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The Barns Cardington Road

The Barns about 1987 [WB/WF4/1/5]
The Barns about 1987 [WB/WF4/1/5]

The Barns at Fenlake is now [2011] a restaurant. It was listed by the former Ministry of Public Buildings and Works in July 1964 as Grade II, of special interest. The ministry dated the property to 1630 (see below). The building was altered in 1760.

It is built of colour-washed roughcast and has an old tile roof. The structure comprises two storeys, the left hand part being recessed and the right hand part projecting. Inside is a mid 18th century open string staircase with turned balusters and a moulded handrail. The first floor has a barrel vaulted passage and three original ceilings with coved cornices.

A 16th or 17th century timber framed barn with red brick infill lying adjacent to The Barns was listed separately in 1964, also as Grade II. It contains five bays and has a red tiled roof.

Until 1866 The Barns stood in the ancient parish of Cardington, though part of the township of Eastcotts within the parish. It was then transferred to the new civil parish of Eastcotts and became part of the Borough of Bedford due to boundary changes in 1968.

The Barns has a plaque with the date 1630, leading one to presume that that is when it was built. However, that may simply be the date when a pre-existing building was very substantially remodelled. Documents show that there was a building called The Barns at Fenlake before 1630 and it seems reasonable to assume that it stood on this site. This newer building is, coincidentally, first mentioned in 1630 as being the dwelling place of Humphrey Whitbread, yeoman [W233]. A deed of six years later notes that the house was in the occupation of Sir Gerard Harvy [W236].

In 1753 Fenlake Barns was leased by George Blundell of Offord D’Arcy [Huntingdonshire] to William Urin and Ebenezer Custerson, both of Cardington, yeomen, for three years at £350 per annum. The house was described as late in the occupation of John Bundy (whom we know to have been there in 1712 [W482-483] and 1725 [W492]) and then occupied by Alice Cranfield. 

The Barns then formed part of the Rectory of Cardington. The rector was Trinity College, Cambridge, owner of the advowson of Cardington, the priest serving the community being the vicar, employed by the rector. Presumably the college had leased it to Blundell who then sublet to Urin and Custerson. The College had held the advowson of Cardington and, presumably, The Barns and its predecessor on the site, since 1546

As The Barns was owned by Trinity College as part of the Rectory of Cardington it may previously have been the Vicarage for Cardington. We know that Rev. Barwell Collins (vicar 1713 to 1743) did not live at the Vicarage in Cardington because it was too small, a new Vicarage being built opposite the church between 1781 and 1783.

In 1779 the college leased The Barns to Samuel Whitbread of Cardington for £16/6/8 and payments of wheat and malt, per annum [W1022]. In 1786 a Whitbread family letter mentions taking venison to The Barns to be cut up there to eat on 5th December after the Bedford Races [W1/6456]. Samuel Whitbread’s lease was renewed in 1796 [W1025] and 1812 [W1026]. In 1829 the college gave permission to William Henry Whitbread to mortgage the lease to James Norris of Manchester [Lancashire] and Richard Simpson of Chester [Cheshire] [W1027]. In 1839 permission was given to Whitbread to mortgage the lease to George Benson Strutt of Belper [Derbyshire] [W1028]. Finally, in 1847 the college allowed Whitbread to again mortgage the lease to Strutt [W1029].

In 1868 the Trinity College leased The Barns to Charles James Conway Mills of Eaton Place [Middlesex], who had married into the Whitbread family and Frederick Manning Needham of the Whitbread Brewery in Chiswell Street, London [W1293] when Samuel Charles surrendered the lease he had inherited from William Henry Whitbread, then dead.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Fenlake, like most of Bedfordshire, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting The Barns [DV1/C285/133] found it still owned by Trinity College and occupied by Colonel Arthur Grey Duberly who paid £105 per annum in rent. The house stood in two and a quarter acres. The valuer commented: “creeper covered, leaded casements, very old and very rambling”.

The valuer first looked around the barns which gave the building its name (“only half used – but certain picturesque value”). There were: two brick and corrugated iron coal cellars; a small weather-boarded, corrugated iron and slated boat house; an old timber, plaster and tiled wood barn with a loft over; an old timber, plaster and tiled store with a loft over; an old timber, plaster and tiled stick house; an old brick, timber and tiled hen house; an old brick, timber and tiled garage; an old timber, brick and tiled tithe barn containing disused piggeries and a store; a brick and tile stable block containing two loose boxes and two stables all with a loft over; a brick and tile cow house, now used as a store; a plaster and tiled copper house and a ”tumbling down” cottage; a weather-boarded and tiled barn; a weather-boarded and tiled loose box and hen house.

The house itself comprised: a small entrance lobby; a front hall measured at 17 feet by 15 feet, with a grate; a dining room measuring 22 feet 6 inches by 17 feet 6 inches with bays, French doors and a low ceiling; a drawing room measuring 18 feet by 15 feet with a French door; a back passage; a sitting room measuring 15 feet by 14 feet; a small wine cupboard under the stairs; a pantry with a sink; two larders; a servants’ hall measuring 15 feet by 10 feet; a kitchen measuring 17 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 6 inches with a range and partly open to the roof; a scullery with a force pump and independent boiler and a small servant’s bedroom.

There was both a “nice” main staircase and back stairs to the first floor. This comprised: a nursery measuring 12 feet 6 inches square; a night nursery measuring 12 feet 6 inches by 9 feet; bedroom number 1 measuring 17 feet by 13 feet; bedroom number 2 measuring 15 feet by 14 feet; a w. c.; bedroom number 3 measuring 18 feet by 12 feet; a bathroom with hot and cold water and a low wash basin (“floor bad”); two servant’s bedrooms; a dressing room measuring 17 feet by 10 feet; a box room; a back passage; a dressing room measuring 12 feet 6 inches square and a linen cupboard. The valuer noted that the bedroom ceilings were going bad and that there was settlement at the back in the passage.

Outside were lawns in the front and a kitchen garden. There was also a small flower garden (“nice”) and an orchard. The valuer commented: “House seems dark and disappointing inside”.

Trinity College continued to own the building until 1940 when it sold it, together with five acres, thirty six poles of land to Norman Alfred Poole of Bedford, Arthur Thomas Snowden of Luton and Percy Leonard Howe of Bedford for £900 [WB/WF4/1/1]. Howe sold his interest to the other two for £350 in 1943 [WB/WF4/1/1] and they sold it to Joyce Noreen Tinsley of Clapham for £4,800 in 1946 [WB/WF4/1/1]. She sold part of the land the following year [WB/WF4/1/2]. By 1987 Nancy Smith was owner and occupier; she died in that year and her executors sold The Barns to Whitbread & Company Plc [WB/WF4/1/4]. The sale catalogue [WB/WF4/1/5] states: “The Residence is understood to date in part from the early Seventeenth Century, bearing the date 1630, with later additions. It was converted into four self-contained flats during the 1950s”.

The four flats were described as follows. The first flat was on the ground floor to the east. It comprised: a reception hall measuring 15 feet 3 inches by 9 feet 9 inches with a fireplace; a living room measuring 21 feet 11 inches by 19 feet 6 inches with an inglenook fireplace and built-in window seat; an inner hall measuring 13 feet 8 inches by 8 feet 2 inches; a bedroom measuring 18 feet 9 inches by 10 feet 5 inches with a fireplace and two built-in cupboards; a cloakroom with w. c.; a passageway to a bathroom; a kitchen measuring 11 feet 8 inches by 9 feet 4 inches with sink and gas water heater; a walk-in pantry measuring 8 feet by 5 feet 5 inches and a second bedroom measuring 16 feet 10 inches by 11 feet 2 inches with a bay window overlooking the river and a brick fireplace. A covered passageway led from the kitchen to two store places, a w. c. and a pump room measuring 11 feet 8 inches by 5 feet 5 inches with a pump for supplying well water.

The second flat was on the western part of the ground floor. It had a hall with built in cupboard; a separate w. c.; a bathroom with basin, bath, water heater and cupboard; a bedroom measuring 16 feet by 15 feet 10 inches with a bay window overlooking the river and brick fireplace; a bedroom measuring 15 feet 10 inches by 9 feet 6 inches and a living room measuring 20 feet by 13 feet 5 inches with a brick fireplace, cupboard and double doors to the garden. The floors in this flat were in dangerously defective condition.

Flat 3 was upstairs in the western part of the building. It had a common entrance porch and ground floor entrance hall with two under-stairs cupboards. Accommodation comprised a separate w. c.; a bathroom with bath, basin and water heater; a kitchen measuring 14 feet 1 inch by 13 feet 2 inches with sink, broom cupboard, fireplace, pantry cupboard and water heater; a bedroom measuring 18 feet 10 inches by 14 feet 6 inches with built in clothes closet; a lounge measuring 15 feet 10 inches square with a bay window overlooking the river and a brick fireplace and a second bedroom measuring 15 feet by 9 feet 10 inches with a built-in cupboard.

Flat 4 was to the east upstairs. It also had a ground floor entrance hall and also a store place. Accommodation comprised: a boxroom; a bedroom measuring 14 feet 4 inches by 14 feet; a living room measuring 21 feet by 12 feet 11 inches overlooking the river and with a brick fireplace; a kitchen measuring 9 feet 5 inches by 7 feet 3 inches; a pantry; a bathroom with w. c., bath and basin; a sitting room measuring 20 feet 5 inches by 18 feet 9 inches and a second bedroom measuring 18 feet 6 inches by 8 ft 9 inches with a built in cupboard and fireplace.

Eight barns lay outside: a tithe barn measuring 65 feet by 21 feet 6 inches; an enclosed store measuring 16 feet 8 inches by 15 feet; three open stores measuring 17 feet by 9 feet 4 inches, 17 feet by 10 feet 2 inches and 17 feet by 10 feet 2 inches respectively; three enclosed stores measuring 17 feet by 14 feet 3 inches, 16 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 9 inches and 17 feet by 12 feet 3 inches respectively and a “room” measuring 22 feet 5 inches by 17 feet 6 inches.

The building has undergone a number of alterations and repairs. Repairs are mentioned in a Whitbread Estate improvements ledger from 1890 to 1895 [W4040]. Additions were made in 1946 [RDBP3/561], alterations in 1947 [RDBP3/773] and more alterations in 1948 [RDBP3/985]. Following purchase by Whitbread in 1987 some of the outbuildings were demolished [BorBTP/87/2635/LB] and conversions and alterations made to convert it into a hotel [BorBTP/87/2917/LB] with further external alterations in 1989 [BorBTP/89/184].