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December 2006 Meeting Report

The December meeting of the Sawston Village History Society was the usual festive occasion with a generous buffet provided by Society members. In keeping with the vaguely Victorian theme Bryan Howe read interesting and provocative excerpts from the diary of AJ Challis, grandfather of the late Mary Challis, who is now proving to be one of the great Sawston benefactors.

Challis lived in the large Victorian house next to the Woolpack, behind which there is a four acre garden which borders the eastern side of the Mill Lane recreation ground. It is intended that the ground floor of the house will be a museum, with the gardens open to the public. But much work needs to be done, hopefully with the full participation of the people of Sawston, which is what Mary would have wished.

Bryan is now in the process of transcribing the historic diary kept by Challis. Perhaps when finished, this may become as well known as the diaries of Rev Francis Kilvert who famously described how he had a bath one Christmas Eve, after first braking the ice layer in the tub! Amongst his many other skills, Challis developed some formulations for various curative remedies, including one for cholera (it is not known how effective this was) and also wrote out recipes for other household requisites such as glue and blacking. When he wasn’t writing out exotic recipes in his diary he was a busy auctioneer and family man. He married Ruth Nicholls in 1858 and they had eight children, including Alfred Challis, father of Mary.

After reading numerous excerpts, and a decent interval to enjoy the excellent buffet and a glass of wine, Bryan gave an intriguing quiz inviting the audience to select the made up words from a list of unusual words, many of which were in use in Victorian times.

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