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Priestley Farm Flitwick

Priestley Farmhouse about 1900 [Z50-50-30]
Priestley Farmhouse about 1900 [Z50/50/30]

Priestley Farm must be on or close to the site of the mansion house of the former Manor of Priestley. This manor was, in 1787, sold to the Dukes of Bedford, who owned it into the 20th century. The farmhouse has a datestone inscribed “B 1856”, the B indicating its being built by the Duke of Bedford’s Estate. The farm seems to have been farmed directly by the estate [R3/2114/264-316]. In 1802 plans were drawn up to improve the boggy land [R3/2114/438].

In 1830 there were disturbances amongst agricultural workers in Bedfordshire. They were part of a series of disturbances across the south of England and East Anglia collectively known as the Swing Riots. They were a reaction to dininishing wages and increased unemployment due to mechanisation. On 7th December the Duke of Bedford's steward wrote: "The labourers of Flitwick, 20-30, went round to the different farms and forced the men at work to go with them; a few went to Prisley [sic] farm, when Holland, the foreman, went to meet them and remonstrated; pointed out they might be transported; in the end they left without entering the farm".

In 1841 the Duke decided the farm should be let [R3/4325]. There are many documents concerning the farm from the early 19th century in the Duke’s archive [R4 and R5].

In 1996 20th century records for Priestley Farm were deposited with Bedfordshire Archive and Record Service by members of the family [Z908]. Walter Cole and family rented Priestley Farm from 1914 onwards. The family also farmed at Biggleswade, and R.P. Cole farmed at Hillcote Farm, Maulden, where the light soil was particularly suitable for market gardening. Various crops (mostly vegetables) were grown - cabbage, parsley, marrows, mangles, potatoes, peas, beans, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, lucerne (a green feed for cattle), wheat, oats, barley etc.

The family also ran a wholesale business in the Borough Market, London. Alfred Cole and his son Walter had started the enterprise in the late 19th century. The produce sold there came from other growers in the surrounding area and from the Coles’ own farms, At first the produce was sent to London via the railway. Lorries were later introduced by Walter Cole.

Acres of peas were grown at Priestley and local women were employed for the picking season. A ticket was issued to the picker when a bag or box of peas was weighed in. The ticket could be cashed in at the end of each day or week [Z908/5/1]. The archive includes the following main sections:

  • Z 908/1 Farming and Market Gardening Notebooks: 1926-1947;
  • Z 908/2 Farm and Market Gardening Accounts: 1926-1963;
  • Z 908/3 Telephone Books: 1931-1964;
  • Z 908/4 Wholesale Business, Borough Market, London: 1945-1959;
  • Z 908/5 Memorabilia and Other Material: 1943-1952;
  • Z 908/6 Property: 1930s-1954.

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 Priestley Farm [DV1/H16/34] found that the tenant, W F Cole, paid the Duke of Bedford’s London and Devon Estates Company £229 per annum in rent.

The farm comprised 229 acres. The valuer visited on 24th August 1926 and noted: “Saw Mr Cole … said land very sandy. A colleague noted, on 11th May 1927: “Good house and homestead. A Farm much improved by present tenant”.

The farmhouse comprised two reception rooms, a kitchen and scullery, a cellar and two dairies; upstairs were five bedrooms and a bathroom (“has to carry water”). An earth closet stood outside along with a coal house, three henhouses, a wood barn and an open cart shed. Water came from a well and the house was lighted by lamps.

The farm buildings comprised a number of blocks as follows:

  • A south-west block comprising two brick and slate cowhouses for six beasts;
  • A north-west block: a brick and slate loose box; a trap house; a four-bay cart shed; three brick, wood and tile pigsties with feeding passage and a food store;
  • A north-east block: a brick and slate workshop with a loft over; two loose boxes with a loft over with corn bins; a barn with a wood floor and food store at the back; an implement shed and chaff house; a corn store with a loft over and cowhouse for four; a loose boc with a loft over; two horse boxes and a workshop;
  • Another south-west block: a brick and slate garage; a stable for three horses; a stable for six horses; a food store and another stable for six;
  • A centre block: two brick and slate six-bay open shed;
  • In a nearby field: three pigsties (“neglect”)

In 1956 Bedfordshire County Council purchased Priestley farm from the Duke of Bedford. It was used as smallholdings and leased to tenants [AO/C8/3]. New farm buildings were erected in 1963 [AO/E4/5/23]. 19.904 acres of land were sold in 1971 [AO/E7/4/1]. There was a fire at the farm in the Summer of 1983 [FSD/PC31].