Coleshill is a quintessentially English village close to Swindon, just about on the Oxfordshire/Wiltshire border. Much of it is owned by the National Trust in the form of the Coleshill estate. The village has a long history which today is extended into the 21st century by the presence of Sonia Oliver and her Coleshill Organics business!
Coleshill Organics was started in 1995 on a farm at Watchfield a neighbouring village in Wiltshire. Sonia began there with a small 2 acre farm. The aim, with then husband Pete, was to develop a business based on a passion to provide local people with the highest quality fresh produce – an enthusiasm and joy for truly flavoursome “real” food. Sonia believes that such a mindset is reinforced every evening when we cook that is grown locally and lovingly and where you can taste the difference.
The formula obviously worked because the business has gradually evolved so to outgrow the land at Watchfield and move to now occupy about 7 acres of the National Trust-owned land in Coleshill. The core of the operation is the walled garden of the original Coleshill estate, and from where Sonia runs a shop and box scheme.
Nowhere could be more archetypally ‘English’ than Coleshill – stone-built church, quaint pub, surrounded by a patchwork quilt of fields, woodland spinney and water meadows, and nestling alongside a parkland estate originally with its ‘big house’. The history is long and extensive – but not without its surprises. Coleshill House for example was the base to train Auxiliers for the British Resistance in the Second World War. The Auxiliers were a secrete army trained to lead the fight back if Hitler had actually invaded Britain. Coleshill was chosen as HQ after the bombing of the original offices in Whitehall.
The process of selection sounds a bit like an Ealing comedy. A Major Henderson had been given the task of finding a central, secluded site with good transport links, and he had a brother who lived at the nearby Buscot estate. It was brother Henderson who recommended Coleshill House based on a very private position, a setting behind two high walls, its 48 rooms and only two resident sisters!
Part of the Auxiliers’ training was learning how to create discreet operational bases or hides. Some were built in existing ice houses, disused mines or quarries, but others were built underground with a standard elephant shelter design. Furnishings were sparse, with bunks for four men, self-closing inner doors to prevent light escaping, a small kitchen, a toilet, and an escape route in case of detection. The remains of the old stove pipe, which was hidden in the trunk of a tree, can still be seen. Recovered secret documents reveal great emphasis was placed on camouflage, door operation and maintenance.
Unbelievably, over 3,000 men were trained as Auxiliers at Coleshill. And their model of training – using small cells of six people working independently and in complete isolation from other groups – could be described as the precursor of modern-day warfare. All the same, seems much more preferable to not having had it tested!
Moreover growing over 70 traditional varieties of fruit and vegetables selected for their flavour and taste, sounds more in my substantially more pacifist line for use of the land!! Coleshill Organics is totally organic, regularly inspected by the Soil Association and uses no GMO’s.
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ESC]