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26 and 28 High Street Oakley

26 and 28 High Street March 2011
26 and 28 High Street March 2011

26 and 28 High Street have an unusual history and so were listed by the former Department of Environment in August 1987 as Grade II, of special interest. The pair of houses was built by the Duke of Bedford, whose family owned Oakley as Lords of the Manor of Oakley Reynes from 1737 until 1918. The houses were built in 1905 and comprise one storey and attics. The ground floor is constructed of red brick banded with purple bricks and the properties have a steeply pitched clay tile roof. The houses bear a plaque reading: "1905 ERECTED BY HIS GRACE THE DUKE OF BEDFORD AND PRESENTED To THE BEDFORDSHIRE REGIMENT".

They were still owned by the Duke in 1918 when he put up the Oakley Estate for auction on 31st October. The sale particulars [AD1147/18] describe the cottages, Lot 23, as follows.

The Pair of recently-built Cottages
brick and tiled,
adjoining Lot 22, being part [Ordnance Survey Map Field Numbers] 44 and 57 on the Plan, and extending to about
0 acres 0 roods 35 poles
(.220 Acre)
Held by the Bedfordshire Regiment on lease for a term of 299 years from the 25th day of December 1906.

The Journal of the 16th Foot (the Bedfordshire regiment's old line number) called The Wasp has an article in Volume II, Number 8 of January 1926, page 361 reading as follows: “As it is desirable that Old Comrades should know exactly what provision is made for serving members of the Regiment, who, through advancing age, or wounds incurred on service, are unable to support themselves, a short report is now published of the Bedfordshire Regiment Memorial Cottage Homes”.

“There are, at present, three Homes belonging to the Regiment. Two situated at Oakley, four miles from the town of Bedford, and one at Cheshunt, in Hertfordshire”.

“The following extract from a report on the Homes, issued in April, 1908, explains their object and uses”.

“The three Homes are dedicated to the memory of the Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men who fell in the South African War. There could be no more fitting or significant memorial, for whilst commemorating the dead, they benefit the living. The Homes are standing witness to the provision made by the Bedfordshire Regiment for their deserving men, and will go on fulfilling their beneficent mission long after the present occupants have passed away; but they are also and abiding monument to the honoured memory of those that are gone”.

“Although a rent-free cottage is a valuable assistance in enabling an old soldier to end his days in comfort with his family, these Regimental Homes must not be regarded as a charity. They are, on the contrary, intended as a recognition of good service with the Colours, and the selection of an occupant is an honour and distinction conferred upon him by the Regiment in which he has served”.

“In 1901, the Officers Commanding both Battalions were consulted by Mrs. Papillon, Hon. Secretary, Regimental Cottage Homes Committee, as to the expediency of raising funds for the erection and endowment of Homes for the use of disabled soldiers of the Regiment, and in response to an appeal for funds for this purpose, Mr. Debenham, of Cheshunt Park, Herts, offered to build a Cottage for the Regiment. This kind offer was gratefully accepted”.

“In 1904 His Grace the Duke of Bedford built two Homes for the Regiment at his own expense, at Oakley, near Bedford. They were completed in 1906, and an Endowment Fund was raised for their maintenance”.

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. Oakley, like most of the county, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting 26 and 28 High Street found them now owned by the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (as the Bedfordshire Regiment had become in 1919) and occupied by H. Cooper and H. Goodwin. Both houses comprised a parlour, a living room and a washhouse with three bedrooms above. A W. C. and a barn stood outside. Water came from a pump. The valuer commented, a trifle cynically: “Very Nice but Mostly Show”.

The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire fought through World War Two but was amalgamated with a number of other regiments in 1958 becoming part of the third battalion, East Anglian Regiment, renamed the Royal Anglian Regiment in 1964. The third battalion was disbanded in 1992 thus ending the lienage of the regiment, though the last company in the regiment, D Company, 2nd Battalion was named the Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Company in 1995.

Plaque on 26 and 28 High Street March 2011~
Plaque on 26 and 28 High Street March 2011