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77 and 81 High Street Blunham

81 High Street - August 2009
81 High Street - August 2009

This building was, in the 1970s, numbered as 77 next to the High Street with Number 79 behind it. In the 1980s 79 was renumbered as 81 though the rearmost part of the property still seems to be numbered as 77 rather than 79! Number 81 is The Cottage and Number 77 is Holly Tree Cottage. When both were listed by English Heritage in March 1985 as Grade II, of special interest, the structure was dated to the 17th century, with 19th century additions. The house is timber framed with a colour washed roughcast exterior and an old clay tile roof, hipped at the south-east corner. The building is in an L-shape and has two storeys.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that all buildings and land in the country were to be assessed to determine the rates to be paid on them. The valuer visiting this building [DV1/C179/112-113 and 117] found, just to confuse the identities a little more, that it was, in fact, three dwellings. The modern Number 77 was one dwelling and the modern 81 was divided into two with a dwelling at the front and one behind it. The building (and so all three dwellings), was, the valuer thought, owned by Bedford architects Usher and Anthony. The founder of the firm was John Usher (1822-1904), who was born in Blunham. He designed the new Blunham Rectory in 1872 and the new buildings at nearby South Mills in 1873. Usher moved to Bedford in the late 1840s and established a practice on Saint Peter's Green, moving to 30 Mill Street in the 1850s. He designed and built Hiawatha Cottage in Goldington Road for himself in the late 1860s (it was demolished in 1968). The business moved into 9 Saint Paul's Square (again designed by Usher) in the 1870s.

Usher took his nephew Alfred Ernest Anthony (c.1853-1920) into the practice in the 1870s, becoming a partner in 1880, the firm then being styled Usher & Anthony - Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has its archives under the mnemonic ST/U. Usher died a virtual recluse in Hiawatha Cottage in 1904.

It seems likely that these dwellings were, in fact, part of the estate of John Usher, and that Usher and Anthony was simply administering the estate, rather than being the owners. It is, therefore, possible that John Usher was born in this dwelling.

In 1927 the dwelling closest to the road was occupied by F. Woods, who paid £14 or £15 rent. It comprised a parlour, living room and scullery downstairs with two bedrooms above. A barn and washhouse stood outside - the valuer remarked: "Pleasant Little Place". Water was piped to a pump in the scullery. The dwelling behind it (later part of Number 81) was let to a T. Godfrey. The valuer noted: "Tenant away for winter. Rent unobtainable". He also noted that the dwelling as a "Weekend Place". It comprised a drawing room, dining room and kitchen downstairs with three bedrooms above. A washhouse stood outside and water was laid to a pump in the scullery. The valuer remarked: "Bad position".

Number 77 was rented by an A. Rawlins at a rent of £9 per annum. It comprised a parlour, living room, scullery and washhouse downstairs with three bedrooms above. A barn stood outside. Water came from a tap in the scullery. The valuer remarked: "Low up".

The later history of the property seems to have been that the daughters of Alfred Ernest Anthony inherited them from John Usher's estate. These two women were P D Gude and L M Biss. One of Mrs Gude's descendents has a document in his possession referring to the sale of 73 and 77 High Street by Mrs Gude in 1951.