Charity Farm

The history of both Charity Farm and Burlton is fascinating, and we’re lucky that Marjorie Jones, who was brought up at Charity Farm in the 20th Century, wrote a book, ‘Burlton’, where she gave an account of her life in and around the village. I hope she wouldn’t mind me sharing some of the tales from her book here.

19th Century Burlton

In 1838, Burlton Farm (which became Charity Farm) and Mill Farm were sold at auction to the trustees of the Shrewsbury Municipal Charity Estates. In 1873, Charity Farmhouse, which had now become the property of the Shrewsbury Charity Commissioners, was demolished due to extensive and incurable dry rot and the present house was built. The old house, which was a very charming 18th Century farmhouse, stood where the current holiday cottages are.

In 1841, the township of Burlton covered 1324 acres; there were 35 houses and 172 inhabitants. The Census of 1861, which is the first one we can rely on, lists two inns, The Coach and Horses and the Cross Keys (which became the Burlton Inn), two grocers, two blacksmiths, two gardeners, a coachman, a groom, a gamekeeper, fishnet maker and postman. There were a number of agricultural workers, many of whom lived at the 11 farms, as did the numerous servants.

In the 1881 Census, the population of Burlton was 156 and there were 56 dwellings. In 1887, Thomas Jones moved to Charity Farm from Moss Farm, in nearby Whixall.

The greater part of Burlton Hall was built circa 1420, but “having become much delapidated, it was thoroughly repaired and beautified in 1837”. In 1895, this part of Burlton Hall was rebuilt.

The small church at Burlton had been built as a Sunday school in 1895 by Miss Anna Vaughan who dedicated it to her mother, and a few years later it was consecrated as a church, and services have been held there ever since.

Early 20th Century Burlton

There were five farms in the centre of the village; all would be between 100-200 acres and would employ two to six men. Often, the younger or unmarried labourers would live at the farm, whilst the others would mainly live in tied cottages. There would also be one or two maid/servants ‘living in’ – often daughters of the tenant of the tied cottage, and frequently the tenant’s wife would be employed as a milkmaid and/or a washerwoman.

The farms were mixed dairy farms with between 30 to 60 milking cows, and Cheshire cheese was made in a dairy attached to the farmhouse. The original stone cheese press, used in the making process here at Charity Farm, can be seen in front of our farmhouse. Milking was undertaken by hand, twice a day, with all the farm’s servants taking part – including the maids. As there was no running water, each herd was driven out to drink at the village pond. This was a tricky business; despite this, herds rarely got mixed-up, but when they did it was unimaginable chaos in the village!

The cheese made on the farms were taken by cart and loaded onto canal barges at Weston Wharf for sale at local cheese fairs.

Haymaking was a very happy time with bacon or beef ‘butties’ eaten under the hedge, and plenty of beer or cider provided by the farmer!

Mrs Jones, Marjorie and Cissie Jones and a cheesemaker.

Going back to Marjorie Jones, her siblings were home-schooled at Charity in the 1920s. Soon, Charity Farmhouse became a boarding school, with the first boarder arriving in 1921. During the years of the farming depression, Mr Jones benefitted greatly from the fees of the day pupils and boarders. Children were given a thorough education and took part in a wide variety of other activities, including drama, music, ‘imaginative games’ and ‘creative hobbies’.

In 1922, when there was at least six children at the school, they staged their first concert, ‘Brownie – A Domestic Sprite’, in The Granary. The ‘theatre’ consisted of three bays, one of which was used for a stage (loose planks erected on trestles – which was a little unsteady!) and a dressing room. Curtains were probably from the dining room and drawn by hand.

The other two bays accommodated an enthusiastic audience of 90 people, a ‘full house’, for two nights, with the seating probably borrowed from around the village, including benches from the church. For several years afterwards, they staged a concert annually, consisting of a play, recitations, songs and once, even a ballet. Their fame spread to nearby villages, where they were invited to perform similar shows – most years putting on seven to eight performances.

By 1927, there were up to twelve children attending the school in the house, before it was moved to Grove School in Wem.

Early 21st Century Charity Farm

Charity Farm was purchased by the Peter and Jenny Dakin family in 1975. It was then sold, due to retirement, to Cyril Simcock in 2008, a farmer from Herefordshire.

Charity Farm Today

In 2010, Gerry and Rachel Mee purchased the then 511-acre farm – moving in with their two sons, Henry and Oliver, who were then two-years-old and six-weeks-old – developing the outbuildings to holiday cottages four years later.

Gerry and Rachel had been farming with Gerry’s family in Nassington, near Peterborough, but wanted to buy and manage their own farm. Rachel is originally from a farming family in Cheshire, whilst Gerry was brought up on a vegetable and arable farm in Essex.

In 2010 they started with just one John Deere tractor and no farming equipment at all. It was a busy time to get all the crops drilled that autumn, so machinery was soon purchased and the land worked in order to have a harvest the following year.

Charity Farm is an arable farm, growing wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape. Its fields surround the village and have various soil types from sand and peat to heavy clay. Gerry and Rachel both work full-time on the farm, with a local dairy farmer coming to help during the busy harvest and autumn period.

The environment is incredibly important to everyone at the farm, with various schemes in place to enhance and conserve the nature and woodland around us. A few current environmental projects include: grass margins left along all watercourses; lapwing breeding and feeding zones; a woodland scheme with new tree plantings; barn owl boxes with successful breeding.

Green energy has also been an investment on the farm. Solar panels are in place to generate electricity for the farm, cottages and farmhouse on sunny days. We’re looking into the possibility of electricity storage for the future. A wood-chip biomass boiler – using wood-chip from local, sustainable sources – provides the heating and hot water to the cottages and house. The Spa will also utilise this green energy.

The holiday cottages were opened in 2014 after 18 months of renovating redundant farm buildings. Rachel enjoys marketing and meeting people, so it seemed a perfect business to start. The cottages are thriving and we’re all very much looking forward to ‘The Spa at Burlton’ opening in the summer of 2017.

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