Great House Chitterne in 1921

This intriguing building has a colourful history. Originally it was the stables and service quarters of the great medieval manor house of Chitterne All Saints that stood, until it was demolished in about 1824, in what is now Chitterne Sportsfield. The service quarters survived and were converted into six separate dwellings called Great House to house farm labourers and their families. The new conversion’s name probably transferred from the original building, Great Manor. ( Manor Farm was once known as Little Manor).

The only photograph I have of the converted building at about the same time as the census is this one where it appears in the background of the 1923 accident with a falling tree. Great House was still housing some farm labourers, but by then only four families lived there.

In the 1930s, along with Manor Farm (now part of Chitterne Farm), Great House came into the ownership of the War Department. It was sold in the early 1970s and the new owners converted it into a single dwelling named Coach House.

I don’t know when exactly, but when Great House housed six families, it had been numbered along with the rest of the village, possibly between the 1911 and 1921 censuses, as the 1921 gives us village house numbers for the first time. The six dwellings were numbered 37 to 42 Great House, coming after number 36 Gate House and before 43/44 Yew Tree Cottages (Bow House), which explains why there is still a gap in the numbering of village houses. Today the building is number 37 Coach House, and numbers 38, 39, 40, 41 and 42 don’t exist.

Who was living at Great House in 1921?

Charles and Susan Colborne and their five children lived in 3 rooms in number 37 in 1921. They had been in Chitterne since 1915. Charles who hailed form Rockbourne, Hampshire, had served in the 5th Hants Regiment in WW1, before being invalided out in 1916. In 1921 he was a builder’s labourer working for Holloway Brothers of Imber. Susan, birth name Topp, came from Wincanton in Somerset. Their children were 16 year old Charles junior, who worked at Webster’s farm (Clump Farm) as a carter, Bessie aged 13, Lily aged 10, Hubert aged 7 and Phyllis aged 3.

Living at number 39 Great House William and Agnes Collins also had 3 rooms. They had not been living in Chitterne long and I know very little about them, although they were still in the same house in 1925. William was working as an under-carter ploughman for the farming Collins family at Manor Farm, but I don’t think they were related as he was a Wiltshireman and the farming Collins’ were from Devon.

Stephen Williams at number 40 Great House, was alone in his 3 rooms on 24 April 1921 when the census was recorded, although he says he was married, but no wife is listed. Now here’s a strange thing: According to Rev. JT Canner, Stephen’s wife, Amelia, died in 1916 and is buried in All Saints graveyard. Perhaps he still thought of himself as married despite having lost his wife. Stephen, like Charles Colbourne above, also worked for Holloway Bros builders of Imber, but as a bricklayer’s labourer.

Lastly, at number 41, lived the Dowdell family. They had three rooms shared between widow Eliza Jane Dowdell, born Eliza Jay in Broadchalk, Wiltshire, her four grown-up children, Edith 25, Albert 23, Edward 21, Hilda 15, and her orphaned grandson Leslie Jay 9. Eliza was the widow of Tom Dowdell, born Hanging Langford, who had died in 1918. Albert and Edward both worked for Charles Collins at Manor Farm. Hilda was born in Chitterne so the family had been here since at least 1906, whereas Albert and Edith had been born in Hanging Langford, and Edward in Codford.

Many workers of this post-war era had moved several times in their lives. Those living at Great House were no exception, the unusual building was home to a transient population for the main part of the twentieth century, until more mechanisation did away with the need for so many farm hands.

I am grateful to J & RR for their invaluable help with the 1921 Chitterne census.

Graveyard Serendipity

Following my last blog, a piece of serendipitous news. All graveyards, churchyards and burial grounds in England will be surveyed in the next few years. The National Burial Grounds Survey (NBGS) is happening right now. Who knew? I certainly didn’t until recently.

Since I wrote the last paragraph I have attended a Webinar about the NBGS and found out more. AG Intl Ltd are doing the surveying, working their way around the country diocese by diocese. The survey of Salisbury Diocese, free to the church, went live on the 24th November 2022 as consent is being sought from each parish, hence the informative webinars held yesterday.

NBGS was launched last year with the aim of mapping and digitising burial grounds. It is funded by MyHeritage and enabled by FamilySearch (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints aka the Mormons). They will recoup their investment by offering the information gathered to subscribers to their service.

The idea that all burial grounds will be searchable online in future is an exciting one, and will suit our needs here at Chitterne very well, but it needs qualifying. Not ALL burial grounds are included in this survey, only those of the Church of England. Burial grounds in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are also not included in the survey.

And I do wonder how it will affect all you folk searching your ancestry the old way. Will you miss your days out visiting churches? Will you still want to visit once you’ve seen photographs and information from the comfort of your armchair? How about the archivists who offer their expertise free at the History Centre? Will it do them out of a job? But I guess it will provide them with another resource.

Despite these reservations we welcome the scheme. The software Dave uses for making and updating the graveyard maps is getting out of date now he’s retired, so that’s a relief.

Here is the link for more information:

https://agintl.org/burial-ground-management-survey/: Graveyard Serendipity

Mapping the Graveyards 20 years on

There are two graveyards in Chitterne that have been in use since medieval times. Neither is situated near the present church, which is on a site not suitable for burials, but both are some distance away where the two old churches of Chitterne All Saints and Chitterne St Mary once stood.

Twenty years ago there were no plans of either of these graveyards. The lack of plans became a problem when the second partner of a couple died wishing to be buried in the same grave as the first partner and no-one could remember where the unmarked grave was. I think that grave plot was finally identified by referring to family photographs of the original burial. The photos included nearby grave markers that allowed the grave to be identified, but nevertheless the embarrassing episode nudged the churchwardens into action.

It was a two person job to survey the sites and to create the plans. I gathered and recorded the information and my husband Dave drew the plans, using software. We started with St Marys graveyard.

St Mary’s, pictured above, surrounds the remaining part of old St Mary’s Church (undergoing roof restoration at the moment), and is well kept and in constant use.

We used various old maps and internet maps to plan the shape and orientation of the site. Then plotted and numbered the graves. Numbers 1 -15 gravestones had been moved from their original positions and re-sited in a line alongside the path leading to The Manor, so we gave those a different shape on our plan. There are three burials within the chancel, these we gave dotted lines, and three memorials on the outside walls of the chancel, these just have numbers. Lists were made of the numbered graves and where possible annotated with the names of the occupiers and their dates. Illegible inscriptions were noted too. The latest version of the map of St Mary’s is pictured above.

St Mary’s proved to be a bit of a doddle when it came to mapping All Saints graveyard.

All Saints is not mowed but grazed by sheep. Even this is an improvement from 60 years ago, when it was overgrown with brambles and scrub before Alan Sprack cleared it, so at least we could move around the graveyard for our survey. Alan was the last person to be buried here; the graveyard is not as popular for burials as St Mary’s.

Our main problem with All Saints was the higgledy-piggledy layout of the graves, which apart from all facing the same direction, seemed to have no pattern. We resorted to GPS in the end, but this in itself was difficult as every time we stopped and started again we got a different reading from the satellites. Once we had our basic layout we followed the same procedure as St Mary’s. One grave of a suicide at All Saints is outside the boundary. Number 20 marks the underground vault containing the eleven coffins of the Michell-Onslow family. Number 48 (top centre) that of the Hitchcock family.

Eventually, after two years, in 2004, we finished All Saints graveyard map. This map is updated less frequently than St Mary’s, the latest version is pictured above.

All the information was passed to the churchwardens and the vicar, added to a Graveyard Search page on the village website and turned into an alphabetical Burial Guide placed in the current church for visitors. The map and lists are updated every year or so. Unfortunately it is no longer possible to update the search page on the website.

Paintings of old buildings 3: All Saints Church

All Saints Church, Chitterne painted by Robert Kemm in his youth in the 1850s – see first blog in this series for more on Robert Kemm. This church has been wholly demolished, only the graveyard remains alongside the old road to Imber. All Saints was a small building consisting of a chancel, nave, western tower, south porch and a chantry chapel on the north side, to which the Michell family added a pew containing a mausoleum in 1775. The chancel with priest’s door and the tower date from the 13th century Early English Period, whereas the east and nave windows are of the 15th century Perpendicular Style.

Two encaustic tiles were found in the chancel of this church. They are now in the Wiltshire Museum at Devizes. One bearing the arms of Simon Sydenham, Dean of Sarum 1418 to 1431, has two chevrons between three rams. The other bears the arms of William Alnswyke, Archdeacon of Sarum 1420 to 1426. These probably denote that alterations or enlargements were made to the church during their terms of office, perhaps the Perpendicular Style windows were inserted.

Apologies for blurred image

Inside, All Saints Church contained six hatchments and eight memorials to the Michell and Onslow families. The monuments were all removed to the new church in 1861 and may be seen on the walls of the entrance lobby. Giles de Bridport, Bishop of Sarum, acquired the right to Chitterne All Saints Church and 17 acres of glebe (land belonging to the Church) and gave it to his newly formed College de Vaux in 1270. The land continued to belong to the College until the dissolution of the college in 1545.

This final painting by Robert Kemm depicts several details from the interior of All Saints Church annotated by the artist. The annotations are as follows, top left to right: Window in Chapel; West window; W window S side of nave. Below left to right: Within the South doorway; Shields and …. in Chancel ….. and part of East window. The medieval glass in the east window painted by Kemm looks very similar to the small pieces of medieval glass preserved and still visible today in a window of St Mary’s Chancel pictured right.

The Robert Kemm paintings are stored in the Salisbury Museum and can be seen by arrangement with the Curator. I am grateful to RE for the photographs of the paintings and to MS for sending them to me.

Paintings of old buildings 2: St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s Church, Chitterne painted by Robert Kemm in his youth in the 1850s – see previous blog for more on Robert Kemm. Most of this church was pulled down in 1861, leaving just the chancel, which still exists today. The original building consisted of a chancel, nave, a small chantry chapel on the north side and a square tower over the south porch. The windows and priest’s doorway are in the 15th century Perpendicular Style.

The Rectory of Chitterne St Mary was appropriated to the Dean and Chapter of Sarum (Salisbury) before 1295, and remains in their possession today. The Manor of Chitterne St Mary formed part of the lands given by Countess Ela of Salisbury’s son to Lacock Abbey in 1246, see previous blog.

Robert Kemm’s watercolour painting of the church interior. The chancel and nave were divided by a fine 15th century stone rood screen.

A painting by Robert Kemm of a tomb in the chancel to the north of the altar, without figure or inscription, under a 14th century arch in the Decorated Style. This is interesting because the arch is still in the chancel today but the tomb has disappeared since the painting was done. I wonder who could have warranted such a memorial in Chitterne St Mary back in the 1300s?

The paintings are stored in the Salisbury Museum and can be seen by arrangement with the Curator. I am grateful to RE for the photographs and to MS for sending them to me.

Paintings of old buildings 1: St Andrews Chapel

Several photographs of paintings of the two old Chitterne churches, and one said to be of St Andrew’s Chapel have come my way recently. They are all new to me, as is the artist Robert Kemm, and I thought this worth sharing with you in three parts.

The paintings are annotated with typewritten notes which state that they date from 1865-1867. I was a little taken aback by this. How could that statement be correct when both our old churches were mostly demolished by 1861 in order to build the new church? So I set about researching Robert Kemm. Again, the notes on the last photo of the so-called St Andrew’s Chapel, also sent my eyebrows skyward, as we now think the chapel to have been sited behind the building in this painting.

Robert Kemm was born in 1837 in Salisbury, the son of William Kemm, a gilder and carver born in Netheravon, but living in Salisbury with his wife Jane by the time Robert was born. Robert showed early promise as an artist and was producing paintings by the time he was fourteen years old in 1851. In fact he produced two series of 256 watercolours of Wiltshire churches in his youth. So there is the answer to my query, these paintings were painted well before 1865, when the old churches were still standing in all their glory.

Building on the site of St Andrews Chapel

This building dating from the 15th century, which still exists, may have been built on the site of, or near the St Andrew’s Chapel that certainly existed in 1142, when it was given by Walter of Salisbury to his newly founded Priory of Bradenstoke near Lyneham, Wiltshire. But the monks of Bradenstoke did not benefit from it for long as Walter’s grandson, Patrick Earl of Salisbury, took it back into his own possession before he died in 1168, swapping it for some land he owned at Wilcot. The chapel remained in the hands of the Earls of Salisbury until 1236 when William Longespee II, Earl of Salisbury, gave all his holdings in Chitterne to the Abbey his mother founded at Lacock. For the next 300 years, from 1236 until the dissolution of the Abbey in 1539, the chapel became the property of the nuns of Lacock. In 1447 a disaster occurred, the bell and bell turret of the chapel were struck by lightning and destroyed. The present building pictured above must date from after this disaster, as the 15th century style windows and door attest, but is it sited in the same place as the original chapel? We may never know for certain.

The paintings are stored in the Salisbury Museum and can be seen by arrangement with the Curator. I am grateful to RE for the photographs and to MS for sending them to me.

Grange actor appears on London stage

100 years ago this month Earnshaw Twinkle from The Grange at Chitterne was making his first appearance in a play on a London stage.

The play, The Broken Wing, originally opened in 1920 in New York and, in England at the Duke of York’s Theatre on 15th August 1922, It was written by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard and described at the time as a ‘Colourful Comedy of Modern Mexico With a Sensational Aeroplane Crash’. The arrival of a plane through a living room window at the end of Act I was thought the best thing in the play.

Earnshaw was appearing alongside the lead actress Dorothy Mix, and spent some of his time in London at her flat. “Apparently he loved the glitter of floodlights so much that he had to be pulled off in one of the scenes instead of meekly following the hero and heroine, as the authors of the play intended.” reported the Warminster and Westbury Journal on Friday 18th of August 1922. So who was this mysterious player from Chitterne?

Earnshaw Twinkle was a dog, a pedigree setter from the kennels of Sidney Pownceby, who in 1922 lived at the Grange with his wife Marion. Who would have thought it?

With grateful thanks to the Warminster Journal for their endlessly fascinating snippets on the ‘Days of Yore’ page.

Jubilee Project

I was asked to lead a History Walk around Chitterne on Thursday 2nd June for part of the village jubilee celebrations. The villagers who came along seem to have enjoyed it so I thought I would share here the printed-out additional notes and walk-map I provided on the day, for anyone who was unable to come.

First the map Dave made for the walk. The places highlighted in red are where the groups stopped, looked and listened. We started at the Village Hall car park, crossed the road to the Sports Field and then headed down the Tilshead Road, with a small detour to All Saints graveyard on Imber Road, turned right into Back Lane and followed it to the end, crossed the road and headed towards our last stop at the Chancel.

Jubilee History Walk

Introduction:

The village of Chitterne has existed for a little over a hundred years. Before that there were two villages: Chitterne All Saints and Chitterne St Mary. They joined civilly in 1907 and became Chitterne, although the two churches had shared one vicar since the 19th century.

The Domesday Survey of 1086 tells us that in Saxon times there were three villages, owned by three different persons, but only two manors in Norman times, when William the Conqueror allotted two of the holdings to the same man Edward of Salisbury.  Edward’s descendant Patrick was made Earl of Salisbury, his descendant Ela inherited and gave a large slice of Chitterne to the abbey she founded at Lacock in 13th century. From then until the dissolution of Lacock Abbey in 1539 the main source of the nun’s wealth came from their large flocks of sheep based at Chitterne.

The village has evolved from the prosperous sheep and corn economy of earlier times into the village of a single parish today. The many large houses, given the size of the village, are signs of the prosperity of earlier times.

Chitterne All Saints or Upper Chitterne – the nun’s domain

Sports Field site of Great Manor

A great house dating from medieval times once stood on this site. It is marked on the 1773 Andrews and Drury’s map of the village as being occupied by Robert Michell, (more of the Michells later). The main entrance was on the far side of the field marked by an avenue of lime trees and a pair of large stone pillars, which now grace the entrance of Cortington Manor Cottage, Corton. The Great House was demolished in the 1820s and all that remains is part of the perimeter wall, a pair of smaller pillars and the service quarters building we call the Coach House.

Coach House

After the demolition of the Great House the remaining service quarters were adapted to house six families of workers on the farm, gradually dwindling over the years to three families. These farm worker’s houses were always known to villagers as ‘great houses’ or more likely, ‘big ‘owse’s’. The building was finally sold off by the MOD to a private owner in the 1970s.

The Church – All Saints with St Marys

This church was built in the early 1860s when the population of the two villages exceeded 800 persons and neither of the two older churches of All Saints and St Marys could accommodate them. Note the many fancy memorials to the Michell family in the foyer, moved here from old All Saints church. Also noteworthy are the five bells, one of the two St Marys bells was cast by John Barbur of Salisbury and dates from before 1403 (his death).

The Gate House

One of the most ancient buildings in the village. From the 13th century, it was the Lacock nuns base in Chitterne All Saints. Old stone coffins and encaustic clay tiles from medieval times have been unearthed on the site. The present buildings date from the 1500s. The Chapel of St Andrew, pre-dating the nuns, once stood behind the outbuilding used as a garage. The nuns are said to have offered sustenance here to pilgrims travelling between monasteries.

Manor Farm

The present building dates from after the disastrous fire of 1852 that destroyed the original. That house was often referred to as Little Manor in old documents and probably means that this was the site of the farm attached to the Great Manor of All Saints.

All Saints Graveyard

The old medieval All Saints Church stood in the middle of this plot, now marked by the top of the Michell vault housing the remains of the people memorialised in the church. The first Michell, Charles, came to All Saints in the 1600s. His descendants finally quit the village in the 1800s. The Michell vault originally stood above ground under the Michell family pew in the church. When the church was demolished in the 1800s the vault was re-sited underground on the same spot, giving us a good pointer to where the church once stood. The vicarage was demolished at the same time. It may have stood near Brook Cottage.

Chitterne House

Probably built during the Michells time here in about 1680 and extended 100 years later. Another main entrance from Back Lane was once on the opposite side of the house. Most necessary in times of flood. Two generations of the Hayward family followed the Michells from 1830 to 1913, and then by Vice-Admiral Charles Napier and from 1926 by Lady Eva Dugdale.

Chitterne Lodge

This house has a varied history, originally a country retreat for sporting enthusiasts, and for the local MP Walter Long who owned it in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Then it became the home of a trainer of racehorses who was hired by the new owner Ronald Farquharson. Farquharson bought the house, Chitterne Farm and the land in 1906 after having made his fortune in rubber in India. He had the Racing Stables built and hired a succession of racehorse trainers to run them. After his death in 1937 the estate was acquired by the War Dept/MOD when that dept bought up much of All Saints, including all the farms. After the war It reverted to being the home of a racehorse trainer and a boarding house. The stables were converted to eight cottages in the 1990s.

Back Lane

Used to be named Back Road, but changed its name after a request to the council by owners of new houses built at the other end. Used by villagers to avoid the wet in times of flood. Note: an old entrance to Chitterne House from Back Lane and the chalk pit, source of chalk used locally to build cob walls. Spot some cob walls.

Syringa Cottage

This house was created from his old home by Chitterne’s famous detective, Bill ‘Farmer’ Brown of Scotland Yard, when he retired to Chitterne in the 1930s. He is most remembered for his capture of the notorious murderer Ronald True. William Fred Brown was the son of the school headmaster and village sub-postmaster, William Frederick Brown. The Post Office in those days was at 53 Bidden Lane, where the Brown family lived. The terraced cottage was the last one of six cottages, numbers 48-53 all fronting Bidden Lane, known as Steps Cottages due to the steep steps up to them from the road.

Elm Farm

Elm Farm land is now part of Chitterne Farm, and the house sold off by the MOD to private owners. Elm Farm was the childhood home of John Wallis Titt the engineer who made and erected wind operated water pumps, which he sold all over the world. From 1761-1871 the Amesbury Turnpike Road passed through Chitterne.  The toll gates stood outside Elm farm house and the Toll collectors booth was on the corner.

Bidden Lane

The divider of the two old parishes. Looking up the lane All Saints on the left, St Mary on the right. The dividing line ran down the centre of the lane, across the C22 and up the side of the sports field. Bidden Lane is the proper name of this road, but Shrewton Road is more commonly used nowadays. It was just a lane once, a turning off the main village throughfare, but since widening in the 1960s it is no longer narrow and twisty. Home to lots of farm workers in olden times.

Chitterne St Mary – the church’s domain, the manor granted to Paulet family by King Edward VI in 1547.

Baptist Chapel

There had been Methodist meetings in Chitterne, mostly amongst the farm Workers, since the 1700s, eventually leading to the building of a Methodist Chapel. The Baptists took it over when the Methodists failed to make it work. The chapel burnt down in 1903, except for the old schoolroom, and was rebuilt under the leadership of Frank Maidment who was dubbed the ‘Bishop of Salisbury Plain’ due to his powers of oratory taking him to preach in other plain villages.

The White Hart

Once a public house built in 1651, closed in 1955, now a private house. Samuel Pepys and party stayed here one night in 1668 when they became lost on the Plain travelling between Salisbury and Bath. The next day they hired the landlord to set them on the right track to their destination. Samuel reported in his diary that a merry time was had but the beds were lousy.

Clump Farm

Once one of three farms in St Mary, now private, and the farm yard opposite has been turned into a small housing estate. The house was probably built in about 1800, a previous farm house stood across the road next to the farmyard, which was accessed by the little bridge. The farmyard is now St Marys Close and a large old thatched barn which stood behind number 6 no longer exists.

Old Malt House

The malt house stood behind the wooden fence next door to Pine Cottage, but the name Malt House was adopted by the cottage after the malt house was taken down. When the Wallis family owned the Manor and the Kings Head they malted their own barley in this malt house, brewed beer and sold it in their pub. In 1903 Farmer Wallis allowed the Baptists to hold their services in the malt house while the new Baptist Chapel was being built.

Glebe (Church) Farm Stockyard site of

The church farm stockyard of Chitterne St Mary, and tithe barn stood on the site of Birch Cottage. The tithing field leading to the water meadows was opposite. Each farmer in the area had a section of the meadow for grazing sheep on the fresh spring grass.

St Marys Chancel

Old medieval St Marys church remains date from about 1450. The nave was demolished in the 1860s, the chancel kept as mortuary chapel. Note the part of a tomb monument dating from about 1500 that has been moved to the chancel near a window probably from the old nave. Several graves under the floor, one to Elizabeth Morris is notable. Her father was a Senator of Barbados and connected with the slave trade. Elizabeth had a black servant called Charles whose burial is recorded the day after hers in 1812. He is buried outside the graveyard boundary, near the top kissing gate. Grave marker has since disappeared.

The Manor

17th century manor house probably built by the Paulet family of Basingstoke. William Paulet, later 1st Marquis of Winchester, was granted the manor of Chitterne St Mary in 1547 by King Edward VI. The Paulets didn’t live in Chitterne, the house was let out. Rented by William Wallis (d.1884) in 1826 and purchased by Frederick Wallis c1918/19 from Lord Long. The two old black barns are early 1800s.

Historic View of Lime Trees Set to Change

This well-known view in Chitterne is likely to change soon, as work starts in the next few days on the row of old lime trees bordering the Chitterne Brook.

I wondered how long the trees had been there and I found that limes can live for up to 400 years, but 200 years is more usual. Other village limes of a similar age form an avenue shaped in a cross in the field behind the Sportsfield. Perhaps they were planted at the same time as they appear to be in the same sad state, often tumbling down. If my supposition is correct, then the trees were planted by the family who owned the houses and land on the west side of Tilshead Road, from the Sportsfield to Manor Farm, the Michell-Onslow family, mainly Matthew Michell 1751-1817. Could this family have commissioned the planting?

Looking in the opposite direction

How many generations of villagers and visitors have loved the sight of these trees in Spring, the branches covered in pale green, heart-shaped leaves, gracefully sweeping down towards the Cut? Let’s hope some will survive to lift our spirits in the coming Spring.

Part of a public footpath follows the line of trees on the field side. The footpath, known to old villagers as The Walk, starts at Manor Farm bridge and ends at the old farm bridge near St Marys Close. The section behind the lime trees once passed between a double row of trees, as you can see from this old postcard from the early 1900s. The second row of trees, on the right above, have since been removed. Below is a recent photo of the same path.

The trees bordering the Cut have been falling more frequently lately, and blocking the road in the process, hence the need for the tree surgeons. This has happened many times in the past, sometimes to disastrous effect. The photo below shows a tree that fell on a traction engine, killing the driver, almost 100 years ago in 1923.

To orientate you: the grass in the foreground is the village green, the house to the left is Great House, (or big ‘ouses), before it was converted into one house and called Coach House, Grange wall curves away to the right of the photo. Opposite Grange wall are the lime trees.

End of the First Nest-ing Season

Our first season of holiday letting is over, the last guests have gone and it’s been a revelation, a lesson in human psychology and a steep learning curve for us, but an enjoyable venture nonetheless. (See earlier blog Stable to Nest for more background).

I felt a bit scared at first to be honest, a feeling echoed by one of our grandsons who said, in a slightly horrified voice: “You’re going to let strangers come and stay there?” But back in April this year we were novices on the whole art of self-catering accommodation, and pestered everyone we knew in that field for advice, now we are pleased with how well it’s turned out.

We chose Sykes Cottages as our agents and through them to offer whole weeks only, no short breaks, to minimise the amount of changeover washing and cleaning, although a few guests booked to stay less than the seven days. Of the twenty-one bookings we have had over the spring and summer, most were couples, two were singles, and seven couples brought their dog. The dogs varied as much as their owners, mostly designer breeds, a puggle, two cockapoos and another poodle-cross mutt that looked like a teddy bear. A conventional standard Poodle, with an unconventional haircut, a greyhound and a black labrador. The guests hailed from a wide variety of locations, as far as Cumbria and as near as Dorset, several from the home counties, the midlands, Yorkshire and Durham. Most stayed for a whole week, a few just for a weekend or a short week.

It was interesting to see if new guests wanted to interact with us or not. As hosts to strangers you tread a fine line between being over friendly or not friendly enough. Dave was much keener than me to strike up a conversation with them. I tended to hang back after the initial welcome until I had grasped how they expected to be treated. Very few ignored us completely, most were glad to have local advice available, and some enjoyed longer chats. You soon learn to get a sense of how they will be.

About half of the guests were walkers and sightseers, a few hoping to spot a tank on the ranges, the rest purely sightseeing members of National Trust and English Heritage. One pair were house-hunting, another pair were cottage-hopping and two pairs were celebrating anniversaries. Stonehenge was a favourite destination, also Stourhead, Avebury, Caen Hill Locks, Westbury White Horse and Shearwater. We provided copies of Dave’s local annotated walking maps, ranging from a couple of miles to 16 miles in length, and one energetic walker tried to fit all ten walks into her seven days! She almost succeeded with only one not attempted. Given the mention in our Sykes blurb of Dave’s interest in cycling, only one guest brought a bicycle, a very sturdy brand new electric bike.

Inevitably we had disasters, a run of three, as my mother would have predicted! First, our drains were blocked after only two sets of guests. Luckily, a lovely man from Beales came out like a shot and cleared it in time for the next guests. But, it was obvious that we needed to remind city visitors more forcibly about our sensitive septic systems out here in the country, a mention in the welcome pack to flush only the three ‘P’s, would not suffice. We remedied this by printing out a polite notice, framing it, and placing it strategically in the en suite. It worked like a charm, no more problems, but we do check the drains every week.

A week or so later we collided with a guest’s car on the driveway! Again, we were very lucky in that their car was undamaged, ours sustained a crease in the rear paintwork. It happened when we failed to see them reversing out at the same time as us. That was very embarrassing, but gave us a valuable reminder that we were now sharing the driveway.

Thirdly, one Friday morning the postman delivered two parcels, addressed to an unknown woman at our address. We didn’t recognise the name, I checked it was not the name of the booked guests arriving later that day, so postie took the parcels away to return to sender. You can guess what happened! As soon as we were introduced to the new guest’s partner later that afternoon, I knew that the parcels had been hers. Lesson number three learned.

On the whole the successes have far out-weighed the disasters. Two couples were so impressed with the mattress in the Nest that they ordered one for themselves. We were asked for a few things that we had failed to provide, a masher, a toast rack, larger wine glasses and two extra pillows. As Dave said: “Who uses a toast rack? You take it out of the toaster and put it on the plate!” But the positive verbal comments were heartwarming and encouraging:

“The bread is superb, we’ve eaten it already and had to go and buy some more.”

“Can I move in?”

“I feel I want to pack it all up and take it home.”

“If you ever want to sell it, let me know.”

So we must have got something right, and now look forward to next season with a greater understanding of the art of self-catering.