March 2020

For this special fiftieth anniversary issue, it has been fascinating to look back at articles about the Challis Trust going way back to its inception. Sawston Scene has always been very supportive of the trust, providing a platform for reporting progress in the house and garden, and publicising our events and exhibitions. Regular visitors will know much of the background but it is well worth relating it again.

A brief history of the Challis family in Sawston appeared in the February–March 2014 issue:
“The first Challis to settle in Sawston was Thomas Challis (1754–1816). He was a farmer, co-founder of the Congregational Church, and the father of ten children. One of his sons, Johnathon, married a daughter of James Everard of Pampisford and received a property in Sawston known as Monk’s Orchard from his father-in-law. It was his son, Arthur James, who developed the orchard, now the Mary Challis Garden, and built the family house at 68 High Street in about 1850. He was Mary Challis’s grandfather and he and his son Alfred were auctioneers and clerks to the Parish Council.

Mary was the fifth generation of her branch of the Challis family to live in Sawston. She lived here all her life except for the short time she spent at Studley College for Women, in Warwickshire, where she took a BSc in Horticulture. She never married and, when she died in 2006, she had no close relatives and chose to leave her house and garden in trust ‘for the benefit of the inhabitants of Sawston and the neighbourhood.’ For this, we are profoundly grateful.”

The A M Challis Trust was established in 2007, following a preliminary meeting of volunteers early that year (reported in Sawston Scene April–May 2007) and they began the daunting task of restoration. The very overgrown garden was gradually cleaned up, trees felled, fences repaired, new beds laid out and old buildings removed – a huge achievement – leading up to the formal opening in May 2009 (August–September 2009). Today, it is unrecognisable from earlier photos. A special mention must be made of the immense contribution of Sue and Ray Reeve, who were instrumental in getting that early group of volunteers together to begin work on the garden. They are sorely missed and fondly remembered by all who worked with them.

The trust depends almost entirely on the rental income from its three properties on the High Street and welcome donations from visitors. This money has been used to renovate the Challis House, an undertaking that continued for nearly a decade! In the early years, there were serious concerns about the financial position of the trust, to the extent that consideration was given to leasing the property to a developer, to convert the upper two floors to flats (Scene June–July 2009). Fortunately, this did not happen and the trust retained full control of the house, which has now been restored to a high standard and includes a Museum of Sawston as Mary Challis wished. Several exhibitions have been held, including the current one ‘Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice…’ focusing on co-operative societies and shopping in Sawston over the years, and more are lined up for the future, although due to the coronavirus the museum is currently closed.
It is planned to hold an exhibition of old toys and games (up to the 1960s) later in the year. If you have anything of interest to lend or donate for this – Victorian dolls house furniture, metal animals, puzzles, games, Meccano and suchlike – please get in touch.

We had planned an exhibition about Sawston Scene in April–May to commemorate their fiftieth anniversary. The current plan is that some of the articles from the archive that would have been displayed will instead be printed in the June–July 2020 issue. There have been regular reports on the trust in nearly every issue of Sawston Scene since 2009, written by either Sheila Blackwell or Marilyn Maunder up to 2015, then by myself from 2016. These reports give an excellent account of developments accompanied by numerous photos of the garden and our events. We were especially pleased that the front cover of the first colour edition in April–May 2012 featured an image of the garden.

The trustees congratulate Sawston Scene on achieving fifty years of regular publications for the village and for the many awards it has won over the years for the quality of its content and editorial standards. Well done! We hope to continue our positive relationship with the magazine for many years to come.

Spring is rapidly approaching, with spring-flowering shrubs and bulbs coming into bloom early in the garden. Daffodils are looking good now, and should last into April, followed by tulips and early summer herbaceous plants. It’s a good time to visit. We shall soon be committed to regular grass-cutting and setting up for garden events.

Neither our popular Easter Saturday Children’s Event nor our Anniversary Fete scheduled for Sunday 17th May will be held this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. We deeply regret having to take this action but it is for the benefit of all our visitors and volunteers. Sunday opening times will revert to 2pm to 4pm from Sunday 29th March when the clocks change to British Summer Time. Mike Redshaw

Published in the April–May 2020 Sawston Scene