Peter Cole thinks it’s well worth while travelling from Chichester to Hambledon to join the team of volunteer guides at Oakhurst. In this article he explains why he is so enthusiastic about the job. He and all his co-volunteers, from within the village and further afield, would love to welcome additions to the team. You can find out more about volunteering by clicking here.
Why did I sign up with the National Trust to be a guide at Oakhurst Cottage? Because my wife thought that a) it would be a suitable outlet for my verbosity, b) I would enjoy it and c) it would give her some peace at home. She was right on a) and b) and, as for c), you’ll have to ask her. So what pleasure is there in playing estate agent to a damp, draughty, dark old cottage tucked away in a corner of Hambledon? Two things: the place and the people.
I’m interested in buildings, history fascinates me and I like meeting people. The place is magical but not in a Disney sense – the feeling is far more real than that, and far less romantic. The cottage has been home to some two dozen families: that’s more than a hundred people because long ago families were large. It has stood on the same spot for over 400 years, altered and repaired by local builders (I hesitate to call them craftsmen for their work is crude). You
can still see those layers of history today, exposed, not covered to keep up appearances for that would have cost too much and Oakhurst was owned by people of the middling sort and rented to those with little money.
Before the industrial revolution most of our ancestors lived hard lives in places like this, called it home and made the best of it. Late Victorian artists created idealised images of these rural slums, but gradually the tenants moved to more comfortable homes and the old cottages were modernised into something acceptable to the middle class wife of a commuting husband or demolished. This left Oakhurst a rare survivor, a witness to the harsh reality of the ‘good old days’.
The cottage is special and so too are the people who are associated with it today. First, our cheerful guides, each telling the story of the cottage in their own way, variations on a theme within a symphony. They’re a friendly and helpful bunch. We share our knowledge and our experiences, put the cottage to bed in the autumn and in spring get it ready for the new season. We share the guiding when there are a lot of visitors and still find time to socialise. Then there are the National Trust staff, including the gardeners. I lock up the cottage at the end of my day and return a couple of weeks later to find the garden tidied and the hedges cut. If only my own garden were in the care of the same secret gardeners. The ladies of the National Trust kiosk at the Winkworth Arboretum are our marketing arm, suggesting to visitors that they make the trip to the cottage and giving them directions on how to find us.
The people I only meet once are special too – the visitors, a melange of humanity and another reason for my association with the cottage. Mostly they come from nearby, but some make the trip from the far corners of the earth. They come in all shapes, sizes and ages, singly, couples, families and friends. Some say little, others compensate with their chattiness, maybe remembering a granny who lived in a place like the cottage or asking questions that I can’t always answer. Ever appreciative of the guides’ efforts, our visitors are an endless source of interest and some have remained in my memory, like the Japanese lady whose grandson acted as translator and the couple who left their car at Winkworth and didn’t allow enough time to walk back. I gave them a lift on my way home.
Guiding at Oakhurst Cottage is a pleasure, as are the peripheral activities such as meeting people who are considering volunteering for the National Trust. I’ll be at Winkworth for the coffee morning on Tuesday 15 March between 10.30 and 12.30, hoping for lots of new volunteers – but not so many that I don’t have time for coffee and cake.