When the Parish Council purchased Chedham’s Yard from Bill Chedham in February 2002 there was no time to do a feasibility study or consider the long-term challenges and costs of restoring this very special historic building with its architectural treasures hidden in the heart of Wellesbourne. They only knew that if they did not purchase it, a precious and unique window on part of the roots of our village would be lost for ever.
The next four years saw slow but steady progress in consulting various bodies and coming to decisions about the future of the yard. A major step forward was taken when Elaine Hughes was appointed Project Officer by the Parish Council in 2005 and PLB were appointed as consultants shortly after.
But the real excitement started and the pace got quicker when it was decided to enter the BBC Restoration Village competition in 2006. For the full story use the timeline below.
A bus load of 40 of us, adults and children, and ofcourse Bill Chedham, set off from the pick-up point outside the Stag’s Head Pub for the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, Singleton near Chichester in Hampshire in a bus provided by the BBC. We arrived at the Hilton Hotel near the Museum in the early afternoon where we were shown our rooms and made at home. We were driven to the Museum, wearing our Chedham’s Yard t-shirts, where we all congregated in huge marquees for a meal and to meet some of the eight finalists who had come from all over the country including Scotland and Northern Ireland. The atmosphere was electrifying, many people singing their own song or chanting their football like support for their project.
At last we were escorted to the set which had been constructed to copy the styles of the buildings that are features of the outdoor museum. We had to stand under canopies; fortunately it stayed dry and warm all evening for we were there in the enclosures for 2 hours. The excitement became increasingly intense after we had been rehearsed on how to cheer, not stamp our feet because the set would not survive it! There was the familiar theme tune to start the programme and in strode Griff Reece Jones – taking off his bicycle clips before welcoming everyone. The cameras flew about to get aerial shots of us all. There must have been at least four hundred people who had come to support their particular project herded in the enclosures as well as several hundred members of the public who had come to watch the show live. The Chedham’s Yard spot with Elaine and Iris speaking on stage with Griff Rhys Jones was lively and funny. Apparently it made a significant impact with the television audience at home, especially when Iris said it was her life’s ambition to see Chedham’s Yard restored. The climax of the programme came when Griff was given a card with the results. In a long drawn out and tense series of moments he eventually declared Chedham’s Yard the winner. We beat an art gallery in the south-east of England and a Lighthouse in Scotland to the post though the results, we were led to believe, were close.
The cheering, shouting and clapping by us as the result was announced did not need any rehearsal. We were over-whelmed with joy and excitement. We had won a million pounds against all odds to restore Chedham’s Yard. We were whisked away to another hospitality tent for a celebratory buffet and drinks with the television team and some of the executives of the project. Our local radio reporter roamed about getting reactions from us all to be broadcast the next day. Back at the hotel we were given champagne by the programmes film company. After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast we were driven back to Wellesbourne to be greeted outside the Stag’s Head pub by many local people and the media.
It is remarkable to think that this huge financial windfall, achieved after a great deal of hard work by Friends, members of Wellesbourne Parish Council Craftsmen and Museum experts both locally and further afield, will enable Chedham’s Yard to be restored to its former glory to be enjoyed by many generations to come both nationally and internationally.