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.

Who Lived in Your House in 1921?

Yew Tree Cottages, 43 and 44 Chitterne

Yew Tree Cottages stood beside the Green in 1921, between the village school and the county police house. They still stand, but are now combined into one dwelling called Bow House. By a stroke of good luck we have a photograph of Yew Tree Cottages taken a few months before the 1921 census, in December 1920.

Two things are striking about this old photo, the yew tree that gave its name to the cottages in the front garden of number 44, and 44’s thatched roof.

Who lived in the cottages? The 1921 census tells us that Edward and Maud Pain lived in number 43. Edward and Maud, both from Somerset, were newly weds. Edward was a baker, and he and Maud had a son, Norman Wilfred James, the following year. I have no record of them in the village after 1926. At one time the cottage had been a grocery shop run by Thomas Grant, when it was part of the Chitterne estate owned by Sir William Onslow in the 1880s.

Frank and Rosa Polden lived in number 44 in 1921. Frank, one of Abdon Polden’s sons, was a mason and a part of the Polden Brothers building company. In 1886 he married Rosa, the daughter of William Brown, the Chitterne schoolmaster from 1867-1906. Rosa was assistant mistress at the school in her father’s time as headmaster. Frank and Rosa had no children and took in lodgers. In 1921 Charles Bland lodged with them. Charles may have been a builder working with Polden Brothers because he later built a new house for himself at Townsend called Cotsmere, the one we know today as Red House, number 4 Townsend.

Two other Poldens are listed on the 1921 census at 44 Yew Tree Cottages, Wilfred Henry Polden from Herefordshire and Charlotte Mary Polden of Chitterne, but I have not been able to find out who they were.

Further research on the identity of Wilfred and Charlotte shows that there is a mistake on the census. Wilfred and Charlotte’s name is Pain, not Polden, and they are the parents of Edward Pain who lived next door. Charlotte Mary’s maiden name was Brown, she was another daughter of William Brown, and the younger sister of Rosa. She was always known as Polly. Polly had married Wilfred Pain in Reading, Berkshire in 1892. Wilfred came from Berrington, Herefordshire. Thank you very much J & RR for this new information.

The extension, just visible to the right of the photo was an old army hut, which contained a kitchen and a room. This was replaced much later by a new brick extension. The thatch was replaced with tiles by Archie Dean.

It appears from a parish map of Chitterne All Saints circa 1850 that the Green was once a village pond. In those days the cottages were called Pool Cottages, or The Pool.

Grateful thanks to TH for the photo.

Alfred Stokes 1839-1930 Gentleman of the Land

Here’s a real old Chitterne gent sat outside enjoying the sunshine and a quiet smoke on his 90th birthday. I am excited because this is the first local photo I have seen of someone smoking a clay pipe. You may remember my previous blogs on the subject of clay pipes and my collection of bits of them dug up in our garden and I wonder if this pipe was also made of clay from the old Clay Pits in Chitterne.

However, back to the gentleman, he is Alfred Stokes born in Chitterne on the 9th June 1839, pictured here on the 9th June 1929, outside number 31 Chitterne (Pitt’s House), at the home of Frank and Ellen Sheppard. Alfred did not live there, he had left his home in Bidden Lane in 1920 after a lifetime spent in the village, maybe to live with one of his ten children. So perhaps, in 1929, he was visiting Stephen Sheppard, Frank’s father, who was of a similar age to Alfred.

Alfred was the fourth generation of the Stokes family to live and work the land here since his ancestors arrived in Chitterne in the 1700s. His father Samuel had died aged 27 years in 1839, the same year Alfred was born, so it was just him and his mother Mary, nee Furnell, until she married again in 1845 to Daniel Feltham, but not for long because Daniel died in 1847. Mary was an unlucky woman, widowed three times, and Alfred her only living child.

In adulthood Alfred married Maria Wadhams and had a large family. They lived at New Barn field settlement to start with, then 104 Chitterne St Mary, before finally moving to 84 Bidden Lane. Maria died in 1921, just after she and Alfred had left the village. Alfred died in January 1930, six or seven months after these photos were taken, both are buried here in Chitterne St Mary graveyard.

There must have been hundreds, if not thousands of farm workers like Alfred in Chitterne in past centuries, yet we rarely get to see annotated portraits of them. So it’s especially good to see these great photographs of an ordinary working man, not forgetting his clay pipe, an added bonus!

My grateful thanks to TH for another set of treasures from the Feltham hoard, incidentally two of Alfred’s daughters, Alice and Rhoda, married local Felthams.

Who Lived in Your House in 1921?

After the first World war the old order changed rapidly as large landed estates, including Chitterne, were sold off and broken up as no longer viable. New housing was desperately needed and local councils stepped in with the first lot of council-built housing for rent.

1 – 4 Council Cottages

Chitterne’s council houses were renamed Abdon Close in the 1960s, but at census time in 1921 the first two semi-detached pairs had been completed and they were known as 1, 2, 3 and 4 Council Cottages. The third and fourth pairs in this phase were completed by 1925.

Here are numbers 1 and 2 pictured in the 1950s, just before the construction of the road in front of the houses and the name change to Abdon Close. In 1921 the old hump-backed bridge over the brook, just to the right of this photo, known as The Arch, would still have been in situ, but it had been flattened, and the road widened, during World War 2 by men who were either Italian prisoners of war, or conscientious objectors.

Two spinsters lived in number 1 in 1921. A common phenomenon at the time, as a result of the loss of so many young men in the war. The women were Muriel Watson from Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, and Maud New who came from Monmouth, Wales. Muriel, born in 1880, was the new headmistress of the local village school, having recently replaced the popular Florence Shayler. Muriel and Maud didn’t stay long in number 1, they were replaced by John and Florence Garland and their seven children. Muriel and Maud moved into number 8 Council Cottages as soon as it was built and stayed until 1929 when a new school headmistress was appointed.

Number 2 was occupied by the Stribling family in 1921. George and Louisa Stribling and their three children George, Leonard and Louise. George senior came from Windsor, Berkshire, Louisa from Leyton in Essex. They appear to have moved around a bit because the children were born in Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, and they soon moved from Chitterne too, there was no sign of them by 1925, Arthur Smith had moved in.

Numbers 3 and 4 Council Cottages are pictured in the 1950s above. Number 3 was occupied by a single man in 1921, Percy Woodland who hailed from Hindon, Wiltshire. It’s interesting that so far none of the new houses have been occupied by Chitterne families.

Very little is known about Percy Woodland, he had left by 1925 and the 1921 census is the only mention of him I have come across. The vicar Rev John Canner makes no mention of him in his Visiting Book of 1925, instead he lists ‘Butler’ at number 3, but no means of further identification. This may be another case of a new resident moving on to yet another of the new council cottages.

The Woods family lived in number 4 in 1921. Harry and Mary Woods were not locals either, Harry was from Essex and Mary from Warwickshire. They didn’t stay long, by 1925 the cottage was occupied by a local family of Felthams, but which one? Impossible to say, there are so many of them.

This ‘Housing Chick’ cutting from the local paper dated 4th June 1920 shows that Chitterne was lucky in the competition to be the first to get the newly promised houses. In a nearby town residents were a little put out that Chitterne’s new council houses were built before any were provided in Warminster.

Since posting this blog I have been contacted by RF who filled me in with the Feltham family who lived in number 4:

“I’m pretty certain it was my branch of the Felthams that lived there. My Grandparents Eve and Marabini, of Feltham & Polden….later of 96 Chitterne.
I’d seen a picture of my father Alan James outside no 4, he was born in 1930. There were indeed “so many” Felthams!”

Thank you!

Porch Cottage

Porch Cottage was once the name of the little cottage squashed between 17 Townsend and the back of 19 Townsend. It has an interesting past.

When this 1950s photo was taken, the cottage was numbered 18 Townsend and still looked like a separate dwelling. Now it is part of 17 Townsend and looks like this.

In 1771 this cottage was leased by John Till for 99 years from the owners of the Chitterne estate, the Methuen family of Corsham. In 1826 the cottage was offered for sale along with the rest of the Methuen’s estate in Chitterne. It was acquired by Warminster Union, who ran the Warminster workhouse for poor people in need, and stayed under their ownership until 1905, when William Chant bought it from them.

Earlier, widower Robert Wansborough, lived here in 1861 with his son Thomas, who was deaf and dumb. Robert died aged 77 years in 1888 but Thomas continued to live in the cottage with his sister Ann Dewey until at least 1901. He eventually moved to the Warminster Workhouse and died there in 1915 aged 82 years.

Going back to William Chant. Willie Chant was a grocer from Shrewton, who lived in Tilshead and ran a shop there. He married Maggie Smith, of the Chitterne Smith family, at the Baptist Chapel in Bidden Lane in 1905. Maggie’s parents, Jacob and Elizabeth, were also shopkeepers who already owned both 16 and 17 Townsend, and had built the grocers at number 17 between 1871 and 1881. Now the cottage came under the control of the same family, albeit owned particularly by Willie Chant, although Willie and Maggie continued living and working in Tilshead and brought up their family there.

In 1911 our cottage, number 18, was occupied by yet another member of the extended Smith family. Willie had let the cottage to Maggie’s sister, Florence Sainsbury and her husband William, who was a groom at the Racing Stables. Florence died in 1915 and the cottage does not appear in the 1921 census, nor is it mentioned by Rev Canner in his vicar’s visiting book of 1925, so maybe it became absorbed into the shop premises at that time.

However, we do know that Willie Chant sold number 18 for £50 to grocers Francis and Alice Perrett in 1932. Francis also bought numbers 16 and 17 Townsend from Henry John Smith, eldest son of Jacob and Elizabeth. So, definitely, from 1932 the little cottage has been part of the house next door.

With grateful thanks to EE who allowed me access to the deeds of her house, which informed much of this blog.

Who Lived in Your House in 1921?

I have been looking at the 1921 census for Chitterne, thanks to my good friends J & R, and thought I would start a new occasional series of blogs on what we have found.

Alma Cottage, 1 Townsend

First up is number 1 Townsend, built for himself and his growing family by Abdon Polden, the mason. Abdon had purchased a small piece of land at the edge of the village of Chitterne All Saints in 1856 from his father, James Polden, for £5. He enlarged the site by adding an adjacent garden bought from William Furnell for £12. Abdon named the cottage he built after his eldest daughter Alma.

Jane and Abdon Polden outside Alma Cottage

In 1921 Abdon Polden still lived there as a widower with his daughter Florence and family, his wife Jane, nee Hinton, having died in 1919. Florence was married to Alfred Burt, the blacksmith. Their children Winifred aged 11 years, Olive aged 9 and Maurice aged 5 lived at Alma Cottage in 1921 too.

By a stroke of luck and thanks to AB, I have some photos of the Burt family. Here are Alfred Burt, his wife Florence and two of their children pictured at the back of Alma Cottage.

The Burt children, Winifred, Maurice and Olive photographed outside Alma Cottage probably in the year the census was taken, or thereabouts.

Alfred and Florence continued living at Alma Cottage until Alfred’s death in 1957.

Polden & Feltham Shop

At last a photograph of the Polden & Feltham shop that once stood in front of Flint House on Tilshead Road, and confirmation that Clement Polden and Jimmy Feltham set up their business in 1878.

AB, who kindly provided the photo, remembers dismantling the barn that stood on the site ready for the construction of the shop in the 1950s. The shop still existed, but empty, for a while after Flint House was sold to new owners in 1972. Later it was demolished to make way for the kitchen extension we see today.

I have written about the Polden and Feltham families before, see below

The Poldens of Flint House

Flint House

http://www.chitterne.com/history/polden&f.html

As you will know if you followed the earlier series of blogs on the life of Maria Cockrell, I was unsure of the year that Clement Polden and Jimmy Feltham set up their business. Maria made no mention of their enterprise at all in her letters to her son Jimmy. This seemed very odd to me as she always kept a close interest in Jimmy and his wife, who was Alma Polden, Clement’s sister. Despite having confirmation of the year, I am no nearer finding out why Maria makes no mention.

A New Chitterne School Photograph from late 1920s

This great photograph of Chitterne schoolchildren in the late 1920s came recently from the son of the tallest boy in the middle of the back row, Maurice Alfred Burt, known by all as Jack. Jack was born in Chitterne in 1916. His parents were Dorset-born Alfred Burt, the village blacksmith, and Chitterne-born Florence, a member of the Polden family.

So far Jack Burt is the only child who has been identified on the photo, although a lot of the faces are familiar and I am hoping you may be able to help with some more names.

Not only is the photo clear and well-preserved but it the first I have seen from the 1920s. It makes a welcome addition to the collection of school photos.

The earliest photo in the collection dates from 1877, 37 years after the school was founded. The teachers left to right are Henrietta Titt, William Brown and his wife Sarah Brown.

A photograph of the younger schoolchildren from 1903.

Just the schoolgirls in 1911 with Florence Shayler the headmistress centre, and Beryl Feltham on the right, assistant mistress.

The whole school in 1919 with their Peace beakers after the first World War. Florence Shayler on the left, Beryl Feltham on the right. Apologies for poor quality.

All the schoolchildren in the early 1940s with numbers swollen by evacuees.

After the second World War less children were attending the school. This is from 1953.

Chitterne School 1966 with Miss Smith assistant teacher, Miss Selby head teacher and Jill McQueen student teacher in the centre.

The final year 1967 Miss Smith, Miss Selby and CG, school secretary, in the centre.

The Kings Head in Photographs

It’s been a while since I posted a blog and update on our local hostelry so I thought I would share with you some of the photographs in my collection that I haven’t posted before.

Here we have the pub in the early days of photography, thatched and flanked by two shops. One a saddlery the other a grocery store. The saddlery is now part of the pub, the grocery store was demolished except for part of the front wall. The Kings Head was owned as part of their Chitterne estate by the Long family of Rood Ashton from 1830 until 1896 when it was offered for sale.

Note the old hump-backed bridge over the Chitterne Brook and the trees opposite the pub. The bridge was later replaced with a wider level bridge to allow for military vehicles. The trees were Wych Elms planted around the borders of the Tithing Field opposite the pub. They succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s.

The Wych Elms and hump-backed bridge are clearer in this early 20th century photo taken from the opposite direction.

The Kings Head has a tiled roof and more signage in this photo from the 1940s. Ushers Brewery of Trowbridge acquired the pub in the 1920s possibly from Bartletts Brewery of Warminster.

The pub looking smart in its Ushers livery. Besides the new signs and new porch, the grocery shop has gone, except for part of a wall and a door. Ushers put the pub up for sale in 1989.

In 1990 Gibbs Mew bought the pub and the door in the wall has gone.

The late Les Rushton’s horse and cart outside the pub in the 1990s. Note the ex-petrol station kiosk attached to Bridge Cottage just behind the cart.

Later in the mid 1990s with new Gibbs Mew livery. Note the new house just behind the pub, built on part of the Kings Head land sold off by Gibbs Mew for building. In the old days this was the site of the pub’s skittle alley and stables.

This photo is from 2002. The Kings Head in another new guise under the ownership of Enterprise Inns.

In 2011 the Kings Head was up for auction and subsequently became privately owned and a free house for the first time.

A photograph I took today of the Kings Head, closed and waiting, for what? The Chitterne Community Pub Group recently secured a loan to enable the purchase of the King’s Head and negotiations are underway.

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.