Dividing his time between London and Italy, property millionaire Walter Cooke hadn’t been able to return to his hometown of Knowle since moving down to Cambridge.

He knew his ageing parents were happy in this well-appointed, leafy little village, with its solid network of societies and transport links. But he also knew, with the occasional stab of guilt, that he didn’t visit them nearly as much as they would like.

So, like many busy sons living far from home, he used his wealth and influence to improve their lot.  In 1396, he built the village its own church, thereby saving his mother and father the three-mile trek to Hampton, and the awkward crossing of a ford that it entailed.

"It is somewhat difficult for the inhabitants and indwellers of the vill of Knoll to get to the same parish church, especially in rainy or snowy weather," he wrote to Pope Boniface IX.

By 1402, his gift to his home village was open for business. Knowle is still a genteel village popular with well-heeled young families and the elderly, and it’s still no doubt a place their children, now pursuing wealthy careers in the capital, love to visit and pause for breath.

Though the signs on the shops might have changed from victuallers, millers, masons and weavers, to estate agents, beauty therapists, auctioneers and eateries, there's much about Knowle – originally called Cnolle after the Saxon word for small hill – that has remained unchanged with time.

Thanks to Cook, the parish church of Knowle, squarely hewn with a sturdy clock tower and weather-beaten gargoyles peering out from cornices, remains the emblem of the village.

It still attracts a healthy congregation of up to 500 at its Sunday morning family services.

St Ann’s Guild next door was created by Cook in 1412, to encourage charitable and useful living, open to all inhabitants including women, both married and single.

Via donations and subscriptions, it provided for the maintenance of schools – including the prestigious College of Knowle – churches and bridges. It helped those who had suffered loss by fire, flood or shipwreck.

With black and white timbers and tiny leaded windows, it still provides a meeting room for the headspinning number of societies listed at the back of its parish magazine to variously provide for, entertain, teach and comfort Knowle’s inhabitants.

Along with the stalwarts of village life, the WI, the Lions, Scouts and Guides, there are the ramblers, the operatic,

visiting astronomical and ladies societies, the flower, bridge, camera, dog training and Scottish country dancing clubs, plus the allotment lot and a whole host of sporting activities. With less than 10,000 residents, they really are a busy lot.

The church and St Ann's Guild, along with the renovated wattle-and-daub Chester House – now the library – form two of the principle features on the pretty curving High Street which forms the centre of Knowle.

It is a proper village High Street, whose butchers and greengrocers have been run by the same families for generations.

A total of 18 restaurants – including a Loch Fyne outlet, a Thai, Chinese, a string of Indians and a couple of Italian restaurants – serve residents well.

Despite the arrival of the ubiquitous Tesco in the precinct, on Saturday mornings the High Street is bustling with people.

Brothers Peter and David Lyons are fourth-generation butchers, running Eric Lyons, on the High Street. The shop is wide and airy and the chalk-board list of fare is eye-popping – from fresh, locally farmed guinea fowl to venison.

Well wrapped up families queue patiently with rosy-cheeked, hatted children in pushchairs, chatting contentedly.

"People are very loyal here and there's a great buzz," says Peter."They like the fact it is a family concern and it's a family atmosphere. It's history and quality really. We make all our own pies and get our meat from local farms.

"On a Saturday, there are a lot of young families. Although they might like to go to Tesco to buy washing powder, fathers will come here with their children to pick out two fillet steaks and a bottle of wine for the evening."

Roger Marshall, a former criminal justice manager with one son, has lived in Knowle for ten years, having moved from Coleshill.

"The pull to the area was the church, but the schools are excellent too," he says.

"The church is good in terms of that it’s unusual to get a church that has 7-800 people as members and its vibrant youth work – there are five full-time youth workers.

"There are a couple of authentic Italian restaurants such as the Pizzeria Napolitana and there’s a little French coffee shop run by a man from the Cote d’Azur in the south of France, which sells authentic croissants.

"It’s a really nice place to live with a good atmosphere and a lot of history."

The proportion of residents who are paid-up members of the Knowle Society speaks volumes about civic pride here.

More than a quarter of the electorate are in it, which makes it far and away the largest amenities society in the West Midlands.

Deputy chairman Colin Smith, a retired education officer, says: "Knowle is populated very much by professional people, who are all able and lively, and they make the place professional and lively.

"People are interested in keeping the place shipshape. We keep an eye on community services and keep the pressure on the council to keep the place tidy. People can walk about the centre and feel comfortable and safe."

Current issues include the demolition of "perfectly good" properties by developers and the springing up of flats, and making sure Tesco keeps the precinct tidy.

"The role of the society is to keep the character of the village. There’s a certain charm about Knowle High Street which is difficult to define," says Mr Smith.

"It has grown organically since the 14th century and it is not too glitzy or concretey. We don’t see any point in getting rid of perfectly good properties unless they are replaced by something better."

Knowle lies between the great Roman roads of the Fosseway, the Ryknield Way and Watling street.

Now, together with Henley-in-Arden and Warwick, it forms one point of a golden triangle of prime commuter belt close to the M42, the M6 and M40.

Incomers to Knowle come from Birmingham or Solihull, seeking more of a village life and countryside.

Nearby Arden School exerts a magnetic pull on families, being one of the best-performing state secondary schools in the country.

"It is a bit too expensive for most young families," says local estate agent Jane Vill. "An ordinary family home is not much less than £400,000. Once you are here people don’t tend to move very far.

"Families move in looking for schools – particularly Arden School – and older people like the concentration of amenities.

"You've got Copt Heath golf club, a well-kept little park, a bowling club, a tennis club and Solihull is only five minutes away with all the shops there and a swimming baths and an ice rink."

Why change it unless it's for the better? It’s a principle which by and large Knowle has clung to over the centuries, and it’s all the better for it.