Having a ‘spare’ afternoon is always a luxury but sometimes it seems a shame to waste it doing nothing, so with this in mind I went to visit the National Trust property, Oakhurst Cottage in the village of Hambledon in Surrey.
Originally built in the 16th century most likely as a workman’s cottage, this tiny home saw some remodelling during the 19th century and since then time has largely stood still. We met our guide (visits are by pre-booked guided tour only) in the garden of the cottage and were then treated to an interesting introduction in the adjacent store barn. One of the most interesting things about this building, is that it is built in the same way as the main cottage as a large square timber frame with in filled panels of brick. The original cottage was one large building with a central fireplace and smokehole in the roof, but during the 19th century this was altered and a small extension was added, the fireplace was moved to the side and a chimney built on. The biggest change was the addition of an upper floor with two distinct rooms for sleeping.
The National Trust acquired the cottage as a legacy from two sisters who owned several properties in the village in the 1980’s together with its sitting tenants, who were living in the house without the benefit of mains drainage, electricity, central heating and hot and cold running water. The Trust have dressed the cottage to look as it most likely would have done during the 19th century, sparsely furnished and with many handmade items of furniture, rugs and coverlets.
At the same time as our visit a young family was visiting also, and I take my hat off to the two young boys (probably aged 5 and 7) who were for the most part very well behaved, for what must have been for them, pretty boring. In the scullery the guide talked at length about it being the women’s domain as it housed the bread oven, the washing tub and copper. The mother of the family group seemed to take quite violent exception to this idea, which is a bizarre notion, as this is exactly how it would have been over 150 years ago for women. It was very funny hearing her protestations about equality and her views on the subjugation of women in the past! The poor tour guide (an elderly gentleman) was quite bemused by this “strong independent woman”.
It is interesting how many younger people see the past through a 21st century lens, constantly calling out perceived injustice and malfeasance. I find this fascinating, it seems to me that there are many who are only interested in a sanitised version of history that fits with their own experience and ideals. This is plainly ridiculous and it is the duty of organisations such as the NT to present the past as accurately as possible, while being mindful of current sensibilities. However, no heritage organisations should be afraid of tackling ‘difficult’ issues from the past. These cannot be airbrushed from history, it is so important that younger people know about past problems and what was done, to avoid them happening again.
Outside Oakhurst Cottage is a small garden filled with flowers and vegetables. There are some interesting architectural features on the building, the oak timber frame beams being the most obvious, while at the back of the property is a nice example on the rear wall of bricks laid in the Rat Trap pattern. This is a method that can save up to 30% on the number of bricks needed to cover a 1m square and up to 50% on the amount of mortar required.
The cottage is tucked away at the far edge of the cricket green in Hambledon village, which in reality is little more than a hamlet (although there is a village shop that also has a small café serving excellent food), it is open for 4 days a week, Wednesdays and Thursday and Saturdays and Sundays between April and October for pre-booked guided tours only. Also available at the cottage are some albums and books showing the cottage at different stages in its life including a book of prints of watercolours by the well-known Victorian painter, Helen Allingham who painted the cottage. It seems that it is this painting on which the Trust have modelled the cottage we see today, and which includes the replacement of the windows from rectangular panes to diamond lattice panes.
Oakhurst Cottage is tiny gem, like an oversized dolls house frozen in time. Definitely worth a visit.