The Challis Museum is closed until further notice

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Today, I took the  difficult decision to close the Museum to visitors. This was not something I did lightly but came in the wake of ever-increasing draconian measures being imposed by the government.

You may feel that an exhibition with only a relatively small number of visitors at any one time is  a very low-risk situation but if it being open results in the illness of even one visitor, Steward or Trustee, it is a risk too great to contemplate. As the days go by, I will review official advice with a view to possibly re-opening but for now the doors stay firmly shut.

Let us look on the positive side and give thanks for the fact that the exhibition has been open since the middle of January. Just imagine – the virus might well have erupted back then before anyone had had a chance to see it! As it is, we should be proud of what we have been able to share with our visitors and allow ourselves at least a small pat on the back when we read the lovely comments left in the Visitors’ Book.

Mary Dicken has made a wise decision to put her Tuesday Archive Group on hold until at least after Easter and I am now going to do the same for the Monday Exhibition Group. Both these activities will resume at the earliest safest moment and in the meantime, neither group is involved in work that cannot easily be suspended.

We have had to consider carefully upcoming Challis events and  feel that we had no choice other than to cancel the Children’s Easter Event. No need to explain why – face painting/craft workshops/teas/toilets! Need I say more?

Most of our booked visiting groups come to see both the House and the Garden and we always offer refreshments too. Unfortunately, most of these groups also fall into the most vulnerable/susceptible demographic and as such, I have already cancelled two bookings for this coming week. I will continue to deal with upcoming visits on a group by group basis.

Other Challis events are currently scheduled to go ahead as planned but you will understand that that this might well change.

What this state of affairs will not do is anything more than ‘dent’ the Trust. The Garden remains open to visitors – a really healthy place to be(!) and everything else is simply on hold in a virtual pending tray. Unlike some small businesses, we will not be going under financially because of this and when the crisis has finally passed, we will do our level best to reschedule  as many cancelled events and group visits as possible.

Remember – you are not now isolated from the Trust. I am here at the end of this email and on 560816 and 07711 332129 at any time.

Stay safe.

Warm wishes

Rosie Phillips
Chair of the Challis Trust

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January 2020

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At the time of writing, the Challis museum and archive team are in the throes of finalising the displays for our latest exhibition ‘Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice…’ about the co-operative movement and shopping in Sawston. It includes some activities for children. Despite concerns that we didn’t have enough items to re-create an early 1900s shop, villagers have turned up trumps and donated lots of interesting objects to put on display, for which we are very grateful. The exhibition runs until 28th March and is open every Tuesday and Saturday morning from 10am to 12 noon. Do drop in to have a look at the exhibits and chat with our knowledgeable stewards. ‘Pop goes the weasel’!

The unseasonably mild weather – or perhaps this is now the new norm? – has encouraged spring bulbs to flower earlier than usual. There are already many snowdrops and a few aconites in flower. These should be at their best through February into March, followed by crocuses and then the daffodils around Easter time. These displays are a joy to see, especially on sunny spring days. Do pop in to the garden to have a look. The winter/spring border is also looking good now. Hellebores are starting to flower, set among a colourful display of lime-green, red, orange and yellow stems of dogwoods (Cornus spp.). Winter-flowering shrubs – notably sweet box, Mahonia, shrub honeysuckles and Viburnum fragrans – are giving off pulses of delightful scents to attract pollinating insects. Hmmm!
It is a relatively quiet time in the garden, but there are always jobs to be done. Maintenance of the garden is well up to date and always to a good standard, thanks to the regular volunteers who look after it. The Challis Trust relies entirely on voluntary work for all that it does, and we are hugely grateful for the time put in, and also to the many regular visitors who support our work.

In recent weeks, we have been tidying up overgrown areas, trimming ivy, pruning shrubs and cutting back overcrowded perennials. Judy has been busy as ever propagating some of our most popular perennials, for sale later in the year. If you are looking for interesting or unusual plants for your garden, do come along to see what’s on offer.
The next large task is to prune the apple trees while they are dormant during the winter months. We plan to produce more bud-grafted apple trees, using budwood from our Mary Challis apple. Last year, we used MM106 semi-vigorous rootstocks, which are suitable for bushes and half-standard trees. This time we will use M26 semi-dwarf rootstocks, to produce plants suitable for small bushes, cordons, fans and espaliers. Last year’s stock will be available for sale this summer and autumn.

A few more sycamores are scheduled for removal this winter to reduce over-shading in parts of the garden. This includes the large sycamore at the end of the Long Barn – a lovely specimen, but unfortunately the trunk is badly diseased and therefore hazardous. However, this will generate good quantities of timber for making logs. Currently, we have a mixture of sycamore, ash and chestnut logs available. We have made good sales of logs this winter and may well have to re-stock soon from a local source. Do collect your logs now to avoid missing out!

It is disappointing to report that there has been no further progress on building work for the garden museum, pending approval from the SCDC Planning Officer. We sincerely hope to make a start soon with a view to completing the building during 2020.

The programme of Challis events for 2020 is printed on page 2 of the February–March 2020 Sawston Scene – we look forward to seeing many of you in the garden during the forthcoming season. Remember the garden is open every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning from 9.30am to 12.30pm, and on Sunday afternoons (1pm to 3pm in the winter and 2pm to 4pm in the summer). In addition the Challis House is open every Tuesday morning from 10am to 12 noon to view the museum and archives.

Mike Redshaw

Published in the February–March 2020 issue of Sawston Scene

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November 2019

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Our Spooky Saturday event on Saturday 26th October again proved to be very popular with villagers. It was wonderful this year to see many new families coming to enjoy a happy and fun morning in the garden in good autumn weather – mild but windy. I suspect many more people would have joined us were it not for England’s Rugby World Cup semi-final match that morning! In the event, more than forty pumpkins were carved and taken home for Hallowe’en. Many thanks to the volunteers for helping with the carving, face-painting, crafts, scavenger hunt, soup kitchen and teas. Unfortunately for us, a tent we put up for the pumpkin carving was ripped out of the ground and blown over the chicken sheds by very strong gusts during the night. It will have to be replaced next year. On the upside, England won their match!

This was our last event for 2019. Please note that we will not be holding a wreath-making workshop this year, but the Challis House will open for the Winter Fair on Friday 6th December, so do please drop in to say hello and share some mulled wine and mince pies. It’s also a good opportunity to pick up some Christmas presents from the craft stands in the house. We will also have our very own Challis tea towels on offer, with a beautiful house and garden design by Fran Godwood.

The mild autumn – so far! – has extended the flowering season well into November. Some dahlias were scorched by ground frosts in late October, but there is still a lot of colour in the main herbaceous beds, notably asters, Gaura, penstemons, sedums and salvias. Gaura is an interesting addition to our flowerbeds, a low-maintenance, hardy plant that flowers throughout summer and autumn. A good ‘doer’, as Monty Don would say. The full botanical name is Gaura lindheimeri, originating from North America, also called wandflower, whirling butterfly or bee blossom. The variety we have is ‘Passionate Rainbow’, producing numerous delicate pretty pink flowers on waving ‘wands’. We have taken many cuttings to propagate stock for next season.

The garden volunteers have been very busy preparing for winter – collecting leaves, spreading leaf mulch on the winter/spring border, digging over the vegetable beds, pruning shrubs, and so on. There is always plenty to do at this time of the year. We received some very welcome help for some of this work from a group of volunteers from Astra Zeneca, based at Chesterford Park. It was a productive and fun day, helping us to catch up with some outstanding tasks. Community volunteering is becoming increasingly popular; we have hosted two groups this year, and look forward to more groups in the future. Many thanks to the Astra Zeneca team for volunteering their time for us.

There is no progress to report, sadly, on the proposed building for a garden museum. We are still awaiting approval from the planning authorities, which is taking an inordinate amount of time. It was hoped to make a start on ground works before winter but this now seems unlikely. Meanwhile, we are progressing with identifying artefacts to go into the museum. The next step is to clean, prepare and label items – no small matter!

Our museum and archive volunteers continue to work through the archive material and artefacts in the house, with a regular Tuesday morning session. The house is open at this time, so if you want to have a look around and talk to our stewards, this is the time to visit. One team is preparing material for our next exhibition on shopping and Co-operative Societies, planned to run from 18th January to 28th March in the New Year. One of the first co-operative societies in England started in Sawston in 1867 and the Co-op itself has maintained a presence in the village for over a hundred years. It makes an interesting subject for an exhibition, with a lot of local interest.

Mike Redshaw

Published in the December 2019–January 2020 issue of Sawston Scene

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September 2019

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There is a distinct feeling of autumn in the air now, with fresh dewy starts to the day, cool nights and the evenings drawing in. But it is not all doom and gloom. Autumn colours are starting to develop and there is still a lot of colour in the garden in the summer bedding plants (notably zinnias, geraniums and begonias) and the late summer/autumn perennials (asters, dahlias, sedums, phlox and salvias). These displays should last well into October, barring any early frosts.

Fruit crops are disappointing this year. There are very few apples, plums and damsons on our trees. On the other hand, raspberries have done well, mainly due to the good June rainfall. Most vegetables also performed well this season, in particular French beans, runner beans, beetroot, courgettes, outdoor cucumbers, sweetcorn, squashes and tomatoes.

Work in the garden is now focusing on winter preparations. Garden compost and leaf mulch is being turned and space created for this season’s leaf-fall. All tree leaves are collected, wherever possible, and compacted in large wire cages to decompose. We produce a large quantity of excellent mulch in this way for spreading around trees and shrubs. Grass clippings are added to the general garden waste to make compost for digging into the vegetable plots and herbaceous beds. We also make our own potting mixture from a combination of topsoil, leaf mould and compost, to which grit and slow-release fertilisers are added. From the results in the garden, it appears to be a good recipe!

One of our conifers died earlier in the year, for no obvious reason, but probably due to drought stress in recent years making it susceptible to root disease. The tree has been felled and logged. We have good stocks of logs for sale for the forthcoming winter, for those of you that have log-burners or open fires. Do drop by to see what’s available.

Our annual Horticultural Show on 7th September was very successful. This year saw many more entries in most classes, and considerably more in the children’s classes, which is particularly pleasing. The weather was kind in the afternoon and there was a good range of stalls to entertain visitors – “something for everyone”, as one person put it. Thanks to everyone who participated in the show, with special thanks to the judges, stewards, volunteers and stallholders. A lot of work was involved, but it was hugely rewarding. We also acknowledge the support of Walero, a small company in Little Shelford, who volunteered their time to help put up the large marquee, party tents and gazebos for the show. It is the one occasion in the year when we really do need a lot of help in the garden.

The trophies were presented this year by Alan Fox, who was Vice President of the Sawston Gardening Club when it was still running. The winners were:

  • Trustees Trophy (most number of points in the fruit and vegetable classes): Kamlawatee Wells.
  • Garden News Trophy (best exhibit in the fruit and vegetable section): Peter Webb.
  • Frank Matthews Trophy (best exhibit in the domestic classes): Alison Kent.
  • Mary Challis Trophy (best floral exhibit): Rosemary Cook.
  • WI Trophy (best exhibit in handicrafts section): Judy Saunders.
  • Sue Reeve Trophy (best exhibit in 8–12 age group): Magnus Davey.
  • John Falkner Trophy (best exhibit in 7 and under age group): Joss Irons.
  • Chair’s Trophy (family with the most number of points): Mr and Mrs Wells.
  • Norman Carver Trophy (best in the entire show): Judy Saunders.

Congratulations to all this year’s winners. Kamlawatee Wells once again scored the highest number of points (27) in the fruit and vegetable section, with a commanding lead over Rosemary Cook in second place (17) and Michael Wells (16) in third place.

At the time of writing, we are still awaiting planning permission for the new garden museum. Meanwhile, a team has been sorting through the many artefacts stored in the various garden buildings to identify items to display in the museum. This has turned up a host of interesting items, including a huge board advertising ‘Agents for Gilbey’s Wines’, a travelling ink-well, and beekeeping equipment. All of these, and much more, will eventually be on display in the new museum. This is the next big project for the Challis Trust. If you would like to get involved preparing artefacts for display, we would be pleased of extra help.

Do look out for posters for Spooky Saturday on 26th October. All the usual activities, plus Andy’s soup kitchen, cheese scones, tea and cakes. This is a children’s event; come along and join in the fun.

The opening times for the garden on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are now extended – 9.30am to 12.30pm. Sunday afternoon times remain unchanged, from 2pm to 4pm, but will revert to the winter opening times 1pm to 3pm from 28th October when the clocks go back. The museum and archives in the house are open to view every Tuesday morning 10 to 12 noon. Mike Redshaw

Published in the October–November 2019 issue of Sawston Scene

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July 2019

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Summer is a busy time for the Challis Trust, with June and July being the peak months for visitors to the house and garden. We have hosted a number of gardening clubs and history societies, given presentations and tours of the garden and museum, and provided refreshments. These visits are very popular, judging by the favourable comments received. New visitors are invariably surprised by the size and variety in the garden, and impressed also by the exhibits in the house.

The garden team has been very active in recent weeks, keeping up with mowing, weeding, pruning and deadheading. After the dry start to the season, which held back growth, the heavy rainfall in June led to a surge of growth and flowering. It has been hard work keeping up with everything but, on the other hand, there’s been less watering to do. Despite the slow start, the herbaceous beds are lush and very colourful now. The bee border and wildflower meadow are especially good this year, full of flowers – a firm favourite with visitors. A wide range of bumblebees, butterflies and other insects can be seen.

It was pleasing to present the garden to a high standard for Sawston Open Gardens, to participate in the National Garden Scheme (NGS) event on Sunday 7th July. Our thanks to the garden volunteers who made a special effort to prepare the garden for the day, which attracted a hundred and fifty visitors. There were two other participating gardens this year, both in Mill Lane, and many people also visited the two artists’ studios that were open on the same afternoon (for Cambridge Open Studios). So plenty for visitors to see – combined with the good weather, it was a successful afternoon.

Open Gardens raised £955 for the NGS, to be distributed to the nursing and caring charities they support, including Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Carers’ Trust and the Queen’s Nursing Institute, among others. The Challis Trust is pleased to support these worthy causes by opening the garden to raise money. It would be good to see more Sawston gardens joining the scheme. If anyone is interested in opening their garden in 2020, please contact Mike Redshaw on 01223 834511.

There are no public events scheduled for August, but needless to say, we are very pleased to see people in the garden on our regular opening times (see page 23). At this time of the year, there are many plants and some fresh produce for sale, including root vegetables, beans and courgettes, with plums, damsons and apples to follow in August and September. In addition, Andy Jackson continues to produce large volumes of jams, relishes and chutneys. Our early summer honey has sold out but we expect to have more for sale in the coming period. Do drop in to see what’s on offer. Remember too that the house and museum are open every Tuesday morning to look around.

The Challis Horticultural Show is coming up on Saturday 7th September. We would love to see more people entering produce, flowers and handicrafts in the show, especially in the children’s sections. Schedules are available now from the Mary Challis Garden or from the dispenser at the main gate, or can be downloaded from our website, www.challistrust.org.uk. If you are interested in entering the domestic classes, please note there are some new classes this year, following set recipe: more of a challenge for experienced cooks and a level playing field for judging. If you grow stuff, bake, make things or take photos, there is something for everyone to get involved with. If you haven’t participated before, please do give it a try.

The Apple Day is brought forward to Saturday 28th September, earlier than last year. We hope the timing is optimal for the main apple harvest. Unfortunately, there are few apples on our own trees this year, most likely due to late frosts damaging the flowers and young fruit. We may well put out an appeal nearer the time for people to donate apples for pressing and juicing. If you would like to process your own apples, please bring them along on Apple Day and join in the fun. There will be plenty of other apple-related activities for children and adults alike.

Work continues apace in the house, sorting through and cataloguing the collection of archives and artefacts. It seems we have a large collection of clay pipes and assorted bottles. If you have specialist knowledge on either subject, please contact us to help identify and select pieces for display. We plan to hold an exhibition on co-operative societies in Sawston. We would like to have samples of ‘old’ money to put on display – farthings, coppers, threepenny pieces, shillings, half-crowns, and so on. If you have a collection or could loan some coins for the exhibition, please contact us. Mike Redshaw SS

Published in the June–July 2019 issue of Sawston Scene

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May 2019

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It is disappointing to have to report that we suffered a spate of vandalism in April. Considerable damage was done to furniture, trees and other items in the garden. The experience was extremely dispiriting for the many volunteers who put in countless hours to maintain this wonderful place and asset for the village. Such mindless acts will not be tolerated and we are vigorously pursuing leads to identify those responsible.

It was very heartening, therefore, to hold a very successful Easter Saturday children’s event at the end of this episode – a well-needed fillip for all of us involved in the Challis Garden. It was a reassuring day and it reminded us why we contribute so much time to the Trust and to see the great pleasure it gives to visitors. One happy visitor wrote in to say “Aged 3 to 70+ we had a great time in a relaxed, happy and safe atmosphere, enjoying sunshine, refreshments and the children’s activities. Everyone’s efforts were much appreciated.” Well spoken indeed!

We thank everyone who attended for their support and loyalty. In future, any trespassers will be well and truly composted!

The weather so far this year has been very unpredictable, swinging from mini-heatwaves to prolonged cool spells, and very little rain to be seen. The ground is still very dry, so we are having to spend a lot of time watering. Good that we replaced our bore-hole pump last year! The garden team are raising large numbers of bedding plants – geraniums, begonias, zinnias, rudbeckias – to fill out the main summer beds. Despite the inclement weather, we look forward to full colourful herbaceous borders this summer. The local wildlife is thriving in the garden, with many butterflies and bees to be seen, and lots of birdsong from resident blackcaps, thrushes, finches, wrens and goldcrests. Delightful!

Unfortunately, our annual anniversary fete falls too late in May to get a mention in this issue. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the formal opening of the garden on 17th May 2009. In addition to the main attractions of Sawston Steel Band and Cambridge Flower Club, more stalls and stands are planned this year. Weather permitting, we hope for a good turnout again.

Two further events to look forward to in June and July. Firstly, we are again opening the garden for the afternoon of 16th June in memory of Jo Cox MP. This is now a nationwide event, encouraging people to spend time and share a meal together. Do come along, bring family and friends for a picnic in the garden (sorry, no barbecues). There will be garden games available for children (and older ones!) and plenty of space to relax or let off steam.
The Challis Garden is participating again in the National Garden Scheme along with two other Sawston gardens on Sunday 7th July. There will be plants for sale on the day and the house and museum will also be open. Sweet Tea café will be opening specially, in support of the event, serving cream teas and other treats on the day. What nicer way to relax and enjoy a garden on a Sunday afternoon?

In the Mary Challis house, the museum and archive team are pressing on with sorting and cataloguing our collections. The museum is very well supported, with volunteers working in two teams. At present, one is focusing on cataloguing the many photograph and postcard albums. The other is sorting and cataloguing the collection of artefacts acquired mainly by the Village History Society. New exhibitions are being planned, including a possible one about cooperative societies in Sawston; the first was set up by local businesses in 1867. With the return of the Co-op to the village, it’s appropriate to have their input but they are proving slow to respond to requests for information.

Next year sees the 50th anniversary of Sawston Scene (yes, it really has been going for that long!) which is another worthwhile subject for an exhibition. We are very happy to receive suggestions for possible new exhibitions; if readers have any ideas, please do get in touch. Please note that the museum and archives are open to the public every Tuesday morning 10am to 12 noon, and on Saturday mornings by appointment only. Larger groups can arrange a visit to the house at other times by making a booking. Mike Redshaw

Published in the June–July 2019 issue of Sawston Scene

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