Home of the month: An Elizabethan cottage with an Arts and Crafts history
PUBLISHED: 13:32 10 July 2016 | UPDATED: 13:27 12 July 2016
Bought in the 1920s by an enterprising spinster, an Elizabethan cottage and barn in Pinner became the heart of an Arts and Crafts weaving revival. Pat Bramley spoke to the grandaughter of the remarkable woman who left London for the simple life
Passers-by no doubt admire the Grade II-listed Elizabethan cottage and the ancient barn alongside but most will be unaware of the remarkable story of the family who have owned it for almost 100 years.
Number 19 Fore Street, in the village of Pinner, close to the Hertfordshire-Middlesex border, was bought at auction for £600 in 1922 by a middle-aged, single woman from London. Rosetta Collins was born in 1884 and lived her early life in Islington. Before she bought the cottage at the age of 38, she had been employed by a music publisher in London with the splendid name of Washington Herbert Broome. Broome introduced her to a world of artists and creative people and this influence had a profound effect on the rest of her life.
WHB’s business collaboration with the eminent fabric designer and artist William Morris had ended by the time Collins became the company bookkeeper – the two men had shared a printing press until Morris’ death in 1896 – and Broome by then was a leading member of the Arts and Crafts movement. The music publisher, his wife Ellen and their daughter Myrtle lived in Bushey. Their house, called Avalon, had become the regular meeting place for the arts set in the area. It’s now something of an historic landmark.
Rosetta Collins frequently went to stay with the Broomes at their country home in Hertfordshire and by 1922 she decided the simple rural life – a key influence on the Arts and Crafts movement – was for her. She also had a business plan and went to auction to bid for the 400-year-old cottage she had discovered in Pinner.
What comes next is described by her granddaughter, Nicolette Movick, who lived at the cottage from her birth in 1963 until the 1990s. The barrister says the cottage hadn’t been lived in for two years when it was put up for sale almost a century ago.
‘It had been owned by a farming family called the Lavenders. They had stopped farming two years earlier, so the house was virtually derelict.’
As soon as the gavel fell on Collins’ £600 bid, she set about restoring the property in what was then a rural area. Her former employer offered his help. Skilled at weaving as well as book-keeping, Collins had made an impact on Broome.
Says Movick, ‘He hand-made all the doors – front, back and barn – and decorated them with intricate carving in the Arts and Crafts style. There are also carved wooden cornices in the ground-floor rooms and beautiful personalised looms.’
Through their combined efforts, it wasn’t long before the place was habitable again. Next they turned their attention to the garden and planted a large vegetable patch and many fruit trees, including apples of the local Bushey Grove variety. Collins then set up the barn for a spinning and weaving business and called it The Sign of the Shuttle. The cottage industry, using fleeces from a local farm and vegetable dyes, operated from 1923 to 1939 and stopped only because of the outbreak of the Second World War.
‘She had a loom and a spinning wheel, all the apparatus in the barn to wash, dry, spin and weave wool into garments or something for the home,’ says her granddaughter. ‘She held classes to show pupils the processes by which raw fleece can be transformed into wool and held numerous exhibitions of her work.’
A promotional leaflet summed up the Shuttle ethos: ‘To those interested in handcraft is afforded an unique example of what may be done at the present day by honest endeavor and a love of pure beauty, unspoiled by the commercialisation that is the curse of modern life.’
In 1927, Pathé News sent a film crew to the Shuttle to film Collins and her pupils at work. The newsreel was seen by cinema audiences all over the country.
While Collins’ business blossomed, the Broome’s daughter Myrtle had developed a crusading zeal to commit ancient Egypt to canvas and seemingly, somewhat to her surprise, blossomed into a world-renowned recorder of temple paintings and inscriptions. Her frequent letters home to her parents over a period of 10 years while she lived in a mud-brick house in a remote village in Egypt are preserved in the Griffith Institute in Oxford.
Things took another unexpected turn for Collins when she welcomed a young boy into her home. The boy, Peter, grew up to become Nicolette’s father. Collins always said he was her orphaned nephew. After Peter’s marriage to Nicolette’s mother Barbara in 1954, the couple continued to live with Collins and the living arrangements didn’t change when their daughter was born.
‘To us, she was always my father’s aunt. I’m sure he didn’t know she was his mother. She died in 1969 and my father died in 1992. I only found out that she was his mother when I decided to research his parentage and sent off for a copy of his birth certificate in 2010,’ Movick recalls.
Being only six when her grandmother died, Nicolette remembers only a little about her, but does remember that she was ‘quite strict’ about her manners. ‘One thing sticks in my memory. I was sitting in the dining room, the middle room with the inglenook fireplace, and she was in the chair opposite. For some reason I stuck my tongue out at her and she called for my mother to come and tick me off because I’d been unladylike!’
Peter worked for insurance companies throughout his career but also inherited his mother’s artistic streak. ‘He loved working with wood,’ says his daughter. ‘He hand-made a corner unit in the small sitting room and the carved wooden surround in my parents’ bedroom.
‘He was a skilled carpenter, artist and musician, who for many years was a big-band drummer, with his own band. He had his own radio show in Iceland, which is where he was stationed in the Second World War, and he later played at the London Palladium.’
Although the date 1560 appears on the front of the cottage, Nicolette thinks that the date relates to an earlier building. ‘An early map of the area shows another property on this spot in 1560. Heritage experts believe it is more likely the present one was built in the late 1500s or early 1600s. It’s definitely Elizabethan,’ she says.
These days, the house stands in grounds of just over a third of an acre. It has two reception rooms, three bedrooms, the kitchen has a pantry, there’s a first-floor bathroom, rear lobby with cloakroom, wonderful beams, a glorious inglenook fireplace, leaded casement windows and lovely old ceilings of a good height. In a word, the cottage is a gem.
There’s also Rosetta Collins’ timber-framed barn where she established her successful business and fostered the art of spinning and weaving for future generations. It was a valuable contribution to the Arts and Crafts movement in the Bushey area.
The outbuilding has obvious potential. It has a vaulted ceiling and a mezzanine floor with storage area above. Planners at Hillingdon Council have agreed that the barn has scope to be converted into a self-contained unit.
Nicolette’s mother still owns the property but has decided to sell. Three generations of the Collins family have lived here since 1922 but now that will be coming to an end. Nicolette herself is happily settled in Northwood.
‘I have no need for another house,’ says the granddaughter of the woman who carved out a new life for herself in middle age, when most women of her background in the 1920s were content to keep house and raise a family for the rest of their days.
‘But it will be the most wonderful home for whoever decides that they would like to live in a beautiful property which is totally unique.’
The cottage and barn are for sale through Savills in Northwood with a guide price of £995,000 or £595,000 for the cottage and £395,000 for the barn.