On 22nd May I went to my old home Hiltonbury Farmhouse to meet Rob Preston the new tenant who is planning to open this wonderful old Farmhouse as a restaurant in early July this year.
Rob is a great entrepreneur who has been in and around the wine and drinks industry all his working life but always wanted to work on “The other side of the bar” as he put it and open a family restaurant setting a high standard for good food and excellent service.
The plans Rob set out certainly made my mouth water as he (with me sworn to secrecy) outlined the many innovative ideas he has that he is going to bring to the Hiltonbury Farmhouse.
He showed me a drawing of the layout that has been approved and a moodboard that depicts some of his ideas both of which he was happy for me to publish.
Many other fantastic ideas he told me about will be revealed over the coming weeks as they come to fruition. (Click to enlarge the image below.)
I told Rob about somne of the history of Hiltonbury, how John Vining, my Father became the tenant there in 1946 taking over the farm from George Beattie my Father’s Uncle who had taken care of him since his Mother and Father died in his childhood.
George Beattie had taken over the farm from his Father Simon Beattie and family who are all shown in one of the attached photographs.
The wonderful thing is that Rob is going to embrace the whole concept of “The Hiltonbury Farmhouse” and its Farming history and The Hiltonbury Herd of Jerseys that started at Hiltonbury in 1947. (Read more on Hiltonbury Jerseys: our farm)
I spent some while with Rob walking amongst the building that evoked memories of when I lived there with my wonderful Mum (Be Be) and Dad John Vining and my three sisters Jennifer, Janet and Heather and later my brother Simon who was the only one of us who was actually born in the farm house up in my Mother’s and Father’s Bedroom on April 13th 1958.
Rob and I first went down into the cellar where we used to mainly keep the potatoes grown on the farm and you can still smell the distinctive aroma of rotting potatoes, the sense of smell has an amazing memory as even blindfold I would have remembered where I was 50 years after I last smelt it.
There is a great deal of work to be done there as can be seen by the photographs but I am sure that the excellent builders that have been employed are well up to the job. They were all certainly working very hard while I was there.
The cellar has memories of special family occasions as it was cleared out for my sister Jennie’s 21st Birthday party and I was allowed to come home from boarding school for the occasion.
We also stored some home made wine down there and forgot about it but when clearing it out when Mum and Dad were leaving in 1976 it was rediscovered. We spent a VERY happy afternoon and evening drinking the few bottles that had survived and I must admit my wife Valerie, Mum and I got just a little bit jolly!!
From the cellar we went upstairs although by a different route to the one we used to go up in my youth. Then we only had candles lighting the way with eerie shadows flickering on the walls as there was no electricity at Hiltonbury until the late forties early fifties. We had gas Calor lighting from bottles delivered every week and we used to draw water from a well outside the back door until 1949.
The stairs we used were the ones that went from the Kitchen. We called them “the old back stairs” and they led to a storage room where there was a lot of old stuff kept but I also remember that my father kept a big bag of “black market” sugar when it was still rationed. Sugar rationing did not end until 1947 and sweets in 1953 but as I was only 4 in 1947 it must have been in short supply in the early 1950’s as I remember the sugar up the old back stairs.
The kitchen at Hiltonbury was the centre of everything. It was a large kitchen with a flag stone floor and a coal fired AGA that only my Mother knew how to work properly, The AGA had a mind of its own and without the careful attention of my mother there was no hot water for washing or bathing.
As farmers we were always up early I would have a first breakfast at about 5 in the morning before milking and I have wonderful memories of going out on a summer’s morning into the fields that are now North and South Millers Dale and hearing the dawn chorus while getting in the Jerseys for milking.
Milking over and back to the kitchen for breakfast number two and to discuss the day’s work with Dad. In summer it may be Hay or Silage making and later on in the year Harvest. There were always many jobs to do spring, summer, autumn and winter and it was all planned in the kitchen or in my dad’s office in the Hall.
Lunch was always at one ‘o clock unless we were out in the fields harvesting (then lunch was delivered to the fields) and after lunch dad and I would usually have “40 winks” a 30 minute nap to get ready the rest of the day. More work of various jobs before tea and cake or biscuits before milking again at around 3. 00 pm. By the time that was done and everything cleaned up and the cows turned out for the night it was usually about 6.00 pm and time for the evening meal in the kitchen.
It does seem that we spent a great deal of our time eating and when you take into account that we always had a Roast Lunch on Sundays lots of Birthdays and Christmas family meals in the kitchen it does seem fitting that a great number of people in the future will be able to enjoy meals in and around the place that was full of a great deal of family happiness with wonderful home cooked food.
The large area that used to be our Kitchen and hall now looks very open as the builders Turvey Construction Ltd set about the task of building Robs dream of a family friendly restaurant。
Turvey Construction are specialists in the hotel and restaurant and pub industries and were all very busy during my visit so I believe the end result is beyond doubt.
The whole area leads to the old front door that will be I understand the main entrance to the restaurant. The huge key is still in the lock and still work even after all this time.
We then ventured up the Old Back Stairs where I became very disorientated as I was coming at the upstairs from a very different direction to which I remembered but as I walked along the passage towards my old bedroom I realised where I was.
My bedroom was probably the smallest room in the house but also the coldest. We had no central heating at all, and I can assure you that on many occasions I went to bed fully dressed as there was frost on the inside of the diamond pained windows. There has since had a radiator fitted as can be seen in the photograph but the glass is still in the doors!
My sister Jennifer’s bedroom is much as I remembered as is my Mum and Dad’s room. This was where my brother Simon was born. But even today when I went into the room I felt I should not be there as it was a strict and sacred rule, no children in the parents bedroom EVER !! We were allowed in see my little Brother on the day he was born though. The midwife was Nurse Rae who did all the “Home Deliveries”.
Back along the top landing Rob hinted at some exciting ideas he has for that area with all the bedrooms but these are as he says, at the moment just ideas.
Further along the landing the other two bedrooms as I remembered them, have gone it seems and not sure how as there are now two small rooms and there used to be another secret stairway from my sister Heather’s room down through a cupboard to the cellar but I will have to go back to see where that is.
My sister Janet’s bedroom has been turned into a kitchen but I understand from Rob that may be coming out. We shall see.
I did not venture up into the old attics but I remember stories that my Dad told me of how in the times that people had hidden up in the attic during The Civil War and that Richard Cromwell often came to visit the Farmhouse. Part of what I have read on the Internet says that he actually lived here but I don’t know the truth of that either.
I took leave of Rob after about two hours and must thank him for the time he spent with me as he has so much to do to get this project up and running.
What I do know is that Rob has the best interests of the Building and its History at heart and I am sure that my Mum and Dad, George and Jane Beattie (Auntie Toss), my father’s Uncle and Guardian, Simon Beattie, George’s father and all the descendants who were farmers at Hiltonbury for 100 years would all be amazed at what the house we all loved and lived in was to become.
Me and all the Vining’s wish him all the best in this venture and will support him in any way we can to make it a success and help him to put “The Hiltonbury Farmhouse” on the map as the place to go to enjoy good food and wines in a wonderful building and pleasant surroundings.
The people of Chandler’s Ford and all around will, I know welcome the opening of a new venue that they will really be able to take to their hearts and call their own.