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Old Rowney Farm

Old Rowney Farm March 2008
Old Rowney Farm March 2008

Bedfordshire Quarter Sessions rolls provide an interesting case of a burglar with a conscience [QSR1837/2/5/6]. Ann Knight, a single woman, by the time she made the statement, living in Lidlington but formerly of Southill, stated that in the latter part of September 1834 she was living with Mr. Norman Taylor of Old Rowney Farm in Southill as his housekeeper. On Wednesday evening, she thought it the 24th or 25th September [Wednesday was 24th that year], James Bean who was foreman to her master returned from Mr. Barnes’ farm where he had been to borrow a drill. He came into the kitchen and proposed that she should get her Bible and that he would read to her (being a woman Ann would not have been taught to read or write). Bean was not in the habit of reading the Bible to her on a week day, but sometimes on a Sunday.

When he had been reading a little while she said “surely Jim, there is a noise out of doors”. He still went on reading. When she said the same again Bean went out and returned in about five minutes saying there was nothing there. He went on reading again for half an hour or so, when they went to supper. Some time afterwards she went upstairs with some things she had been ironing and found all her things strewed about the bedroom. She called out and begged Bean to come up for she could not think what had been done. When he came up he did not seem surprised and took her into master’s room, where the bed was all pulled about. He then took her into his bedroom, where the hole was, and said “here’s the place where they got in”. They went downstairs and Bean went to call someone. Only she, Bean and their master slept in the house, and her master was not at home. A small straw box in which she kept her money was gone – it had been at the bottom of another box and covered over. It contained twenty sovereigns and twelve shillings and sixpence in silver [a very good sum for those days]. From what she heard about three weeks afterwards she suspected Bean and a man named jno Clark had taken her money. A labourer named Lee, now dead, an old man and a very respectable one, who lived next to them, told her that on the night he was called on by Bean he suspected Bean and Clark were the thieves.

Norman Taylor of Southill, farmer stated that about Michaelmas two years before [1834] his house, Old Rowney Farm, was broken into. A hole was made in the wall, apparently by a plough coulter which was lying by, and an entrance made into a bedroom occupied at that time by James Bean, his foreman on the farm, which is held by himself and his father John Taylor from Mr. Whitbread. The person who broke into the house took about £20 sovereigns from a room occupied by his housekeeper Ann Knight. He had strong suspicions who was involved but it was not until this day that he was informed that John Clark and James Bean committed the robbery. Clark’s brother, Thomas Clark, told him that his brother was so unhappy in his mind that he wanted him to pass on the information, and that he (John Clark) was ready to acknowledge the part he had played.

Further information indicated that Taylor was informed by Ann Knight that on the evening of the robbery Bean had been so very attentive to her and read the Bible to her – a circumstance which never occurred before – and when she informed him (Bean) that there was a noise he had got up, opened the door and said “oh, it is the donkey”. As Bean must have seen the ladder against the house then he had strong suspicions he must have been implicated in the business. From Bean’s great intimacy with Clark he suspected him, and mentioned his suspicions at the time to Mr. Whitbread and a Mr. Jones.

John Clark of Southill stated that at the time of the robbery he was living as an under gamekeeper to Mr. Whitbread. He knew Bean very well, and had been asked several times by Bean whether he would join him in getting Ann Knight’s money. Bean told him he had been to Knight’s box and there were about twenty four or five sovereigns in it besides silver. He told Bean repeatedly that he dared not. On the night of the robbery Bean prevailed on him. About 8 p. m. they both went to the house, Old Rowney Farm, and saw nobody. Bean gave him a coulter and fixed a ladder against the house. Bean told him he had already begun making the hole inside the room and that he would have no trouble making it big enough to get in. Bean told him repeatedly exactly here to go once he got in – he was to pass by one door and then go into the second room on his right. He did so and found the money in a small straw box inside a paper box as described by Bean. Bean told him that while he went into the old woman’s bedroom he would go into the house and keep her quiet in talk so she would not hear him. He did not see Bean when he got down the ladder. The next morning, after breakfast, he met Bean and gave him ten sovereigns and five shillings and he kept ten sovereigns and seven shillings and sixpence for himself. He stated that he had never been comfortable since, and several times had determined to say what he had done. At length he was so unhappy that on the last Sabbath day he told his brother Thomas, who advised him to tell the whole to Mr. Taylor. He did so that morning and told Mr. Taylor he was ready to make this confession to the magistrate.

Examined again, Norman Taylor said that Bean was in his service at that time and continued in his service until Thursday 23rd March 1837, but latterly as an outdoor servant. On that day John Clark of Southill made a voluntary confession that he committed the robbery with the knowledge and assistance of Bean, with whom he shared the money. Clark also confessed that Bean, himself and William Falkner had stolen wheat from his father’s farm. He believed Bean saw him going to Mr. Neve’s on 23 March with Thomas Clark and expected that such a confession was about to take place. Bean then abruptly left his service without giving any notice or waiting to receive his wages. He believed Bean went immediately to London to hide himself, and remained there until yesterday when he was apprehended.

Charles Waller of 9 Turn Again Lane, Farringdon Street, London, a police officer stated that the previous day he saw a box carried from the Ram Inn at Smithfield which he had reason to suppose belonged to Bean. He went into the house into which the box was carried, in Luke Street, Curtain Road, Hoxton. On enquiring for Bean he saw him trying to escape over the wall at the back part of the premises. He apprehended him and told him there was a warrant out. Bean said: “So I understand, but I’m innocent and had nothing to do with it”.

As it happened, honesty, in this case, was not the best policy. John Clark got a six month sentence for simple larceny [QSR1837/2/3/3] whilst Bean got off. The Gaol database reveals that Clark was 41 at the time of his imprisonment and five feet five and a half inches tall. He had grey hair and grey eyes and a cut on the heel of his left hand. He had been born in Haynes and then lived in Cardington – he could read and write imperfectly. His conduct in prison was “very good”.

James Bean may be the same man who had served three months hard labour in Bedford Gaol in 1823 for refusing to obey a Bastardy Order. He had then been 21 and stood five feet seven inches with brown hair and hazel eyes. He had a cut over his left eye. He had been born, and still resided in Broom. Nothing says whether poor Ann ever got her money back.

In 1927 Southill was valued under the Rating Valuation Act 1925; every piece of land and building in the country was assessed to determine the rates to be paid on it. The valuer visiting the farm [DV1/H50/4] noted that it was owned by the Whitbread Estate and tenanted by J.Clarke. In 1927 the rent was £750 per annum, having only been £420 per annum in 1914. The farm comprised 561 acres.

The valuer commented: "Good farm, handy to road. Excellent Buildings and good house (telephone). Good water from well, Some poor potato land. Standing high". Another hand commented: "Touches Southill Station. Well roaded. Can garden some - plenty of stock - flock - farms well - well roaded. Don't think rent with cottages unreasonable. Big fields little waste. Game round woods may be a nuisance".

The farmhouse was built of plaster and tile and the valuer reckoned it was a: "Good large House and in fair repair". It comprised a hall, three reception rooms, a kitchen, scullery, pantry, larder, dairy and cellars; upstairs were six bedrooms, a dressing room, a bathroom and wc "Water laid on from well and windmill". On 23rd August 1945 a note was added: "Kitchen now converted to Dining Room, window altered to door way. Range constructed in open dog grate. Scullery now used as kitchen".

Old Rowney Farm on 1927 valuation map
Old Rowney Farm on 1927 valuation map

The homestead contained a wood and tile pig house, stable for three horses, large barn and six bay open shed. The valuer then listed the main blocks:

  • The west block comprised a wood and tile stable for ten horses, a barn and granary, brick and tile, wood and corrugated iron piggeries, an open shed and cart shed;
  • The centre block "part burnt down but rebuilt", had a small wood and corrugated iron double shed in the yard, a mixing house with a concrete floor, a loose box, a stable for six horses with a concrete floor, a chaff house and a harness room;
  • The east block had two good loose boxes with tiled floors, a wood and timber harness room, a garage and oil store.
  • The rickyard contained an eight bay implement shed and a wood and tile store house with concrete floor.

A partial list of tenants of Old Rowney Farm can be pieced together using directories - the dates are those the tenants are known to have been there rather than the full dates of their tenure:

  • Norman Taylor: 1834-1885;
  • John Taylor: 1890;
  • George A.Gray: 1903-1920;
  • Harry Quenby: 1924;
  • James Clark: 1927-1928;
  • Alexander Murdoch: 1936;
  • Allingham Brothers: 1940.