by Helen Hayes
Having worked at Helpful Holidays for many years, I have been very fortunate to see lots of fabulous properties and meet many wonderful owners, all with their own unique stories to tell about their very special holiday homes.
One particular property, which has been with Helpful Holidays far longer than I, is Hole Farm in Chagford and one which has always been in my top-10 favourites, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk to Suzanne Petrides, owner of this idyllic Dartmoor Farmstead, to learn more about the connection she holds with this special place.
Tucked away down deep Dartmoor lanes, not far from the moorland town of Chagford, you come across the most wonderful settlement of Hole Farm. With its heavy thatch and thick granite walls, you feel safe and protected in your surroundings from the moment you walk through the farmyard gate and into the courtyard with the house, old stable block (now converted into extra holiday accommodation) and the old big barns, sheltering you from the weather or whatever life has to throw at you.
The very first historic records of the property date back to 1245, not long after the Norman Conquest, and there still remains evidence of Norman activity on this part of the moor, relating to tin mining which took place. The 1305 stannary charter of King Edward 1 established the Dartmoor towns of Tavistock, Ashburton, and Chagford as the Devonshire stannary towns with a monopoly on all tin mining in Devon. A stannary town is where the coinage of tin takes place. Here the tin is assessed by an assayer for its quality. This was done by hitting the ingot on the corner and listening for the sound. Tax on the tin was then levied by the town.
Suzanne explained how the house is built from great granite blocks, all quarried from the surrounding land. “The farm has changed very little over the years,” she said, “with the latest extension being in 1643. This now houses the kitchen with the master bedroom above, and it is reputed there was a battle between roundheads and cavaliers through this part of the house. If you look carefully you can find the date carved into the door frame on the left-hand side of the porch’.
“My father, William Fussell, bought the farm at auction in 1981 from the Scott family and it has stayed in our care for all this time. The Scotts are a well-known local family who had owned it for many generations. There were two brothers and their families living in the house, but unfortunately one of the brothers wanted to sell – so they had no choice but to put it up for auction. The farm was very run down and, from my father’s point of view, it was an opportunity to return to the countryside which he had always wanted to do, despite a career in London. We have now owned the farm for 40 years.
My husband George Petrides and I married at our local church, St Michaels, in Chagford in 1983. We now have two children and three grandchildren and we all enjoyed the property as our family holiday home; it is truly part of the children’s lives. The whole family is very involved with everything to do with the running of the house and the farm, and we have no doubt that they and our grandchildren will continue to enjoy it for many years to come. Following on in tradition, it is with great excitement, plans are currently being made for the marriage of our son and his fiancé to be held here at Hole Farm next summer.”
I often think, when looking at some of these holiday cottages, why would you want to let it out, and there are many reasons for this; from straightforward business decisions to earn an income, right through to letting the family seat for a few years to cover the cost of a new roof, but for Suzanne is was different
She explained, “To make the farm viable and earn its own keep, we started renting out the farmhouse and cottage with Helpful Holidays right back in 2000 and have been with them ever since. Hole Farm is not just a holiday home, we also have agricultural land, various forested areas including ancient woodland. We have re-planted native woodland, and we grow Christmas trees which can be purchased locally and we also sell them in London.
Part of this open and enveloping attitude towards the farm which we are fortunate enough to own, is also to give an opportunity for others to enjoy it.” Suzanne enthused, “By letting it as a holiday home, we know the Hole Farm magic has been extended to more than just our family. We have many returning customers who regularly come here to relax and absorb the very special atmosphere it generates. The visitor book is packed with happy stories of weeks well spent with family and friends exploring the farmhouse and the surrounding area.”
“No, my father and mother never fully retired there. George Petrides and I are architects and have always lived in London. My sister who is a co-owner is a pioneer in climate change and now lives in New York so it was a natural development to let it out’.
Suzanne’s love of the property has lead her to research the history and she told me how the farm is full of ancient details;
“The hooks in the ceiling in the entrance passage are where the migrant workers used to hang their personal possessions – they all used to sleep in the current master bedroom, and their food would be left for them in what is now the TV cupboard.
The bottom level of the ‘shippen’ (as you look at the house and to the left of the cross passage) was animal accommodation and evidence of the pens is still there today. To the right of the cross passage is the house. The first room was originally the main hall (currently the living room) which would have had the open fire. There would be no first floor level, but there was a wooden screen at the end of the room with sleeping and storage above. Thankfully this screen is still in place. Later, the big fireplace was built with a bread oven.
The Pevsner Architectural Guides, which began in 1940’s, having 46 volumes of original buildings in England and were published between 1951 and 1974, mentions Hole Farm as one of two remaining longhouses in the area and it is Grade 1 Listed. The cottage was converted from the old dairy in 1981 and is a Grade 2 Listed building along with several of the barns’.
I think it is truly wonderful to see how little of this great house has changed. So often modern living can make people change things and not always for the better. The fact you can come here for a holiday and experience it for yourself is just perfect in my eyes.
“There is an atmosphere of peace and calm and a sense of the passage of time. I have always looked upon myself as a ‘guardian’ of this property which will continue through the generations. A sense of permanence and history. I am also challenged to move forward with a philosophy of respect to the historic nature of the buildings, as well as the surrounding landscape, whilst aiming to make the farm carbon neutral. We also apply the carbon-neutral philosophy to our small door-to-door-delivery Christmas tree business, www.holefarmtrees.uk and at the moment, we are pointing the way by providing chemical-free and cut to order trees, as well as selling to many happy local families who make the trip to this historic setting to take away their own tree.”
I was intrigued to find out, with so many people having the pleasure of enjoying the farm over the years, if the Petrides had any funny stories to share. With a smile Suzanne recalls, “Many years ago when we were trying to leave the house when the children were little, and we were all packed up ready for the journey back, we realised we did not have the cat with us (many years ago he would always come to Devon with us)
We looked everywhere including all the barns – and called his name – nothing. We decided that if we left the property he might come out from where he was hiding. We went to Fernworthy Reservoir and came back several hours later – still no cat.
Whilst doing a final check of the bedroom! We finally found him at the end of our bed, wrapped in an old blanket! We would never have found him if George had not accidentally stepped on him. He was obviously having such a wonderful time and, just like us, he did not want to leave!”
And finally before I leave, with Suzanne and Hole Farm about to embark on their busiest time of the year with the Christmas trees, I asked her; “You have been with Helpful Holidays for so many years, and gone through the journey of Helpful Holidays being a small family run business to now being part of the Sykes Holiday Cottages family, so what still makes us the right letting agency for you?”
“I think the main positive attribute for Helpful Holidays is in the name…….. they are truly helpful in good times and bad. Sykes has added a depth to the marketing arm and exposure of the property which ultimately continues to make it the reliable rental proposition it is.”
If you would like to book or find out more about the property visit Hole Farm.
Check out more of our Meet the owners posts on our blog.
If you are a holiday cottage owner or thinking of becoming one and would like more information request your free owners pack today by heading over to our Let Your Cottage page.
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