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Its a family thing in Whitwell

PUBLISHED: 16:24 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:07 20 February 2013

Stephen and Claire Smerdon

Stephen and Claire Smerdon

It is easy to see why the charming village of Whitwell has kept generations of families in one place for decades - and newcomers have no intention of leaving either. Louise McEvoy speaks to three Whitwell families

The Smerdon family
STEPHEN and Claire Smerdon have been landlords of The Bull Inn for eight years and love their country life. Stephen says, 'I'm a city man so this is so different, but we have found everything here and life is so tranquil. It's the friendliest village.'
Stephen says The Bull Inn was a dwelling up until 1802 and was built probably about 400 years before that, and still retains a lot of the original beams. In 1802, it became a coaching house because of its location on the main thoroughfare to London.
From the pub there are superb views of St Paul's Walden Bury - the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Stephen says the Queen Mother and King George VI visited The Bull Inn and had their photo taken by one of the fireplaces. He adds, 'Legend is that the pub has an underground tunnel that leads to the Strathmore Estate, but it's never been found. Legend also has it that the pub is haunted by a Crimean War soldier. I've never seen it but I used to have three cats and their fur would stand on end.'

The Sansom family
NINE Wells Farm is one of only two watercress farms in Hertfordshire and has been run by the Sansom family for nearly 200 years, with the watercress still grown in the same tradition, although a workforce of 15 has been reduced to just two. Twin brothers, Ron and Patrick Sansom, own and run the farm and Ron's wife, Thelma, helps out and attends farmers' markets to sell their produce.
Thelma was born and bred in Whitwell and describes it as 'a dream place', adding, 'I love every single bit about it. I think it's probably the best place in Hertfordshire - it's picturesque and beautiful.'
Nine Wells Farm is so called because there are nine artesian wells in the cress beds, which are put down 250ft and draw water naturally from underground. 'It's all completely a natural product, with no chemicals whatsoever,' explains Thelma, 'which is the reason it's quite specialist.'
There are two harvests a year, one beginning in March and ending in May when the watercress goes to flower and becomes dormant, and the second beginning in late August and ending in December. Thelma says they continuously rely on the weather, explaining, 'Continuous frost can, and has, done a lot of damage.'

The Bonfield family
ORIGINALLY a dairy farm, Waterhall Farm said goodbye to the cows in about 1990 and Rob Bonfield started up a livery stables and an open farm in 1993. He is the fifth generation to manage the farm and his family has been in this part of the world since 1841.
Rob, 61, says, 'I have been in the village all my life so have seen it grow in size considerably, but we haven't had any big estates attached to the village so it still has very much the feeling of a village about it. We have had quite a few new people move to Whitwell, but with them it's brought more life and we have numerous clubs and societies here. There's definitely a community feel.'
The open farm used to be much bigger, but is now home to a few sheep, pigs, guinea pigs and geese, and visitors are also welcome to visit the horses in their stables, as well as wander in the garden which has been opened up for the general public to enjoy. Visitors can continue relaxing and sit back with something naughty but nice at Emily's Tea Shop, which is popular with walkers and cyclists. The tea shop and the open farm, which is free for visitors, are open from 10am until 5pm six days a week.

Things to do in Whitwell

  • Visit Waterhall Farm, where children can pet the animals in the open farm.Relax with a coffee and a treat at Emily's Tea Shop.

  • Have a refreshing drink and a bite to eat at one of Whitwell's two pubs - The Bull Inn and The Maiden's Head.

  • Go for a walk and admire the breathtaking views, including St Paul's Walden Bury, or stroll along the banks of the River Mimram, which rises from a spring next to Nine Wells Farm.


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