Churchland Farm

Churchland Farm comprises a farmhouse and about two acres of land located beside the River Brue on the edge of the village of Bason Bridge, next door to East Huntspill and not far from the little town of Highbridge on northern plains of Somerset (see Google Map below). This is the house where I spent my childhood from the years 1949 to 1962. Part of the house was believed to be over 600 years ago at that time, making it some 650 years old now (2007).

The following text is taken from a letter written in Jan 2007 to Paula Protheroe, the new owner of Churchland Farm (which prompted me to write this page):

"What happy memories my sister I have of the place. It was, in some ways, an idyllic place to grow up, but in others less so. I was intensely shy as a child and the isolation did nothing to improve it since our parents didn’t want us associating with the “local children” and we lived too far away from “acceptable” friends to see them more than rarely. But I loved it nonetheless. I loved the house and the garden, and the orchard and the “current field” as we called it, and the yew trees, and the river and especially the railway line along which ran the most wonderful old trains of the old S&D (“slow and dirty” and/or “swift and delightful” as it was affectionately known during its life). I grew up with a passion for trains which I still indulge in which largely derives from living in Churchland. An assortment of photos of the S&D can be found on this website, mostly taken by me, and many taken at Churchland Farm.

We lived there from 1949 to 1962. My sister was 4 and I was 2 (or perhaps we were 5 and 3 depending on which month it was) when we moved there, so my earliest recollections are of Churchland. My father had just retired from the army at the age of 48 and chose to spend his remaining active years being independent of the rest of the world by running his own small-holding. I guess he might have been a bit idealistic, though “escapist” might be a more suitable description because he too was an intensely shy man who as an adult remained awkward in company.

Churchland Farm was bought for £4200, but since my father had little money when he retired, my grandmother contributed £2000 by way of a loan, the condition being that she was allowed to make it her home following her return from India. This caused a certain amount of tension in the house since she and my father did not always see eye to eye.

My father had been born and brought up in and around London, so I’m not sure why he chose to retire to Somerset but I don’t think it had much to do with the family’s historical connections with the county. No doubt it was based on the sort of practical unemotional reasoning that my father aspired to. He always claimed to hate sentimentality of any sort, though I was never quite sure what he meant (or hated)! Anyway, when my father’s mother died in 1958, she left him most of her money with the result that he finally became financially independent. He must have bought my grandmother’s share in the house (or perhaps he repaid her loan) and soon afterwards she left to live with her other daughter in Birmingham.

Both my mother and grandmother were very small of stature, but intensely active hard-working people. My dad was hard-working too but his work was restricted to the farm and garden, whereas my mum did the farm and garden plus the cooking, plus the housework and laundry and sewing and knitting and mending, and the decorating (which my dad helped with) and the bringing up of two kids (which my dad hardly helped with at all). My Gran looked after the geese, mowed the lawns and did lots of knitting and had her own greenhouse (at the south-west corner of the house), but largely kept out of the way in her sitting room (adjacent to the greenhouse) or her bedroom directly above. My mum often used to say (usually when she was gutting a chicken and plucking its feathers) that she wasn’t brought up to do any of these chores and had had to learn them all the hard way. She had been brought up in India where the family had servants to do all the chores for them – a bit like my youngest son here in China – and it amazes me when I think how well she coped.

Anyway, the result of their hard work was a magnificent flower garden that visitors admired, and a vegetable garden that grew almost every veg I can think of. Plus they had chickens, geese, pigs (at one stage), fruits of every description (apples, cherries, peaches, pears, plums, damsons, black and red currents, gooseberries and whatever else) all of which were picked and either sold, eaten, cooked, bottled or made into jam (of which there was always a vast collection in the house). How inadequate I feel when I compare my limited skills with theirs. Indeed one effect of my upbringing was a hatred of gardening which I have never lost. I made great efforts to emulate my parents when I lived in Australia and had a small garden of my own, but in the end I had to accept that I didn’t have their green fingers and that I hated it anyway!

My parents made a lot of changes to the house, firstly adding the “spare room” into the roof on the north side above what we called the dining room. They extended the kitchen (southwards) by knocking down a wall into a small room that had hitherto been used as a garden shed. And they made some alterations to the “sitting room” (on the south side next to the kitchen) during which they discovered an old bread oven hidden in one of the walls. I remember my sister and I hoping to find some ancient scrolls inside it but of course there was nothing. Apart from that, I think most of the other work they did on the house was in the way of painting and wallpapering. My dad chose a pale pink for the outside walls, with a deep maroon for the windows and doors – not a colour scheme that I would choose today, but we loved it as kids.

One memorable event took place on 6th April 1953 when the garage caught fire. My father had been using a rotary hoe and he parked it in the garage beside the car. Something combustible must have fallen on it and been ignited by the hot exhaust pipe because within an hour the garage was ablaze and threatening the rest of the house because the roof of the interconnecting outhouse was lined with straw. Firemen had to rip the tiles off to take the straw out before the whole house went up. As the fire blazed someone discovered that our dog was missing. We all assumed that he’d been frightened by the fire and run away until my mother realized that she’d left him in the car. It sounds cruel, but it wasn’t – he loved the car and loved to sit in it, but on this occasion it was a cruel fate because he and the car were consumed by the fire – a great loss to us all because we loved him dearly. I’ll always remember the acrid smell of the garage the day after and the feeling of sadness that it evoked.

I don’t think there were any other really memorable incidents during out stay there. I remember crying my eyes out when I found myself caged inside the middle of one of the yew trees. And I remember being rather frightened of the old WW2 “pill box” which is no longer there. It sat at the south-east corner of the property overlooking the railway line, and was very dark and spooky inside. Fear was a common experience for us kids. Going to bed at night was always a fearful experience, having to climb the steep creaking staircase into the darkened corridor which also creaked. Every shadow concealed a bogie-man and my sister lived in perpetual fear of ghosts (which I cruelly exploited by making ghostly noises in the dark).

Talking of ghosts, a lady who lived there after us claimed to be something of a psychic. Anyway, she was adamant that she saw ghosts there, but I never did except in my imagination. It was the house that we moved to from Churchland that seems to have had something of an evil spell over it, but that is a story that I can relate to you another time!

I can’t remember the name of the psychic lady, but my sister will almost certainly be able to. I think she was the only other owner of Churchland Farm that I knew. After we left, it was taken over by a family that turned it into rabbit farm and who let the gardens go to grass. Shortly afterwards (in 1966) the railway closed to all but the milk trains from Highbridge to Bason Bridge, and they eventually disappeared in the 1970s when the M5 was built. Apparently MoT refused to countenance the cost of a bridge over the line that would have allowed it to keep operating. Anyway, it was a sad loss to me even though I was no longer living there, because I loved it dearly.

Sometime in the late 1970s or perhaps early 1980s, my father arranged with the then owner of the farm to allow us all to go back and see it. As you can imagine it was a nostalgic experience going back to see the place as adults. Obviously a lot had changed but much hadn’t. It was we who had changed more, with the result that the house and the rooms seemed so much smaller than we had remembered. I think I’ve grown out of my nostalgia now, so I would probably be able to see it more dispassionately now if I were to go back.

I see that I’ve never had time to write anything about Churchland Farm on my website, so perhaps your message (and this reply) will inspire me to do something about that. Perhaps I should simply add an edited version of what I’ve written here because I don’t know a great deal else about the house. All I remember is that it was supposedly 600 years old when we lived in it, and I think the sitting room was the oldest part. My Daphne sister has a much better memory for details than I do, so I’ll send her a copy of this and ask her to fill in anything I’ve missed. She will probably remember the names of some of the other owners including the rabbit farmers.

I’ll attach some photos of Churchland taken during my childhood:

This one is of my sister ready to go off to boarding school at the Royal School of Bath – a place that she hated to the extent that I shared her unhappiness at the start of every term. The photo shows the old garage in the background. The car inside it is the 1954 Ford Consul that replaced the identical 1953 version that burned in the fire that might have destroyed the house.

This one shows the north side of the house (what we called the back), with the new “spare room” built into the roof. Below it is what we called the dining room (how low the ceiling was!) and to the right was what we called the “front-back-door”! To the right of it is the workshop window and door, and to the right of that, the angled roof of the tool shed. I can’t remember what was under that roof beyond the tool shed, but presumably there must have been another storage shed. I have happy memories of sharing Mr Burfett’s sandwiches in there as they always tasted so good. (He helped my parents do the garden and his daughter, Mrs Pugsley, both from East Huntspill) helped with the housework). The old garage is just off to the left of the photo.

This one shows the same view, but shrubs that were new in 1951 have grown substantially.

This one shows the kitchen including the extension my parents made (the little window to the left). Above it is the bathroom (presumably still there). To the left is the old cherry tree and further to the left (outside the picture) was the pill-box. In the front garden beyond the wall are the yew trees. The vegetable beds were all on this side of the house.

This one shows the view out of the bathroom window (or perhaps I was on the roof) towards the east with the Bason Bridge milk factory in the background and the railway on the right (and the river beyond it).

This one shows the south side of the house which we called the front. Left upstairs was my grandmother’s room. Next to it was my sister’s room and next to that (with shared window frame) was mine. Beyond was my parent’s room. Below left was my grandmother’s sitting room (with conservatory out of picture on the left). Next to it was the sewing room (where we had a TV set), then the front door, and beyond that, hidden by roses, the sitting room. A rain water tank in the far corner collected water from the roof. The main flower garden was beyond the wall. The gate in the foreground led from the lane down the side of the house into the “current field” so called because my father grew black currents in it. The battery-hen house and pig sty were at the side of the field, and three were also free-range chickens in the field. The geese had free-reign of the property and rather frightened me. I’ll never forget being attacked by the gander who flew at me as I walked through that gate holding one of his goslings!

This one shows the south face of the house. There was originally a gravel path from the front door out to the unlocked metal gate that gave access to the railway line (no “safety police” in those days!), but my parents grassed it over just before this photo was taken. Roses climbed the wall of the house and honeysuckle draped over the wooden frame outside the door. I remember quite often climbing up the other side and sitting on the apex of the roof. No-one seemed to worry unduly.

This one shows the north side of the house which is probably much as it is today, though perhaps the rose garden has now gone. To the right of the gate was the orchard which belonged to the property and which contained one or two trees that grew “coxes orange pippin” apples which I’ve never tasted the like of since. The old garage is also off to the right of the photo.

This is the only colour photo that I have of the house, taken from the river. The river frontage (up to the style, I think) was part of the Churchland property at that time. In the early days my father grew potatoes on it but for some reason he gave up. Perhaps it was not productive enough, or perhaps it was just too much extra work. He also had a pipe installed under the railway line which cantilevered out over the river and dropped into the water which he used to pump water for irrigating his gardens. He had to get special permission to do it. I also used to fish there occasionally. The river seems narrower today than it looks in this picture.

I used to spend hours on the railway line, picking up stones from the ballast and throwing them into the river trying to hit timber wedges that I’d picked up from the railway track. Only once was I nearly run over, and that was one day when walking home from the bus-stop with the family. A high wind was blowing which stopped me from hearing the train that was approaching as I walked along the track, and stopped me hearing the screams from my family who watched in terror expecting to see me disappear under the engine. Anyway, I survived.

I guess people were much less paranoid about safety in those days. My sister and I used to walk down the line on our own to catch the bus to school (on our own) from the age of (I guess) 5 or 6. And once I got a bike of my own, I used to take off and disappear into the moors or off to see friends or (more often) to go train-spotting on the main line, without anyone thinking about the risks. In fact, one of the things that I like about living in China is that people here are not as paranoid about risk (or litigation) as they have become in the West. I guess I’m like my dad – I prefer to do my own thing and to be as independent as possible!

Last time I drove by, I saw that the old “Newman’s Lane” sign was still at the end of the “white lane”. We called the gravel lane the “black lane” and the bitumen one the “white lane” because it was sealed with white stone chippings. Funnily enough the name Newman’s Lane had nothing to do with our living there – it was just a coincidence. But the sign was installed when we were living there.

The location of Churchland Farm is shown on the "active" Google Map below:

View Churchland Farm in a larger map

Page Created: 24th Jan 2007