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"This iconic cottage is simply one of the most charming houses in England" Phil Spencer: History of Britain in 100 Homes

History of Updown Cottage

Updown Cottage 1994

Updown Cottage 1994

The exact age of Updown Cottage is unknown but there are references to houses standing on Gold Hill from the medieval period. The route up Gold Hill (Gild Hill, Goldhulle) was probably established in Saxon times when King Alfred the Great made a base here as part of a network of fortified towns (burhs) in the area. He founded the Abbey in around 888 and his daughter, Aethelgifu, was the first abbess. The massive greenstone walls opposite the cottage, date from the time of the Abbey.

It is generally thought that the present cottages may have been built, or ‘re-fronted’, during the seventeenth century with materials recycled from the ruined Abbey, but evidence of the existence of one of the ‘Shaftesbury tunnels’ in the kitchen, suggests that there may well have been an earlier building on this site. One suggestion proffered was that the nuns used the tunnel to escape the confines of the Abbey to illicitly ply their homebrew to pilgrims lodging on the hill whilst visting the Abbey……and perhaps other ‘wares’!

The scale and quality of some of the timbers and stonework within the property testify to the likelihood of them having come from the Abbey. For example, the massive beam in the sitting room is shaped to fit within a different setting and the beams in the attic bedroom ‘Teal’ are mismatched in terms of size.

Gold Hill was a relatively prestigious address at this time and the size of the first floor landing fireplace adds to the evidence that Updown is probably the grandest and oldest surviving cottage on the hill.

In post reformation Shaftesbury, the townplan of 1615 shows that the market comprised corn, fish and cattle markets and that sheep and pigs were penned on Gold Hill. We have been told that cattle were herded up Gold Hill, through the passageway that ran beside Updown Cottage and into the back yard, where they were slaughtered in what is now the kitchen. The meat may have been sold from the front room shop front as part of the market. The front door was then on the opposite side of the cottage and the present front door and hall formed a passage through to the back. A beam in the hall shows many marks of butchers’ hooks and when the cottage was renovated in the 90s, numerous animal bones were found in the tunnel where the dishwasher now stands! Apologies to those who may be sensitive to such details!

During the eighteenth century the cottage was a pub and if you look carefully, you can still see three candle-shaped grooves in the beam above the sitting room fireplace. A dollop of clay, holding a candle, would be stuck to the beam, from which clay pipes could be lit.

By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Gold Hill was home to the poorer families of Shaftesbury, with one record giving an account that ‘The area is anything but fashionable, hordes of children live in the tiny cottages and there are two doss houses.’ (taken from Melanie Backe-Hansen’s Historic Streets and Squares).

In 2011 the census for 1911 was released and Updown featured in a short news report on ITV South West. The census return appeared to show that there were 13 men in occupation that night ranging in age from 27 to 68 years and their occupations varying from a street musician to pedlars, a ship’s engineer, labourers, a gardener and a ‘tin man’; also, they hailed from as close as Somerset to as far away as Bavaria and New Zealand! However………

UPDATE!! In February 2019, Updown was featured in the 5th episode of Phil Spencer’s ‘History of Britain in 100 Homes’. The researchers from this programme dug a little deeper and noticed that the same person filled in the census return for the doss house and Updown. Apparently the doss house was at No 17 Gold Hill but was run by the occupants of No 12 Gold Hill (Updown)! We had always wondered how so many people had been shoehorned in, especially before the cottage was extended to its present size!

In 1820 Shaftesbury was bought by Earl Grosvenor who was a benevolent landlord, establishing a free piped water supply to the town. In 1918 the Grosvenor family sold Shaftesbury to a consortium of local businessmen and these gentlemen’s names, Herbert Viney – a local merchant, William James Harris – a doctor of medicine and Robert William Barley – a hostel proprietor (The Grosvenor Arms) appear on the deeds of Updown Cottage when the properties of the town were sold at a mammoth auction, lasting 3 days.

On 7th August 1920, 12 Gold Hill (Updown Cottage) was sold for £329 to Edward John Baker. Edward died in 1941 and left the cottage to his sons, Richard Henry Baker, a chemist and druggist of Marlborough and Edward John Hart Baker, a farmer in Hampshire.

They sold to Harry Charles Gumbleton on 28th November 1950 for £500 and this purchase was made with the help of a mortgage of £350 from the council, at an interest rate of 2¾%, equating to a rate of £2 15s per centum per annum to be paid within 10 years. Each monthly payment was £3 7s 1½d and the final payment was actually made in January 1962.

At some point in the 50s a rear extension was added, providing space for a kitchen (where the piano now stands) with a storage space below, accessed from the garden. Steps led down into the garden from the end of the hall (through what is now the ground floor shower room), where an outside privy was also to be found!

On 6th April 1994, antiques dealers, Allan and Brian bought the house and it is they whom we have to thank for their extraordinary vision and hard work in extending the house and creating the garden, whilst conserving so many hundreds of years of history.

They added the little tower to give space for the ground floor and first floor bathrooms, the glazed dining room with its wonderful views over the Blackmore Vale and the stairs that link what is now the music room with the kitchen below. A dormer window was added in the attic bedroom, Teal, partition walls were removed internally, fireplaces were uncovered and reinstated (including exposing the massive inglenook!) and the inspired garden, planned and laid out…… and all of this through the cottage as there is no alternative access to the rear of the property!

They have passed on some wonderful photos of the renovations and details which added to the richness of the character that they preserved: the stained glass panel in the ground floor bathroom door was reclaimed from Chertsey Abbey. The panelling and woodwork in the entrance hall were reclaimed from the deconsecrated St Peter’s Church in the east end of London and the panels around the top of the stairs in Teal are fashioned from old french cot beds!

In 2002 the cottage was sold to singer / songwriter, Gordon Haskell, a Dorsetman by birth, who had huge success with How Wonderful You Are in December 2001. Gordon moved to Greece after selling the cottage to us in 2006 but we like to think that we continue the musical aspect that he introduced to the history of Updown.

A baby grand piano was the first piece of furniture that we moved into the cottage, as Simon was a chorister from a young age and continues singing as a semi-professional tenor. The piano is a Challen and, coincidentally, the twin of his father’s which we have at home.

We made various updates to the fabric of the cottage but no structural changes and it felt right to let the warmth and character of the cottage speak for itself, rather than to impose any contemporary style which would overpower or clash …… no accent walls, twentieth century bright white paint or retro chic but antiques, natural materials and subtle modern design to enhance comfort and convenience.

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