During my adventures in between lockdowns, I visited a dilapidated farmhouse on the outskirts of West Horndon Essex. it is on the at risk register compiled by SAVE. It was not too far from me and I was curious into this building that had been left to ruin yet was listed.
Cholleys farm has no real historical significance, so some would argue that it may as well be demolished. Ok, so the farm has not been involved in any historical events, no one of historical interest lived there but does this mean it has no history? No, as we all know everything has a past and if we had this attitude then many structures would no longer be around. Just as learning about kings and Queens of old and battles help us understand our past, so too does looking at everyday objects and buildings, and Cholleys is one such example of this prejudice around a building being viewed as of no significance.
Not far from Cholleys lies Saffron Gardens, another farmhouse built around the same time, yet this one still stands proudly tall, intact and looked after. On researching Cholleys this farmhouse kept coming up and I found out it has links to the Armada invasion and it is thought that Queen Elizabeth stayed there the night before her Tilbury speech. Could this particular event in history be the reason why it is preserved and Cholleys just left? Who really knows.
Cholleys is located not far from the village of Horndon on the Hill. The farm was grade II listed in 1981. The parts, which date back to the 16th century include some of the timber framing. An additional range was added during the Victorian age which is also of timber-framed and plastered. looking at the outside of the building, the areas with the red plain tile roof are the oldest. The barns which currently stand were rebuilt in the mid 20th century. The house is an important survivor of rural vernacular architecture (SAVE). “houses built in the main from locally available materials that reflect custom and tradition more than mainstream architectural fashions…..They are also essential ingredients of local distinctiveness. They are irreplaceable documents of the past lives of our forebears who in the main left relatively few other direct traces, and provide important evidence for a range of historic building traditions.” (Historic England)
I set myself a mission to find out more about Cholleys and its story. Through census records I have located some of the owners and residents of the house. It seems that both Cholleys and SAffron Gardens were owned by the same people for most of the time and some of the tenant farmers would change between the two. From the UK City and County DIrectories we can see that Cholleys along with Saffron Gardens were owned by Austin William and Samuel Joseph Squier from at least 1910 until 1917.
The records tell us some of the families who lived at Cholleys. starting with the Surry’s in 1881. The head of the family was George surry, 53, an agricultural labourer who was married to Eliza, 52. their eldest child was Edward, 18 who it seems joined his father as an Ag Lab. Then there was Emily, 14, Ellen, 12, Walter, 10 and Mark 7. The family had a lodger, Walter Weald who was 28 at the time of the census and an Ag Lab too.
In 1911 the farm was home to the Harrods . Arthur, 51 years old who was a farmer and his wife Annie Elizabeth, 48 years. They were joined by their 4 children Arthur Albert, 23, Assistant Grocer; Katie Elizabeth, 21, a servant; Bertie David, 16, assistant Butcher and Lillian May, 12. The final resident of the house was Annie’s widowed father George Aries, 76, an Agricultural Labourer. In the 1901 census, the family lived at Saffron Gardens Cottages.
In 1939 it was home to John and Grace Wheal. John was a horseman on a farm. They had at the time 1 daughter who was born in 1916 Gladys who was listed as a domestic servant.
In 1848, there was a fire at the farm which was recorded in a number of local newspapers. They report that a John Back was heading home one evening when he noticed the fire coming from the stackyard while passing cholleys. He quickly raised the alarm with the current tenant and the two promptly began to drive the livestock out of their stables and towards safety. a fire engine was quickly called for and attempts were made to get the blaze extinguished before it took the whole place with it. Fortunately, the fire was controlled enough to salvage some of the buildings and the farmhouse itself was left untouched. No cause was found of the fire.
At the time of the fire, Cholleys was under the ownership of the Dean and Chapter of St Pauls who had leased it to Zacheriah Button, Esq. The current tenant was Lawson Holmes who at the time of the fire show was ‘one of the kindest masters in that part of the county’.
Cholleys was brought for the final time in 1993 and remained unoccupied. A dangerous building notice was filed highlighting the need to preserve and TLC the structure needed yet this it seems was ignored. In 2019 permission was sought to demolish the house completely and to build new residential houses in its stead but this was declined. The argument for demolishing the farmhouse was that it was completely un salvable. objections were put forward by not only SAVE but Horndon on the hill society, and Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings saying this is not that case and various parts of the structure (in 2018 it was though at least 50-60%) could be saved. in addition to the application failed ‘to provide appropriate detailing of the present condition of the building’ (Thurrock Council). An argument has been put forward that if nothing can be saved then time should at least be made to deconstruct the house so that we can at least learn more about how it was built and the techniques used. The farmhouse could then be reconstructed using traditional techniques and materials, including, where possible original fabric, this building would then be of some archaeological and historical interest while still providing the commercial value which the owners want.
‘The historic fabric of the building, as well as the plan form and design details reveal much about the way people in this area lived and worked….’Council for British Archeology
‘even in its duplicated state, Cholleys farm is an historical document containing layers of history, evidential, communal and (currently depleted) aesthetic values that collectively add up to its multifaceted significance.Council for British Archeology
Hopefully, there is some future for Cholleys. If you would like more information on SAVE and the Heritage at Risk register head over to https://www.savebritainsheritage.org
Henry, G (2019) Council for British Archeology. Available from: https://regs.thurrock.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=PYUS57QGN0700 [Accessed 10/02/2021]
Anon (nd) Villiage History. Available from: https://www.bell-inn.co.uk/village-history/ [Accessed 14/02/2021]
Anon (2019) Building of the Month December 2019: Cholleys Farmhouse, Horndon on the Hill, Essex. Available from: https://www.savebritainsheritage.org/campaigns/item/598/Building-of-the-Month-December-2019-Cholleys-Farmhouse-Horndon-on-the-Hill-Essex [Accessed 20/01/2021]
Historic England. (2017) Domestic 1: Vernacular Houses. Available from: https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/dlsg-vernacular-houses/heag102-domestic1-vernacular-houses-lsg/ [Accessed 30/03/2021]