'The Rolt House'
in Stanley Pontlarge
Given that we’re tucked away up a country lane and even many locals are not sure where to find us, it is surprising how many visitors make their way here.
They come for three reasons: The church, the walking and ‘The Rolt House’, officially known as The Cottage. It’s ecclesiastical appearance, with its arches and stone mullion windows, shows how firmly it owes its existence to St Michael’s Church on the other side of the lane. It was built around 1388 probably as a retreat for the monks of Hailes Abbey, just over four miles away, who held lands at Stanley Pontlarge.
Apart from its historical attractions, the reason it attracts visitors today is because for many years it was the home of Tom and Sonia Rolt. The house, and life in the surrounding countryside, are described in detail in Tom’s three volumes of autobiography Landscape with Machines, Landscape with Canals and Landscape with figures. Tom and Sonia are buried in the churchyard at St Michael’s.
Tom's parents bought the house at Stanley Pontlarge in 1919 and moved here in 1921. Among the events recorded in his first volume of autobiography are Tom’s youthful adventures with his first car that would lead directly, a few years later, to the formation of the nearby, and now world renowned, motor sport venue, Prescott Hillclimb.
After years living on the canals and then three further years in Wales, where Tom and Sonia worked managing what was then the first ever steam railway to be rescued and preserved by volunteers, Tom and Sonia set up permanent home together at Stanley Pontlarge in 1953.
Tom wrote many of the books he is still remembered for while living at Stanley Pontlarge and his writing room is now preserved much as it was in his lifetime. Tom died in 1974 and Sonia made The Cottage her home until her death, aged 95, in 2014. When she died, Sonia was described by The Guardian as The Grande Dame of Britain’s waterways.
But there was much more to Sonia: a conservationist before the word was widely known, she was a leading light in The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and worked for many years for The Landmark Trust. She was made an OBE in 2010.
Sometimes affectionately known, as recorded in her Times obituary, as ‘The Potentate of Pontlarge’ she was a tireless and powerful advocate for conserving and maintaining life and traditions at Stanley Pontlarge and Tom and Sonia were both great lifelong supporters of St Michael’s church. The small organ, seen in the church, was donated by the Landmark Trust in recognition of Tom and Sonia's life and work.
St Michael's needs your help. Please donate whatever you can, however small, to The Friends of St Michael's by clicking the 'Donate' button below. We really appreciate it. Thank you.