The Cottage Smallholder


stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Undiscovered history

old lead toyOur cottage was owned by basket weavers until 25 years ago. Mr and Mrs D lived the simple life. They kept pigs and chickens and grew their own vegetables. I am told that they made their own wine and welcomed the village children to visit as they had none of their own. Sometimes I work with a man who has lived in the village all his life. When he mentions Mrs. D his face always softens.

The D’s were traditional villager craftsmen. It sounds romantic but I reckon that it was a tough life.

In their heyday there was a village shop for groceries, a post office, butchers, bakers and two pubs. They didn’t have a car and didn’t need one. Everything was on their doorstep. Mr D even had his own tankard in his favourite pub, which he visited every evening to down just the one pint. People came to buy their baskets. The D’s didn’t need an outlet such as a market stall. Supermarkets and farmers’ markets just didn’t exist.

Gradually the local shops closed. By the time they’d both died only the village shop and one pub remained.

When Mr D died his wife soldiered on. She had no income from the baskets and I doubt whether she had any pension. Leafing through my cottage papers I discovered that she sold the cottage to someone who would allow her to live there until she died. She didn’t have much choice and got a reasonable price.

The summer that I bought the cottage a young man knocked on the front door on a sunny Saturday afternoon. A beautiful boy in his mid twenties with curly black hair and large eyes. He was holding a tapestry.
“I’ve brought you this tapestry. It portrays the cottage and was worked by Mrs D.”
As I made enthusiastic noises over the unusual, slightly moth eaten tapestry he blurted out.
“This cottage rightfully belongs to me. I inherited it from Mrs D but when she died. But the relations wouldn’t listen.”
I invited him in and heard the sad story. He had grown fond of her, visited every day and enjoyed her company. Then she had told him that he’d inherit the cottage when she died.

One morning he opened the front door to an unnerving silence.
“I went upstairs and found her lying on the bed. She had an overcoat over her nightdress. She must have got up to let out the chickens and then sat on the bed and just died.”

He was only sixteen at the time. He’d walked through the garden on a scary wave of grief and joy. As her beneficiary, he had to ring her relations and carry out her last wishes. She had an old dog that was pining for her so he had the dog put down.
“I buried him under the willow tree at the bottom of the garden.” His lips trembled.
He’d looked at the land with different eyes as it now belonged to him. That first step is a wonderful moment for anyone. The butterflies are rippling and the birdsong is playing on your small patch of land. Just above and way out of reach the skylarks are calling. No one every really owns land but you have the chance for husbandry and privacy and space.

“Then the relations arrived. They said that she hadn’t left a will. They didn’t care about her promise and sold my inheritance.” His voice was cold and clipped.
“They gave me that tapestry as a keepsake.”

Just like his relations, I didn’t tell him that she had sold the house years before she died.

He had such fond memories of her. And these gradually unravelled as we walked around the garden and he explained how it had been before.
“That’s where they filled in the entrance to the cellar. The pigs were living over there.” He glanced back tentatively. “It was a peaceful place. And she was wonderful – she made me feel so special.”

After an hour or so he left. He didn’t want the tapestry and, although I accepted it with thanks, nor did I. It lies somewhere in the cottage – a testament to a cruel, false promise. I have no idea why Mrs D misled this boy. Perhaps she was lonely and frightened and needed to guarantee that someone would drop by every day. For the last ten years I’ve turned the situation over and over in my mind. It’s still as raw as the day I heard the tale. Nothing can justify her actions.

I sometimes see the lad in Newmarket, still stunningly beautiful and now with a wife and family. He never appears to notice me.

The cottage was modernised after Mrs D died and a bathroom was added. The pig sties were knocked down and dug into the ground. The garden was laid to lawn.

When I battle with the pig pen bricks and ballast that lie below the surface of the garden I am always reminded of his anger and hurt.


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13 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this with us, so sad, but such a lovely, almost gothic, tale.

  2. I’ afraid my opinion is a little different but then life has made me extremely cynical.
    Why would a teenage boy visit an old lady everyday??? and if it was out of pure fondness why give back the only memory he had of his times with her at the cottage. Why does he seem to ‘appear’ ot to otice you when you have spotted him?
    My side lies with the old lady, maybe she had pointed out things and gestured you can have all this when I’m gone??? Maybe he was not such an innocent knowing she was childless??? Maybe he just needed an excuse to have a look in and around your property??
    But then from someone who chooses to in the main expect the worst from people to avoid disappointment maybe I shouldn’t comment.
    But its a strange and thought provoking story non the less.

  3. Hi Fiona
    I dont beleive she ever realised that it was no longer hers to give, she probably just thought she had a raised a loan on it. I think perhaps you should have told him that he didnt lose it on a whim but too late to worry now.

    Lizzie

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