The cottage dates back to the late 18th Century, built in a Gothic style, as an estate worker’s dwelling probably for the game keeper of Ashwick Grove. This former mansion house stood at the head of the wooded valley and was lived in by John Billingsley, an agricultural reformist, 1747-1811.
The cottage was lived in by an estate worker until it was sold at auction for £60, in 1937, when the last of the Strachey family, died. The Ashwick Grove estate had to be sold off to pay death duties. The Georgian mansion, then in a bad state of repair was demolished and architectural masonry and other valuables sold at auction, including the woodland, which included ornamental gardens near the house.
A local saw mill owner Mr Shepherd, bought the cottage and part of surrounding woodland just after WW2, and he leased Keeper’s Cottage, to a retired army officer, Sgt Sidney Allen and his family, who lived there until about 1980, in a very basic fashion, with no running water or bathroom. The only water was drawn from a spring which is known as ‘Wishing Well’ further up the valley. There was no vehicle access to the cottage, only footpaths, across the fields to Limekiln Lane and through the woods to Oakhill. The Allen’s had two daughters, Liz was born at the cottage, and they went to school in Stoke St Michael. They kept a hand cart to carry shopping across the fields, and the girls kept their school shoes in a bread bin on edge of woods.
The cottage fell into dis-repair when the Allen family left, and it began to fall down gradually over the next 25 years. Mr Shepherd made several attempts to obtain planning permission to renovate the building during the 1990’s, but to no avail.
Nearby Keeper’s Cottage Billingsley also built two water powered mills, which once stood in the bottom of the valley.
- The remains of the edge tool works can still be seen today, next to the wooden bridge. It would have supplied the local coal works with shovels and mattocks.
- The other mill may have fermented logwood for extraction of black dye for the nearby woollen and silk mills of Shepton Mallet, and Frome. The logwood was imported from Jamaica, via Bristol docks.