When Winston Churchill came for tea in Stoke Canon
PUBLISHED: 17:25 09 July 2018
The redevelopment of some rural Devon barns has unearthed a very unique link with our greatest statesman
When a development of rural barns on the edge of a Devon village goes on sale this summer, a little bit of history will go with it. For Oakhay Barton in Stoke Canon was visited by one of our greatest statesmen of all time - Sir Winston Churchill.
According to a note on the back of an old photo which recorded the event for posterity, the year was 1924 and Churchill was on his way to speak at a political rally at Bicton, when he and his wife stopped to visit his old friend Sir Reginald Barnes at his farmhouse home on the edge of Stoke Canon.
In October that year Churchill would be re-elected to Parliament with a 10,000 majority at his seat in Epping – going on to become Prime Minister in 1940.
And fortunately, his visit to Devon was recorded with the photo (above) taken outside the barns.
The treasured photo belongs to Anne Alford, who moved to Oakhay Barton with her husband Garfield in July 1956. Garfield’s father, Jim, had bought the property from Reginald Barnes in 1938.
“It was the most beautiful house. It had belonged to the church for around 1,000 years, but General Barnes was able to buy it,” explains Anne, who has six grandchildren and three great grandchildren. She brought up her three children at the farm.
“It was a wonderful place for children to grow up and we have a lifetime of happy memories from our time there.”
And they always knew that the farm had received a famous visitor: “It was something that was always talked about when we lived there. We knew that Churchill was a friend of Reggie Barnes and had stopped in to visit him on the way to a rally.”
Sir Reginald was born at Oakhay Barton and inherited the property from his father. He met Churchill in November 1895, when aged 24, he was attached as an observer of guerilla warfare to the Spanish Army during the Cuban War of independence.
His fellow 4th Hussars officer, one Winston Churchill, was also an accredited journalist for the London Daily Graphic sending home dispatches from the front.
Both officers were also under orders from Colonel Edward Chapman, the then British Director of Military Intelligence to “collect information and statistics on various points and particularly as to the effect of the new bullet its penetration and striking power”.
Their paths would cross many times in the ensuing years and it was a friendship which would last a lifetime.
Barnes had a long and distinguished career and was awarded several honours. He was invested as a Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath and was twice awarded the French Croix de Guerre.
His home was always at Oakhay Barton on the edge of Stoke Canon where he lived with this wife Gunhilla Wijk. Their son, who went on to serve as a Second-Lieutenant with the Coldstream Guards, was killed during the Second World War.
Barnes was appointed deputy lieutenant for Devon in August 1927, a position he held until his death in August 1946.
The traditional barns are being converted into eight homes by restoration specialist developers Woofenden Construction and sold by Stags Estate Agents.
The story of Winston Churchill’s visit to Oakhay Barton was revealed in a chance conversation between Woofenden builder Ivor Moon and a passer-by in the village.
With some old-fashioned detective work Ivor tracked down Anne Alford who was able to tell us about Oakhay Barton’s fascinating history.