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Platinum Jubilee Exhibition

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The Queen's Platinum JubileeWe are delighted to announce the first post-Covid exhibition at the Challis Museum. It will be held in early June (opening dates in the next edition of Sawston Scene and on the noticeboard outside the house). We are mounting an exhibition which will celebrate the life and reign of the Queen, featuring:

  • her life and reign
  • her Prime Ministers
  • her previous jubilees
  • royal visits to Sawston
  • Sawstonians who have met the Queen or have received Royal honours
  • Sawston Coronation celebrations
  • Sawstonians celebrating the Silver Jubilee
  • Jubilees of Queen Victoria and King George V
  • How Sawston has changed during the Queen’s reign

We have delved into our archives for documents, publications and items and following our appeal in the last edition of Sawston Scene, and have received several kind offers to loan or donate royal artefacts. If you have any items you would be prepared to loan us for the exhibition, please contact

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March 2022

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We were lucky to avoid any serious damage in the garden during the winter storms. Fortunately we had some tree work carried out at the beginning of February to remove over-extended branches that might well have come down in the strong winds. Our tree surgeons will be back again to complete their work pending approval from the local Tree Officer. The winds did dislodge a drone that had been stuck in one of the large sycamores for at least three years – it hasn’t been spotted since. Thank you, Storm Eunice!

The relatively mild weather has allowed us to keep up with seasonal tasks in the garden, so we are well on top of the work. There were excellent displays of snowdrops, aconites and crocuses through February and March. Daffodils should be at their best in April, followed by tulips and crown imperial lilies in May. Hellebores are also showing well and will continue into April.

Winter and spring-flowering shrubs performed very well again this year, emitting their wonderful fragrances as you walk through the garden. The dogwood stems appear to be breaking into leaf very early, in March, and will need to be cut back soon. Do drop in to have a look at these colourful displays before they go. You can also enjoy the spring blossom on ornamental cherries, plums, damsons and apple trees.

On warmer days, look out for brimstone butterflies, bumblebee queens and – a favourite of mine – the hairy-footed flower-bee. This one looks like a small bumblebee but is actually one of our native solitary bees. The males and females are very different in appearance. They fly fast and low over the ground vegetation, feeding on early flowering plants such as Pulmonaria, yellow archangel and comfrey. Look for these along the winter/spring border.

There are plenty of other signs of spring to be seen. Birds are clearly showing signs of nesting now, especially thrushes, tits, goldcrests, wrens, woodpeckers, doves and pigeons. Many of these nest in the garden. Summer migrants will start to arrive soon, including blackcaps, chiffchaffs, swallows and house martins. There are lots of newts in our pond, but we rarely see any frogs or toads, which we would like to encourage. Fingers crossed they breed this year.

The wildflower meadow in the middle of the main lawn will be marked out and fenced off at the end of March to allow the flowers to regenerate. This is a real focal point in the garden, with a succession of native wildflowers and grasses through the summer months, attracting many butterflies, bees and other pollinators. We have recently planted a small section of native hedgerow plants – hawthorn, blackthorn, spindle and hazel – along the south boundary, which in time will provide shelter and food for rodents, amphibians and foraging insects and a place for birds to nest.

Looking forward to our annual events, first up is the Easter Saturday Children’s Event from 10am to 12 noon on 16th April. All the usual activities will be there, including an Easter-themed trail, crafts, picture painting, face-painting and garden games. Come along and join in the fun. For the adults, M C Teas will be serving tea and cakes from the house plus soups from Andy’s kitchen.

We are planning an exhibition in the house to commemorate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, which will be open over the four days of the extended holiday period. If you have any memorabilia of the Queen or her coronation or wedding, we would be pleased to display these in the exhibition. We would also welcome any recollections and photographs from Sawstonians who have met or seen the Queen. Please get in touch if you have anything we could use.

The main garden gate is still out of use due to the ongoing building work, and will be for the foreseeable future. We apologise for any inconvenience this is causing but please continue to use the side gate directly behind Billson’s.

There is still some stock of seasoned firewood for sale from the garden. Hopefully we have seen the last of this winter’s cold spells, but if you do need any logs please let us know. We are busy stocking up with fresh material for next winter, which will gradually dry out over the summer months. Remember we always have honey, preserves, fresh produce, notelets, tea towels and plants available. Do check what’s on offer next time you visit. We look forward to seeing many of you in the garden this year. Mike Redshaw

Published in Sawston Scene, April–May 2022

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January 2022

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Looking back twelve months to what I had penned this time last year, there was a lot of hope that things would get back to normal and we would be able to run a full programme of events in 2021! Little did any of us expect that twelve months later we would be where we are now. However, the exceptionally successful vaccine roll-out has made a huge difference and we feel more confident now that we can keep the garden open and hold events throughout the year.

Details of our proposed programme of events for 2022 are on page 2. In addition to our regular events, we plan to commemorate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in early June with a new exhibition in the Challis House – details in due course. We also hope to have Half Cut Theatre return in the summer with their witty and entertaining take on popular Shakespearean and modern plays.

As noted in previous articles, the Challis Garden has never been so busy, with more and more people finding this tranquil and safe haven in the heart of the village. We certainly hope our regular visitors will continue to use the garden even as other venues start to re-open. The many groups and clubs who met and practised here last year are also very welcome to hold regular sessions.

A lot was achieved in the garden last year, helped by the addition of many new volunteers, for which we are very thankful. Besides all the regular garden maintenance work, we made improvements to our gift and plant stalls, refurbished some garden furniture, renovated the front garden, and planted some new areas with spring bulbs, cyclamen and foxgloves, which will add interest from spring through to autumn.

Plans for the coming year include paving in front of the chicken sheds, improving disabled access across the car park, and installing a water feature and some new plantings in the vicinity of the new building. The last one depends, of course, on when the new building is completed pending favourable weather and approval of the planning authorities. All being well, we hope to open the building with a new exhibition some time later this year. We’ve also had a generous grant from Sawston Fun Run towards the cost of making improvements to disabled access in the car park.

We plan to establish some ‘dead hedges’ along sections of our boundary. This is a useful way of utilising garden waste, simply stacking pruned material, dead stems and cut branches to form a barrier. This organic matter gradually breaks down, releasing nutrients back to the soil and providing a great habitat for insects, birds and amphibians. It also means less time and effort disposing of this material and substantially reduces the amount to be burnt each year. What’s not to like?

The museum and archives remain closed until Covid restrictions are relaxed to allow visitors into the house again. Who knows when this might be? Meanwhile, the museum team are pressing on with sorting and cataloguing the many archives, records and photographs in our collection. It is an onerous task, but some recently installed cataloguing software will facilitate the work.

The coming period of February to March is the best time to enjoy the early floral displays in the garden. Our winter/spring walk has colourful dogwoods repeated along the border, under-planted with snowdrops and crocuses and interspersed with a number of winter- and spring-flowering shrubs, notably Christmas box (Sarcococca), shrub honeysuckles, Viburnum fragrans and Mahonia. The drifts of snowdrops, aconites and daffodils are another spring highlight, brightening up large areas of the lawns and orchard. Crocuses have spread and naturalised along the footpath leading to the summerhouse, an inspiring sight on a sunny spring day. But don’t take my word for it – do drop in to see for yourself!

For those of you with woodburners or open fires, we have a good stock of logs for sale. Ask one of our volunteers to assist if needed. Keep safe and stay warm. 

Mike Redshaw

Platinum Jubilee Appeal

The Challis Trust hopes to have a display in the House to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, with material showing how Sawston has celebrated in the past. We should be very pleased to be loaned any photographs or accounts of celebrations and also any recollections and photographs from those who have met or seen the Queen. Any items you lend us can be copied and so originals will not need to be displayed. If you have any such items please get in touch either in person at a time when the garden is open, or by email to

Mary Dicken, Challis Trust Secretary

Published in the February–March 2022 Sawston Scene

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November 2021

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We were delighted to be able to hold our Spooky Saturday event this year on Saturday 30th October. Despite the wet start, the weather improved during the morning into a lovely autumn day. Judging by the number of visitors, this is very popular with Sawston families. It was wonderful to see so many happy faces and colourful Hallowe’en costumes. Well done to everyone for entering into the spirit of the occasion. All the activities were well attended, especially the do-it-yourself face-painting. Mums and dads impressed us with their painting skills and evident enthusiasm! We loved all the photos and complimentary posts on Facebook.

The homemade cakes and Andy’s soups were fully consumed, and all the pumpkins carved. Many thanks, as ever, to our wonderful team of volunteers and helpers, without whom we would not be able to stage such events. Special thanks to Chris Baker for donating an impressively large – and characterful! – pumpkin to display and for bringing colleagues along to help prepare the pumpkins. “When shall we three meet again…?” – well, how about Saturday 29th October 2022?

Visitors will have noticed the steady progress on the new garden building. Weather permitting, we hope the roof will be in place well before winter really sets in. For the time being, we need to keep the main garden gate closed due to building work, so please continue to use the side entrance on the left-hand side of the car park. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

The Challis House and museum remain closed at the moment but new exhibitions are being planned. The archive team are still at work filing, cataloguing and sorting through the large collection of artefacts. One of the functions of the new garden building is to house some of the large collection of Challis artefacts recently donated by the Moulton family; Mary Challis’s mother was a Moulton. We are very grateful to them for donating this material.

The herbaceous perennial beds in the garden are still surprisingly colourful, though some tender plants were caught by the first frosts in early November. Autumn-flowering pink nerines (Guernsey lily) have been particular good this year. If the current mild weather continues, colour will last for a few weeks more. Summer bedding plants have now been replaced with winter-flowering pansies and wallflowers.

Although it is now well into autumn, there is limited autumn colour this year as a result of the protracted mild weather. However, some species are beginning to show marked changes in leaf colour, notably acers, dogwoods, ornamental ivy, sumach (Rhus spp.) (spp meaning ‘species, so more than one type) and Berberis spp. Autumn highlights in the Garden include our lovely ginkgo tree, Nandina (heavenly bamboo), cotoneasters and Amelanchier (juneberry). There is an impressive display of red fruit on the yew tree along the path into the garden.

Although winter is now upon us, there are many things to look forward to in our gardens. The first signs of spring bulbs emerging from the soil can already be seen. There should soon be snowdrops, aconites and crocuses to cheer us up. We can also enjoy the wonderful fragrance of wintering-flowering shrubs, such as shrub honeysuckles, Mahonia spp., Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa) and witch hazels (Hamamelis spp.). The winter/spring border will be at its best in the New Year, punctuated with clumps of red, green, yellow and multi-coloured dogwoods (Cornus spp.). Do come and have a look on a bright winter or spring day to enjoy the sights and smells.

The traditional winter and Christmas favourites of holly, ivy and mistletoe look great this year, with lots of berries. If you need any materials for wreath-making, do come and ask us for some.

Thanks to our dedicated team of volunteers, work in the garden is well up to date. The main tasks for the coming period are to apply leaf mould and compost to the herbaceous beds, gather leaves and carry out winter pruning. Regular seasonal attention is needed to keep on top of vigorous herbaceous perennials that can be invasive if left alone. So lots of digging up, splitting and cutting back to do. Andy Jackson has been busy in the raised vegetable beds, planting broad beans and giant garlic. There are always plenty of jobs to occupy us.

Please remember that the garden remains open, as usual, throughout winter. Opening times are in the Directory and on our website. Do have a look at our Challis gifts for possible Christmas presents: notelets, tea towels, preserves, miniature and old bottles, woodturned articles, honey and plants. And there are always logs available for some winter warmth!

Mike Redshaw

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Challis House, Museum and Archive are closed until further notice

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Check here or our Facebook page for updates. 

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