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The Old Manor House 54 Park Lane Blunham

54 Park Lane - The Old Manor House - August 2009
54 Park Lane - The Old Manor House - August 2009

54 Park Lane has been called the Manor House or Old Manor House for over a hundred years, being so called on the 1st edition 25 inches to the mile Ordnance Survey map of 1884. It is not, however, a manor house; the site of that lay nearby. It derives its name from the fact that courts for the Manor of Blunham were held here in 16th century. When the property was listed as Grade II, of special interest, by English Heritage in March 1985, it was dated to the 16th and 17th centuries, though it was noted: "possibly incorporating remains of a Medieval structure". It is a timber framed construction with brick infill, mostly rendered in colour washed roughcast with a clay tile roof. The north wall of the south block was rebuilt in stone. The higher portion to the south is interpreted as the truncated remains of an earlier building. The Department noted that the ground floor room in the southern, older, part of the structure contains part of a wall painting of about 1600 with geometric patterns and a fragment of inscription.

The lock up to the rear was listed as Grade II in January 1952. It was built in 1832, half the cost being met by Countess de Grey, Lady of the Manor, and the other half by the churchwardens [P76/8/1] and is, basically, a small gabled shed constructed of substantial planks. The roof is also of planks, with metal sheeting, probably zinc, to the ridge. This lock-up formerly stood in the village street, the Lord of the Manor relinquishing any claim over it in 1857 [P76/8/1], it was moved when the Fire Engine House was built in 1862 [P76/8/2]. By 1892 it was "much decayed and past repair" [SJV10].

The reason for the Department of Environment referring to possible late medieval remains in the southernmost portion of the building is that the building was the site of the Brotherhood House of the Fraternity of the Holy Trinity. It is thought that the fraternity attended services in the church in what is now the Lady Chapel in the south aisle, as it is separated from the chancel by a very fine screen. When not attending services the brotherhood would have met at the brotherhood house for feasting and general fellowship.

A document of 1468, in the English of the day, [L26/4] notes a tenement, or building "whyche my lorde hath geve to the brothed there be yere, late John Barbour, 8s 4d" in other words, the Lord of the Manor leased a house which had previously been leased to John Barbour to the brotherhood for eight shillings and four pence per annum. A rental of the Manor of Blunham of 1498 [L26/212] notes that the Fraternity of the Holy Trinity held a cottage with a yard and two acres of land, late in the occupation of John Ferne (rather than John Barbour, perhaps Ferne was an earlier tenant), for which they paid eight shillings and four pence per annum, which they had been given by the father of the then Lord of the Manor without rent in order that they might pray for his soul and those of his parents, thus, according to medieval Catholic theology, shortening the time they spent in purgatory, being purged of their sins, before entering Heaven. The document goes on to note that women were also involved as it refers to brothers and sisters - they used the hall for their "jantaculis" feasts (these seem to be feasts held to mark the joining of new members).

When King Henry VIII (1509-1547) dissolved the monasteries he also dissolved religious fraternities, including that in Blunham. In 1549 Robert Wood granted the brotherhood's property to Henry Grey, having received it himself from the Crown just three days before [L247]. The property comprised "le Brotherheadhouse", a garden and orchard, a house occupied by Thomas Barforde and another house in Blunham. In 1561 [L1/71] Lord of the Manor Sir Henry Grey of Wrest leased to Steven Hullye, his servant "all that their messuage callyd the Brotherhed or Cowrte Hall of Blounham with the cottage adjoining late in the several tenures of Thomas Bamford and Edward Carter" showing that the place was being used as a venue for manorial courts by this date.

In 1630 [L1/72] the Earl of Kent, Lord of the Manor, leased the house "which anciently was and still is called the Brotherhood House" to Edward Hill for twenty one years and in 1663 Amabel, Countess Dowager of Kent leased it to Mordecai Meager for twelve years at an annual rent of £66/13/4 [L1/73], noting that it had lately been occupied by Samuel Hill.

54 Park Lane was sold by the Blunham estate in 1907. The Rating and Valuation Act of 1925 specified that every piece of land and building in the country should be assessed to determine the rates to be paid on it. Blunham was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting the Old Manor House [DV1/C155/54] noted that it was owned by W. E. Judd (who also owned Grove House - 68 Park Lane) and occupied by A. F. Sharpe at a rent of £26 per annum. The house stood in just under half an acre and comprised a drawing room, a dining room ("very bad slope"), a morning room, a kitchen and a carpenter's work shop downstairs with three bedrooms above and an attic above the kitchen. An earth closet, a "semi builder's yard" (although Albert Sharpe is listed as a painter in Kelly's Directory for 1928) and garden lay outside along with a ladder store, a timber and tile cart lodge, a timber and thatch stable for four horses and a timber and corrugated iron garage. Water was laid on. The valuer commented: "Very low, rambling place, long frontage". Judd occupied a grass area with a few fruit trees behind the house comprising just under half an acre more.