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Little Iddens

Updated: Aug 24, 2021



Some of our followers who have been with us for some time know that Chris was raised in Zambia until his teenage years. While this is a whole story for another time, to know Chris’ Parents, Barry & Margaret, is to understand Chris' family story, and indeed our own.

When Margaret & Barry packed up the house and family and moved to a small village in Zambia in the early seventies, they may have been physically "fish out of water," but they were more than suited for the challenges and adventures which lay ahead. Chris' Father Barry was trained as mechanical engineer in his youth and a self-trained carpenter, and Margaret, Chris' Mother, the grand-daughter of a farmer and daughter of a park-keeper for the royal parks- both hailing from a London background which raised them to be resourceful, industrious and very "practical" (or "handy" depending on which kind of English you speak). During their time in Zambia, those qualities shone as bright and confident as the sun. While bringing up 3 children, they also managed to grow all their own vegetables, nurture tropical fruit orchards and raise 40 rabbits, 2 dozen chickens and a few ducks, at any given time. A life of self-sustainability amidst the raw, realities of the rural country suited them to their core.


After moving back to London, it would be some time before they could pick up where they left off, but eventually they landed on a 400 year old cottage amongst the rolling hills and farmlands of Gloucestershire.



The house, 'Little Iddens', was a fixer-upper to say the least. It had loads of unfinished work started by the current owners, was a listed building protected and governed by certain [very restrictive] conservancy laws, and had once been lived in by a famous American poet in the early 20th century, making it a rather notable dot on a map. Their new home was shaping up to be quite the task, but with their resourcefulness and skills at the ready, it was a journey they embarked upon with determination.


The house itself is a historical marvel, but many will say it is the garden which shines like jewels glittering on a crown. Like in Zambia, Margaret has planted everything herself in the last 10 years, and to this day, she and Barry have maintained it all on their own until only recently; even now, with the assistance of only one helper. Digging deep garden trenches is a job challenging enough for even the youngest and fittest amongst us, but Margaret is not one to shy away from a challenge staring her in the face.



Their vegetable garden is second to none. Rows of giant cabbage, towering broad beans, carrots, potatoes, and the bunches of onions which hang from the beams and eaves of Barry's woodshop. The greenhouse at the other end of the garden filled with tropical plants, and once abandoned throw-aways, rescued from the discount section of the garden shop, unfurl and bloom like never before. While wandering the meandering stone paths which wind through the garden with labyrinth like curvatures, you can feel the green magic which flows from Margaret's touch at every turn. Explosions of wildflowers and canopies of roses so thick you could lose your way, and with a perfume so intoxicating you might find yourself in a trance. You pass bubbling wildlife ponds teeming with aquatic life, bordered by reeds and grasses dancing in the wind; all the while, the vast fields beyond their hedge border lie in the distance, dotted by ancient sentinel oaks.



Mum wanted to grow a garden which she could help find its own path. She wanted it to grow wild, naturally and on its own terms. Her design was an anti-design. Rather than landscaping, she relies on elements of natural wildflowers of the English hedgerows, wildlife ponds and winding paths which take you to different corners of the garden, each taking on a life of their own. ~Chris


Indeed, Little Iddens has a life of its own- breathing in the vibrations of the natural world around it and overflowing with the 400 year old shadows and memories which hum within its ancient walls. And throughout the years, Barry & Margaret have managed to create a life which is in partnership with the land. One that reminds us that the earth and her marvels do not belong to us. We belong to them.




Little Iddens, Robert Frost & The Dymock Poets


PHOTO BY JERRY HARMER /The Associated Press


If the name Little Iddens sounds familiar, you are not mistaken. The American Poet who once lived in this house in 1914 was none other than Robert Frost. Whilst residing at Little Iddens, it was there he was inspired to write "The Road Not Taken", said to be based on the rambling ancient footpaths which, to this day, still trace the hills and fields of Ledbury & Dymock, just behind the house.


Frost came to Gloucestershire of the west English countryside well after a brotherhood of poets had already begun to gather and take residence in homes surrounding the village of Dymock, not a five minutes drive from Little Iddens these days. Hoping to make his mark on the literary global stage, Frost was drawn to the idyllic, serene and historical nature of this part of rural England. During his time there, he befriended fellow poets such as Edward Thomas, Wilfrid Gibson, John Drinkwater- to name a few- who together were to become known as the Dymock Poets. While Frost only resided at Little Iddens during the year of 1914, his mark on its hamlet Leddington, its village Ledbury and the entirety of the county has become a source of local and national pride. If you're a poetry buff or literary nerd, you can read more about the Dymock Poets here: https://www.dymockpoets.org.uk/.


But enough with the name dropping. Little Iddens is a surviving historical gem; the level of restorative work and upkeep solely due to the dedication, skill and resourcefulness of Barry & Margaret.




Photo sourced from wishful-thinking.org.uk


The house was built during the end of the Tudor period and so is at least 400 years old. Originally a farmhouse, the original owners in the 1600s would have lived on the top floor while keeping their cattle and livestock underneath them on the ground floor, so the heat from their animals would keep them warm during the harshest of winters. To trap the heat within the house, the walls were formed of mud and lined with horsehair. A limestone paste would have then been used to paint to walls to achieve the brilliant white against black painted beams which Tudor architecture is well known for. All the original mud, complete with their horsehair insolation, are still there within the walls of Little Iddens. In fact, much of the house remains almost exactly as it would have been in the 1600s, as are the regulations governing listed buildings of its historical significance. This old stove in the photo below, although no longer in use, is in the [now] bedroom which we stay in whenever we visit. It's a wonder to think that when we wake in the morning and sit at the edge of the bed, our feet are touching the exact spot Robert Frost did almost 100 years ago. It's even more humbling to think that we eat our meals, enjoy our evening whiskies and sleep in the exact spots cows, pigs and sheep would have made their beds some 400 hundred years before. Living, breathing, humming history. If you know how to listen, how to remember, time can feel as though it is standing still.




Robert Frost examines stove of his old kitchen at Little Iddens, Gloucestershire. [Howard Sochurek/LIFE picture collection/Getty]






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