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History of the Sanctuary

At the beginning, the glade was just a boggy place, the only part of the farm where water flowed. No-one had lived on the fields since the seventeenth century. Two walls next to the old barn were the only trace of a house. They must have carried all the water they used from the spring five fields below.

In 1960 a 2000 gallon reservoir was installed in the top field next to the possible remains of a round barrow. An electric pump drove the water upwards into the tanks of the newly built bungalow and reservoir. The main spring still flowed down by the side of the pumphouse and cattle and sheep came to drink at the foot of the ancient ash tree.

From 1969, for a few days each summer, my sister and I camped in the Springfield with our friends. We slept in tents and cooked in a converted chicken house that had been our garden playhouse for several years. (It is still in use today as a woodshed in the rickyard while rabbits tunnel underneath.)

The first year we camped, my sister and her two friends woke with the dawn and decided to go exploring in a neighbour’s field. Imagine our surprise when the neighbour subsequently confided to our father a week later that he was sure there was an active witches’ coven in the locality. He had come back very late from a party and had seen women dancing naked on his ploughing! Somehow my father managed to keep a straight face. He didn’t feel it appropriate to dispel the neighbour’s fantasy with the fact that his witches were really three eleven year olds walking around in coats and Wellington boots!

In 1971, the summerhouse was built and the banks planted with daffodils. The pond was dug out and my father tracked the course of the other two springs and piped one of them into the pond. The stream was diverted and the pond stocked with runaway trout from Donnington Fish Farm. Unfortunately they soon disappeared to passing herons, but we did enjoy a couple of freshly caught trout - my only experience of fishing! We braved the icy spring water only once or twice; being spring fed, it was too cold for even the hottest summer day.

Once the summerhouse was available, we abandoned our tents for the comfort of Uncle Arthur’s bed settee. The cooker was placed in one corner and silver foil fixed to the wall to protect from oil splashes. One night, I was woken up by a terrible creaking noise and lay, petrified, in the darkness for a long time. Eventually I realised that there were no strange creatures trying to force entry and attack us whilst we slept, it was only the silver foil blowing in the breeze! As I lay there recovering from my fright, I realised that my friend, Gina, was also awake and from her breathing was experiencing the same fears I had faced, so I was able to quickly reassure her and we both went back to sleep.

It always seemed a long way to walk down to the summerhouse. We would visit in spring to admire the daffodils and it was a quiet place to go and revise for the dreaded ‘O’ and ‘A’ level exams in 1972 and 1974. In 1978, we celebrated my parents silver wedding with a family clay pigeon shoot. Chris and I had to leave early to return to Birmingham so that I could have my tonsils removed the following day, not a sensible thing to do a month before our wedding!

When our children were small, they would visit the summerhouse to listen to songs on the wind up gramophone or play “shops” or “trains” with their grandfather, but for many months of the year it remained unoccupied. The pond sprang a leak and lost most of it’s water, quickly becoming overgrown with brambles and different kinds of willow herb.

 In 1999, my garden in Solihull had grown too small for the number of herbs I wanted to grow, so I persuaded my parents to let me plant some in their garden and to resurrect the patch of stones by the electricity pole by the summerhouse. At the time, I was facilitating an online herblore workshop and I made note of what was growing.

The following is an extract from the July 1999 workshop posting:

“My parents are growing vervain, valerian, broad-leaved thyme, lemon thyme, orange thyme, pokeroot, marshmallow, comfrey, rock rose, an apothecary's rose, meadowsweet and bogbean for me. They have enjoyed seeing the plants grow and flower and I have been able to harvest what is available when I visit them. We're not quite sure how the meadowsweet and bogbean are faring on the water's edge down at what used to be a pond, as the whole area is overgrown with Himalayan balsam, burdock and enormous nettles and briars, but when these die down in the autumn, we may be able to find trace of them. My parents' farm is over an hour away from where I live, and visits have also given me opportunities for wildcrafting. I have dried nettles, cleavers, burdock leaves, meadowsweet, yarrow, plantain leaves and aerial parts and picked dogrose petals to make a tincture to lift the spirits and put into a homemade body lotion.”

To my delight the following year, 2000, my father dug a patch of ground below the summerhouse with the help of a friend so that my herb garden could expand further. This is the layout which remains today. One of the things I noticed when I was working in the new gardens, was that there was nowhere to sit and rest in between weeding and digging, other than on the summerhouse porch. Requests were made for some seats and once again, my father demonstrated his considerable skill by designing and making the benches you see today.

The more time I spent working on the gardens, the more I realised what a special place I had been given and what an opportunity there was to share it with others. In 2003, we celebrated our silver and my parents’ golden wedding anniversaries with a weekend of live music, kite flying and songs and stories around the campfire. The idea for the Sanctuary began to take shape and came to fruition in 2004 with the launch event held in July. It is hoped that others will come to love the Sanctuary as much as we do.

Sarah J Head

23 June, 2004


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