Cottage Farm was originally built in early 1700. Three great Oaks near the entrance were planted in 1720 when the long barn beside the road was built. The farm was extended to Victorian times as a dairy farm.
It became a store in about 1975, and was virtually derelict when Mike & Linda Wise came in 1985. The Courtyard Centre was rebuilt in stages between 1986 & 1990 and continues evolving today. The road outside was once the main road from Poole to Wareham via the village and turned South at our entrance.
What follows, are extracts from the book ‘So you want to live in the country’. Written by Mike Wise and images of how the centre somewhat comically, has evolved over the years:
On that first day, we stood with our friendly architect in the yard of the derelict dairy farm that we had leased in Lytchett Minster village and he said ‘What’s it going to be then?’ That was the first of many such questions as we poured all our hard earned resources in. We had sold our house, car, everything and were to do much of the work ourselves to save money. ‘We thought we would make it into a kind of craft centre with people working in the stables and have dances in the barn, yes, and a dear little tea shop in the old kitchens’ I waved my hands expansively ‘I think we’ll call it The Courtyard Centre’!
The Rain on Drains
The farm was built in 1720, is listed (Grade II) and had been unused for some years. Around in were some quaint streams, so our ‘dear’ architect Johnathon suggested quite corrected that we conduct a die test. This entailed us placing a bright blue die in the toilet bowl in the house & flushing the loo. At high speed we followed the ‘bloo’ trail. Fifteen minutes later blue die was flowing through the stream beside the public path in the nearby caravan park! We had a serious problem!
As winter drew in, we dug and laid three thousand metres of main drains to the nearby village, where we were to connect to the public sewer. At about the ¾ way point, with aching arthritic joints and the smell of clay permeated forever in our clothes, there was a mighty storm, a flash flood and all our pipes were strewn around the field! It was the first of many times I wept, as we painstakingly dug out the 300 tonnes of pea gravel and began again!
How Dylan’s got it’s name
The drains were eventually completed and we opened to the public with one stable part converted and containing a few ‘strange arty crafty’ people and the old kitchen laid up with thirteen or so chairs and named Dylans Country Tea Shop.
The story behind the name ‘Dylans’ is that our special nephew, Alexander, has downs Syndrome and when he began to speak he always had great difficulty saying Linda, it always came out as Dylan. We have been closely associated with Alex’s growing years and he and his school, The Montacute School, visit the Centre regularly.
We had vowed that whatever business we started, it would be called Dylans…..Dylans Restaurant was opened on June 6th 1990.
Feeding the 550!
A national sports travel group asked the local tourism office who could provide an ‘old English’ supper and entertainment for 550 people. Yes, 550 international sports veterans. In October! Outside! ……we proceeded to cocoon the whole of our 22,000 sq.ft courtyard and all the walls of our barns and stables in a giant series of marquee roofs all joined together and with the inside decorated to create an Olde English village scene. The veterans came in a convoy of buses one cold dark night. We had the whole scene heated by giant gas blowers, lanterns flickered, they drank copious quantities of strong English beer and consumed £3000 of wine in 23 minutes! I had taxies scouring off-licences to buy wine in bulk. It was a good job they did drink well, as the wind blew and the rain began.
All went well for a time, until a minute sag in one of the roofs of the tent allowed a build-up of water. This then accumulated and at the exact moment that an elegant lady Australian tourist sat in her dining place, fortunately alone, that section of the roof split apart and several hundred gallons of cold water fell on her head! There was a micro second of silence during which my whole life passed before me, and then five hundred guests cheered wildly. I waited, watching the lady’s face intently. Suddenly she jumped up, waved her arms and laughed hysterically. We were saved!
Renovating the Grain store to become our Medieval function Barn
Like everyone else undertaking such a project, we suffered the ravages of the ‘officers’. The poor unfortunate chaps whose job it is to go around applying the regulations. Thus it is that we have complex hygiene arrangements, numerous very expensive fire doors and the lovely timbered roof was covered in class 1 plasterboard. It still, however, looks the part with its great high vaulted ceiling, enormous support timbers and great thick brick walls. Many a bride has had a gorgeous country wedding feast in that unusual setting!
Animals in the stables
For a while we kept our nanny goat, Emily, in one of the stables and during one function for sixty guests she began to give birth! We also kept guinea pigs in the stable and on another occasion, a very elegant lady councillor visiting us, opened the cage door to stroke them. ‘I love the big one with the long tail’ she exclaimed ‘its so smooth’ I quickly ushered them out knowing that guinea pigs have no tails! A great farm rat had chewed his way into the rear of the cage and was sharing tea!
Two steps forward…
Life was full of surprises in the beginning. When we decided to quickly decorate upstairs in the house to move in, our builder, Ian, climbed into the loft space first. We had boxes stacked downstairs waiting. ‘Don’t like the look of this’ he said. A phrase we were soon to dread hearing. ‘Someone has sawn through the ceiling joists’ he chattered on. ‘I’m going to lean on it and if it stays up we can decorate’ he said. Seconds later the whole of the upstairs ceiling was downstairs and we were ten stages back.
From tiny acorns…
As time passed we gradually worked our way around the centre. There were times of great fear like the October storms of 1986, when we stood helpless while our three great Oaks planted in 1970 thrashed around threatening to collapse on our pets corner or other buildings. At last, the top half of one of the hundred foot giant split asunder and crashed to the ground. Down came the power and telephone cables, but miraculously the main trunk fell between buildings and there was little damage or injury.
As the project neared completion, we looked at our tiny tea shop, crammed full of mature ladies scoffing Dylans lovely scones, cream & jam. We now had 21 chairs crammed in on a Sunday. It was time for the final phase.
We stood looking at the last barn, the old ruined dairy. It was so dangerous you could move the roof six inches with your hand! As it was a listed building, we had to save and clean thousands of antique bricks and slates to clad the new building……within 6 months we had a 65 seater restaurant that was the envy of all who surveyed it.
It was often full every day and packed on Sundays, still remaining the Dylans home baked, fresh food style.
More recent times
In 1999, the centre was bought by the current owner and a number of major refurbishments took place.
The whole of the Courtyard was re-laid with block paving giving easier access to all units for disabled visitors, the toilets were refurbished and the car park re-surfaced.
Over the years we have seen the Chipmunk colony escape and then get re-captured, The resident ghosts appearing for a photo call during functions, and the patronage of a number of ex-Poole pottery paintresses at our on-site pottery.
Many people have enjoyed our speciality open weekends with over 30 Belly dancers, fantastic mountain bike display team, vintage cars, dance troupe, local charity events and Christmas festivities!
The Courtyard Centre continues to be one of the very few FREE tourist attractions in Dorset and offers a peaceful oasis of calm in a busy world.