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Diana Gravesite Village Fears Crowd

April 2, 1998

GREAT BRINGTON, England (AP) _ Postmistress Christine Whiley’s business will soar this summer when visitors are admitted to Princess Diana’s gravesite and a museum about her life.

But so will the traffic, when an estimated 1,000 cars a day negotiate the narrow twisted lanes to this hilltop cluster of honey-stone houses, bringing 2,500 visitors hungry for Diana memories and the requisite souvenirs.

In a village created long before the car, parking is already scarce, and the Daventry District Council recently refused permission for Diana’s brother, the 9th Earl Spencer, to build a 500-space parking lot in a Great Brington field.

Locals understand the need Diana fans have to see her final resting place, but fear the invasion will swamp their peaceful community of 200 _ and that has strained their normally good relations with the earl.

``We will become ‘Dianaland’,″ grumbled Caroline Gale, a resident of more than 40 years whose garden overlooks rolling, unspoiled hills. ``The roads will be blocked, and our peace will be disturbed.″

Other residents fear that the motorized invasion will increase pollution.

The Great Brington parish council says the earl should provide parking on his own land. If that’s not possible, it suggests busing visitors in from parking lots in Northampton, five miles away, or reopening the old railway station at Althorp, the Spencer estate.

After selling 152,000 entry tickets at $15.60 each, residents believe the earl can afford such options.

``It is not acceptable that such needs should be met by the cheapest or by the most immediate solutions to the permanent detriment of local residents,″ said parish council chairman Andrew Shaw.

But Spencer has promised that all profits will go to a memorial fund created after Diana died in a car accident Aug. 31. He also says he is not allowed to build a parking lot at Althorp because the 100-room mansion, bought by one of his ancestors in 1508, is a designated historical site.

The grounds of Althorp will open June 27 for a concert in aid of Diana’s favorite charities. A museum chronicling Diana’s life, which Spencer is building in a former stable, will be open daily from July 1 to Aug. 30.

Tourists will not have access to the island where the princess is buried, but will be able to walk around the lake and view her memorial from afar.

Local planner Ian Smith said the council would see how the village weathers this summer’s hordes before deciding about a permanent parking lot _ but others aren’t waiting to act.

On the rickety wooden fence that encircles the village hall’s small parking lot, caretaker Mary Clarke already has placed a hand-written ``No Parking″ sign.

Notices tacked up outside the church of St. Mary the Virgin, where 20 generations of Diana’s family are buried, inform residents that the gravel drive up to the small 17th-century edifice soon will be blocked by metal barriers to deter casual parkers.

And the owners of The Rectory, the former vicarage whose garden adjoins the churchyard, plan to replace their wrought-iron gates with solid wooden ones to prevent peeping.

Mrs. Whiley _ who runs her tiny post office-cum-gift shop with her husband and just one part-time employee _ also has started planning ahead. Come July, she will open an hour earlier, ``so the older residents can collect their pensions in peace.″

Already, she often admits souvenir-seekers who turn up after hours, since hers is the only shop in the village and is open seven days a week.

Business has been booming. Visitors from all over the world come to buy commemorative first-day stamp covers stamped Great Brington for $16, then snap up Althorp dish towels for $6 and Diana videos from $4.80.

Prints of Althorp sell for $32, $6 of which goes to land mine charities supported by Diana.

And then there’s Chris Murray, the landlord of the Fox and Hounds pub, where the earl drinks. Murray is willing to take a more commercial view, when he thinks of those extra 152,000 thirsty visitors.

``It will,″ he said with some understatement, ``be good business.″

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