My father retired in his early fifties after a career in Africa. My parents, Douglas and Rachel Hall, although sad to have left their life in Africa, were excited to be coming home, as far as my brother John and sister Ruth were concerned, we had left home and all our friends…
Be that as it may,
it meant that we all found ourselves in a cold and grey December England, essentially homeless. We stayed with relations at first but obviously had to find somewhere to live sooner or later. It wasn’t even immediately obvious where to start looking, but my parents plumped for Devon, as my Uncle Kim was a lecturer at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.
i seem to remember that we were sent lots of rather dispiriting details about a variety of rather uninspiring houses. One cottage, advertised thanks to a typo as having ‘a wealth of black beans’ in a small village in the south Hams attracted my mother’s attention, and one dreary, wet day we set off to have a look. The owners were not in, so we had a good look at the outside. The garden looked most dejected, and the rain was dripping steadily off the thatched roof… ‘Well, that’s a definite ‘no’ my father said, and we all agreed as we piled back into the car.
It was my mother, Rachel, that had an inkling that we might just be wrong. She was not a forceful person, but nevertheless persuaded my father that we ought perhaps have another quick look.
This time the owners were in, they’d tidied up the garden, they were brewing some coffee and the sun was shining. Having been shown round, we were all quickly entranced. My father looked at my mother and said ‘I think we’ve got to have it, don’t you?’. My mother nodded gratefully, and that was that. No messing around with surveyor’s reports, my father literally just got out his cheque book and paid for it there and then. I think the price was £3,700, certainly it was below £4,000.
And for that price they bought a wonderful family home, which became a focal point for my siblings John and Ruth and our families, and many many of our friends. It was the perfect house for us in a charming village, with a church, pub and – initially – a post office and shop, near to the local beach, Aylmer Cove, where we all spent many a happy hour. John and I were married from there, and thirty yeas later our daughter Sara and her husband Derek.
We were tough in those early days: the house was definitely damp, with electric heaters in every room and no central heating. It took hours to run a bath upstairs. The only means of cooking was an already very old solid-fuel Aga, which tended to go out when the wind was in certain directions. But in a funny sort of a way it was all part of the excitement and charm.
Of course, over the years things have improved. The damp has been tackled, there is central heating now, and a modern Aga. The current owners have done a great deal to make it a very up to date desirable residence.
But if a house could have a soul, Barnford certainly did, or perhaps it was the happy combination of Barnford and my parents. With them it was always a warm, happy welcoming hub for family and friends. And now, as we see in this week’s The Week, the house is for sale again. Let’s hope it finds itself new owners who will love it just as much, perhaps even discover that a house can actually have its own personality, its own happy aura.