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Biddenham House

Biddenham House in 1962 [Z53/15/7]
Biddenham House in 1962 [Z53/15/7]

Biddenham House is an impressive building the grounds of which run down to The Green. The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER] contains information on the county’s historic buildings and landscapes and summaries of each entry can now be found online as part of the Heritage Gateway website. The entry for Biddenham House [HER 1546] states that the property belongs to the late 18th or early 19th century and is built of limestone with a clay tiled roof. It is also noted as “partly modern”.

The property is first listed in Kelly’s Directory in 1898 when Colonel F. T. Dowden was the occupier. The property seems to have belonged to Ellen Manning of Luton who married George Franklin Jefferson, an Odell farmer, in 1881 [HN10/359/Manning1]. One of the trustees of the marriage settlement was John Manning. He died in 1908 and the same year a letter was written to solicitor F. T. Tanqueray in Woburn [HN10/359/Manning5] reading as follows: “I enclose list of debts owing. I wrote to Mr. Campbell respecting the rent of Biddenham House asking him to pay it to the Executors, we have not received it. I do not know if he sent it on to you. Mrs. Manning would like to know if you can get matters forward enough so as she can clear the debts before the 15th of April as she must get away for a change as she is in such a low state”.

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. The valuer visiting the property [DV1/C123/126] found it owned by a W. Manning, who had presumably been left it in Ellen Jefferson’s will. The occupier was Herbert N. C. Campbell who paid rent of £130 per annum from March 1927 on a 14 year lease.

The property comprised downstairs: a drawing room measuring 24 feet 6 inches by 15 feet; a dining room measuring 19 feet by 16 feet; a servants’ hall measuring 13 feet by 11 feet; a pantry; a kitchen measuring 13 feet by 16 feet; a scullery (“small”); a larder (“small”); a morning room measuring 24 feet 6 inches by 14 feet and a W. C. Upstairs were: a bedroom over the kitchen measuring 13 feet by 12 feet; a bathroom (“poor”); a W. C.; a bedroom over the morning room measuring 13 feet by 15 feet; a dressing room measuring 14 feet by 8 feet; a bedroom over the drawing room measuring 14 feet 6 inches by 15 feet; a bedroom over the dining room measuring 16 feet by 17 feet; a bedroom over the servants’ hall measuring 13 feet by 15 feet and a box room. There were four attics on the second floor (“good, used as maids’ beds”). Outside stood a greenhouse measuring 9 feet by 24 feet (“no heat”), a wood and felt hen house, a wood and corrugated iron potting shed, four brick and tiled loose boxes (“used”), two harness rooms, a garage for one car (“very good”) and four brick, wood and corrugated iron loose boxes used as stores. The valuer commented: “Grounds very good. 2 grass courts and good vegetable garden” also “House very nice, central heat, electric light, only 1 bathroom”. He also stated: “Very good tenant. Manning admits could get more rent”. Other comments were: “A very old House, straggles. Has a nice Front. A gentleman’s House” and “Bad arrangement” the latter referring to the layout of the rooms, presumably.

Kelly’s Directory describes the tenants in 1903, 1906, 1910, 1914 and 1920 as the Misses Campbell. In 1924, 1928, 1931, 1936 and 1940 it was Herbert N. C. Campbell.

The ARP post and First Aid Point at Biddenham House from the Women's Institute scrapbook [X535/6]
The ARP post and First Aid Point at Biddenham House from the Women's Institute scrapbook [X535/6]

During World War Two the property was partly requisitioned and used as an ARP Wardens’ post and a First Aid Point [WW2/AR/CA/1/1/4] and [WW2/AR/C/2/76]. The ARP wardens would have been busy on the night of 15th September 1940. Eleven bombs were dropped in the area of Biddenham and Bromham, perhaps aimed at the railway and industry in Queens Park. One unexploded bomb fell in a spinney near Bromham Road [WW2/AR/CO/2/1]. On the night of 30th July 1942 Bedford received its only air raid of the war. Biddenham was not touched but its wardens and other emergency personnel would, presumably, have been on high alert[WW2/AR/CO/2/3].

The Biddenham Women's Institute scrapbook of 1956 [X535/6] has this to say on the subject of civil defence: "In 1939 a number of residents in the village were approached to for a First Aid Team and later a First Aid Post was opened. The equipment supplied by the County Council was poor and most inadequate and a house to house collection was made with great success. The post being now well equipped, the team met once a week regularly and lectures on First Aid as well as on home nursing were given by Mrs. Demery. This team worked well on all the problems set to them and their bandaging, splinting and general knowledge well deserved the praise given by visiting officials. Gas warfare lectures, which were wel lattended, were held in the Village Hall and examinations held at the end of the course. A course on resuscitation was also held, and many passed the examination. During Home Guard exercises the post was manned, together with the wardens, for 36 hours, and mock casualties treated. The little First Aid Team, many of them not knowing the first thing on the subject, worked thoroghly, enthusiastically and conscientiousy - winter and summer - and emerged as useful members of the community well able to cope with (and did) accidents to neighbours".

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a sale catalogue of 2 July 1980 of furniture and effects from Biddenham House [CRT130Biddenham6].

Biddenham House March 2012
Biddenham House March 2012