The house now known as The Grange began life in 1857 as the newly-erected parsonage designed by G.E. Street on land sold by Exeter College, Oxford. The following year Charles Foster Garratt became the first vicar of Little Tew.
Coming from a wealthy family and, finding the small building and its one acre of land not at all to his taste, he planned enlarging it to house his expanding family. Adjoining land was purchased from Exeter in 1866; three years later Garratt commissioned Charles Buckeridge to add extra wings (to see the expansion chronology please click here. Use your browser’s return button to return to this page.)
By 1880 when he retired, Garratt bought the house from the church, renamed it The Grange and added the final wing designed by one E. Bruton. By 1889 he’d acquired the final (southern) parcel of land which thus completed the grounds in which the house currently sits. Entirely comprising woodland areas, gardens, lawns and a full-length archery they still provide the perfect setting for a large family.
At Garratt’s death The Grange passed through several owners (including members of the Sitwell family of writers and artists in the 1930s). In 1958 the property was bought by Fred and Val Temlett for £3,500 and by then it was in a poor state of repair. For the next 55 years they devoted themselves to slowly restoring The Grange to its former glory, Fred dividing his time between teaching and house maintenance while Val cared for the interior. On a teacher’s salary Fred could never afford to modernise the building very much and the house as it appears today thus remains a beautiful and rare example of a Victorian family home.
In 1970 they created The Grange Theatre in the building once used by staff for cooking, laundering and general household duties. Over the next 40+ years this 72-seat, fully equipped and entirely amateur theatre gained a most impressive reputation for giving over one hundred productions of the highest quality, while the BBC also used it to record several of their own popular radio programmes.
With advancing old age and illness, Fred & Val decided to close the theatre in 2009: they were married for nearly 74 years and were never happier than when their home resounded to laughter and music; they were the intellectual equals to the Garratts and the Sitwells.
The Grange is their legacy so that future owners may cherish and enjoy it.
Fred and Val
The enduring love story of Edna Mabel Morgan and Frederick George Temlett began when Edna (born in Cardiff in 1918) met Fred (born nearby in 1920) and they became firm childhood friends. From a young age Edna was very talented, studying piano (later to become an Associate in the London College of Music) and violin, but was determined above all else to be a dancer. In her early teenaged years she and a friend determined to pursue this course but, sensibly realising that perhaps her Christian names weren’t particularly well-suited to prospective fame, she settled on Valentine which inevitably became Val.
Fred shared his Cardiff childhood with brother William and sister Phyllis. From an early age Fred was fascinated by things mechanical and their father’s Bullnose Morris was a source of endless fascination to Fred as were the rarely-seen aeroplanes of the day. By his teens he’d discovered another fascinating interest – girls: or rather, girl, because Val had turned into a lissom and very beautiful dancer and had captivated him. So much so that in August 1939, at the age of 18, he married her and she would remain his wife for nearly 74 years.
September 1939 saw the outbreak of World War Two and for Val her glamorous life of dance transformed into a life of hard physical and dangerous work; she was drafted in to helping the war effort by driving ambulances around Cardiff. In 1941, during one air-raid, Val with her medical orderly and a stretchered victim were grinding up a notoriously steep hill to a receiving hospital. Pre-war ambulances weren’t designed to be driven by young ladies, especially ones weighing at most eight stone soaking wet, and perhaps not surprisingly Val missed her gear change – the ambulance lurched to a sudden halt, the stretcher slid from inside and dropped onto the road. Luckily the orderly leapt out before his patient could set off down the hill and the pair of them lifted him back inside after he’d suffered only a few more cuts and bruises. Years later Fred, ever anxious to preserve Val’s reputation, laconically commented that at least she’d made the patient’s journey to hospital “a little more worthwhile, old boy”.
Fred himself, meanwhile, ever eager to expand his mechanical knowledge, joined the Royal Air Force to become an aircraft fitter. After the mandatory period of service training, he was stationed to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, installing Val in a nearby cottage. Part of his duties included preparing the Stirling heavy bomber as a glider tug ready to help in the planned invasion of Europe several years hence. Early trials appeared successful but, during an attempt at flight towing a heavily-laden glider carrying 30 troops, one Stirling failed to climb out and flew into a hanger wall. There were no survivors. Fred remarked to an onlooker at the time, “I wouldn’t like to be in an aeroplane that stopped that quickly, old boy.” Little did he know…
The Americans were shipping lease-lend materiel to the UK, including aircraft and, as the European theatre of war expanded into the Mediterranean and to Africa, Fred’s unit was seconded to Nassau in the Bahamas. The runway there was long enough to allow these heavily-fuelled planes to take off on their perilous non-stop over-water flight to Africa. Fred was always a meticulous worker but it was here that his later, sometimes exasperating, habit of inspecting and often re-doing other people’s work came to the fore. On too many occasions he’d checked the engine oil of aircraft cleared for the journey, only to find dangerously low levels or even the wrong type of lubricant. Engine failures over the empty wastes of the Atlantic almost always ended in the pilots drowning. Not on Fred’s watch, they didn’t.
Val settled in to the bucolic life of the countryside, far different from that which she’d known in the city and, as many homeowners were, was obliged to accept people billeted with her – usually visiting engineers working at nearby Brize. She was able to explore the beautiful countryside around the area and quickly fell in love with the sleepy Cotswold villages and slower pace of life. She began painting, usually in oils and her developing character proved to be exceptionally artistic, dramatic and romantic; she had a good eye for detail.
Time passed: in May 1945 peace broke out in Europe and Fred’s unit was moved that month up to Montreal in readiness to take ship back to the UK. The more adventurous and impatient engineers, however, persuaded the ferry pilots on the local airfield (who were delivering the new Liberator four-engined bombers to the RAF in England) to accommodate them on hastily-rigged canvas seats in the bomb bays of their aircraft. Some 16 men would endure the noise, bitter cold and partial lack of oxygen so they could get home considerably more quickly than by ship. Fred, naturally, was in the queue and eager to return to his young bride. It’s hard to realise that the North Atlantic had only been successfully flown by Alcock and Brown just 26 years previously, and so the authorities expected some losses of ferried aircraft due to bad weather, poor navigating or mechanical failure but, as it transpired, this was not always the case.
Most ferry pilots elected to fly out over the sea on a direct course for the UK but on the May morning of Fred’s flight, his aircraft was climbed in circles above the airfield to avoid a heavy storm in the area. At a pre-set altitude, the fuse of a bomb concealed by a saboteur in one of the engines detonated and started a fire. Fred spotted the trouble and made his way up into the cockpit to help the flight engineer dump fuel. Unfortunately the explosion had destroyed flight control cables on that wing which, by now, was blazing furiously. Fortunately those on the airfield beneath heard the bang, saw the fireball spiralling down, and arrived at the scene of the crash shortly after the heavy impact.
They found a critically injured Fred, his left leg badly smashed, struggling to retrieve survivors from the wreck. He was taken to the Naval Hospital in Montreal where the standard procedure was applied to such terribly broken limbs – splint it, encase it entirely in plaster for several months in the hope that the bones could fuse, and pray that gangrene didn’t set in. It often did and the usual outcome was amputation, but Fred became one of the first servicemen to be given the new wonder-drug Penicillin and his leg remained attached although some two inches shorter. He was repatriated to the UK and, still on crutches, arranged to meet his beloved Val at Swindon railway station. Whilst drinking a cup of tea in the buffet, he spotted her running along the platform towards him. Excitedly he opened the door, placed his crutches on the top of the short flight of stairs, and stepped into space. Those cumbersome crutches didn’t flex; they remained firmly tucked beneath his armpits, and Fred pivoted helplessly, falling flat onto his face. What a home-coming.
Invalided out of the RAF, he was determined to continue a career in engineering and for a short while took a job as mechanic in a motor garage near Oxford. But the effort of kneeling and of carrying heavy items around exacerbated his injuries and so he undertook a training course which would lead him into a post teaching general engineering at the newly-built Easington Modern Secondary Boys’ School in Banbury. The pupils delighted in referring to this strict martinet as “Tinplate” although, perhaps understandably, not in his hearing.
Despite these injuries which would dog Fred for the rest of his life, he not only held down his full-time job, but in 1958 he and Val had bought and saved from dereliction a 30-room Victorian Grange standing in five acres of abandoned gardens and at once embarked on an ambitious plan to restore the house to as near its original Victorian splendour as possible.
While Fred tackled the parlous condition of the house, Val turned quite naturally to finding an outlet for her sensibilities. She began, within their limited budget, to carefully dress the interior of the house, creating an elegant and timeless home. Close inspection revealed most of it to be a brilliantly-executed stage set! She also continued to paint and the house held a number of her whimsical and dream-like images.
Shortly afterwards they adopted a little boy, Stephen, and helped launch the Oxfordshire Vegetarian Society (which still going strong). Oh – and in their spare time they’d begin to create a fully-equipped 72-seat theatre in the annex which once held the kitchen and associated services, along with the help of a small group of friends including Roger and Vinny Jenner who had, in the past, close association with several theatres including the White Rock in Hastings and from that unwitting supplier came some second-hand main curtains, flies, drapes and much else besides. Roger was our first stage manager and his calm, professional manner did much to set the high standard for which the theatre quickly became known. Vinny was a wonderful character actress, while their hugely-talented son Andrew followed in her footsteps. He remained down all those years a faithful and attentive friend to Fred and Val.
As conversion progressed, Val was busy writing and casting her first production – Memory of Spring. In hindsight its overly-sentimental storyline and period setting can be attributed to the outpouring of Val’s pent-up desires to write a piece suitable for her beloved house and in that she admirably succeeded. Before long the theatre stood complete – a self-contained jewel boasting full sound, lighting, cue systems and wonderful acoustics and into which the patrons were welcomed from the elegant bar and coffee-room areas. For the next forty years it would become the mainstay certainly of Val’s life, seeing over one-hundred productions and run entirely by volunteers, so no personal profit nor external funding was taken; after expenses donations went to many charities both animal and human.
Not content with writing shows or adapting existing books for the stage, Val revealed her uncanny knack of painting scenery with absolutely correct perspective – others have tried it and usually say from bitter experience that standing in front of an eight-foot flat with a three-inch paintbrush and trying to envisage how the scene would look from the back row was a daunting task. Especially when, from out of the auditorium’s gloom, would come Fred’s ever-helpful voice, “I say, old boy, that doesn’t look quite right, y’know.”
As the years passed and the number of productions rose (in our heyday, three per annum) another of Val’s gifts became obvious – the art of type-casting – and more than one suitably-looking member of the public was startled to be accosted by Fred and Val and asked whether they’d like to appear in a forthcoming production at the Grange Theatre. “Why teach them to act when all they need do is learn the lines?” she once observed. The theatre went from strength to strength. The BBC recorded several radio shows and Pam Ayres once ironed her frock on the kitchen table. It was that kind of place!
But tragedy struck in 1979 when Stephen died in a motoring accident, aged 27. He’s buried in Little Tew churchyard, where Fred and Val also now rest. The hit comedy Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn was running, so Val and Fred were able to hand the reins to the cast and crew, retiring to a quiet room in the house and grieve privately whilst through the building each evening echoed shouts of delighted laughter from the audiences. Fred said; “Too many people have devoted too much time to the show for us to cancel it, old boy. Let it run.”
Perhaps inevitably it was the theatre itself which gave balm to their sorrow and Val retreated into her transcendental world of high Victorian romance bolstered of course by her life in the Grange, writing, painting and playing the piano. Fred took longer to come to terms with Steve’s death and would lose himself in house and theatre maintenance (with his often-aching leg, he continued teaching and in any spare time could be found clambering across the many roofs of the Grange, carefully repairing the thousands of Stonesfield slates in company with his faithful stonemason Terry Eden. Fred eventually tottered into the kitchen one day in 1992 and cried triumphantly “Finished the bloody thing!” Only took them 34 years…)
Slowly the pain lessened and the theatre once again resumed “normal service”, by now having welcomed by happy chance an actress who would prove to be of such lasting value to it – Jackie Finlay – whose consummate stagecraft bordered consistently on the professional. To her, to the countless other on- and off-stage volunteers who gave so much of their time and talents during those forty years, this website is privileged on behalf of Val and Fred to say a truly heartfelt “thank you.”
Time, though, was taking its inevitable toll and, in 2009, The Shell Seekers became the last show. Fred had undergone surgery on his leg and, later, for the removal of infected bone behind his ear which had rendered him almost completely deaf. Val herself was not in good health by then but despite the difficulties they remained – as always – devoted to each other and were delighted to receive visitors when they could. Unbeknownst to us all, Fred had developed leukaemia and was admitted with some urgency to the Churchill Hospital in Oxford where he received medication and blood transfusions in an attempt to alleviate the condition. He picked up an infection and, for three days, fought it like a lion. When the crisis was past, his doctors warned us that he was very weak and, without regaining consciousness, he died peacefully on the morning of the seventh of May 2013.
With Fred’s passing, Val herself began a long and gentle decline marked by no anxiety or pain. Although she was entirely bed-bound for the last year or so, every one of her professional full-time carers spoke with genuine fondness of Val’s gracious and patient submission to their sometimes intrusive duties and remembered her bright smile and acceptance of what must be. She died peacefully asleep in the early hours of Thursday 18th February 2016 and was buried – as befitted a Welsh girl – on St David’s Day 1st March, with Fred and Stephen together at last in the peaceful churchyard of Little Tew.
Postscript: during the period of the theatre’s dismantling Val had become quite a burden on Fred and almost of the running of the house fell to him. It was a desperately sad time to witness; he was by now very deaf indeed and Val would only converse in mumbles (they often conducted short conversations by exchange of notes) and when Fred quite suddenly died in hospital, she soon decided to take to her bed. It was thought that this decision would lead quickly to her own passing but, to our surprise, Val lingered on for almost three more years.
In happier days two old friends of theirs, Alan Mauro and Keith Bennett, had been asked to be executors. Because Fred and Val had firmly intimated that they wished to die at home in the Grange, the executors respected that wish and appointed full-time professional carers for Val who were – ironically – easily accommodated in rooms within the existing house rather than in any apartment envisaged by Fred. For two years Val would rarely speak at all, even though her general health appeared quite good. She gave no trouble and seemed genuinely pleased to receive the few visitors who came but, as she wouldn’t converse with them, their numbers dwindled away.
And so it ended: one diminutive lady spending her days in the distant bedroom of a very large house surrounded by nothing but dreams and memories, completely worn out and pining for her husband, her son and for times past. In the early hours of one spring morning the house became quite still; Val gently left her earthly realm for a better place.