2015 Time for a new approach

In August 2014 David and I had a difficult decision to make. Our house and shop had been “on the market” for approaching three years and we were really no further ahead in finding a buyer despite substantially reducing the price (in fact by 10% under the bricks and mortar valuation of the property). It was time to look at the bigger picture and discuss the alternatives.

We have worked hard in our time here to create a shop with products people want in a clean and pleasant environment. However, the property inside which the shop is currently located is expensive due to its location and character and as such is beyond the reach of those with an interest in taking on the business despite its success. Add to this the reluctance of banks to lend to small businesses and the fact that the “retail” element of the property is too large to get a residential mortgage the challenges are just too numerous.

With this in mind we approached the Parish Council to see if a solution could be reached, our hope was that the village would see the benefit in taking on the business in a new location along with current staff and suppliers to ensure as much consistency as possible. We would obviously offer our services to help ensure the transfer was a smooth one whilst at the same time re-marketing our property as residential and increasing our opportunity for a sale.

Our initial discussions were well received and your Parish Councillors have been working hard to find a new location for your village shop. Please, if you believe as we do that it is important for a village to have a shop, lend your support to any project and please get involved!

What’s the value in a village shop?

Zoopla Houses for Sale in Chilbolton

The last month has seen the arrival of quite a few new faces in the village and its been lovely to meet everyone. It’s also been lovely to hear that one of their reasons for buying a house in Chilbolton, is that it has a village shop and pub.  Community has been one of the common points mentioned and the fact that Chilbolton feels like it has a genuine community spirit.

Great to hear I think you’ll agree, but it got me thinking; does a shop and pub add value to property?

homes-increasing-in-value1Apparently so from a few conversations with estate agents and searching on the web. The general feeling is that a village adds around 5% to property within the village (that’s 25,000 on a £500,000 house), but hopefully its more than that.

Just think about how many times you meet friends walking down to, or in the shop. How would people keep up with the village bush telegraph and gossip? Births, marriages and sadly the inevitable deaths are all events that
pass across people’s lips when in the village shop.

Certainly Jo and I love the fact that Chilbolton Stores is a key part of the community. Whether you are young, old or somewhere in between we’ve always worked to make sure that everyone is welcome and we’re so pleased when new arrivals come down and say “We’re so glad we moved to Chilbolton, we’re so lucky to have a village shop like this”.

Its always good to feel valued and hopefully we’re here more for than just your morning newspaper or a stamp…

I’m proud of Chilbolton Stores

Malibu Camper Van from retro Camper Van Hire

Malibu – A Type 2 VW Camper Van hired from Retro VW Campervans. Highly recommended.

Jo and I have just spent a lovely few days meandering around Dorset in an old VW Camper Van. A great way to explore all those hidden villages and gems that are on our doorstep, but we’ve never been to, as we’re always on our way somewhere else.

During those few days we visited a lot of small villages similar to Chilbolton; tucked away, off the beaten track, which could take you back a hundred years in time. All of these villages had two things in common, a pub and a village shop. Sound familar?




There are Village Shops and then there are Village Shops

The sad thing was that in several villages the village shop was looking a bit forlorn. Empty shelves, limited stock, old fridges, no local produce, no nice cheeses or fresh bread and little to entice us to purchase more than a packet of crisps and a couple of drinks. This was even true of the Co-ops we visited, which although large had nothing in the way of fresh produce, meat or fish. If we had wanted a tin of beans and some frozen burgers or chips we would have been fine, but it’s a bit difficult to pop some baked beans on the barbie 😉

Free Range Meat from Parsonage Farm and Greenfields Pork

Proud of Chilbolton Stores

Although it meant our BBQ had to be content with sausages (from Hampshire – we were in Lyme Regis!!) and a Lynda McCartney Burger (which as bit ‘interesting’), I had a real sense of pride, when I thought about our own village shop, Chilbolton Stores. People often say you can’t do a ‘proper shop’ in the village shop, but I’ll challenge that. Whatever day of the week it is, you could always pick up something for dinner. Whether it’s fresh meat or fish, or a frozen ready meal, there is always plenty to choose from. In fact I would go so far to say that we have more choice in fresh vegetables, meat, fish and cheese than many of the Co-ops. So we may not have 12 different cereals or tinned meatballs, but you definitely won’t go hungry.

This this is a bit of trumpet blowing, but sometimes I think we need to do it. At the end of the day if Jo and I lived in Chilbolton, we’d be glad that we had a shop like Chilbolton Stores and we hope you are too.

Thanks for reading


Introducing Parsonage Farm

cow_2411288bAs most of you are already aware, we here at Chilbolton Stores love a local food hero.  We already stock many of your favourites from the farmers markets, meaning you can access local produce easily between market days: Greenfields pork and sausages, Lyburn cheese, River Test Smokery smoked fish, Taste cakes and marmalade and Lower Woodgate Farm eggs and meringues to mention just a few.

Now we would like to introduce you to Parsonage Farm beef and lamb!

Like us, Sarah and John are passionate about bringing you fantastic, quality products at a great price and a convenient venue.  One customer recently remarked “it really is the same price as the supermarket, or less, and not their finest range either, the standard stuff”.  So basically you are getting top of the range product for bottom of the range prices.  How do we do this you say?

Well, we buy direct from the farm, they butcher their own products and deliver, so there are no middle men or distribution costs to pay.  Add this to the fact that you only have to travel to the village shop to get it!

Quality, local, free-range produce, that is good value and convenient… where?  Chilbolton Stores is where!

For more information about Parsonage Farm, visit the Parsonage Farm Free-Range Meat section on our website

5 years in Chilbolton and counting…

Chilbolton Stores Fresh CoffeeLast November was the 5 year anniversary of David and I walking through the doors of Chilbolton Stores as the new owners.  Enthusiastic and maybe just a little naive, at 33 I don’t think I was what most people expected of a shopkeeper but as I said at the time… I may not have retail experience but I am really good at shopping!

In hindsight the first couple of years were fairly straight forward, although it didn’t seem like it at the time.  We had to cope with road closures, broken fridges, replacement tills, making our home watertight (a new thatch doesn’t come cheap) but the economy was buoyant and people were keen to support us.  Introducing new ranges was relatively easy and caught on quickly.

Move forward to 2009 and things were a little different, the credit crunch had started to take hold and even in Chilbolton people were starting to feel the pinch.  We had to work just that little bit harder, cutting costs where we could and really trying to differentiate ourselves.  Customers would no longer buy things from us just because it was convenient, we had to give them things they couldn’t get elsewhere and then most crucially “tell them about it”.

Inside Chilbolton Stores
The website and Facebook page were really born from a need to keep people informed about the refurbishment program at the beginning of 2010.  With a grant from Hampshire County Council and SEEDA we were planning the most extensive works to the shop for many decades.  There would be disruption and we needed to keep our villagers informed.

At the end of the work, I think everyone agreed it was worth the small amount of pain.  The new layout is fresh and bright and makes running the shop much easier and more efficient.

We continued with the social media as it was popular and growing all the time, a competition to photograph your Chilbolton Stores Bag to win a Kindle was a highlight and it is the perfect place to tell people of new products and our regular wine tasting events.  The website too has been popular, bringing in orders from further a field and many extra customers for our local free-range turkeys at Christmas… not just from the village but from around Hampshire.

Chilbolton Stores in the spring sunshine

So the last six months have been some of the best, the business is growing and we are ”leaner and fitter” from a period of austerity.  I for one look back over the last five years fondly, I have always believed that you get out of something what you put in and that nothing really worth having comes easily.  We have had many, many good times and made lifelong friends in Chilbolton and I don’t regret a moment.  Here’s to 5 years and counting…

Hampshire Free Range Turkey at lower prices than Waitrose or M&S

Hampshire Free Range Turkey from Chilbolton StoresHampshire Free Range Turkey at lower prices than Waitrose and Marks & Spenser from Chilbolton Stores

After the success of last year we’re delighted to say Noah’s Ark Farm once more will be supplying us with their fantastic Free Range Bronze Turkeys and they’ll cost you less than almost anywhere else.

Why? Because we source them directly from the farm.

Last year I was able to realise one of my ambitions since our first Christmas in Chilbolton five years ago; to find local Hampshire Free Range Turkeys. The problem has been that the largest turkey farms are in Norfolk and East Anglia and one our aims when we bought Chilbolton Post Office & Stores, five years ago, was to source as much of our fresh produce and meat locally, as possible. There are a few farms in Hampshire that provide free range turkeys, but unfortunately they’ve either been too far away or simply too expensive.

After talking with Mike Smales, who make the wonderful Lyburn Cheese, he recommended a farm on the edge of the New Forest, where he gets his. A few calls later and I’m talking enthusiastically with the owners of Noah’s Ark Farm. They really care about the welfare of their turkeys and raise them from a day old, letting them roam in the fields (when they are old enough) and graze in a natural environment. When the day comes in December, the turkeys are processed on the farm, which reduces the stress on the animals and also food miles.

All of the birds are slow growing Bronze Turkeys which develop over 22-24 weeks, compared to the fast growing birds in supermarkets, which develop in 14-16 weeks. The Bronze has the flavour of the traditional Norfolk Black, but also more meat, so is a great Christmas alternative to the white turkeys. The care continues during the preparation stages, with all the turkeys being hand plucked and hung for a minimum of 10 days, which improves the flavour and tenderises the meat.

This Christmas Chilbolton Stores will providing the option of either a traditional Fresh Turkey from Randall Parker (formerly Bennetts) or a Hampshire Free Range Bronze Turkey. As I will need to drive down to the New Forest to collect these, we will be delivering these only on the 23rd December.

To order your turkey for Christmas 2014 click here:

Please note we only deliver in Chilbolton, Wherwell and the surrounding villages.


How Free is your Free Range Chicken?

I sat on a bench at Waterloo Station with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall not long after he took on Tesco over chickens. Although he was cross because his car was late picking him up for a TV show, in the five minutes we spoke, we had an great meeting of minds over free range chicken.

When you buy free range chicken you picture the chickens running around the field, happy in their lives, enjoying the freedom. True?

I though the same until I started looking into this.

According to DEFRA Free Range Chicken must have outside access for over half their lives. This is the ‘standard’ Free Range Chicken you can buy in Supermarkets, but these chickens are raised in large sheds which although less intensively stocked than the traditional broiler, are probably far from the picture most would associate with Free Range.

Free Range (Uncaged) Chickens in a Chicken House

Is this your picture of Free Range Chicken?

The chickens in this picture are Free Range as they have access to the outside, but they are still fairly intensively stocked.

If you are looking for ‘real’ Free Range you might want to disregard those that are described as Free Range and look for labels which describe the birds as Traditional Free Range or Free Range Total Freedom.

Jamies Hampshire Free Range Chicken

Total Freedom Free Range Chicken

When we first met Jamie at Locks Drove Farm he was keen to impress on us the difference and that they believed that a Free Range Chicken should be kept in small sheds without restriction to their roaming. The slower growing birds develop more flavour and enjoy a more natural live, being able to scratch around and feed in a woodland environment as they did in times gone by.

We chose Jamie’s Free Range Chicken for Chilbolton Stores as they were not only local, but in my opinion the best type of chicken, as they are truly free to range, have 24-hour access to the outdoors, to breathe fresh air, to have access to a large meadow, field or orchard, to peck and scratch about and to have a truly natural existence; to be protected from foxes and other vermin by an electric security fence; to have shelter from the weather when needed; to have a place to roost and a plentiful supply of grain and fresh water.

Total Freedom Free Range Chicken are truly happy chickens…

…and they taste delicious 🙂

The Story of Silas Cole born in Chilbolton in 1820 – Deported to Tasmania

Silas Cole - Born in Chilbolton 1820 - Deported to Tasmania, Coles Bay

Silas Cole Born 1820 in Chilbolton, Hampshire – Deported to Tasmania in 1842

One of the joys of looking after the Shop Gossip Blog and the Chilbolton Village Facebook Page is that I get contacted by some amazing people who have lived or have an attachment with the village.

Early this year I was contacted by Nadia Cole, whose relations lived in Georgian and Victorian Chilbolton. I passed on some information and contacts and her Uncle, Chris Cole, who lives in Tasmania, responded with the following story of Silas Cole who was born in Chilbolton in 1820 and was deported to Tasmania in 1842.

Chris Cole takes up the story of Silas Cole.

Silas was baptised on December 31 1820 (one of 14 children to John and Triphena Cole (nee Kent) in Chilbolton).  His father died in 1835 when he was only about 15. He made the local Hampshire papers between 1838-1841 for petty crimes such as stealing a drake and ‘destroying fish’.  His later record showed he was also guilty of stealing apples and poaching.  He received small periods of a month or two in gaol for these misdemeanours.

On February 24 1842 he is up before the Southampton assizes on the more serious charges of housebreaking and stealing 28lbs of bacon.  He is found guilty and sentenced to 10 years transportation.  He spends time on the hulks at Gosport before leaving on the ship Moffatt in August for Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) arriving November 28 1842.  Most of this information is on his convict record which states his native place as Chilbolton and mother as Tryphena.

Oyster Bay - Coles Bay Tasmania named after Silas Cole born in Chilbolton Hampshire

Oyster Bay – Coles Bay Tasmania named after Silas Cole

As a convict he absconds 2 or 3 times and at one point is given 75 lashes.  By 1845 he is calmer and receives a probation pass and then a Ticket of Leave (free to work and get paid) in 1848.  He works as a shepherd on the East Coast of Tasmania and to earn more money he builds a kiln and burns oyster shells, left by the aborigines, for lime to make cement in a beautiful, secluded bay.

He finally receives his free certificate in 1852 – fully serving his 10 years.

Three years later at age 34 he marries an Irish girl Jane Martin who is 19 years old.  They have 10 children- 6 boys and 4 girls.  Two of the boys die in their teens or 20’s, while 3 others head to the mainland of Australia due to a severe drought in 1888.  Only one son remains in Tasmania, Anthony, who ironically becomes a policemen and from whom Nadia and I are descended.  Anthony only had one son to produce heirs and this son only one son to produce heirs as well.  So if any Cole in Tasmania asks are we related we are 99% sure they are not.

Silas died on June 3 1899 aged 78 in Hobart Tasmania.

Now for his legacy. Because of Silas the name Cole remains known to everyone in the state of Tasmania.  The reason: – when he burnt shells in that secluded coastal area; that bay now carries his name – Coles Bay as well as the small seaside town nearby.  Coles Bay has become part of Freycinet National Park – a hugely popular tourist attraction in Tasmania.

This is a wonderful story of a historic resident of Chilbolton and if anyone has links to this family Chris and Nadia would be delighted to hear them and add your comments hear.

Further to writing this various people have come forward with information, which started me digging and it seems that the Tilbury and Cole families were very intermarried. The following image was found on the Family History of Margaret Watson and shows how the families are linked. At this stage I think James Cole was John Cole’s brother and therefore Silas’ Uncle.

Family Tree of the Cole and Tilbury Family Chilbolton

The Cole and Tilbury Family Tree during the 1800s in Chilbolton

Further information can be found on their website on the Tilbury family history here

Disposable Barbecues – Are they worth it?

This may seem an odd statement from someone like me who likes nothing more than lighting up the barbecue and cooking anything from sausages and chicken legs to legs of lamb and even paella (in a pan 🙂 ).

However the disposable barbecue has become a bit of a boom industry over the last 10 years, with millions being sold annually.

So what’s the problem?

Barbecue burning Chilbolton Common

Disposable Barbecue Burning Chilbolton Common

After walking round the common on Easter Monday evening, a few other people on the common were echoing the same question? “So what’s the problem, its only burning a small bit of grass?”

The problem with disposable barbecues is that they are cheap, some costing no more than a £1, but they are often placed directly on the grass, rather than on stones or a rack, if they come with one. This not only kills the grass, but in dry conditions could start a grass fire.

BBQ Burns Chilbolton Common

If you walk round Chilbolton Common at the moment the number of barbecue sites is growing, so to answer the question, ‘What’s the problem, its only a small piece of grass’; by the end of the summer, those small bits of grass will have grown to a patchwork of black spots around the river bank. Those barbecuing in the evening also forget that it takes time for the barbecue to cool, so unfortunately they are left for the morning walkers to find.

Thoughts from a sunny Easter in Chilbolton

I can only apologise for the length of time between writing my last article, but I’ve been blogged out with the day job I’m afraid.

I write this as I am sat outside Chilbolton Village Stores watching the world go by. Its Good Friday afternoon and the sun has moved round behind the shop making the table a cool and pleasant spot to watch the world go by.

The latest warm weather and change in the seasons since my last blog has been dramatic to say the least. On the days when I’ve been in London, driving back as the sun has been setting the view coming into the village is truly spectacular. It always reminds me of what a beautiful part of Hampshire we live in.

Today with the temperature climbing into the mid twenties, you may have been excused for thinking you were down in Studland Bay – Dorset, with people piling out of cars with buckets, fishing nets, towels and wind breaks.

Chilbolton Common or Bournemouth Beach?

Coming back from Chilbolton Common or Bournemouth Beach?

Everyone has been smiling and there has been a general holiday atmosphere. Hopefully there won’t be any instances of common rage with people who have managed to park on the common; I hope not, but it seems that some people feel that they have to park across the drives to the houses on the common. I’ve never quite understood why this happens as surely those that park across the drives wouldn’t expect to be blocked into their own houses.

Chilbolton Common - Cars Blocking Access

Please don’t block access to the houses on Chilbolton Common

I took a walk down to the common and most people had parked with consideration, but some interesting parking across one gate would have made it difficult to get a car through, let alone an emergency vehicle.

We live in a beautiful part of the Test Valley and its great that people want to share Chilbolton Common, but if you are driving down, you could drop the kids off and either park at West Down or in the village where there is more space; Chilbolton Village Shop do a great range of New Forest Icecream and there’s nothing better than a cold glass of your favourite tipple at the Abbots Mitre. They do fantastic Pizza as well. Just what the Doctor ordered after a day in the sun.

Enjoy the summer and enjoy Chilbolton Common.