Cogges 5th Anniversary Royal visit; A volunteers perspective.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Cogges Heritage Trust is celebrating its fifth year of re-opening the manor and farm. From a shaky start it's gone from strength to strength. In fact, I heard that we are about to welcome our 200,00th visitor. Not bad considering we only had 11,000 visitors the first year we opened.

To celebrate, Cogges hosted a lunchtime reception for all their volunteers and supporters, to which a special guest, H.R.H. the Countess of Wessex, was invited. The schedule of the day was very tightly planned. The Countess was coming to plant a tree and unveil a plaque commemorating the day. The royal party were running late, but a marquee had been set up on the lawn in front of the house for the reception and we passed the time enjoying canapes and drinks. I was really touched as many of my fellow volunteers took time to come and wish me well as I had a special role to play in the day.


At long last, the Countess arrived. As the helicopter set down in the field beside the manor house, all the guests standing by the wall to watch the landing were covered in newly cut grass stirred up by the helicopter's rotary blades. Some children from Blake’s school lined the field, at a safe distance, and the Countess took time to speak to them before making her way to the walled garden.

The Countess was greeted by, the Vice Lord Lieutenant, John Harwood, and other local dignitaries. 

She was then given a short history of the site, by Tim Partridge; a tour of the garden by Heather Horner and Jennifer Matheson, followed by a demonstration of a 'vegetable growing session', by some school children. 

She then proceeded into the orchard where she was supposed to watch a wool weaving session by some more children, before planting an apple tree in the orchard. But as we were all already lined up to watch the tree planting, much to the horror of our Director, Colin, Judy Niner, the Chairman of the trust, took her to plant the tree first. She said later that she couldn't just walk past us all, despite giving Colin a near heart attack.

As the Countess made her way over to the woodland area to watch the wool weaving session, she stopped to talk to some children who were having a picnic in the orchard with their mums. She was very natural with them and made them laugh.

While this was all going on, I made my way to the dairy lawn, where I was to wait to be introduced to the Countess and invited to explain to her how Cogges was used as a location for Downton Abbey, i.e. as Yew Tree Farm. As you can imagine, I was very nervous. But I'd been briefed by Colin, that she was a big Downton Abbey fan, and it was just meant to be 'two Downton fans having a chat.' As I'd only been given five minutes, to talk, I wasn't sure how that was going to work. After what seemed like an eternity, the Countess and her entourage emerged from the orchard. I was very nervous, but before they reached me, the Countess stopped to look at our Vorwerk chickens, and when she bent over and talked to them, I knew that it was going to be OK.

Finally, my big moment came. Judy introduced me and told her that I was going to talk about Downton, at which point she replied, 'I love Downton'. As we walked towards the farmyard, I explained about some of the changes the Downton art department had to make, including the making of a false dovecot to hide a security light. I showed her a photograph of it and she said that it was lovely and it was a shame that we couldn't keep it. I also told her about an amusing incident, concerning one of our Cotswold Lion sheep, which occurred on the first day of filming, which thankfully, she did find funny. If you want to hear the story, you’ll have to come on one of my tours.

As we made our way over to the house, I explained how they transformed the kitchen into the interior of Farmer Drewe's cottage, and then my part in the day was over.

In the kitchen, the Countess was introduced to Carol Treadwell and Ingrid Allen who persuaded her to have a go at making some welsh cakes, before making her way to the marquee.

After some lunch, Judy made a speech about the Cogges journey so far, and announced that we had been awarded the Best Team of Volunteers award by the OVCA. Judy then invited the Countess to unveil the plaque. The Countess was then presented with one of our mugs depicting Cogges as Yew Tree Farm, which contained some fudge made by volunteers. Then, it was time for the Countess to return to the helicopter and go on her way.

It was a really special day for all of us at Cogges. There was a lovely atmosphere and I was once again very touched by the support I received from my colleagues, both before and after my big moment. I'm so proud of them all and of what we have helped Cogges to achieve over the past five years and excited about the next phase in Cogges’ development. It was a day to remember and I’m sure that all of us that were privileged to be there will do so with great affection.

Photographs courtesy of Cogges and Isabel Johnstone.




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