Darkes Farm, in Prestbury, Gloucestershire, is thought to have been built in the late 15th Century by the Bishop of Hereford, possibly as accommodation for hunting parties at a time when Prestbury was described as a woodland area, rich in game.
During the Civil War, a Parliamentary army is said to have camped here in 1643 en route to relieving the siege of Gloucester by Royalist forces, and may have clashed with them in the village.
It is believed to have acquired its current name from the Reverend Darkes, who was, in later years, given the property in recognition of his services to the parish of Prestbury. For many years, until well into the 20th century, it was owned by the Parkers, a prominent Prestbury family. Today it is a private house, situated at the foot of the Cotswolds on the north-east fringe of the village.
The building, the front of which faces almost due north, has three main parts: the central, and oldest, section is timber-framed, and currently accommodates a sitting room on the ground floor and two small bedrooms on the first floor. Some wattle and daub infill between the timbers still remains in one of the first floor walls, but most are now filled with brick and plaster.
A significant feature of this part of the building is the large stone chimney, and the sitting room still has the period stone fireplace.
A section of the Tudor moulded fireplace
The two small bedrooms are a modern conversion of a single upstairs room, and this has, unfortunately, covered the upstairs fireplace, which was enhanced by decorative mouldings. Legend has it that one of the mouldings was a plaque commemorating the occasion when a King and Queen of England, caught while travelling by severe weather, took shelter and spent the night at the farm.
Three of the mouldings from the dismantled fireplace on the first floor: crown, thistle, Tudor rose
In the corner of the sitting room, a small crucifix is carved in one of the oak beams, marking the location of an old shrine stone, itself no longer accessible.
The small carved crucifix
The western end of the property consists of a brick-built barn, at one time housing a cider press (the stone is still situated in the garden), and a principal supplier of cider to the village.
The cider press stone
After some years’ use as a garage, the barn is now laid out as living room on the ground floor with the main bedroom on the first floor, but some of the original hooks and fastenings remain on the beams.
An old iron hook on a beam
The eastern section of the property is believed to date from the 18th Century, and is of stone and brick construction; it currently comprises the kitchen/breakfast room area on the ground floor and the second bedroom on the first floor. Above this, some floorboards and a bricked up window indicate that there was once an attic room.
Both the western (barn) and eastern sections have been extended by later additions at the rear of the property, and the original thatched roof has been replaced with concrete tiles.
The garden of just under one acre is mostly laid to grass surrounded by trees and hedgerow, and lies almost entirely to the south of the house. Through it runs a stream, apparently well known at one time for its crop of watercress, which still grows strongly.
The remainder of the original farm property is now owned separately. Darkes Cottage, at one time providing accommodation for farm staff, is occupied as a private house with stables, while the land, about 4½ acres to the south and west, is now used as accommodation land by the stables at Darkes Cottage and at Noverton Farm (once known as Pleydells), the farm further up the hill to the east.
Finally, as Prestbury is said to be the most haunted village in the country, there is the obligatory ghost – a young lady stands at the front of the house selling vegetables.
Beams in barn
A Portrait of Prestbury by Florence E Jackson. Peter I Drinkwater 1987
Scene Together by Aylwin Sampson. The Windrush Press 1992
Twentieth Century Memories of Prestbury in Gloucestershire (compiled by Grimster, Powell and Bishop). Prestbury Parish Council 2000
Prestbury. Our Heritage: an Architectural Survey. Prestbury Women’s Institute (reference only, available at Gloucestershire County Libraries)
Last amended on 25 January 2005