The Schoolhouse, the Stickhouse, the Archive and the Café.
Each of the four buildings which make up the CET home has a distinct history and a distinct purpose, and yet like a quartet, each now plays to the tune of the Cotesbach Educational Trust, in accordance with the purpose and vision of the charity. Sophy’s descriptions here of each one, written in 2013 when the buildings opened, drew from the archive and oral history, as well as her own memories:
The Schoolhouse : Education and Communication
The Schoolhouse was purpose built by the first Rev Robert Marriott in the late 18th Century. They learnt to read and write and how to become good Christians. Some of the poorer children were provided with boots, so they didn’t have to go barefoot on their walk to school, and we assume that with the milking parlour next door they had plenty of fresh milk to drink in its unadulterated state straight from the cow.
The girls worked hard at their needlework and won a prize in 1871. Once we found an old copper dressmaking pin in a crack between the bricks.
In the late 19th Century, with the Elementary Education Act of 1880 which made schooling compulsory for children from aged 5, the Sherrier School in Lutterworth took over as the catchment school.
We know that a family wedding party took place there at New Year in 1896, that children attended a Sunday School there in the 1940s and that there were often whist drives held there – there were the remains of World War blackout curtains round the windows. On such occasions, the villagers would probably have used paraffin lighting and had an open fire in the grate to create a relaxed atmosphere – but being within earshot of bombs falling on Coventry, these must have been tense times to live through.
The old Schoolhouse remained the main gathering place in the village until the early 1950s, when an opening was made in the south all to form a door for a tractor shed, with part of the floor replaced by concrete to form a firm base.
The tractor shed era was relatively short, because farming operations ceased after the A426 was built and opened in 1959.
Sam Towers, the game keeper, made it into a hen house in return for a ready supply of fresh eggs, the floorboards rotted away and the leaded windows became full of cobwebs until the Millennium, when we started making new plans for its future.
Our goal was for the building to have an educational purpose once again, in a world unimaginable to the first Rev Robert Marriott, one of universal education, cars, giant supermarket chains, semi-skimmed milk and internet access bringing the world to our fingertips here in Cotesbach.
The Stickhouse : Waste and Recycling
My grandfather Rowley Marriott (who died in 1992) always referred to this building as the Stick House, so ‘Stick House’ is that which ‘stuck’ once the Schoolhouse project came into being.
Back then, Sam Towers, (himself in his 80s), used to make up Rowley’s fire almost every day of the year, so it was handy to have somewhere to put the kindling close to where he came on his daily round with the hens. His little Jack Russell accompanied him and most days they walked round the coverts to see what was ‘up’, whether there were branches needing to be cleared, or if there were fox tracks about.
In his younger days, Sam had been earth stopper for the Pytchley Hunt (which involved blocking up the foxes’ den or ‘earth’ so it wouldn’t get back in and went on the run for the hounds) so he was used to being outdoors every day and was a mine of information about the countryside.
The wisdom of his motto born of a lifetime of country ways: “Do a little, leave a lot” resounds with us to this day.
So the Stick House was Sam’s patch, and had become home for all manner of sticks and broken parts of anything and everything awaiting possible re-use, whilst the building itself gradually fell into a more and more perilous state of dilapidation.
In the late 40s when my grandparents were here, they kept a herd of Jersey cows which produce the best and thickest dairy cream of all. When we cleared out the Stick House, we found relics of this and of previous eras: a rusty old milk churn and a Victorian cart which had once been used to carry them around.
The Coach House : Travel and Road Planning
The Coach House was purpose built to house two coaches or carriages but after the invention of the motor car it became a convenient double garage with a lofty ceiling, pride of place for Evelyn Marriott’s white Rover which frequently graced the lanes of the new M1 to London after its completion in the mid 60s.
Cotesbach, situated as it is within a triangle of motorways at the centre of the country, has always had its issues with busy local traffic, safety on the roads and at the very least a gateway with a blind opening.
Now that the Coach House has become a safe home for our archive, these stories will reveal themselves one by one. They will show that whilst humans think they have always come up with a better idea, it’s in fact just a process of adapting to changes, problem solving, and re-arranging the same ingredients in a slightly different way.
Many grand plans are set aside when faced with the reality of economic or personal circumstances, but what emerges in an unplanned, involuntary way is the truly fascinating history of people and social change.
The Café : Waste, Nature and Environment
Anywhere beyond the Stick House was out of bounds for us when I was a child in the 60s. When we Newtons arrived in 1991, it was an ancient spinney with a tangle of undergrowth with a narrow little trail through to the Stable Yard.
Much earlier, there would have been a stream running down here which joined the River Swift, maybe the very ‘Bach’ (which means brook) by which Cotesbach got its name.
One can imagine earlier times when the cows walked down from the fields this way, drinking from the stream when they needed to. But probably the road got flooded from time to time, so the Victorians dug it out and built a large and sturdy brick culvert 18” in diameter to redirect it underground.
From this time on, it was used as a dump for bottles and all sorts of throw-outs. Hilda Harvey who grew up in Cotesbach remembers things still being thrown out there in the 50s and 60s, rich pickings for bold children seeking adventure, which was still the case when my own children were growing up and had their ‘giant swing’, a rope across the spinney strung Tarzan-like between the trees.
There is a tree preservation order on the yew trees, which may have been planted to shield the sight of the dump from passers-by on the road, which was the main Leicester to Rugby road, busy all the time with carriages and carts, horses and people going about their daily lives.
When the foundations of the new building were dug, much of the debris came to the surface, and pieces which have been salvaged are a great source of interest and knowledge about what people used and ate. As plastic packaging and food hygiene standards were unthought of in those days, they generated far less rubbish than we do nowadays, and there were no municipal rubbish tips.
The culvert protected the cleanliness of the water and the debris gradually got weathered down – principally glass and crockery, long before the discovery of oil and the scourge of plastic which makes our lives so much more convenient today at the expense of the environment.
The toll on the environment of any new building such as this should not be underestimated. Hosts of creatures, food chains, lichens and mosses have been disturbed or destroyed with the total upheaval of the earth during the building works. We have achieved an immense task in preserving our built heritage, but we must remain humble and aware of our natural heritage and sensitive to the need for its gradual recovery over time.
Our immediate goal is that these buildings can be used as a place for people to learn about why our environment, indeed our planet, is a precious resource, how we need to think in terms of giving back to Nature what we borrow from it, and how Nature’s intricate systems are too complicated for any one of us to understand, and demand our respect.
Sophy Newton May 2013, revised January 2018