bottling and selling of the heritage industry more commonly associated with the leisure industry. This bottling and selling often results in a themeground esc performances and rides. The performance factors of the heritage industry are stark in the agricultural labour enactment of Harvest of a Bygone Age (figure 11). The dressed-up workers are farming the land, and yet, not for any agricultural reward. Therefore, it becomes a pointless exercise. This pointlessness can also be seen in Reas’s choice of title. Flogging a dead horse meaning “a pointless exercise, but in this context also implies the whole-sale marketing of dead, redundant and often moribund past.” (flogging a dead horse, photographs Paul Reas text Stuart Cosgrove). Thus, further stating the notion these performances are for no point other than to draw money out of visitors. This shows a fetishizing of the ideas of agriculture, a fetishizing that the methods must be practiced and experienced even if they have no purpose or relevance to the people doing them. Thus suggesting a wider cultural desire to maintain these historical methods of agriculture in order to keep hold of something, something that motivates notions of nostalgia and simplicity. However, the performances do act to inform visitors of the history of the place they are in, thus suggesting the heritage industries role in informing a deeper view of the non-metropolitan. Yet the clean clothes of the farming actors suggests a cleansing of this rural history. A cleansing that results in a romanticising of the rural history as it removes the realities of Victorian farming labour as seen in figure 11.  Through revealing the strange actions of those in the images, Reas has received some degree of criticism for mocking the individuals in them, Yet he says, “I was just reflecting the circumstances people found themselves in, in a way that was sometimes a bit unpalatable.”  (Diane Smyth, (2018), Paul Reas’ Fables of Faubus, British Journal of Photograph, Available https://www.bjp-online.com/2018/11/reas-faubus/) and that “I think the pictures are more about systems people find themselves in.” (Paul Reas, (2013), Bradfordian returns with his own exhibition, Interviewed by Jim Greenhalf, Bradford Telegraph & Argus). Therefore, suggesting that it is the systematic selling and consuming of these experiences that lead people to behave this was and be involved in these pointless performances as opposed to being the responsibility of the viewers. 


Of course, it is not unexpected that the leisure industry markets an over-positive representation of the rural idyll, as their aim is to make money. However, the question is whether the heritage industry has a place in this process. This is similar to the issues linked to Countryfile, asking whether it is right that organisations that are seen as being sources of truthful depictions simplify and cleanse realities to fit into people’s desire to experience the rural a leisurely release. Something asked by the photographs of Paul Reas. Although the images were taken in the 1980s the same over romanticising themes can be seen today, something displayed by the National Trust which appears as not always being explicit about colonialism. Therefore, Reas photographs, are important in understanding the role the heritage industry has in the simplification of the rural. Through the heritage industry making itself and the rural appealing to visitors it simplifies the complexities and sometimes cleans the realities of rural history. The heritage industry plays a significant role in creating people’s concept of history. So, if these realities are changed into something else then the public’s concept of reality begins to become warped and inaccurate. This plays a detrimental role in people's concepts of the rural existence, and therefore the lives of those that live there. 



The capitalising on the rural idyll can also be seen through material goods. Although the Airwick’s National Parks collaboration, titled  Britain’s Breathing Spaces, was designed to be placed within the home, they capitalised on utilising whimsical ideas of the outdoors. The scents themselves describe romantic fantasies, in the form of the title “midnight Berries and Shimmering Mist” (Figure 23) drawing upon notions of druidic ambiance with impressions of witchcraft and magic. This pulls the consciousness back to a time without science and modernity.  In turn presenting the non-metropolitan as a place of backwardness that lacks modern technologies. Additionally, the scents “Smoky Mountain” and “Mountain Sunset” lend themselves to the traditional notions of the sublime landscape (as seen in figure 1). Thus, playing into the curated views of 18th century landscape depictions.  


The campaign, titled Britain’s Breathing Spaces, as a whole has an air of clean and pure pulling on the tradition of the rural being a place of purifying the body and bringing health to the ill. This is exemplified by the product being an air freshener. It is almost as though the consumer is being offered a bottle of purer air, due to it relating back to the idyll. Purer air than consumers could find on their own. Yet the air fresheners are filled with scents and chemical, so are unlikely to be purer or cleaner than average air, even if someone was to live in a city centre. Additionally, the title Britain’s breathing spaces, with its similarity to the phrase breathing space, meaning “a period of rest in order to increase strength or give you more time to think about what to do next (Cambridge Dictionary, Breathing Spaces, available https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/breathing-space , Accessed 16/10/19), links the non-metropolitan to the idea to escape, safety and respite. This is how a large proportion of the UK population experience the rural, seen through the rural tourist industry, so is a valid perception. Yet, if the psychological link to respite and security is dominant it creates an absence of thought to the problems in the lives of people living in small towns and villages. In particular, the problems that contrast the feelings of security such as the inequality caused by homelessness. The Statutory Homelessness and homelessness prevention and relief, England reveals that while there was a 45% increase in homeless from 17/18 to 18/19 in England there has been a 85% increase in “Total number of homeless households across rural authorities in England” (Ministry of Housing and Communities and Local government (13/12/18), Statutory homelessness and prevention and relief, January to March (Q1) 2018:England (Revised), National Statistics, London). Therefore, showing a difference in the experience of homelessness between metropolitan and non-metropolitan, suggesting that there is a disparity in the resources and support given in the non-metropolitan. In turn, suggesting there is something about the way we view the non-metropolitan that leads to a negligence towards the issue of homelessness.  

On first appearance the Airwick’s campaign appears to be a representation of the influence consumed products have on our perceptions. Yet on further inspection it is a greater example of mass opinion. As Neil Postman states the “commercial is not at all about the character of products to be consumed. It is about the character of the consumers of products” suggesting it is the already formed opinions that lead to the romantic representation of the rural in advertisement. This is something that is also suggested in section 2.2 in relation to Countryfile.  

Thus, suggesting there is more weight on the idea that we are searching for escape and the sublime to combat the regular beat of everyday life associated with the urban. Although this may be the case, there is an argument that companies are not passive in our cultural relationship with the rural. Despite them potentially not being the source, they do play a role in reaffirming the ideas of the rural idyll over time. This is something also applicable to the heritage industry because as displayed in Paul Reas work, they act as a commercial romanticising and simplifying history in search of profiting and competing for customers. All this lends itself to the idea of a push and pull relationship to the romanticising of the rural idyll in the capitalist market.  



As explained in an interview with Rosemary Shirley, Rebecca Chesney’s work Snapshot was directly inspired by the Airwick’s campaign. She describes the assumptions made of her background due to being from a somewhere rural, stating, “The air fresheners feel like one of these assumptions: they speak of the absurdity of describing the rural in very simplistic way”. (Rebecca Chesney (2017), Interview by Rosemary Shirley, Creating the Countryside: The Rural Idyll Past and Present, page 44). Something suggested in the example of “Midnight Berries” and “Shimmering Midst”.  Her work does not just act to critic. it also acts to re inform it. Similar to the themes of Paul Reas Her work consists of a colour chart depicting 96 colours of the Brecon Beacons as seen in figures 26 and 25. She describes how she wanted it to be “a much more detailed account of a landscape than just one smell could ever be.”. (Rebecca Chesney (2017), Interview by Rosemary Shirley, Creating the Countryside: The Rural Idyll Past and Present, page 44). However, as the work is made up of a collection of single colours, arguably the chart lacks the same depth that the smells do. Yet, what is different is the depth of context given to them. With the colours there is a large scope of experiences represented, from “Highway”, “Jelly Ear” too “Hedge”. The range displays things from representations of nature to something sometimes unexpectedly linked to the rural, to the less palatable aspects of meat. In comparison the Airwick’s campaign gives a dreamy romantic view only displaying titles linking to the beauties of nature. Thus, giving a broader understanding of the Brecon Beacons. Additionally, with the colours such as “carbon sink” and “Highway” she brings the rural into the modern every day. A modality that is often absent due to the focus on nostalgic preconceptions.  

Through “highway” she displays how the non-metropolitan is often seen as a place of country walks through vast fields and deep forests. Yet with its large distances between places and poor transport links it relies on car’s and therefore the highways they drive on. Therefore, Chesney’s work helps to raise people’s consciousness of the non-metropolitan being a complex place of modernity. 





Ultimately, culture and society has developed since the time of the 18th century picturesque. Class structures have changed and there is an increased depiction of the realities of non-metropolitan life. Something that can be seen through heritage sites focus on agricultural labour and the broadening of landscape depictions through television. However, non-metropolitan depictions still often come through the filters of the rural idyll and so are expressed through the romantic view. This is because we still practice the same social habits as in the 18th and 19th century of looking to the rural idyll as a place to escape the troubles of life. 

These romantic ideals are most explicit in the form of advertising displayed by the Airwick’s Campaign. The campaign showed a continuing of the fetishization of nature, first seen in the picturesque landscape, that leads to a mystifying of rural life. This can also be seen through Countryfile’s focus on agriculture. Although agriculture is industrial, there is also strong idea of man’s connection to the land and nature. Therefore, showing there is still a cultural desire to be closer to nature through non-metropolitan imagery. 

The feelings of escape often come out of a feeling of nostalgia. A nostalgia that many feel through druidic depictions of nature or images of the sleepy village. Which, as well as farming, once dominated the workforce and now makes up so little of it. Thus, it has become a symbol of the past. However, this feeling of nostalgia often leads to a simplification, as people avoid any negative aspect impacting the idyllic landscape. Something that can be seen through the overlooking of community issues such as homelessness or the rise of the far right. 

Through the cultural nostalgic desire to go back to a simpler life embodied through the rural idyll, comes a collective identity, one that feeds into national identity. However, this has created issues of access to the non-metropolitan for some demographics, through outdated ideas of the British persona. 

In conclusion, the rural idyll still plays a huge role in our cultural relationship to the non-metropolitan, offering escape and comfort for many. It is both demanded by the masses and its continuation is supported by mass media through supporting its continuing depiction. However, it is based on outdate ideals that rarely depict the true non-metropolitan life of  today. Therefore, it must develop to encompasses modern complexities or be balanced out by more explicit depictions of reality. 



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