The History of Yew Tree Cottage

March 29th, 2022

Valentine postcard showing Gibraltar and Yew Tree Cottage in 1914

In the 1770s when the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal was built, Kinver was already an important town with a busy ironworks and an established woollen industry. To the east of the town the River Stour swept around Dunsley hill, and the canal was dug to the east of the river. As the wharf area at Kinver Bridge developed over the years, it would have been bustling with activity, with horse drawn boats coming and going, a weighbridge, and labourers loading and unloading goods. There were two pubs, the Lock Inn in Mill Lane, and the Vine Inn. Even the temperate frequented the inns. In 1839 the Wesleyan Methodists held their services at the Lock Inn, then in 1846 they held their services in one of the rock houses at Dunsley Rock. Up at the top of Dunsley hill were Dunsley House and Dunsley Manor Farm, the homes of well-to-do families with a host of servants. At the foot of the hill there was a small hamlet, consisting mostly of rock houses built into in the hillside. These became known as the Dunsley rock houses. (A further group of cave dwellings can be found at Kinver Edge).

Kinver Bridge, the wharf, the Lock Inn and the Vine Inn.

1830

By 1830 there were probably twelve or thirteen rock houses nestled into the sandstone slopes. Unfortunately the early censuses do not allow us to separate those who lived in cottages from those who lived in rock houses, and in both the census and the church records, the residences of the same families are inconsistently named, either Dunsley or Dunsley Rock, making identification even more difficult. Although it is impossible to identify individual homes, we can learn a great deal about the families who lived there. Most of the men were boatmen and iron workers, and several of the women were screw makers. Although some of the labourers were agricultural, others must have been employed at the iron works or the canal wharf, where there was a weighbridge. According to Bills and Griffiths, labourers at the canal wharf rented lodgings at the rock house caves for 1 shilling a week.

1841

In the 1841 census the properties seem to be listed from north west to south east, starting at the Lock Inn, where the brewers and victuallers were the Williams family, and continuing along Gibraltar Lane to Dunsley Rock without any form of identification – the records give all addresses simply as ‘Dunsley’. The heads of the households were a nailer, a cordwainer (shoemaker), a maltster, five agricultural labourers, four female screw makers at the local screw factory, and a spade maker (the Spade Works can be seen on 1880s maps). As we continue south east, we find eleven boatman, three agricultural labourers, a general labourer, a forgeman, three iron puddlers (working at the iron works), three lady screw makers, and two female servants.

1851

In the 1851 census, Dunsley Rock is separated out from Dunsley. There were 17 households living at Dunsley Rock. The heads of these households were Thomas Humphries, a labourer, and his lodger, a lady screw maker; John Oldnall, a labourer; Abraham Thomas, a labourer whose granddaughter was working at the screw factory; Thomas Preston, a forge labourer, whose son was a labourer and whose daughter in law worked at the screw factory; George Bennet, a forge labourer, whose son was also a forge labourer and whose daughter worked in the screw factory; James Green, a labourer; James Mallard, a forge labourer, whose lodger Ann was a boatman’s daughter; John Preston, a forge labourer, whose wife was a charwoman; William Coley, a boatman, and his lodger Robert Morris, also a boatman with his own young family; Henry Preston, a forge labourer; Richard Morris, a boatman, with two sons working as a boatman and another as a boat boy; Sarah Poole, a field labourer, with her daughter and her lodger Thomas Hall, a labourer; Robert Morris, a boatman, whose daughter worked in the screw factory, and whose son in law Joseph Willington was also a boatman; John Longmore, a forge labourer, with his wife and his lodger George Patrick, an iron puddler; William Inchmore, a disabled pauper, and his lodger Sarah Inchmore, perhaps a sister; Edward Elwell, a boatman, with his son, a forge labourer; Joseph Longmore, a forge labourer, with two stepsons, a forge labourer and a boatman, and Emma Hall, a lodger working at the screw factory.

Bills and Griffiths suggested in their pamphlet about the rock houses that the ones Dunsley were of crude construction, smaller, more crowded, and damper than the ones at Kinver Edge because of their proximity to the river and the canal, although the shade from the hill and its overhanging trees probably had more effect on the dampness than the watercourses. From studying the parish registers from 1814 to 1884, they concluded that disease was rife and lives were foreshortened by the unhealthy conditions. They cite two families who lost 14 members in the space of 49 years, and six deaths from smallpox.

Nevertheless, there were some people at the rock houses whose lives were just as long as those in the village. For example Hannah Green died in 1850 age 74, Benjamin Oldnall died in 1845 age 82, and Ann Thomas died in 1854 age 76. Some of the deaths at Dunsley Rock were due to accident, not illness, for example 13 year old Mary Longmore drowned in the canal in December 1849. On Wednesday 05 December 1849, the Worcestershire Chronicle reported:

Kinver.—Child Drowned.—An inquest was held on Monday at the Lock Inn, Kinver, before Mr. Phillips, coroner, on the body of Mary Longmore, a fine little girl of 13. Her parents reside at Dunsley Rock, which overhangs the canal near Kinver, and she had been seen in a boat that was moored near her father’s house on Sunday. On being missed, the canal was dragged, and soon after three o’clock the body was found quite cold and dead. There was a mark on the temple and right cheek, as of a blow, which might have been occasioned by a fall against the side of the boat. By direction of the coroner the jury returned an open verdict, “Found dead in the canal.”

1873 – William Henry Price

At some point William Henry Price acquired some of the rock houses. William lived at Rockmount, Dark Lane, Kinver from at least 1871. He probably purchased the rock houses in an auction sale of land, houses and cottages which was held in September 1873 and Lot 3 probably included the last remaining occupied rock houses. The catalogue entry for this lot read:

Lot 3. All those five cottages with the garden sloping down to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, situate at Dunsley Rock, in the occupation of Edward Knott, George Bennett, John Barker, and two void. For further particulars, apply to W. J. Cowper Esq., Solicitor, Newbury or Mr. John Taylor, Land Agent, Stourbridge.

William also had property in Rhyl, Flintshire, Wales. He married Sarah Julia Mannix there in 1874.

On 29th August 1874 the County Advertiser & Herald for Staffordshire and Worcestershire published a report by Dr Ballard on “The Sanitary State of Kinver”. This provides some fabulous detail on the state of the cave dwellings. He wrote:

“There are in the neighbourhood of Kinver two series of cave dwellings which require mention; one at Dunsley Rock, and the other at Kinver Edge. The Inspector of Nuisances has made a thorough inspection of these dwellings, and has furnished me with a copy of the tabulated statement of the result of his inspection, which I forward with this Report. 1) There are thirteen cave dwellings at Dunsley Rock, of which eight are occupied by families. The caves are dug out of the face of the sandstone rock at an elevation of about 40 feet above the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. The front of each cave is usually in part built up with bricks, so as to leave a window opening and a door opening. In all instances there is one inner cave, in several instances there are two or even three inner caves, entered from the first or outermost one. These inner caves are used as bed rooms, have no means of ventilation whatever, and are dark. I measured two of the inner caves used as bed rooms. One of them measured 13 feet x 13 feet x 7 feet (on an average) high, 1.183 cubic feet, or thereabouts. In this case there were three beds. In one slept a man and his wife, in the other, two sons, one by night and the other by day; and in the third bed a daughter, when she is at home. The other inner cave measured 9 feet x 9 feet x 8 feet (on an average) high – 648 cubic feet. In this cave there were two beds, but I was told that one of these is unoccupied. The ventilation of the outermost caves used as living rooms is also very defective. Mostly the caves are dry. The privy accommodation is very insufficient, is of rude construction, and unwholesome. Domestic slops are thrown out anywhere, to find their way down the face of the rock into the canal below. The water supply is a spring at the base of the rock which bounds the canal. The water of the spring is received in a rude basin of rock, over the well worn edge of which water from the canal flows whenever a boat passes down through the lock just above, or when a passing boat causes a swell. The approach to this spring is very dangerous. These cave dwellings are the property of various persons, and they are rented by their inhabitants. They are unfit for human habitation.

The report went on to describe the more commodious caves at Kinver Edge, as well as some dilapidated ones in that area. In conclusion Dr Ballard wrote:

Where dwellings are unwholesome, and therefore nuisances under section 8 of the Nuisance Removal Act, 1855, from want of proper drainage, and as such drainage will render them wholesome is impracticable, they ought to be regarded as unfit for human habitation, and proceedings should be taken with a view of having them closed….. The cave dwellings at Dunsley Rock and at Kinver Edge, which cannot be properly lighted, ventilated, and otherwise made wholesome, should at once be dealt with, and proceedings must be taken for the purpose of having them closed as unfit for human habitation.

1881

When the 1881 census was compiled, the heads of the houses beyond The Vine were listed as Eli Forest, a spade manufacturer; Frances Rudge, a dressmaker; Edwin Hoult, a general labourer; Sarah Wakeman, a farm servant, and her lodger John Bradley, an agricultural labourer; Thomas Lane, a boatman; Henry Preston, an iron works labourer; George Bennett, an iron works labourer; William Coley, a boatman, his wife Hannah, two of their sons, both boatmen, and a lodger Edgar Thomas, also a boatman; Edward Knott (recorded here in 1873, see above), a general agricultural labourer; James Green, a coal merchant’s labourer, and Edward Williams, a boatman, with his wife Sarah. Listed after them were a group of residences labelled as Dunsley Dell. These were three unoccupied properties, followed by three households, the heads of which were Thomas Gregg, a gardener; Catherine Coley, a boatman’s wife; Mary Milward, a widow, with her two sons who were iron works labourers, and finally an unoccupied dwelling. It is fairly safe to assume that these last listings in Dunsley Dell included the remaining cave dwellings, but it is not clear whether the name Dunsley Dell included any newly built cottages.

The cottages are built c.1881

William Price’s daughter, the actress and author Lilian Nancy Bache Price, known as Nancy Price, was born in 1880 and lived with her father at Rockmount. In 1953, she wrote a memoir of her childhood, ‘Into an Hour-Glass’, and recorded that her father, William Henry Price, owned the land on which the rock houses stood. She also wrote that the local health board forced him to rehouse the tenants of the rock houses elsewhere in the village. I have not read the original extract in the book so I do not know whether she recorded exactly when this occurred. I don’t think she said that he built the new cottages to replace the cave dwellings either. (Does anyone have a copy?)

The new properties were probably built at the beginning of the 1800s. These included a terrace of three cottages on the left (now Yew Tree House), a single cottage (perhaps two joined?) in the centre (now Yew Tree Cottage), and another terrace of three workmen’s cottages on the right (now Dunsley Rock Cottage). Although we cannot be certain exactly when the cottages were built, all three were definitely in existence by 1882, because Yew Tree House, Yew Tree Cottage, and Dunsley Rock Cottage are clearly marked on the 1887 Ordnance Survey map which was surveyed in 1882. This 25 inch to the mile map clearly shows the outlines of the three properties at Dunsley Rock which exist today. There appears to be a row of buildings to the north west of the cottages, probably the last remaining rock dwellings shown in the postcard below, but there are none to the south east of Dunsley Rock Cottage. The location of a spring by the canal bank is shown to the south east of Dunsley Rock Cottage, with a short path descending to it.

Bills and Griffiths’ wrote in their booklet that by the 1880s the caves were no longer rented by permanent residents, but that boatmen still rented them. Gradually the caves deteriorated to the point where they could no longer be used, and they were never restored. It is possible that people still lived in some of the caves after the cottages were built, but gradually these last rock houses slipped into disuse.

William Henry Price died in 1903.

1890 – Henry Parrish Downing buys Yew Tree Cottage

The next known owner of the Rock Cottages was Henry Parrish Downing, a former glass manufacturer. He owned property at Dunsley from at least 1874, when the first of a series of conveyances were made to him. In 1881 he appears in the census as a farmer of 330 acres at “Dunsley”. I have found no primary evidence that he owned the Rock Cottages, however, a declaration written by Selina Jane Price in 1930 and found with the papers of Yew Tree Cottage states that he was in ‘undisturbed possession’ of Yew Tree Cottage from at least 10 years before his death in 1900. This confirms that he bought Yew Tree Cottage from William Henry Price in around 1890, about ten years after it was built. This declaration will henceforth be referred to as the SJP declaration.

It seems likely that Henry Downing and William Price (and/or their wives) were friends, and perhaps they were also in business together. They both had property in Flintshire, and Henry Downing married his second wife, Elizabeth Stewart nee Aaron, in Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales, in 1876, just two years after William Price had married there.

1891

The continuing decline and abandonment of the Dunsley Rock cave dwellings can be seen quite clearly from the census returns in subsequent years. By 1891 the number of households had reduced substantially. Beyond The Vine the heads of the households were Samuel Harris, a gardener; and Sarah Blunt, a widow, with her two sons. These were followed by four uninhabited dwellings. Next came three households labelled as ‘Dunsley Rock’, perhaps the three cottage which make up the present Yew Tree House or Dunsley Rock Cottage (as yet unnamed). The heads of these three households were James Preston, a retired iron worker; Hannah Coley, now widowed; and Benjamin Craddock, a woodman. These were followed by two households labelled as Dunsley Dell, and finally two unoccupied residences also labelled as Dunsley Dell.

Henry Downing continued to acquire properties in the area until 1895.

1900 – the Cottages pass to the Price siblings

According to the SJP declaration, Selina Jane Price was a frequent visitor to her uncle Henry in Dunsley, and she lived with him entirely for the last 18 months of his life. She must have held a special place in his heart, as she was named after his first wife.

Henry Parrish Downing died in 1900 at Dunsley House. I believe Henry Parrish Downing had no children. The SJP declaration confirms that on his death his estate passed to two Trustees. The first was his nephew Samuel John Price, then living in Cardiff. I wondered whether I might find a familial connection between Samuel John Price and William Henry Price, but there does not seem to be one. The second Trustee was Dinah Hawkings, a spinster. It is possible that Dinah was Henry’s common law wife.

The SJP declaration states that either Henry or Samuel also owned The Gables in Dunsley and the wharf adjoining (I have not seen the relevant page).

1901 – The Railway

From 1898 to 1901 Kinver Light Railway was built from Amblecote to Kinver, providing more employment for the local men. It was opened in March 1901 and remained in service until 1930.

1901

In the 1901 census Samuel Price was still living in Cardiff and was employed as an accountant. His sister Selina Jane Price was listed at Dunsley House. Dinah Hawkings was listed as her companion.

In 1901 the census lists the the properties at Dunsley Rock by name for the first time. ‘Yew Tree Cottage’ was occupied by Joseph Fletcher, a 44 year old agricultural labourer, and his wife Annie. ‘Yew Tree Cottages’ are listed as two unoccupied properties. ‘Dunsley Rock’ is listed as three separate cottages, occupied by Thomas Haward, a 29 year old groom and non-domestic gardener, and his wife Sarah, James Perkin, a 37 year old non-domestic gardener, and Arthur Parker, a 36 year old carter at the Coal Wharf, and their respective families. The name Dunsley Dell has disappeared from the census, and there appear to be no more rock dwellings.

Early 1900s – a Walk

An undated booklet, “Illustrated Guide to Kinver” was published in the early 1900s. Names of business proprietors in the booklet date it as after 1901, but before 1910. The booklet describes a walk through Gibraltar and Dunsley Rock.

Walk No, 2. Gibraltar Rock and Whittington Inn, 2½ miles. Starting from the terminus of the Kinver Light Railway,immediately on getting to the public road, which is adjacent, we turn to the left, passing over the Canal bridge and taking the first turning to the right. From the terminus itself the rock above-mentioned may be seen, and will give one some idea as to the direction in which to go. After turning to the right, a mere path leads past the rock, parts of which are inhabited, whilst a little further on the walk takes us through some beautiful woods, where in Spring, a carpet of blue bells are to be seen, whilst a wealth of foliage forms a grateful shade on a hot summer’s day. After leaving the wood, a walk of two or three minutes brings us to one of the oldest hostelries in the country, the Whittington Inn, an example of Early English architecture which is well worthy of inspection.

The walk returns to the terminus via the church. It is interesting that no cottages are mentioned in this description. Bluebells still flourish in the woods!

1903

In 1903 Samuel Price’s sisters Joannie and Mary Elizabeth died in Cardiff.

1906

It is not until 1906 that I first saw the name Gibraltar Rock – this was the title on the postcard shown here.

Valentine postcard showing properties in Gibraltar Lane and the path leading on towards Yew Tree Cottage (photo registered in 1906)

1910

Some of the rock cottages were demolished early in 1910, an event which was recorded in the County Express on Saturday 19 February 1910:

Rock Houses Demolished. The many visitors who resort to Kinver will be sorry to learn of the partial demolition of some of the rock houses on the bridle road to Whittington, which has taken place during the last two months. […] The rock houses which have been affected must not be confused with those at Nanny’s Rock. which are perhaps better known. […] Gibraltar rock is well-known to the residents of Kinver and the surrounding district, and many people in the Midlands besides, for the rock homes have for years formed the objective of many interested visitors The path on which they abut is the Bridle Road to Whittington, and in summer is sought by many desirous of a pleasant stroll through scenes of exceptional natural beauty. On the one side of the path towers a tree-crested cliff, while on the other hand wind the canal and the River Stour. In themselves the rock houses are exceedingly interesting, as is evinced by the initials of many excursionists who have examined them. The rooms have been hollowed out from the solid rock, and in some cases chimneys cut through it. Whitewashed inside, and with brick fronts, they were twenty years ago utilised as dwellings for quite a number of persons. […] Ten years ago one of the houses was occupied by an old dame, who had spent a good part of her life there, and who was disinclined to leave the humble dwelling, which for her had the fascination of old memories. She too has gone, and for a decade the houses have been but a showplace for visitors, and the playground of youngsters, in whose imagination caves always raise romantic visions.

1911

In the 1911 census, the name Gibraltar does not appear. Only four households were listed at Dunsley Rock, immediately after High Park Farm and its cottages. In the order in which they were recorded, they are:

  • Arthur John Parker, a coal merchant, with his wife, three children, and a boarder Albert David Pantall, a general labourer, at ‘Dunsley Cottages’. (There is no mention of any other households at Dunsley Cottages.
  • Alfred J Lloyd, a tailor, at ‘Yew Tree House, Dunsley Rock’ with his wife and daughter.
  • Miss Clara Bates, a single woman, at ‘Yew Tree Cottage, Yew Tree Cottages, Dunsley Rock’.
  • Edward Hill and his wife Elizabeth, old age pensioners, at ‘Yew Tree Cottages, Dunsley Rock’.

Following this entry there are several boats moored at Stewpony Wharf, starting with The Francis. George Brown, a general carrier, was master of the Francis, with his mate William Morris.

In the 1911 census Dunsley House was still owned by Samuel (and perhaps his sisters), but was now used as a ‘Home of Rest’. Selina Price was living with her brother Samuel and sister Sarah in Cardiff. Samuel had obviously retained an interest in boats – he was now a steam tug owner. Dinah had left Dunsley too, and was living with her sister in Burnham, Somerset.

1911 to 1915 – Holidays

It appears that the cottages were becoming increasingly popular for holiday accomodation. Number 3 Dunsley Rock Cottage was advertised in the County Express on Saturdays 21 October and 28 October 1911:

Cottage (furnished), Kinver; sheltered from winds; very low winter terms.—Apply 3 Rock Cottage, Dunsley Rock.

On 15 May 1915 a newspaper advert was published which may refer to any of the properties along Gibraltar and Dunsley Rock. It read as follows:

Kinver – Furnished cottage (small); stamp; also Apartments. The beauty spot of Kinver. Parties catered for. – Lloyd, ‘Switzerland Tea Gardens’ Dunsley Rock.

1921 – Jane Roberts

In the 1921 census, which taken on 19th June 1921, Yew Tree House, Yew Tree Cottage, and Dunsley Rock Cottages are all listed. The residents of Yew Tree Cottage, which was listed as having 5 rooms, were Jane Roberts and three young visitors:

  • Jane Roberts, a single woman who was 65 years old and had no children. Her personal occupation was given simply as “Apartments”.
  • Olive Brettell, a short hand typist at E Blakemore and Sons Lino, Salop Street, Wolverhampton, age 19 years.
  • Thomas Brettell, a full time school boy age 13 years.
  • Ivy Brettell, a full time school girl age 7 years.

All three of the young siblings were the three youngest children of Thomas and Mary Brettell. They were all born in Heath Town, Wolverhampton. Their father Thomas, a Master Butcher, had died in August 1914, just over a year after little Ivy was born. Their mother Mary was still alive but she was not at Yew Tree House with her children, she was still in Heath Town.

1925 Samuel Price’s death

Samuel Price died in 1925, having appointed his sisters Sarah and Selina Price, and his nephew Andrew Downing Mein as his executors. Andrew Downing Mein was the grandson of Henry Parrish Downing, the son of Samuel’s sister Joannie. Like their Uncle Henry, all the siblings except Joannie had been childless.

1930

In 1930 Sarah Price died, leaving Selina and Andrew as the last of the family with an interest in the Dunsley cottages.

In 1930 Friths registered a postcard showing all the cottages.

Friths postcard showing Yew Tree House, Yew Tree Cottage, and Dunsley Rock Cottages, c. 1930.

In October 1930 Selina signed a declaration (the SJP declaration) stating that Yew Tree Cottage had been in the possession of Henry Parrish Downing and then the Trustees, for 40 years, from 1890 until 25th September 1930, when they had entered into an agreement to sell the property to Jane Roberts for £195. The sale was completed on 14th October 1930.

1931

In 1931 a Wayleave agreement was created at one shilling a year (presumably for the supply of electricity to the cottages) with the Shropshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire Electric Power Company.

1939

The 1939 Register was taken on 29 September 1939:

Edward Houlston, a motor body builder, his wife Hilda, and one child were living at Yew Tree House.

Two other households were recorded after this record, also addressed as Yew Tree House, but they were probably mis-addressed and should have been Yew Tree Cottage. It seemms likely that they were tenants. Jane Roberts was not in residence. In one of these households was Kate Harman, a widow of private means. In the other were Edward Thomas Elkes, a woodman (classed as a heavy worker), his wife Winifred, and one child. No households were listed at 1 or 2 Dunsley Rock Cottages.

In 1939 43 year old Eizabeth Horton, a dressmaker, was living at No 3 Dunsley Rock Cottages with her children 13 year old Margaret, 11 year old Frederick, 9 year old Elsie and 8 year old James, who was at school. Elizabeth’s husband Albert Joseph Horton was the son of a Kinver boatman, so it seems likely that he was a boatman too, especially given the various birth locations of the children, and the fact that I have been unable to track him down in 1911 or 1939, when he was away from home. The family later moved to Walsall area, where Elizabeth came from.

On 25th November 1939 Jane Roberts died.

1940

On 7th Feb 1940 the personal representative of Jane Roberts sold Yew Tree Cottage for £185 to Irene May Dewsbury Jackson, wife of Cecil William Jackson of Forest Lodge, Kinver. Irene later moved to Jersey.

1969

In 1969 Irene sold two properties, Yew Tree Cottage for £1000, and Heather Mount, Stone Lane, for £3000, to L’Etocquet Ltd, a company in Jersey of which she was a Director.

1974

On 16th December 1974 L’Etocquet Ltd sold Yew Tree Cottage for £5000, to John Greaves Smith of the West Midlands Historic Buildings Trust and his wife Maureen Ann Smith, for their own family use. John was a visionary architect, and he extended the cottage to create a comfortable home with a warm and welcoming ambience. Smith’s architecture has retained many of the cottage’s original period features, and entrances to some of the remaining caves were incorporated into the rear walls of the extension which he built. He has created a fantastic retreat in a stunning rural location, yet within walking distance of the lovely village of Kinver and all its facitities.

1985

The Smiths purchased a piece of land in Gibraltar as a parking space.

2006

The present owners purchased Yew Tree Cottage in 2006.

Further Reading:

  • Into an Hour-Glass, 1953, by actress and author Lilian Nancy Bache Price, known as Nancy Price
  • Living on the Edge, thesis, Willetts
  • Kinver Rock Houses, Bills and Griffiths
  • Survey of 1831, Bright
  • A Natural History of Staffordshire, Plot
  • A History of Kinver, unpublished, Bennett
  • Extracts Relating to Kinver, Enville and Himley, 1832, W. Scott
  • Life on the Edge: the Rock-Cut Dwellings of Kinver Edge, paper, Edmund Simons
  • A History of the County of Stafford, Greenslade, Johnson, and Tringham, 1984
The History of The Boatyard, Boatyard Lane, Barlaston

January 17th, 2022

My research into Barlaston Boatyard and Boatyard Lane has now been moved to its own dedicated website: www.barlaston-boatyard.uk.

Housewarming Gifts

December 2nd, 2021

Here’s a selection of my favourite housewarming gifts. (They also make great gifts for estate agents to give to clients!)

Ordnance Survey Maps

There are lots of great options here. Folding Ordance Survey Explorer maps are great for people moving into a new area. Alternatively, you could create a custom map on the OS website. These are available in an Explorer Enlarged 1:10,000 scale, and with a variety of framing options. If you are keen on local history, you could choose an old OS map of the area. The National Library of Scotland has a really good interactive tool where you can find out which maps are available.

St Mark’s Crescent surveyed in 1870 (Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland)

House Portraits

Why not commission a house portrait? You can see some of my favourite artists here.

Chestnut Walk by Ellie Grace

House History Research

This is another great gift for someone moving into an older house. You’ll need a better budget for this. Good house history takes time, and a qualified house historian will work hard for their fee. A great place to find a researcher is to lurk on House History Hour on Twitter, or even ask a question!

St Mark’s Cresent surveyed in 1913 (Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland)

Huffkins Gift Boxes

Huffkins are a wonderful family bakers in the Cotswolds, and their tea room in Stow on the Wold is one of my favourite places to go. They offer a range of gifts which would make excellent housewarming presents, some of which come in their trademark jute bags.

Buy them here! (This is not a commission link).

Leonidas Tin Houses

Who doesn’t love Belgian chocolates? As a canalside property specialist I particularly love Belgian chocolates when they come in a tin in the shape of a traditional Dutch style canalside house. Isn’t this sweet?

Buy them here! (This is not a commission link).

M&S Magic and Sparkle Chocolates

These pretty Magic and Sparkle chocolate houses are presented in a light up box. Grab them quick before the Christmas 2021 range ends!

Buy them here! (This is not a commission link).

Yumbles Housewarming Gifts

Yumbles have a great selection of housewarming gifts at a wide variety of sizes and prices. They specialise in foods from artisanal bakers and other smaller suppliers. I especially like their iced biscuits. They also have some great mini hampers which will fit through a letterbox.

Buy them here! (This is not a commission link).

Biscuiteers Housewarming Gifts

Biscuiteers specialise in iced biscuits and they have some lovely new home selections in their range. Aren’t these front doors cute?

Buy them here! (This is not a commission link).

Regency Gift Hampers

If you’re loking for a classic hamper, Regency Hampers have one of the best selections I have seen anywhere. They have lovely housewarming range of fruit hampers, but almost any of their hampers are suitable for a new home gift. If you don’t see exactly what you want, you can create your own selection. Corporate buyers can even personalise the packaging. Regency are based in the Cotswolds.

Buy them here! (This is not a commission link).

I’d better stop listing food now – I’m getting hungry! Let’s do something completely different…

Toilet Twinning

By donating £60 to twin a toilet, you help fund a project in a poor community that will enable families to build a basic toilet, have access to clean water and learn about hygiene – a vital combination that saves lives. Your recipient will get a lovely certificate to display in the toilet in their new home, showing a photograph of their overseas toilet twin and GPS coordinates so they can look up their twin’s location on Google Maps!

Twin a toilet here! (This is not a commission link).

Upstairs Downstairs Jigsaw

Ravensburger make excellent quality jigsaws and I think this Upstairs, Downstairs 1000 Piece Jigsaw would make a great housewarming present! After all the chaos and hard work of moving house, some down time with a jigsaw is exactly what I’d need.

Books

Books can be especially useful for people buying period homes. Why not order from the recipients local bookshop to get them off to a great start with shopping locally! Haynes Period Property Manual is a cracking book for the first time periofd property owner. It explains the correct approach to care and repair and covers the full range of traditional materials.

The Old House Eco Handbook is another great title. It is perfect for those who want to improve energy efficiency, cut CO₂ emissions, and reduce waste in a period home.

Up Gifts by Disney

If you loved Disney’s heartwarming animated film Up, you’ll love their cushions, biscuit barrels, and Christmas baubles. I want them all, but I think the cushions are my favourites!

Buy them here! (This is not a commission link).

Should I change my estate agent?

October 12th, 2021

Sheridan at Braydon Pond

Is your home is on the market, and are you struggling to sell? It can be difficult to decide whether or not to stay with your current estate agent. There are good reasons to avoid being too hasty, not least of which is the fact that you may be leaving the better agent.

Give your existing agent a second chance

  • Many agents make a significant up-front investment in order to offer you a premium service, especially if your property is high value. Professional photography, stylists, drone photography, bespoke brochures and social media marketing don’t come cheap. Is it fair to leave before they have done everything possible to validate that expense?
  • The agent may be mid way through a marketing strategy. Why not ask them what they are planning to do if you give them the opportunity to continue? The successful strategy may be just around the corner.
  • The agent may be nurturing some excellent buyers in the background, and waiting for them to be in a more proceedable position.
  • Some marketing takes time to implement, for example, press releases may have been sent out, but they may not bear fruit for a month or more.
  • When you change agent, Rightmove marks your old listing as ‘No longer on the market’. There is no link to your new agent’s listing. This means that if a potential buyer previously saved your house as a favourite, they would now assume that your house was no longer available.
  • Your next agent may well persuade you to drop the price – why not give your existing agent that opportunity?

Whilst we’re talking about the price, if you are getting no viewings or offers on your property, are you sure that you have it right?

Possible pricing issues

  • Has your existing agent overvalued your property to attract you to use their services?
  • Has your existing agent researched the price properly? A lazy agent will run off a quick report from Rightmove or Zoopla. This takes seconds, and may be way off the mark. I provide my sellers with a carefully researched report with dozens of comparable properties, and I update this as required. I am happy to create a report for you before you change agents.
  • Has the market changed? The market has been very volatile since Covid, and it’s important that your price reflects the changes locally and nationwide.

Is your agent offering a full service?

The final questions to consider are whether your existing agent’s service is robust enough and whether they are using a broad and effective marketing plan.

  • Who deals with enquiries? The agent who has visited your property? Or an office junior? The smaller the agency, the more likely it is that callers will deal with an expert on your property, who has seen it in person, and knows it inside out.
  • Are your agent’s hours limited to office hours? Small self-employed agents can be much more flexible. You can call or WhatsApp me at any time, on any day. If I don’t reply, I am usually with a client, on the phone, or sleeping, but I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!
  • Does your agent have the right local knowledge? Your average agent may know about local schools, eateries and transport links, but these days it’s easy to Google that kind of information, or ask locals on a Facebook group. Much more useful is expert knowledge for your particular property, for example an understanding of listed buildings, rights of way, adverse possession, subsidence, flooding, narrowboats, and moorings.
  • Have your agents supplied professional photography by a qualified photographer? Have they included drone imagery? I even offer local history research for my sellers! You could offer to stay with your existing agent if they agree to upgrade their service, by adding floor plans, drone photography or video for example.
  • If you’ve been on the market a long time, your agent should have offered to update the photos for the new season. Nothing says ‘lazy agent’ quite like a set of photos of your house under snow when it’s the middle of summer.
  • Does your agent have a good profile on social media? Your property may be languishing because the agent has no marketing reach beyond their shop window and old fashioned mailing list.
  • Does your agent have a local presence AND a national presence? Moving across the country is much more common than it used to be. A good agent will leverage their contacts in other areas and market nationwide. I do this through my Canalside Homes Facebook group, and I have superb contacts right across the UK among my brilliant colleagues in eXp.
  • Would it help to have a stylist visit your property to make recommendations on how to present your home for sale? I include this as an option for all my sellers, and they find it very useful to learn how to see their property through a buyer’s eyes.

Watch out for double fees!

Once you have considered all these thoughts, if you are still considering a change, please bear in mind that you may need to give notice to your existing agent, or wait for your existing contract to come to an end. Check your contract carefully as you may be liable for the previous agent’s fees in certain circumstances.

An objective appraisal

Would you like me to help you to appraise your situation with fresh and objective eyes? If you’d like to discuss your options, please give me a call on 07891 718211. There will be no hard sell, I promise, just friendly advice. I completely understand your loyalty to your existing agent, especially in a difficult market. My only interest is to help you to sell your house.

Where does the Canal & River Trust Sell its Properties?

July 23rd, 2021

I am often asked “Where does the Canal & River Trust (CRT) sell its properties?”

The short answer is, “With whichever agent or auction house it likes.” The long answer is a bit more complicated!

In December 2018, soon after I launched my original Canalside Property website, I wrote to the Canal & River Trust asking them whether I could list properties which they were disposing of. I explained I was a narrowboater myself, and that it had been a long-held dream of mine to live by a canal. I mentioned that there used to be a page on Waterscape for CRT disposals, but there didn’t seem to be anything on the CRT website now.

My email was forwarded to the head of the Disposals team, but I heard nothing, despite chasing it up later in December. In April 2019 I decided to try again. The Trust’s reply was brief and frustrating, stating only that, “the Trust isn’t looking for any further advertising for the disposals it might have, but [the head of the Disposals team] would like to express that she appreciates the offer.”

I replied, “I’m really disappointed, as I don’t see the disposals advertised anywhere and I’m sure many people would love to have the opportunity to see what is available. Are you able to confirm where they are advertised, so I can at least point my readers in that direction?” I also asked, “Does she realise it’s free to be listed on my website?”

At this point I received a reply which stated, “We currently advise people looking to register with local agents/auctioneers and national auctioneers who cover the area they are interested in and the Trust isn’t looking for an advertising platform at this time.” I was disappointed that the Trust were still seeing my request as advertising rather than dissemination of information, and I even began to wonder whether they were being deliberately cagey.

I decided to submit a Freedom of Information Request.

“Please could you provide a list of all property which the Canal & River Trust is currently offering for sale or lease. I have previously requested this information through normal channels, in December last year and in April this year, but the information has not been provided. I am therefore making this query the subject of a Freedom of Information Request.”

I was told:

“The information you are requesting under the Freedom of Information Act is limited in the scope to which it applies to the Canal & River Trust. The Act entitles a right of access to information concerning the statutory functions transferred to us from British Waterways. This means information which relates to the operation and maintenance of the inland waterway network, however the information you have requested sits outside of our access obligations under the Act.”

However, after a little to-ing and fro-ing, my new contact did give me a more helpful reply.

“The Trust has a wide variety of premises that it might dispose of, ranging from boat moorings to retail shop or residential units and warehouses, although a list of everything currently available across the UK is probably going to be fairly difficult to assemble as this is constantly changing. The Trust might very well have had a webpage dedicated to disposals: I believe we may previously have had a programme of disposals but this has likely come to an end now. It we sell any further canalside properties it is likely to be on an ad-hoc basis when the time is right (e.g. the Trust no longer has an operational use for a premises, or a tenancy expires) but I would like to assure you that these are always marketed openly by an appropriate local or national agent, and would be sold either by private treaty or at auction. By using these methods we ensure that the Trust obtains the best value, as is required of us under the Charities Act.”

I asked whether there were any preferred agents, and my contact replied:

“It would depend on the geographic location as we would typically use an agent local to the subject property, for convenience. Since we have 2,000 miles of canals and towpaths under our care, this could be anywhere south of Teesside!”

I am now much more disposed to forgive the Trust for its reticence, particularly as my contact’s closing comment was,

“I’ve looked at your website and it looks super, however I can’t offer any advice other than to just keep on doing what you’re doing.”

So that’s exactly what I did.

Since then, the CRT has begun selling properties on the auction website BidX1, which I use myself.

If you require any further information about the Canal & River Trust’s Estates, their current web page is here: Estates. There are also occasional disposals mentioned on this page: Public Notices. You can also find out about the Trusts’ current property development schemes here: Current Projects.

House Portraits

July 22nd, 2021

All of my sellers have the option to receive a gorgeous hand drawn, painted, or digital art portrait of their house as a gift to remember their house by. My artists are Rebekah at Rose & GraceEllie Proctor, Ciara at The Tiny Toucan, Kelly Godfrey at Little Illustration Company, and Louise McCabe at the Inkful Print Company. Below are some examples of their work. If you are instructing us to sell your home, please let us know which artist you would like to create your house portrait.

Deceptively Spacious – my Pet Hates in Estate Agents’ Details

February 12th, 2021

Ever since I first worked as an estate agent in the 1980s I have been staggered by the meaningless jargon, unrealistic descriptions, and glaring mistakes I find in estate agent’s details. I asked my Facebook group members about their pet hates in estate agent’s details. The most mentioned phrase was ‘deceptively spacious’. It’s everywhere we look, and the more we see it, the more we realise that it’s utterly ridiculous, and the more it jars.

Here are are my top pet hates:

  1. Feature fireplace. This is the one that makes me want to scream loudest! What is it that makes a fireplace a ‘feature fireplace’? Does it mean that it is attractive? Not necessarily. Does it mean that it works? Not necessarily. Does it mean that it is large? Not necessarily. Does it mean that it is an original period fireplace? Not necessarily. Does it mean that it is dramatic? Not necessarily. So why use this word? It simply demonstrates that the agent is too lazy to think of a meaningful adjective.
  2. Front elevation. What is the point of the word elevation? What is wrong with saying front? This word has no function whatsoever, other than pomposity. Of course this applies equally to side elevation and rear elevation, wich leads me neatly to…
  3. Rear garden. Who says rear garden except an estate agent? Everybody I know says back garden or back yard. What do you say?
  4. Patio area. What makes a ‘patio area’ different from a patio? Nothing, so don’t say it!
  5. Range of base units and wall units. Are we still in the 1950s? Is this really a selling point? Using this phrase merely implies that the kitchen units are terribly old fashioned, and there is nothing better to say about them. As soon as you read this phrase, It is obvious that the buyer is going to rip the units out the second they get the keys.
  6. Balcony, when applied to a Juliet balcony. If you can’t stand on it, it is not a balcony.
  7. Juliette balcony. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen Juliet mis-spelled as Juliette, or worse. Maybe the agent thinks it looks prettier with the extra letters, but all it does is show that the estate agent has no knowledge of Shakespeare’s most famous play.
  8. Veranda and terrace, when applied incorrectly. Agents seem to like to big up the patio by calling it something posh, even when it’s only three feet deep.
  9. Conservatory, when applied to a upvc lean-to. Surely if the owners wouldn’t call it a conservatory, the agent shouldn’t.
  10. Garden room, when applied to a upvc lean-to. Oh, seriously?
  11. Low maintenance garden. We all know that this means there is no grass. Just tell us what there is instead!
  12. Family bathroom. Are houses only for families? Say main bathroom, separate bathroom, or just plain bathroom, please.
  13. W.C. Water closet? Who says that any more? Cloakroom or toilet, please!
  14. Missing out critical information. Motorways, A roads, railway tracks, flooding. In the ‘olden days’ you could argue that you needed to avoid mentioning any negatives in order to get buyers’ feet through the door, but that no longer applies. These elephants in the room are obvious to anyone with a single brain cell and an internet connection. Better to mention the problem and explain how it is mitigated, than to pretend it doesn’t exist.
  15. Bad photos. I mean bad. Really bad. There is no excuse for this.

Here are some of the most jarring which apply specifically to canalside properties:

  1. Calling the Canal & River Trust ‘British Waterways’. The Trust was launched in 2012. Keep up!
  2. Canals ‘flowing’ past your property. As a general rule canals barely flow, and there are only a few exceptions to this, such as the top of the Llangollen, and the canalised river navigations.
  3. The canal ‘lapping’ at the water’s edge. They do not lap unless a boat is speeding past. This is not something you would hope to see!
  4. Access to the canal. Sometimes access to the canal means there is a public footpath to the canal at the end of the road. Sometimes it means there is a gate to the towpath in the back garden.
  5. Incorrect naming of canals. The most frequent errors I see are descriptive variations on the actual canal names, e.g. the ‘Liverpool to Leeds Canal’
  6. Making up canal names, e.g. ‘the Lapworth Canal’.
  7. Calling narrowboats ‘barges’.

What’s your pet hate?