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The Gables - 1 Church Road Flitwick

The Gables about 1900
The Gables about 1900

The Gables is a most attractive old property with a fascinating history, possibly the fullest and most interesting history of any property in the county of comparable size. It was listed in January 1961 by the Ministry of Works as Grade II, of special interest. The listing dates the house to about 1600. It is timber-framed with red brick infill and some parts of the ground floor are encased in a brick skin. There is colour-washed render to the rear and one side elevation and the roof is composed of clay tiles. The property has two storeys.

For much of its life The Gables was an inn, named The Swan. It was a notorious haunt of highwaymen in the mid-17th century. The house was de-licensed in 1899 [HN2/B3/76/4 and 8] and a new Swan was built by Bedford brewer Charles Wells Limited - the building still licensed at the time of writing [2017]. The old Swan Inn then became a private house, owned by Miss Catherine Mary Frances Brooks of Flitwick Manor.

The first quarter of the 20th century has left considerable correspondence regarding the tenancy of The Gables, as the former inn was now named. By 1908 the cottage was let to W J Abbiss as a place for his business - Flitwick Coal Company Limited [SF84/5/43]. The following year the company gave up the lease [SF84/5/63] and from 1910 the company no longer appears in directories.

The next tenant appears to have been a man named Whitehead because Miss Brooks complained, in a letter which is undated, that he “should have given longer notice” of his giving up the lease [SF84/5/216]. In October 1915 an agreement was prepared by Miss Brooks’ solicitor for a man named Odell became tenant [SF84/5/121], however, this must have fallen through. It is interesting that Miss Brooks had written to her land agent hat she did not want Odell as tenant of The Gables as she wanted “better class people and church people” [SF84/5/224]. The date of the letter is 23rd July but no year is given, though it seems reasonable to assume that it was 1915 and Miss Brooks’ opposition in the end caused the agreement to be nullified.

In November 1915 a lease was made to Edward Kitchener of Westoning, baker [SF84/3/47]. As well as The Gables Kitchener leased Parsons Hill and Long Close in Flitwick, the land totalling 43 acres. There is an account for decorating The Gables dated November to December 1915 [SF84/5/130] and one for repairs dated June 1916 [SF84/5/140].

In November 1915 Kitchener decided to sub-let The Gables to a young man named Cyril Munns who was, according to Miss Brooks [SF84/5/251a-b] “only 21 and working in a factory and surely ought to enlist”. If he did not enlist he would have been conscripted any time from March 1916. In January 1917 the water pump at The Gables required immediate repair as Mrs Munns “has to go to the Peddars to get water” [SF84/5/256].

In the interim Munns had clearly joined up. We have a latter from him dated 4th July - probably 1917 - and headed “On Active Service with the British Expeditionary Force” [SF84/5/168/6]. He wrote to Mrs Brooks’ agent: “I am in receipt of a notice from you regarding the way my garden is kept, and you say it is in a very untidy and not cultivated condition. Sir, I beg to inform you that I am on active service in France, fighting for the likes of such as you and the good lady at the Manor who makes the complaint. Dear Sir, kindly inform Miss Brooks from me Driver Munns that I am here fighting to protect her estate and if she wishes me to cultivate that little piece of garden ask her to get me out of the army and I will do so. Otherwise it won’t worry me if her estate gets burnt down so long as it does not burn that lovely shanty down at the bottom of the hill [i.e. The Gables] and ask her if she as doing as much for her King and country as I am in threatening to turn my wife out of home in my absence. This letter is only as good as my wife received”. The Absentee Voters Register for Mid Bedfordshire tells us that Cyril Munns of The Gables was 208898, Driver, 146th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (equipped with six 60 pounder howitzers and part of 16th Brigade attached to First Army).

By September 1921 the Munns family had evidently left The Gables and another tenant, called Brightman had come and was about to go. Miss Brooks wrote to Edward Kitchener [SF84/5/179/1] stating that she understood Brightman has been “discharged without notice”; she wanted to know who Brightman would install at The Gables but stated that Brightman and his family could not be ejected until they had somewhere else to live. In a subsequent letter [SF84/5/179/2] it seems as if Brightman had been fired by J Carr, agent of Captain Lucas of Shillington Manor, for not milking the cows and for “insolence”. He was an ex-serviceman.

In 1922 Kitchener wrote to Miss Brooks stating that the wall of the dairy at The Gables was falling in and required repair [SF84/5/185/1]. In January 1926 Kitchener wrote to Miss Brooks asking if she would supply pipes for a drain and sand for concreting the floor of the cellar [SF84/5/200/1]. Her agent replied that she would not as she had no wish for the cellar to be turned into a dairy [SF84/5/200/2]. Following correspondence [SF84/5/200/1-14] details Edward Kitchener giving up the tenancy of The Gables at Michaelmas [25th September] 1926, having refused access for Miss Brooks’ contractors to repair dilapidated outbuildings. Kitchener’s sub-tenant was a man named Warr and he now became Miss Brooks’ tenant [SF84/5/200/9]

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 Gables [DV1/C272/8] found that A J Warr paid rent of £25 per annum. Accommodation comprised a reception room, a living room, a kitchen and scullery with three bedrooms above (“one small”). Outside were a brick and slate dairy, coachhouse and one-stall stable. No mention of a cellar is made. The valuer commented: “All front”.

1 Church Road April 2017
1 Church Road April 2017