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Wallingford is a quiet riverside town on the Thames, with its violent history remembered as part of the distant past.

It’s a picturesque backdrop for good old-fashioned murder

Sitting on the south side of the River Thames a dozen miles below Oxford, Wallingford is a quiet, almost sleepy, market town of 7,000. Baskets of flowers hang from shops and public buildings surrounding the market square. Folks pop in and out of Greggs and Boots, and wheel their shopping trolleys from Waitrose to the car park. The Tourist Information Centre at the Town Hall closes for lunch and the pubs are quiet through the midday. Yet behind the placid façade of rural English life, murder lurks behind every hedge and garden wall.

Welcome to “Causton,” county town of the fictional county of Midsomer. For 15 seasons Wallingford and the surrounding countryside and communities have been the principal location of the popular ITV production Midsomer Murders. Through 2011, the series’ hero was Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, played with understated relish by the popular John Nettles. On his retirement from the role, he has been replaced by nephew John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon). Here in the bucolic heart-of-England countryside, the bodies have been dropping like proverbial flies since 1997. It’s been calculated that Midsomer is among the most dangerous places on earth, bested in its murder rate only by Cabot Cove, Maine (Murder, She Wrote). In fact, Wallingford is as quiet as it appears. The frenetic Criminal Investigation Division of Midsomer Murders just doesn’t exist. Wallingford does have a police station, of course—open 10-2 three days a week, principally for the convenience of people needing to pay traffic fines. For other matters, the phone line to Thames Valley Police is posted.

For fans of the series, which has been broadcast in more than 220 countries worldwide, however, the town is recognizable indeed. The Market Place and the Town Hall at its head have been filmed in many scenes over the years. The Corn Exchange is now the community theater, and doubles as Causton Playhouse. Its resident amateur dramatic company, the Sinodun Players, has provided extras in crowd scenes a number of times over the years. Locals are accustomed to spotting familiar faces in the crowd. Wallingford Bridge and local shops also make an appearance from time to time.

Yes, it might seem just all a bit of play-acting, a picturesque town making a picturesque background for that most entertaining and English of genres: the good, old-fashioned murder mystery. After all, that’s why we love those murder mysteries so. Against the most unlikely of backdrops, the most unnatural of crimes occur. From a world of order, disorder erupts. Enter DCI Barnaby or Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot or Brother Cadfael, and ultimately order is restored. Murder mysteries are comedies, not tragedies. Justice is done and the world is put right.

Ironically enough, however, Wallingford’s benign appearance is deceptive. Far from being simply a lovely generic market town, the south Oxfordshire community is a most appropriate locale for its law-and-order setting.


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