With its attractive medieval church and picture-postcard manor house, Marston Moretaine could be one of any number of charming villages spread out across the Bedfordshire countryside.
But a visit this week showed that, a stone’s throw from families picking up their children at the local primary school and drinkers enjoying the hospitality of a packed nearby pub, resentment is building among the locals.
The biggest story the village has ever seen began heroically when frustrated pensioner Captain Tom Moore found himself confined to his home at the village’s Old Rectory during the Covid pandemic and decided to mark his 100th birthday by raising money for the beleaguered NHS.
The Second World War veteran, who had served in the India and Burma campaigns, started a mission to walk 100 lengths of his garden in a bid to raise £1,000, walking 10 lengths a day.
It’d be hard to find someone who does not know what happened next.
Neighbours were proud of his achievement, which raised millions for the NHS and brought extraordinary worldwide fame.
But those close to the war veteran’s former home are now worried that Captain Tom’s legacy is in peril as a spa building, constructed in his name with the stated aim of serving the community, is due to be torn down.
Among those who might have expected a session at the spa was Roger Haddon, who lives in a small retirement complex called Manor Court within sight of the illegal building.
The 78-year-old said: “There was a television programme on it and they were talking about putting a jacuzzi or something in there. They said we will probably let the older people in the village come and use it.
“You must be bloody joking. It’s a load of bulls***.”
He added: “The worst bit is that it’s made a mockery of Captain Tom’s name.”
Back in 2020, within days of Captain Tom’s original appeal, donations came pouring in – not by the thousands but millions – as the fundraiser from his quiet back garden quickly became an international cause celebre everyone was talking about.
Twenty extra volunteers had to be drafted in by Royal Mail to sort birthday cards for his home, and after achieving the challenge, the RAF sent a Hawker Hurricane and Spitfire for a surreal flypast over his home.
Nick Knowles of DIY SOS even lent a hand to help with a garden fence to keep the family out of the gaze of the paparazzi camped outside who were seeking a new daily angle to the nation’s most-read story.
“It was a special time,” remembers labourer Ian Knight, who lives a six-minute walk from Captain Tom’s home.
“There was huge media interest in him and the village and we were all so proud to have him and it [was] all happening right here, of course. It’s a quiet place where nothing really happens but all of a sudden, we were at the centre of it. It was great and we were amazed at the money coming in.”
Captain Tom, who was later knighted by the late Queen Elizabeth II, died a year later in 2021 after catching pneumonia and Covid-19.
For his funeral, his coffin was driven from his home to Norse Road Crematorium in Bedford through the streets of his village while neighbours decorated signs and walls with red ribbons.
The village’s St Mary’s Church joined the commemorations by ringing the bells 100 times.
Captain Tom had raised an incredible £39.3m for the NHS and its charities – and so it appeared to make sense for his family, including his daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore and her husband Colin, to join his legacy with the Captain Tom Foundation, launched a month after the fundraiser.
But the good press simply couldn’t last forever – and soon the perceived good intentions of the family began to be picked over.
First, there was the £1.1m raised for the Captain Tom Foundation in the year up to May 2021 thanks to national fundraisers like Walk with Tom and The Captain Tom 100. But as revealed by The Independent, just £160,000 was released as grants to charities in the same timeframe. A Charity Commission investigation was launched over concerns about the charity’s management and independence from Captain Tom’s family.
Then there was a series of books written by Captain Tom with Ms Ingram-Moore admitting that the profits – reported to be around £800,000 – went to a firm named Club Nook, which she runs with her husband.
But for those living in the Bedfordshire village, relations started to really turn sour when work started on a community space for the foundation in the back garden in late 2021, after the Ingram-Moores had secured planning approval from Central Bedfordshire Council.
That was because it soon became clear that the concrete building was not entirely drawn to plan – in fact, it was alleged by a neighbour to be 49 per cent larger than the agreed drawings and included a spa and pool.
Complaints were made, and soon local planning officials were on the case, but by then building had begun.
And so as questions began to build up over the use of money raised by the foundation, there was anger locally from people who accused the family of using Sir Tom’s legacy “to do what they want”.
The family’s appearance on Piers Morgan Uncensored, where the first pictures of the pool and sauna were shown, only added fuel to the fire.
“In all the three years they’ve never spoken to anybody,” said one pensioner, who can see the breeze blocks from the building towering over his back garden fence.
“And so ultimately, the neighbours’ attitude has reflected their attitude.
“It [the building] was built without permission, it’s ugly, it’s featureless, it doesn’t sit well within the grounds of a listed building [The Old Rectory] and it doesn’t sit well with our housing or those around us.”
He added: “I saw him [Captain Tom] do the walking, he was a very nice fellow. It’s just a shame how this has now happened. This is a lovely village and unfortunately, this has become the main talking point for many people.”
When the family appealed against the local council’s refusal to permit the larger building, agents on their behalf said the plan had “evolved” to include a spa pool for rehabilitation sessions for elderly people in the area.
They now have until 7 February to knock it down, and last week items, including BBC Sports Personality of The Year memorabilia, were removed by two people with a trolley.
The back garden of The Old Rectory is surrounded by fences and trees. Parts of it can be seen from a road of bungalows and terraced homes which snake around one corner of it.
Another reminder of Captain Tom remains with an art sculpture of a blue elephant featuring his quote: “Tomorrow will be a good day”.
One resident on the road accused the family of misleading the local community. “It might sound small but this has impacted many people’s lives,” the 67-year-old said.
“We’ve got a terrible view and it’s devalued some of the properties around here. They [Captain Tom’s family] lied about what they wanted to do and then thought they could get away with it.
“They’re OK up in the large house but we’re the ones next to it who have to put up with it. I mean, look at it... it’s like a prison.”
At another property further along the road, an 80-year-old man said: “It’s been going on for too long. It’s about time they knocked it down. It’s the principle – if anyone else built something outside planning law, they would take it down, so why should they be able to get away with it?”
Mr Knight said the breaking of planning laws by Captain Tom’s family had “tarnished the legacy of the war veteran”, with people now making mention of the “prison block” as opposed to the fundraising walk when talking about the village.
He said: “A week ago, I was giving my address on the phone and the lady said, ‘Oh Marston, that’s where the captain came from isn’t it?’ And I was like, ‘Oh yeah’. She said, ‘Have they pulled that thing down yet?’ I was embarrassed.
“We were proud of what he’s done but now we’re the laughing stock.
“Captain Tom did all that for charity, and what got me was not just them building that, but when she [Ms Ingram-Moore] got the £18,000 payment for the appearance at the charity awards and then gave the two or three grand to charity. It should have been the other way round.
“They’ve spoilt everything. It was a good thing what he’s done, and now it’s embarrassing.”
The Independent approached Hannah Ingram-Moore for comment.