Here I am in the South Yorkshire countryside at the grave of one of Sheffield’s most successful businessmen. He made a fortune from house-building and the family company Henry Boot & Son Plc still thrives today. He also built the world-famous Pinewood Studios. I also found the mansion where he lived and Boot's Folly on a sunlit hill.
Charles was born in Sheffield and aged 12 he joined his dad Henry who ran a building company. He learnt from the bottom up and took over the business in 1919 when he was 45. Sheffield was known for making steel magnates but Charles was a building magnate. In 1931 he was credited as having built more houses than any other man or firm, a figure surpassed in the inter-war years by a staggering 80,000 properties. During both World Wars the company built airfields for the Government and won contracts across parts of the globe.
Aged 60 Charles bought Heatherden Hall estate in Buckinghamshire. He designed and built a film studio within a year. The estate had been thick with pine trees which furnished the studio - Pinewood Studios - with its name. It’s been used for some of the biggest film franchises – James Bond, Carry On, Harry Potter, Star Wars, the Marvel Universe – as well as producing hundreds of other TV series and films.
Charles’s health declined in his sixties while World War Two raged and he died at a Sheffield nursing home aged 70 after an operation. He married twice - when he was 23 to Bertha (later died) and then again in his fifties. He had two children by his first wife.
I found his grave in a high-altitude rural village that gave splendid views across Bradfield Dale towards Derwent Edge. That Saturday afternoon the village pub was thriving with people sat outside. I guess most people filled up with booze and meals couldn't resist walking a few feet to the grounds of the medieval St Nicholas’s church. Charles is buried in the corner of the churchyard behind the church. His grave was unloved and showed no signs of visitors. There wasn’t a single flower on it. I thought perhaps a relative might have left some flowers. Judging by the wild nettles around the grave no other nerds like myself had visited.
Next I went to look for the family home - Sugworth Hall, a Grade II building not far from the village. Charles lived here with his first wife and children. I was having a coffee and some cake in a lay-by and asked a man walking spaniels if a geek like me could get down to the hall. He said it was private but to the owner's annoyance a public path ran by the house and out to folly. Good enough for me. I parked up near the gates to the hall. Signs said walkers were under constant CCTV surveillance. I took a quick photo though before the walk took me off the drive.
While living here he constructed Boot's Folly on a hill behind the estate. The paths takes you out of the estate’s perimeter onto a hill overlooking Strines Reservoir. I walked across to it in fading evening sunlight. Inside I could see it now just a shelter for the sheep. Charles had this built to create work for his construction works during the depression though some thought he had it built so he could see St Nicholas's churchyard where his wife first was buried. There'd been a spiral staircase inside but it was removed after a cow climbed up it and got stuck.
I sucked on an aniseed ball and enjoyed the peace of the place. The sun was blinding so I got in the shadow of the folly and disturbed a hare. I like a nice folly but you don't see many around. Will one be built in your memory? I returned to the path that took me by Sugworth Hall and this time a few dogs started barking. I peeped through a window in the trees at the hall. This Charles Boot did well to say he was one of 13 children, I thought. I did a salute and left.