Meet Slaidburn’s first female squire

PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 August 2015

Squire Anthea Hodson and her husband Major Kerry Hodson outside the Slaidburn home where she was born and brought up

Squire Anthea Hodson and her husband Major Kerry Hodson outside the Slaidburn home where she was born and brought up


Anthea Hodson and her daughters have broken a tradition going back centuries. Sue Riley reports. Main photography by Kirsty Thompson

Welcome to SlaidburnWelcome to Slaidburn

Anthea Hodson has broken a tradition going back centuries as the first woman to hold the historic title of the Squire of Slaidburn, an inherited role that comes with the ownership of almost every house in this pretty Lancashire village along with 1,600 acres of land.

In the past two centuries there’s only been a handful of years when the squire hasn’t been in residence here, but Anthea also broke that tradition because she had to wait for the tenants of her former family home to move out before she and husband, Major Kerry Hodson, could relocate back to Rock House.

This is an imposing Grade II early 19th century detached property in the heart of the village and it has been home to the King Wilkinson-Hodson family for generations.

Anthea was born and brought up in the house in the days when there was no question of her ever becoming squire because the title always followed the male line. In a legal quirk, and following the deaths of her brothers, the title was assigned to her and her daughters, Kate and Biddy. That was in 2011 and she moved back the following year.

Anthea points out that the only other time when a squire didn’t live in the village was during World War Two – her father inherited the title in 1939 but took up residence six years later. Now she’s making up for lost time and, together with her agent, has set about upgrading the Slaidburn Estate which comprises of tenanted farms, 73 properties which are mostly 17th century cottages and other grander houses including Dunnow Hall.

It’s not unique that a village is owned by one family – nearby Downham is one – but it’s certainly highly unusual. ‘It’s a great honour but although we own it we are only custodians for the next generations. That’s very important to me,’ she says. ‘The other thing I feel is that the Hodder Valley is one of the most beautiful places in the British Isles and Slaidburn is the jewel in the crown.’

She also owns the Hark to the Bounty pub – which contains a former courtroom – the youth hostel, a cottage used for the village archive and the majority of houses where the village’s 300 residents live.

The farmers are often there for generations, but as the houses become free Anthea is concentrating on upgrading them before re-letting. ‘I like to let the houses to people with children to support the local school.

‘I personally like to meet and get to know them, but I do have a wonderful agent who deals with the day-to-day running of the estate. He has been with me since I started. ‘This is a business and that’s the way it is run. It’s very, very beautiful but the world moves on and it’s not a museum, although we must not spoil it.’

She also says there’s only one house in the entire village which is for holiday use and that’s kept for her daughter, Biddy, who visits with her family at least once a month.

Many traditions continue – the estate’s official colour is deep blue with all the windows painted white. Anthea will consider all applications for new shops and one of the most recent is Bowland Chocolate Company which opened three years ago. ‘I do not think we would want a tattoo parlour here though!’ she says.

‘We were brought up to love the estate and the people. We try to be hands on, but there are lots of things we do not understand. We do not have degrees in farm management, but we have a wonderful agent.’

Anthea celebrated her 70th birthday this year and in September there’s another major family celebration – the couple’s golden wedding anniversary. When they married they held the reception in a marquee opposite their Slaidburn home. Fortunately, her husband wasn’t put off when Anthea’s father informed him that being female she would never inherit this estate, which started to develop in the 1700s when the King Wilkinson family had began buying up land.

Since making Slaidburn her home again, she takes an active part in village life and is proud to be president of Slaidburn Silver Band. On Whit Monday the estate gives dictionaries to local children and this year she is President of Hodder Valley Show which takes place in Slaidburn in September. Each child who takes part in the May Queen procession goes up to the front door of her home and receives a token monetary gift. ‘It’s a lovely tradition,’ she says.

One of the few properties the estate has sold off over the years is Townhead. Businessman Bob Staples bought the derelict Georgian building and has transformed it into a beautiful country house which won a major restoration award in 2013. ‘It’s been the most enormous success,’ says Anthea.

Linda and Peter Blackwell in the Coronation Meadows at Bell SykesLinda and Peter Blackwell in the Coronation Meadows at Bell Sykes

The village has a café, busy village hall, medical centre and one shop run by Odel Hodgson and Nina Grainger. The couple moved there seven years after working in Morrisons in Morecambe – quite a lifestyle change. They love the atmosphere and quietness of the area and say one of the best things is that they can walk in the middle of the road! Apart from when the annual Steam Rally is held which attracts thousands into the quiet village.

It’s a predominantly rural area and includes Lancashire’s only Coronation meadows. Bell Sykes Farm is one of the smallest farms on the Slaidburn Estate and has been farmed by the Blackwell family for three generations. In 2013, Peter Blackwell went to Highgrove to meet Prince Charles after he named Bell Sykes as the first Coronation meadow in Lancashire. Now it acts as a donor site with hay from the meadows spread on land at other farms across the county to increase the number of flowers and plant species.

‘They were more extensively farmed and my dad (Leonard) decided he wanted to go more traditional and stopped using fertilisers and they came back to where they were,’ said Peter Blackwell.

‘When I met Prince Charles he did a talk for us and I did not know they had lost 97% of the old flower meadows and that shocked me,’ he said. So he has now created two more meadows and has given over half of his rented farm to fields full of native wildflowers. He works two to three days a week mending industrial mowers to make ends meet and they also have a herd of 12 cows, a magnificent Hereford bull and 105 Hampshire sheep on the 143-acre farm.

Sarah Robinson, from the Forest of Bowland AONB, said: ‘They are such fine examples of upland hay meadows. Peter has been managing them in a very traditional way.’ She estimates that Bell Sykes is responsible for restoring another 60 hectares across Bowland. ‘Lots of farms in Slaidburn have benefitted,’ she said, although she added that Slaidburn has a lot of existing meadows too. ‘It’s a very special place,’ she said.

The Blackwells have recently invited Prince Charles to visit and see how Lancashire’s only Coronation meadows have thrived – yet another cause for celebration in this special place.

Pupils at Brennand's Endowed Primary SchoolPupils at Brennand's Endowed Primary School

One of the advantages of having a village owned by one person is that there are few holiday homes so community life can thrive. Brennand’s Endowed Primary School benefits from that, says headteacher Charlotte Peregrine. The school, which dates back to the early 18th century, is now home to 43 pupils, including a new intake of three year olds.

‘Because we are so remote here, access for early years provision is quite limited for working parents and they are driving their little ones to Clitheroe,’ she said. ‘We are one of the hubs of the village and a couple of parents had approached me and asked for full day provision for their three-year-olds.’ They are always looking to the future and after a 10-year discussion with the council, now have a bespoke canopy room where children are taught if the weather is too bad for them to go outdoors.

‘Our environment is quite unusual and we are working towards becoming a Forest School. The children are involved in village life, and we have to make a massive concerted effort to show the children there’s life beyond Slaidburn and life beyond Clitheroe. Global citizenship is important for us,’ said Charlotte.

The children are ferried to and from their rural homes in four minibuses every day. Charlotte said tradition is an important part of village life and often generations of a family will attend the school and then remain in Slaidburn. ‘When we do the topic of “homes long ago” when people did not have fridges you talk about stone slabs and the youngsters say “we still have them!”’

It’s that seemingly timeless tradition that attracts walkers and cyclists and those wanting some peace and quiet. Fly fishermen visit Stock’s Reservoir and the AONB is currently deciding if Slaidburn will be one of their Dark Skies sites where stargazers will be encouraged to visit, particularly during the winter months. w

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