Hilda Craven was born in Navenby in 28th October 1892. She was orphaned at an early age and brought up in Navenby by her adoptive mother Mary Barrand.
Hilda left school in May 1906, when she was just 13 ½ years old. Her first job was as a ‘day girl’ looking after the children of Mr Dawson the butcher on the corner of Church Lane, Navenby.
In 1910, when the Methodist minister and his family left the village, she took the opportunity to widen her horizons and went with them to Snaith in Yorkshire.
In 1922, Hilda bought the Cottage for the first time using money from a legacy. It cost her £75 plus legal fees. In 1926 Hilda returned to live in Navenby to care for her elderly mother. In the same year she sold the house to her employer Tom Smith, for £95. This was the time when the new Methodist Church was built in Navenby and it is thought that she needed to raise money towards the new building
Interestingly in 1937 Hilda bought the Cottage for the second time, paying just £95. Hilda had now taken up permanent residence in Craven Cottage. In these years Hilda found employment with the Holmes family where she kept the books for their joinery and funeral business in the village.
It wasn’t until 1956 when Joseph Smith, a widower and Methodist lay preacher and Hilda were married. Hilda was 64 years old and Joseph 73. For their honeymoon they spent a week near Matlock in Derbyshire.
During the years of her marriage, a number of improvements were made to the Cottage, including redecoration and new furniture. Sadly, after only four years Joseph died leaving Hilda once again on her own. She remained a vital part of the community and yet uniquely independent for the next 30 years.
She lived in the Cottage until just after her 102 birthday when she became too frail to return after a fall. She died in May 1995 at the Holmleigh Retirement Home in Navenby.
The Cottage is thought to date from the 1830’s, with the section nearest the road added about ten years later. There is a slight change in the colour and texture of the brickwork between the two phases, which is still noticeable from the front. The large window in The Room (on the right of the building) which protrudes into Mrs Smith’s bedroom, is thought to have been installed to let in as much light as possible. It is likely that this part of the Cottage was once used as a shop or workshop.
Rescuing Mrs Smith’s Cottage
Having been saved by the local community, Mrs Smith’s humble cottage was first opened as a museum in 1999. Through the collaboration of local volunteers and the District Council, the site drew visitors and praise from far and wide.
The museum had to be closed in 2012 when serious structural issues and deterioration of the building became apparent. Between September 2016 and July 2020 a renovation project saw Mrs Smith’s Cottage brought back into use as a popular heritage attraction. The project included urgent repairs and conservation work, reinterpretation of the site, a new learning programme and range of events and activities; restoring the Cottage to its place at the heart of the local community and ensuring its vital contribution to the visitor economy, whilst providing an enjoyable, engaging visitor experience.