May 2018

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The Mary Challis Museum and Archive was formally opened on 27th April by Dr Tim Wreghitt OBE. This is a significant milestone for the Challis Trust and the culmination of ten years’ work renovating 68 High Street to accommodate the Sawston history archives and to house museum displays and exhibitions. To mark the occasion, two rooms on the first floor were formally named after two key people who dedicated their time to this cause. The main meeting room is now the Brian Butler Meeting Room, after our former Chair and Patron, who directed the work of the trust and started renovation work on the house. The library/archive room is now called the David Dockerill Library. David was an enthusiastic and energetic believer in the importance of local history and was instrumental in the founding of the Sawston Village History Society in January 1991, serving as its Chair until September 1995.

It was very pleasing and fitting that Dorothy Butler and Liz Dockerill were present to witness the naming ceremony. In her introductory talk, Rosemary Phillips, our Chair, also paid tribute to others who had made significant contributions to the Challis Trust, most notably Sheila Blackwell, Sue Reeve, Paul Mann, Bruce Milner and Bryan Howe.

The current collection includes the archive assembled by SVHS and housed for some years in the Parish Council offices. Most of the material has been donated by Sawston residents. The collection includes a set of Sawston Scenes, the Sawston Crier and a number of local and national newspapers as well as photographs taken of the village in 2000 and other photographs from the less recent past. Cataloguing is still in progress but a list of the various files is available. There is also a small range of books on the history of Sawston and the surrounding area. Books of which the trust has multiple copies may be borrowed.

During the course of the renovation work and initiated by Tony Fell, a time capsule has been concealed in the house, containing items and documents that are topical and pertinent to the Challis Trust and to Sawston in general. We hope this will create a lot of excitement and interest to whoever discovers it, whenever that may be! Who knows when?

The Mary Challis Museum and Archive will be open regularly to the public on Tuesdays from 10am to 12 noon. It is hoped that additional opening days will be held, provided there are stewards and archivists available to welcome visitors.

The garden will be open on Sunday 10th June specifically for the National Gardens Scheme from 2pm to 6pm. Money raised from the gate entry fee goes to a number of nursing charities supported by the NGS. Last year, over £3 million was raised. We are proud to support this excellent cause. Teas and homemade cakes will be available from the house. Plants, garden produce, preserves and honey will be on sale.

The Challis garden will be opening again for the NGS, on 1st July, as part of the Sawston Group, along with four other Sawston gardens. Sweet Tea café (across the road from the garden) will provide refreshments on that occasion.

On Sunday 17th June, we will again be honouring the memory of Jo Cox MP, who was killed in 2016, by taking part in the the Great Get Together event. The garden will be open from 12 noon to 5pm for visitors to bring a picnic and share a meal together, in a spirit of friendship and compassion. For more information, see greatgettogether.org. Do let us know if you intend to bring a group, so we can set out enough tables and chairs. Or bring your own chairs and rugs.

In the garden, volunteers have put in a lot of time weeding and manuring the herbaceous beds, planting up the vegetable plots, raising bedding plants and keeping on top of the grass. All this effort should ensure a very colourful display through the summer and into autumn. Do come along to see the wildflower meadow, bee border and main herbaceous beds, which are at their best in the coming period. Some of our specimen trees will also be in flower for a few weeks during this period – false acacia in June and golden rain tree in July. Mike Redshaw 

Published in Sawston Scene, June– July 2018

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March 2018

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Writing this at the beginning of March, it seems we are still in the grips of winter, feeling the effects of the ‘Beast from the East’ (or was it hysteria from Siberia?) sweeping across the country causing widespread travel chaos. Although we didn’t fare too badly here, it was bitterly cold. The early onset of spring in February has been put on hold and it remains to be seen how the garden plants recover in the coming weeks. Snowdrops were at their peak in late February but the very cold spell brought that to an early close.

With normal weather resuming, we can now look forward to displays of crocuses, followed by daffodils into April, tulips and then bluebells. Our winter/spring border is still very colourful and should show well into April. Fruit trees and ornamental cherries will also be in flower in the coming weeks – a welcome sight and a real sign that summer is on the way. Do visit us during our normal opening times. And remember there’s always fresh produce, preserves, logs and plants available from the garden throughout the year.

We plan to remove a few more sycamore trees from the ‘woodland’ area, which hopefully will have been done by the time this issue comes out. Visitors can see changes in this part of the garden, with recently planted shrubs, small trees and evergreens establishing, under-planted with bluebells and other shade-tolerant plants. More hellebores, bluebells, winter box (Sarcococca) and Hypericum will be planted as infills where appropriate.

In the far south-west corner of the garden, we have planted a number of hazel seedlings to develop a small copse. This will provide a regular supply of poles and plant supports for the main herbaceous borders and raised vegetable beds. We are also encouraging brambles, foxgloves and nettles to establish in this corner, to provide nesting sites for warblers and finches, and food for butterflies and bumblebees. Our honeybees will also benefit from an early source of pollen from the hazels and some late summer foraging on the brambles.

The Easter Saturday Children’s Event will be early this year, on the last day of March, so it is not covered in this issue. I trust the weather will be kind and all goes well! Our Anniversary Fete, to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the official opening of the garden, is on Sunday 20th May from 2pm. Do come along and enjoy live music from Sawston Steel Band while sampling teas, home-made cakes and soup from our kitchen. There will be a range of activities including craft stalls, giant garden games, bottle stall, tombola and more to entertain you.

The last phase of internal building work and decorating in the Mary Challis House should be finished in he coming period. When complete, there will be static displays and exhibitions on the ground floor, a library, meeting room and period bathroom on the first floor, and an office and archive storage on the top floor. We have now transferred nearly all the village history archives and artefacts from the parish council offices to the house. A team of archivists and helpers, led by Mary Dicken, have been busy sorting, cataloguing and storing these items. It is intended to have a formal opening of the library and archive storage at the end of April. Quite an achievement and a huge milestone for the Challis Trust! We will need more help in the house to complete the archiving and to assist visitors during regular opening hours once the museum and archives are ready to view. If you are interested in helping, please do get in touch.

Please note that our Sunday opening times revert to the usual summer hours of 2pm to 4pm from Sunday 25th March. Mike Redshaw

Published in Sawston Scene, April–May 2018

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January 2018

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At the start of a new year, it’s always good to reflect on the previous year. What have we achieved? Well, quite a lot actually. We ran our third exhibition, ‘Back to School’, in the house, which generated a lot of interest from Sawston residents. In the garden, we held seven major public events (Easter Saturday, Anniversary Fete, Bioblitz weekend, NGS open gardens, Jo Cox memorial picnic, Horticultural Show and Spooky Saturday). We also hosted eight booked visits and several private parties and youth groups. Overall, the garden catered for a wide range of activities and meetings, involving a number of Sawston organisations.

Our events are well established on the Sawston calendar and we hope to see more people visiting the garden this year. Of course, none of this would be possible without the dedicated and enthusiastic support of our many volunteers – too many to mention individually – for which the trustees offer their wholehearted thanks.

Please note that the schedule of events for 2018 is listed on the inside cover of this issue. The Easter Children’s Activity Morning is on Saturday 31st March, rather early this year. All events are in the Sawston Scene Diary, and in the Friday email, a weekly reminder of events in the diary (sign up at www.sawstonscene.org/the-friday-email).

Writing in mid-January, it seems the seasons get earlier each year. Some snowdrops and aconites are already in flower. Crocuses, daffodils and bluebells are pushing through the soil. February and March are the best months to see the early spring bulbs, with veritable carpets of white, blue and yellow blooms. On a bright spring morning, it is an inspiring sight. Do drop in and have a look. And take a stroll down the winter/spring walk to smell the intense fragrance from sweet box, shrub honeysuckle, Viburnum fragrans and mahonia. The dogwoods – with their bright yellow, orange, red and green stems – and hellebores are also at their best then.

We aim to take out a few more sycamore saplings this spring to reduce shade and allow underplanted shrubs and small trees to flourish. More ground cover and shade-tolerant plants will be added to augment these ‘woodland’ plantings. It’s a long-term project but we are making progress. In the far corner of the garden, we will plant a small hazel coppice and allow brambles to establish to create a productive yet wildlife-friendly patch.

The main objective of the trust for 2018 is to complete the refurbishment and decorating of Mary Challis’s house, number 68 High Street. This will allow us to complete the transfer of the Sawston Village History Society archives from the Parish Council office for long-term storage. We gratefully acknowledge the good co-operation of SVHS to facilitate this process. The collection of documents and artefacts will be properly collated and archived as a resource for the village. It is hoped there will be enough volunteers to act as archivists during regular opening times, to assist visitors to locate information and view documents. Details will be given in due course.

For the safe keeping of the village archives, further improvements are needed to heating, ventilation and security. Clearly, the right climatic conditions must be achieved to ensure these records are maintained in good condition for future generations. We will ensure this is properly implemented. When the house is fully finished, it will provide space for permanent displays and exhibition rooms, a meeting room, an office, a library and storage space for archives. We can’t wait to see it completed!

It is with great sadness we learned that our former Chair and Patron, Brian Butler, died in early January after a long illness. Brian was involved with the trust for many years and a very effective Chair, directing the trust in keeping with Mary Challis’s wishes. He was instrumental in refurbishing the garden and doing essential building work on the house. Of course, the services of his building company T Butler & Sons were particularly helpful in the early years, which is duly acknowledged here. He resigned as Chair in November 2014 and has remained an Honorary Patron since then. We are extremely grateful for Brian’s commitment to realising the aims of the Challis Trust, without which the house and garden would not be the success they are today. The trustees offer sincere condolences to Brian’s family and especially to his wife Dorothy. Mike Redshaw 

Published in the February–March 2018 issue of Sawston Scene

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November 2017

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As the days shorten and the trees lose their leaves, we are still enjoying the late autumn colours in the garden. The colourful display in the herbaceous beds lasted late into the autumn, but dahlias and bedding plants succumbed to the first sharp frost of the season on 6th November. Asters and penstemons survived to leave some colour into the month. The frost accelerated the leaf-fall from the larger mature trees, which had given some lovely displays of colour up to that point. The garden team is now busily sweeping and hoovering up these leaves, which will create lots of leaf-mould for mulching the beds next autumn.

Colours are developing in the winter/spring walk. The brightly coloured stems of the dogwoods (Cornus sp.) are showing well now. Visitors in the next few months will be able to enjoy the fragrance from the winter and early spring-flowering shrubs, such as Mahonia, Hamamelis (witch hazel), shrub honeysuckle, Viburnum fragrans and winter box (Sarcococca confusa). Beyond that we look forward to the spring bulbs – snowdrops and bluebells are already emerging through the leaf litter.

Visitors to the garden often comment on our composting arrangements. We are very committed to recycling as much organic material as possible in the garden. Leaf litter is compacted in two large metal cages, watered periodically to help decomposition and left for about 12 months. This results in a very friable mulch that is returned to the established beds. Almost everything else is added to the compost bins, which are turned twice (more often would be better, but it’s hard work!) and is ready to use after eighteen to twenty-four months. We produce more compost than we need, so there is usually a small surplus available for anyone who wants to come and fill a few bags.

The quantity of material that cannot be composted and needs to be burnt is getting less and less each year: mostly ivy, very fibrous material, thorny stems and diseased plants. Regular bonfires used to be a common feature in the early years, but we only need to burn once a year now, at most. We choose a suitable day when the wind is in the right direction to carry the smoke away from neighbouring buildings. Dead or very decayed material is added to an ‘eco-pile’ to rot down, creating a great habitat for many types of wildlife.

The Challis Trust has taken delivery of seven sculptures by the Sawston sculptor Douglas Jeal (see page 5 of the April–May 2017 issue). We are very grateful to the Jeal family for this generous gift. The sculptures will be placed around the garden in suitable locations. These will add interest to the garden and we hope that visitors will enjoy seeing them. Indeed, we would be very pleased to accept other artworks for display, temporary or permanent, on loan or as a donation. Please get in touch with us if you have anything to offer.

Our Halloween event ‘Spooky Saturday’ was popular as ever and very well attended. We really enjoy seeing the garden used in this way; it makes all the hard work worthwhile. Many thanks to everyone who came and to our volunteers for helping out. The attendance was so good this year that we ran out of some supplies early on. We apologise to anyone who was disappointed – we will make sure there is plenty of everything next year!

This year, for the first time, we are holding a Christmas wreath-making workshop on the morning of Saturday 2nd December, from 10am to 12.30pm. All materials will be provided and the wreaths made under tuition from Catherine Tregaskes of Greener Sawston. This is a bookable event, limited to fourteen places at £15 each; please email events@challistrust.org.uk if you’d like to book a place. We may hold a second session is there is enough interest. Mike Redshaw

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September 2017

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The garden has benefitted greatly from the cooler, wetter conditions this summer, giving an explosion of colour in the main flower garden that should last well into autumn. Dahlias and bedding plants have flourished especially well. We have experienced a glut of produce, with very good crops of beans, courgettes, plums and apples. Many of our regular visitors (and volunteers!) have enjoyed the fruits of our labour. Well done to the garden team for maintaining the garden and lawns so well in a very challenging year.

In August we were very pleased to welcome a few local groups to the garden during ‘Gardens & Health Week’. This is a new initiative by the National Gardens Scheme to give the opportunity to people with social and medical welfare needs to visit gardens for their health and well-being. Groups from Camsight, OWL and Sing to Remember – over sixty visitors in total – enjoyed spending time in the garden. We hope these groups will visit us again and we will invite others to join in next year. The more people that use the garden the better – that’s what it’s for!

Summer culminated in a very successful Horticultural Show on Saturday 2nd September, helped by some glorious late summer sunshine. We saw record numbers of visitors this year and many more exhibits in the show. Many thanks to all who participated to make this a really enjoyable afternoon. And thanks also to our judges, stewards, MC Teas crew and especially to Andy Jackson for auctioning the produce. The Pimm’s Tent and the beekeeping stand proved to be very popular. We plan to have the beekeepers as a regular attraction (I declare an interest!).

Thanks to our patron Jennifer Crompton for awarding the trophies this year. The Trustees Trophy (for the most points in the fruit and veg section) was closely contested,with Jeffrey Butler (16 points) just pipping at the post Kamla Wells (15) and Michael Hendry (14). However, Michael and Kamla Wells were clear winners for the Chair’s Trophy (for the Sawston family with the highest number of points in show). Other winners were:

  • Frank Matthews Trophy (best exhibit in domestic classes): Alison Kent
  • Mary Challis Trophy (best floral exhibit): Graham Searle for a superb single dahlia.
  • WI Trophy (best handicrafts exhibit): Audrey Jackson for an excellent painting.
  • Sue Reeve trophy (best exhibit in 8-12 years age group): Kennan Lawrence.
  • John Falkner Trophy (best exhibit in 7 or under age group): Sophie MacFarlane
  • Norman Carver Trophy (best exhibit in Show): Alison Kent for her stunning decorated cake.

Congratulations to all the winners and to everyone else who picked up a prize !

The next date for your diary is Saturday 28th October for the ‘Spooky Saturday’ Hallowe’en event. All the usual activities. Check the Sawston Scene diary and look out for posters in the village.

Our third exhibition ‘Back to School’ concluded in August. Many Sawstonians came to view the exhibition, which certainly stirred old memories. We gained a lot of useful information from talking to visitors, helping to put names to faces and fill in some blanks in the records. We hope everyone enjoyed seeing the old photos and documents, a long away from the light of day. Thanks to everyone who donated material for the exhibition.

Renovation work and decorating continues on the second floor of the house. This should be completed in the next few months, providing rooms for office space, a library, meeting room and archives. The Trust can then move forward with its stated goal, in keeping with Mary Challis’ wishes, of establishing a museum for Sawston. We are nearly there.

A group of our volunteers enjoyed a day’s outing to visit Bury St Edmunds and Fullers Mill Garden, in West Stow, in late August. Transport was provided by Tim Phillips’ classic coach ‘Lady Sarah’. A well-deserved reward for all the work the volunteers do in the house and garden. The Trust would not function without volunteers; the trustees are very thankful for their loyalty and support. Same again next year?

I can’t finish without mentioning something about the wildlife in the garden. One of the volunteers disturbed a badger one morning. It (the badger!) hasn’t been seen since, and presumably found its way out. Badgers would not be welcome as permanent residents, but nice to have seen one. Our resident pair of treecreepers have appeared again recently – on the gingko tree near the summerhouse. Let’s hope they stay and breed again next year. Mike Redshaw

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July 2017

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June and July proved to be very busy times for the Challis Trust, with two garden events in June, the opening of our third exhibition ‘Back to School’ and numerous booked visits to the garden. A good number of people have been to see the exhibition already, often repeat visits, to take in all the displays and scrutinise the photographs. Some visitors have helped to fill in a few blanks by identifying people on some old photos – many thanks. We have even acquired a few magnifying glasses to help with this! The exhibition will run through the summer during normal opening hours, provided there are enough stewards. More volunteers needed please. And it’s not too late to bring along any relevant material to add to the exhibit.

The Challis Garden opened again this year, on Sunday 11th June, in support of the National Gardens Scheme. Although visitor numbers were down on previous years, £401 was raised, to help fund nursing and caring charities. Many thanks to all who came.

The garden hosted the Great Get Together Event on the following Sunday (18th June) in honour and memory of Jo Cox MP, who very sadly lost her life a year ago in 2016. It seemed very pertinent, so soon after the terrible events in Manchester and London. More than sixty people enjoyed a picnic and played games with friends and family. We hope that more people will join us next year.

September is ShowTime, with the annual Horticultural Show coming up on Saturday 2nd September. Other attractions on the day are a beekeeping stand, Pimm’s tent, giant games, tombola, morsbags, plant sales and, of course, tea and cakes. We are particularly keen to get more entries from other villages, and especially from children (seven years old and under, and eight to twelve). If you grow produce, bake, make jam, arrange flowers, make handicrafts or take photos, then there is a class for you. Do have a go and enter something. Entries are judged in the morning, then open to view in the afternoon. Entry forms are available from the Challis Garden summerhouse or from 54 High Street, or can be downloaded from our website. Good luck!

The weather has not been kind this year for gardeners. We’ve seen everything: long dry spells in spring, late frosts, a heatwave in early June and torrential rain in late June. Plants that did establish well early on suffered in the high temperatures in June. The intense rain and high winds at the end of June badly damaged later-growing plants with lush foliage. We have lost several established shrubs this year: some, I am sure, succumbed to honey fungus, which was prevalent last autumn. Not just shrubs – have you noticed the dead horse chestnut tree next to the Mica store?

Despite all this, the gardeners have done a commendable job to prepare the herbaceous beds for the summer. We’ve had to do much more watering than usual. If these weather conditions become the norm, we may have to install a drip irrigation system. The bedding plants raised in the garden help to fill gaps and extend the flowering period, especially the cosmos, begonias, dahlias and zinnias that all do well here. Thanks to the gardening team for all their hard work.

One of our prize trees, a Cornus mas, came down in the June storms and had to be severely cut back. It is vigorous and should regenerate well. A bad blow for the tree, but good news for a local woodturner, who uses pieces of unusual timber from the garden and turns them into the most beautiful objects. I hope he will come along and display these at one of the events next year.

The garden is home to a lot of native wildlife, which we are very proud of. The Bioblitz event in May recorded twenty-nine bird species, eleven moth, three butterfly, four bee, three vertebrate and ninety-five plant species! I expect a lot more species of moths, butterflies and bees would have been recorded if the exercise was held in mid-summer. Our moth-trapper Andrew did another session in June, recording thirty-five species, including a stunning elephant hawk moth (see the photos on page 47). Garden bumblebees are nesting under the summerhouse. The treecreepers that have been around since last year successfully bred amongst dead ivy stems on the trunk of a large lime tree. Some good news to end with! Mike Redshaw

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