The Pleasures of Oakhurst Cottage

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.

oakhurst-cottage-blue-sky-resizedI’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’.oakhurst-cottage-interior

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.

Oakhurst Cottage reopening

Oakhurst, the National Trust-owned 16th Century farm labourer’s cottage, reopens next Wednesday (April 1St) after six months of restoration and repairs.

The process has unearthed much new and fascinating information about the history of the cottage, a remarkable survival of a largely-unaltered humble agricultural worker’s dwelling into 21st Century Surrey.

As usual, village volunteers will be responsible for showing visitors around the cottage and have been briefed on the restoration and research. Even those who have viewed the property before will find it worth another visit.

altFrom its beginning at the end of the 16th Century the little cottage has survived, not without alterations, but substantially much as it would have appeared to Hambledon residents 200 years ago.  It has been furnished in the manner of a mid-19th Century farm labourer’s home and provides an authentic impression of rural working class life of the time.

The cottage was given to the National Trust in 1954 by the Allfrey sisters, who let it out to tenants Elsie and Ted Jeffrey. Elsie died in 1978 and Ted continued to live in the cottage until he died in 1983.

Its un-modernised state gave the National Trust the idea of opening it to the public. Since 1985 Hambledon volunteers have formed a rota to show people around by appointment.

Last autumn the National Trust embarked on extensive renovations using specialist craftsmen and women. Sagging roof timbers were repaired or replaced and damaged plaster was attended to using traditional methods of lime plastering.

At the same time the National Trust undertook research in Oakhurst Cottage’s history, producing a timeline that is now contained in a pamphlet available to visitors. The work was overseen by NT curator Sarah Woodcock and the research was carried out by Sophie Clarke.

The traditional cottage garden is currently being restored by Matt Phelps, gardener at the nearby National Trust property, Winkworth Arboretum.

Oakhurst Cottage is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturday and Sundays between 2pm and 5pm from April to September and until 4pm in October. It is also open on Bank Holiday Mondays.

Advance booking is required by telephoning 01483 208936 or emailing oakhurstcottage@nationaltrust.org.uk

Further details can be found at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/oakhurstcottage

and on our village website, with a comprehensive gallery of photographs of the restoration and the interior of Oakhurst.

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Oakhurst Cottage (NT)

  • Oakhurst HambledonA small 16th-century timber-framed cottage
  • Restored and furnished as a simple labourer’s dwelling
  • Fascinating artefacts reflecting four centuries of occupation
  • Delightful gardens with typical Victorian plants

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 14.12.53Oakhurst Cottage  (National Trust Property )
Hambledon, nr Godalming, Surrey GU8 4HF
Telephone: 01483 208477

Due to Oakhurst’s age and fragility, visits are only possible as part of a pre-booked guided tour. Tours are run in the afternoon on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays between April and October. Space is very limited, so it is essential you arrange a tour in advance. To book, please phone the Winkworth Arboretum team on 01483 208936 or email them.

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Listen to Norman Gravestock’s audio presentation about his time as curator of Oakhurst:

In March 2013. Norman was invited as guest speaker at the Hambledon Heritage Society AGM.  This is a recording of his 35 minute presentation.  He talks about the history of Oakhurst and the economic and social history of Hambledon and the surrounding area.

Oakhurst Cottage Features This Week On BBC Radio Surrey

WRITTEN BY STEWART PAYNE | 12 JANUARY 2015 

altOakhurst Cottage, the tiny National Trust-owned 16th Century farm workers cottage on the edge of Cricket Green, Hambledon, is being featured on BBC Radio Surrey this week.

Each evening at around 5.50pm on the Drive at 5 programme, listeners will hear of the restoration currently under way at Oakhurst, in a conversation between presenter Peter Stewart and National Trust regional curator Sarah Woodcock. Each day will feature a different room. BBC Radio Surrey broadcasts on 104.6 FM.

Oakhurst Cottage, which has survived largely unaltered over the centuries, is one of the NTs smallest properties and is open to the public during the summer months thanks to volunteers from the village. Repairs and renovations have been underway since September last year (see earlier news item on this website).

Our sketch of Oakhurst Cottage, below, is the work of Rachael Hockridge.