October 26th, 2016

Chedhams Yard offering a look at times gone by

IF a blacksmith from yesteryear walked into Chedham’s Yard now chances are he would feel at home.

And that is exactly what volunteers who have spent the last ten years restoring the 19th century blacksmith and wheelwright’s yard in Wellesbourne would want.

Getting to this point has not been easy. It has been a decade since the site, tucked away behind the Stag’s Head pub, won the public vote and £1million on the BBC’s Restoration Village programme in 2006.

The yard was run by five generations of the Chedham family and Bill Chedham – who died in 2012 – was able to see his family’s legacy officially opened to the public as a heritage site in 2011.

Wellesbourne Parish Council bought the site from Bill in 2002 on the understanding it should be preserved as found.

Some 5,000 artifacts including tools, equipment and items made by workers still hang on the nails, sit on the shelves and even lie on the floor of the sheds where they were left in 1965 when the working yard shut up shop for the final time.

The journey to where the yard is now has not been easy. Less than a year after winning the cash, disaster struck as the River Dene burst its banks and flooded both sheds and dozens of surrounding houses.

Volunteer Heather Cox told The Observer it was the lowest point for the team who had been working hard to carefully remove, clean and catalogue the thousands of artifacts.

She said: “Not only did we have to clean rust off all the artifacts but also silt and it made the job very hard. It took us five years to clean everything and put it back.”

But the hard work has seen the yard restored to how it would have looked during its working life.

Heather added: “A few of our volunteers have trained to blacksmiths so people visiting can come and watch them work and even purchase some of the things they make.

“The building had a fantastic feeling when we first found it but it wasn’t alive. Now we’ve got people in it and things happening it has come alive.

“The best thing visitors say to us is ‘have you actually changed anything?’ And that’s the reaction we want. We got the best builders we could who would restore the yard so you couldn’t tell anything had been crumbing away or falling down.

“Where ever possible the materials used were true to the original buildings. We even stopped walls being lime-washed to preserve the notes the wheelwrights wrote on the walls and beams all those years ago.”

Today it attracts some 500 visitors each year, but volunteers are keen to welcome more. The yard is open on Saturdays from May to September, and this year they will not be charging for entry – hoping instead visitors will make a contribution to help towards the annual £12,000 running costs.

Installing solar panels and having a composting toilet have helped the site towards becoming self-sufficient and the team would like to eventually rely on donations alone to keep the yard open.

Chedham’s Yard opens every Saturday from 10am to 2pm until mid-September with different activities running each week.

Visit www.chedhamsyard.org.uk for further details.